Monday, April 27, 2020

Guest Blog: B.A. Williamson on Being a Bipolar Writer


On Being a Bipolar Writer
By B.A. Williamson

It’s pretty hard to write this right now. Each sentence is taking a conscious effort. Why? Well, I’m depressed. Unsurprisingly, given the current circumstances. Cancelling all my book launch events and conference panels didn’t help.

There’s not always a reason. Occasionally this just happens. But I can say this depression is “just a phase” without any hint of condescension, because for me, it’s true. I’m bipolar.

Sometimes I just want to lay on the couch and escape. Hours of video games are good for this, though not exactly healthy. I suffer from the emptiness and lethargy that is familiar to millions of sufferers of depression.

What’s less familiar is the other side of the coin—my manic episodes. I have unlimited energy and focus, and can dive into projects for hours on end, and the words just flow. Everything I write is the best thing anyone has ever written. (Impaired judgment is another symptom.)

Manic energy can be a superpower, if harnessed correctly. I can hit any deadline, tackle any obstacle, and breeze through it with the confidence of a narcissistic tiger owner. But as I said, it’s a double-edged sword. The crushing writer’s despair is even worse, and can wipe out all the progress I’ve made.

Writing helps. Getting things out on the page helps. During a depressive episode, it takes a monumental effort to sit down and get moving. But even as I type this, it has become easier. I do feel better. I’m not agonizing over every punctuation mark, and hey, I’ve produced about 250 words so far! Halfway there.

Routines help, too. And outlines. The less you have to think, the lower the energy it takes to get started. I don’t have to think, just check the outline, do what it says, and follow the routine. They also keep me moving at those times when I’m balanced, and don’t have that supply of manic energy to rely on.

Whenever I want to give up before I’ve even started, I tell myself to write three sentences. That’s the rule—three sentences, then you can quit. Anyone can write three sentences. My seven-year-old can write three sentences. And to this day, I’ve never stopped at three sentences. I may only get a few paragraphs, but that’s still overshooting my goal by quite a bit.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Look What Arrived!

ARCs of Collaborators appeared on my doorstep! There is a special thrill in holding a physical copy of a new book in one's hands. I love the new cover by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff. My daughter peeked over my shoulder as I was opening the box and said, "Oooh, neat cover!"



It's available now for pre-order in ebook and print formats from AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, and other ebook vendors. Your local bookstore can order print copies from Ingram. It will be available through Overdrive, so you may be able to borrow it from your public library, as well.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Here's my latest newsletter. Please subscribe here!

Newsletter: April #StayHomeAndRead Goodies

Stories Help Us Through Tough Times

Whether you are an essential worker, coping with added stress but determined to play your part, a student taking classes remotely, a retired person whose income may be secure but who is at high risk, an unemployed or furloughed worker, or a small business owner forced to close up shop, the pandemic takes a toll on all of us. I wish from the bottom of my heart that I could wave a magic author's wand and keep you and your loved ones safe in all senses of the word. Alas, not even on Darkover is that possible. Nevertheless, I hope the items in this newsletter help to brighten your day.
#StayHomeAndRead

I've reduced the prices of my indie ebooks to make them more available to my readers. A Heat Wave in the Hellers, and Other Tales of Darkover and Other Worlds: Early Novels are $2.99, and everything else* is $0.99. You can find them at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other vendors. (This doesn't apply to my traditionally published books, as the publisher sets the price, but the anthologies I've edited for the Marion Zimmer Bradley Trust -- Lace and Blade, and the Darkover anthologies, for example, are reduced in price, too.)

*Jaydium, Northlight, Azkhantian Tales, Transfusion and Other Tales of Hope, Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel, and Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life.

Collaborators has a release date, October 1, 2020, in both ebook and print. It's now available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other ebook vendors.  (The print edition from Amazon won't go live until then, but B & N allows pre-order for both editions.) Your local bookstore can also order print copies from Ingram. It will be available through Overdrive, so you may be able to borrow it from your public library, as well.

If you enjoyed it, please post a review!
Radio Interview!

On April 21, 2020, I was interviewed on the British radio station, Chat and Spin. Here's the link to the program. My interview begins 1 hour 37 minutes into the program. I've been invited back for June, so stay tuned!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Imagination Takes on Faerie

The Fantastical Exploits of Gwendolyn Gray (Book 2), by B. A. Williamson (Jolly Fish Press)

I first had the pleasure of meeting Gwendolyn Gray in her Marvelous Adventures (of GG). I write and mostly read YA and adult fantasy and science fiction, but I had recently delved into reading Middle Grade. To my delight I found that literature for this age group has all the adventure and self-discovery I love, plus a simplicity and directness that adds depth and honesty. Yep, honesty. Kids this age are hard, if not impossible, to fool when it comes to emotional truth. They’re old enough to have attained a considerable degree of agency in their own lives, which connects them with characters, but young enough to not yet be smothered in hormonal angst. The best Middle Grade books trust their young readers to figure out what’s going on and how they feel about it. I love that! I should also add that no matter what the target audience, the most powerful ideas are best communicated in simple, direct language. Nowhere is that more true than in Middle Grade.

So, to Gwendolyn. When I first met her, she was a flame of color and imagination in a city of unrelenting conformity. Specifically, she lived in a City – the one and only City – where everything is gray and monotonous, literally as well as chromatically, and where children and adults alike spend the better part of their lives under the control of soporific lights called “lambents.” What distinguishes Gwendolyn, besides her delicious name, is her imagination, which is so vivid as to constitute a superpower. In that first book, she battled the Faceless Mister Men, traveled across worlds with her maybe-not-imaginary friends, Sparrow and Starling, rescues a snarky teenage pirate king, saved the City from the vile Abscess, and destroyed the lambents.

Of course, the resulting good times cannot last,

Monday, April 20, 2020

Author Interview: Tara Gilboy


Please welcome Tara Gilboy, author of the Middle Grade adventures, Unwritten and Rewritten.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Tara Gilboy: I am, first and foremost, a reader. Books and stories have always been one of the most important things in my life, and I’ve wanted to write pretty much since I learned to read. I still have some of the stories I wrote in elementary school. My mom recently gave me a letter I wrote to a publisher when I was in third grade, asking if I could write books for their series. (Apparently she never mailed it!) Unfortunately, until I was in my twenties, I had never actually met a writer, and so writing started to seem like this kind of “impossible dream.” Then in college, I took some creative writing classes, published a couple short stories, and worked as an editor at a literary journal, and I realized: “Hey, I can really do this!” I completed my MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, which ended up being very humbling and also one of the most formative experiences of my writing life.


DJR: What led you to write MG and how is it different from YA or adult fantasy?
TG: Even though I have always loved children’s books and read tons of middle grade (and actually my first ventures into writing were always in middle grade, which is what I wrote for fun), when I was in college and started seriously pursuing writing, I focused on adult fiction. I am embarrassed to admit that I was a bit of a literary snob, and I had these really pretentious ideas about writing. My sense of story was virtually nonexistent, I sneered at plot, and I was writing a lot of “purple prose,” these kind of overwritten sentences, way too much description and exposition. But a lot of my stories left me feeling cold. I wasn’t in love with the stories and characters. I remember in my first year of my MFA at UBC, I was taking a novel-writing workshop and working on an adult novel that was this really serious historical piece about a marriage and a woman finding herself within her marriage. I was really struggling with it and couldn’t wait for the workshop to be over so I never had to look at the novel again. At the same time, I was taking a class on writing children’s books and reading all these amazing middle grade novels and having wonderful class discussions about them, and I realized that I was happiest when I was writing these kinds of stories. At the end of the first year, I changed my thesis genre and never looked back.

I think middle grade differs from adult fantasy (and to some extent, YA), in that it is really condensed into its essential elements – there is no room to digress or go off on tangents or you risk losing your reader. Middle grade readers have great eyes for what actually needs to be there in the text, and when I am writing middle grade, I am ruthless about cutting. I am also very careful about structure and pacing when I am revising. I want to keep the reader turning pages without making things feel too rushed. The focus is always on telling a good story, which is what I love so much about these books. I also think middle grade tends to look inward, where characters really make sense of their own identities, who they are, whereas in YA, the books tend to look outward, with the main characters finding their place in the world, which makes sense, since YA readers are often on the cusp of leaving home in just a few short years.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Curious Fictions: Jaydium, Chapter 2 by Deborah J. Ross

The next chapter of Jaydium is up (and free!) on Curious Fictions. The first chapter is also free.

Curious Fictions: Jaydium, Chapter 2 by Deborah J. Ross



Can't wait to see what happens next? The ebook edition is available for only $0.99 (special #StayHomeAndRead price) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Kobo, and other outlets. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Dramatic Conclusion to Tim Pratt's Axiom Series


The Forbidden Stars (Book III of the Axiom), by Tim Pratt (Angry Robot)

It’s always a risk to jump into a series or a multi-volume story, like this one, and in general I don’t recommend it. It takes great skill on the author’s part to bring a new reader up to speed without boring those who already know the backstory. When I asked for a review copy of The Forbidden Stars, I assumed it was a direct sequel to The Wrong Stars. Wrong (excuse the pun) book, though. However, since I loved The Wrong Stars, I decided to take a chance. After a little coming-up-to-speed, I found myself immersed in the plot, getting re-acquainted with my favorite characters, and thoroughly enjoying the tale.

Having expanded across the galaxy, humanity considers its future bright. Sure, there are occasional territorial clashes, and aliens called Liars because of their obsessive duplicity. But when, in the first book, Captain Callie Machedo and her crew discover an artifact of an unknown, possibly extinct or unimaginably ancient alien race, the Liars react with horror. Humans are now on the brink of making contact with the long-dormant, genocidal race, the Axiom. The Axiom’s reaction when it contacts another sapient race is to destroy it, and they have technology beyond anything humans have achieved to do it. There is nowhere in the galaxy beyond their reach, and no species has ever survived first contact, except the Liars, their client race.

Now, in the third book, Callie and her crew, aided by their mysterious client, the Benefactor, are determined to bring the battle to the Axiom.

And we get to go along for the ride.

What a ride it is, full of plots and schemes and danger, and most of all, the resourcefulness and devious craft of our heroes. It’s such a joy to have a highly competent, terrifyingly intelligent protagonist as Callie. I kept expecting her bravado to land her in a mess over her head, but that didn’t happen. The result was no less dramatic but endlessly fascinating.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Friday, April 10, 2020

Short Book Reviews: A Middle Grade Heroine Takes on Gothic Horror


Rewritten (Unwritten series, book two), by Tara Gilboy (Jolly Fish Press)

Gracie, a preteen whose life has been spent in hiding, has come to terms with having been created as a villainous character in a book written by Gertrude Winters. Her life is marginally better after the adventures in Unwritten  (reviewed here), since she and her best friend, Thomas, along with various other people, are squashed into Gertrude’s house. Not only that, the archvillain, Cassandra, is still at large, armed with the magical book, the Vademecum, which allows her to travel between real and literary worlds. Cassandra is no less obsessed with Gracie as her heir and adopted daughter. And now she’s using the Vademecum to track Gracie’s every thought and movement.

Meanwhile, Gracie stumbles on a box of Gertrude’s unpublished stories, tales in which the writer worked out her troubled relationship with her own daughter. Some are benign, like the one set on a cruise ship, but one was so dark, so filled with danger and gloom, that Gertrude refused to allow Gracie to read it. And it is into this Gothic horror story that Gracie and Thomas flee, with Cassandra on their heels.

The world of The Beast of Blackwood Hall is a parade of Gothic tropes: the isolated manor house, the wintry forest, the mysterious disappearances and even more mysterious illness; the newly deceased mother; the family curse; the monster that lurks in the shadows. All of these are intensified by the limitations that the story itself places on Gracie and Thomas, for they cannot escape beyond the confines of the story, which is inexorably drawing to its fatal climax.

As with the first book, Unwritten, Gilboy’s tale offers much to the adult as well as the middle grade reader. The issues are not watered down or simplistic. She never condescends to her young audience. Rather, she trusts them to understand complex emotions, and that is perhaps the most compelling aspect of these books. Children become trustworthy by being trusted; they grow into emotionally mature adults by being presented with ambiguity and nuance.
Gracie . . . thought back to her conversations with Gertrude. “She said the monster was a metaphor for something, the dark parts of ourselves.” . . . She’d written the stories the way she had to avoid hurting real people, to put all her feelings onto the page, rather than lashing out at those she loved. 
“Every story we read becomes a part of who we are in a small way.”

Gilboy’s stories definitely fall into that category.




Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Very Short Book Reviews: A New "Wayward Children" Novella


Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com)

In this latest installment of the “Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children” series (the first book of which was the stunning, award-winning Every Heart A Doorway), Jack (of Jack and Jill) returns from the world of the Moors, a lightning-ridden nightmare cross between Frankenstein and Dracula, with an occasional Lovecraftian Drowned God. Only Jack isn’t herself, she’s been placed into Jill’s body, and therein lies the problem, because although the two are identical twins, their personalities could not be more dissimilar. Faced with unacceptable, revolting differences, Jack’s OCD threatens to overwhelm her self-control. Now Jack’s on a mission back to the Moors to regain her own body and save her mentor, Dr. Bleak. Accompanying her are her lover, Alexis, the girl with lightning instead of a heart, and her friends from the school, Kade, Sumi, Christopher, and the mermaid girl, Cora.

Come Tumbling Down is a worthy, brilliant successor to the previous volumes, full of luscious prose, sentences that ring so emotionally true they stop your heart, and immense generosity.


Monday, April 6, 2020

Guest Jeffrey A. Carver: New Way to Buy Print Books AND Support Local Stores!

My friend, Jeff Carver, posted this:
Stuck at home, and you want to buy a book on paper (hey, it happens!)—and buying online seems the only option but you’d rather support local indie bookstores? There’s a new way to do that, and it doesn’t require an app! It’s called Bookshop, and it’s an online store dedicated to supporting authors, book communities, and bookstores! Whaaat?
The way it works is, you order online just like at any of the big stores. The print books are sourced from Ingram, just like at your local store, and you get it in the mail. If you go in through a link like one of the ones I have below, the author or community that created the link gets a referral fee. In addition, a significant portion of the profit from the sale goes into a fund that gets distributed regularly among participating independent bookstores. It’s sort of like Indiebound, if you’ve used that, but even better. Right now, they only ship to the U.S., but they may expand in the future.
Authors can set up their own pages at the store, featuring their own books (just print right now, and some audio). They, or anyone else, can also set up pages where they feature books they’d like to recommend to you. Buy one of their books, and they get the regular royalty, plus the referral fee. It’s a great way to support authors and bookstores, all while buying online—particularly useful right now, when the storefront economy has slammed to halt, due to the coronavirus.
Here are some links! These folks are my friends and colleagues. They write all kinds of stuff. Try any of them, and you’ll support the author whose link you picked, even if you browse around and buy other books by other authors. I’ll add more as they come in. Folks are just getting ramped up on this.
Give it a try! It’s fun!

Jeffrey A. Carver | Laura Anne Gilman | Deborah J. RossPati Nagle | Gillian Polack | Madeleine Robins
Doranna Durgin

Friday, April 3, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Ancient Rome, With Magic


Unseen Fire, by Cass Morris (DAW)

Ancient Rome! With magic! I am not a scholar of ancient history, so I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of this dramatic tale of politics, warfare, cultural upheaval, and romance set about 67 B.C.E. But the world, its peoples, and their attitudes and choices, in every detail feel so seamlessly consistent I was never jolted out of the story.

Rome – Aven in this book – is in the beginning of its decline but still the dominant power in the known world. At the opening of the story, a brutal dictator, having executed or exiled anyone who spoke out against him, has died. Now it’s up to those remaining leaders to reconstitute a republic. Some are already in Aven, having bowed to the dictator or gone into hiding; others return from exile. One such return is Sempronius, a mage of Shadow and Water elements, a brilliant leader and strategist who must hide his magical powers, for mages are forbidden by law from holding public office. Latona, daughter of an elder Senator, has just been freed from the dictator’s thumb (and bed), and her confidence in herself and her magical powers of Spirit and Fire have not yet recovered. Meanwhile, elections bog down as those who want to restrict power to traditionalist classes vie with those who see Aven’s future in the expansion of suffrage. And on the Iberian peninsula, a fanatical war leader is using blood magic to expel the Avenian invaders.

The book perfectly balances the richly nuanced portrayal of a culture in tumult with characters that change and grow, a fascinating system of magic and its relationship to pantheist religion, lively dialog, unexpected plot twists, and a tender love story. It’s a long read (and only the first part of a longer series) but well worth savoring every page.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020