Saturday, October 31, 2020

Newsletter: Late October...2020 Was Many Things...


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2020 was many things...

Some we expected, some took us utterly by surprise. Some quickly passed -- and others we are still grappling with. Now that I've had a chance to settle back home after being evacuated for a month due to the California CZULightning wildfires, I am filled with gratitude for the friends, readers, neighbors, family, and strangers who were so unfailingly kind and supportive. 

As the season turns from summer's brutal heat toward winter's equally brutal (think mudslides!) but different weather, I am personally focusing on what has sustained my family and myself through the ordeal that has been this year.

You, my fans and friends.
My wonderful editor and publisher and agent.
The beautiful (if a bit singed) place in which I love.
And especially the stories that fill my mind and my life. Those I write. Those I treasure by other writers.

Many thanks!


First things first: Here is (Red) Sonja smooshed against Shakir. Considering that the first time they were introduced, she a mere wee kitten, she threw herself on her back and screamed, I'd say they have established trust, if not outright affection for one another.

What's new on Darkover?
My agent once told me that waiting on publishers was akin to watching the movement of glaciers. I suspect this has never been more true than now, when my publisher's offices are closed due to the pandemic, and everyone is overloaded.

In the meanwhile, here is a snippet from The Laran Gambit, in which Bryn, our viewpoint character, crashes on Darkover with her father and mentor. The title is a working version and will probably be changed. And this is unedited text, so it, too, may undergo the alchemical transformation of editing.


Bryn forced herself to lay back down and breathe slowly. It was harder than she expected. She imagined the inside of the tent — their pocket of air — turning stale. What were the symptoms of anoxia? She couldn’t remember — didn’t that mean her brain was deprived of oxygen? A part of her, that terrified monkey at the back of her brain, yammered at her to get out now.

Panic will only use up the air faster. Think!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Short Book Reviews: The Diabolist's Apprentices Get Into Trouble

Creatures of Charm and Hunger, by Molly Tanzer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

This third volume in the “Diabolist” series focuses on a family of diabolists – magic workers who draw their power from pact-bound demons. There is, of course, always a catch and always a price. To minimize the danger, diabloists through the centuries have kept meticulous notes on the names, temperaments, and histories of the known demons. Nancy Blackwood is one of a lineage of librarians guarding these and other critical documents. While her sister, Edith, engages in the larger world (in this case, the end of World War II), Nancy lives in a remote British village, along with her Hollywood-obsessed daughter, Jane, and her ward, Jewish refugee Miriam, both student diabolists about to embark upon the “Test” that will lead to full privileges and their own demons. After passing their Tests, each embarks upon perilous paths in violation of the rules: Jane, eager to hide that she has in reality failed her Test, creates a familiar by placing a demonic spirit into her pet cat, but lacks the experience to truly bind it to obedience; and Miriam goes searching for her parents, captives of the Nazis, by taking over the bodies of animals and then people, at a terrible cost to her own spiritual self. What could possibly go wrong?

Tanzer perfectly captures life in a secluded, rambling house in a small British village toward the end of the Second World War, weaving in a story of brash youth, tested friendships, treacherous demons, and consequences. If this is truly the last of the series, I will be sad to see it end.

Creatures of Will and Temper reviewed here.

Creatures of Want and Ruin reviewed here.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Book Reviews: Two Takes on Fictional Characters Coming to Life

I love stories in which my favorite (or anti-favorite, most despised as opposed to most-loved) fictional characters interact with the real world. It's the counterpoint to imagining myself as a character in a fictional world. Recently I read two very different novels using this technique. Of the two, Raven's Moon is lighter and is self-contained. It helps to have some passing acquaintance with English literature to appreciate the nuances of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep. On the other hand, if you haven't read David Copperfield, Wuthering Heights, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, or Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, this is a great time to do that! (You'll recognize a few other friends along the way.)

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H. G. Parry (Redhook)

In this literary book lover’s delight, a “summoners” has the ability to “read” a fictional character into real life. And to alter the very fabric of reality. Charles Sunderland is one such, and from the time of his childhood has been accompanied by the likes of Sherlock Holmes. His characters-companions are not literal transliterations but based on his interpretation of them: fiction is not photographic but relies on the understanding and life experience context of the reader.

At the beginning of the book the narrator, Charles’s older brother, attorney Rob, is heartily tired of the whole thing and wishes Charles’s talent would go away, especially when Uriah Heep, the odious villain of Dickens’s masterwork, David Copperfield, makes an appearance, along with the Hound of the Baskervilles. Soon Rob is drawn even deeper into the world of literary creations with his introduction to “The Street,” a secret haven where characters can live safely in a modern world. One of the more amusing touches was the presence of not one Mr. Darcy, but six, since readers of different eras saw him in different ways. Since I am a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, I took special delight in the occasional appearance of Miss Matty, whom everyone adores as much as I do. Dorian Gray, exquisitely beautiful and just as untrustworthy, teams up with the Artful Dodger. And Narnia’s White Witch can always be depended upon to look out for her own interest.

Soon it becomes apparent that not only the denizens of The Street, but Charles himself, are under attack by another “summoner” whose agenda is nothing less than remaking the entire world into the criminal underworld of Dickens’s London.

As the story progresses and the threat becomes more urgent, Rob peels back layers of the past, facing injustices and resentments – not only others’ but his own. The relationship between the two brothers reveals itself before a background that is no less than a love affair with fiction and its underlying language. Rob says, “I could see all of it. And the city glowing with the light of pure meaning was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

What begins as a “your favorite character come to life” romp evolves into a profound examination of how stories make us human, and what that means to those we love.

Raven's Moon, by J.B. Dane (Burns & Lea Books)

Our first-person narrator wakes to a world of never-before experienced sensations, only to discover that he is a fictional character brought to life: Bram Farrell, “The Raven,” the hero of a wildly popular urban fantasy series. His author as well as the witch who brought him through to the real world wants him to locate her literary heir, a talented young woman writer to take over the series after the original author succumbs to the cancer riddling her body. He, on the other hand, soon sets his own mission: to investigate and make right the murders of innocent supernatural creatures slain by his fictional self. Aided by a hellhound demon in the shape of a Dachshund, he begins his search with a group of succubi working as prostitutes. But the clock is ticking, for Bram’s author has given him a deadline: Halloween, only four days away.

One of the most interesting aspects of this fast-paced story is how Bram-in-the-real-world perceives his fictional antecedent, even as he remakes himself into a different individual. His appetite for beef – the greasier the better – doesn’t change (much to the despair of his creator’s health-food vegan-is-better personal chef), but his ability to judge the ethics of his character’s choices sets him on a different path -- a path that will be revealed in subsequent volumes.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Wildfire Journey, Part III: How To Rescue a Refrigerator

Once the mandatory evacuation order was changed to a warning
Home Sweet Fridge
Home Sweet Fridge

(aka “it’s okay to go back, just be ready to skedaddle at a moment’s notice”) we went back to our place several times to check things out and make plans on priorities before moving back. Although we were immensely relieved to have a house to come back to, we noticed the light coating of ash on the foliage and the smoky odor inside. Our insurance adjuster came out to the house a couple of days later and we did a walk-through. He pointed out a little ash here and there on the inside window sills, and among other things offered the cost of a professional smoke damage restoration company as part of the settlement. After speaking with several local companies, and returning to take a more careful look inside and out, we decided to clean it ourselves, with the help of local house cleaners, and use the difference to buy a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, a shop vac, and several air purifiers.

The refrigerator and chest freezer had been without power for three weeks by this time. We hauled the refrigerator on to the back porch and, armed with rubber gloves and doubled trash bags, emptied it. This was a bigger operation than it sounds because we had to take the refrigerator freezer door off in order to fit it through the sliding glass door. The smell, while qualifying as “stench” was not as bad as we’d feared. More “funky” than “rotting carcass.” Most of what was in the fridge was either in glass or plastic containers or vegetables. Our friend up the block, a strict vegan, said hers didn’t smell that bad, more fermented than putrid. Within a short time, the freezer interior was covered with black flies. We left them to their work, freezer door open, and went back to our hotel. When we came back the next day, the smell had largely dissipated and the flies were gone.

The next step was to sanitize and deodorize the refrigerator. Up and down the block, folks were just trashing theirs, but we wanted to at least attempt to salvage ours. My husband did a first pass on the interior with pressure spraying full strength degreaser/cleanser, rinsing with (non potable) water, then wiping it down with dilute bleach. With the doors open, there was no smell, but when we closed the doors and left it for a time, the funky smell returned, albeit not as intense as before.

On social media, neighbors were comparing experiences cleaning their refrigerators. I felt heartened that some had had success. We did some research and found the following resources:

Cleaning Your Refrigerator After a Power Outage (University of Florida)
How to Get Rid of Funky Refrigerator Smells (Consumer Reports)
Beyond Baking Soda: The Best Way to Deal With a Stinky Fridge (Serious Eats)
The Best Tools for Keeping Your Fridge Odor Free (Epicurious)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

[shameless self-promotion brag] More Reviews of Collaborators

Collaborators -- the revised version, with maps and supplementary materials -- came out at the beginning of the month. Here's what reviewers had to say about it:

From Warren Rochelle: 

This rich novel, with its “first-rate world-building from a writer gifted with a soaring imagination and good old-fashioned Sense of Wonder” (C.J. Cherryh, back cover) asks the reader to think and think again. Read Collaborators again, if like me, you read the first version. You will be rewarded with a stronger, more nuanced, and a more passionate story. Read the Bonus sections at the end—and experience world-building, and species construction. Take the time mull over gender and power and collaboration. Be prepared to keep reading. This novel is a real page-turner.

Highly recommended.

From Susan F:

I loved this book. Deborah [Ross] has created a full world in which the aliens are truly alien due to their ultimate lack of permanent gender, yet essentially human in terms of their emotional development. Each individual is complex and fascinating, stranded human or Bandar native, and exquisitely real.

The story is fascinating and the plot carries you along. [Ross] is one of those rare authors who can make what is essentially a political story completely about its characters.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Three Tales of Swans

Occasionally I find myself reading books with such similar themes or elements that the reviews naturally group themselves together. Below, on the other hand, are two very different stories that involve swans. Not as metaphors for supernal grace and beauty but as aquatic birds with nasty tempers. When my younger daughter was five, we took a family outing in a park that had swans. Because it was spring, the swans had young cygnets. I cautioned my daughter to not approach them, and she was being very careful when a mother swan took umbrage and came at her, hissing, beak extended. Without hesitation I jumped in front of the swan. I remember thinking I didn't want to use my fists because that would bring my face within reach of the swan's beak. I stood up and aimed a round-house kick at the swan's neck. I have no memory of actually kicking the swan (although family members assure me that I did), only the swan backing away, wings flapping, still hissing madly. Here endeth the first tale of swans.

The Glass Magician, by Caroline Stevermer (Tor)

What a delightful tale, set in an early 20th Century world in which humans are divided into ordinary Solitaires, shape-shifting Traders, and ecology-minded Silvestri. The story focuses on Thalia, a magic performer, and her manager, Nutall, who’s acted as a parental figure after the deaths of her parents. When a rival stage magician gets them booted from their gig using a noncompete clause, their future looks grim. Then the rival turns up dead and Nutall is the prime suspect. To make matters worse, Thalia, who has always believed herself to be a nonmagical Solitaire, under the stress of a trick gone dangerously wrong, shape-shifts (“Trades”). Newly fledged Traders are not yet in control of their powers and become the prey of magic-consuming manticores. Now Thalia’s very life is at risk until she can master her magic, at the same time she’s determined to prove her mentor’s innocence and unmask the real murderer. The world and its characters are beautifully, charmingly drawn, with the effortless skill of a consummate storyteller.

There’s a lot of very cool stuff about stage magic, fine characterization, a murder mystery, and a slew of plot twists. The thing that impressed me most, though, was the subtle use of swan imagery.  Thalia Trades into the form of a swan, hissing in irritation at the unfairness of life when she’s not preening her feathers. But swans also appear here and there, like bits delicate, snowy down.

The Wild Swans, by Peg Kerr (Endeavour Venture)

Silence = Death

At first, I experienced a bit of disconnection in these two parallel stories: one, a re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans,” in which a devoted sister undergoes a terrible ordeal – about which she must remain silent – to free her brothers from an enchantment that turns them into swans by day, men by night; and a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story about a gay teen at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I found myself engrossed in Elias’s tale, which brought up memories of gay friends during that fearful time. The difference in my reading experience was partly due to my experience as a friend and ally, watching one after another of my friends become sick and die, remembering the atmosphere of fear and homophobia, the all-too-often rejection by families, and partly because in the Andersen tale, I knew what was going to happen. Since I was familiar with the story, I had no worries that Eliza, the sister, would prevail and that her brothers, once more restored to themselves, would rescue her from being executed as a witch. I didn’t know that not only would Elias’s lover, Sean, contract AIDS (and die), but that Elias himself would fall victim to the HIV virus. This journey, from Elias initially finding himself homeless after his family kicks him out for being gay, to meeting Sean and being welcomed into the gay and gay-friendly art and music community, to the evolving love story, engrossed me attention as it engaged my emotions.

For much of the book, I was puzzled as to the relationship between the two stories. There were a few obvious intersections, homophobia or rather hatred of homosexuality being one of them. It wasn’t until I closed the last chapter and mulled over the experience that I understood the deeper connection: Silence = Death. In order to break the spell, Eliza must cut, thresh, and weave nettles into shirts for her brothers, a long an excruciating process. I’ve brushed up against nettles, and the stinging is no joke (although to be fair, poison oak is worse). During that time, if she utters a single word, her brothers will remain swans forever. She cannot explain or defend herself, not even to save her own life.

HIV didn’t evolve because gay people hid who they were and whom they loved (for very good reason), but it flourished in an atmosphere of silence born out of fear. Eliza’s faithfulness arose out of love for her brothers, and the loyalty and solidarity of the LGBT+ community gave rise to movements like ACT UP that demanded action, and respect.

Part of the power of this story lies in the subtle resonances between fairy tale and contemporary tragedy. I say, “part,” because Elias speaks for himself. His story alone would have been an engrossing, heart-rending read. The juxtaposition of the Andersen story created a thoughtful, beautifully written pas de deux.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Auntie Deborah Returns From Wildfire Evacuation To Answer Your Questions

It's been an exciting couple of months. Back in mid-August, Auntie Deborah and her household fled from the wildfires descending upon their small California town. After a month staying first with friends and then in a hotel, she and her people and all four cats returned home to a herculean clean-up job. Actually, the cats did not contribute, except in a profusion of shed fur. Order and cleanliness are gradually emerging, along with a return to writing her own work and advising younger writers. 


Dear Auntie Deborah, 
How can a literary agent tell from the first ten pages whether they want to represent a book?

Auntie Deborah: Most agents can tell from the first paragraph if they want to continue reading. Agents have read thousands of manuscripts by the time they’re in the pro league and they, like magazine editors who plough through mountains of slush, can spot right away if the author has the command of fictional techniques and language that are the bare minimum for a publishable story. It doesn’t matter what comes after that first paragraph if the author has failed to engage and intrigue, with every indication that if the reader places themself in the author’s hands, as it were, the experience will be reliably satisfying.

Dear Auntie Deborah,
Is it okay to write when I'm upset and not feeling like myself, or should I wait until I've calmed down?

Auntie Deborah: What makes you think that when you are “emotional, upset, or worried” you are not yourself? Passion is as much a part of writing as intellect. Let it all out on paper! Give yourself something intense and uncensored to then revise and mine for purest gold.

I am now revising a novel I drafted while caring for my best friend in the final weeks of her life. At the time, it was pure escape, a place to put all my strongest, most painful emotions. Only afterward did I see the amazing heart of the piece. It’s required several rounds of being taken apart and put back together the way fiction needs to be structured. This last round follows a long discussion with my agent, who is very excited about it. (As a note, I’ve been publishing fiction for over 35 years, with 15 novels and umpteen short stories, so I have experience with this <g>)

Dear Auntie Deborah:
Why do people advise me not to address an editor as "Dear Sir"?

Auntie Deborah: I strongly advise you not to address an editor as “sir.” The primary reason is the likelihood that the editor is a woman. In 2016, 78% of editors were women. (All 3 editors at my publisher are women.) Do you want to begin your letter with the assumption that an editor must be male?

Instead, say, “Dear editor.” Better yet, address your letter to the specific editor to whom you are submitting. (“Dear Ms. Jones” — not Miss or Mrs!) You should know this as part of researching your markets. Some publishers have a first or slush reader, usually anonymous, in which case, “Dear editor” or “Dear publisher” would be fine.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

[shameless self-promotion brag] Evey Brett Reviews Collaborators

 Collaborators, my occupation and resistance science fiction novel, was released on October 1.

Here's what Evey Brett had to say about the book:

An intriguing exploration into the consequences of first contact between races when both consider themselves to be "human." The first, the Terran, are the more familiar type, and then we're introduced to those from Chacarre, who are intersexed and, while capable of "polarizing" into either gender, do not always do so. The new race is handled with care and detail and their traditions and beliefs are fascinating and well-drawn.

Deborah wields her usual deft touch when it comes to emotional moments and explores an array of relationships, including the love between mates, the loss of children or those equally loved, and the dangerous attraction between the races.

All in all, Collaborators is an adventurous romp on a world both like and unlike our own and an examination into the sometimes devastating consequences of cultural misunderstandings and the good that can arise when compassion and cooperation come to the fore.

Here's where to order the book (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover editions):

Amazon (ebook and trade paperback)
B & N (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover/laminated cover) 
From your local bookstore, order via Ingram:
     Trade paperback: 9781952589003
     Hardcover/dust jacket: 9781952589027

Kobo (and other ebook retailers) 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Short Book Reviews: A Transgender Heroine in Fantasy India

Stealing Thunder, by Alina Boyden (Ace)

I loved the context of this book as much as the story itself. As part of the “Own Voices” movement, the speculative fiction community has examined not only the inclusion of transgender characters but asked who writes about them. This book is the first fantasy novel featuring a transgender character and written by a transgender author to be published by a major house. Alina Boyden sets her tale in a non-Western culture in which transwomen have an established cultural niche. She draws her inspiration from the Indian tradition of hijras, which dates back as far as 3000 years ago, referring to third gender or trans-feminine people. Texts such as the Rigveda, Mahabharata, and Ramayana mention such people in a respectful way, in contrast to the actions of the British Empire in attempting to erase the hijra community entirely. In India, hijras who are assigned male gender at birth sometimes castrate themselves, wear feminine clothing and adopt feminine names, live together in households, relate to each other as female kin (sisters, daughters, etc), and perform at events such as births and weddings.

One such is this novel’s protagonist, Razia Khan, born as the Crown Prince of one of many small kingdoms in this alternate pre-British India, including training with the magical feathered dragons called zahhaks, which are a rare and powerful military asset. Now she works as a skilled dancer and courtesan, working and living in a tightly knit household, a dera, ruled by an insatiably greedy madam. In addition, she’s a thief whose booty supplements their income. After being engaged to provide entertainment for a wealthy merchant, she falls in love with the handsome prince of Bikampur and gains his affection in return. But all is not well, for her very life is at risk should her father learn of her whereabouts, a bully from her tormented childhood appears at court and recognizes her . . . and war is brewing. Razia’s training and natural aptitude make her a genius at the use of dragons in military strategy, and her sound advice brings her the esteem of her prince’s father.

The style and pacing of the story invites the reader to savor this world and its culture. The enumeration of settings and details, including jewelry and clothing, and the beat-by-beat descriptions of action and interactions, which are then repeated, create a slow spiraling effect. All of this is interwoven with Razia’s own internal monologues, so that we are able to experience her world and her personal history through gradually evolving lenses. At first, I questioned the slow pace and repetition, but as I noticed how the descriptions – what Razia notices and the context in which she places it – reflected and embodied Razia’s own personal growth, I found it highly evocative and satisfying. Small details, like the conversation between Razia, who chose castration as a gift, and a eunuch who had to come to terms with the involuntary loss, evoked a much larger world of consent, choices, and power.

Razia begins the story terrified of discovery, uneasy about stealing but so grateful to her madam that she feels she has no choice, and pathetically desperate for love. As she comes to accept being valued, she discovers her own courage – a trait she believed she lacked because she had been told – and beaten – so many times as a child for being unmasculine. She doesn’t take the easy way out, whether it’s accepting the likelihood of betrayal to her father, and subsequent assassination, or the risk of losing Arjuna’s love by telling him the truth about her thieving, standing up to those who once bullied her, or always, always remaining true to herself as a transgender woman. It would have been so easy for the story to follow the typical Romance tropes based on misunderstandings so easily cleared up by a single conversation, and Stealing Thunder avoids them all. By the end, I not only cheered Razia’s commitment to a genuine life, I had a greater understanding of how she has managed to find empowerment within the superficially submissive, dependent role of a hijra courtesan.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Wildfire Journey Part II

Once we’d gotten settled with the cats and the hotel routine, daily life became a matter of watching the progress of the fire containment and waiting for news about water and power, and when the evacuation order might change to a warning, allowing us to go back. The CalFire damage inspection teams went through the neighborhood, and we cheered when we saw our house on the map, marked green — no fire damage! Our little neck of the woods had the misfortune to lose the tank that supplied us entirely, so a new temporary tank would have to be installed, with temporary piping, on rugged terrain, with smoldering hot spots...and our electricity came through an area that had been badly burned. Water was restored to other areas (to be truthful, just about every other area) first, although at first it wasn’t clear how badly contaminated it might be. About 5 miles of aboveground HDPE pipe melted, creating the possibility of backflow due to depressurization of water contaminated by the products of heated plastic (VOCs). Later testing revealed most if not all of that water was safe, so the Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil orders were eventually lifted, although not for our block. It seemed to be one lumbering, unfolding disaster, with visions of returning home to water safe only for flushing toilets, no power, trees apt to fall over at any time. Looters. Lost pets. Dying wildlife.

Finally the mandatory evacuation order for our street was changed to a warning, and it happened the same day when we decided to go look at our place, regardless. There were road blocks, but further up the highway so we could get in. Each passing mile brought us into more familiar territory. Driving into our little town and seeing ordinary vehicles as well as emergency equipment was a highlight, but not as tear-inducing as pulling into our carport and seeing the gate, pretty much untouched. There were chunks of ash outside, but no burning or other fire damage. The mud room and adjacent office reeked of smoke, although the interior of the house wasn’t too bad. We walked around, seeing “home,” until I wrapped my arms around my daughter, sobbing, “It’s here, it’s okay…” Home is safe.

We gathered up a few more things, then went into the garden. Despite our fears that everything would have died between the high heat, no water, and smoke, some parts were thriving. The squash plants seemed intent on taking over the county. Apples and grapefruits littered the ground. The green beans had mostly produced seed. The tomatoes looked fat and happy, now being inadvertently dry-farmed. The rhubarb was okay, and one unseasonal asparagus spear raised its solitary head. We gathered a basket of edible-sized zucchini, grapefruit, and apples, leaving a supply for the family of scrub jays that lives in our orchard. On the way out of town, we stopped at the volunteer fire department to thank them and offer grapefruit, but they couldn’t risk any ill health effects from the ash and soot, so declined with thanks.

Back at the hotel, we decided that in order to move back in, we needed water and power. There was no possibility of cleaning without these things, and between the smoke odor, the light fall of ash, the ordinary dust of several weeks, and the condition of a refrigerator without power for over two weeks, we couldn’t stay overnight without cleaning.

The next step was meeting with our smoke damage adjuster at the house. We did a walk-through, inspecting and discussing. One of the down sides of the online local community, I found, was a sort of mob effect that magnified the unwillingness of other adjusters to address issues such as toxic ash and environmental testing or additional living expenses and created an adversarial relationship. I found myself getting worked up in anticipation of having to fight for the coverage we had paid for. As it turned out, we and our adjuster achieved a surprising amount of cooperation. They explained their findings, we each asked questions and got clarification. In the end, we felt the settlement offer was fair and would allow us to pay for a professional cleaning if we could not do it ourselves.

Although we’d been prepared to pay for a few extra days at the hotel, power and nonpotable were restored in enough time for us to make several trips to do enough cleaning of the bedrooms and bathrooms that we felt optimistic about moving back on the last day of our paid housing. First came prep, aka cleaning! The bedrooms were by far the least affected by smoke but the places I wanted the cleanest first. I set to work, wiping down surfaces, dusting and vacuuming with our new HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, changing linens, washing floors. Moving from room to room. I was surprised at my sustained willingness to be meticulous and also my endurance. After two exhausting but satisfying sessions, we were ready to move back in.

We walked from room to room, speechless with appreciation for all our treasures that had survived. Much work lay before us — salvaging the refrigerator and freezer, going through the rest of the house, then hiring local professionals to do a deep cleaning that included walls, ceilings, and blinds (windows and the exterior would have to wait for the rains). We watched the cats explore their “new” surroundings, their joy in being in a familiar place.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been the custom in our valley to go outside at 8 pm and howl like wolves for five minutes. On our first night back, our daughter and I did this. We heard only a few, distant howls. We howled back, We’re here! And at every following night, more voices joined in. Another joyful event was hearing our neighbors’ voices on the street, going out to greet them (masked and socially distanced, of course) and celebrate that we all made it. Hey, let’s have a block barbecue on the street once we get clean water again!

Wildfire evacuation has been an ordeal, no question. With climate change, this will increasingly be the new normal. It was at times terrifying, saddening, and yet also exhilarating to see the community flourish using technology. I feel profoundly grateful for how fortunate we are. All people and cats are safe, and we have a home to come back to. We have experienced amazing kindness and have done our best to extend it to others.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

[shameless self-promotion brag] John Stith Reviews Collaborators

Collaborators, my occupation and resistance science fiction novel, was released on October 1.

Here's what John Stith had to say about it:

Collaborators takes a path into territory explored by Ursula K. Le Guin in her The Left Hand of Darkness novel as Ross's novel examines human-alien contact where the alien race has some markedly different characteristics. High on the list is that their sexual identity can ride in neutral with on-demand excursions into either of the two primary genders, so either partner in a pair can ultimately become pregnant.

Ross is a first-rate world builder. The aliens' customs, religion, sexuality, housing, cities, and politics are all fully fleshed out, giving the world a quite strong lived-in ambiance. But while the trappings of their lives, and some aspects of their core existence, are significantly different from what we're used to, they share the elements of life that would allow a species to flourish and dominate; they experience love, loyalty, pride, ambition, self-sacrifice, and empathy.
Along with those qualities come a few of the downsides; two countries vie for superiority, and some of the struggle comes from greed and the quest for power. The team from Earth tries to repair a starship while simultaneously their efforts to deal with an alien culture create a situation rife with misunderstandings.

Collaborators is an intriguing book that demands a thoughtful read and then pays back that effort with maximum interest because it's a compelling, engaging story about people Ross makes us care deeply about, whatever form they take.

I missed Collaborators by Deborah J. Ross (then Deborah Wheeler) when it was originally published in 2013, but I'm grateful to have read the 2020 revised edition, which includes a map and appendices that illuminate the genesis and evolution of this acclaimed novel.

Here's where to order the book (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover editions):

Amazon (ebook and trade paperback)
B & N (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover/laminated cover) 
From your local bookstore, order via Ingram:
     Trade paperback: 9781952589003
     Hardcover/dust jacket: 9781952589027

Kobo (and other ebook retailers) 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Hope, Wanderlust, Change, and Death

The Four Profound Weaves, A Birdverse Book, by R. B. Lemberg (Tachyon)

Lusciously detailed world-building and gorgeous language shine in this short novel from Lemberg’s “Birdverse.” The magic is inventive, centered on the intricately constructed carpets, each with its own amazing properties.

The Four Profound Weaves: A carpet of wind, a carpet of sand, a carpet of song, and a carpet of bones. Change, wanderlust, hope, and death.

In this world, personal magic arises from deepnames, and gender roles are strictly divided. In certain cultures, men neither sing nor weave. At the same time, polyamorous families are common, as are gender transitions. Transforming from female to male, as one of the viewpoint characters has, takes on the added challenge of overcoming a lifetime of roles, rules, and the expectation of loved ones. If this is a world of impossible choices and cruelty, however, it is also imbued with hope. Images of heart-lifting loveliness brighten moments of dark, even grotesque elements.

“For we are all woven of words,” says the transgender man, “and after we go, it is our tales that remain, wandering around the desert with the wind until our stories are told four times, until a weave is pulled from them – the carpet of truth which is the desert, this weave of change, and wanderlust, and hope, and death.”

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Book Launch Day!!

Book Launch today 10/1! #Collaborators is an occupation-and-resistance story, which at its heart is about the uses and abuses of power. 

Poised on the brink of war, the people of the planet Bandar are stunned by the arrival of a disabled Terran space ship. But the Terrans are even less prepared to understand the politics, gender fluidity, or mob reflexes of the natives. The Terran captain uses increasing force as the only way to ensure desperately needed repairs. Hoping to bring enlightened human values to the natives, a young scientist's intervention leads to disaster.

 After a vicious assault, a pregnant native becomes radicalized. A failed poet sees the Terran occupation as a way to gain the recognition he craves. A widow whose farm is bombed using Terran weaponry journeys to the capital in search of help and ends up facing a firing squad. And a reporter becomes the voice of the resistance, determined to take back his world from the invaders...

As violence escalates, the fate of both peoples rests with those who have suffered the most. Can they find a way to forgiveness . . . and peace?

 Lambda Literary Award Finalist

James Tiptree, Jr. Award 2014 Long List

Amazon (ebook and trade paperback)
B & N (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover/laminated cover) 
From your local bookstore, order via Ingram:
     Trade paperback: 9781952589003
     Hardcover/dust jacket: 9781952589027
Kobo (and other ebook retailers)

Advance Praise for Collaborators

 First-rate world-building from a writer gifted with soaring imagination and good old-fashioned Sense of Wonder. — C.J. Cherryh

A compelling tale of political intrigue, and well-meaning intentions creating disastrous tragedies. … and a romantic and intellectually sexy gender discussion wrapped up in a compelling novel. — J. M. Frey, Lambda Literary Award reviews

The alien biology and first-contact dynamics are handled unusually deftly; the narrative polyphony weaves complex melodies and harmonies. [The] world is effortlessly immersive and teems with fully realized characters. — Starship Reckless 

Collaborators takes the familiar plot of "first contact" and makes something new of it. Its evocation of an alien species and culture is both fascinating and enlightening, and [Ross] uses that culture to draw parallels and contrasts to our own human behavior which are sobering and yet also hopeful. Do yourself a favor and read it! — Kate Elliott 

Collaborators tells a story that resonates deeply with our own history, yet at the same time evokes a culture and people unlike any on Earth.  [It] is not only a rousing good story, it is also the kind of thoughtful fiction that offers new insights with each reading. — Catherine Asaro

 The rendering of the planet is magical. The political drama is as real as anything that would happen here on Earth. I keep . . . remembering an exquisite moment of compassion or a gesture of kindness in the midst of violence and chaos. -- Nancy Wood, Western Friend

 [Ross] gives us a lush world, compassionately populates it with real and complex beings, and shows her skill as a master craftswoman and storyteller. -- Gabrielle Harbowy