Friday, December 31, 2021

BOOK RELEASE: Bright Morning, an Anthology in Honor of Vonda N. McIntyre

I made my editorial debut in 2004 with the first volume of the Lace and Blade series and discovered that I loved working "on the other side of the desk." Since then I have edited more volumes of Lace and Blade, The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring, co-edited Sword and Sorceress 33, and took over editing the Darkover anthology series, beginning with Stars of Darkover. Over the years I've had the privilege of working with Tanith Lee, Judith Tarr, Catherine Asaro, Jay Lake, Mary Rosenblum, Chaz Brenchley, Harry Turtledove, and many other, stellar authors.

Now I proudly present the latest gathering of luminous stories of hope and courage. The anthology, stories by writers hanging out together in the Treehouse, arose from a desire to honor our friend, teacher, and colleague, Vonda N. McIntyre. For this anthology, I included both original and reprint stories. 

Vonda N. McIntyre preferred to keep her author's biography short and sweet: "Vonda N. McIntyre writes science fiction." While true, this modest claim conceals accomplishments that earned her multiple accolades and an enduring place among the most influential fantasy and science fiction writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Even more important to the authors of this tribute anthology, McIntyre was a kind and generous supporter of other writers. In Bright Morning, eleven career writers of science fiction, fantasy, and other genres share stories of hope in her honor, along with their memories of working with McIntyre. Profits from the anthology will benefit a charity that promotes literacy for children all over the world.

Table of Contents

Chautauqua, by Nancy Jane Moore

Dog Star, by Jeffrey A. Carver

Emancipation, by Pati Nagle

In Search of Laria, by Doranna Durgin

A Plague of Dancers, by Gillian Polack

Sanitizing the Safe House, by Leah Cutter

Smiley the Robot, by Amy Sterling Casil

More Lasting Than Bronze, by Judith Tarr

Panacea, by Pati Nagle

The Soul Jar, by  Steven Harper

Cuckoo, by Madeleine E. Robins

Unmasking the Ancient Light, by Deborah J. Ross

To Kiss a Star, by Amy Sterling Casil

Harden, by Gillian Polack

Though All the Mountains Lie Between, by Jeffrey A. Carver

The book is available now in ebook form from all the usual vendors and will be released in trade paperback next month. Reviews are especially welcome!

Monday, December 27, 2021

[politics] New California Laws Look to a Better Future

The California state legislature has been busy with a wide range of new laws on voting access, police reform, housing, single-use plastics, sexual assault, and more. 

Universal Vote By Mail

All active registered voters in California will automatically be mailed ballots in all future elections, beginning in 2022, AB37 by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park).

Police Reform

AB490 prohibits the use of restraints that risk suffocating a suspect. Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson)

AB48 bars police from firing rubber projectiles and tear gas at protesters if the situation is not life-threatening.  Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego)

AB89 raises the minimum age to become a police officer to 21. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) 

AB958, which allows departments to fire officers for joining a law-enforcement gang. Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson)

AB26 requires police officers to report when they see a colleague use excessive force. Officers who witness excessive force but don't intervene will face punishment. Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) 

SB16 makes public any records related to excessive force, unlawful searches and other misconduct. Sen. Nancy Skinner, (D-Berkeley) 

Criminal Justice 

SB81 by Skinner authorizes judges to give more weight to mitigating factors such as childhood trauma when considering sentencing enhancements.

Wiener's SB73 ends mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes that are nonviolent.

"Stealthing" Ban

"Stealthing," the nonconsensual removal of a condom during sex, is now considered a form of sexual battery, and victims can sue for civil redress.  Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens)

Spousal Rape 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Short Book Reviews: A Dinosaur Hunting Romance in the Wild West

Every Hidden Thing
, by Kenneth Oppel (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Oh my. Dinosaur hunters and the Wild West and star-crossed lovers, all in one fast-paced, eminently readable novel.

The late 19th Century was marked by, among other things, rivalries between paleontologists. The equivalent of a fossil Gold Rush sent them into the West, in this case the Badlands, in search of ever more spectacular finds. Amateurs vied with professors for the fame of their discoveries, although by the time of Every Hidden Thing, professional journals and museums were already favoring those with academic credentials. To say these bone hunters were cavalier about their treatment of fossil-bearing sites, their understanding of anatomy, and their ethics in dealing with one another is an understatement. Bribery, theft, lies, luring away employees, and outright destruction of excavations were not unheard of.

Set in a fictional version of this fossil race is a love story between the adult children of the two rivals, one an amateur desperate to hold on to his tattered reputation, the other a pompous academic. The young people manage to get themselves included in the expeditions mounted by their fathers, a race to find and unearth “Black Beauty,” a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. They encounter grifters and Native Americans, the latter resentful about incursions into their territory, guides and traitors, not to mention the elements and hazards of excavation.

It’s a lively page-turner with a pair of engaging lovers, curmudgeonly elders, plot twists, and best of all, dinosaur bones!

Monday, December 20, 2021

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.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Short Book Reviews: Nightmare Thanksgiving

 Welcome to Velvet, Az, by Sherry Rossman

For the past eighteen years, the town of Velvet has been under a holiday curse. Thanksgiving is not about turkey and family. On that night the town is beset by Nightmares, terrifying hooded figures that embody a person’s worst fears. A handful of Velvet residents have the ability to absorb the horror of the Nightmares, so every Thanksgiving the town gathers in one place, patrolled by the guardians. The most powerful of these protectors is seventeen-year-old Boone, who was raised by an ageless eccentric and who suffers tremendously by neutralizing the Nightmares. Everyone in Velvet knows the routine. Problems arise, however, when newcomers regard the ritual as mere superstition, to be blithely disregarded, or residents bound to solve the problem with firearms (hint: very bad idea). Two recent arrivals are Nick, who used to live in Velvet and has returned seeking refuge in the midst of a breakdown, and teenager Toni, heavily armored against her traumatic past. While Toni holds Boone at arm’s length, she’s oblivious to the dangers she puts herself in. Nick, on the other hand, delves even deeper into his past and the sequence of events that invoked the curse.

What could possibly go wrong?

Keep turning the pages to find out..

Monday, December 13, 2021

Guest Blog: Italian Author Luca Azzolini Takes On Roman History


History offers a rich, fascinating treasure trove of people, events, and customs. Today, I'm delighted to host Italian writer Luca Azzolini as he shares with us his journey from a kid who was curious about everything to the author of a new trilogy, "Romulus."

The luck of living in a country like Italy is that you can touch history every time, everywhere. We cannot avoid seeing it, experiencing it, touching it or breathing it. Everything around us tells us about a mythical and distant past. And in some places you can live this even stronger than in others.

Mantua is the city where I live, and it is a stratification of different eras that coexist with each other. There are the remains of the Etruscan age, the Roman ruins, the medieval castle, the Renaissance palaces and squares.

I think my love for history began here. I read as much as I could. Especially essays. I realize I've always been a weird kid! Which 12-year-old would passionately study the contents of Canopic jars? Which twelve-year-old would be passionate about the genealogies of the great noble dynasties of Italy? From the Gonzaga, to the Este and to the Sforza.

Well, I was that kind of kid!

The love for novels came immediately after. There was a key moment that I remember very well. At the age of fourteen I faced a crucial choice. Of those that can change your life forever. I wanted two books and could only buy one. I was very torn.

The first was an essay by a well-known Italian astrophysicist, Margherita Hack, whose title I no longer remember.

The second was a novel, in a brightly colored cover, by an author unknown to me at the time: The Planet Savers, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

I chose the astrophysics essay. I stayed for more than an hour in the bookshop with that book in hand.

Then I went back to the shelves, put down the essay, and took The Planet Savers away with me.

I owe a lot to that novel. Reading that book, and the whole Darkover saga, was perhaps the most beautiful, adventurous and exciting journey of my life. Not only I discovered a distant planet where I felt at home, but I also realized I wanted to write novels. Since then I have set my whole life on that choice. At the age of nineteen I chose a faculty at the University of Verona that would allow me to discover “as many stories as possible, and as many lives as possible.” My choice fell on Art History. I never imagined that, over a decade later, that choice would pay back.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Short Book Reviews: Composite Creatures, by Caroline Hardaker

 Composite Creatures, by Caroline Hardaker (Angry Robot)

This is a very strange book, but strange in the sense of mind-bending speculative fiction about a dystopian future, executed with great skill and, most of all, respect for the reader’s intelligence. In an era when all too many novels spoon-feed information, practically hammering the reader’s attention, Caroline Hardaker builds her world, characters, and mysteries layer by intricate, subtle layer. She invites us into a world that is grim but recognizable, one in which pollution and habitat destruction have resulted in the loss of most animals city dwellers might see, including pets. Governmental institutions are slowly being replaced by private ones, notably Easton Grove, and the author doesn’t tell us upfront what it does. Norah, the viewpoint character, has signed up with Easton Grove and has been matched with Arthur, a notable novelist. She’s understandably nervous about their first date in a bizarre courtship by corporate decree, but all goes well, they set up housekeeping together, and soon a cardboard box arrives. Inside is a creature that sounds awfully like a cat. A pet! I thought. They’ve gone through this rigorous process and qualified to parent a pet!

Little did I know that the strangeness was just beginning. As Norah becomes increasingly obsessed with “Nut,” as she has named the creature, Arthur grapples with crippling writer’s block and their network of friends gradually disappears. Then Nut’s fur falls out, Easton Grove increases its surveillance, and Arthur sports a new tooth, wrenched from Nut’s jaw.

In places, Composite Creatures wanders over the border into horror, but I don’t think it belongs properly to that genre. It’s edgy, complex, layered dystopian science fiction, with the emphasis on the inner lives of the people caught up in the Kafka-esque world. It isn’t an easy read or a pleasant one, but is nonetheless rewarding. Norah and Arthur are so much like ordinary people, and we are all vulnerable to the intense seductions and pressures they succumb to.

Monday, December 6, 2021

I Failed To Save That Chapter: What To Do When You've Lost Your Work

Recently a friend reached out to me when a computer crash resulted in the loss of several weeks'
writing. Here's how I responded.

What a colossal bummer!! There's no getting around how frustrating and just plain maddening it is to lose work. I used to do that with some regularity back in the era when I had to manually save everything to disk/ette. I still have a 5 1/4" floppy that no one can read because of the misalignment of the drive when I saved it -- that I am sure contains brilliant and irreproducible words. And I just did it last year by overwriting a chapter and saving it in the cloud.

So, having been around the block on losing work enough times I know a couple of things.
One, as I began with, is that I'm going to feel wretched and desperate and aggravated no matter what I tell myself.

Two, THIS WILL PASS. Two sub-two, I won't be ready to rewrite until I am ready. Sometimes that's an antidote to Great Flaming Balls of Upset, but more often I need to go away and calm down. Do something else, like making bread by hand or chopping wood or throwing a ball for the dog. And wait for words to start coming again. That could be remembering how I started or a detail I liked. Sometimes I can re-build around that, but more often it's just a starting place.

Sometimes I'll try to recreate what I've written but it's flat, like a xerox of a carbon copy. For some, I suspect, it's better to just start fresh and not try to recreate, but mostly for me I need an entry point (think of me as a sperm cell, frantically trying to find a way into the story ovum) and then at some point I'll clear away the scaffolding.

Telling myself that the rewritten prose will be strong isn't very helpful when I'm still raging. As a matter of fact, it's dubiously helpful except in retrospect when I'm finished. 

Another thing I've learned is that if I can find a way to lighten up, I'll get through the Argh stage sooner. It really is awful, but it's survivable. If you can find a way through it that results in a funny story to share with fellow writers, so much the better.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Very Short Book Reviews: A time-travel supernatural mystery thriller

The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall
, by Jessica Thorne (Bookouture)

Two very different women separated by sixty years of history – garden designer Megan in 2019 and heiress Ellie in 1939 – meet in a moonlit hedge maze. After the usual suspicions are allayed, they discover how much they have in common. The legendary Green Lady, who may or may not be Arthur’s Guinevere. Two stern women with the surname Seaborne, one an archaeologist in Megan’s time, the other a wartime secret service agent in the employ of Ellie’s father – or is it the same person? When Megan starts researching Ellie’s home, Foxfield Hall, she discovers that Ellie disappeared without a trace. Then it’s a race against the countdown to the date of that disappearance, for both women to discover the link between the supernatural feminine figures called Vala, the tunnel through time, and the fate not only of Ellie but of Megan herself.

A highly readable time-travel supernatural mystery thriller, The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall hits all the notes perfectly with smooth prose, evocative details, compelling characters, and a superbly revealed mystery.