Monday, February 28, 2022

Guest Blog: Giving Up on a Novel - Yes or No?

 Today's guest post comes from Janice Hardy's "Fiction University."

How to Tell if You Should You Give Up On Your Novel and Write Something New

By Janice Hardy

Not all novels need to be written. Is yours one of them?

Right after my third novel was published (2011), I hit a bad patch of writing. My muse went on vacation, every sentence I typed was a battle, and writing became a chore I dreaded. Although it felt like giving up, I shifted my writing focus to nonfiction until telling stories became fun again. Eventually it did, but it took years.

I wrote a lot of so-so novels during that time. Every single one was based on an idea I loved, but they needed a lot of revising and overhauling to make them work, and I wasn’t sure if revising them yet again was a good idea or not.

Idea #1 frustrated me for two and a half years of revisions. Idea #2 took another two years of my life that went nowhere. Idea #3 was a NaNo project that actually made writing fun again, but then languished when I wasn't sure what to do with it next. It was outside my regular genre and market, and trying to sell that one felt like I was starting over again as a writer.

wanted to make those novels work. The stubborn side of me needed to make them work—it became a grudge match. But going back to them risked me falling back into that same bad patch of frustration that made me hate writing.

Is it wise to keep struggling with a novel that might never work, or is it better to work on something new?

This is a tough call for any writer. We put so much effort into a manuscript, and it’s hard to let that go. All that work. All that creative energy. Just gone. It’s easy to understand why we hold on tight and refuse to let go, even if deep down, we know we should. The manuscript is drowning, and it’s dragging us under with it.

If you're facing a similar choice, here are some things to consider:

1. How much work does the manuscript really need?

Sometimes the only way to make a novel work is to trash everything but the idea and start fresh. Which means, if it usually takes you two years to write a novel, it'll likely take you that long to to do a full re-write. Don't con yourself about this (it's SO easy to do)...if all the manuscript needed was a few months of tweaks, you probably would have done that already.

Take some time and look at what needs to happen to make the novel work. Really understand what you're getting yourself into by staying with it. Do you really want to put that much more work into this idea? There's no wrong answer here, This is about you.

For example, for my books, Idea #1 needed a different protagonist, a deleted POV character, and a plot revamp. Half the book would have to be rewritten, and the other half revised to make the new parts work. Idea #2 needed a total rewrite from the plot up. The plot direction was what didn't work. Idea #3 just needed the normal amount of revising. 

(Here’s more on 3 Ways to Tell if a Manuscript Is Worth Going Back to) 

2. What are the odds that working on this manuscript will trigger the same frustrations as before?

Be honest. If you're breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it, that's a pretty good indication you should move on to something new. But if there's a glimmer of excitement at finally getting this project to work, maybe it's worth giving it another shot.

How do you feel about the novel? What emotions does it trigger in you? Is it keeping you from writing?

For me, Idea #1 carried a very real risk of plunging me back into darkness. There was just so much baggage associated with it, and even though I loved the idea, and I thought I could rework it in six months, I'd thought that before. Idea #2 didn't have that same risk. I could start over there and be okay. It wasn't the book that made me dread writing, so it didn't have the same emotional triggers. Idea #3 was fun to write, and probably fun to revise.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Physician-Sorcerer Takes on an Epidemic

The Physicians of Vilnoc
, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Subterranean)

This latest novella featuring temple sorcerer and sometimes healer, Penric, and his chaos demon, Desdemona, is a love letter to epidemiologists. In a time of plague, tracing the course of the outbreak is the key to gaining control. Is it contagious? What is the means of spread? How did it enter the community? Who dies, and who survives—and why? In this tale, Penric is summoned to an army fort town where a mysterious illness is rapidly spreading, threatening the ability of the soldiers there to defend the port capital. Through Desdemona, Penric can manipulate chaos, thereby allowing a patient’s body to heal itself, but the cost can be high and the limitations on what one sorcerer can do, are great. Through Desdemona, he can siphon off chaos from a patient’s body, in essence lowering the entropy and increasing the orderliness of the tissues. But the amount of chaos remains the same, and Desdemona can absorb only so much. The best way to discharge it is through the ultimate increase in entropy, the death of a living creature. This poses a moral dilemma for Penric, for although ridding the place of fleas and rats is not a problem, their tiny lives are not sufficient. He sets up an arrangement with the butcher to slaughter food animals quickly and painlessly, but even that cannot keep up with the increasing accumulation of chaos.

Over her long existence, Desdemona has passed through a series of hosts, not all of them human, and she carries their memories and wisdom. Her relationship with Penric is exceptional because he treats her as a partner and not as a dangerous, rebellious slave to be controlled at every step. As a consequence, or perhaps as a result of the variety of hosts she’s known, Desdemona has slowly acquired the ability to trust and be trusted. She’s still a demon, but she’s one that values her host and his concerns.

Besides his partnership with Desdemona, Penric also has an inquiring mind and keen analytic skills, with the ability to see through the easy, superficial explanations. He knows that knowledge of how the disease is spread and where it came from is crucial to containing it, but he’s being run ragged in trying to save lives. He’s in dire need of help, but in even more desperate need of information.

I loved all the previous “Penric” stories, but this one was particularly resonant, given that we are now entering our third year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Physicians of Vilnoc is a poignant and compelling reminder of our vulnerability to contagious diseases, and the importance—the necessity—of meticulous epidemiology in combatting them.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Repost from The Conversation: Ukraine conflict brings cybersecurity risks to US homes, businesses


Ukraine conflict brings cybersecurity risks to US homes, businesses

Regular Americans could find themselves targets of Russian cyberwarfare. Roberto Westbrook via Getty Images
Richard Forno, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

All cybersecurity is local, regardless of the world situation. That means it’s personal, too – in Americans’ homes, computers and online accounts. As violence spreads thousands of miles away from the U.S., my strong recommendation is that all Americans remain vigilant and check on their own cybersecurity.

While organizations reinforce their cybersecurity posture during this period of geopolitical tension, I also suggest people regularly ensure their computer, mobile devices and software are updated, double-check that all passwords are secure and all key accounts are protected by two-factor authentication. Beware that phishing attacks may increase, seeking to trick people into clicking links that grant attackers access to computer systems. These are a few simple steps that can help increase one’s cybersecurity preparedness both now and for the future.

Recent Russian-linked cyberattacks, including against energy pipelines, federal government services, and attacks on local governments, first responders, hospitals and private corporations, show the potential for Russian cyber warriors to put U.S. civilians at risk. All these entities should be more vigilant over the coming days.

In the days before Russia invaded Ukraine, a series of cyberattacks disrupted Ukrainian government and business websites – despite Ukraine’s cyberdefense teams’ being prepared to defend against them.

With many Americans working from home because of the pandemic, the U.S. is more vulnerable than it might have been otherwise: Home networks and computers are often less protected than those at an office – which makes them enticing targets.

Russian cyber capabilities, and threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin, mean that what might look like random technical glitches on personal computers, websites and home networks may not be accidental. They could be precursors to – or actual parts of – a larger cyberattack. Therefore, ongoing vigilance is more crucial than ever.

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Richard Forno, Principal Lecturer, Cybersecurity and Assistant Director, UMBC Cybersecurity Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Hallucinatory Noir, With Cockroach

Within Without (A Nyquist Mystery), by Jeff Noon (Angry Robot)

This is the third “John Nyquist Mystery” I’ve read and it’s by far the weirdest. Nyquist’s latest case involves the theft of a sentient, essence-of-glamor image that has gone missing from its host. To investigate, Nyquist and his new assistant travel to the city of Delirium, guarded by boundaries that are far more than checkpoints or physical barriers. Their search for the magic practitioner who created and attached the image to begin with leads them into increasingly bizarre cities-within-cities. In Escher, Nyquist discovers his “Inverse,” the character hidden within his psyche, and it turns out to be Gregor Samsa, the narrator of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, who wakens one morning to discover he has turned into a cockroach. So Nyquist must deal not only with Samsa’s personality and voice, but that of the cockroach. As if that weren’t strange enough, his assistant has become infected with a creeping magical substance and, obsessed with taking the image, named Oberon, for his own, disappears. Plot twists abound, building until Nyquist finds himself in an utterly different plane of existence, one in which the images define and distort reality. The book carries forward and intensifies the hallucinatory texture of the previous Nyquist novels.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Praise for JAYDIUM

, my debut science fiction novel from back in 1993, was included in a recent StoryBundle. I was pleased to have my book selected but then thought no more about it. Then I saw this review from 2020 by Jemima Pett:

Jaydium starts off on a deadbeat planet with miners slouched around causing havoc in a bar. It sounded terribly familiar. The girl is different, but the arrival of her ex-partner, and his new partner, and his friend, seems to send it off on a trite space romance. This gets worse when the friend insists on helping the girl out by flying duo with her to help her cut some jaydium. Jaydium is much like orichalcum is in my universe, but it enable faster-than-light travel, rather than instantaneous communications. It’s still highly prized and only found in a few places.

At that point I was thinking… meh.

Then it all changed. And then it changed again! I wondered how many changes we were in for, but the development of the later change and the attention to possibilities both sociological and temporal had me completely hooked.

Ms Wheeler writes a mean story, with great action sequences, and she keeps the action going. The relationships develop at a sensible and realistic pace, especially when dealing with four beings out of time with each other. The need for a double helping of translation tech was a nice touch. I would quibble over a few things that needed editing, and I sometimes felt the switched of point of view were confusing. like the author couldn’t quite decide who she’d rather have tell this part of the tale.

There is potential for further adventures of the pair we are left with departing together on a spaceship at the end, but really, I think it would be hard to develop their characters from there. But more convoluted space adventures from Ms Wheeler, please!

JAYDIUM 'Ms Wheeler writes a mean spacetime story, with great action sequences' #jaydium #scifi #spacetimereads @storybundleCLICK TO TWEET

Friday, February 11, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Luminous Collection by Sheila Finch


Forkpoints, by Sheila Finch (Aqueduct Press)

Sheila Finch is one of the treasures of modern science fiction. She’s literate, imaginative, and deeply insightful. Her contributions to the field include not only specific, awesomely good works, but her careful attention to how language shapes story structure and flow. Her short fiction works are like polished gemstones, with each facet reflecting and informing the central theme. Here is a collection of such jewels, each speaking to the profound transformative power of human understanding. We are more than our circumstances, these stories say, we have the ability to shift our perspective, to look and feel more deeply, and thereby to shift entire realities. From an elderly music teacher who could also have been an iconic physicist to an extraordinary communication across species to a time-traveler visiting his own ancestor during the World War II London bombings, each tale reaches deep into the mind of the reader, inviting us with Finch’s characteristically gentle wisdom to see the universe and ourselves in a revolutionary light.

Monday, February 7, 2022

ARCHIVES Northlight: Evolving a Novel

After I submitted Jaydium, which was to become my first published novel, I began work right away on my next project. Or rather, I took a look at all the ideas and characters which were screaming inside my skull to be made into stories and tried to decide which one would cause me the most anguish if I didn't work on it first. High on my list was to rewrite the last novel I'd written before Jaydium. It had received careful attention, not to mention three single-spaced pages of critical feedback, from the editor who would later buy Jaydium.

I felt that if an editor had taken that much time and trouble with the book, there was something of value, something that perhaps I was now a good enough writer to bring out fully.

The book's working title was Weiremaster, and it was based on the world of my very first professional short story, "Imperatrix", which appeared in the debut Sword & Sorceress anthology. Weires are bipedal ape-like creatures, seven-feet tall, fanged, silver-furred, immensely powerful and receptively telepathic. In the world of "Imperatrix," they obey people of imperial blood. For the purposes of that short story, no further explanation was needed.

Now, years later, my world-building had matured. I wanted to know how these creatures had come into a human world, how the control worked, and how the dynastic characteristic had been established. I concocted an adventure which would lead my hero into the world of the Weires and back home again, changed. He would carry me -- and the reader -- along with him, a classical hero-quest. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Puritans Vs Forest God, with Animal Cruelty Warning


Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery, by Brom (Tor Nightfire)

I was interested in this book as historical fantasy, with its setting in mid-17th Century New England among the Puritans. The main character, Abitha, was appealing and her situation, as a non-Puritan bride trying to adjust to the rigidity of life in mid-17th Century New England, sympathetic. I liked that the Puritans were not monolithic; some were kind, others cruel and ambitious, some devout, others pragmatic. Abitha’s husband genuinely cares for her and tries to shield her against his greedy, ruthless brother, whose schemes would have both of them working as indentured servants. Then there is Slewfoot, an ancient spirit with amnesia, that the talking animals “wildfolk” want to use to wipe all humankind—Native and European settlers alike—from the forest. What the heck does “slewfoot” mean, anyway? I looked it up: in hockey it means, “using your leg to take someone off balance from behind by sweeping the back of their knee, often resulting in injury.” It could be a version of “slue-foot,” meaning “having big, clumsy, or turned-out feet.” Neither of these really applies to the goat-headed creature that enters into a partnership with Abitha, half-savior, half-demon. Which of course does not go over well in a Puritan community.

Without giving too much away, I found the moral ambiguities unsettling. Clearly, some of the human Puritans are hateful, using piety as an excuse for cruelty. But so, in their way, are the wildfolk. There don’t seem to be any ethical concerns about their deadly interactions with Native communities, or the ease with which even sympathetic European characters are slaughtered. Abitha’s eventual pact with Slewfoot stuck me as one that leaves behind compassion and human fellowship as well as desperate circumstances. There was no resolution, no consequences, no arc of justice. The worst part, though, was the torture and eventual killing of her beloved cat. If I had known such a scene was gratuitously added, I would never have read this book. Consider this fair warning if you, too, are an animal lover who treasures the trust and affection of our feline friends.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Scoundrels in Space StoryBundle

I was on the screening committee that put together this StoryBundle. Lots of awesome stuff here, folks!

 The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) is releasing its newest StoryBundle, Scoundrels in Space, offering a large selection of ebooks from independent and small press science fiction writers! The StoryBundle can be purchased here:

The ebooks in this collection feature the con artists, thieves, and space pirates of tomorrow that fascinate us, all the more because these motley ne’er-do-wells so often end up saving the universe despite their incorrigibility! Pick up the SFWA Scoundrels in Space StoryBundle and get to know twelve such spacefarers who live on the fringes of a dozen wildly different worlds, until circumstances force each of them into hard choices and more adventure than they expected.
The Scoundrels in Space StoryBundle will be available for a limited time, from February 2 to February 24. Readers pay $5 or more for the initial four ebooks. Spending $20 total unlocks eight more ebooks that they receive with their purchase. Once February 24 passes, this particular collection will never be available again! Further details about how StoryBundle operates are available at

Core Bundle
Flotsam by R J Theodore
Severance by Chris Bucholz
Toccata System by Kate Sheeran Swed
Tyche’s Flight by Richard Parry

Bonus Books
Lex Talionis by R. S. A. Garcia
Wreckers by George Ellis
The Quantum Magician by Derek K√ľnsken
The Blackwing War by K.B. Spangler
House of Shards by Walter Jon Williams
Barbarians of the Beyond by Matthew Hughes
Border Crosser by Tom Doyle
Romance on Four Worlds: a Casanova Quartet by Tom Purdom