Friday, March 24, 2023

Short Book Reviews: Tracking Down a Husband Across Dimensions

 Spelunking Through Hell, (A Visitor's Guide to the Underworld), by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

I have enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s “Incryptid” series since I discovered it. Earlier volumes felt like related, spin-off stand-alones set in the same world with characters who were loosely related to one another. I was particularly delighted to discover that Rose Marshall, from The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, a series I loved, is a distant, although usually off-scene character. The last couple of volumes were a bit of a disappointment, but on the strength of the earlier ones, I decided to give Spelunking Through Hell a try. It was richly worth it.

The crossroads—as in the place you go to make deals with the devil that never, ever turn out well for you—are sentient entities who make an appearance from time to time in McGuire’s related novels. To say they are nasty is an understatement. One of those bargains involved the magician, Thomas Price. He’s been confined to the premises of his (haunted, see Rose, above, and Mary Dunlevy, a ghost who occasionally doubles as a babysitter) house, but it’s part of the price he pays (to the crossroads, see above) for getting to be with his adored wife, Alice Healy. But when the crossroads eventually come to collect their debt, not even Mary can forestall them. Then he vanishes in the middle of the night and everyone is convinced he’s dead…except Alice, who waits only long enough to give birth to their second child and then embarks upon a five decades-long cross-dimensional search for her husband.

Along the way, she acquires friends and allies, including Ithacan satyrs, Helen and Phoebe, and Naga, the giant snake-man who is a professor of extra-dimensional studies. She also survives dimensions that are dying because their world-souls have been stripped, world inhabited by maniacal cannibals, and worse yet. Her kids won’t talk to the mom who abandoned them. Yet she refuses to give up.

This book is about her happy ending and what it cost her. It’s a brilliant, touching page-turner.


Monday, March 20, 2023

Love Letters from Space Telescopes

 What an age we live in!

A spectacular trio of merging galaxies in the constellation Boötes takes center stage in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. These three galaxies are set on a collision course and will eventually merge into a single larger galaxy, distorting one another’s spiral structure through mutual gravitational interaction in the process. An unrelated foreground galaxy appears to float serenely near this scene, and the smudged shapes of much more distant galaxies are visible in the background. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Sun. Article here.

On March 1, 2023, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew by Jupiter’s moon Io, coming within 51,500 km (32,030 miles) of the innermost and third-largest of the four Galilean moons. The stunning new images provide the best and closest view of the most volcanic moon in our Solar System since the New Horizons mission flew past Io and the Jupiter system in 2006 on its way to Pluto.

Jupiter’s moon Io, as seen by the JunoCam instrument on Juno, on March 1, 2023. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/ processed by Kevin M. Gill.
Cleary, Io still looks like a pizza. The mottled and colorful surface comes from the volcanic activity, with hundreds of vents and calderas on the surface that create a variety of features. Volcanic plumes and lava flows across the surface show up in all sorts of colors, from red and yellow to orange and black. Some of the lava “rivers” stretch for hundreds of kilometers

Glimpsed only occasionally at the hearts of massive clusters of galaxies, ultramassive black holes are some of the largest and most elusive objects in the universe. These black hole behemoths have masses exceeding that of 10 billion suns, making them far more monstrous than even the supermassive black holes found at the centers of galaxies like the Milky Way, and their tremendous size has long perplexed astronomers. 

Now, researchers studying a rare galaxy merger with three supermassive black holes at its center may have finally discovered the origins of these cosmic monsters. 

Using a high-resolution cosmological simulation called ASTRID, the team modeled the evolution of the universe as it appeared about 11 billion years ago. In the simulation, the team witnessed the birth of an ultramassive black hole following the merger of the three galaxies. Each of these galaxies contained its own quasar, a supermassive black hole that feeds on gas and powers massive outbursts of radiation that can outshine all the stars in their host galaxies combined.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Short Book Reviews: Bad Snake Things Waking Up

The Thousand Eyes, by A. K. Larkwood (Tor)

This sequel to A. K. Larkwood's debut fantasy, The Unspoken Name, continues the adventures of many of the original characters, including some we thought were dead. It seems that in Larkwood’s world of “The Serpent Gates,” you cannot count on anything staying dead, whether they be people (not strictly limited to humans), gods, empires, or gigantic mystical serpents. It’s now two years after our heroes/anti-heroes—ogre Csorwe, her girlfriend, mage Shuthmili, and ne’er-do-well Tal Charossa—supposedly defeated the immortal wizard, Belthandros Sethennai. Who, of course, is not actually dead, in no small part because he’s made a bargain with a snake goddess to become her mortal, unstoppable incarnation.

Making bargains with snake goddesses never turns out well, as our friends discover when they unearth an ancient artifact, the Mantle of Divinity, from the long-extinct snake empire. And wake Bad Snake Things up.

Without giving away too much of the marvelously convoluted-but-circular plot, the Bad Snake Things include the last royal soldier of the above-mentioned extinct Snake Empire, a person of truly epic obsessive loyalty. The Mantle of Divinity does its thing, turning a mortal into a divine incarnation of the original snake goddess, who then commences to remodel all the linked dimensional worlds into a recreation of the original above-mentioned extinct Snake Empire. But Belthandros Sethennai is not only not dead, he’s been systematically destroying all the subsidiary incarnations of the One True Snake Goddess so that he can become Her. And matters go pear-shaped from there.

Like its predecessor, this is a long novel, lushly detained, and for all the horrific ways Things Go Wrong, it’s a joy to spend this much time (and these many plot reversals) with our friends. It’s not the place to start, but for everyone who, like me, fell in love with the world and its characters, it offers a rich feast of the imagination.



Monday, March 13, 2023

Auntie Deborah's Agony Column (The Best of...)

Back in 2015, I had fun playing around with an advice column for my favorite characters. I hope you'll enjoy these "Best of..." entries from that column.

Dear Auntie,

After way too many experiences dating angsty, unemployed vampires, I finally met a nice, soft-spoken, polite man. He even has a fairly normal name, Norman. He even has a job, working at a motel. Things were going very well when I realized something was a little “off.” I wonder if that’s my own projection from my past romantic relationships. How do I know what’s normal? Anyway, he’s invited me to meet his mother. What should I bring?
— Buffy

Dear Buffy,

You are wise to trust your instincts, for they have served you well through many perils. All too often, women are trained to ignore otheirgut feelings about a person or situation. We allow ourselves to be persuaded into dangerous circumstances instead of standing up for ourselves. Norman may be what he seems, but he may harbor a darker side that your intuition is warning you about.

My advice is to come prepared for anything. Never mind flowers or a bottle of wine! Bring your slayer arsenal — stakes, spears, swords, the works — and keep your wits about you. Make sure you have an exit strategy if things go sour. And whatever you do, do not get into the shower.

— Auntie Deborah

Dear Auntie Deborah,

I’ve suddenly found myself in a land of many colors, where troubles melt like lemon drops. My problem, though, is that this green-faced woman keeps sky-writing love letters to me…for everybody to see! I don’t return her affections, so what should I do?

Dear Dorothy,
You’ve clearly ended up in a slash version of your own book. My advice is to click your heels like crazy before the flying monkeys get any ideas.

—Auntie Deborah

This last entry contains references to the works of J. K. Rowling. It's behind a page break. Like the others, it is from 2015. Please take it in the playful spirit in which it was originally written.

Dear Auntie Deb,

Friday, March 3, 2023

Short Book Reviews: Witches and Pirates in Love

The League of Gentlewomen Witches, by India Holton (Berkeley)

This book ought to have been sub-titled, Witches and Pirates Pretending to Hate One Another but Really Having Way Too Much Fun. And falling in love. Rival organizations, the Wisteria Society (pirates who go to battle in flying houses) and the League of Gentlewomen Witches (who insist that witchcraft doesn’t exist and will batter you with tea and polite manners until you agree) have been at odds forever. When an immensely powerful amulet is re-discovered, it’s a race for who can get their hands on it first. For the witches, Charlotte Pettifer, titular heir to the League’s leadership. For the pirates, well…all of them but in particular Alex O’Riley, who has made a lifelong study of the art of being a dashing rogue. Blades clash, sparks fly, passions ignite, and humor abounds. Hilarity and wit embroider every page, but underneath lie more serious themes: lingering childhood trauma and its effect on self-esteem, and the healing power of honesty, acceptance, and love.

And tea.

Monday, February 27, 2023

How to Help Girls (and Everyone!) Cope with Pandemic Depression

This article first appeared in The Conversation and is republished here in a slightly condensed form under a Creative Commons license. It's so important, it deserves to be widely read.

Previous CDC research has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected girls. And in a 2021 study that our team conducted with 240 teens, 70% of girls said that they “very much” missed seeing people during the pandemic, compared with only 28% of boys reporting that sentiment.

A second factor is social media, which can be a wonderful source of support but also, at times, a crushing blow to the self-esteem and psychological well-being of girls.

Finally, we think that all young people are struggling with issues like climate change and social upheaval. 
Here are six strategies that research shows can work.

1. More emphasis on social support

Social and emotional connectivity between humans is likely one of the most potent weapons we have against significant stress and sadness. Studies have found strong links between a lack of parental and peer support and depression during adolescence. Support from friends can also help mitigate the link between extreme adolescent anxiety and suicidal thoughts. In one study of teens, social support was linked to greater resilience – such as being better able to withstand certain types of social cruelty like bullying.

2. Supporting one another instead of competing

Research has found that social media encourages competition between girls, particularly around their physical appearance. Teaching girls at young ages to be cheerleaders for one another – and modeling that behavior as grownups – can help ease the sense of competition that today’s teens are facing.

3. Showcasing achievements

Thinking about your own appearance is natural and understandable. But an overemphasis on what you look like is clearly not healthy, and it is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, especially in women.

Adults can play a key role in encouraging girls to value other qualities, such as their artistic abilities or intelligence. Childhood can be a canvas for children to discover where their talents lie, which can be a source of great satisfaction in life.

One way that adults can help is simply by acknowledging and celebrating those qualities. For instance, at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, an organization we direct and manage that is focused on prevention of bullying and cyberbullying, staff members post female achievements – be they intellectual, artistic, scientific, athletic or literary – on social media channels every Friday, using the hashtag #FridaysForFemales.

4. Empowering women

Girls look to grown women for examples of how they can behave and what they can do. You may not be the chief executive officer of a huge corporation, but maybe you are a wonderful teacher, or maybe you run a small business that provides an important product or service. Modeling pro-women attitudes means valuing all of the roles that people play in a society.

In addition, teaching the history behind women’s movements and other important steps toward equality, such as the women’s right to vote, is key to empowering girls to value themselves and their roles. Women played central roles in war efforts during World War II. Women have led social movements and fought for people’s rights. And women have been renowned scientistswritersartists and experts in virtually every other profession you can name.

5. An honest look at social media

Social media represents a unique form of human interaction that has taken on an outsize role in the lives of teens. This is magnified for teenage girls, for whom every social media interaction may feel consequential and potentially cataclysmic.

Interacting in a fun and positive way with peers on social media platforms can be a positive and affirming experience. On the other hand, seeing the things that others post, and comparing it with your own stuff, can make people of any age feel anxious about how they’re appearing, and whether they’re being socially included or excluded. This anxiety applies to both boys and girls, but the potential for emotional distress seems to be higher for girls.

Awareness of how social media has the capacity to influence your feelings and mental health seems to help people keep some distance from their interactions on social media. Adults can help girls by discussing with them how social media influences their feelings, their self-perception and even their body image.

6. Teaching kids to recognize their feelings

Learning to recognize and label feelings doesn’t come automatically for many people. The good news, though, is that kids can learn ways to help themselves when they’re experiencing anxiety or depression. Kids can learn to appreciate how hugging their dog, playing a board game, or talking with their parent(s) can help reduce anxiety, once they understand the feelings.

We think it’s worth noting that everything discussed here can also be helpful for boys, who are by no means immune to mental health problems. Encouraging achievement recognition, understanding how moods can be influenced by social media, and increasing support for both boys and girls is a positive step as we move toward a post-pandemic world.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Short Book Reviews: World-Hopping While You Sleep, Part 2

 Prison of Sleep, by Tim Pratt (Angry Robot)

 I’m an unabashed fan of Tim Pratt’s work, and Doors of Sleep, the first volume of the “Zax Delatree duology,” captured me immediately. The premise is an engraved invitation to heart-breaking adventure: whenever sweet, compassionate mediator Zax Delatree falls asleep, he wakes up in a different reality. Not another planet or even another galaxy, a completely different dimension. He can take with him only what he carries and can stay only as long as he remains awake. Fortunately, the worlds he travels to are habitable (no gas giant atmospheres or torrents of liquid diamonds), so he can breathe the air and digest whatever food he can find. At first, he could not even understand the language of his destination culture and had no way of obtaining the necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter) except by theft. Worst of all was the soul-crushing loneliness of leaving behind every friend he makes. In Doors of Sleep, he encounters a psychotic scientist who infects him with a translation virus, meets and falls in love with artist, Ana, and found a few companions (including a sentient crystal disguised as a ring) capable of traveling with him.

Now comes the second part of the story: the revelation of What It’s All About: the secret behind dimension-hopping and the dastardly plot behind it. Along the way, he reunites with Ana (and gets separated again, several times) and friends, new and old. Having more lasting relationships helps Zax survive emotionally as well as physically and fuels his determination to leave each world better than he found it.

As always, Pratt’s narrative is endlessly inventive with great characters, smooth prose, and nifty plot twists. Best of all is the sense of humanity and compassion flowing through these two linked books.

Monday, February 20, 2023

5 things you might find in my stories

5 things you might find in my stories 

1. Nonviolent resolutions to conflict 
2. No person is entirely good or evil 
3. Mothers are heroes and have adventures 
4. Libraries are worth saving 
5. Love heals, although often it is not enough

Friday, February 17, 2023

Short Book Reviews: Our Favorite African-Scottish Teen Ghost Talker Returns!

 Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments, by T. L. Huchu (Tor)

I absolutely fell in love with Ropa Moyo, the African-Scottish teenager who lives with her knitting-maven grandmother, younger sister, and fox companion in a broken-down trailer in post-apocalyptic Edinburgh. Hyper-responsible Ropa has been scratching out a living for her family as a ghost-talker by carrying messages from the deceased to their surviving families (who pay a fee). In the first adventure, she stumbles upon an underground occult Library of the Dead and various secret magical academies and societies. With the exception of her loyal, long-time magical student friends and a charismatic higher-up Sir Callandar, who is also her mentor, the magical intellectuals look down on her.

The book opens with, “So, I’m skint again. ‘Nothing new there, Ropa,’ I hear you say. Well, up yours. This time though, a lass is in luck – Sir Callander, Scotland’s premier magical bigwig, has hooked me up with an interview for an apprenticeship. Free food and a proper wage — all for a wee bit of filing. Yay.”

What Ropa hopes would be a paid apprenticeship gets downgraded to a crummy unpaid internship. So when her friend, Priya, who works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies magical hospital, offers her a paid gig investigating an enigmatic, possibly deadly illness striking students. Her sleuthing leads her to a lost fortune, a demented vengeful ghost, and a secret buried deep in Scotland’s past.

The action, world-building, and characters move the story right along, but by far the most enchanting part of the book is Ropa’s wonderful voice, a combination of teenage sass, way too many smarts, a huge dose of compassion, and neoScottish slang. I’ll hang out with her any day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

It's Cover Reveal Time!

Jewels of Darkover, the 20th Darkover anthology, features marvelous stories by Diana L. Paxson, Shariann Lewitt, Marella Sands, Barb Caffrey, and many more! It's scheduled for May 2, 2023. Stay tuned for more previews, Table of Contents, and pre-order link!

I love this gorgeous cover, designed by Dave Smeds.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Author Interview: Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Joyce Reynolds-Ward and I met the pre-pandemic days when I regularly traveled to conventions in the Pacific Northwest. She’s warm, funny, endlessly curious, and a fantastic writer. And a knowledgeable and enthusiastic horse person. So when I heard she’d just put out a new book, I couldn’t wait to find out about it.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Joyce Reynolds-Ward: I've been making up stories to entertain myself since I was little. At first, they were about books I'd read or TV shows I watched. Then I started writing stories off and on, starting with my junior high literary magazine continuing through the present day. I've gotten somewhat serious about writing since the late '00s, however, and have been writing regularly since 2008 or so.


DJR: What inspired your book? 

JRW: My most recently published book, A Different Life: Now. Always. Forever. was an attempt to write something light. Um. Well. Maybe. It's set in what I call the Martiniere Multiverse, a spinoff from my main series, The Martiniere Legacy and the People of the Martiniere Legacy.

When writing A Different Life: What If?, I half-toyed with the idea of writing about my main characters, Ruby and Gabe, from the perspective of Ruby's best friend in college, Linda Coates, who Ruby hires to be her executive assistant. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, and I figured that it would make a nice, light little story, which was what I needed to think about after several years of Covid and my worries about the 2022 election.

Things kinda happened from there. The book took a more political tone after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, with Linda's brother-in-law becoming a rising reactionary political leader who has nefarious designs involving Linda. But there are still light moments, and we have a bit of biobot action where Ruby and Linda release the latest version of Ruby's bots that are intended to counter climate change by helping plants absorb and retain moisture better. Plus--Linda's reaction to living in an Art Nouveau palace in Paris, France. That was fun to visualize.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?

JRW: My influences come from several very odd and unusual places, especially for a writer in the speculative fiction genre. One of my earliest influences was Mary O'Hara, of My Friend Flicka fame. If you have only read the first book, especially in an abridged edition considered suitable for children, you miss a LOT of the deeper undercurrents of O'Hara's writing. The other two books in the trilogy, Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming, delve into spirituality (O'Hara had become involved with early versions of Eastern mysticism) and conflicted, difficult marital relationships. Writing this, I suddenly realize that my character Gabriel Martiniere owes a little bit to O'Hara's Rob McLaughlin. Not a lot--but there's a little bit of Rob in Gabe.

One thing to consider, though, about O'Hara, is that she was one of the original script doctors in Hollywood during the silent film era. While she only cites a few instances where she got called in to work on scripts gone wrong, it's enough to make me wish that she had written a memoir about that Hollywood experience. Nonetheless, her life story (as related in Flicka's Friend) is quite fascinating.

John Steinbeck is another literary influence that I frequently cite from my early days of writing. One of my high school English teachers used his Travels with Charley as a textbook for her advanced writing class. From Charley, I moved on to his Journal of a Novel, drafted while he was writing East of Eden. Then I went on to read all of his books. Steinbeck, along with O'Hara, taught me a lot about the use of settings in my work that I think really still shows up.

Otherwise, there are many writers who have influenced my work and made me think more about the process of writing and what I was doing while writing. Obviously, I read widely and well beyond the genre. Recent influences include C.J. Cherryh, Beverly Jenkins, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Elliott (especially her so-underestimated Jaran books), Craig Johnson, N. K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, and many, many more. I am always eager to discover a new writer and new works. My ebook library card gets a LOT of use these days.

Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from
others in your genre?

JRW: Originally, I started writing what I do because I wasn't finding the books I wanted to read. I wanted to read about more strong women, but I also wanted to read fantasy in settings that weren't quasi-medieval Europe, as well as science fiction that wasn't set in Southern California or New York. I wanted to see more work that included the things I was interested in, including realistic horses, the inland West as a setting, examination of political power that didn't make me want to throw the book across the room, and other things.

 I write politics from my training in political science and the nearly two decades I spent as a political organizer. Some writers in genre have that knowledge and understanding, but many don't. While my understanding is more on the state and local level, it's enough to extrapolate for larger settings. Additionally, because I spent many years as a corporate wife at the middle management level in sales, I know somewhat more about some of the stuff that goes on in that realm than most people. The ins and outs of management fads, the degree to which certain things get done, the internal politics...all of that. I focus on multigenerational privately-held corporate entities rather than larger publicly-held companies because that's easier to control in a story.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Short Book Reviews: A Dark and Gorgeous Hollywood

Siren Queen, by Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)

 From childhood, the Chinese American girl who calls herself Luli Wei has been fascinated by motion pictures. It’s the 1930s and silent films are giving way to talkies. But this isn’t the Hollywood we know. Magic lurks in strange corners, from the ticket-taker who swaps a bit of Luli’s hair (and a bit of her life) for tickets to the Wild Hunt rampaging through the studio lot in the dead of night. To Luli herself, who comes from a family in which the women possess a bit of immortality. Beginning with a chance encounter on a set to an offer of a contract, Luli rises through the ranks of girls desperate for stardom. She’s all too aware that the roles for Asians are limited to maids and fainting ladies who talk funny. So when the opportunity to play a monstrous siren queen comes along, she throws herself into the role. Along the way, she acquires friends, makes enemies, finds women lovers, and becomes a pioneer. The story is powerful, gorgeously written, and both dark and luminous.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Short Book Reviews: If Robin Hood Was Tam Lin

Outcasts of the Wildwood, by Rachel Atwood (DAW)

In this sequel to Walk the Wild With Me, Rachel Atwood continues her delightful mash-up of the Robin Hood legends, Faerie, the Wild Folk, and characters from British and Celtic pagan folklore. Like the first book, this story begins slowly, which allows the reader to settle in to a world that defies some but not all assumptions. Each of the many viewpoint characters has his or her own backstory and goals. Yet even when the pace seems slow, the intricate connections between the ordinary world, Faerie, and the world of magic unfold like a tapestry. Characters grow and change, secrets are revealed, and the wonderful way in which Atwood upends expectations all create a personal and unique approach to the stories we thought we knew.

Now the focus is on Robin (Goodfellow/Hood) and his lost love, Marian, and it’s great to see them take center stage. For the past 60 years, Robin has lived under a curse. For half of each day, he is a hideous gnome (Goodfellow) with a bit of magic and near immortality. The other half of the day, he is human, the legendary Robin Hood. Marian is locked in a secret chamber in perpetual sleep. The curse can be broken only if Robin awakens Marian in his gnome form and she recognizes who he truly is. This is a reverse of the old ballad, Tam Lin. Then it is the woman who, seeking to rescue her lover from the faeries, must pull him from horse and hold onto him as he is transformed into a variety of beasts and other dangers. Only when he is in his true form can his enchantment be broken.

As in the previous volume, Atwood spins a new take on traditional folk elements.



Friday, January 27, 2023

Short Book Reviews: A Complex, Brilliant Character-Driven Fantasy

The Bone Orchard
, by Sara A. Mueller (Tor)

With a style reminiscent of Tanith Lee and a world as complex and byzantine as M. A. Carrick’s, Sara A. Mueller spins a tale of magic, identity, politics, and hidden pain. The Bone Orchard is difficult to describe in terms of premise or plot because so much of the reading experience involves following the development of unreliable narrators who may or may not be the severed aspects of a single person. But who that person truly is and how much autonomy the other aspects possess pose questions that Mueller reveals gradually and with consummate skill.

We know that severe early trauma increases the risk of dissociative identity disorder, formerly called multiple personality. Suppose, then, that it were possible to create a synthetic version of yourself, using bones grown on trees, for example, a “you” that would bear that unbearable pain? Or take away your shame upon herself? At what point would you cease to be you? How many aspects of yourself must you lose to become someone else, and what would be left?

From the very first pages, I was enthralled by The Lady, Charm, Pain, Pride, Shame, and Justice, and how they each survived (or perished) in the game of ruthless, often lethal magical politics. I especially loved how each found a wellspring of compassion in her burden, especially Pain. The unexpected love story was like a chocolate left on a pillow.

Mueller writes that it took her many years to create this story, and the care she took shines through the depth and complexity of the world and its people. All too often, a debut novel that is the product of long development is followed by another that is comparatively rushed by early success. I hope Mueller is given the same scope for her next novel. If The Bone Orchard is any indication of what we can look forward to, it will be a treasure. She is definitely a talent to watch.


Friday, January 13, 2023

Short Book Reviews: A Woman Police Detective Across Dimensions

 Marked, by S. Andrew Swann (DAW)

Reminiscent of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, this “portal to another world” fantasy begins as a police procedural with a twist. Detective Dana Rohan’s life is filled with secrets. One is the intricate, tattoo-like Mark across her back that has grown in complexity and extent since the time she was found as an orphaned child. The other is what the Mark does. By an act of will, she can travel across time and alternate worlds. She’s been using this ability to solve crimes, at the risk of attracting the suspicions of the police higher-ups, even the distrust of her partner when she almost gets caught hiding a revolver used in a crime in a parallel world when one exists in police custody in this reality. Her problems quickly fade to insignificance when a series of bizarre encounters, including near-fatal assaults by zombie-like, cannibal “Shadows,” propel her from her ordinary life into a multitude of different realities. From formless, roiling Chaos to a world in which Napoleon III rules the Western World, her only hope of survival is turning the tables on the culprit behind the assaults.

I’m a fan of stories that start in the everyday world, often with a character with a mysterious past, and end up in increasingly more fantastic settings. I mentioned Zelazny’s Amber series, also Anne McCaffrey’s Restoree, and let’s not forget all the magical-door stories like C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. This one has the added features of a woman detective who is more than capable of defending herself, a slow-simmer romance, and the usual quirks of alternate histories. It’s fast-paced and full of plot twists and drama. All in all, a quick but satisfying read.


Monday, January 9, 2023

Auntie Deborah's New Writing Advice

 It's a new year, and aspiring writers have questions!

Q: Dear Auntie Deborah, I just got the rights for my novel back from my now-defunct publisher. Will I be able to sell it to another publisher?

A: It’s a wretched situation and I’m so sorry you find yourself in it. If it helps, you’re not alone. Not only are publishers going under but mergers are resulting in the cancellation of contracts for not-yet-delivered books, even for long-running series by established authors.

The short but brutal answer is, probably not. The exception might be if your book sold brilliantly, as in NYTimes Bestseller List, but even then it’s unlikely to attract interest because it’s “old news.” Publishers today are extremely conservative in the books they acquire; editors are reluctant to take chances; alas, your book now falls into the category of out-of-print/poor sales figures, regardless of whether it’s the fault of the book or not. The sales numbers might be low because the book was only available for two days, but that doesn’t matter. The other possibility is the few specialty small presses that occasionally acquire previously published books by authors with huge readerships, books that for one reason or another got dropped (as in your case, where the publisher ceased business). Your agent should be able to advise you whether this is a possibility for you.

Your best bet is to get a new, professionally designed cover and ISBN and self-publish the novel yourself. If you do this, I encourage you to go “wide,” that is, hit multiple vendors, not just Amazon Kindle. Draft 2 Digital will allow you to place a book in many markets, including those providing library loans, or you could do it individually. You could also put out an audio version of your book.

Q: Is it better to use names or numbers for chapter titles?

A: There is no “better.” There are conventions that change with time. Do what you love. Just as titles vs numbers cannot sell a book, neither will they sink a sale. If your editor or publisher has a house style, they’ll tell you and then you can argue with them.

That said, as a reader I love chapter titles. As an author, I sometimes come up with brilliant titles but I haven’t managed to do so for an entire novel, so I default to numbers. One of these years, I’ll ditch consistency and mix and match them. Won’t that be fun!

Q: Can I make changes to my self-published book once it's released?

A: Of course, you can. If they’re minor changes, like fixing typos, just upload the corrected file. If the changes are more substantial, like a revision, it’s best to indicate that so your readers don’t think it’s a different book. “Author’s Revised Edition” is one way of indicating this.

The same goes for changing cover art. Traditional publishers and indie authors do this all the time, as styles in cover art and design evolve. Just make it clear it’s a new cover, not a new book. Otoh, fanatical collectors of your work will grab the new-cover edition just to be complete.

Q: What's the best way to collaborate on a novel?

A: There is no best way, there’s only what works for you and your partner. One can draft and the other revise; you can alternate scenes or even chapters; one can dictate and the other edit while transcribing. Or whatever.

The hard and fast rule is: GET YOUR AGREEMENT IN WRITING, including how you will handle a break-up. Consider it an ironclad literary pre-nup. You will save yourselves a world of hurt if you rely on your memory of an oral agreement once money is involved.