Tuesday, October 17, 2017

AWAKENING is live!

Well, that didn't take long! Here it is: Awakening

That link's to the ebook; Amazon hasn't yet linked the paperback and ebook editions.

And for a taste, here's the first chapter:

The whistles and catcalls weren’t anything to be afraid of, Devra told herself. She was just uncomfortable because of the lowering clouds that continually threatened to start the downpour of the fall rains. And because as afternoon faded into evening the winding lanes of the market seemed so dark and crowded, and people brushed past her continually, and everybody seemed to be shouting. Well, that was their culture. Original Settlers tended to keep more distance from each other, and thought it rude to shout in somebody’s face – but that wasn’t necessarily better, it was just what she was used to. After all, Originals wouldn’t have hung every booth with brilliantly striped red and green or blue and orange fabrics, flashing with sequins embroidered along the stripes, and that was beautiful, wasn’t it? Every culture had its own strengths and weaknesses. And Originals aren’t nearly so good as New Citizens at getting off-ration goodies to sell. And having spent the afternoon here just for that reason, it would be totally hypocritical of her to be worried about the fact that there seemed to be an inordinate number of young and not-so-young men lounging at every corner, smacking their lips and commenting favorably on her appearance. Just. Another. Aspect. Of. Their. Culture.

She was calm, Devra told herself. She was a grown woman and she could take care of herself. In case any taking-care were needed, that was – Who grabbed me? She felt a hand on her shoulder, half-turning her so that the man behind her could reach for her shopping basket with his free hand. Irrationally, she hung onto the handle – mere things weren’t worth getting hurt for, everyone agreed, but she’d taken too many risks already to get these supplies and there might not be any more where they came from. Then, just before she kicked backwards at somebody’s shins, she recognized the callused hand beside hers, with its broad fingers and stained knuckles.

“Sis, what were you thinking? That basket’s way too heavy for you, you should have told me to come with you.” The voice was familiar, but shaky, as if he were reading out a class assignment that he’d scribbled two minutes before the opening buzzer. Devra relaxed slightly as she looked up at one of her students from Wilyam Serman Secondary. He looked even worse than he sounded; a greenish pallor overshadowed his light brown face, and there were drops of sweat at his hairline.

“Ferit! What do you think you’re doing, pre- “

Ferit interrupted her. His voice was steadier now, and he just talked over her attempt to ask why he was pretending to be her brother. “Sure is heavy! Were you trying to do the week’s shopping all by yourself?” One hand rummaged among the precious parcels. “Oh, I get it now! White flour, chocolate, preserved thornberries – Devra darling, you were going to surprise me with a birthday cake, weren’t you? That’s why you went out all by yourself. You really shouldn’t do that, you know, not in this neighborhood. Good thing Mom sent me to walk you home. Oh, she sent the recipe too, at least I bet that’s what this is – she wouldn’t tell me. Don’t lose it, now!” With surprising delicacy, the hand tucked a flat package under the bag of flour, her heaviest parcel.

Devra glanced around. If the merchants in this lane of the bazaar had tensed to help her defend herself from a petty thief – which, actually, she doubted – they had lost interest now: they were far too busy protecting themselves. The tray of fine gold filigree necklaces and earrings in the jeweler’s booth had been switched for one holding only flashy imitation gems, the old man who’d sold her the flour was now proclaiming the virtues of his handwoven blankets, and the women in the old-clothes stall were quickly and unobtrusively whisking their stock of smartcloth outfits behind some genuinely old and patched New Citizen-style baggy trousers.

Just another day in the black-market district of Harmony City, where unlicensed and rationed goods appeared in the absence of excisemen and disappeared when the vendors’ discreet warning systems alerted them to coming inspectors. So why was Ferit so nervous? He had the basket in one hand now; his free hand was on her arm, urging her forward. She matched his brisk pace and didn’t try to interrupt him again. She wanted an explanation, but clearly that would have to wait until he was out of whatever trouble he’d gotten into.

At the unofficial boundary where the winding, nameless paths of a New Citizen slum met the grid of wide, straight streets more typical of Harmony City, Ferit let go her arm and gave back her basket. “Thanks, ‘Sis.’” He started to turn away, then looked back and said, “You haven’t seen me.” The pause gave her a chance to snag his upper sleeve cuff. “Just a minute! You owe me an explanation. If I’ve just been conned into helping a shoplifter— “

Ferit grinned. “Oh, nothing so trivial. I’ll tell you before class, day after tomorrow. You might bring my parcel, okay?”

“No,” Devra said in her best this-is-going-to-be-on-your-exam tones. “You’ll tell me tomorrow— “

“On Landing Day? Have a heart.”

Devra nodded sharply. “Or I’ll toss that parcel of yours in the recycler. I’m not going to hold stolen goods for you.”

“Ah. Black market goodies are ok, but you’ll only keep stolen goods for one night. What a burden it must be to have an Original’s conscience and keep all these ethical rules straight. Ok, Miss Devra. Tomorrow it is.” He was moving before he finished the sentence, turning into a different path than the way they’d come and disappearing behind one of the blind corners that made driving in New Citizen quarters such an adventure.

"Wait - stop!" came a shout from the path behind her. Devra looked back and blinked in surprise at the sight of two men in the silver-grey of Security where she’d expected to see nothing worse than blue-clad community peace officers... Habbers? Why would they care about shoplifting, or vandalism, or whatever mischief Ferit was up to this time? “Damn, we’ve lost him! Okay, everybody just stop right where you are. Nobody goes anywhere until we’ve talked to them.”

Devra was, technically, over the line of the New Citizen neighborhood, and the habbers were questioning the New Citizens who’d been unlucky enough to be out on the street just at that moment. She considered, briefly, pretending that she didn’t think their orders had anything to do with her and just walking away. The hiss of a tanglestick caused her to give up that notion. The New Citizen who’d tried to duck back into the entrance of his shop was writhing on the ground; the others were jostling each other in a competition to see who could be most loudly cooperative.

“A tall kid in a green tunic, walking with her – “

"No, he was wearing one of those flashy shirts with extra cuffs all up and down the sleeves, blue and white – “

“He wasn’t that tall, no more than I am, you just remember him as tall because he was with her.”

The one thing they all agreed on, it seemed, was that he’d been walking with Devra. Discord! She was going to be really ticked off if Ferit’s latest bit of mischief caused her extremely unlicensed baking supplies to be confiscated. But it seemed that casually wandering off was not an option. She set the basket down at her feet, dropped her scarf into the basket where it covered most of her purchases, then leaned against the wall on the Originals side of the street. At least the buildings on this side were clean. More or less. I’m just another citizen, being polite and slightly bored, waiting to do my civic duty.

Ferit’s shirt had only been modestly double-cuffed, and it was dark red. Should she tell the truth? She felt slightly shocked that she was even considering the question. Lies were Dissonant, and Gran had raised her to be dedicated to Harmony. Lying to habbers was doubly discordant, not to mention the certainty of a mark against your record if you were caught.

But Ferit had been terrified, and why were habbers going after a teenage boy, anyway? Granted, the kid had a proclivity amounting to genius for setting off chaos that could never quite be pinned on him. She was sure he was the one who’d released a mudlegger in her classroom, and she knew he was the one who’d prolonged the excitement for two weeks by claiming to have spotted the elusive little swamp beast in the supply cabinet, or skittering across the floor behind the lab tables, or hiding in Jesska Stren’s backpack. That last “sighting” had sent Jesska into hysterics and inspired all the girls in class to dump out the contents of their packs and investigate them with rulers or tongs or whatever came to hand. It had also inspired Devra to keep Ferit after class for a moment, just long enough to mention that any more “sightings” of the swamp lizard would have consequences that he wouldn’t like.

“What exactly are you going to do to me, Teacher?” Ferit had laughed down at her. “I’m only trying to be helpful. Don’t you want to catch the poor little thing?”

“It’s been two weeks,” Devra pointed out, “and there’s not a lot of water in my classroom. The poor little thing probably died in agonies of thirst and now is only a mummified bundle of scales and claws in the back of some cupboard we haven’t used lately.”

Ferit looked horrified. “Oh, no, Miss Devra! I wouldn’t leave an animal to suffer like that. The very next day, I caught it and took it back to the nest… I mean… That is…”

Devra had to laugh at the confusion on his face. “No more ‘sightings,’ then, and I won’t report you.”

But things like loosing a mudlegger into the classroom, or re-defining all the keys on someone’s tablet, or hacking into the assigned texts to insert a rude joke… Well, it was annoying, but it was kid stuff. Something one dealt with by giving extra homework, or detention, or even just giving the kid a hard look that said I know and I’m watching you – not by calling in the habbers.

Who were now headed her way.

Monday, October 16, 2017

AWAKENING is almost live!

I've uploaded the files for both paperback and ebook versions, and am now just waiting for Amazon to put the book up. Here's the cover:

Tomorrow I'll put up the first chapter so you can get a sense of the book.

Friday, October 13, 2017


The battery has arrived. I charged it overnight. Today I opened the computer and... wait a minute. What was I working on? Well, those are really terrible notes for Chapter 7; I have no idea what they mean. Maybe I'll get up to speed if I re-read the last couple of chapters.

[Reads chapters 5 and 6]

Maybe a nap would help.

[Discovers that ear plugs don't do much about the leaf blowers next door]

Oooookay. Evidently the computer is charged but the writer is running on empty. On the good side, though, that annoying little tic in my right eye that developed a few days ago has gone away. So... maybe by tomorrow my brain will be back online.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Plus ça change....

So I bit the bullet and bought a new laptop. It has arrived. There's only one little problem: they forgot the battery!

Oh,it works ok when it's plugged in, it's just that I don't like to be tethered to the wall when I'm working. Our house is old and lacks the plethora of electric outlets desirable for today's world, so plugging anything in near the spots where I write involves scrambling around behind furniture and shouting "Is the power strip on now?

So after a rather fraught conversation today with Amazon Support, they've promised me a battery by two-day shipping. The only catch is that for some reason they cannot send the battery on its own; they propose to send me an identical laptop from which I am supposed to extract the battery, stick it into my machine, then return the new laptop sans battery to them.

I really, really hope this replacement HAS a battery!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

State of the Writer


The laptop developed an intermittent problem which rapidly became a constant problem: refusing to recognize the mouse or the keyboard. Of course it happened this week, when I meant to (following Dorothy Grant's advice) upload the other two books of the Harmony trilogy to Amazon and crash-write the sequel to A Pocketful of Stars so I could get those two books out ASAP.

Instead I've been having loooong conversations with two different sets of support people, each of whom fixed the problem while they were there (Or, in the case of the Indian support group, on the phone), assured me it would not happen again, and hung up/departed.

Whereupon the computer immediately reverted to its noncommunicative state.

A new laptop is supposed to arrive this evening; I'm looking forward with limited enthusiasm to reloading Word and Photoshop Elements and all my data. Fortunately, all my current books are, or should be, backed up both on a flash drive and on OneDrive, because a friend lost everything two weeks ago and I immediately got very serious about backups. So the only thing I really need to extract from the old computer - I hope - is the incomplete MS of the book I haven't been working on.

I'm typing this one-fingered on an iPad, which is no way to compose anything.

Oh, and does anybody know whether Word wants both a serial number AND a key to install on a new computer, or just the serial number? Because if it's the former, I'm even more screwed than I thought.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Wrong again

So on Saturday night, as we read about parents and children occupying Catalan schools (polling stations for Sunday's referendum) overnight, I said to the First Reader, "Wonder what Madrid is going to do about that. They can't want to have the Internet flooded with pictures of the Guardia Civil dragging parents out of schools."

Oh, was I wrong. Maybe they didn't want that result - but that's what they got. Pictures and videos of cops dressed like Darth Vader, dragging citizens out of polling places, beating citizens with batons, ad infinitum.

The legal status of the Catalan referendum is dicey as all getout; there's no opt-out clause in the Spanish constitution, only about a third of eligible voters voted, one can reasonably argue that the reported 2-million-to-2-hundred-thousand results favoring independence is flawed because the anti-independence voters didn't go to the polls for an illegal election. But the pictures, dear God, the pictures! I find it hard to believe that this is what Madrid wanted splashed across every newspaper in Europe. Longfellow got it right: "Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad."

At least I know now that I am not actually the worst PR-and-marketing person in the universe. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy holds the title.

Good thing he's not trying to sell books.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Spanish ships of war at sea! We have sighted"...all of three?

OK, it’s not quite as impressive as the fleet of fifty-three that Sir Richard Grenville encountered. And for “ships of war” read “gigantic cruise ships loaded with Guardia Civil,” and if that isn’t a WTF moment, what is?

For anybody who’s been sensibly ignoring the news for the last week: Catalonia wants to hold a referendum on independence this coming Sunday. Spain doesn’t want them to.

So far, Spain has confiscated referendum ballots and ballot boxes, sent Spanish – not local – Guardia Civil to arrest over a dozen Catalan leaders (in dawn raids – shades of Franco!), and parked three cruise liners full of Guardia Civil outside Barcelona and Tarragona.

The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has announced that they have more ballot boxes stashed where the Spanish will never find them; the streets of Barcelona are filled with protestors; and the dockworkers of Barcelona and Tarragona have refused to provide any services to boats carrying security forces.

Oh, and did I mention that at least one of the cruise ships is decorated with oversize Looney Tunes characters? (Some sources say all three, but I haven’t been able to verify that.)

All this over a referendum that, according to polls before the Spanish Crackdown, was unlikely to garner over 40% support. And that wasn’t legally binding. The Spanish government appears terrified of allowing the Catalans even to express their opinions on the subject. So, naturally, they’ve embarked on a series of measures guaranteed to convert the other 60% of Catalans to the side of independence.

Yup. Looney Tunes.

But bear in mind that Sir Richard Grenville lost

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Our only enemy was gold

I’ve always thought Edwin Muir’s poem ‘The Castle,’ like Burns’ ‘Parcel of Rogues,’ referred to the Acts of Union of 1707. Many Scots considered the union of Scotland and England to be a corrupt bargain in which Scottish nobles and landowners who’d been ruined by the Darien scheme were bailed out with English money in return for signing over Scotland’s independence. (I don’t want to argue the merits of that theory; historians have been batting it around for four hundred years without reaching agreement. I just want to point out that the attitude exists.)

It did just occur to me recently that there could be another, slightly anachronistic interpretation of the poem. If Edwin Muir had been given a glimpse of Scotland’s condition today and the destructive effects of welfare dependency, he might have written exactly the same poem. For generations Scotland was a poor country whose greatest natural resource was its people and their devotion to education. They educated their young people and sent them out all over the world, and as George MacDonald Fraser said, “A Scotsman on the make is a terrible thing.”

The expansion of the welfare state has eroded that, perhaps fatally.

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road.

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there, no clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true….
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh then our maze of tunneled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Another one bites the dust

A couple of days ago I finished A Pocketful of Stars, a fantasy novel - I guess I could call it urban fantasy, since it's set in present-day Austin. But "urban fantasy" seems to imply a noir atmosphere, mystery, supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves - none of which are present in Stars. It's got a talking turtle head with a snakebot body (told you I was going to use that snakebot somewhere!) and evil grackles. But no vampires, zombies, werewolves, elves, etc., etc. Just a handful of young mathematicians who have discovered a way to 'nudge' reality by visualizing certain topological constructs and theorems. None of which, I promise, you need to understand to follow the book!

This theme does have the advantage of allowing me to shut up various people (brothers-in-law, doctors, statisticians) who consider themselves intellectually superior to a mere writer. When they ask, "What's this one about?" I say truthfully, "It's a fantasy novel about a system of magic based on topology."

After they've said, "Uh," and before they can betray that they don't know the difference between topology and topography, I add helpfully, "Topology is the study of non-metric properties of surfaces."

It's cheap entertainment, and I'm not going to lean on the flimsy mathematical substructure when pitching the book to potential readers. But I'm thinking that it might inspire some interesting covers. The picture at the head of this blog? Partial side view of a torus, which is the shape that doughnuts and coffee cups typify to a topologist. There are many more such images. I can remember my father working for hours with colored pencils and drawing tools to create the necessary illustrations for a paper; this was back when computers were the size of a city block and didn't do much that was useful to normal people. All right, maybe I'm stretching the definition of "normal" here to include topologists, but you know what I mean.

Would you buy a book with this torus on the cover?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Suicide missions and heroes

I've been thinking about Heather Penney today, because it's 9/11 and this article about her was just published. She was one of two pilots at Andrews Air Force Base who was charged with flying an unarmed F-16 into Flight 93 to stop the plane from reaching Washington. As we know now, the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93 spared her that sacrifice. But that doesn't make her acceptance of the mission any less heroic.

I wouldn't have remembered her name, except that a friend who flies had a chance encounter with her recently. He said that the name sounded familiar to him but he wasn't sure why, so he asked, "Are you famous?" and all she said was, "No, I don't think so." Later he looked her up and found out the story.

So we have three kinds of heroes to think about with respect to Flight 93. First there were the passengers who died to crash the plane. They must have considered themselves essentially dead men already; does that detract from their courage and sacrifice? Not to me. There must ALWAYS be a temptation to stay quiet and hope that the apparently inevitable will not come to pass. They overcame that temptation.

And we have Heather Penney, who says that she did not plan to eject because she was afraid that if she did, her plane wouldn't hit in the right spot to disable the other aircraft.

And we have the other F-16 pilot, Col. Mark Sasseville, who hoped to eject just before his plane hit the other aircraft.

In my book they're ALL heroes.

But - and I hope you don't think this is too frivolous - in a novel, they would pose three different writing challenges. You have the character who reasonably believes he has no chance of survival and chooses to die in a way that may save others. You have the character who accepts a mission tagged with certain death. And you have the character who accepts the mission but not the inevitability of death.

All three of them pose challenges to the writer, but I think that Sasseville's situation is the most moving of them. It's the shred of hope, the desire to live, the willingness to act without accepting that death is inevitable, that tugs at your heartstrings and makes this character so moving.

At least that's my perspective. What's yours?

Paperback of Insurgents

The paperback version is up now. Createspace is... not as easy to use as KDP for ebooks, but it's there.

I'm glad I only have to do this for the first time once.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

It's live!

That was fast! The e-book of Insurgents is already up on Amazon here.

Now to upload the paperback version.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Whee! The ebook has been successfully uploaded to Amazon Kindle; I'm dealing with some size issues on the paperback cover, but hope to have that version also uploaded soon. They say it can take up to 72 hours to go live. I'm going to try not to check more than, oh, every hour or so.

In the meantime, here's an excerpt from the book:

Amari and Jesse on the right, and Wil on the left, broke through the screen of needles almost simultaneously. Nikos could be heard incautiously scrambling down to them across the patches of scree, and incidentally sending down a shower of pebbles and raw shards of rock that inspired all of them to duck under the cover of the cave’s wide mouth.

“They’re back!” Nikos announced before he was quite level with the rest of them. He made a flying leap from the ledge over the cave to the patch of grass below, and landed so lightly that Gabrel envied him. When he’d been seventeen, he would have made the jump too. Dammit, twenty-three wasn’t exactly old; he could leap all over the mountainside just like Nikos if he wanted to, he told himself. It was the responsibility of command, the understanding of how even a minor injury could fatally slow a man, that forced him to take the safer paths. And, of course, his own – not quite so minor – injury, incurred on last week’s raid. Gabrel’s knee twinged in protest as he stood to greet the returning men.

Besides, Nikos had grown up in one of the mountain villages that clung to the sides of these hills, so he had a built-in advantage.

“How many?” Amari demanded, and simultaneously Wil asked, “Did they get it?”

Nikos looked first at Amari, opened his mouth to speak, caught Gabrel’s eye, swallowed, and stood at attention looking only at Gabrel. “Sir! I have to report a large party advancing. Leaders are identified as Ravi and Patrik, and… somebody I don’t know. Riding a donkey. The guy I don’t know, I mean. And they’re bringing a train of a dozen pack donkeys. Heavily loaded.”

“They got it! Hai yi!” Amari shouted.

‘Hai yi yi yiee!” Nikos joined in, sending the call to bounce off the mountainside and echo on the far side of the valley.

“Don’t let’s advertise our presence to everybody in the valley,” Gabrel suggested mildly.

“Aw…. They already know we’re here. We get eggs and cheese from Skyros ‘most every day,” Nikos argued.

Gabrel quelled him with a look. “Consider it practice for the day when a Harmony patrol shows up in Skyros.” He turned back to the others. “All right, they’re going to be tired. Make a chain to unload and place the supplies back in the cave.”

The needles quivered violently again and Patrik pushed into the clearing. Gabrel let out his breath in silent relief. He’d sent four men, nearly half his group, on this mission. He hoped to get back four men in reasonably good shape. But Patrik, just two years older than Nikos and not noticeably more mature, had been the one he worried about most.

“Everybody all right?” he demanded sharply. Patrik was breathing heavily. “Better than all right,” he announced with a seraphic smile before taking another gasp of air. “Got what we came for, and a bonus!”

“What’s that?” Patrik slowly folded his lanky frame down upon the grass where he’d been standing. “Only two things wrong with the mountains,” he announced. “You people don’t keep enough oxygen around, and there is way too much vertical.”

“So hang onto a donkey’s tail, next time, instead of rushing ahead to be first back,” Gabrel said crisply. "The ‘bonus?’" Dear God, had Patrik gotten creative again? He’d been counting on Ravi to restrain him.

“It’ll be here in a minute.” Patrik pulled off the top half of his uniform and used it to mop his forehead. “I think it should be a surprise, and Ravi thinks it should wait until he has a chance to explain.”

Gabrel’s forebodings grew. It sounded as though Ravi hadn’t been quite as successful as he’d hoped at keeping Patrik within bounds. But he could hear the donkey train now, crashing through the woods and, no doubt, turning the narrow path to their camp into something more like a construction road. No need for a show of authority; he’d know the worst within minutes anyway.

The first donkeys came through the trees, with Ravi tugging on their headstalls while the donkeys looked this way and that and indicated that they’d just as soon wander off into the woods if only this stupid person weren’t being so insistent. One of the first pair of donkeys was loaded with nets on either side, each holding two cans that looked very much like the ink they’d gone to get. The other – was being ridden by what Gabrel supposed was Patrik’s ‘surprise.’

“Pat! You’ve never gone and brought me a girl for my birthday?” Amari was the first of them to overcome his shock and find his voice.

“You have succeeded,” Gabrel told Patrik. “That is definitely a surprise. Ravi, I’m told you can explain?”

Before Ravi could speak, the girl slipped off the donkey and addressed Gabrel directly. “Are you in command of this rabble?” The cut-glass, icy voice seemed incongruous, coming from a sweat-stained and dusty girl with a mop of pale hair falling around her face. Her long dark green trousers and lighter green tunic appeared spotless and unwrinkled and generally in much better shape than the girl. Smartcloth, then. And that accent had never come from Esilia.

“One moment, Citizen.” The girl’s expression told Gabrel that he’d guessed correctly. He turned on the men, who were all staring at the girl like idiots, and probably frightening her. “Ravi, what part of ‘inconspicuous’ did you not understand? And the rest of you ‘rabble’, don’t just stand there. We’ve got a pack train to deal with. All of you get to work! Unload the donkeys, put the ink in the cave, and the printer – you did get the printer?”

Ravi nodded. “Martin and Isak are preventing it from falling out of a sling between the last two donkeys. Hell of a thing to wrestle up a mountain.”

“Printer at the front of the cave, when it gets here. Take the donkeys to water as they’re unloaded, then get them back down the mountain as far as Skyros; we paid enough to use them, we’re not going to feed them as well. Do I have to spell out everything for you?”

“Water?” the girl repeated, then closed her mouth with a snap. Obviously she’d be damned if she asked them for anything.

“Allow me.” Nikos had kept his wits; while everybody else was staring, he’d taken his flask to the spring and filled it. Now he handed it to the girl, who took the flask in her bound hands, sipped cautiously and then tilted her head back to inhale the entire contents of the flask. “Skyros water is known to be the best in all the mountains,” Nikos boasted, “and Skyros gets its water from our spring.”

“Skyros is also known for its talkative men,” Gabrel said drily. “Nikos, get to work. Ravi, you’re excused from unloading duty while you give me an explanation.”

Ravi and Patrik alternately described the scene outside B12 as they had just finished loading the cans of ink: the girl appearing out of nowhere, the hasty decision to throw her in the float and take off, the naked man pursuing them. “Once she’d seen us,” Patrik pointed out, “’inconspicuous’ was really no longer an option. Whether we took her or left her, somebody was bound to notice.”

“Ask them what they did to Jonny,” the girl interrupted. “They wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“Jonny would be the – ah – scantily dressed gentleman?” Gabrel inquired. He cocked an eyebrow at Ravi.

Ravi shrugged. “We didn’t even bring any lethal weapons. All we had was two stunners. Martin and Isak both aimed at him. He hit the ground hard. He should be all right now, except for stunner hangover.”

“And his buddies,” Patrik said with a smirk, “are probably having a multi-colored lightning jack hangover.”

“All right. That explains why you took off with her,” Gabrel said, “you were stupid, and you panicked.” Ravi’s brown cheeks flushed, but Patrik clamped his jaw with an expression remarkably like a donkey’s. “But you had forty kilometers of plains to cross before you had to hide the float and load the pack train. Why didn’t you stop somewhere, put her off and let her walk back? Leave her far enough from any farms, she wouldn’t have been able to raise the alarm in time.”

“Well, Patrik thought…” Ravi began.

“Was Patrik in charge of this expedition? I thought I put you in charge.”

“He had a point…”

“I recognized her,” Patrik said proudly. “She’s General Dayvson’s daughter.”

The girl laughed. Loudly. “Oh, you idiots. Do I look like a general’s daughter?”

Even after a forced ride through the mountains, Gabrel thought, she looked exactly like a general’s daughter – or the daughter of somebody else from the top rung of Committee families. It wasn’t so much the long, slim legs, clad in perfectly fitted smartcloth; or the once-white hands, now marred with several scratches and a broken nail; or even the patrician profile. It was the way she lifted her chin and talked down her elegant nose at them, he thought. And she did resemble the girl he’d seen on holocasts, except for being considerably more disheveled.

“I’ve seen the newscasts,” Patrik insisted. “They showed you debarking with your father, off a troopship from Harmony.”

“That was nearly two months ago. Don’t you keep up with the news?”

“We can’t get the ‘casts in the mountains. Only when we go down to the plains.”

“Well. I suppose that explains it. You yokels obviously haven’t heard. Isovel Dayvson went back to Harmony after a week.”

Patrik scowled. “And you just happen to be her identical twin separated at birth, I suppose?”

“You. Captured. The. Wrong. Woman,” the girl insisted. “I’m just a commissary clerk. Don’t tell me you really believed those stories about Dayvson keeping his own daughter in an occupied city! Haven’t you Esilian hicks ever heard of propaganda?”

“Well, you see,” Gabrel said apologetically, “It’s not just that idiot Patrik. All of us hicks get to see some of them flashy holos when we go down-country. And you do look a lot like Isovel Dayvson to me.”

“And me,” Ravi chimed in.

The girl shrugged. “I daresay all civilized women look alike to you bumpkins. No wonder this is the poorest sector of the colony. Look at you men lolling around here half-naked instead of doing some useful work!” Patrik flushed and pulled his shirt back over his head. Scowling at Patrik, Gabrel stuck his thumbs in the waistband of his pants and pushed them down another inch, until they were hanging off his hipbones. They weren’t going to take lessons in etiquette from some Harmonica snob of a girl, and the sooner she grasped that, the better.

Her fair skin showed a flush more clearly than did Patrik’s olive complexion. She blinked and stared Gabrel directly in the eyes. Her own eyes were a light golden brown, about two shades darker than her tumbled hair. Of course, there was no reason to suppose any of that was natural. Gabrel didn’t know what kind of mods a top-level Harmony cosmetic stylist was offering these days, but hair and eye color coordination was probably the least of it.

“I suppose you think you’ll get a fortune in ransom for me? Well, don’t blame me when General Dayvson laughs in your faces.”

“If she’s the wrong one,” growled Jesse, “why shouldn’t we kill her now and save the trouble of keeping her?” He stepped forward so swiftly that he had her by the shoulder, his knife bright against her throat, before anyone else could react.

“Oh, she’s Dayvson’s daughter, all right,” said Gabrel tiredly. “She just doesn’t know when to give up. Just like her father. Stand down, Jesse. Or - if you feel an uncontrollable urge to use that knife - you might cut her hands free.” She yanked her bound hands back when Jesse touched her wrist. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Yet.”

“I’m not afraid, I just don’t want you destroying the only sash I’ve got! Can’t somebody just untie it?” She extended her hands to Gabrel, who looked at Patrik’s work with dismay. Patrik had wound the soft, voluminous silky fabric several times around the girl’s wrists and had finished with hard, tight knots that sank into the fabric.

With a conscious effort, he did not limp for the three steps that brought him close enough to work on the sash. His knee flamed white-hot agony on the second step, but he could live with that; better than appearing a cripple before this rude, scornful young woman. He had to stand quite close to her to pick at the knots; close enough to notice that although she smelled primarily of sweaty human female, there was also a hint of a gentle floral fragrance about her. Wisps of her loosened fair hair brushed his face. His hands were not shaking, it was just difficult loosening the knots. He bent his head over them and concentrated on the sash, not on the fine white hands and delicate wrists it bound. Patrik had made this mess, it would serve him right to have to fix it. But Patrik was young, not so steady, and he might be influenced by the scent, the closeness. He, being more mature, could take it in stride… She was tall for a woman, just his height, presumably staring out over his bent head while he worked… There went the last knot.

Freed, she shook out her wrists for a moment, then lifted her hands and tried to run her fingers through the long hair that rippled in the sunlight where it wasn’t hopelessly tangled. “I don’t suppose anyone has a comb? No? Why am I not surprised?”

“Us bumpkins don’t comb our hair much,” Patrik said.

“And neither, it seems, will I. Until you come to your senses and send me back. Kidnapping me was a very big mistake, you know.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

INSURGENTS: the emotional side of indie publishing

How dare I write a post about indie versus traditional publishing, when I'm only on the brink of releasing my first-ever indie book? Well... over the summer I've discovered a big difference. It has to do with how emotionally invested one is in the book.

See, the publication timeline for a writer who already has a contract with a traditional publisher goes like this:

Day 1 - Send in reasonably proofread MS for Book One
Day 2 - Start Book Two
Day 30 - Editor calls to discuss a "few little changes" to Book One
Day 31 - Sulk. Pout. Tell your best friend that evidently the only thing the editor liked about the book was the page numbers.
Day 32 - Pour a large cup of coffee and get on with the revisions, except the thing in Chapter 14 that you really really hate and have quietly decided not to do
Day 33 - Set the revised Book One aside for two weeks, because you've learned that if you scoot it right back the editor won't believe you actually did the revisions. Resume writing Book Two.
Day 47 - Send in the revised MS of Book One with a note claiming you did all the revisions. Hope editor is too busy to check on that thing in Chapter 14. Continue writing Book Two.
Day 200 - Finish Book Two. Put it aside for proofreading in a couple of weeks.
Days 201-203 - Go wild, dance in the streets, rot your mind with a sappy movie.
Day 204 - Start Book Three
Day 250 - Editor sends copy of completed cover, into which you have had no input, for Book One. The cover seems to bear little or no relation to any of the characters, settings, or events in Book One, but then it's a long time since you've read it.
Day 350 - Book One is published! (sound of rose petal wafting down into Grand Canyon)
Day 365 - Your copies of Book One arrive. By now you feel that Book One isn't the striking work of genius you once believed it to be. Stack copies of Book One in back bedroom and get on with the new love of your life, Book Three.

A few times around this cycle and you realize you will never get excited at publication time, because by then you've practically forgotten Book One and are emotionally invested in the book you're writing now.

Now, apart from the fact that I write a lot faster now that I'm not dealing with a publisher who expects one book a year, here's what my publishing schedule for indie looks like:

Day 1 - send proofread MS of Insurgents, blurb, and back cover copy to the nice man who's going to do the cover art and formatting, with some notes on your vision of the cover
Day 2 - start Awakening
Day 14 - Artist sends sketch for Insurgents cover. Bounce preliminary sketch back and forth a few times until you're both satisfied with it.
Day 20 - Receive e-formatted version of Insurgents and put it on your Kindle for proofreading.
Day 21 - Realize that your previous proofreading was not perfect. Ask for half a dozen changes.
Day 28 - Agree on final version of cover.
Day 29 - Start Pinterest board for Insurgents
Day 40 - Finish Awakening
Day 41 - Receive corrected e-book of Insurgents
Day 42 - Proofread Insurgents again.
Day 43 - Start Survivors
Day 48 - Decide to release Insurgents in ten days, because you suspect just before Labor Day isn't a good time for it
Day 49 - Read through Insurgents yet again, this time looking for good lines you can excerpt and put on your Pinterest board for Book One, or ideas for pictures you can use there.
Day 55 - Upload Createspace and Kindle versions of Insurgents to Amazon
Day 58 (maybe) Book goes live on Amazon! (sound of rose petal wafting down into Grand Canyon)

The big difference to me is that the time elapsed is much less and I am doing stuff with Book One throughout the process, so when it comes time to upload and release Book One is still one of my darling children.

Full disclosure: the indie schedule is semi-fictional, because what really happened was I wrote Awakening first, realized it should not be the first in the Harmony series, then wrote Insurgents and sent both of them off together for cover art/formatting. The above is my guess about what it would have looked like if I'd written the first book first.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Glorious embroidery

While avoiding work recently I came across this wonderful site of work by Gordana Brelih. There's much more to browse at the site, but I was particularly taken by this piece because it exemplifies something I'd like to achieve in my own work: faces that are recognizable but neither realistic nor cartoonish. Plus, of course, the balance between empty space and lush ornamentation, the color scheme and everything else that makes this a work of art.

And by the way, yes, I do know the blog lists in the right sidebar are screwed up. Every time I've tried to fix them this morning Blogger has told me, "You can't do that!" I'll try again another day.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Eve of Crécy

On August 26, 1346, Edward III of England and Philip VI of France fought a battle near Crécy in northern France. Edward was seriously outnumbered, but he had the superior weapon: the English longbow, with which a skilled archer could shoot nine arrows while the opposing crossbowman was lucky to get five bolts off.

And yes, I know this is the 25th, not the 26th. This is my excuse to post a poem by William Morris that is romantic, sentimental, would probably never make the anthologies today....but I like it. And the speaker in the poem is an impoverished French knight hoping that the battle to come will repair his fortunes.

The Eve of Crécy
By William Morris

Gold on her head, and gold on her feet,
And gold where the hems of her kirtle meet,
And a golden girdle round my sweet;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Margaret's maids are fair to see,
Freshly dress'd and pleasantly;
Margaret's hair falls down to her knee;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

If I were rich I would kiss her feet;
I would kiss the place where the gold hems meet,
And the golden kirtle round my sweet:
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Ah me! I have never touch'd her hand;
When the arrière-ban goes through the land,
Six basnets under my pennon stand;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

And many an one grins under his hood:
Sir Lambert du Bois, with all his men good,
Has neither food nor firewood;
Ah! qu'elle est belle la Marguerite.

If I were rich I would kiss her feet,
And the golden girdle of my sweet,
And thereabouts where the gold hems meet;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Yet even now it is good to think,
While my few poor varlets grumble and drink
In my desolate hall, where the fires sink,--
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite,--

Of Margaret sitting glorious there,
In glory of gold and glory of hair,
And glory of glorious face most fair;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Likewise to-night I make good cheer,
Because this battle draweth near:
For what have I to lose or fear?
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

For, look you, my horse is good to prance
A right fair measure in this war-dance,
Before the eyes of Philip of France;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

And sometime it may hap, perdie,
While my new towers stand up three and three,
And my hall gets painted fair to see--
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite--

That folks may say: Times change, by the rood,
For Lambert, banneret of the wood,
Has heaps of food and firewood;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Poor Sir Lambert: Edward won.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Turn the page already!

A very literate and intelligent friend who is not a professional writer recently sent me a proposed opening to a novel set in the early nineteenth century. It probably would have been a fine opening in the nineteenth century, when longer was better and readers were willing to start out with huge globs of family history. But it won't fly now.

An “explanation” followed:

"I figure the first chapter is to lay the groundwork for why these characters are all improbably in X’s estate …."

No, no, NO! That’s NOT what the first chapter is for. The first chapter is for engaging your reader’s interest, because if you don’t do that, they’ll never see the second chapter!

And the job of the opening page is to get your reader to turn that page, which is what I’m going to be discussing today.

I don't claim to be the world’s expert on openings; I've got enough published books out there where I later realized the story really started in Chapter 3. Or in Chapter -1, which I didn’t even write. And I usually spend hours staring at my current WIP and wondering why anybody would care enough about the first page to look at the second page.

Fortunately there are lots of good examples to learn from. Consider these three very different openings, from books of three different genres:

Russ Van Alstyne had just gotten a tug on his line when he saw the old lady get up from between the headstones she had been trimming, lay down her gardening tools, and walk into the reservoir. She had been tidying up a tiny plot, four moldering grave markers tucked under the towering black pines, so close to the edge of Stewart’s Pond Reservoir that a good motorboat wake could have kicked spray over the stones. She had appeared at some point after he and Shaun had launched their rowboat, and he had noted her, now and then, while they had drifted in the sunshine.

That’s the start of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Out of the Deep I Cry. Granted, mystery writers have a built-in advantage with openings; all they have to do is move some violence to the front. To play fair, I eliminated books that begin with somebody getting shot or waking up tied hand and foot in a scary location. You couldn’t exactly call someone voluntarily walking into a reservoir violence, could you? But it sure captures my attention. Yes, I want to know who she is and why she did it. But what makes me want to read on is: Does Russ fish her out of the reservoir before she drowns?

The author of this next one has a somewhat more challenging problem:

"All right, add your luggage to the pile, including all comms, computers, or recording equipment, and check in so we know who is or isn't here . . ." The man at the desk finally glanced up and trailed off with his mouth open.
"Paer. Medic." Paer smiled hopefully. She'd deliberately dressed in field khakis, trying to look serious, and hopefully wouldn't be too underdressed for the occasion.
An organizational meeting for a camp across. Across, as through a trans-dimensional gate to a world on the other side. The young man got his mouth shut and looked down at his list. "Right." A bit breathless. Swallow. "I didn't realize they meant the Paer."
Paer winced. "Don't worry, I'm just a medic, now. Nothing special." Please just pretend I'm not the daughter of the President of the Empire of the One.

For a good time, try orienting the new reader while starting the Nth book in a long science fiction series: this is Pam Uphoff’s Surveillance. Look how much she’s telling us here:

Paer is going on a trip.
She’s probably a new hire, young, and a bit insecure, considering how she’s worried about being appropriately dressed.
Whee – the “trip” may involve trans-dimensional travel, whatever that is. To a “world on the other side.”
And this Paer is a VIP who really wants to blend in with her colleagues and not to be treated like a celebrity.

That’s a lot of information in 140 words. The line about “trans-dimensional travel” both gives us a cue that this is science fiction, and promises exotic worlds coming up. The fact that the other three bits of information are about Paer suggests that this is going to be a character-centered story, and her youth and insecurity suggest it may be a YA novel. What's the page-turner here? I've been promised that Paer's new job comes with both other-worldly travel and social pitfalls, and I want to see how that works out. A promise of interesting stuff ahead is as good as suspense for keeping a reader in the story.

Finally, a more leisurely opening – in fact, so leisurely that I’m cutting a whole paragraph about the hardships of the march through Europe. So this is just part of the first page:

We mutinied when we reached the ocean.

We’d been riding for fifty-one days, three companies of us with half a legion and two troops of Roman auxiliaries to guard us….

Then one afternoon, just before the middle of September, we were starting down from the hills when we saw it: the ocean. It had rained all that morning, but the rain had stopped about midday, and now the sky was clear. The clouds parted and let down a watery light westward beyond us, and we looked up and saw a huge gray plain turn suddenly and impossibly blue.

We had never seen the sea. We reined in our horses and stopped in the road, staring at it. The sun shimmered on the waves as far out as our eyes could see: no shadow of land darkened even the farthest limit of the horizon.

“It’s the end of the world!” whispered Arshak.

That’s from Gillian Bradshaw’s Island of Ghosts, a historical novel about some Sarmatians who were sent to Britain as auxiliaries to the Roman army. This little bit of military history is not exactly common knowledge, so she has to feed a lot of background information to readers (apart from the First Reader, who knows, dammit, absolutely everything connected with military history.) The trick is to do it in small bits. When I started reading I had never even heard of Sarmatians, but that wasn't important; she never even uses the name on this page. But by the bottom of the page I knew enough to be going on with. I knew that the narrator's guys were being commanded by Romans who didn’t trust them, and I surmised they were steppe nomads since they’d never seen the sea, and I knew for sure that it was going to be a job and a half getting them onto boats to cross the Channel. I wasn't about to stop reading until I found out how this impasse is resolved.

Now go forth and figure out why readers will turn the first page of your WIP, and be sure to put that page-turner in there if it's not there already.

Monday, August 21, 2017


On this day in 1968, America awoke to the news that Soviet tanks had rolled into Prague. It took nearly a week to crush Czech resistance, and during that week brave men and women - many of them students - operated hidden broadcasting stations from which they told the world what was happening. Many of the broadcasts were repeated in different languages. I will never forget hearing one station after another going off the air, some without warning, some with the broadcasters saying that the Russians were at the door.

I couldn't find recordings of any of those underground broadcasts, but I did find one of Radio Prague broadcasting while the battle was raging outside its doors.

And a note to the people who tweet with the hashtag #Resistance: THAT's resistance, you twerps.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Everyday it's a-gettin' closer...

Planning to release just after Labor day, and most of the ducks are in a row.

And I'm starting to get excited...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Nothing to do with books, but I'm claiming it's art... and what I need for energy on yet another muggy hundred-degree day in the long long string of such days. On this day in 1974 the Ramones played their first gig at CBGB's. They'd been performing for several months at other venues, and their debut album wasn't to come out for a couple of years. But I'm nominating this day as the opening shot in the fight to rescue rock from the then-current world of pretentious soft rock bands and - worse - disco, the plague of the seventies. Think about the Bee Gees and Abba and then clean your mind out with this!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pictures, and a kludge

I'm making a Pinterest board for Insurgents, and for the last hour I've been trying to upload some snapshots taken in Greece that show how I imagine life in the Esilian mountains where Gabrel and his guerrilla fighters operate. Uploading pictures from the computer is not working so well; the pins show up in the board preview and when clicked on, but on the board they show up as blank spaces. Everything except the picture of the donkey does this! Okay, the donkey's probably cuter than the snaps of stone houses and mountains, but I don't think this is a case of Pinterest exercising aesthetic discrimination. After staring at the pictures and picking them apart in Photoshop, I can't find anything (technical) the donkey has that the snapshot of Monemvasia doesn't have. So I'm kludging it. The pictures will be posted below, then I'll "pin" them from this blog to Pinterest.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Stealing from Bollywood

When I'm writing a book I have mental images of the characters (duh, obviously.) Now that I'm dealing directly with a cover artist it helps if I can find pictures to show the artist. In the case of Gabrel, the guerrilla leader in Insurgents (to be released next month), that was easy; I was already thinking of him as a very young Salman Khan. He was just 24 in his first starring role in Maine Pyar Kiya, in 1989. (Yep, I've been a fan of Bollywood musicals for a long time.)

Gabrel is 23 during most of Insurgents, lying about his age because he's fallen for an "older woman" of 28, and I picture him in the mountains, making trouble for the invading army and looking just about as scruffy as Salman Khan does in this picture.

If my attempt to embed the video works, here he is singing "Dil Deewana" (My Crazy Heart) from that movie. (Okay, okay, somebody else is doing the actual singing. Salman Khan is doing the leaping around and dancing part.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The book in your head

It's been almost two weeks since I finished the first draft of Survivors. Writing this book has been an emotional journey of ups and downs. Starting with "The background (a society in collapse) is too dark, I don't want to write a dystopia, I'm going to pull back from the depressing stuff." This was succeeded by, "[Expletive], I can't avoid the darkest scenes: the book demands them." Which in turn was followed by "OMG this book is going to be totally depressing, nobody will read it." After which I galloped to the end and suddenly felt that the book wasn't bad. Not bad at all. In fact, pretty good.

I do know that these assessments have a lot to do with my mood and pacing. There were some scenes I felt were necessary but I hated writing them, and afterwards I would be down on the book as a whole. Getting to the end of the first draft - and discovering a good line to close on - was almost as exhilarating as being shot at and missed. But I seldom feel quite as satisfied as this. Usually the joy of completion is tempered by an awareness of problems that are not fatal, but annoying, and that are baked into the structure in such a way that they can't be completely fixed by editing.

But this time, for whatever reason, I've been floating around feeling ridiculously self-satisfied for two whole weeks.

Which is not necessarily a good thing.

For one thing, it's made me hyper-critical of the fantasy novel I'm plotting, so I don't want to work on it.

For another, it's caused me to procrastinate on the first proofreading, because when I do that I'll have to accept the reality of an imperfect book rather than the glowing image in my head.

Time to bite the bullet. I'm going to proof the first draft today, and in the process I will almost certainly be reminded that the book I actually wrote is not as good as the book in my head.

It never is. That's something you have to accept. Accept and move on.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Staying motivated, part 1

Looking back to those early years in which I had one book contract and two very small children...

Imagine having one baby who’s barely weaned and her ten months older sibling who is walking and whose main interest in life is destroying the interloper. Imagine being an aging mother who, to be honest, enjoys kids much more after they learn to talk, coping with sleep deprivation, mopping up orange juice, and picking up little bodies all day.

You can’t write “while the baby naps” because the Murphy Twins from Hell don’t even nap at the same time.

You don’t write after they go to bed because by that time you’re asleep at the dinner table with your face in your plate.

It’s a pretty clear choice: either you bring in absolutely no income by writing, or you bring in some income minus whatever it costs to hire a sitter for four hours a day.

So the morning goes like this:

The baby wakes up screaming. Feed her while prying your eyes open.

The toddler wakes up jealous because you’re holding That Other One. Placate her with Cheerios.

Your husband brings coffee. Put the baby back in her crib and skedaddle to throw some clothes on before the sitter arrives.

Return to find that both infants are throwing a fit because Mommy disappeared. Your husband, bless him, brings more coffee. Feed, console, and distract the offspring until –

Hallelujah! The sitter is here!

Retreat to study with a third cup of coffee. Close door. Put on music to drown out noises from outside.

Consider the fact that what you really want is to lie down on the floor and go back to sleep. Or read something light and undemanding. Or go to sleep sitting up in front of the computer.

Time for the motivational speech.

“You’re a writer. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. If you’re not a writer, you don’t need and can’t pay a sitter, so you can jolly well go out there and resume taking care of your own children twenty-four hours a day.”

Begin typing like a bat out of hell.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Not so funny

I've been working on a couple of silly posts, but yesterday's news has temporarily buried my sense of humor. The case of Charlie Gard is settled; apparently even the doctor who was willing to treat him concurs that by now the baby has suffered irreversible damage. His parents have withdrawn their suit.

Might the damage have been reversible if they had been allowed to take Charlie to the States for treatment six months ago, when this dispute started? We'll never know, but it's a question that must haunt his parents. Congratulations, Great Ormond Street Hospital; you have succeeded in drawing this out long enough that there's no danger a different doctor might make you look bad.

Be glad we still live in a free country.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

This is the State above the Law

I have - reluctantly - been following the case of Charlie Gard in the UK.

I am unable to evaluate the experimental treatment that Charlie's parents want to try. That's ok; it's not up to me to decide whether it's worthwhile. It is - or should be - up to the parents, who aren't even asking the NHS to fund the treatment; they've raised enough money to pay for it privately.

Instead, due to some unconscionable law, the decision is to be made by the courts that have already tortured the parents far too long - granting last-minute stays of a few days at a time, demanding new evidence on short notice. I understand that now, in his great wisdom and generosity, the judge who will decide the case is going to allow one of Charlie's parents to attend the meeting at which the doctor who might administer the treatment will attempt to persuade the doctors of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the judge that it may in fact improve the quality of the baby's life.

At present the parents are not only forbidden to take their baby to America for treatment; they will not even be allowed to take him home to die in their arms. The courts have spoken: they must watch him die in the hospital.

Of course, they're now suggesting that all this might change in a couple of days, if the American doctor is sufficiently persuasive. You see what I mean about torturing the parents? I suspect the judge has already made his decision and that this is a bit of theatre aimed at defusing popular indignation. I just don't know whether the decision is going to be, "See, we gave the parents every chance to prove their case and they couldn't do it, so let's kill the baby," or "OMG! New evidence! Had we but known!" But in any case I believe this is a face-saving exercise for the doctors and the judge, and who cares if it prolongs the parents' suspense? The important thing is to take the heat off the hospital doctors, right?

For the last few days, some fragments of Kipling's 'A Deathbed' have been running through my head, even though the poem is not directly relevant:

'This is the State above the Law,

The State exists for the State alone.'

(This is a gland at the back of the jaw,

And an answering lump by the collar-bone.)

'There is neither Evil nor Good in life,

Except as the needs of the State ordain.'

(Since it is rather too late for the knife,

All we can do is mask the pain.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Counting Stars

One Star - The typo’s and misteaks in this book drove me crazy. I simply cann0t reed anything so fool of errors.

Five Stars – A sensitive and sensuous tale exploring the life and loves of a transgender dragon. May be too spicy for some tastes.

One Star - I hated this book. It was full of words. I’m returning it and waiting until the graphic novel edition comes out.

Five Stars - A thrilling fantasy adventure with an unusual plot. Aeirine is raised by a poor peasant family but discovers when she comes of age that she has undefined but totally cool magical powers. Her foster parents confess that she is actually the daughter of the noble elf Shimmerdwell, changed at birth with the stillborn babe of the peasant. Now she must embark on a quest to find her true family who can teach her how to wield her powers without screwing up by, like, setting the atmosphere on fire, which would make the book way short.

One Star - Why did they put a Messerschmidt FU-69 on the cover when the book clearly states that the hero flies a Focke-Wulf? Lousy research. I’m returning it for the refund.

Five Stars – A gripping alternative history exploring how WWII would have been different if Focke-Wulf had bought out Messerschmidt and dominated fighter manufacturing in the Reich. Leveraged buyouts, bond issues, stock options… I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Five Stars – X’gh!ul is threatened with expulsion from the Zv’aieee clan for being terminally boring. His boring nature is examined at length before we get an answer to the question: Can X’gh!ul ever utter a single sentence that doesn’t put the listeners to sleep? Thoughtful and stimulating depiction of a truly alien culture.

One Star - – X’gh!ul is threatened with expulsion from the Zv’aieee clan for being terminally boring. His boring nature is examined at length before Zzzzzzzz

One Star – I hate books full of stuff like spaceships and people exploring outer space. I thought this would be different but it’s just as bad as the cover, which has a picture of a spaceship and a person in a spacesuit.

Five Stars – A fast-paced and suspenseful coming of age story. Mary Sue Monaghan thought she was a tough spaceship jockey, but she had to summon all her courage and enlist the help of unlikely allies when she was attacked by the Martians in Chapter 1, the Galactic Federation in Chapter 2, the alien Star Lords in Chapter 3, the Mafia in Chapter 4, the Dallas Cowboys in Chapter 5 and ok, I stopped reading for a while because I was exhausted but I’m sure the rest of the book will be equally thrilling.

Five Stars - I loved this book! I hadn’t read a romance novel before and I didn’t realize they had so many good bits. Going to buy everything else by this author.

One Star - I hated this book! I was willing to overlook the cover featuring a half naked man and a woman draped over him, but it was a total surprise to me when it turned out to be full of dirty bits like those on pages 19,20, 35, 36, 51,52, and many more.. Also the binding is no good, it’s already cracked and falling open at pages 19-20, 35-36, 51-52 and many more.

Five Stars - My Marvelous Mystical Gadget arrived yesterday and I love it! The box is so neat and rectangular and cardboardy that I can’t bear to open it, but I’m sure the Gadget will be wonderful. As a bonus, the box makes a pretty tinkling sound when I shake it.

Three Stars - This radio was a gift for my son who likes to listen to music all the time. He was very disappointed that it comes with a cord too short to reach from the wall outlet to the edge of his bathtub. Eventually (after many calls to customer support) we bought an extension cord, but it’s just not the same, is it? He set it up yesterday and he hasn’t told me yet how he likes the arrangement. In fact, he hasn’t answered his phone all day today.

Five Stars - I’m giving this five stars because it came in time for me to wrap it and it looks like it cost about what my daughter in law would expect me to spend for a present. I don’t care whether she found it satisfactory because I don’t really like her very much.

One Star - This gadget is no good. I didn’t have a chance to check it out right away, so I left it in the basement for six months. After the flood receded I discovered the box was falling apart – lousy packaging! And when my wife went to turn it on, it electrocuted her. So I guess it was some use after all, but I’m returning it because I don’t have any more wives to kill.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lost in a time warp

Lately all my writing time has been going to, well, actual writing. And editing. And back cover matter, which I don't count as writing exactly; more like, um, torture.

I will say there's nothing quite like discussing the cover and formatting for the first book in a series, while proofreading the second book in a series, while actually writing the third book. No wonder I'm having trouble figuring out what century it is! (The Fashionista and the Organizer would claim I still haven't got it right, that they need to drag me into the 21st century kicking and screaming. Pfui. I'm prepping books for Kindle, what's more 21st century than that?)

All this stuff going on simultaneously isn't because I have delusions of being able to multi-task. The cover designer I hired wants me to approve the final cover and write back matter for Insurgents. The cover designer wants the manuscript of Awakening. And the third book, Survivors, won't leave me alone. I am the innocent victim of a hireling and my subconscious. Mostly the latter.

Anyway, in lieu of interesting thoughts about the world or writing, here's the cover for Insurgents. I'm hoping to release it some time in early September, but that depends on getting my act together on practical matters like DBA, bank account, ISBN's, etc., etc.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's always fun when a novelist describes something and you suddenly recognize a place you know. Well, ok, if they're describing Trafalgar Square that's not so exciting. But if they talk about the street of shops selling strange fabrics for the theatrical costumers, or mention the fish and chips shop where the girl doused your chips with vinegar even while asking if you wanted it, there's a little thrill of recognition and the book becomes suddenly more real.

I've just discovered that Lynne Reid Banks wrote two more Cupboard books after the three I knew about (starting with The Indian in the Cupboard) and I'm making up for lost time, currently almost through the 4th book, The Mystery of the Cupboard. (Yes, they're children's books. So? The back cover says "Ages 9 up" and I qualify.) This one is mainly set in the Dorset countryside, with occasional visits to an unnamed small town. And I just read,

Omri and his dad walked out into the village square. There was a sort of little house - just a roof on four stone pillars - where you could sit. This was nicknamed Georgina after the woman whose memorial it was.
Now, we spent a couple of weeks in Dorset in, oh, must have been around 1990, because the girls weren't in school yet. We rented a place in Beaminster and cruised around the area: I have vague memories of long walks in the country, watching enough of a cricket match to send me into a mild coma (cricket can do that to me really fast), taking the girls and my father to a pebbly beach, and experiencing the Great English Traffic Jam of (approximately) 1990, when a truck bashing into the corner of a village store tied up traffic in all of southeast England for several hours. Not much else.

But when I read that paragraph, I said, "Steve!" (He'd hogged the book and read it first.) Did you realize this book is set in Beaminster?" Because all of a sudden I remembered that little shelter.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It took less than five minutes to find pictures of the shelter and the information that it's nicknamed "Julia" after the woman whose memorial it is.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

On passing for normal

I've been reading an old post on Sarah Hoyt's blog in which she opines that if you're a writer, your friends and family will think you're insane, and if you write science fiction and fantasy, that just adds another layer of weirdness. Had to laugh because this is almost the exact opposite of my experiences!

If you want people to think you're insane and/or terminally weird (not that I can imagine why anybody would want that, unless you're Odysseus avoiding the draft), just try taking your writer's mind through graduate school, university faculty, and a couple of software development companies and trying to pass as normal. Try as I might to be careful, I kept having these conversations in which the other party would eventually stop and say, "You have a really interesting fantasy life, don't you?"

And it wasn't a compliment.

In the last such job I made an all-out effort to pass. No more obscure rock band T-shirts. Gray suit, check. Good shoes, check. Makeup, check. Toothpicks to prop my eyes open during meetings. Refrain from screaming when the tech writer rearranges your sentences to make them euphonious rather than true. All that and I still blew it.

I'd been taking the Visiting Professor to give his talks at two universities in the area. I had to drive him because he didn't like the car the company had rented for him. I forget what make it was, but he claimed that in his country only pimps drove that make of car. He kept making heavy-handed, unfunny jokes about this and calling it "The Pimpmobile." This got old quickly.

All I said, on the way back to Austin that night, was, "If you like, I can drop you off somewhere on East 11th and you can get an up-close look at some American pimpmobiles while you're trying to persuade a taxi to come down there for you."

Couple of days later I heard that one of my colleagues had asked him, "What did you think of Dr. Ball?" And he'd answered, "She's very intelligent, but kind of weird."

By contrast, once I came out of the closet as a science fiction & fantasy writer, the normal people around me relaxed considerably. Because now "weird" was just what they expected of me. I fit into a group they thought they understood and everybody was a lot happier.

Sometimes the road to "normal" is very, very crooked indeed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Ransomware out of thin air

Twice in the past six months I've had my browser (Chrome) seized by ransomware. (The second time was ten minutes ago.) In both cases I was able to recover by shutting down immediately, waiting a few minutes, and restarting. But it makes me nervous.

I try to practice safe browsing: never click on unverified email links, avoid sites I suspect to be dodgy, etc. Again, both times it happened I was doing nothing unusual; this time, reading another writer's blog which I visit frequently.

Anybody else have this experience? Any ideas what I should do to avert the ransomware demons?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

They can smell fear

I've been doing some minor surgery on Awakening - cutting some irrelevant scenes, moving others around, and so on - and now I need to read the whole MS and reassure myself that it still makes sense. And being a 20th century troglodyte, I cannot evaluate my own book just by looking at it on a screen: I need that stack of printed pages so I can read the MS the way I've always read MSS.

My Epson spent day before yesterday coming up with new and creative ways to make printing the MS a major PITA:

"My heads are clogged, you have to waste ink cleaning them."

"I'm out of yellow ink. This has absolutely nothing to do with printing black, but I'm going to sit here with my arms folded until you get me a new yellow cartridge."

"Paper jam!"

"I did 10 pages. Now I'm out of black ink."

"Ooh, you touched my plug. Don't you remember you have to insert it just so to actually get electricity from this wall outlet?"

"Say, how about I print everything after page 82 in red?"

Actually, I think the red ink was caused by a mistake I made in Word, and I think it's fixed now, but I coulden't risk testing that hypothesis until I recovered from the urge to pick up the printer and hurl it out the window. Now it's time to find out. Wish me luck.


After another 45 pages it has now decided that it cannot continue printing black text unless I give it a new blue ink cartridge. Pfui. Blue and magenta cartridges now on order.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cut it out already!

I’m tired.

Last Wednesday was a tipping point for me: the shootings in Alexandria, the Left’s vile reactions, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

Not that I have anything useful to say about Grenfell Tower. But the rest of it?

Nobody who’s been paying attention to the escalating violence on the Left was surprised by the Alexandria shootings. Shocked, yes. But surprised? In the last year we’ve seen riots and attempts to shut down Trump campaign events, individual Trump supporters being beaten and harassed, a speech at Berkeley canceled after protestors broke windows and started fires, a professor at Middlebury College assaulted for the crime of standing next to Charles Murray, a parade in Portland canceled due to threats of violence toward Republicans who dared march in the parade, a college in Washington terrorized by bullies who march around the campus swinging baseball bats, repeated death threats towards Republicans in Congress and their families.

All this backed by a steady drumbeat of vile invective. Trump is not a legitimate president. Trump should be assassinated. Rublicans should be lined up and shot. Trump should be impeached and then executed. (Huffington Post). Hey, look at my neat model of Trump’s decapitated head! (Kathi Griffin.) I want a rhino to fuck Paul Ryan to death. (Joss Whedon.)

I’m tired of this prolonged temper tantrum.

The very people who screamed that Trump was a direct threat to democracy because he said he might not recognize the results of an election… have been, ever since November 8, refusing to recognize the results of this election. “Not my President!” they cried. And they have had ever so many great ideas. Who can forget, “Let’s dress up like giant vaginas and march on Washington to protest Trump’s vulgarity?”

Did I mention that I’m tired of this?

And I’m just as tired of the limp-wristed Republican response. We deplore the mobs and the violence. We write articles about Democrats saying outrageous things and point out that if a Republican had said the same things, the media would crucify him.

This has absolutely no effect on the ranting, raving, insanely screeching mob.

I am beginning to wonder if anything less than reciprocal violence will make a dent in their righteous anger.

I'm not rooting for reciprocal violence. I want to see this country return to a place where we judge ideas by debating them, not by trying to kill our opponents. But you know what? The people on the Left who are raising this ruckus should hope even more that this country goes no farther down the path of political violence. While screaming about fascism and accusing everybody and his brother of being a Nazi, they are themselves creating the conditions that lead to a totalitarian state.

And that will be much, much worse than the imaginary fascism they’re yelling about now.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


The first time I heard this joke it featured military training exercises in the Soviet Union. There are two groups of soldiers. The first group is told that they're infantry, but the army doesn't have rifles or ammunition for them to practice with. They are handed sticks and told "Just point these and say bangity-bang-bang."

Off they go, marching against the other group and chanting "Bangity-bang-bang" with all their might.

Guy in the back notices that as the two groups meet, the other groups' soldiers are literally walking over his group.

As the opposing group gets closer, he hears: "Tankity-tank-tank...."

What brought this to mind? I just saw a Wall Street Journal article (paywall, sorry) from last week discussing the sorry state of European armies.

"Soldiers in Germany’s Light Infantry Battalion 413 near the Baltic Sea coast complained last year that they didn’t have enough sniper rifles or antitank weapons or the right kind of vehicles. During exercises, they told a parliamentary ombudsman, their unit didn’t have the munitions to simulate battle. Instead, they were told to imagine the bangs." (Emphasis mine)

Tankity-tank-tank. Bomba romba bomba. Who put the bomp in the bomp ba bomp ba bomp...

Excuse me. I'm just going to go off and giggle quietly for a while.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Dorothy Grant's Scaling the Rim

I have just two gripes with this book: (1) it's short and (2) there isn't a sequel (yet: I still have hopes.)

And I probably shouldn't complain about its being short, because the length is about right for the story. I didn't feel anything had been truncated or left out: I just wanted to keep reading!

This book is a delightful science fiction adventure story with an interwoven romance. Grant has an admirably light touch; the romance is interwoven with the adventure without slowing the pace, the world and the relevant politics are made clear without infodumps, the writing evokes the sense of a frozen world without stopping for lengthy descriptions. A sequel would be welcome, but I'll buy anything I can get by this author.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Strange attractors and snakebots and Madame Defarge, oh my!

Niraja Lorenz is just one of the talented and innovative fiber artists whose work will be exhibited at Highfield House June 25-September 6.If you're in New England, or plan to be there this summer, don't miss this exhibit on Cape Cod. (Hmmm. Cape Cod. Ocean. Coolth. Wonder if I can convince the First Reader that we should vacation in New England this summer for a break from Austin's hundred-degree heat marathon.)

Next up is a video of a snake robot, no kidding! Watch this little guy tackle the stairs at the Spectrum office. And if that's not enough for you, try this extremely cool video of an amphibious snakebot from Japan. I am so having one of these in the next book. Well, maybe not in Survivors; it would have to be forcibly injected into the synopsis. But there is a definite place for a snakebot in the urban fantasy that's coming up after I finish the Harmony trilogy.

Remember Madame Defarge knitting at the guillotine? I never realized that she was emulated during the two world wars by knitting spies who encoded train schedules, troop movements and other secret information into innocent-looking scarves, hats, and sweaters.That might be trickier to pull off today, since you rarely see women knitting or doing any other handwork in public...but I'm already thinking about a quilt. Hand quilted. In Morse Code. Now, how to use this?

And finally,the stupidest thing I've seen this week: intersectionality meets quantum physics. Oh, good grief. I've been waiting for somebody to tell me this is a hoax. Apparently, though, it's for real.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I typed the last scene of Insurgents a few days ago, proofread the draft and sent it off to my one beta reader. Now trying not to breathe down her neck just because I'm in the process of scheduling it with a cover artist and formatter. If she persuades me that major surgery is needed, I'll have to put my preferred dates back; but I'm pretty sure that won't be necessary.

Pro tip: never try to proof an entire book, on the computer, in one day. It's bad for the eyes and worse for the temper.

And, of course, it's not like I'm twiddling my thumbs while waiting. I'm proofreading the follow-on, Awakening, and plotting the third and probably final book in this series (working title Survivors), which I hope to start writing at the beginning of July. This is going to be a tricky one. I need to show a collapsing society (Venezuela is giving me plenty of inspiration here) but I don't want to write a grim, depressing dystopia. Actually, I don't think I can; the funny keeps breaking out. I'm working on a sort of comedy of manners against the background of collapse and failure. There will be some grim bits - it's never fun when a society starts consuming itself - but I hope to balance the sadder parts of the story with scenes of my characters coping with whatever I throw at them.

Jury's still out on whether I can pull this off.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Isis Condemns Kathy Griffin for Cultural Appropriation

Via Duffelblog:

RAQQA, Syria — The self-proclaimed Islamic State has issued a statement condemning self-proclaimed comedian Kathy Griffin, accusing her of “cultural appropriation” after she posed for a photograph with a mock severed head of President Donald Trump. The group, which has been protective of its brand ever since taking over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and establishing itself as the premier beheading agency in the Middle East, said it was deeply disturbed by Griffin’s “ignorant and offensive” use of a “sacred Islamic State tradition.”

There's more. Read it all. It's the only remotely appropriate response to That Picture that I've seen. And no, I'm not going to post a copy of That Picture. You've seen it. We don't need to keep gawping at it. (Unless we are the Secret Service, which is supposed to take such things seriously, God help them.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The book I’m not going to review

Looking for new writers invariably means kissing a lot of toads. Usually I just sigh and give up somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, saying, “It may be somebody else’s cup of tea, but not for me.” Occasionally, though, I come across a book that is so annoying that it really tests my vow not to throw my Kindle at the wall. The book I’m not going to review today was one of those.

I’m not going to review it because for all I know, the writer is a perfectly nice person who just didn’t have a beta reader to tell him, “Sorry, this is not ready for publication.” And I don’t like holding people up for public obloquy.

But the writing, dear God, I wanted brain bleach long before I’d passed my eyes over even 10 percent of the text. It is so full of things Nobody Should Ever Do to a Reader. It would take too long to describe all the offenses against the English language, so I’m just going to mention the most annoying one: Pushy adjectives.

That’s what I call adjectives that the writer throws in to tell you how to feel about something without going to the trouble of actually describing it. Within the first few pages our heroine had melted metal sheets with “incredible temperatures,” had taken an “incredible leap.” A little later something “had done some incredible work on her health.” Someone else’s trigger finger “released a volley of countless slugs.” And there was a “merciless army” at the door. Oh, and somebody was guilty of “hateful preaching.” The expectation of sudden death was “heartbreaking,” and so was somebody’s rage.

The relentless bombardment of push adjectives was even more annoying than somebody writing in ALL CAPS. I felt that the author was shouting at me, “This is amazing and you’d better believe it! These characters feel deeply and so should you!”

That is… a very poor substitute for actually amazing me.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The predictable demons

It usually happens when I'm about 3/4 through with a book. I wake up one morning knowing that this particular book doesn't even deserve to go on a slushpile, it's a farrago of nonsense, it's boring, nobody will ever want to read it.

This time it's happening when I have only a chapter and a half to go on INSURGENTS. Possibly because this book is shorter than my usual, the internal demons were goofing off and thinking, "Oh, we don't need to attack until she reaches 75,000 words." Unfortunately, it seems that somebody blew the alarm whistle: "She's not going to get to 75,000 words on this book! Fire when ready!"

So here we are again, and the only way forward is through the Insecurity Demons. Arguing with them does no good; I simply have to get my head down and adopt the attitude that I don't care what they say about quality, I'm going to finish this thing. Today I've done 1600 words in that mode. It's not fun. But sometimes it's necessary.

The demons usually STFU after it becomes clear that they're not able to stop me writing. But this time I'm so close to the end that they may be able to keep it up for the rest of the book.

Full speed ahead. And damn the torpedos.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review: Megan Whalen Turner's Thick as Thieves

Yes, I know I was going to post this review last week. I had forgotten that I always read Megan Whalen Turner’s books twice through, once to enjoy the story and again to appreciate the tricky structure. Thick as Thieves was no exception.

How much can you say about a book that is the perfect vehicle for its story? As always, Megan Whalen Turner’s prose is clear, luminous, limpid. If you think of a novelist’s prose style as a window through which you see the story, hers is a windowpane so clean that you hardly know it is there. Like Mary Renault, she gives voice to an archaic period (she keeps saying on the basis of technology it’s a fifteenth-century world, but it feels much more like classical Greece to me) not by dragging in archaic words and phrases, but by stripping modern English of whatever shows modernity. She’s a master at avoiding contractions, slang, neologisms – anything that might yank the reader back into present time.

In all this, Thick as Thieves is like her previous four books in this world. As always, she presents us with engrossing characters, a story that keeps reeling us forward, and – dammit – a surprise at the end. I know Megan Whalen Turner’s tricks by now and yet she still surprised me.

To hell with the style, you say: what’s it about? On the surface, it’s an escape-and-pursuit story: the slave Kamet, on learning that his master has been poisoned, and knowing that slaves are routinely tortured in an investigation, flees the city but finds his path to freedom blocked by determined pursuers, “accidents,” and suspicion. On another level, it’s a story of a slave becoming a free man in a much deeper way than simply striking off his chains. And it’s a story of an unlikely friendship growing between two very different men.

And as in her previous books, Megan Whalen Turner adds depth and resonance to her story with her invented mythology and literature. Thick as Thieves differs from previous books in drawing from the culture of her Medes rather than from her Greek-ish city-states. The prose story is punctuated by brilliant pastiches of something very like the epic of Gilgamesh, highlighting a friendship between two mythic beings that is very like that between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. She’s pulled it off once again: Thick as Thieves is at once an adventure story, a story of change and growth, and a reflection on the relationship between gods and men.

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