Thursday, December 21, 2017


The third book in the STARS fantasy series, An Annoyance of Grackles, is done! Well... except for reading it five or six times for typos and infelicitous wordings, because I never catch all of them on one reading. But I won't start that until after Christmas, and if possible I won't start plotting a new book until after New Year's. Oh, heck, let's be wild and reckless and not get back to work until Epiphany.

This book is a little shorter than the first two. But in the spirit of Lincoln's "A man's legs should be long enough to reach the ground," I'm going to declare, "A book should be long enough to tell the story."

Now, apart from wrapping presents, I plan to kick back and do nothing writing-related beyond saturating my brain with Orkney folk-lore and Regency manners, for the historical fantasy in the back of my head.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

First it flows, then it floods

The period of heaping stones ended without warning, and for a few days I've been typing like a maniac to get An Annoyance of Grackles finished. The words are there now, and saved in multiple places, and I'll proofread it after Christmas. Right now I need to wrap Christmas presents and.... What do you mean, you have a spiffy idea for a fourth book in this series?

Telling the Muse "go away" or even "hold that thought" is dangerous. So okay, I'm going to wrap presents AND make some notes about this hypothetical fourth book. If the whole plot chooses to flood into my head the Christmas gifts may have to go without bows and glitter.....

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gun research

The Organizer and her future husband are coming over today and I'm going to pick his brains about guns; why rely on the Internet when you have experts practically in the family?

Those of you who've read some of my books know that firearms don't play a large part in the stories. In fact, the only bit I can remember is in Flameweaver, which begins with Tamai's search for Martini-Henry rifles to help her tribe defend against Russian aggression.

However, the upcoming urban fantasy series has two issues I need to get right - no, three, but the First Reader resolved one by telling me that Glocks don't have a safety. I've also got what I hope is a funny scene in Book 2 where a CIA agent is yelling at the TV about the mistakes in a spy show, and a tense scene in Book 3 involving a sniper with a scoped rifle.

And who better to vet those scenes than an ex-Special Forces guy who has a gun collection and goes to the range regularly?

Finally one of my daughters is bringing someone useful into the family!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Worst. Rejection letter. EVER.

The Daily Mail recently published what really has to be the worst rejection letter in the entire history of rejection. This is it:

"Dear Sir,
No, you may not send us your verses, and we will not give you the name of another publisher. We hate no rival publisher sufficiently to ask you to inflict them on him. The specimen poem is simply awful. In fact, we have never seen worse."

Amazingly, the recipient of this letter not only did not commit suicide, he continued self-publishing his poetry for another decade.

The Daily Mail quotes some lines of his "poetry," which support the notion that the writers of the rejection letter were absolutely right, but I don't want to dwell on that. Rather, I plan to inscribe the name of Frederick Charles Meyer upon my heart, as a guiding light to follow.

Henceforth, when tempted to say, "This indie publishing is too damn hard, I don't know how to market my books," I shall respond, "Did Frederick Charles Meyer allow such minor obstacles to stop him? He did not!"

When growsing, "I don't get any reviews," I shall remind myself that Frederick Charles Meyer didn't either.

And when whining, "I don't have any talent," the response will be, "Neither did Frederick Charles Meyer!"

Monday, December 4, 2017

Heaping stones

I've been looking for some lines by Gary Snyder; can't find them.

Something like this:

"When creeks are full
poems flow
when creeks are dry
we heap stones."

That's what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks: heaping stones. The first two fantasy books in the series, Pocketful of Stars and Stars in Time, fairly flew out of my fingertips onto the page. This third one, An Explosion of Stars, feels leaden. Every blasted word takes work.

At the beginning I thought the problem might be that I lack experience in writing a series. I was able to feed background information into the second book, but with the third book there's much more background than I've ever had to deal with before. It took some wrestling with the text to sprinkle the information through the story so that readers will know what's going on without ever having to suffer an infodump. But I'm 30,000 words into the story now, with that problem (I hope) solved, and writing still feels like heaping stones.

One thing I do know from previous experience is that in retrospect, it's hard to tell the scenes I sweated over from the ones that just flew out without conscious effort.

Another thing I know is that the demons whispering in my ear that this is it, I've lost whatever gift I had and it's never coming back, are terrible liars.

And the third thing I know is that you can't stop writing and wait for inspiration.

So... I continue to heap stones.

This is a scene from the third book. It's from the middle of the book, so the lack of background may be a problem, but I tink it's relatively clear. Any opinions on whether it's an actual scene or just a pile of rocks?


When Sutherland and I got to the third floor, Thorn was sort of doing the reverse of teleportation and stepping into the air. To be precise, she and Edwards were holding hands and swooping through the big central room at the head of the stairs, a good five feet above the floor.

“You made it work? You made it work!”

“Not really,” Thorn called as she swooped by us and did a neat little spiral turn ballasted by Edwards’ hand. “It turns out to be a completely different topological construct. Nothing at all to do with path-connected spaces! I just thought of it last night.”

“And I,” Edwards said, grinning like a fool as he did a sort of breast stroke through the air, “just implemented it.”

My eyebrows shot up. “You mean you can do it on your own? Without Thorn?”

Thorn folded her arms and shot down to an almost normal position facing me. “We’re just starting. But I think Edwards is going to be even better at this than I will.”

Theoretically, any one of us can work any transformation than any other one figures out. But it’s true that in practice, we tend to have our specialties. I’d been the first one to use the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem to teleport, and I could still use it faster and more easily than any of my colleagues. Sutherland’s specialty was shielding and camouflage; Thorn’s was telekinesis. And it appeared that Edwards was going to be our aerial acrobat.

Now, as Ingrid shook out the clusters of stars on her fingers and took to the air again, Mr. M decided to serenade us all.

“For you, young Sutherland,” he screeched, and launched into “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” Sutherland’s jaw clenched. He was still living down his experiments of last fall, when an attempt to generate light via Riemann surfaces had instead generated fire, automatic sprinklers, and evacuation of the building. He and I had taken apart the relevant mathematics since then, but we’d never been able to get light without fire. That’s why I’m not going to go into the details of how it works; where would we be, I ask you, if the math department were filled with ambitious topologists starting fires at random? I really think Dr. Verrick ought to give us credit for keeping Riemann fire under wraps, next time he accuses us all of being socially irresponsible.

“You had to bring him in today, Annelise?” Sutherland grumbled.

“He gets bored when he’s alone in the apartment.” Thorn and Edwards were still swooping giddily around the room, slowly losing altitude.

Mr. M. announced that his next number, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)” was going out to Jimmy DiGrazio, whose girlfriend was apparently planning to perch in the apple tree with young Edwards. Our resident computer jockey, DiGrazio had only recently fought down Thorn’s prejudice against people who couldn’t do topological magic. Mr. M.’s sense of humor tends to be pointed and not particularly kind.

Fortunately for DiGrazio’s peace of mind, Mr. M. picked on Edwards next. “And for the one unattached member of the Institute: “I’ve Got Spurs that Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” he crooned, “As I go riding merrily along. And they sing, ‘Oh, ain’t you glad you’re single….’”

Had I mentioned that he’s currently going through a phase of Second World War era songs?

It’s better than his Gilbert and Sullivan period, last fall.

It was Annelise who finally got our daring young research fellows back down to earth. Their shoes were scraping the floor but they still weren’t giving up. She brought the pastry tray out of the break room and waved it at them. “Doughnuts! Chocolate covered, cream filled, raspberry filled! Get them while they’re fresh!”

Thorn and Edwards must have burnt up a lot of energy with this flying discovery; they swooped towards the tray and Edwards tried to snatch a doughnut.

Annelise dodged him. “Sit down and eat like grownups!” She put the tray in the middle of the break room table and the fliers descended on it like grackles sighting a discarded sandwich. I wouldn’t have described the subsequent orgy of snatching, cramming and gulping as “eating like grownups,” but at least they had their seats in the chairs and their feet under the table. Some days that’s the best you can hope for out of our research fellows.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Survivors - live, and a teaser

The e-book of Survivors is up now (still working on the paperback version) and here's a sample.


Jillian paused for a moment of pure aesthetic appreciation before stepping into the crowded room to join the babble of greetings and witty comments and the latest gossip. The large, light room before her swept the width of the building, with glass doors opening onto a terrace. The upholstery, cushions, and curtains were all of color-changing smartcloth, which was so expensive most people reserved it for their best clothing. The waves of subtly changing colors, from pale gold to sand to silky grey, accomplished two things at once: advertised the owners’ wealth, and set off Liya Delplato’s ash-blonde coloring. Unlike Jillian’s, Liya’s hair owed its subtle shadings to a master stylist and looked even more natural than the real thing.

If Galen could furnish the studio like this, it would be easy to act the part of an Inner Circle socialite.

“Jilli! We had almost given you up!” Liya glided towards her, small white hands outstretched. Her sparkling beige dress was just a shade darker than the white-blond hair that had been artfully piled up and then allowed to fall over one shoulder.There was a hint of censure in the greeting; they both knew that Jillian had been invited mainly as an attraction for the important guests.

“I’m sorry, Liya. I came as soon as I could get away.” And she was going to have to leave early, too, but she didn’t want to explain why and she certainly didn’t want to get into a spat now. Liya might act as if she and Jillian were the closest of friends, but Jillian had a pretty good idea how long that friendship would last if she stopped showing up on command to attract fans. As far as she was concerned the party was just a way to make Galen happy; he kept bugging her to mingle to promote the show. Not that it really needed promotion.

Fortunately Liya’s butterfly attention had already lighted on another topic. “Isn’t Charley with you? Oooh, is it true what they said on Celebrity Chatter, then? That you might be breaking up? My dear, I’m so happy to hear it. Charley Lagos isn’t nearly good enough for you. Look at the way he let that Esilian agent hypnotize you last year!”

Liya had a little trouble separating the flourishing plot lines of Love for Living from actual life. It wasn’t an uncommon thing in these circles, where ‘real life’ was something seldom experienced. Jillian nodded and smiled and agreed that she and Charley Lagos were not “together.” In real life they weren’t even friends, but the studio liked to float tantalizing rumors of an on-again, off-again love affair between the stars.

She caught sight of an unfamiliar face in the crowd and, to underline that she and Charley were not an item, asked with simulated enthusiasm, “Who’s that? I haven’t seen him before.”

Liya followed her glance and looked at the tall man without any enthusiasm at all. “Oh, that’s nobody. Some up-river hick from one of the farm cooperatives. He was pestering Edd about some business of the coop’s and to get rid of him, Edd went and invited him to my party. Told him he’d meet the real movers of our world here. Well, I’m not saying my guest list isn’t distinguished, but I doubt he’ll do himself any good here. His manners are atrocious and he doesn’t know anything about current events, but what can you expect from people like that?”

Jillian nodded while cataloguing his features. Overlong dirty-blond hair flopped over a craggy face with prominent cheekbones, a large nose, a firm chin. His closed lips twitched in a half-smile as he caught her eye, and she hastily looked away. “He does look a bit rough-hewn,” she agreed. “Liya, I love your dress. It’s as if someone had sprinkled a handful of stars over you!”

She had been almost unpardonably slow in registering the secret of Liya’s dress. It was made of FutureGen, the latest in smartcloth: twinkling lights were embedded in the fabric. She’d heard that they could be programmed to light up in various patterns, but Liya’s dress just sparkled randomly.

Her hostess grinned like a little girl. “Isn’t it just? And look at this!” She spun on one foot, reminding Jillian even more of a little girl, and hidden veils of sparkling lace spun out of the folds of her skirt and made a momentary cloud of stars around her. “I shouldn’t complain about Edd being too soft with that farmer; he’s much too generous to me.”

This was the Liya Jillian liked best, the barely-grown gamine who frankly enjoyed the goodies that marriage to a deputy minister had brought her. “Isn’t Edd trying to catch your eye?”

Liya looked in the direction Jillian indicated, nodded, raised her eyebrows, and brought her palms together with a little bow towards Edd. “Yes. I have to go and charm Ray Elmasri. But I’m not going to abandon you to this crowd. Greg!” she called in her high, sweet voice! “Greg, come! A little bird told me you might not bring Charley,” she explained, barely lowering her voice, “so I asked Greg Tavas for you. You see, Jillian, I can think ahead. I just don’t like to.”

By now Greg Tavas had made his way to them. While he was bowing over Jillian’s hand, Liya plunged back into her own party and could be seen, from time to time, parting the crowd like a determined terrier on the trail of something – in Liya’s case, the target would be one of those Elmasris.

“Terrible crush, isn’t it?” Greg said. “Shall we step out on the terrace?”

Terrible waste, isn’t it? Greg had that resonant baritone voice, thick dark hair, deep blue eyes, charming smile, superb manners… and, as far as Jillian had ever been able to tell, absolutely nothing else. She suspected that if hooked up to a monitor, it would declare the subject clinically dead. Between the ears, anyway.

Oh, well. Jillian actually liked Greg, in a way. He was so grateful when a woman talked enough to spare him coming up with any conversation, and he was the one man in this crowd whose invitation to step out on the terrace meant nothing more than that. And the superb manners drilled into him by some crêche-mother meant that he led the way to the terrace, parting the crowd like… wasn’t it some ancient prophet? Or had that one parted the water? Jilli gave up on that shred of memory and followed in Greg’s wake, catching scraps of conversation as she passed. “My dear, I’m perfectly certain the servants are stealing food, but what is one to do? It takes so long to train good servants…”

In the next group a man with an authoritative voice was speaking. “These protestors are just spoiled children who haven’t the patience to wait in line. The Ministry for Peace is going to deploy troops to control the lines at the community markets; that’ll quiet things down.” The subject matter was a bit more serious than the usual who’s-with-who gossip, but from the tone of the crowd, Jilli didn’t think there was anything much to worry about. They might be in for some bad economic times; that would be hard on the poor, but it wouldn’t make too much difference to the circles she moved in.

“And you wouldn’t believe how much my little man expects just for a little butter and a few eggs! Well, of course it’s off the books, can you see me standing in line to have my hand scanned at a market? But when it comes to paying twenty times the market prices, it’s simply price gouging! I’d report him to the Bureau for Trade, but Traj absolutely insists on fresh eggs for breakfast, and where else would I get them?” Jillian lingered a moment to hear the rest of this complaint, but Greg took her hand and drew her along with him. “Come along, Jilli, here’s the terrace. It’s nicer out here, isn’t it? You are glad I got you out of that crush, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am, Greg, it was very kind of you.” The terrace wasn’t exactly deserted, but at least it wasn’t so crowded that anyone near her could press up against her body and blame the crush. Nearby, the rough-hewn farmer type was pleading some case or other to a woman with tightly pursed lips and a pile of dark hair half as tall as the rest of her body, held down by jeweled combs; somewhat farther away, Liya was being charming to Ray Elmasri. Two or three other couples had found their way outside and were leaning against the parapet, exclaiming about the view. In a city built on the flat land of a river delta, just about the only way to enjoy a view was to be rich enough to own an apartment in one of the high-rise towers that had given the Inner Circle neighborhood the nickname, “The Hill.”

Dutifully Jilli, too praised the view. It was in fact worthy of praise; as darkness fell over the city, buildings lit up with a wave of little lights as fine as any FutureGen dress. Unfortunately, just as she was mentioning this feature, the wave of lights crashed into darkness and disappeared.

There was a momentary silence on the terrace; then, as lights began to show again, the buzz of chatter resumed.

“That’s the third time this week,” complained a girl with a Flickering Flames smartcloth dress to which very full FutureGen sleeves had been added. “Why can’t the Bureau for Energy at least keep the lights on? Oooh, look,” she added without changing her whining tone, “it’s Jillian Lisadel! I’m your biggest fan, Jilian, I never miss your show. Do you really think Charley Lagos is plotting to murder your husband? Is that why you’re breaking up with him? Can you take a holo of us together, Jefri?”

There were four young people in the group and each of them wanted a holo with the star of Love for Living. Jillian nudged Greg and made him volunteer to snap all the holos; he was good at it, and painstaking, and with him in charge she wouldn’t be displayed on someone’s coffee table with the top of her head cut off, or tilting like the Leaning Tower of… wherever it was that tower had done its leaning.

The ones who weren’t being holorecorded at the moment continued their conversation. “I hear the Central Committee is going to save electricity by giving government workers a third day off each week.”

“A day off? That’s ridiculous! Why reward them for not doing their job? They ought not to have any days off until they get the power supply fixed.”

“Well, you know, Zoi, most of them don’t work for the Bureau for Energy and wouldn’t know the first thing about how to fix the power supply,” Zoi’s escort said, almost apologetically, as if he felt rude for pointing out something any child in elementary crêche should know.

“If you ask me,” a young man with peacock-blue hair said, “it’s all because of that artificial sasena ruining our export trade!”

Zoi had a pretty, tinkling laugh that had probably charmed a number of men into overlooking her inanity. “Why, Rik, you say the funniest things! What can boring stuff like exports and trade have to do with simply keeping the lights on?”

The holos having been recorded, Greg was fidgety. He looked at Jillian in a mute appeal for help. Silence bothered him; he needed her to make conversation for both of them. At the moment Jillian wanted to keep eavesdropping, so she asked him to bring her a drink and he set off to make his way back through the indoor crowd. Having a task he knew how to do usually made him happy.

The brightly decorated young people who’d been discussing the lights failure had now drifted back to the edge of the terrace and were playing some kind of game based on counting the windows in a given tower. Behind her, the guy from the country was getting frustrated with his designated audience. “It’s a matter of simple logic, madam, even you must see that. Look, if we can’t sell our milk and cheese at a profit, we can’t feed our dairy herd. The more we have to slaughter for lack of feed, the less milk and cheese you’ll get from us next year.”

“You’ve already said that three times, young man!”

“Yes – trying to get it through your head!”

“Impudent! I don’t believe a word you say. Everybody knows the farm cooperatives are filled with subversives who sabotage production to get a higher price for their goods. If you ask me, it’s high time the Central Committee put a stop to your greedy ways!”

“But – but – madam –“ The little woman with the high pile of glossy dark hair turned on her heel and made for the man Liya had been chatting up.

Greg was still out of sight, and the farmer’s craggy face was appealing in a strange sort of way – maybe because she never saw men who looked so unpolished. Jillian decided to give him an opportunity to take her around the corner and kiss her.

“You know, if you really want to persuade people of your views, you’re doing it all wrong,” she told him.

The farmer shook his head. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with facts and logic?”

“They’re not exactly common currency in the city. I’m Jillian, by the way – Jillian Lisadel.”

“Ruven Malach,” he said as if her name meant nothing at all to him. Hmm. Not quite so raw as he looks; he thinks to score points by failing to recognize me.

“I could… help you learn how to reach politicians,” she said. “In fact, I’m quite good at reaching people in general.” As you perfectly well know, Mister I-don’t-care-who-you are.

“Are you, now?” His eyes were light blue, and just now they were lit with some sort of amusement. “And you know all about the economics of coop management, too?”

As if talking economics had ever persuaded anybody of anything! “Chord and Consonance. You do need help. Only it’s so crowded here…”

That was his cue to follow her glance towards the shaded corner where the terrace wrapped around to a service door.

“It is. And I hadn’t ought to laugh at you, had I? I’m afraid it’s true; if I’m to save the collective, I surely do need all the help I can get. Perhaps I might call on you tomorrow?”

“Afraid I’m working tomorrow.” And she wasn’t about to give her address to a strange man who pretended he didn’t even know who she was. Jillian turned away from him and greeted Greg with a dazzling smile. “Pink Jillis, my favorite drink! Greg, you are an angel.”

“Jillis for Jilli,” Greg said, beaming as though no one had ever thought of this bon mot before.

Friday, November 17, 2017


I've uploaded Survivors as an e-book and it should be live some time this weekend. Here's the cover:

I've gotten some grief over the covers in this series; apparently readers expect a romance novel behind covers like this one. Well, it's not a romance novel. It's a science fiction novel with a romantic subplot.

And it is also, by the way, a demonstration that I can rise above temptation. I found a Youtube video of the complete Kalman operetta Czardaskiralyno. Sung in Hungarian. With rather casual English subtitling that is evidently designed for speed readers, since you can miss a whole speech if you blink. I've been drawing this out for several days, using it as a reward for tasks accomplished. Pay credit card bill, one song. Write a scene for Star Burst (working title for Book 3 in the Stars series), one song plus the extended dance scene that follows. Get Survivors uploaded and oh well, it's Friday, let's just watch the entire third act and see all the pieces click into place.

Subtitles definitely help; I've gone from recognizing one word in a hundred to one word in fifty, which while pleasing is not exactly enough for listening comprehension. Watching this production resolved some of my questions about the story line while raising others. For instance, why do all the actors remind me of Klingons? Oh, it's the "inconspicuous" microphones taped to their foreheads that look like some kind of growth. People, if you're going to attach equipment to your singers' faces, maybe don't do so many closeups, ok? And even apart from the Klingon Pucker, it's not nice to do full-on closeups of your soprano when she's reaching for that high note.

And even with subtitles, I really have no idea what to make of the wounded veteran with PTSD who weaves in and out of the scenes, occasionally re-enacting his last battle by raising his crutch and imitating a machine gun. Sir, what are you doing in a fluffy operetta about a prince and a night club singer?

I guess there are some things we're not meant to know.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Youtube catch

Didn't take long to discover that one...

Every time I hear a familiar dance tune, I think, "Hmm, wonder how they choreographed that one...wouldn't hurt to just take a look."

On the good side, browsing through Youtube has reminded me of a minor Strauss operetta, Zigeunerbaron, which I haven't heard since one time in - I think - West Berlin, as a student, when I was too broke to buy any but a "pillar seat," which meant exactly what it said: a seat behind a huge pillar that blocked most of your view of the stage. There's a reason why I said "heard."

Same problem, of course, occurs here. Not having seen anything the first time, I really want to watch the snippets available on Youtube!

Add that I'm looking up romantic triangles in Bollywood musicals for Book Three (honest, this is going to be relevant) and that I love watching Bollywood dance numbers, and my concentration is pretty well shot. Time to invoke some serious will power or I'll never finish plotting this book.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Frivolous music for frivolous books

I wrote A Pocketful of Stars and A Time for Stars (Yeah, I'm still fooling around with the title) without benefit of background music, but missing it somewhat; my old writing system was to put a CD into the player and start writing. If I heard the CD stop playing, then I knew I wasn't concentrating well and might as well take a break.

I know the beginnings of a lot of classical music far better than I know what happens after the first ten minutes!

Anyway, after five books this year, the twenty-first century pointed out to me that I can stick a CD into the laptop and get the same results.

Since the Stars books are light and, I hope, funny, I promptly pulled out my smallish collection of Viennese operetta CD's and have been using them while plotting the third book (presently creatively called Stars3). They make excellent background music. The only catch is that my collection is somewhat limited. A couple of collections; after that it's Strauss (Rosenkavalier and Fledermaus highlights,waltzes), Franz Lehar (ok, Lehar Ferenc, but I think of him by the German name because his operettas are sung in German), a collection of Huszka Jenö songs from various operettas, and highlights from two of Kálmán Imre's operettas sung in German (Czárdásfürstin and Gräfin Mariza). I've close to memorized the entire collection already and I haven't even started writing the actual book! A quick shufti through Amazon suggests that I can have more Kálmán and Huszka, even some sung in Hungarian... if I'm willing to pay upwards of $50 per CD. Much as I'd like to have a Hungarian version of Prince Bob, that's a serious budget-buster. For that matter, I could use more Lehar; at the moment I've got only Die Lustige Witwe and Das Land des Lächelns.

Youtube is giving me a few options, but I could use more. One problem with Youtube is that the length of videos varies a lot. Many are under twenty minutes, which invites me to stop writing and look for something else; others run over two hours, and by the time I register that the music has ended my body has frozen in place. So... anybody want to educate me on more Viennese operetta composers? I prefer the ones sung in Hungarian because I don't catch more than one word in a hundred and that's not enough to tempt me into listening to the words. German is pretty ok; after so many years of not using my German, I get about one word in ten and that's still not much of a temptation. English... not so great. Or any other lightweight classical music suggestions?

Saturday, November 4, 2017


The first draft of A Time of Stars is done. I write pretty clean first drafts, so this really does mark the end of the heavy lifting. A couple of proofreading sessions, a pass by my beta reader, and it'll be ready for blurb,cover, and Createspace and Kindle formatting.

On the advice of Dorothy Grant, an expert on indie marketing (as well as a fine writer in her own right; go read Scaling the Rim), I'm going to hold this and A Pocketful of Stars back until a third one is ready, so that I can release them all at once or close together, thus making series fans happy.

There's a stack of stuff that I've been putting off (not to mention the infamous stack of laundry, which appears to gave been breeding more clothes since I last looked at it) but today I'm going to do a Scarlett O'Hara: I'll think about it tomorrow.

Right now, I'm going to put my feet up and listen to The Merry Widow.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Type type type

Just realized I haven't been posting. Sorry; my head's buried in the book I hope to finish this week. In lieu of a halfway intelligent post, here's a non-poem describing my day:

No no no
No no
I have to pee
That involves getting out of bed

Coffee coffee
Everybody shut up
Take the damn coffee to the study

Who are these people
What are they doing
And why?
Look at the outline
Oh, okay

Type type type
Type type
How can this be only 700 words
More coffee

Type type type
If I keep this line I have to change that part in chapter 17
Scroll back
Skim skim skim
It' s in chapter 16

I REALLY have to pee
Run to bathroom
Wave at Steve
Pet the dog

Type type type
Type type
I ought to start dinner
Type type type type type type
Yippee, 3000 words

When I come to a good stopping point

Hey, Steve, how about we order out? Indian?
Fall asleep with my face in the plate

Pile of clean laundry
Channel Scarlett O'Hara
"I'll think about it tomorrow"
Turn off lights
Hey, I just figured out how to fix that bit in chapter 20

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.)

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