Thursday, December 27, 2018

The End of an Era

While watching the grandkids tear into their Christmas loot, I realized that the world has changed.


And without my permission, dammit!

When our kids were toddlers, we spent way too much on Christmas presents for them and then watched as they ignored the actual presents in favor of playing with the shredded wrapping paper and the empty boxes. Really, there were some years when I thought we'd have done better to give them nothing but cardboard boxes; no toy we ever bought could complete with the joy of squashing your little sister into a packing carton for immediate shipment Elsewhere.

No longer. The baby hasn't even figured out how to rip off the wrapping paper yet, but with a little help from her big brother she got hold of her toys. There were at least two large plastic objects with big buttons to push and big wheels to turn, and when armed with the appropriate batteries they rewarded her aimless explorations with flashing lights, nursery rhymes, and obnoxious noises. She was fascinated!

For a while I wondered, Grinch-like, if we'd ever be able to interest her in something as plain as an actual book -- not this Christmas, but a few years hence. But you know, I think we will. Because there's one thing those flashing, beeping plastic devices don't do.

They don't tell a story.

And humans always need stories.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The hazards of black bag jobs

(I'm polishing A Revolution of Rubies for release and having some fun with it in the process. The CIA has decided to send Thalia and her topologist colleagues to Europe, to bug diplomatic offices and apartments for them. Even for people who can teleport, it's not always as easy as you'd think:)

Sheng was visibly nervous about our mission – I guessed he was one of those people who’s really only happy in a basement full of computers and electronic gadgets – but at least he’d been able to accept the reality of teleportation better than his predecessor, Screaming Geek. Now I took his (sweaty) hand, slipped my free hand into the pocket with the stars, thought about the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem, pictured the two glowing surfaces and slid us from one surface to the other via the single point they had in common.

We had time to take just one deep breath before the barking began.

This time I didn’t bother with half measures like hiding in a bathroom. We were in the Egyptian cultural attaché’s apartment and I already knew there was only one bathroom which the whole family shared. We zipped down a spiraling trail of stars through the in-between and back to the apartment Lensky and I were using.

My legs were shaky; I sat down on the cool marble floor. “That wasn’t supposed to happen!”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Sheng sniped. “I thought you’d been to a dinner party there.”

“I was. Just day before yesterday.”

“How did you not notice that he had a dog?”

“He didn’t have a dog. Not then.” I thought back over my briefing. “They told me Egyptians don’t like dogs!”

“They don’t not like dogs nearly as much as I don’t like dogs,” Sheng groused. Then a puzzled look crossed his face. I had the feeling he was counting negatives on his fingers, trying to figure out what he’d just said. “I thought that monster was going to take a chunk out of my ass.”

“You could be grateful for the quick reflexes that got us out of there!” Truth be told, I had been possibly a little more alert to the need to exfiltrate quickly than I had been before Screaming Technical Officer had fainted on me in the Polish embassy.

We learned later that Said, the cultural attaché, had been dog-sitting for just one night as a favor to a Parisian neighbor of his who’d been called out of town unexpectedly. Just our luck that we tackled Said’s apartment on that night.

We never did find out how a fashionable Parisian living in the center of the city managed to keep a dog the size of a small moose as a pet. But then, that wasn’t part of the assignment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Color explosion

I've been browsing in Cecile Meraglia's blog, Aventures Textiles. She's posted some white-on-white embroideries that are breathtaking in their austere beauty... but they're not good inspirations for me at
this time of year. Too bleak!

The Christmas season has been difficult for me ever since my father died on a Christmas Eve. It was a long time ago, but... well, he did not have an easy or a peaceful death, and in the days leading up to Christmas each year I tend to get hit by flashes of memory that I could well do without. So I'm in a mood
for color and noise and lots of it. This piece of Cecile's, titled, "Red Sun," suits me today. I like the bright colors popping out against the black.

And it reminds me that even a black mood can be overlaid with brightness.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


"Mom, she's crawling!"
"Yeah, right."
For the last month the Youngest Grandchild has been getting up on her knees and elbows and rocking back and forth as if putting all that energy into the project will magically create forward motion. I've stopped holding my breath in anticipation of this particular milestone.
"No, she's really crawling! Wait till you see the video! She figured out how to move her knees and she went right across the room and filled both hands with her big brother's toys!"
(thoughtful pause)
"Lego blocks. Crayons. Choking hazards everywhere to be picked up...I'm screwed, aren't I?"
"Yes, dear."

And now, having watched the video a mere five or six times, I think I'll get down on my knees and elbows and rock back and forth for a while. Who knows, maybe it'll magically create forward motion in this morass of a half-plotted book.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The death of humor... plus ça change...

By Adolf Schrödter -

IdahoBeauty's comments to the last post caused me to reflect that although she didn't put it quite like this, the proportion in so-called "news" publications of actual news to opinion, innuendo, and repetition is like the proportion of bread to wine in Falstaff's inn tab. Then, because my memory is failing, I had to look up the "bread and sack" quotation so as to be sure I got the words right. And that search led me to a magazine article from 1780 that might have been dictated by one of the humorless scolds we were decrying.

In a comment on the "bread and sack" scene the writer says, "The effects we feel at what I next quote, are sufficient to convince us how dangerous wit and humour are in the power of knaves. They take our hearts in despite of our senses. Although we know them to be all that is bad, yet we cannot withhold our affections."

Oh, okay, we could go back to Plato for examples of the ruling classes distrusting artists. Heck, there's probably something to that effect in the epic of Gilgamesh. But for today, The Lady's Magazine suffices to remind me that the scolds are always with us. God forbid anybody should be funny. Humor is too dangerous to be allowed out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I cannot tolerate these intolerant songs!

I was gonna do a Christmas songs post... but somebody beat me to it! (Stumbled upon this at Bookworm Room, lack the twitter/internet skills to trace it back and give credit to the originator.)

All I've got left is a few words of censure for the incorrect attitudes implied by traditional Christmas carols.

Royalist: "Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King"

Elitist: "The little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay"

Misogynist and transphobic: "Round yon virgin mother and child" - privileging chastity? And why celebrate Mary for doing something so trivial as giving birth? This attitude is hateful towards childless women, women who want to shout their abortions, and most of all, womyn without wombs or even X-chromosomes.

Anti-Satanist: "To save us all from Satan's toils, when we were gone astray" - blatantly prejudiced. Why does no one ever speak up for the Prince of Darkness?

Oh, sorry about that last. I guess I forgot. The entire outrage mob is already speaking up for him, all the time. Or should that be "xim?"

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Wonderful...Witches?... of Oz

It's one of the perks of marriage: the First Reader reads the Guardian, so I don't have to. He sent me this brilliant commentary on The Wizard of Oz. I must admit to being surprised by the timing. I mean, it's December. I thought we were supposed to be outraged by racism and bullying ("Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer), date rape (Baby, It's Cold Outside) and more racism (I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas). But no, the outrage industry isn't busy enough banning creche displays and pushing African "traditions" like Kwanzaa. They have to go after nonseasonal outrages as well.

"...the film revels in the violent deaths of “ugly” women, who have houses dumped on them or drown in water that melts them like acid, while the greatest deceiver, the Wizard, simply shrugs and floats away at the end of the film."

Because, I guess, nothing says "empowered woman" like sending your flying monkeys to capture a little girl and her dog and kill her friends.

(Toto could not be reached for comment.)

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The insufficiently woke Mr. Tolkien

The First Reader found this parody conversation from McSweeneys recently -- I have no idea how, because he's not a Tolkien fan. It's old, but I hadn't seen it before. Here's a sample:

ZINN: You view the conflict as being primarily about pipe-weed, do you not?

CHOMSKY: Well, what we see here, in Hobbiton, farmers tilling crops. The thing to remember is that the crop they are tilling is, in fact, pipe-weed, an addictive drug transported and sold throughout Middle Earth for great profit.

ZINN: This is absolutely established in the books. Pipe-weed is something all the Hobbits abuse. Gandalf is smoking it constantly. You are correct when you point out that Middle Earth depends on pipe-weed in some crucial sense, but I think you may be overstating its importance. Clearly the war is not based only on the Shire’s pipe-weed. Rohan and Gondor’s unceasing hunger for war is a larger culprit, I would say.

CHOMSKY: But without the pipe-weed, Middle Earth would fall apart. Saruman is trying to break up Gandalf’s pipe-weed ring. He’s trying to divert it.

ZINN: Well, you know, it would be manifestly difficult to believe in magic rings unless everyone was high on pipe-weed. So it is in Gandalf’s interest to keep Middle Earth hooked.


Monday, November 26, 2018

I actually finished something!

No, not a book this time. Lacking a decent sense of humility, I will brag that since resuming a writing career in 2017 I've established a decent track record for not only finishing books but getting them out there. Eight books out in that time period, five of them published this year; three more in the queue to get covers and formatting; and a twelfth book on track to be done by next week.

No, it's the piece of embroidery up above, which I currently love so much that I'm thinking of making it my header pic. In the course of cleaning up the sewing room and tackling the mountain of things to be mended or altered, I came across this piece of "fabric" which I made during the years before back problems knocked me out of doing anything at all. It's actually a conglomeration of different fabric scraps, some painted and dyed silk, some dryer-wrinkled, some insubstantial bits of net, all fused to a felt background and held down by a ton of ribbons, stitching, and rose montee crystals.

Hmm. Felt-backed, pretty, about the size of an opened book; what to do with that? Well, my current favorite writing spot is one end of the new couch, with its handy footrests that rise at the push of a button. It's got broad arms suitable for holding a cup of coffee, but the catch is that if I keep drinking coffee there the upholstery will eventually have coffee-colored stains. Enter this little piece. With a bit more embroidery to hold everything in place, and a blue cotton back cover from the fabric stash, it's almost perfect to lay across the arm of the couch right where I want to keep a cup or glass.

"Almost," because the surface is just a bit scratchy. So, eventually it will probably be replaced by something less decorative but smoother to the touch; one of the cotton prints I brought back from India should work. But for now, I'm going to admire my pretty turquoise fantasia... and stitch on the unfinished crazy quilt blocks I unearthed at the same time, which make a nice break from summarizing A Revolution of Rubies to send off to the cover artist.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Still thinking about the Great War...

Back in the Dark Ages before video games, I was once involved with a group of crazy people who were addicted to a board game called Diplomacy. It was based on a map of pre-WWI Europe and -- as you might guess from the name -- was not so much about tactics and ammunition as it was about making and breaking alliances. It was the between-moves huddles with other players that accounted for ninety percent of the game time, as we all tried to mislead (Sure, I went in the corner with Germany and Austro-Hungary, but I didn't make a deal with them), obfuscate (No, I'm not planning a naval battle, I just feel like talking to Britain and Turkey) and cheat (I know I promised not to stab you in the back. What, you believed me?).

It was a lot of fun, and along the way, repeated experiences hammered some basic principles of geopolitics into my head. I started with the naive view that all players were essentially in the same boat but eventually had to concede that your place on the map had a lot to do with your fate. If you're Great Britain, you become a major naval power ASAP or you lose. If you're Belgium and the Low Countries, it doesn't much matter what you do; Germany will wind up marching through you. And if you're the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you're screwed.

I wonder if all the Great Powers would have been so interested in war if they'd played a few rounds of Diplomacy first?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Because everybody else is quoting "In Flanders fields" I thought I'd put up a lesser-known poem to mark this day and the end of the War to End War:

The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.

(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes with light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.

(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight;
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)

-T.P.C. Wilson

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New book snippet

A Creature of Smokeless Flame takes Thalia, Lensky and the rest of the Applied Topology crew from Texas to Germany to East Africa... but the journey starts in a very unpleasant secret CIA site:


The door slammed open with so much force that it hit the wall with a loud clunk. If the demonstration of that much kinetic energy was meant to intimidate me, it was working. I hadn’t liked being manhandled by my kidnappers, and I liked even less being at close quarters with the man who swung the door shut behind him now. He was big like Colton, though much older: tall, stocky, with thinning brown hair and big meaty hands. I shivered involuntarily. It wasn’t just the size of him that frightened me; his eyes were worse. They looked like doorways into a chaotic, gray hell.
“Where are they?” he demanded.
“If you mean my friends, I’d like to know that too!”
“Don’t worry about your friends. Worry about yourself.”
Oh, I was already doing that.
He prowled around the narrow room. I didn’t much like it when he was behind me; I could feel the short hairs on the back of my neck bristling. Too bad. There was only one chair in the room, I was seated in it, and I wasn’t going to give up that paper-thin symbol of superiority for anything short of actual violence. I did stick my hands in my jeans pockets. They’d taken everything away from me except the one thing, or properly speaking set of things, that I was most likely to need. That wouldn’t have been out of generosity, or even carelessness: like most people who can’t apply topology the way we do, they wouldn’t have been able to see that I had a pocketful of stars. Even Lensky had been known to refer to that collection as a handful of nothing.
If the gray-eyed man got violent with me, though, he just might encounter the effects of those stars and the way they enhanced our other abilities. I thought wistfully of using Ben’s trick with Riemann surfaces to ignite his pants, but it wasn’t time to show my hand. Yet.
“We’ve spent enough supporting you jokers,” he growled eventually, “it’s time you made yourselves useful.”
That told me a lot. He must be a representative of the secretive three-letter agency that funded the Center for Applied Topology in the hope that our paranormal abilities would eventually develop into useful tools for them. In fact we’d already been quite useful to them, but I decided not to bring that up. I didn’t feel at all secure that the CIA was going to treat us any better than any other bunch of unaccountable bullies. The one thing about our captors’ identity that gave me hope was that this was Lensky’s agency. If anybody could find out what had happened to us and where we were being held, he could. If anybody would storm the gates of a CIA black site to free us, he would. And he’d succeed, too.
“It might help,” I suggested mildly, “if you explained what it was you needed our help with.” Being polite about asking wouldn’t have hurt, either, but it seemed that bridge was already burned.
“I told you. We want you to find them.”
“Find who?”
He stopped prowling and glared at me. “You’re supposed to have been told.”
“Nobody has told me a damned thing.”
He raised his hand in a threatening way and I said hurriedly, “Look, it’s not in my interest to lie to you about that. You can check up easily enough. I was unconscious when your goons threw me in here and you’re the first person who’s been here since I regained consciousness.”
“Damned incompetents. They really didn’t brief you?”
“No. Would you like to tell me what this is about?”
“I… My…” He stopped, glanced up at a corner of the room, and started over. I’d had conversations with Lensky that went wrong in exactly that way. What was this guy not telling me? “The bombing,” he said eventually. “Last week. We have reason to believe that the bombers used paranormal means to effect their entrance and exit. You need to find out who they were and where they went.”
“And you think I’ll be better able to do that from a cell in a mystery location than from the comfort of my own office?” I laughed at the expression on his face. Though it wasn’t all that funny, really. “And without the benefit of knowing what you spooks have already figured out about the bombing?”
“Why did you call us spooks?”
“You’d prefer me to say spies? Okay. You spies, then.”
“How did you –"
“You did begin this conversation by bitching about funding us,” I pointed out. “Do you really think we still haven’t figured out where our grant comes from?”
“Your funds are passed anonymously through the Moore Foundation for Mathematics Research.”
I shrugged. “That may have been the intention, but placing one of your own case officers in the middle of the Center kind of blew the anonymity bit, don’t you think? You know, you’re as bad a liar as I am. I do hope, for the sake of our country’s security, that your colleagues are a bit better at this spook business.”
His face went through two or three contortions before he settled on a sternly commanding expression. “Certain of my colleagues require a demonstration of your capabilities before opening up a classified investigation to you people. You will demonstrate what you can do, then we will decide how we wish to use you.”
I had a strong feeling that things should go the other way around. We should decide what use we would allow them to make of us, and then we should demonstrate only those paranormal abilities that would support such use. I had absolutely no inclination to write a blank check for this man with the crazy gray eyes.
“There are a lot of things we can’t do alone,” I tried. Coming up with a unified strategy against these nuts, for instance. Too bad we’d never developed an application of topology that would enable telepathy. “It would work out better for everybody if you allowed us to get together and work as a group.” Better for us, mostly.
“First,” he said, “we’re going to explore what you can do alone.”
I shrugged. “Fine, but that doesn’t amount to much.”
The back of his hand slammed against my cheek without warning. I nearly fell out of the chair. My eyes watered, my face hurt and I really wanted to introduce him to the concept of Riemann fire.
“That was a lie. Do not lie to me again; you will regret it. We already have evidence that you, at least, can do quite impressive work on your own,” he said. He resumed pacing around my chair; I resumed consciously not turning to keep the bastard in sight. He might be making me nervous, but I didn’t have to let him see that.

Monday, October 29, 2018


A Creature of Smokeless Flame is live in the Kindle store now, and free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers! As usual, publication of the paperback version is lagging behind. KDP is every bit as much fun to deal with as Createspace was. Oh, well.

Thalia Kostis and her cohort knew the CIA was funding their group of research mathemagicians, but they'd never demanded results like this before! After terrorists use magic to kidnap hostages from the agency's headquarters, the Center for Applied Topology finds themselves torn from their cubicles and dragged across three continents, from holding cells to terrorist safehouses as the superiors who never believed in them before are now demanding impossible results.

Now academics who can't organize a donut run are finding out there are worse fates than loss of funding... If they don't find and stop the magicians responsible, they're going to lose their lives!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Embroidering the music of the spheres

Steph Bianchini's blog post on astronomical clocks sent my mind skittering sideways, thinking what wonderful themes for embroidery these would make! I wouldn't want to make literal copies... but suppose you printed out an image like this one onto fabric, and then embroidered the major features, all those circles and hands and gears... no, that's not quite right, because I'd want all those to be raised above the blue background. Oh well; I'll think about technique while cleaning up the sewing room to the point where I can find my materials.

In the meantime, if you want more pictures of astronomical clocks and some thoughts about their history, check out Steph's post.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


I just finished the first draft of the first book in my new fantasy series - at least I hope it'll be a series, I've already got plans for the next book - working title Sienna Brown. It'll be a while before publication, as Books 5 (A Creature of Smokeless Flame) and 6 (The Lake of the Dragon) of the Applied Topology series are stacked up on the runway ahead of it. That's ok; I need to run it through some editing passes and think seriously about a better title.

But there's very little that can compare with the joy of finishing! It took me a long time to resume actually enjoying the writing, probably because it also took a long time to recuperate from that lingering mystery illness. But the last few chapters have been fun to write. Recovering the joy of writing is wonderful.

And now I'm actually feeling good enough to work on the Red Quilt as well... that is, to take some preliminary steps towards actual work, like cleaning up the sewing room and making at least a dent in the monstrous pile of mending and hems to raise that's currently threatening to topple over on me. In the next life I want to be 5'9" so I don't have to raise the hems on pants and skirts!

Monday, October 22, 2018

I don't want to live here any more

I used to love Austin.

I was born in Austin; my earliest memories are of horned toads in the back yard, the explosion of spring flowers in my mother's garden, walking down tree-lined sidewalks to meet my father coming home from the university.

I went to college in Austin: picking up and cracking pecans as I walked home from classes, dancing through a new pair of slippers in one night, soaring with Arrowsmith's lectures on Greek tragedy and R.L. Moore's pure abstract world of point set theory.

My husband and I have lived over 30 years in the same house in Austin: our children playing all over the neighborhood and building "forts" in the unused woodsy part of the National Guard camp, walking to school and griping because I wouldn't let them cross Perry Lane on their own, still keeping up with neighborhood friends from their school days. The checkers at the market ask about my grandchildren and the neighbor with the magic flower garden updates me on her latest battles with roaming deer.

But slowly, over the years, Austin has morphed from a lovably ditzy weirdness to something darker.
There's a group here calling themselves "The Red Guards" with no discernible sense of irony. Are they really crazy enough that they don't recognize what a horror China's Cultural Revolution unleashed with the original Red Guards? Maybe they think it was a good thing? I wouldn't be surprised, because here's what they're proud of:

Pigs' Heads on Doors

That's just the nastiest bit of leftist attacks here; there've been far too many smaller instances.
Our children still live here, and we don't go out much any more. But moving up to Hutto, near my older daughter, is beginning to look more and more attractive.

It's not the forest of "Beto" signs on our street. I don't really care how my neighbors vote.

What I mind is that we, like our neighbors around the corner, are afraid to put up "Cruz" signs. Yes, afraid. We're old people living in houses that were designed in a time of peace, and I don't want a brick through a front window or somebody accosting my husband in the driveway. I don't believe any of the neighbors are that crazy, but the anger and violence displayed on the Left worries me. I can easily picture some angry coward cruising down our street and deciding to display his hatred for opposition with a brick.

I don't like living in a town like this.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thank goodness that's over

"That" meaning either the Kavanaugh confirmation circus, the 5 weeks of feeling too sick to write, or the 6 weeks of cloudy-and-rainy... all together left me with nothing to say that anybody would want to hear.

On the bright side, all that rain has inspired the basil to burst forth gloriously; I'm feeling well enough to take advantage of it and fix pesto for dinner; and an exhaustive (and exhausting) series of medical tests, while failing to account for the long miserable spell, have found that I am clinically perfectly healthy. And now I actually feel well enough to take advantage of that theoretical health!

So: pesto, as I mentioned; walking up and down the house to remind my muscles that they're not retired yet; and getting back to the unfortunate characters whom I abandoned at a particularly difficult moment (one of them just caught fire.)

And having read and/or rejected a vast number of lightweight genre novels (constant reading was a way not to think about the unpleasant aspects of illness) I'm in dire need of more fluff. And, in general, I need to discover some new writers. Anybody have any recommendations?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Elves, stars and Literary Criticism

The thing is that I ducked most literature classes in college, because I didn't feel the need for somebody to tell me what I ought to like and why my favorite novels weren't really about what they said they were about and so forth and so on. So I filled out the English requirements with Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, and continued happily liking the books I liked without giving a great deal of thought about where they fitted in the great pantheon of English literature.

On the whole, I think it was a good decision. Not only did I learn that Chaucer wasn't pronounced anything like the way Miss Ruby in our high school thought, but it left the opportunity for bright bits of discovery sprinkled through my life as I read more and put things more in context. I'm sure that Fanny Burney's influence on Jane Austen, for instance, means more to me because I discovered it for myself rather than being told about it by an English professor.

But, of course, one never knows what discoveries lie ahead. And the past few weeks, during which I've been feeling too crummy to read anything but old favorite comfort books, provided me with the solution to a mystery I had not been consciously pondering. I refer to the literary origins of Madeline Basset, the soupy, drippy girl who wanders through Wodehouse's Jeeves novels under the illusion that Bertie Wooster is in love with her. Remember Madeline? No?

This is Madeline on one of the occasions of breaking her on-and-off engagement to Gussie Fink-Nottle: "One morning we had walked in the meadows and the grass was all covered with little wreaths of mist and I said Didn’t he sometimes feel that they were the elves’ bridal wreaths and he said that he had never heard such a silly idea in his life."

One's sympathies are all with Gussie.

Madeline is also liable to tell anybody who doesn't escape fast enough that "the stars are God’s daisy chain, that rabbits are gnomes in attendance on the Fairy Queen and that every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born."

I can't say I ever really wondered where Wodehouse got the idea for Madeline, I just assumed she was part and parcel of the teeming creativity that gave us Ukridge and Psmith and Jeeves and Anatole and the Empress of Blandings. (One thing I noticed while lying down and re-reading Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves: there are no bland walk-on characters in a Wodehouse book. The man's creative energy was daunting.)

However, it chanced that as I continued feeling pale and wan, I downloaded the Anne of Green Gables novels onto Kindle so that I wouldn't have to make the tremendous effort of walking from the end of the house with the beds to the end of the house with the books. And that decision, in due course, led to my finishing the first book, crying over Matthew's death, and moving right on to Anne of Avonlea.

Which led to my remembering why I don't own that particular volume in dead-tree format. None of the subsequent novels is a patch on the original, of course, but I'm willing to re-read some of them every twenty years or so just to keep a little of the Green Gables flavor. But not this one!

It's that ghastly, drippy, soulful little Paul Irving. I can't abide the boy with all his sweet little whimsies. And so, last week I was gagging over a passage where the kid really cuts loose with "poetic" ideas:

"Do you know what I think about the new moon, teacher? I think it is a little golden boat full of dreams... And I think the violets are little snips of the sky that fell down when the angels cut out holes for the stars to shine through. And the buttercups are made out of old sunshine; and I think the sweet peas will be butterflies when they go to heaven."

And instead of walling the book (an expensive luxury when you're reading a Kindle) I sat up in bed and said, "Madeline Basset!"

I'm pretty sure Lucy M. Montgomery isn't considered Literature, and even P.G. Wodehouse is probably looked at askance by professors of Literature who ought to know better, so this particular connection may never have been made before. You're welcome. Look on it as my contribution to academic scholarship.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Is Google evil?

I've been trying to ignore all the fuss about whether various tech giants are trying to censor viewpoints they find unacceptable, muttering, "I don't use social media anyway," and "What can I do about it?" and "I'm not a lawyer."

But sometimes the situation forces itself upon me.

In the upcoming elections I'll have to choose between 'Beto' O'Rourke and Ted Cruz. I've been sort of lukewarmly pro-Cruz on the grounds that (a) I don't know a lot to his discredit and (b) I don't like an Irish guy (O'Rourke) who suddenly just happens to start going by the nickname 'Beto' when standing for election in a state with a large Hispanic population. However, one of the offspring is fervently pro-Beto and wants to shower us with his campaign literature. I defy anybody to figure out anything useful from campaign literature; it all reads like, "I'm for God and motherhood and my stinky opponent is against apple pie."

So I browsed around a bit, starting with, okay, the candidates' campaign websites and then following links and looking up statements to figure out what they were really saying.

In the course of this work-avoiding activity important research I came across an assertion that O'Rourke had called for impeaching President Trump. That caught my attention. It's not the kind of statement I take an opponent's word for, so I looked it up.

The search string "Beto O'Rourke impeachment" on Google got me exactly two hits. One was a link to a Politifact article, "Is Beto O'Rourke the only Senate candidate to call for Donald Trump's impeachment?" The article, as you might expect, parsed "to call for impeachment" extremely narrowly, then asserted that " nonpartisan observers said by email that while O’Rourke appeared to be the only Democratic Senate nominee to speak out for Trump’s impeachment, he was likely not the only Senate candidate to do so." On that basis they rated the claim False. Well, there's a reason I don't bother reading Politifact.

The other hit was... an article quoting the Politifact article.

Entering the same string on Bing got me page after page of hits, including such notorious right-wing sources as The Nation, The Dallas Morning News and The Hill (sarc /off) all of which quoted O'Rourke's words and interpreted them as a call for impeachment.


Calling for the impeachment of a sitting President without reference to any crime justifying that step does not endear O'Rourke to me, but it would be too casual to stop there, wouldn't it? If I'm still stuck on this blasted book tomorrow I keep researching I may find something equally annoying that Ted Cruz said.

But I'm switching my default search engine to Bing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bookstores in the good old days

Amanda had a post on Mad Genius Club today complaining about the book-unfriendly layout of a new Barnes and Noble and speculating that the chain's troubles may be as simple as the fact that they're more interested in selling gifts, doodads, Nooks, coffee, and music than in books.

She may be right... but her complaint revived memories of some notoriously customer-unfriendly bookstores of the past that survived despite the habit of beating their customers over the head if they tried to find a book and redoubling the beatings if we actually tried to buy said book.

Time was when I never went to Paris for longer than one night without a good browse at Shakespeare & Company, even though buying anything meant navigating through a multi-stop checkout path which they kept trying to explain to me in TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse, like the trains) French. I read French sort of okay, though slowly. I can say stuff in French if I've been in France for a couple of days, so it starts coming back, and as long as it's nothing too complicated. I cannot understand a native speaker of French in full spate; they might as well be saying "Oh la la la la la la la!" (Which, I was charmed to discover, French sports announcers really do say when something exciting happens in the soccer game.)

Anyway... moving on to English bookstores... the Foyle's at Charing Cross Road was an obligatory London stop. I spent many happy hours browsing in obscure departments... and some less happy hours looking for specific books and trying to pay for my finds. To begin with, there was the three-line checkout system, which to the best of my memory plagued Shakespeare & Co., Waterstone's, Foyle's, and probably every other bookstore on that side of the Atlantic. Under this system you stand in line once to hand over your book and receive a slip of paper bearing the price. At the second window (which is probably at the other end of the store, if not on a different floor as well) you fork over the price tag and the requisite cash, and receive in return something like a cloakroom ticket. If you can find the line for handing over cloakroom tickets, and stand in it long enough, you will eventually receive your book. Probably neatly wrapped in brown paper which you will wound the sales staff's feelings by ripping off so that you can read the book. It never occurred to them you would want to do that!

Then there was the time I found a forgotten book of reproduction maps of Georgian London in a corner on the fourth floor. There was no price printed on the flyleaf and any price sticker had long since shriveled and fallen off. There was a bit of a scene at the first window in the payment sequence, with a clerk refusing to sell me the book because he couldn't figure out how much to charge, and me clutching the maps and saying between my teeth, "Make me an offer." Somehow, I have no idea how, I got out of there with that book and its companion volumes (Elizabethan and Regency London, IIRC); suggesting that the Foyle's of that day still had some vague philosophy about pleasing the customer, even if they weren't very good at implementing it.

But my most searing memory concerns the time I was up in London for the day from the Dorsetshire village where we were staying, having been commissioned by my husband to get him more naval fiction by an author whose name he had carefully written out for me. The book he liked so much had been in paperback, so I charged happily into the serried ranks of paperback novels...

... and discovered that Foyle's arranged their paperback fiction not alphabetically by author, like every other bookstore in the known world, but alphabetically by publisher. Why? Because it made life easier for the stock clerks who had to unpack boxes of incoming books. And no, they had no way of cross-referencing to find out who published a given author, at least not one they were willing to share with a stray American.

And yet all these businesses survived.

It's really hard to depress the desire of book addicts to buy books. Publishers and booksellers have been working really hard on this problem for a long time. I hope they're grateful to Amazon for relieving them of their burden.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Not your typical Disney fairy tale

So, having finished up the Applied Topology series with an adventure (The Lake of the Dragon, forthcoming later this year) that takes Thalia up into the Pamirs, I'm starting a new series that has some links back to the first series -- notably, the language of that remote village in the High Pamirs, which turns out to have some very interesting properties. And at the same time, I'm mulling over a third fantasy series built around Lake Shaimak and its Dragon.

Reading the folklore of a region often feeds my fantasy plotting with new ideas, so I went hither and yon on the Internet in search of Pamiri folk tales and found just one book: Tales from the Roof of the World. 333 pages. In German. No translation that I could find. "Oh, well, it'll be good for my vocabulary," I groaned, and ordered a copy.

I've been relieved to find that it's not very difficult reading. The stories are written for a general audience, not a scholarly one (Thank you, God) and I can get by with looking up maybe 4 to 5 words a page if my dictionary's handy, or I can wing it making context-based guesses if the dictionary's in the other room. And the stories are starting off on an unexpected note.

I knew I was going to enjoy the first group of stories when I saw that the table of contents listed them under the sub-heading "The Power of Women." What I didn't see coming was...

The first story opened as all such tales always have. The king whose daughter's beauty shone like the light of the moon, check. Task for the princes who woo her,check. Prince after prince after prince fails, check.

Then, just as I was about to go to sleep, there entered the Hashish Smoker and his Water Pipe.

Not only that, the Hashish Smoker gets the girl because he tells the best stories!

Oookay. We're not in Walt Disney World any more, and I can't wait to find out what the next folk tale is about!

But if you want to look at traditions before they were Disneyfied, you might note that the Victorians wouldn't necessarily have been as surprised as I was by the entrance of the Hashish Smoker. Just look at the illustration to this post; it's one of Tenniel's original illustrations to Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A particular talent for seeing hidden connections

A Tapestry of Fire

Once again, I'm trying to entice readers into a story with the chapter headings:

1. A particular talent for seeing hidden connections
2. Two truths and a lie
3. Something fishy
4. Practical demonology
5. The ice princess and the floozy
6. The imminent prospect of being unmasked
7. A rajah’s palace
8. Headstrong, reckless and irritating
9. ‘What is your good name?’
10. ‘I have no fiancée.’
11. Two thousand pounds of water
12. Loaded for grackle
13. A destructive force of nature
14. The jewel in the forehead of the idol
15. The experience of being a fish
16. Bombers’ moon
17. Falling stars
18. The death of a city
19. An order is an order
20. Lampposts wilting like flowers
21. ‘London can take it!’

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Scrambled languages

Yesterday, still slightly dazed from finishing a book, I took the day off and watched an old musical. And it's a good thing I didn't try to watch Csardaskiralyno while I was writing, because this version totally scrambled my brains.

See, I have a theory about brains and language development -- totally unscientific, but mine own. It stems from the fact that I myself seem to have only two places in my brain to stash languages. One is labeled, "English" and the other, "Everything Else." The second box is just a stack: whatever non-English language I last used is what it will give me next time I reach into the box.

Most of the time this isn't a problem; I've only noticed it when moving rapidly across Europe, where on one morning I may need German, on the next Italian, and the next day I want all one hundred words of my pitifully small Greek vocabulary. (It gets even worse when you figure that twenty of those are numbers.) Trips like that involve a lot of pulling out and discarding languages before the box finally starts delivering what I need.

But I've been around a number of people who were raised bilingual, and they're not just more fluent in their second language than I ever hope to be; they also juggle multiple languages with aplomb. They can have a conversation with a German, a Hungarian and a Russian without ever getting tongue-tied or stammering as they switch languages.

My theory, then, is that people who spoke two or more languages from the time they learned to talk have constructed better and more sophisticated language boxes than I have. Maybe they've actually got a separate box for each language they learn!

So how did the operetta mess over my language boxes? Well... I've listened to highlights from this operetta so often that despite not being very good at picking out words with music, I seem to have memorized the songs. In Hungarian.

Now, this production was being sung in German, and sometimes the words didn't mean anything at all like the original lyrics.

And since my German's no longer good enough to follow the story unaided, I was heavily dependent on the English subtitles. Which sometimes had little or no relationship to either German or Hungarian lyrics.

So... you try remembering in Hungarian, listening in German, and reading in English for a few hours! Go ahead; I'll wait. And then I'll wait some more while you try to compose a coherent sentence.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Dragon of the Lake

Talk about writing ahead of yourself... Yesterday I uploaded the ebook of A Tapestry of Fire, book 4 in the Applied Topology series. And today I finished the first draft of Book 6, The Dragon of the Lake.

The last few days have been exhilarating but exhausting, as I tend to write faster and faster near the end of a book. Now it's done, and I feel that I've wrapped up Thalia's story pretty well, and now I can start on the new series that's been whispering in my ear.

Not today, though. And quite possibly not tomorrow either. I want some time to wriggle my toes and admire the newly finished story. (Critical editing can happen later.)

So.... whee! The only things between me and publishing the last two books of this series are proofreading, formatting and cover art... and Cedar has already started thinking about cover art for A Creature of Smokeless Flame. I wonder just how quickly we can get these two out?

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Tapestry of Fire - Live!

Well, that was fast.
I just uploaded the ebook this afternoon, and it's already live: A Tapestry of Fire

Meanwhile, here's the blurb, which I hope will stir your interest:

Thalia Kostis is a budding magician (depending on how you define it), but she has a theoretical mathematician's grasp on socialization and people skills. When pressed into spying on a rival magician's company retreat to find out where kidnapped coders are being held, she expected things to go completely sideways.

She didn't expect to end up mistaken for her rival’s fiancée...

Now she has to juggle her own impending wedding, her cover, her magic, and company politics that might turn out deadlier than anyone expected!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Conflagration of Titles

I am so not good at titles.

My first agent once said, "You're so bad at titles, you should call your books MS1, MS2, MS3 et cetera."

I told her that was a dangerous suggestion to make to a recovering math major.

Oh well -- with lots of practice over lots of years, I hope I've gotten a little better at this arcane art. But I've been struggling with the title of the 5th Applied Topology book (not the one that's about to come out, that's #4.) I wanted to keep it in the format I'd used for the first four books: A(n) NOUN of NOUN. Like the title of this post. Not too difficult, wouldn't you think?

For a while I was calling it A Veiling of Djinn, but that never sounded right. It sounded awkward, and wouldn't mean much to people who hadn't read that the Djnoun veil themselves from mortal sight. (Djnoun being the Arabic plural for Djinn, but even I am not crazy enough to put that word in a title.)

So I switched to A Shadow of Djinn, and used that most of the time I was writing, and thought it was an okay title, until one of my children upset the applecart.

The other night at dinner I casually mentioned that the fifth book would be called A Shadow of Djinn.

Daughter and son-in-law: A Shadow of what?

Me: D-j-i-n-n. You know, like in the Arabian Nights?

D and s-i-l: The what?

Two takeaways from that: (1) I should have homeschooled that kid, and (2) time to think up a new title.

And I had to think fast, because #4 (A Tapestry of Fire is in the hands of the formatting service as I write, and at the back there's a short excerpt from #5 with the title.

So I'm going with A Smokeless Flame, in the hope that it will sound interesting to readers even if they don't happen to be up on the finer points of Islamic theology, such as the fact that Allah created the Djnoun (knew I'd be able to work that word into a sentence sometime!) out of smokeless fire. (I didn't want to use the word "fire" because it would echo Book 4's title.)

I hope this one works.

At least I feel reasonably sure that my semiliterate offspring and their spouses know the words "smoke" and "flame."

I'm still vacillating between just A Smokeless Flame and something like A Creature of Smokeless Flame. Any opinions would be more than welcome.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Yippee! New stuff to read!

Pam Uphoff's new book in the Wine of the Gods series,External Relations, went live this morning. I've downloaded it already and am working really, really hard to write another couple of thousand words and strip the basil leaves for tonight's pesto before I put my feet up and indulge myself.

Should you start with #37 in a series? Oh, why not? Pam's really good at setting the scene so that readers can dive in just about anywhere in the series. And if you don't trust my judgment, well, it's also available on Kindle Unlimited.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Did you know that I have a book coming out?

Thanks to The Passive Voice for pointing out this essay:

Did you know that I have a book coming out? If you’ve visited any of your social media channels even once in the past month, you should know. It is very important for the world to know that I have written a book that is actually getting published so I have posted pictures of the following: me writing my book; me editing my book; me pressing send on an email to my editor; a Boomerang of me opening a box of my finished books; a video of me in Barnes & Noble finding my book; a repost of every single reader who posted a picture of themselves reading my book; every review I’ve ever gotten (with negative bits artfully cropped out); and, of course, the obligatory publication day bonanza photo that I doctored with confetti. They really should create a dedicated “I wrote a book” emoji. Need to speak to someone in Silicon Valley about that.

- - -
Did you know that I have a book coming out? You should know because you’ve been invited to at least five different readings and six different parties celebrating my accomplishments. Wait! You’re kidding, right? Are you absolutely sure that other people don’t throw parties for themselves just for doing their jobs? That’s so strange. Are you telling me that if you finished your accounting reports on time and did all the work for which you were contractually obligated you wouldn’t have a cocktail party to celebrate?

But you should really click through to the original at McSweeney's and RTWT. It's all good.

And since the formatting service I use won't be able to get to Tapestry of Fire for a whole week, I may have time to forget how ugly unbridled narcissism looks before I start pushing the new book...

Saturday, July 28, 2018


For the last week I've been reading in circles. The ebook cover for the next Applied Topology book, A Tapestry of Fire, is ready and all I had to do was give the document a couple of serious proofreading passes before sending it off to the formatting service I use.
Or so I thought.
Instead, I've been going over the manuscript again and again with frustrating and confusing results.
I'm almost ready to go back to proofreading from a printed, dead-tree manuscript! That's how I used to do it, but since getting into indie publishing I've found an easier method -- at least, up to now it was easier. I convert the Word document of a book to PDF and send it to my Kindle via Amazon's automatic conversion program. That program isn't good enough to use for publication -- it gets kind of funky about hyphens, em dashes, and paragraphs -- but it does produce a version of the book which I can read on my Kindle. And it turns out that what I personally need for proofreading isn't necessarily hardcopy; it's something that mimics my reading experience. I read so many books on Kindle that this is quite comfortable for proofreading and minor editing.
The way it usually works, I read the Kindle version of the manuscript and use the Notes feature to highlight typos and wording changes. Then I open the manuscript on my laptop, in Word, and refer to the Notes on the Kindle version to find the places I need to fix. Two or three passes are usually sufficient to give me a nice clean manuscript -- and I'd already reviewed A Tapestry of Fire more than once. So, a piece of cake, right?
Wrong. This particular piece of cake has given me severe indigestion. On one reading, my Kindle decides to show me only the notes for the second half of the book. On another, I discover actual typos which I distinctly remember seeing and correcting at least two revision cycles earlier. I've been going over and over the manuscript and I think it's clean now, but I'm going to look at it again tomorrow. Just in case.
I've been at a loss to explain these sudden problems; or rather, any explanation I come up with is unsatisfactory. Amazon's Notes for the Kindle is suddenly experiencing random failures? Doesn't seem likely. Microsoft Word is sadistically refusing to save random editing changes? I'm almost paranoid enough to believe that one, but not without a motive.
Or -- here's the scary one -- my own brain is shutting down, giving me false memories of having corrected typos I never actually fixed?
That one is so terrifying that I temporarily quit thinking about the problem at all, because I am not ready to go soft in the head. I've got the last book and a half in this series written and I want to finish them, and then I've got a new book ready to go, and... not yet! Please don't let my mind fail yet! Can't it wait until I don't have any more book ideas?
Then, last night, it came to me.
Of course. Amazon and Microsoft are teaming up to make me think I'm crazy, as part of their secret plan for world domination. And Charles Boyer is probably in on it too.
Paranoia. It's good for solving your problems.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Taking flak means you're over the target

I figured some of the books in the Applied Topology series would offend a few people; oh, I didn't set out with that object, but one of the pleasures of writing indie is that I don't have to slip everything past an editor who is bent on removing anything that anybody could possibly find offensive. A generation ago that attitude might have made sense, but nowadays there are far too many people taking offense at far too many things; if I tried to keep all of the Perpetually Righteously Offended happy, my books would be as bland as Cream of Wheat and I'd be too bored to keep writing.

Instead, I let my real characters have real opinions that haven't been passed through the Blandifier. The mathematicians are terrible intellectual snobs, the college kids think all of West Texas and the Panhandle are a boring wasteland, Thalia hates guns and she's dating a guy whose best friend is his Glock. And readers who lack the mental capacity to tell the difference between an author's opinions and those of a character are gonna get bent out of shape.

So... a friend just sent me a link to a really impressively offended review on Goodreads. I laughed my way through it. You gotta admire someone who can determine in the first five pages of a book that the author panders to the nasty and dangerous to sell books and can only move the story forward by touting racist ideology. As far as I can tell, the reviewer came to this conclusion based on the opinion of one character about one plot to establish a terror cell in Austin.

So. Having a character who thinks terrorists might be crossing our porous Southern border is racist. Having a character who accuses the first one of lacking compassion for innocent refugees is... irrelevant, I guess.

You can't argue with people so determined to take offense. You can only laugh at them and move on. Oh, wait. Laughing is also offensive; the same reviewer also complains that I "mock political correctness." Do tell.

I've been worried that the only people who actually read the books were the ones in my little circle of online friends, most of whom are equally politically incorrect. Well, hallelujah! Now I know I've broken out into a larger market!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Annoyance of Grackles snippet

Here's a bit from the first chapter of An Annoyance of Grackles:
Dr. Verrick stumped to the head of the table and regarded the four of us with the expression of a man who’s requested a SEAL team and received four of the Seven Dwarfs. At an age somewhere between seventy and a hundred and ten (none of us had the nerve to ask), you’d think he would have got used to people not living up to his expectations.
“In a few minutes,” Dr. Verrick announced, “you will have the opportunity to meet a young man who will be interning with the research department this semester. He will, of course, receive significantly less than a full research fellow’s stipend.”
That was an eyebrow-raiser. Considering the beggarly stipends he allotted full-fledged research fellows, the only way an intern could receive significantly less was if he paid for the privilege of working with us. And nobody was that crazy, unless…
“Oh, God,” I said involuntarily, “Tell me it’s not Vern Trexler.”
“Staff selection is entirely my prerogative,” Dr. Verrick said, and paused long enough for me to have one of those near-death experiences where your whole life zips past your eyes. I hadn’t had nearly enough life for this to take more than a couple of seconds; I was kind of counting on another fifty or sixty years of experiences to stockpile before getting to this bit.
“But no, Miss Kostis, the person I have in mind is not Mr. Trexler, but rather an exceptionally talented dissertation candidate who requires a brief sabbatical from his formal work.” I swear he enjoyed watching me start to melt down. Trexler – well, that’s another story. Not, praise gods and little stars, part of this one.
Nobody had ever suggested the Center for Applied Topology as a rest cure for troubled minds. We were more likely to shatter minds than heal them. Ben made that point and Dr. Verrick said testily,
“Exactly what gave you the impression that Mr. Bhatia was seeking a rest cure? I expect he will work harder here than he has in the entire rest of his academic career, and it will do him good.”
“Prakash Bhatia? That Bhatia?” Ingrid exclaimed. Maybe she knew the guy from graduate school. I’d have to get any juicy details out of her as soon as the meeting was over.
“Yes, that Bhatia,” Dr. Verrick confirmed. He went on to tell us that at this late stage in his studies, Prakash Bhatia had begun experiencing the minor, disturbing incidents that had drawn all of us – the research fellows, anyway – to the Center. Unlike us, though, he was determined to deny that anything unusual was going on. He hadn’t collected all the spades in play during a bridge game and spread them out in order on the table, somebody was playing conjuring games. He didn’t correct a research paper without touching it, he’d just forgotten that he had already edited it on the computer. And so forth and so on.
Continuous denial of reality is not good for the mind. Dr. Verrick hoped that being in contact with four research fellows who routinely did things a lot more amazing than messing with hands of cards would help Prakash Bhatia to accept the reality of his talent. But taking him in for this semester was not a work of charity; this young man had a lot to contribute to our work, if he could just let go of his crippling certainties.
He dismissed us back to our offices, saying that we should be prepared to interview the new intern in a few minutes. And that refusing to accept the appointment was not an option. We were going to work with Bhatia for a semester. Instead of giving him a conventional interview, he expected us to explain the structure and work of the Center for Applied Topology.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Shattered Under Midnight

After getting Annoyance up as an ebook and while waiting for Createspace to finish the annoying minuet required to publish the paperback version, I've been indulging myself in light reading (and light listening, but that is another story.) Dorothy Grant's new book, Shattered after Midnight, might have been designed for the purpose. I'd expected nothing less from Dorothy than an adventure story, constant plot twists, a likable heroine and a sweet romance that takes a definite back seat to the adventures. Shattered delivered all this with, as a bonus, some very intriguing quasi-living alien architecture that I would have loved to see illustrated.

If you've been working hard and feel like you deserve some time off, you can hardly go wrong with this story!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Annoyance of Grackles is live on Kindle

An Annoyance of Grackles is live on Kindle! (One typo in blurb, which I hope they'll let me edit.)


1. Sometimes a grackle is just a grackle
2. We try not to disturb normal people
3. The Mathematical Mafia
4. The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Turtle
5. I do not even wish to know that it exists
6. A job for the Center
7. Intelligent, competent, angry and amoral
8. A whirling cloud of grackles
9. Bollywood freestyle
10. Intoxicated by your touch
11. Liar, liar…
12. The Wrath of Thalia
13. A strong desire to duck and cover
14. Elvis meets the Ramones
15. The sacred knucklebone of St. Elias
16. A god of darkness and despair
17. The best makeout site in Floydada County
18. The reflexes of the average topologist
19. Vlad the Impaler on voicemail
20. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
21. A surrender with honor
22. Your very, very short future
23. You have just killed her yourself
24. All your nights and all your days

Monday, June 25, 2018

An Annoyance of Grackles

I've just uploaded the Kindle version of An Annoyance of Grackles, Book 3 in the Applied Topology series! It should be live in the next day or two; when it is, I'll edit this post to turn the title into a link.

For now, here's the blurb:

Problems come not as as single corvids, but as full flocks...
Life at the Center for Applied Topology is never precisely normal, but Thalia Kostis, Brad Lensky and their coworkers have been enjoying a brief run of peace, quiet, and optimizing the theorems that allow for teleportation and camouflage. Everything is within parameters, until they get saddled with an intern who's convinced that he's God's gift to math and that their applications of topology are illusory.

A rebellion is brewing - but bigger problems are afoot. Their old enemy, the Master of Ravens is back, and has teamed up with a mercenary with a grudge over the Institute's recent disruption of a profitable contract. Together, the two are planning on taking out the Center- and everyone in it!

I'm excited about this series. The first book, A Pocketful of Stars, is doing very well, and the second, An Opening in the Air, is catching up fast. It's very gratifying to see from the reviews that readers are finding the books as funny as I thought they were!
With books 4 and 5 already written, and book 6 in the planning stage, I hope to have a very good publishing year.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Magic gardens

Well, from my point of view it might as well be magic. People appear, plants appear, drip watering systems happen and suddenly the First Reader likes to spend evenings on the back porch, looking at all the new green stuff. I do have to fight down the occasional twinge of guilt that we're buying this splendor instead of doing it ourselves.

(stomp stomp stomp Look, idiot, there are things you can't do yourself, and some time in the last forty years landscape gardening got into that category. You think you're up to shoveling a small mountain of dirt? No? Now shut up and enjoy the greenery. stomp stomp stomp)

Okay, I think I got that under control now.

He's put wind chimes on the back porch. They go nicely with the chorus of cicadas.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The best dog park ever

It wasn't exactly what he had in mind when he hired the landscapers...

A couple of weeks ago the First Reader decided to celebrate our second grandchild by hiring some men with machines to do something about our back yard. When we moved into this house that yard was a smooth expanse of grass with a paved walk out to a tiny stone-build back patio; a wonderful place for children to run, shout, play, build forts, splash in wading pools, and so forth. Being able to turn the kids out to graze probably saved my sanity in those early years.

Time passed, the children grew up, my early gardening ambitions expired after the discovery that what we actually had out back was a thin layer of topsoil over a solid chunk of the Balcones Escarpment and the First Reader's interest in maintaining a lawn diminished under Austin's watering restrictions. What remained was a kind of wasteland in which live oak seedlings had conquered the grass and the paved walk had been turned into an obstacle course of broken concrete slabs by the roots of those nice volunteer live oaks that shaded the porch.

So... a couple of days ago the men and their machines showed up and spent an active day making a wide variety of noises. Chainsaws, wood chippers, and a thing like a baby bulldozer prowled the land. The dog moved into his favorite closet, the one he uses when thunderstorms roll through town. I moved into the library, streamed some Mzee Yusuf hits for atmosphere, and moved (mentally) into Mombasa's Old Town with Thalia and Lensky.

Come dinner time, the landscapers had departed and the children (the ones who haven't spawned yet) came over for our weekly date: enchiladas for the people, and a play date for their puppy and our dog. I looked out through the sliding glass doors in the dining room and said, "My God, where did they take our back yard?" What was left resembled a bit of Somalia after ten years of drought; nothing but bare earth with ditches and lines carved into it. (I later learned that the dirt had been trucked in.)

The dogs' reaction was purely ecstatic. They spent the better part of an hour racing around the bare dirt, going up and over the mounds and diving into the trench that is, I'm told, a future drainage ditch. "This is the best playscape ever, Mommy! Don't ever change it!"

I wonder what they'll think when the ground cover is planted?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Little rips in the fabric of the universe

Up through A Pocketful of Stars I'd never bothered with naming chapters. The only remotely creative thing I ever did even with chapter numbers happened a long time ago, and that (Mathemagics) is another story. But now that I've started exploring the world of indie publishing, it has been pointed out to me that good chapter titles can be a secondary form of advertising. If somebody downloads the free sample for a Kindle e-book, don't I want to use every tool I've got to interest them in the story? Of course I do. Well, a table of contents with chapter titles can give tantalizing hints as to what's coming after the short text sample. With any luck, the prospective reader will look at something like, "17. Time-traveling space aliens," and think oh, there's going to be lots of interesting stuff coming up, maybe I want the whole book.

My grinchy subconscious insists on pointing out that they may also think, "This is way too weird and crazy for me."

Shut, up, subconscious. Anybody who reacts that badly to the chapter titles probably wouldn't have given me a good review anyway.

So I put chapter titles into An Opening in the Air, and after going three rounds with the formatting service I finally got them into the clickable table of contents in the e-book:

1. More fun than I’d bargained for
2. Little rips in the fabric of the universe
3. A finite set of stars
4. Close enough without sharing body parts
5. By force if necessary
6. Let sleeping case officers lie
7. A topologist in motion tends to walk into the wall
8. I frequently feel like locking them up myself
9. The most embarrassing mother on the face of the earth
10. God’s Own Amusement Park
11. Shot at and missed
12. Black sheets, white sheets or the kitchen table
13. “Sexist, racist, KKK”
14. The next Ice Age
15. The best vintage car festival ever
16. A message to the future
17. Time-traveling space aliens
18. An extremely embarrassing incident
19. The imminent prospect of torture
20. We astonish Ben bigly
21. And yet it walks and breathes
22. Come alone and tell no one
23. Words like broken glass
24. You cannot let him think he has broken you
25. The resident djinn

I hope at least a few of these will intrigue potential readers. I can't think of any way to measure that, so I expect subsequent books will also have chapter titles; it's fun dreaming them up.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

An Opening in the Air

The second of the Applied Topology books, An Opening in the Air, is live as an ebook today. I hope the paperback version will join it in a few days.

Here's how it starts:


More fun than I’d bargained for

The job applicant Dr. Verrick had brought over edged into my office, kicked the trash can, dropped a sheaf of papers and went down on his hands and knees to scoop them up. “I’ll take those,” Dr. Verrick said when he stood again. “Miss Kostis, Mr. Edwards.” He collected the forms Mr. Edwards was clutching and disappeared. He probably considered that a lavish and informative introduction.
“Call me Colton,” the young man said with a tentative smile. “Colton Edwards.” He pulled a chair out of the corner, banged it into his own shins, and sat without, thank goodness, further mayhem.
Asking if he was naturally clumsy or just nervous would probably scare him even more, so I repressed the question. Though I did wonder. Given his appearance, I was voting for natural clumsiness. He didn’t look like a college graduate; more like a farm boy from a West Texas high school, one who had shot up eight inches and two shoe sizes the previous year and hadn’t yet learned to manage his extra height. Shaggy blond hair fell over a wide forehead and framed an open, friendly face. The rest of him seemed to be trying to figure out what to do with his outsize hands and gigantic boots.
Before I could even introduce myself, the interview was interrupted by a crash of furniture and a string of curses in the office next door. “Would you excuse me for just a moment?” I abandoned the job applicant and zipped around the corner to the next office. What had happened to Ben? Unlike this Mr. Edwards, he was not given to falling over the furniture.
His office was built on much the same lines as mine: a tall narrow room partitioned off by flimsy temporary walls that looked shabby against the exquisite woodwork of the oak floor. That’s the kind of décor that happens when you turn the top story of a Victorian house into office space.
He had knocked over a stack of three chairs in the corner of his office, his hair looked even more like a light brown bird’s nest than usual, and there was a quilt trailing from his desk to the floor. Ohio Star pattern.
I’m used to adding up clues, though in the research division of the Center for Applied Topology the addition was likely to involve numbers like the square root of minus one rather than anything as simple as two plus two. “Ben. Were you walking around with a quilt over your head? And why?”
“I’m trying to use Riemann surfaces to make light. Operating on the molecular level.”
“I still don’t get the function of the quilt in this theorem.”
“I thought maybe I had made light, only it was too dim for me to see it in here.” He gestured at the sunlight pouring in through his office windows. “So I was trying to create a dark working space.”
For a topologist at the Center, this was as close to making sense as it got. “Well, next time just sit in the supply closet, okay?” I was dying to know how he thought a Riemann surface would enable him to make light out of nothing, but the theoretical discussion would have to wait until I didn’t have a nervous job applicant in my office.
When I got back, the young man facing me across the desk looked even more nervous. I couldn’t blame him. Before Ben’s little problem, Mr. Edwards had walked through a wall in a way that twisted space around on itself – and that was only the start of the tour. That, and signing the stack of non-disclosure forms and agreements that Dr. Verrick had carried off. Since the spook from the secretive three-letter agency had come to stay, there were a lot of new rules and procedures aimed at preserving the secrets of the Center for Applied Topology. If this guy had even glanced at the fine print on the forms he’d just signed, he would know that he had acceded to terms of service even worse than Microsoft’s. Whether or not he got hired, discussing what he was about to see here with anybody outside the Center would guarantee that he spent the next twenty years in jail, and not a nice American one, either.
That was the kind of arm-twisting Lensky’s agency did for us. Before they’d taken a hands-on interest in the Center, our secrecy-preserving measures had been more ad hoc: Dr. Verrick warned research fellows not to pursue their research in public, yelled at us when we did so, and hired an exceptionally gifted fabulist to persuade anybody asking inconvenient questions that they hadn’t actually seen what they thought they saw. Annelise was, in my opinion, a much better security system than a bunch of signed forms, but that’s not how Washington does things.
“So, Mr. Edwards, why do you want to work for the Center for Applied Technology?” The question wasn’t a mere formality. Only a certain type of crazy person would want to do academic research for a miserly stipend, out of an office in a creaky Victorian building, with no prospect ever of publishing any results.
“I don’t know that I do,” Colton Edwards answered, and I blinked.
“Well then, what brought you here?”
“Dr. Verrick. I took a topology class from him last year, and he… well… some odd things happened, and he suggested I come and talk to you people. Strongly suggested,” he amplified, and I understood a little better. Dr. Verrick’s strong suggestions could have turned the Titanic around. His force of will had been what created the Center in the first place: our office space here on the University of Texas campus, our funding, our shaky position as a part of the University’s research efforts. A strong suggestion from Dr. Verrick could, in fact, do almost anything except make the Center’s research fellows behave like normal human beings, and he hadn’t yet given up on that.
“But the suggestion wasn’t strong enough for you to act on it immediately?” Spring semester would have ended last May. It was mid-October now.
He twitched slightly. “Summers, I usually go home and straighten out the books on the family farm. They were counting on me to do the same thing this year. Actually, they were counting on me to stay, now that I’ve got my degree.” I took a moment to skim his transcripts, which were heavy on things like Calculus Concepts for Business Majors and Statistical Inference in Management, but remarkably light in terms of actual mathematics. “What inspired you to take first-year honors topology in your final year?” Most students’ final semesters were heavy with the boring required courses they’d put off in the hope that they might die before actually having to take them. Annelise, our receptionist, had spent her last semester as an undergraduate doing little but satisfying the Diversity and Anti-Bigotry requirements.
He offered me a crooked smile that showed where one tooth had been chipped and never repaired. “It looked interesting?”
“But your entire background was in business-oriented math?”
“Which is boring,” he said. “I wanted to have a little fun before going back to be the business manager for the family farm.” He took a deep breath. “Introductory Topology turned out to be… a little more fun than I’d bargained for.”
“What did you move?” We’d all started out with a little unintentional telekinesis on small, light objects; I was willing to bet Colton’s experience had been similar.
“Ah, the chalk?”
“A stick of chalk?”
“Um, no, the chalk on the board.” He wriggled his shoulders unhappily, “See, Mr. Nesmith was putting up a proof, but he’d got one line backwards, and I was thinking really hard about the way the third line should have gone instead of what he’d actually written and trying to get him to look at me so I could, you know, signal him or something, and instead… Well, you probably won’t believe this, but…”
“The writing on the board changed.”
His eyes blazed with hope. “Yes! You get it. You really do get it!”
“Oh yes, Mr. Edwards. All of us got here through similar experiences.” Some more traumatic than others. Colton had gotten off easy.
A colored bubble floated through my open office door. A glowing colored bubble. Bubblegum pink, if you’re interested. It was followed by friends in a rainbow of different colors. Each bubble in turn hovered over my desk, shrank down to a pinpoint and disappeared. I wondered if Ben had planned the color show, or if this was just a temporary stop on the way to full-spectrum lights.
“Ben, keep the closet door closed!” I called out, then gave Mr. Edwards an apologetic smile. “At least we don’t have to give you the what-we-do-here tour. Mr. Sutherland is taking care of that all on his own.”
Colton grinned back. Without the grin he’d just looked like a clumsy farm boy, all big boots and too-long legs and big hands. With it – well, he still looked likely to fall over furniture and small animals, but his face lit up in a very appealing way. I wondered – briefly – whether he was likely to give Ben competition in the unending courtship of our lovely, lying receptionist. Well, not my problem.
“So are you looking for a short post-grad stint before going back to become the family business manager? Or for something more permanent?”
“More permanent would be really good.”
“There’s more money in accounting,” I warned him.
“There’s more boredom in accounting. Also, I spent way too much of this summer trying to explain to my big brother why it would be a really bad idea to keep two sets of books. Now somebody who’s not related to him will have to tackle that issue. I mean – if you – if I can—"
A panicky yell from the supply closet interrupted his incoherent words. I raced around the corner and yanked the closet door open. Colton was right on my heels.
There was a faint smell of something burning, but it didn’t seem strong enough to justify panic. “What did you set on fire? The floorboards?”
Ben gestured towards the floor. “I think it’s under the floorboards. In the middle of a supporting beam. We can’t just let it smolder indefinitely. And if we open up the floor to dump water on it, the fire will blaze up. What are we going to do?”
I was tempted to say, “What do you mean we?” but the fact was that he had created a problem for all of us. Our tenure of the third floor of a Victorian mansion on campus was based on the requirement in Chester Allandale’s will that the university preserve and use his home in return for the rest of his extremely generous bequest. Setting a supporting beam on fire was exactly the sort of thing the trustees would not understand as part of “preserve and use.”
“Can you invert the process and, I don’t know, create water inside the beam?”
Ben shook his head. “I’m afraid to try. I don’t even know how the fire started. I was only trying for light.”
When in emergency… I nipped back to my office and grabbed the three-foot silver snake coiled up like a paperweight on my desk. “Mr. M.! Help!”
The turtle head at the business end of the snake opened one eye part way. “I’m hibernating.”
“It’s only October, and it’s still hot in Austin! And we need your help.”
The coil of silvery scales shook, expanded, became a long metallic snake body behind an organic turtle head. Mr. M. slithered out of my arms to the floor, undulated around the corner towards the closet, lifted his head and sniffed. “Apply the Lights to the problem.”
“Are you sure? Seems to me we need less light, not more.”
“You disturbed my sleep to demand advice. I have given it. Do as you wish.” The turtle beak closed with a snap. So did both the turtle eyes.
He was already opening the glass jar from his desk. A cloud filled with sparkling points of light streamed from the jar into his hand. Behind me, Colton sucked in his breath. This was possibly not the ideal way to introduce him to the infinite set called the Lights of the Medes. Or to Mr. M. himself, for that matter.
Ben knelt and placed his open hand, palm down, on the closet floor, and closed his eyes. I could feel the miniature stars moving from his hand down into the wood. There was also a feeling of… not-enough? There were infinitely many stars. Not enough topologists, then? I stuck a hand in my pocket, then knelt and laid my palm beside Ben’s. Now I could feel the movement of my own stars. They swirled joyously around the grain of the wood and returned to my hand, slightly warmer. The sense of smoldering heat slowly dissipated and Ben looked at me. “I think it’s all right.”
“I think so too.” I would save my blistering recommendation that he repeat the Elementary Physics semester on heat, sound and light until later. It would be nice if Colton could maintain the illusion that we were all one big happy family until he’d been formally read into the program.
I scooped up Mr. M. and returned to my own nice, dry, not-on-fire office, followed by Colton. “Where were we?”
With a visible effort, Colton averted his eyes from the sight of Mr. M. coiling himself back into a tight spiral on top of my papers. “I thought that was a paperweight.”
“No, he’s more of a… colleague.” It would probably be best to save the detailed story, which involved Nebuchadnezzar, a magic-damping ring, a beheading, and the involvement of a robotics engineer, until Colton had had time to assimilate what he’d already seen. Even the White Queen had limited herself to six impossible things before breakfast.
“You’d have your own office, though,” I promised Colton. “The only reason Mr. M. has to share with me is that he’s not very good with doorknobs.”
“Then – am I hired?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. By the time Dr. Verrick brought an applicant over to the closed side, he was as good as hired; this interview was just a chance for the topologists to object. Nothing objectionable about young Edwards, as far as I could see. “You’re definitely crazy enough to fit in here. I don’t have any more questions. What about you?” When he started on about pay and benefits, I’d shunt him back out to Annelise.
“Just one,” he said, surprising me. “What’s a Riemann surface?”
I started to answer him, but the building fire alarms drowned me out. They drowned out just about everything except Meadow Melendez, from the public side, shouting, “Ben, what the [fornicating] [expletive] did you do now?”
The automatic sprinklers went on. Mr. M. uncoiled, slithered to the floor and headed for the stairs in the public section. I scooped up most of the papers on my desk and followed, towing Colton by the hand. Leaving the private section was easier than getting into it, but the kid could be excused for being too rattled to realize that.
By the time we’d crossed to the other side of the wall, Mr. M. was a silver flash on the heels of Meadow and Annelise, and Ben and Ingrid had joined us on the public side. Jimmy DiGrazio grabbed Ingrid’s arm and barked, “Downstairs!” as if he thought she was too dumb to move without orders. That wasn’t going to improve their relationship.
I really, really hoped the stairs weren’t on fire too, because they were the only way out for some people. The trustees had felt that fire escapes would be a blot on the visual integrity of the building.
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