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?
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