Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ups-a-Daisy, or the Ups and Downs of Butt-in-Chair

So I haven't posted any updates here lately, largely because I haven't been doing any actual writing. I know, bad thing to admit. Worse that it's true. The only writing related accomplishment of the last two weeks has been finishing a synopsis of Knychtspelle, the novel I've co-written with Emily Leverett.

(Thanks to Stuart Jaffe, by the way, for guidance on how to write a synopsis in an organized and relatively painless way. See his directions here.)

So, what's my excuse this week? And why am I writing about it?  Because that's the way life goes sometimes. Sometimes you have to just power through and sometimes you have to accept that life has twisted your ankle and you'll be limping for a little ways. In my case the "twisted ankle" is more like a twisted brain. (Tee hee. There you have it. I just admitted in print that I'm off plumb.)

Frankly, I'd rather have the ankle twist. Recently my neurologist recommended I try a certain prophylactic drug to stop my migraines. Fabulous! I said. Unfortunately, the side effects that only catch 1/3 of users have caught me.  Dizziness. Nausea. Fever. Joint pain. Sleeping 13 hours a day. Slurring and stumbling. Just driving the 2 miles from work to home was dangerously difficult. I tried to outline a new novel idea, but all I could manage was one sentence. Then I went back to bed for four hours. So that's my excuse for not writing lately.

I'm blogging about all this because, at the risk of being preachy, this is one of those attitude tests that life throws at us all the time. Let me repeat that. This is normal. This is life. This is why Proverbs says that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. I don't mean this pessimistically. Quite the opposite - life is good and beautiful. But what makes life beautiful is not usuall an absence of difficulty. What makes life beautiful is most often what we do with our difficulties.

Obviously, I'm going off the medication. And I'll sit down with the doctor and talk about other options. But the real test is what I do internally. Self pity is a damned ugly thing, my friends, and I say that from experience. As C.S. Lewis, said I'm not swearing here; I mean it literally. Do I simply treat my medical needs, or do I make them the source of my identity? Do I curse God or do I praise Him? The answers to these questions determine whether or not I'm living an ugly life, or a beautiful one into which some trouble has fallen.

If that sounds too preachy or too "New Agey" consider the wisdom that I've heard from multiple experienced Christians. Whatever choice we make about how we respond to particular problems is a choice we're making for our eternal characters. The people we choose to be today are the people we're practicing to be at age 80. Someday, I may be an addled old lady in a rocking chair, but I hope I'll be the sweet old loon who makes the nurses laugh, not the crabby old bat they pass off to the new guy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are you a Nook User?

Hi folks! I've listed the Amazon page for Extinct is Not Forever below, but some of you might want to buy from Barnes and Noble for the Nook.

If so, here's the URL -


Extinct Anthology is now listed on ISFDB

That's the International Speculative Fiction Database that is. How weirdly delightful to be in a database somewhere. Not at all Orwellian as it turns out.

Check out the listing.

I hope the story title list inspires you to read the book. Still available at Amazon for less than a latte!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

And We're Live! Extinction Anthology is now available on Amazon

That's right!  The anthology is for sale at Amazon right now as a Kindle download. Go to

Don't have a Kindle? No problem.  You can also download it to PC or Mac. Just think, you get 20 short stories for less than the cost of 4 songs on iTunes. And you still get cover art!
Buy it Now! 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Go little mine book...

As Chaucer wrote at the end of Troilus and Criseyde, 

Go, little book, go, little myn tragedye, 
Ther God thy makere yet, er that he dye, 
So sende might to make in some comedye! 
But little book, no making thou n'envie, 
But subgit be to alle poesye; 
And kiss the steppes, whereas thou seest pace 
Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan, Stace.

Or perhaps I should quote Byron's Don Juan, since it neatly references my favorite verse from Ecclesiastes,*

Go, little book, from this my solitude!

I cast thee on the waters – go thy ways!

And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,

The world will find thee after many days.

My goodness, I’m in exalted company tonight!  But allow me the moment of celebration and anxiety all together. I just submitted Winter’s Dawn to the Suvudu novel contest, all 74,500 words of it.  It is officially no longer a work in progress, it’s a finished work that might (certainly will) need editing.

The deadline is Friday the 18th and it’s already 5am on the East Coast, so I didn’t leave myself any too much time. But the book is out there and out of my hands.  On to other tasks. 

* Eccl 11:1 "Cast thy bread upon the waters for thou shalt find it after many days." 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Quick Novel Update

THE END!  Yes - I got to write that Saturday night, on schedule!  It's just over 73,000 words, which is a bit short for a commercial fantasy paperback, but not too short to be submittable to agents and editors.

Specifically, I now have to edit and proof it for Friday, which is the deadline for the Suvudu novel contest. First prize is a complete edit by a Del Rey editor.  Runner up prizes are a shelf load of Del Rey books. And even if I don't win the contest I will have won myself a complete manuscript that can then be sent out to editors. Let the editing binge begin!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Inspiration Pictures, or Where DO you get your ideas?

The editor of Extinct Isn't Forever (coming soon!) created a blog for the anthology authors to chat with each other.  One poster asked us to share where we got the idea for our stories. 

Usually the answer is "<Shrug> I dunno. The back of my brain I guess." Story ideas pop up out of nowhere when an something in the world suddenly connects with something in my subconscious to become an image and a character and a concept. It can be a phrase in the litany at church, the color of sunlight on a leaf, a daydream. It can be a personal frustration that I want to work out on paper.  

Writer's brains are like compost piles full of books, images, sounds, scents, a half heard conversation, the look on a stranger's face, and all the questions we ask ourselves in the dark at 3am, or on the bus ride downtown. I probably say to myself "there's a story in that" a dozen times in a day, but I never know which seeds will germinate and grow into a story. 

But I do have a slightly better, or at least a more concrete answer for this particular story. Like the protagonist, I actually do hike the Glendora Mountains. I'm fascinated by the thought of running into one of the mountain lions that everyone else seems to have seen already. (It seems that every other hike I meet someone who has a story to tell about seeing one.) 

So far, all I've seen are tracks like this one; the distinct M shape tells you it's a cat, not a dog track. (That print was about the size of my palm.)

I love the outdoors. I'm an urban comfort sort of girl, most of the time. Give me your Asian fusion cuisine, your antique shops, your obscure booksellers' shelves, groaning with ancient tomes. But there is still a part of me that needs the outdoors; somehow it reconnects me to myself, puts the frazzled pieces back together into a saner whole.  Problems get solved, ideas coalesce and swim to the surface.  

So this is where one of my ideas came from. Can't you just see the sabertooth? Don't you want to?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Update on push to finish the novel draft

I got another 3K words written last night and today. (Actually it was pre-dawn this morning and then all afternoon today, but who's counting.)  I also outlined the last five chapters and divvied up the material I have which showed me where the gaps were.

Then I went to the gym.  'Cuz you know, if this body wears out on me too soon I won't be able to keep typing. So I got to enjoy huffing and puffing in front of all the lovely people who had come to the gym after classes got out. As usual, just as I was thoroughly sweat soaked and red faced, and reaching the point where I start to negotiate with myself about whether or not to quit early, one of my students strolled in and waved at me. So, naturally I had to wave back and keep going lest I spend the rest of the evening on the couch feeling like a wimp.

It's not the cheerful students who recognize me that I mind actually. I don't even really care if they go back to the dorm squealing OMG! You won't believe who I saw on the ellipticals!  We all have a right to freak out (in private) if we see our professors/bosses/terrifying neighbors doing something normal like exercising or buying milk.

No, what I mind are the students who do a double take as I walk by. I'm sure it's not my rocking biceps they're staring at. Nor is it my fabulous work out gear. No, it's the quite obvious that they're wondering what on earth someone as floppy and unglamorous as I is doing in their workout space. I mean really, I'm not even wearing a Nike swoosh.  My sneakers came from Target. My sweat pants came from who knows where. Wal-mart probably. And my gut came from too many Burger King runs.

But I soldier on regardless, sweating and red faced. Whipper snappers. I'm just going to crank the elliptical machine to 6 and rock out to the 1812 Overture on my ipod. That'll show 'em. ;)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Of the writing of books there is no end

Or at least of my book, specifically the one featuring Harvey the berserker in modern day Buffalo there appears to be no end. Right now it's about 68,000 words long and I have discovered at least one chapter still to be written. (Chapter 19 - in which frost demons kick some serious butt and modern man finds himself unable to cope.)  I also have to give the story a genuine denoument instead of the hastyness it has right now. And somehow this has to all bring it up to the minimum word count for a novel. This means that I need to write about 7,000+ words between now and Saturday. I only have a plan for about 5,000 of those words.  Where the other 2,000+ will come from, or where they will go in the novel, I couldn't tell you.

Nonetheless, I have promised myself that I will, I WILL do you hear me? have a finished, really truly finished, complete draft ready by next Saturday.  

At which point I will inflict the draft on my friends for critique. Brace yourselves.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pictures of my Cats - Because, hey, it's my blog

So here are my two cats. You may have heard of them. If you took a class with me, you may have heard about them more than you cared to. 

This is Miss Thisbe.  The expression is fairly typical. As my mother once said, she is the primmest cat I know.  She also does not suffer fools lightly.

This is Pest. He's pretty much a fool.  Or perhaps a Fool in a capital-F, Shakespeare sort of way, though I have yet to hear him say something profound. 

My cats get along, in the same way that elderly Victorian aunts got along with Tom Sawyer-like boys. Which is to say I suspect she's beginning to care for him, but she still feels the need to slap the sass out of him on a regular basis and he frequently feels the need to chew on her tail or pounce on her. Like the Tigger he resembles, he's a great fan of pouncing. He'd make it an international sport if he could.  

Also breaking things. In the first week after I brought him home he broke two plant pots, a ceramic deer, two toothbrush mugs, a saucer, and a water glass. ALL by accident. He's also well aware of how cute he is. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Well this bites...

Apparently the eastern cougar is officially extinct.

Meanwhile, the western cougar remains alive and expanding, which is good news, unless you're a jogger who gets mistaken for prey.  I confess a completely foolish desire to come face to face with one of these creatures.  I get excited every time I see a cougar track on one of my hikes. (Mind you, I also carry mace with me and keep an eye out for rocks to throw.)

When I moved to California, Em and I made a stop at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center.  Now, I realize that these are giant carnivores who will eat my face (and other soft bits) as soon as look at me. While we were there the center workers were unloading an entire cow (already dead) to feed the cats.

But isn't that part of the attraction? The incredible combination of sleek beauty and bone crunching force.  The dark expressive eyes and the killer instinct behind them. The instinct to play as much as to hunt. We saw all kinds of cats at the center, including three 700lb tigers. And yet, it was the cougar whose face stays with me.  Her name was Cou and she'd lost the tips of her ears to frostbite before the center rescued her. She came right up to her fence and stared at us as we approached her compound. And then she offered us the lazy blink and shrug that is the universal cat sign of non-aggression.

I'm against keeping wild animals for pets.  But I still think about Cou and her giant Cleopatra eyes.  I want to sink my fingers into the tawny fur around her scruff and massage those fuzzy, damaged ears. I want to bury my face against her shoulder and hear the sound of the only large cat that can purr. The lion may lie down with the lamb, but when the kingdom comes, I want to throw my arms around a cougar.

Promises to Keep

Do you ever have that moment when you realize you've kept a promise to yourself? And that it actually matters that you did?

When I was a kid we had an avocado green, two level, circular spice rack.  We cleaned it once a year in the ritual spring cleaning spasm. Every cupboard was emptied. Every item was washed, every shelf wiped down. And then it was all put back. The twenty year old, mostly full bottle of peach brandy. The canned goods. The baking pans. The spice rack with its faded plastic bottles. The only spices on the rack that we used with any regularity were the Christmas spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla.  And the little packet of food coloring.

I used to stand on tiptoe and spin the rack, watching the spices float past. Curry powder, used perhaps three times to make curried chicken and rice.  Parsely, faded to hay green, with the same smell. White pepper powder, faintly sharp when I sniffed it. Rosemary, dried to brittleness. Hot pepper flakes that my brothers shook onto pizza. A bottle of tabasco, used only as a disciplinary tool. (Two drops on the tongue if you said bad words.) Oregano, occasionally dashed into a pot of spaghetti sauce.

Ours was not a spicy heritage. It wasn't even a flavorful one. My mother had grown up in a house where Kraft Miracle whip was the spiciest thing on the table. Where lukewarm red flannel hash was a regular feature. Where green beans were picked only when they had grown hairs and were then boiled into submission. Mom mastered homemade bread baking, an impressive feat even for someone who had been raised cooking. She made some darn tasty roast chicken on Sundays too. Her pot roast?  Delicious.

But spices and the variety they offered eluded our table. As child I used to read and reread the Joy of Cooking, searching for recipes that would use the mystery spices on that spinning rack. I searched my mother's cookbooks the same way I searched through our Encyclopedia Britannica, perched on the basement stairs, a giant book balanced on my knees. Boiled Artichoke with Hollandaise Sauce was as exotic to me as the dancers of Thailand. I dreamed about Rosemary Studded Lamb with the same romantic fervor as I dreamed about the castles of the Black Forest. I imagined a future kitchen in which every dinner plate had color on it.

Somewhere in those dreams I promised myself that I would taste these foods and see these places. That I would be the kind of person who used up spices.

Tonight I made a simple little meal, made up of what I had on hand. I shook out the last of the dill to make cucumbers with sour cream dressing, served with maple sausage links, and cinnamon sweet potato. Promise kept.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cover Art is Here!

Here's the cover art for the anthology Extinct isn't Forever. Isn't it fantastic? Phoenix Sullivan edited the collection and it will be marketed through Amazon and other e-book venues.  You can download it to your e-reader or to your personal computer. I can't wait to read all the rest of the stories!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

If you can't say anything nice...

Sit next to me, darling and we'll chat.

But seriously, I face a dilemma.  I really want to vent about the novel I finished last night, but I'd rather not savage a fellow author on the web.  (Disclaimer - if I know you, then no it wasn't your novel. I've never met this author. He doesn't even live on the same continent.)

The problem isn't that the novel was bad.  The problem is that the novel was so good that I was with it right up until the end.  I was there, man, rooting for the protagonist through every twist and turn.  I was so there that I stayed up until 4am finishing the novel. (Just one more chapter, Mom!) It has nearly everything my little heart desires in a good book. Literate allusions, moving backstory, a touch of the noir plus gothic plus detective thriller with a strong dose of meta-fiction, castles, Paris, obscure Latin clues, one armed Nazis, decayed nobility, an inexplicably likable anti-hero, and a fallen angel with pale hazel eyes.  My gosh, there's even a dark and stormy night.

And then the ending happened. Oh that ending. Anti-climactic doesn't begin to describe it. If the whole book had been weak, I would have been prepared. I certainly wouldn't have stayed up until 4am finishing the darn thing. I might not have finished it at all. But to invest that much in the novel and then be let down was agonizing. It was like being promised brownies and getting wheat thins. Stale wheat thins.

If you promise big, you'd better deliver big, or the reader will want to strangle you.  If you promise the reader a world shaking satanic ritual that will summon the prince of darkness himself, you'd better give us a good reason when he doesn't show up. If the villain is going to get sucked into the depths of hell, readers want to see it happen, not hear about it later. And the protagonist better actually protag about it, not just sit on the sidelines and wonder, in an idle sort of way, if he's going to get paid.

Deliver what you promise, fellow writers! Keep faith with the readers.