Friday, December 30, 2011

Living Now With Cancer

From my dear friend, Bonnie Stockman, as she faces her third recurrence of ovarian cancer, posted with her permission:

I'm going into my third lap.  One is such, ah, a virgin the first time.  So hopeful and optimistic for a cure even with less than charming odds.  The second time is a denouement of sorts, but a thin thread of hope hangs in there - I've talked to a couple of people that had a recurrence many years ago and are here to tell about it.  The third time... haven't run into anyone that's a long term survivor after the third time.  The stats for treatment effectiveness are similarly less than cheerful.  At this point, one term I saw used was "salvage chemo".   Buys one time - and hopefully salvages some decent quality of life.

I will miss hearing what happens in all the stories, but I am reminded that the stories are endless and the beginnings before my time.  I wonder about both ends of them, but all I have is my part right here in the middle of beginning and ending.  It was for others to know the beginnings and it is for others to know the endings, if indeed there ever are any endings.  Like the saying on the hippie school bus:  "Now is all we have".  
Indeed, we have now. And if we have been generous with our hearts, we have each other. Sometimes, we have each other even if we haven't, because life itself is full of gifts. Every day.

Open your eyes. Tell someone you love them. Listen when they love you back.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Exordium: From Star Wars to Epublishing

From Sherwood Smith on the Book View Cafe blog:

It’s the summer of 1977.
The buzz along our apartment building in Hollywood is that Star Wars is better than it sounds. I’m thinking, gheck. Except for the Salkind Three Musketeers movie, I loathed seventies films, especially the sf ones: either they were fight-the-monster movies, or else long, boring screeds in which the furniture was plastic, and everyone wore these jump suits that looked like they’d take an hour to get out of if you wanted to pee.

This one (Star WARS? Oh please)  sounded like car-crash derby only with space ships.
We get out at two a.m. (we’d miraculously gotten into the midnight showing), passed the enormous line waiting for the next showing, and Dave grins at me and says “Well?”
“I’m going back.”

And we did. We did for about six weeks, every weekend, and then we said, “We can do that.” So we got together one evening (I still have the notes) and wrote down all the elements that we loved in fiction that had been missing from movies for years, that Star Wars was tapping into, and we wrote down every extravagant swashbuckling trope we adored and wanted in a story, came up with Exordium, our space opera extravaganza.

I grin every time I hear this story. Dave is my husband, Dave Trowbridge, and today is his debut as a member of Book View Cafe (and the second Exordium book, Ruler of Naught, is now available!)

From Sherwood and Dave on John Scalzi's The Big Idea:

Ruler of Naught is Book Two of our space opera Exordium, which began life as a mini-series screenplay over twenty years ago, morphed into a mass-market paperback, and is returning again as an e-book series.

E-books are not only giving new writers an alternative to traditional book publishing, but letting oldsters like us resurrect yellowing paperbacks from used-book crypts. That’s a fun process (mostly), but from Exordium’s beginning we’ve struggled with the skiamorphs (shadow shapes—like wood grain on plastic) that are left not only when you move between media, but when your twenty-year-old vision of a technology’s cultural impact collides with present-day reality.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Lesbian Chocolate Sex Scene, or Life With Exordium

This appeared today on the Book View Cafe blog

Among the joys of living with a fellow writer (in this case, my husband, Dave Trowbridge) are the unexpected things that come up during dinner conversation

“How was your day, dear?”

“Splendid! The lesbian chocolate sex scene works better than ever.”

It always was a terrific scene. Even in the original print version of Exordium 2: Ruler of Naught. I wondered what he and Sherwood (Smith, his co-author and co-conspirator) have done to make it better. Ruler of Naught, like the first Exordium volume, The Phoenix in Flight, have been extensively revised for their Book View Café ebook editions.

He goes on, “They’ve covered themselves in chocolate and are licking it off one another, and this of course distracts the enemy general enough to change the course of the entire space battle.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And Now A Word From Our E-Publisher...

Both my out of print novels -- Jaydium and Northlight -- are available in electronic form. They're fun reads, if I do say so myself, with adventure and romance and cool nifty stuff. So if you haven't read them, you should hie yourself hence to the appropriate site and indulge yourself.

You could zip over to I'd like to convince you not to. Instead, buy from Book View Cafe. There's no need to give your business to the 800-lb gorilla that seems bent on putting everyone else -- including our favorite indie brick and board bookstores -- out of business. You can download any of BVC's publications to your Kindle (or Nook) (instructions here).

First of all, it's better for the authors. We get a far greater percentage of each sale -- and the cost to you is the same. We decide on how much goes to BVC and none of that end up in the pockets of fatcat investors -- it goes right back into the site so we can pay our tech person decently and other things we decide collectively.

Second, it's much better for you. You purchase a subscription that allows you to download in as many different formats as you like. Once downloaded, the files remain on your devices -- BVC can't "pull the plug," the way they did with Orwell's 1984. If you chuck your Kindle and go for a Nook, you don't have to pay for another download.

Third, you'll find original as well as reprint books by seasoned pro authors, all professionally edited and beautifully formatted (unlike a lot of the ebooks out there!) Some of these are not available anywhere else.

Not sure? You can read sample chapters of all of them to give you a taste.

(After you've downloaded and enjoyed your copies, you could sneak over to and leave a short review, of course.)

Here are links to Jaydium, Northlight, Other Doorways - the omnibus that includes both, and the short story, The Casket of Brass. More shorts coming in Spring 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Gift For Your Favorite Author

Michael K. Rose blogged here on 5 Ways to Help Authors Without Spending a Dime. He suggests using Tags and other tools on, as well as Facebook shares and Twitter ReTweets to "boost the signal" for your favorite author's books. I think this is all very well, using the system of referral algorithms ("Readers who liked this book, also liked that other book") to direct potential buyers.

Catherine Mintz, over on Twitter, pointed out that a thoughtful review is even more effective. Depending on where the review gets posted, that can be the equivalent of "word of mouth," which is a good thing. But it leads -- for me, anyway, and I suspect for far too many other readers -- to daunting prospect of actually writing such a review.

Between them, high school book review assignments and professional reviewers had done a disservice to the greater mass of readers (my husband subscribes to the New York Times Review of Books, which always comes to my mind as an example of reviews that look to be as demanding to write as the books themselves!) Although I may appreciate the exercise in comparative literature, historical perspective, and contemporary social values -- these are not the reviews I want to write, or can write with any degree of facility.

For a long time, I felt guilty because I couldn't bring myself to write such detailed and well-researched analyses. That guilt turned into a major obstacle to my writing any review at all. With time and professional confidence, I reached the point of being able to chuck the old expectations. It's not that I lack opinions on what I read, but rather that for the most part, I read subjectively and for my own pleasure. Therefore, my experience of a book is highly colored by the specific environment -- inner and outer -- in which I read it. Here's my second revelation: Personal, subjective reviews are as interesting and valuable as scholarly dissertations.

I think it's valid to talk about books that rescued us from despair, entertained us during illness, comforted us like companions, or transformed our worlds. I love hearing those stories from others. So why shouldn't I tell my own versions -- as reviews? Maybe review is a poor vessel to hold both such idiosyncratic, emotional responses, but it's what we've got.

I'm trying to make a habit of writing a few lines about every book I finish (or fail to finish, and why). Sometimes, I put them up on various review sites, including online bookstores, LibraryThing and Goodreads; other times, they end up in a blog or LiveJournal post. I encourage you to do the same, even if it's just a few lines. You don't have to repeat the plot (that's one part I always hated, although -- paradoxically and capriciously -- I sometimes like that in a review if I want to know more about the book). How did the book strike you? Would you have enjoyed it more at a different time of your life? Did it remind you of other times, other places? How does it stand up to the book before that? Would you read this author's next work? Would you recommend it to a friend and if so, which friend?

And also... would you like to see my own reviews here?

The painting is Young Man Reading by Matthias Stom, 1600-1649. When I look at it, I wonder who he is, what he's reading, and how it is changing his life. He looks a little sad, so I wonder if it's poetry. Probably not The Lives of the Saints. What do you think?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What We Lose, What We Gain

Wright & Teague Delphi Rings
Some years ago - like maybe a decade - most of my jewelry was stolen. None of it was very valuable, although there were some pearls and jade and a little amber, and a lovely pair of moonstone stud earrings. But, as is the way of things, each piece had a story that was part of my life. That was the real value, and hence the deepest loss. I'd had some of them since my childhood, and some had been gifts from loved ones who've since died. Some of it was my mother's.

I went through the expected rage and frenzy, scouring local flea markets in the forlorn hope that I might spot a piece or two. Of course, I did not. When that stage had run its course, the police report filed (and, doubtless, forgotten), anger turned to grief, and grief to acceptance, and acceptance to looking in a new way at what I'd lost.

I wrote in my journal that the thieves had taken bits of minerals, crystals, shells, fossilized tree sap, but they could not steal:

the stories in my mind
the books I've written
my children
the redwoods
my dreams
my friends
their kindness and generosity to me
my capacity for joy...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Linda Nagata on Writing Young Adult Science Fiction

Linda writes: Most of the fiction I write is aimed at the general market, basically meaning adult readers, but a strange thing happened over a Christmas holiday several years ago.

My daughter was a precocious reader, and in her early teens she tackled my science fiction novels, reading the first three books of The Nanotech Succession. The third book, Deception Well, includes a minor sidekick character in the form of a little “biogel” robot by the name of Ord.

Never mind the handsome young men in the story! My daughter loved Ord. She wanted more of Ord, and she wasn’t at all happy to hear that Ord didn’t even appear in the next book in the series—so I got to thinking. Deception Well is a setting made for adventure. The name of the book is the name of a wild, unsettled planet overrun by remnants of alien nanotechnology. A space elevator is anchored in an equatorial jungle, and access to the planet is strictly controlled. People live in a very high-tech city perched on the elevator column two-hundred miles above the planet’s surface. It occurred to me that it would be great fun to have a chance to play in that world again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Give Books This Holiday Season

It's gift-giving season for many of us, and what better gifts than books! In looking over those I have recently read, I'm struck by how many would make a wonderful introduction to sf/f for mainstream readers. This is a very, very partial list (some are series, so in most cases, I've listed the first volume, and these are fairly recent releases), and I'd love to hear your own suggestions.

For music lovers:  
The Brahms Deception, by Louise Marley.

For wine afficionados:
Flesh and Fire (The Vineart War #1) by Laura Anne Gilman

For those who left their hearts in San Francisco:
License to Ensorcell by Katharine Kerr  
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

For lovers of The 1001 Arabian Nights 
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
The Desert of Souls, by Howard Jones

For swashbucklers-at-heart:
Coronets and Steel, by Sherwood Smith
The Sleeping Partner, by Madeleine E. Robins

For carnival-goers:
Carousel Tides, by Sharon Lee

For horse-crazy girls:
House of the Star, by Caitlin Brennan

For star-gazers:
Last Day On Earth, by Cecil Castellucci

For teens who are way too smart for Twilight:
Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner
Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst
Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman
Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones.
Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott

For Sinophiles (lovers of all things Chinese):
Moshui trilogy (Dragon In Chains, Jade Man's Skin, Hidden Cities), by Daniel Fox

What else comes to mind?

So trot yourself down to your local brick-n-mortar bookstore, or order online from one of the fine independents. You'll not only make the recipient of your gift happy, but your favorite authors and booksellers as well.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where Do You Write?

Springtime writing
I've been pondering this question as I shift my writing location. I do this every winter. My primary spot is my office, a little cubbyhole on the north side of the house. In the summer, it's glorious, with a view of lilac bushes and a beautiful old California oak. There's even a kestrel house on a pole, although in all the years since my husband put it up, it has not attracted a resident. Shaded as it is, and far from a heater vent, it's chilly in the winter. We've looked at increasing the insulation of the window (double-paned glass) and the possibility of a small space heater. In the end, though, my usual solution is to follow the example of birds -- and migrate to a warmer clime.

The warmer clime is just across the house. A sunny, south-facing bay window overlooks our garden. It's equipped with a cushy recliner and a bookshelf (upon which sit two cat baskets) with space for reference books, writing journals, and a CD player. The cats know this is a Good Place. I take my netbook there, or a hardcopy manuscript, and curl up in the sun. I also appreciate being able to shift my position -- first, sitting cross-legged, then reclining the chair and propping the netbook or clipboard on my legs. (And yes, I've been known to tilt the chair even further back and take a nap!)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Loscon: Book View Cafe Panel And Driving Home

The Book View Cafe panel went smoothly, although in a much livelier fashion. The person-we-didn't-know-but-who-was-supposed-to-moderate never materialized, so I stepped in. Not everyone is comfortable moderating (and some people that want to do it should be politely but firmly discouraged0, but I am and I know I do it well. If I have a weakness, it's that once the discussion is going, I tend to take a hands-off approach and I'm perfectly comfortable with other panelists acknowledging questions from the audience. We roped Dave (Trowbridge) into participating (he's a yet-unlaunched BVC member), so we had a range from Maya (Bohnhoff, a founding member) to Dave, who has yet to debut but has been doing much work behind the scenes. I've been on BVC panels at other conventions, and this was the best-attended so far. A few people in the audience seemed to be looking for a publisher (not appropriate as BVC is a cooperative of established professional writers), but most wanted to know more about what we have to offer, what the future holds, and how BVC came into being. A few had suggestions of what they'd like to see on the website.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Loscon: Saturday Morning's Deep Listening

Saturday morning, Dave (Trowbridge, my husband and fellow writer) and I met with Sherwood (Smith) for a planning-breakfast in preparation for the deep listening panel. We had no difficulty rearranging the chairs in a circle, and were gratified by how many people turned up for a 10 am event.

After a short description of what we were going to do, the three of us went first, to model both speaking and listening. We had chosen the subject -- a book that changed your life when you were still of an age when a book could do that -- so that most everyone would be able to share a meaningful experience. Indeed, it would be unusual for an attender at a science fiction convention to not be able to name one (or many) books that were significant. In thinking about this beforehand, I ran into the problem of having too many books come to mind, until I realized that I was restricting myself to works of science fiction and fantasy, which I had not discovered until my high school years. Once I softened my concept of what the book had to be -- it had to be sf/f, right? since that is what I write professionally -- a very different sort of reading experience emerged from the mists of childhood.

I remembered vividly the summer between second and third grades, when reading suddenly made sense to me. Before that, I'd slugged along with how reading was taught in the mid 1950s, neither catching fire nor lagging behind the class. But that summer I did catch fire. I sat in my rocking chair in my bedroom and devoured a third grade reader. Illustrations in bright, almost luminous colors adorned the pages, and although I didn't care for every story, enough of them hit just the right tone for me. One of these was an excerpt from Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield. The story was about a thin, anxious city girl who goes to live with country relatives and discovers her own strength and resourcefulness. I was very like that girl, growing up in a family that was the target of a McCarthy-era investigation, and in Betsy I saw that my life didn't have to be that way, that I too could become assured and competent.

As story after story unfolded in the circle, I heard the echoes and variations of this theme. At some point in our young (or not-so-young) lives, a book showed us that our lives could be different -- richer, more powerful, filled with fascinating things to learn and people who shared our passions. What separated this experience from any other gathering where readers compare their "gateway" books was that each speaker had the undivided attention of the whole group, and each listener had only to listen, knowing that when his or her time came, that respectful silence would be theirs.

Afterwards, I'd hoped to hear former astronaut Rick Searfoss, but word was that he was stuck in freeway traffic; he might have showed up later, but I had my own panel to get to.

The illustration is by Jessie Willcox Smith, from A Child's Garden of Verses, 1905

Monday, December 5, 2011

Loscon: A Friday of Unexpected Events and Regency Dancing

Friday began with the usual "you plan, God laughs" disruption of the natural order. I'd planned on going to a panel on "Believable Pasts and Futures" (with Harry Turtledove, Laura Frankos, Barbara Hambly and a couple of other people) when a writer with whom I've shared panels in the past, VJ Waks, pleaded with me to join her on "When is it proper to use violence in your story" because she was the only panelist listed. This being the first time slot of the convention, no one expected a heavy turnout, but I'm a soft touch, so I sent Dave off to the Pasts/Futures panel with a request to take notes on the cool bits. VJ and I waited until we had 2 attenders, made a circle, and had a lively discussion, mostly about the portrayal of violence in our media, but also about how other cultures view retaliation and reconciliation as affecting the entire community, and some painful and moving personal stories.

I had a lovely lunch with a fellow writer I don't see very often, did a tour of the Dealers' Room (where I succumbed to the usual lure of Buy! Books!), got seduced by one conversation after another, retreated to the hotel room for a little lie-down time, and then dinner with Dave and a friend of his. This took a long time, as had dinner the night before, even though the hotel restaurant was not particularly busy either time. Our poor waiter kept apologizing and thanking us for our patience. Really, the only people who would be affected by our failure to be gracious are we ourselves. And I got to go Regency dancing (taught by John Hertz) afterwards.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Loscon: On Panels and My Schedule

Convention programming varies in structure from basically a single track (one choice of a panel or event for each time slot) to many, none of them heavily attended. Needless to say, there are benefits and drawbacks of each approach. I used to prefer several choices, toward the lower end of the scale, until I attended a single-track convention and loved the sense of community that resulted. I found that the topic mattered less than the shared experience. Likewise, there are many instances where the topic is irrelevant compared to the pleasure of hearing those particular panelists in conversation. This can be true for individuals or for combinations of people with opposing opinions and wicked senses of humor. As a member of the audience, I don't particularly care if the discussion stays on its designated topic, although when I am moderating, I make an effort to keep a modicum of focus. Just because I love conversations that fly off in unexpected directions, with participants running away with each other's ideas, I can't assume the audience feels the same way.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Story Up!

"A Wolf In The Fold," one of my early Sword & Sorceress stories, is up for your reading pleasure. Click "Read A Story" or go here:


Loscon: Attending As Part Of A Writer Couple

For much of my convention-going, I have come on my own (or occasionally in the past with one or both kids in tow). It is a strange and wonderful thing to attend with a spouse, but more particularly a fellow writer spouse. We've long since worked out the subtle communication of when we're available for conversations, when we are deep in writerly-concentration mode, and when we would like to discuss what we're working on (not asking for a critique or UnHelpful Suggestions, but a space to vent and brainstorm, for someone to listen thoughtfully as we thrash our way to our own insights). We also know when it's encouraging to ask, "How's it going?" and when such a question is annoying and intrusive.

I have always loved communal-writing, that is, being in the same space as other writers as we all work on our separate projects. This was my version of a fun way to hang out with my friends in high school. We used portable manual typewriters and composition books, so you can imagine two or three teenaged girls, sitting cross-legged on a bed, typewriters on our laps. When you do this often enough, the group finds its own rhythm, so that it seems you all feel the need to pause and chat at the same time. I never attended Clarion, but I expect the participants had much the same experience, only at a much greater intensity.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Loscon: Some General Thoughts on Conventions

The very first convention I attended, before I had any professional story publication credits, was Fantasy Worlds Festival in Berkeley, put on by Marion Zimmer Bradley and her staff. Around 1980, I'd written her a fan letter and she'd written back. Knowing that I studied martial arts, she invited me and my sparring partner to work security (and also give a demonstration) for her convention. I knew nothing of conventions, so I had visions of staying up all night, dealing with one crisis after another, and was relieved to find everyone friendly and well-mannered, at least in the public areas. I had no idea of the delights of thoughtful, lively panel discussions, a dealer's room full of books, jewelry, and music, and the wonderful costumes, not to mention a whole weekend spent with kindred spirits and fellow book lovers. Not long after that, I made my first professional sale to Marion for the first Sword & Sorceress (DAW, 1984) and began taking this writing business seriously.

At that time, I lived on the west side of Los Angeles. I soon discovered that LA (more precisely, LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) had its own convention, LosCon, which met every Thanksgiving weekend. For quite a few years, I was a regular attender, commuting from home. Then came a period of time when my family alternated Thanksgivings between Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley area, juggling the demands of home and more-distant relatives (who did not understand that fellowship trumps turkey). After I moved north, my attendance became even more irregular. It's been quite a few years since my last LosCon, it's in a different hotel (not to mention a different city, moving from Burbank to near LAX) from the one I knew way back when, but there is still a sense of homecoming, that this was "my local convention" as I was coming of age as a writer.