Friday, September 30, 2016

Supporting a New Writer 5: Hope Heals

Barb Caffrey: The main reason I restarted my writing despite a number of life challenges (including
the loss of my husband Michael in 2004) is because I knew I needed to do it. Sometimes, writing can be stress relief; it allows you to step outside of your own head for a while, and do something else other than grieve -- do something else other than concentrate on all the problems you cannot solve.

It allows you to do something positive. Something meaningful. Something that you can point to later, and ask yourself, "I did that?"

Granted, at the time, I didn't realize at all this was why I was trying so hard to write. I looked at it as an expression of creativity (which, of course, it is); I also saw it as my way to strike back against the darkness of entropy, and of course as a way to continue on with what my husband (also a writer) and I had done all our lives.

In short, writing allowed me to feel more like myself, rather than the person I had unwittingly become after my husband died so suddenly. I didn't like feeling like an open wound all the time; I wanted to heal.

Writing helped me heal.

Barb Caffrey has written three novels, An Elfy On The Loose (2014), A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (2015), and Changing Faces (forthcoming), and is the co-writer of the Adventures of Joey Maverick series (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey) Previous stories and poems have appeared in Stars Of Darkover, First Contact Café, How Beer Saved The World, Bearing North, And Bedlam's Edge (with Michael B. Caffrey).


From Wendy, for whom this blog series was created:

Dreams are possible....

Hope lives....

If you take action....

If you reach out with an earnest, heartfelt plea....

Good people will respond.

I do not take this creative journey alone. What a comfort this realization has been to me.  I am encouraged and deeply grateful for the wonderful words of wisdom you have all shared with me.

I am writing again. Perhaps in fits and starts, but still putting words to electronic paper on a daily basis. 

I am starting to believe in myself again, to see myself as a creative spirit with something to say.

My words matter. My words can entertain and enlighten. I have a voice. All of you have helped me find that voice again.

Thank you!



Friday, September 23, 2016

Supporting A New Writer 4: Where We Go from Here

Each of us has a tale to tell about struggling to start or re-start a writing career. Here's the background on this project, and two responses below.

Recently, I received this letter from a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.

I’ve been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I’ve spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October. When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on — even as an adult — is gone for good. Whether you’re ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother’s final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible. I’m 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don’t want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing “career” never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well. How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?
Doranna Durgin:  I turned 56 on the very day my mom died just over a month ago.  Meanwhile my writing has floundered for years—damaged by experiences in traditional publishing, never quite reaching fruition in the first place because I was in a financially vulnerable situation where I didn’t dare take risks.  So I played nice.  Too nice.  Too much fear, too much doubt, and way too much negativity from outside sources.  Familiar, right? I was trying to please everyone else before I pleased the muse, knowing it and hoping for some sort of break that would allow me to return to the muse.  But instead of reaching a break, I hit a breaking point, and then…broke.  Now I’m looking at the journey back and not certain how to take it.


So where do we all go from here?

In this case, I hope knowing you’re not alone is of some solace.  Boy, you’re definitely not!  And to some extent, I think we all wish we were bigger, bolder, better when it comes to our writing.  To that same extent, I think having that desire is the critical part of writing.  How do we do anything but stagnate without it?  And just maybe the fact that we do have that ongoing need doesn’t mean we haven’t already been successful in many ways.  Don’t discount those successes!

More practically speaking, I’m finding that I need to give myself space while at the same time setting reachable goals.  For me, that means noodling on development in the background while working on production stuff and writing-related stuff in the foreground.  For you, those first steps might include finding community online and in person, but I have some hesitation about focusing on these as a starting place.  Writing comes from within, not without—and in my experience, outside influence is often about diluting, not enhancing, those pieces from within.

To that point, I’ve found a good book discussion group comprised of savvy readers and other writers to be an excellent place to practice critical thinking and to see how different writing is absorbed by different people…well, differently.  I see it as a way to immerse in the thought process without subjecting the muse to the push and pull of others’ thinking.

I think one key, as we seek growth, is to recognize the successes we have in fact had, and then to keep our specific goals in mind while making decisions about the future—which means taking the time to truly understand our goals in the first place.  So are the support groups and community part of the goal, or a way to reach the goal?  And what other ways can you reach the specific goal?

Either way, good luck—hope to see you there on the other side!


Doranna Durgin is an award-winning (Compton Crook--best first SF/F/H of the year) whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive and eclectic publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines.  Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn't believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided...




Meg Mac Donald: On Starting Over:
Just write.

I know, I know.  That’s obvious.  I realize that it may be oversimplifying things, but it is true that the only way to begin again is to (simply) start doing it.  Anything.  Write that story idea, or outline—or even that one scene—that has been playing in your mind for years.  You know, the one about That Character when That Thing happened?  Yeah.  That one.  Jot it down.  Follow it as it begins to grow—give yourself permission to change it.  Keep writing.  If you write something, you have something to edit—or rewrite—later.  Worst case scenario?  You line the cat box with it and start something else.  Put aside any notion about it being perfect, or publishable, or even making the remote bit of sense.  It doesn’t have to.  What it has to do is give you something to work with.  Most of writing is rewriting and editing anyway.  Give yourself permission to make a literary mess if that’s what it takes to break the cycle of doubt that is keeping you from writing at all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Con-Volution 2016 Schedule



I'll be a guest panelist at Con-Volution: The Age of Monsters, Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2016, Hyatt Regency SFO. If you're going, please do stop by and say hello. Here's my panel schedule:


Authors: Going to That Dark Place (Saturday 15:00 - 16:30, SandPebble C)
If you want the monstrous element to be truly horrifying, you sometimes have to dig to a dark place to write it believably....
Loren Rhoads, Melissa Snark, Deborah J. Ross, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, Fred Wiehe, Horror Author (M)

How Cthulu Became Cuddly? (Saturday 17:00 - 18:30, SandPebble B)
How did the most terrifying beings of our imagination become cuddly plushies, love interests, and punchlines? We'll look at the intersection of horror and humor, and whether they enhance or deface the genre.
Deborah J. Ross, Ms. Jennifer Carson, Laurel Anne Hill, Lee Moyer (M)

Writing in Someone Else's Universe (Sunday 10:00 - 11:30, Board Room I)
How you deal with taking on the world already build by another author when it's now your professional duty to carry on their legacy, but still create new and involving stories.
Deborah J. Ross (M), Sarah Stegall, M. Todd Gallowglas

Monday, September 19, 2016

September Treats: New and Forthcoming Books


Sisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins 

Fantasy literature seems to have entered an age of multi-volume series that either demand the reader be familiar with all the previous books or else inundate the reader with backstory. It requires skill and subtlety to create a sequel that works just as well as a stand-alone book. Kim Wilkins is such an author and Sisters of the Fire is such a book.

Australian Kim Wilkins is one of the best writers of fantasy today. I adored her The Autumn Castle for its rich, complex characters and a setting that was familiar enough so I was never confused and startlingly innovative enough to hold my interest at every turn. So it was no accident that even without reading Daughters of the Storm, I found Sisters of the Fire every bit as entrancing, dramatic, and rewarding.

Almost immediately I found myself immersed in a world reminiscent of Arthurian England. An island is divided into small kingdoms, some of them so marginal but it is not worth the trouble to conquer them. Of course, there are stronger kingdoms, and one of these is ruled by an aging monarch whose grown daughters have made their own ways through the world. Ash has followed her dream to become a magician by apprenticing herself to a strange, ultimately villainous man. Lovely Rose has fled an unhappy marriage at the cost of exile from her young daughter and her beloved. Ambitious Ivy, married to a man she does not love for the sake of a political alliance, plays a dangerous game that threatens the safety of not only her kingdom, but her father’s as well. Willow’s hatred of the old religion leads her to a perilous alliance with the head of the Viking-like northern raiders. And my favorite: Bluebell who despite the whimsy of her name is a fierce warrior and intrepid leader, more than capable of taking over for her aging father.

This story moves from moments of tenderness to passion to intrigue to breathtaking action. Never did I feel at a loss because I had not read the first book. Nevertheless, I was delighted to learn that that this will not be the end of the sisters’ adventures. I look forward with great anticipation to seeing where Wilkins will take the story, and while I am waiting I will go in search of the first volume.



Murder with Majesty, by Amy Myers (Auguste Didier), Endeavor Press. This charming, quirky
historical mystery was my introduction to the work of British author Amy Myers. First released in 1999, one of ten adventures of intrepid chef and not-so-intrepid detective, Auguste Didier, it’s now available as an ebook from Endeavor Press.  The year is 1905, and already rumblings of war have reached even the placid English countryside. Didier, a distant relation-by-marriage to Edward VII, has been summoned to an ancient manor house to cook for a wedding. Only the groom posing as the lord of the manor in order to impress his American heiress bride no longer owns the estate and the man who does bears an uncanny resemblance to Didier’s sworn enemy, a ruthless Russian spy. What could have been a sedate whodunit confined to a single household quickly spins into a much broader tale that eventually leads to the Paris catacombs (I’ve been there – they’re just like that!) and back to England. Action and character are handled with a delightful wit and wonderful use of language that left me wanting to run out and find all the other volumes.



The Tale of the Dancing Slaughter Horse, by Victoria Shade (Oct 2016) 
When adolescent Victoria meets Moonshine, an ex-racehorse saved from the slaughterhouse and abuse, she despairs at having to ride such a difficult horse. She trains him in dressage, a sport that tests the unity of horse and rider as they engage in what can only be called dancing.  As she comes of age, Victoria teaches Moonshine to trust her, and Moony teaches Victoria the importance of heart and perseverance. Together, they master many trials and compete in the Junior Nationals in this inspiring and compelling true story of how a girl and her horse changed each other’s lives forever.

This is a lovely book, not only for horse fanciers (and anyone who has ever been one) but as a simply told, heart-felt memoir of an extraordinary young woman and the healing power of horses. Like many other teenaged girls, I fell in love with horses, and although my own mare was nowhere near the stature of Victoria Shade's Moonshine, her tale of how dressage helped her to grow, and learn patience, diligence, and honesty, had me nodding in agreement every step of the way. The simplicity and directness of her prose transforms what could have been a melodrama into an inspiring, utterly truthful story. Well done!



The Dream Protocol: Descent, by Adara Quick 
This book offers intriguing twists on the usual dystopic YA novel, with its economy based on the creation, sale, and control of dreams. I particularly liked the use of dreams as work incentives, and nightmares as punishment, plus the addictive nature of dreams to the point that people cannot sleep normally. However, the work is marred by heavy-handed exposition, telling repeatedly instead of showing, the lack of world-building beyond the dream economy, and simplistic characters. I do not believe this novel would have been publishable by any major house, as it certainly has not been professionally edited. I hope that with more attention to craft, the writer will become better able to justice to her ideas.



Shadowbahn, by Steve Erickson, Blue Rider Press (Feb. 2017)
Premise: the Twin Towers mysteriously appear on the Badlands of South Dakota, from them comes a stream of music, and everyone hears a different song. Isn’t that a cool idea? I thought so when I requested a review copy. I imagined something of the order of a Tim Powers novel, with flights of wacky imagination resolving into a story that moves me, with characters I care about. Alas, it turned out that I was exactly the wrong reader for this book. Reviews, even “not my cup of tea” style, can help readers pick books they will love, so I offer the following:

At first, the story drew me in but midway through I grew frustrated. The music, as it were the uniting theme of all the various characters and adventures, turned out to be exactly the kind I have almost no knowledge of (I have heard of a few of the songs and recording artists but could not recognize them) or interest in (not even a passing nod to Chopin!), and the text was laced with long stream-of-consciousness diatribes that became ever more tedious. I found the characters unbelievable and pretentious. I kept hoping to find some saving point of sense, but it never appeared.

If you like Jonathan Lethem’s work (he praised this one highly), this might be the book for you. I imagine that if you love rock music, jazz, and blues, you will find special delights here. But if you, like me, prefer sympathetic characters and clear plot, logic, and emotional arcs, then you might want to pass on this one.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Surviving A Murder: A #HoldOnToTheLight Post


In 1986, my 70-year-old mother was asleep in her own bed when a teenaged neighbor broke into her home, raped her, and then beat her to near death and left her face down in a partially filled bathtub. It was a spectacularly brutal, banner headline crime, called by the District Attorney one of the most heinous in the history of the county. On hearing this story, many people ask me, “How did you survive?”

I don't think survival is the question. Although numb with shock and drenched in grief, we get up in the morning. We brush our teeth. In my case, I had two daughters, one almost seven and the other 3 months old, to care for. We cry. We scream. We comfort one another. We go back to work. We take on the trappings of an ordinary life, carrying on in the blind faith that our insides will someday match the artificial normality of our outsides. Or we find our days transformed by what we have lost, not only our loved ones but our belief in the decency of our fellow humans and our sense of safety in the world. Some families dedicate themselves to finding the killer or to participating in punishment. Others become radicalized in other ways.

In other words, we do what seems best to us in order to survive. We do everything except tend to the grievously wounded parts of ourselves.

We know today that post-traumatic illness is not limited to soldiers in battle or the surviving loved ones of murder victims. We know that for most of us, it does not go away simply because we ignore it. Some people live reasonably functional lives by walling off their pain like an abscess, refusing to talk about it and “acting as if” everything is fine. I make no judgment about them; I am the last person to advise anyone else about how to live with something only they can understand. I know only that I was not among them.

I tried my hardest to be strong. Instead, I broke.

The man who killed my mother had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, thus sparing my family the ordeal of a trial but leaving many questions unanswered. In 1995, he became eligible for his first parole hearing. There was no question in my mind about attending and speaking against his release. I poured myself into writing a speech, I marched into San Quentin Prison, I stood up in the presence of the perpetrator, I addressed the Parole Commissioners in the strongest possible language, and then I went home.

I thought it was over when parole was denied. I was wrong.

A year later, I went into a psychological and spiritual crisis. A series of increasingly troubling symptoms should have alerted me to my own emotional deterioration, but I clung too tightly to the appearance of normality to pay attention. When the break came, I folded like a house of cards: I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stop crying. I would look in the mirror and not recognize the person who looked back at me. It seemed to me that nobody was home behind those glassy, deer-in-the-headlight eyes. I've heard almost those same words from other murder victim family members. I call us “murder survivors.” This time, there was no question of “carrying on.” Slowly and painful, with many missteps and amazing, often unexpected, kindness from those around me, I began to heal from the inside out.

Because I am a writer, much of what I experienced — not the external circumstances but the emotions and insights — made its way into my stories. Why fiction? Stories keep our intellects busy while the deeper parts of our psyches grapple with things that are not easily put into words. 

I am not a psychotherapist or an expert on recovery from trauma. Nor am I a military veteran or law enforcement officer, or war refugee, or family member of someone who has been executed, so I cannot speak from my own experience about the horrendous stresses those people face. However, I have found that I have much in common with folks who suffer from post-traumatic illness from other causes. I have exchanged support and become an ally of family members of offenders, as well. Their grief and pain is no less overwhelming than my own.

We are all survivors, and all of us are wounded in ways we sometimes cannot name. And there is hope for all of us. One of the most powerful ways we can help one another is by telling stories and listening to each other with open hearts.

You are not what happened to you, and you are not alone.



About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/


Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Trio of Amazing Reptiles



Tortoises rule! Diego, 100, is a rare breed of tortoise called Chelonoidis hoodensis. These animals are so rare that they only exist on one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos. In 1976, when Diego was living at the San Diego Zoo, scientists realized that this handsome hero in a half shell was actually one of the last remaining tortoises of the Chelonoidis hoodensisas species. Diego then became the dominant male in a captive breeding program in the Galápagos.






Modern rattlesnakes have pared down their weaponry stockpile from their ancestor’s massive arsenal. Today’s rattlers have irreversibly lost entire toxin-producing genes over the course of evolution, narrowing the range of toxins in their venom, scientists report September 15 in Current Biology.
“After going through all the work of evolving powerful toxins, over time, some snakes have dispensed with them,” says study coauthor Sean B. Carroll, an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who is at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. These modern rattlesnakes produce smaller sets of toxins that might be more specialized to their prey.






A study of a well-preserved Chinese Psittacosaurus fossil shows it had a light underside and was darker on top - an arrangement called counter-shading. This suggests the species lived in an environment with diffuse light, such as a forest.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Transfusion and Other Tales of Hope on Sale!



Transfusion and Other Tales of Hope, my second fantasy collection, with some of my finest stories,is on special sale this month at Book View Cafe. It's only $0.95.

From the ancient Indus Valley to post-apocalyptic California come fourteen tales of love, redemption, and hope…and occasional humor.
The vampire has known only evil since he was made, until an unlikely friendship reconnects him with life… Two women mourning two dead mothers tread the boundaries between grief and obsession… A ghoulish spirit haunts a refugee in Renaissance Venice… A healer discovers a dying man with the heart of a dragon on her doorstep… Two boys travel back in time to discover the true nature of Tyrannosaurus rex… A mother vampire, struggling to raise two vampire children in Hollywood, encounters her biggest challenge yet: the PTA.
REVIEWS:
“A Borrowed Heart” was a beautiful, touching novelette that will be on my Hugo Short List for next year. —Sam Tomaino, SF Revu.



Here's the Table of Contents:

Transfusion
Green Chains
Heart-Healer
What the Dinosaurs Are Like
Hellhound
Summoning the River
Totem Night
Unmasking the Ancient Light
A Borrowed Heart
The Seal Hunt
Sing to Me
Fire and Fate
Remembering
Survival Skills


Friday, September 9, 2016

Supporting A New Writer 3: We've Been There

Recently, I received this letter from Wendy, a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.


I've been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I've spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October.
When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on -- even as an adult -- is gone for good. Whether you're ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother's final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible.
I'm 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don't want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing "career" never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well.

How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?

Cynthia FeliceFilling the Giving Hole

My similar experience was long and arduous; each time I thought I was ready to pick up my writing career I discovered, painfully, I was so not ready. I went through years of bewildering anniversaries and finding ways to establish new normals for everyday life that re-establishing my writing life was always something I'd do tomorrow. It's different for everyone, so don't assume setbacks are failures. Your loss and mine were different, and that alone changes working through the loss. But when writing life did start working again, it was because I made myself find a listserv (actually several, but only one clicked for me) of writers who were working at their craft. Just checking in every day and lurking for a while helped me feel connected again to the familiar problems and worries writers have and need to discuss. Eventually I was "talking" again and involved, sharing my concerns and experience with other writers. No one understands writing life the way other writers do. Besides, what else are you going to do with all that tender care you've been giving to your loved one for years? I needed a place to put mine; maybe you do, too. Don't let not giving daily leave a hole in you.

Similarly, I attended the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference http://www.pikespeakwriters.com/ because it's well known for great organization and attracting the best speakers (heh, heh, and I'd been one of those speakers years earlier) and because it takes place in my back yard! It was a wonderful long weekend spent rubbing shoulders with like-minded folk and learning what had changed in the industry while I was away. There are other fine conferences and also very good writers workshops, but I have personal experience with this one, so am content to recommend it. Research carefully if you're tempted to plunk down the fee; not all are equal. You'll notice that I did not recommend a specific listserv; the one I favored no longer exists, but others are out there, and if the daily passive contact appeals to you, you will find them.

Good luck, Wendy!

Cynthia Felice writes science fiction novels, and occasionally writes short stories and articles. She
was a John W. Campbell Award nominee for her novel, Godsfire. Felice is a workshop enthusiast, including being an early Clarion “grad” and a frequent Milford attendee. Her experience includes managing technical editors, writers, and designing configuration control software, as well as writing and editing technical articles, essays, and documents, one of which received the Award for Outstanding Paper from the Society for Technical Communication. Cynthia Felice grew up in Chicago, and now lives with her husband on a ridge east of Colorado Springs overlooking the Front Range.

Deborah's note: Cynthia critiqued my very, very first attempt at a fantasy novel (1980?) with such kindness and insight that I am still writing!



Meg Mac Donald: Dear Wendy,

Your letter touched my heart in so many ways—and in so many ways, on so many levels, I could relate to what you were saying.  As will always be the case, we each have our own story—that moment, that feeling, that fear, that loss that seemed to take away the dream that we had nurtured from childhood on.  Those hurdles in life that seem insurmountable.  We are of an age, you and I.  No doubt we share many of the same memories about childhood pastimes, favorite books, iconic films, moments where planet Earth stopped turning to look to the moon…  What a glorious, bright future we were promised—especially for girls.  What a “brave new world” where we believed that if we dreamt it, we could achieve it.  No better time to be alive.  No better time to want to write science fiction and fantasy.  No better time.

Maybe every generation has that hope.  There’s something about our generation, though.  Something about promises that weren’t kept.  Something about the future not being what it looked like it should be.  Where did it go?  And we tried to hang onto the dreams and may have even had some luck.  Found those older and wiser to nurture us and lead the charge.  For all those that managed to keep going or never faced serious setbacks, there are probably far more whose lives became overwhelming.   In the midst of trying to plant that creative garden and keep it blooming, we grew up and life happened and the frailty of our own lives was realized in the frailty of our aging parents—or the deaths of friends and kin, or the trauma of war, or financial hardship, or personal trauma wearing a hundred different, dark cloaks.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Having Fun With Women Characters in Thunderlord (aka “Jane Austen on Darkover”)

Across genres, we accept the importance of bonds between brothers; I would argue that in speculative fiction, at least, we give less weight to the loyalty and emotional intimacy between sisters. This may be due to the domestic setting for sisterly concerns. Brothers march off to war together, but sisters hold hands when one is giving birth. If one or both is unmarried, sisters set up housekeeping together, often living their entire lives under the same roof. Yet the relationship between sisters opens many fascinating and challenging story possibilities.

I’ve found that once I step away from the models of male-bonding or male-female romantic love as the only possibilities for central relationships, my stories get a lot more interesting and also emotionally powerful. They don’t necessarily have to be the sole or pivotal bonds in a story. Just as in real life, they form a critical foundation for any social setting.

Thunderlord’s  emotional heart is the relationship between the two Rockraven sisters, Kyria and Alayna. This being Darkover, I also included plenty of action and adventures — banshees and laran and bandits, oh my. Through all this — and a love story or two — the sisters are so integral to the tale that at times I felt as if I were channeling Elizabeth and Jane from Pride and Prejudice (or Marianne and Elinor from Sense and Sensibility). Sisters are not always close, but when they are, the relationships are complex, rich, and enduring. Lovers may come and go, the saying goes, but sisterhood is forever.

I didn’t set out to write “The Bennett Sisters on Darkover.” I began with a few pages of Marion’s notes on a sequel to Stormqueen, almost all of it backstory, and the title of the proposed book. I didn’t want to repeat the general plot of Stormqueen or its tragic ending, and I also wanted to experience whatever adventure the story took me on through the eyes of fresh, new characters.

Although the Rockraven family isn’t anything like the Bennetts, I kept finding similarities: a noble but impoverished family, the pressure for one or both girls to secure the family’s financial future by their marriages, their wistful longing to marry for love, how the sisters are different but devoted to each other, and so forth. There are no balls in the neighborhood, no mother with imaginary illnesses scheming to “make a good marriage” for her daughters, no problem about the inheritance of the estate, and certainly no Mr. Darcy to be unpleasant to everyone. Practical Kyria deals with her family’s poverty by donning her brother’s clothes and trapping animals for food. Romantic Alayna dreams of love stories while understanding that such a happy ending means they must be parted, most likely forever. Distances on Darkover are much greater than in Regency England!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Lifting the Lamp, Locking the Door, by Jane Yolen

I am the daughter of an immigrant, who arrived at Ellis Island, having -- like Jane Yolen's ancestors -- survived pogroms and near-starvation, but whose life was now filled with hope. Let that same light shine for future generations!


By author and poet Jane Yolen: Listening to Donald Trump’s major speech against immigrants yesterday, I wrote this. You have my permission to share it but the © MUST be appended.

Lifting the Lamp, Locking the Door
I am the daughter, the granddaughter
of immigrants, fleeing the pogroms,
not all of my relatives
of high moral character.
But the lamp was lifted for us.

My professor husband’s Irish folk
fled the famines on coffin ships.
They counted cheats, grifters,
drunkards among them.
But the lamp was lifted for them.

And now Trump trims and dims those lamps,
threatens to turn them off at the source,
to send the Lady home to France,
an immigrant like the rest of us.
Slam the door, his followers chant.

Slam the goddamn golden door.


©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved, shared by permission only

Friday, September 2, 2016

Supporting A New Writer 2: Following The Dream

Recently, I received this letter from Wendy, a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.


I've been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I've spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October.
When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on -- even as an adult -- is gone for good. Whether you're ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother's final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible.
I'm 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don't want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing "career" never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well. How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?
  Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Do you want to write, or do you want to have written? Is it getting the story down on paper or computer that drives you, or the thought of who will receive the story? Is publishing critical? Are you looking at markets before you even write the tale?

Because these struggles can kill your muse. I wasted a lot of time, once NYC decided that the stories I wanted to tell were not viable, tossing them synopsis after synopsis, trying to get their interest. You don't have to deal with NYC at all, if you don't want to--self-publishing can be done, and done well, if you are willing to pay for good editing and cover art.

The best things I have ever written come when *I do not censor the Writer.* The first draft, you must tell your Editor Voice (and you have several) "There, there, you will get your chance to say something" and keep writing. The first draft of a story, you tell yourself the story. The second pass, you decide what you need to tell this story to other people. There's usually editing--few of us can write a first and second pass in one go.

Beware the Critic Voice. That is the voice of every slighting comment, every undermining statement, every spiteful word ever tossed your way. A strong and smart woman once told me, "The Critic is never you." But the Critic exists, even if no one has ever slammed your dreams of writing because you never whispered that dream aloud. It takes time to smash those slighting words down to dust, to weigh opposites in your hands and mash them together, halving their impact. But you can whittle down The Critic.

Most people I know who adore telling stories can't stop. When they *cannot* tell stories it triggers depression. Right now you are going through that huge transition (it just happened to me, too) where suddenly, at reunions, you are the oldest person in the room. Right there is a huge adjustment. Be gentle with yourself, ask your heart what it wants to write, and give yourself permission to write. That time is NEVER wasted. In my youth I would tell people "I have to work." I didn't say write, because it wasn't how I paid the rent, so they would say "You can do that after the movie, dinner, bike ride"--whatever.

It is for you. Women worldwide are told to put their heart on hold and take care of everyone and everything else. If you don't take something for your own heart, you will have nothing to give others. Take the writing. It may turn out to be something you can offer the world.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so. The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories. “I’m interested in how people respond to choice. What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing. Forthcoming stories will talk about new things that I’ve learned, and still hope to learn … with grace notes about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances.” A Campbell Award nominee.




Irene Radford: For as long as I can remember my family told me that writing down my little stories was okay because I would learn to write well, a requirement for succeeding in the business world. Their ambition for me was to run the PTA. However, I mustn’t bother sharing my little stories with anyone because I could never succeed as a writer.

Period. End of conversation.

Except we kept having this conversation every time I got an idea for a new story or book or trilogy…

I’m not certain why my brain suddenly clicked into realizing that I can’t know I’ve failed until I try. It may have had something to do with my 10 year old son entering every mail-in contest the postman delivered. One of those contests was for Harlequin Romances. I won 4 free books every month for 3 months. Then of course I was expected be hooked and start paying for my book fix. But one of the option books I could order was “How to Write Romances for Love and Money.”

I tried it. Over the period of a couple of months I followed the guidelines and deconstructed several of my favorite romances. And then I wrote one. When I thought I was ready to submit I asked a friend of a friend about proper manuscript format. That person put me in touch with another friend of a friend who was active in Romance Writers of America.

I attended one workshop and went home to re-plot the book. The local chapter of RWA led me to a critique group. I re-wrote the book again and again until I submitted. And accumulated rejection after rejection.

At some point in this depressing process I discovered that not only did I need to try before I admitted failure: I had not failed until I gave up trying.

RWA and my critique group led me to an agent, and though we never sold that first romance, I found my voice in fantasy. And I succeeded. October 13, 1993 at 1:33 PM I received THE phone call, that DAW Books wanted to buy, not only the first book I had written for the fantasy market, but also 2 sequels.

Thirty-five books later I still haven’t found a reason to give up trying.

My few words of wisdom for those starting a writing career or re-starting one, is keep on trying. Apply butt to chair and hands to keyboard and keep writing. Five minutes a day, four pages a day, whatever works for your schedule. And keep on until there is nothing left inside you that demands to be written.

Then give it a rest for a bit until the words start bubbling out of you and write some more.


Irene Radford …aka P.R. Frost, aka C.F. Bentley, has been writing stories ever since she figured out
what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species, a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon,
she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon, where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck.

A museum trained historian, Phyllis Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family, she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between.