Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Arabian Nights and the State of Fantasy

I wrote this post a couple months before, but forgot to post it. Since it still applies, I thought you might enjoy...


This has turned out to be a crazy year with personal, emotional, physical, and intellectual challenges. Sometimes the simple things are lost in the struggle.

I just finished reading an edition of The Arabian Nights that's been on my shelf forever. Maybe because of the above, maybe just because it had been too long, but I felt the need to go back to my roots. I grew up reading the color fairy books (Red, Blue, Violet, etc.) and the very first stories I wrote all came from that inspiration. I have the three brothers, the arrogant, the mighty, and the naive, I have great monsters that aren't monsters at all but rather cursed innocents, and all the traditional tropes in those 1-5 page stories handwritten on loose legal notepaper in pencil, smeared and hardly legible now.

When I was a kid, I remember taking a match to the back of a sheet of paper to "age" it for the poem I had written there. I don't think that poem survived, but I can tell you all the other pages now look pretty much like the one I'd faked.

Anyway, back to Scheherazade.

I read all the stories with their fantastical natures and fascinating tales only to get to the afterward at the end. The compiler recounted not his efforts to gather this edition but the cause, the first time he'd discovered 1001 Arabian Nights and how the sheer wonder of it swept him away.

It was only then that I consciously noticed what I'd accepted the moment I opened the book to the first page. The Arabian Nights is unique in modern fantasy and I wonder if something might have gotten lost in the translation.

The Arabian Nights is about pure fantasy, fantastical elements, magic, chance, fate, impossibilities galore. It sweeps the reader into a world so distant from any chance of reality that you just have to go along for the ride because any effort to analyze would break the illusion. Don't look behind the curtain.

As a reader of modern fantasy, what catches my attention is the anthropology, the cultural exploration, the interactions between people. I don't generally go for those books with elaborate magical constructs unless they also supply the anthropological focus I prefer because I'm not interested in the logic of magic. Now maybe I wonder if that very logic has broken something for me. Has requiring plausibility hindered fantasy in the same way as hard science fiction is now limited to the mundane because the bleeding edge of science has moved beyond the grasp of the average reader so those novels that still explore it don't get very far?

As I write my fantasy novels, in each one I balance every coincidence, struggle over every time that the plot just falls into place because that might hint at an "act of God." On the other hand, much of my fantasy has active gods who are in there bringing things about. Greek influence? Or maybe the only way I can fit the magic scheme I want to have in with modern requirements?

I've recently adopted the new trend of urban fantasy, as a reader and finally with my latest WIP as a writer. In urban fantasy, magic and technology coexist in a tangled, confusing, contradictory mess that no one really understands. Hmmm? Is it just me or has urban fantasy returned more to those roots of genies and fates and magic for magic's sake. We don't understand it, say the characters, so we can't explain why it does this. It just does.

Anyway, those are some stray thoughts for you to chew on. I'd love to hear your take on the state of magic in fantasy novels, and whether the changes are a good/enduring/sad/whatever event. Or even if you disagree entirely of course :D.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Coyote Dreams by C.E. Murphy

Sorry folks. I gave it my best shot but life just got in the way. I finished my novel for the National Novel Writing Month one day early, did some more freelance work, and managed a little reading, but posting once a week just slipped past me. However, this still may be my most active period in a long while, so maybe I can ease into more frequent posts :).

Coyote Dreams by C.E. Murphy

(Acquired: bookstore)

Coyote Dreams, Book Three in the Walker Papers, lives up to the rest of the series with an engaging main character and an approachable writing style. I just can't put these books down. If I could dissect how C.E. Murphy does it, I would do my darndest to replicate the effort. She even manages to carry off an ignorant, bumbling main character in a likeable way. Joanne is nothing but self-depreciating and a disaster on two legs. But the other characters care for her just as much as I do because despite all that, she's well meaning and trying her hardest, or at least as hard as she thinks she can. This one follows the pattern of the others where the enemy is not who she thinks it is, combined with a sense of sympathy and responsibility, but the solution to Coyote Dreams is even more tangled than the previous ones. I really can't say anything more about the book without giving something away, except that I hope the loss she experienced will somehow come around right and I'm frustrated as all heck with the epilogue for all that I understand and it suits the characters. Sigh. I'll just have to see what happens in the next book...and there better darn well be one for all C.E. Murphy is off starting new series.

I have to say, everyone I've introduced to C.E. Murphy has loved the series, so if you haven't given it a try, the odds of loving it are high :).

Other comments about C.E. Murphy's books are in these posts:

Urban Shaman
Thunderbird Falls

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

I apologize for skipping last week, but I have a very good excuse...if a little beyond believable :p. I caught another flu. I swear, if I was a teacher I'd start to give myself a weathered eye. On the other hand, I recovered faster this time so maybe I'm getting back some of my energies :).

Anyway, I chose this book because it's a debut by an author I know who, as far as I know, has only published some short fiction beforehand. She has a unique style well suited to her chosen genre of urban fantasy and is well worth the time and money to check out.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

(Acquired: bookstore)

I picked up this book because I have critiqued Ilona's work on OWW and always enjoyed what I read. No big surprise that Magic Bites held up that standard and gave me a darn good read :).

This novel is a cross between cyberpunk and traditional fantasy as it pulls the reader through a quest against the dark evil in a world not too distant from ours where magic has started to take over...and not in a delicate, seep in way either. I enjoyed the badass attitude of the main character, Kate Daniels, but also how she evaluated and interacted with the people in the book. She wasn't always attitude in a devil-may-care way but knew when she'd gone too far or when she had to stop quickly. She shows courage, responsibility, and caring for others, even those thrust in her way without permission or inclination. She respects the balance others have to live within even when she refuses that choice for her own life.

Though I didn't feel the answer to the mystery (like most urban fantasy there's an underlying who-dun-it) was offered the astute reader, something I do see as a flaw because I should at least go "uh huh" with the big reveal if not already suspect that direction, there were some clues and I suspect that aspect of Ilona's writing will only get stronger as she continues forward. This was certainly a worthwhile read.

She's joined many of those I talk about here as one of my list of autobuy authors. Besides ;), I think the next in this world is one I had a hand in critiquing part of. Not only does this give me a cool feeling, I darn well want to find out what happens next because she stopped posting!

So, if you have read this book, or have now that you've got my recommendation ;), drop a note in the comments and tell me what you think.

P.S. I've updated the TBR/Read spreadsheet. The lack of bold titles tells me I need to go to the bookstore :).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Angel with Attitude by Michelle Rowen

And you thought I'd let the week slip by without a review after all this :). Since I'm in such a cheery mood, I thought I'd share a cheery book with you. I wish I could write humor like Michelle Rowen does...heck, I wish I could write humor ;).

Angel with Attitude by Michelle Rowen

(Acquired: bookstore)

A while back, I won a book in a blog contest, a light-hearted romance called Bitten & Smitten that had even my two young sons rolling in the aisles and quoting back the pieces I'd read to them. When I saw Michelle Rowen's second novel on the bookstore shelf, I remembered how much we had enjoyed the first and snatched it up. Then it lingered almost a year on the to-be-read pile waiting for a chance, a chance that came just three days ago (from 7/12/07) when, upon finishing a literary retelling of Theseus, I wanted something light and easy. Angel with Attitude offers that in spades. I got sucked in almost immediately and had to fight my way out several times because I have so much to do that I can't spend a day reading. The characters are compelling, their troubles make sense, and in between all the struggles and worries, there are a good number of laughs as well. My only quibble is a problem with unclear pronouns, especially "she" when two female characters are involved. I suspect this comment won't come as a surprise, since the book has at least two points when it laughs at itself through comments clarifying the character reference. Anyway, Angel with Attitude won't disappoint. And I'm planning to pick up the next by Michelle, and the next, and the next...

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Writing Note of Interest

For those of you who are interested in writing who follow Stray Thoughts but not my novel blog (because I also posted this over there), here's something you might want to check out.

Holly Lisle, a favorite author of mine and one who does a lot to help other writers, is offering a teleseminar and a writing newsletter with writing prompts and the like. I'm part of her affiliate program and so she told us about this a little early. Anyway, if you're interested in checking out either the teleseminar or the newsletter, you can use the below links. In the interests of full disclosure :), they are tied into my affiliate program, but they'll get you where you need to be to learn about these new offerings.

The Teleseminar:

Information on the Teleseminar

The Newsletter:

Information on the Mailing List


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Threads of Malice and Valley of the Soul by Tamara Siler Jones

My plan was to profile each book separately, but these two are tied both by the author and the story. Even more, there's an interesting progression here. My involvement started with the first book in the series and I wrote comments about it here:

Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones

(Acquired: bookstore)

I didn't write any notes on this book when I finished it because I read Threads of Malice during my crazy summer. Because of that, I don't have a lot of grand specifics and so I'm posting this note with the review of Valley of the Soul. Threads had all the elements I love in Tamara Siler Jones' writing with the characters I've enjoyed before growing and changing perspectives. It really pulls at the heartstrings and makes you aware no one is exempt from the troubles in this world. Since I've been following the progress of the seeding aspects of the mystery, I will say I found this book better seeded, though still not there yet for me. I felt neither the glance back and that makes sense nor that I really knew the answer when the killer was revealed, but I felt closer to knowing the answer if that makes sense in comparison to Ghosts in the Snow. The details of the world and the depth of the characters is what draws me to her writing though and those remained strong. The level of detail can be a bit intense, but I never felt it diminished the story. I'll admit I don't know if that level of sheer gross out is necessary, but then at the same time I watch CSI so maybe I'm not the best judge. Whatever you think about the graphic violence, the story is strong and compelling. If you have the stomach, go for it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Valley of the Soul by Tamara Siler Jones

(Acquired: blog contest on by Jean Schara)

In Valley of the Soul, everything that I've liked about the previous two books was there, and every quibble I had with the previous two books is gone. This novel brings Tamara Siler Jones' talents to fruition with engaging characters, a compelling story line, her normal dash of gore (though maybe not in as much detail as usual), and the story seeds to pull me through the mystery. I've learned a lot about myself as a reader because Tamara challenged my statement about the very first book that it wasn't seeded well enough in the beginning. Usually I am a reader first and an analyst second, if at all. In the discussions regarding Ghosts in the Snow, though, I had to articulate and understand just what I look for in a book, specifically, what elements are there to involve me in the mystery and pull me along. I have to play the detective role, for example. I'm not one who can simply watch a mystery unfold and ooh and aah. And interestingly, I don't have to have the right clues; I just have to see things that have the potential to be clues. I'm a magpie looking for the bright shineys and when they're not there, I'm disappointed. But if I can collect a little pile of might-be-somethings, I'm pulled along in the search to prove which, if any, actually are something. I'll admit my accuracy is quite high, but that's because I'm a slow, detailed reader. I'll pick up clues the author doesn't even realize she dropped. Which is why when I don't see them, I really don't see them :).

Now enough about me, back to the book. I can't say much about this novel in specific without spoiling something, so for those of you who haven't read it yet, I'll refrain. What I will say is that the personal relationships and the grounded culture persist in this volume. You learn more about the characters' lives, their present and their past, while watching those same relationships mature and change. Dubric has his own monsters to face when trying to give himself permission to live again while Dien is torn between his duties and being a father. Lars and Jess continue their tale as well, with some interesting twists, and you'll get to visit with many other characters you've met in the previous books and, I hope, enjoyed as much as I did. Seriously, I found much to like in the first two, with a few rough edges that got more rounded with each book. Everything comes together in Valley of the Soul and would put Tamara on my always read list if she wasn't there already. Though this book has a lot that relates back to the earlier ones, I think it reads even as a stand alone. If you haven't tried Tamara Siler Jones, pick up Valley of the Soul. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver,
and The Bull from the Sea

I know, I know, I should never have promised to try for more frequent updates. But in the week that I skipped, I had the best excuse of all...the flu. Which gave me time, of all things, to read :). I've now read Valley of the Soul, the first Alana book, and DragonQuest (recommended by my youngest). I've just started Scardown as well. It's been an interesting mix with the fantasy/mystery/thriller, two young adult books with very different approaches, and now a cyberpunkish science fiction. It's all in the mood when I approach that book shelf :).

Anyway, as promised, my notes on A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. I'm combining this with the Renault notes because they are both older books and my notes were sparse.

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

(Acquired: family)

Another book I was supposed to read. This one is a bit embarrassing because my older sister lent it to me and then bought me my own copy so she could have hers back because I took too long. On the other hand, I'm great at guilt motivation so I have now read it. This is a fascinating look at the history of Eleanor of Aquitaine from the perspective of Eleanor and her family and friends waiting for Henry to be released into heaven. I'd recommend it to those interested in the politics of the time but who prefer not to slog through dry history. It'll give a good sense of the place for sure :).

The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault

(Acquired: bookshelf)

Though not written in a modern style, this is a compelling look at the Greek life in ancient times. I grew up on Greek mythology, so the tale of Theseus is not a new one to me, but Mary Renault brings it to life. She tells the tale not of the young man sent to the labyrinth but of the scarred warrior who came back. He makes some poor choices, mocks the warnings of the gods, and has to recover from his mistakes. These elements are very traditional for Greek mythology and so somewhat predictable, but putting the pieces together as you try to figure out what the gods meant and whether he's going to properly navigate those waters now is half the fun.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

After failing to mark that I'd read this one already on the spreadsheet...which I will be updating soon, I thought I should start here.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

(Acquired: blog contest on by Jean Schara)

This novel's comment ended up being a victim of the summer madness so I'm writing it not when the read is fresh but some time later. That said, sometimes the immediate reaction isn't always the true one. That's not the case with Into the Wilderness, or at least the sense of wonder and history and immersion still lingers.

It's been a while since I've read a historical novel set in the Americas with the exception of romance novels, and those are usually set in the American West. This book gave a good sense of the time and the contradiction between independence offered and actually given.

The female main character is betrayed on some level by practically everyone in her pursuit to be a teacher for the local children, even, she thinks, by the man she loves. The story takes us through a twisted tangle of deceit and desperation, showing both the perspective of those who had already settled the territory and those, primarily from Great Britain, who are the newcomers.

The tension between the "wild man" personalities of the original trappers who broke this ground and the "civilized" folks, who came later, is well drawn and compelling while at the same time not stereotypical. For example, one of the worst examples of the wild man, who doesn't wash, barely communicates, and is closer to the beasts he traps than those who live in their little houses, turns out to have more to him than the gruff appearance he presents...though not much more ;). The story also considers issues of racism and slavery with both Native Americans and characters with an African heritage as it is set on the brink of change when slavery is both no longer accepted by rote and still an important part of the economy.

I'm trying to speak in generalities so as not to spoil the book for anyone planning to read it, but at the same time pass on some of the flavor and depth of this story. It is very much a historical novel. If you don't like immersing yourself in a place and time where the rules are different and the people might not have exactly the same values you expect, save yourself the trouble. And the opposite is also true. If how you like to explore the flavor of a place is through fictional accounts where your eyes are opened to the contradictions and conflicts between people whose natures and beliefs are so opposed as to be a constant source of violence even among supposed friends? I'd highly recommend Sara's book. Her next one is out, and it's going on my to buy list for sure.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The "Weird Romance" of theater

I know I promised books, but I just had a wonderful experience and wanted to share :).

I grew up around theater with a father who loves to act, a little sister who is now part of the management team of an acting troupe, and a mother and older sister who like seeing plays as much as I do.

I recently moved, putting me out of reach of my parents and sisters, and in a whole new climate with no one to introduce me to the theater scene. At $7-$12 a ticket, most community and college theaters are well within my reach, but going to plays on my own is just no fun. My husband does not love plays the way I do, and has a dislike for musicals (or so he says but his love of Les Miserables and some others disputes that ;)).

So last year my oldest started with his high school drama program, which gave me the opening to drag him to some plays with me. I was impressed by the quality of the high school plays, but there weren't enough to satisfy me :D.

And now I have a solution.

I went to Back to School night only to find that the drama teacher and teacher of two of my eldest's classes was absent...for the best of all reasons. I managed to get the information about his play from a small poster on the board in the corridor I don't normally use for the theater (it's the student class entrance not the visitor one) and asked my family who would come with me. Even if they'd all turned me down, I had a knife to twist in my older son because going would count for his drama classes.

The best news of all is that I didn't have to cajole or anything. When I brought it up, he said Freshman Seminar (don't ask) melted his brain so that by the time he got home he forgot to ask if he could go. So now I have my theater buddy, a designation supported by the amazing quality of the two one-act plays we got to see...and I get to be a good mom by helping him with his homework :D.

So thanks to his teacher, Rod Hearn, I have discovered a quality local theater :). I've been to many community and college theaters, as well as Broadway and off Broadway shows. Frankly, the quality of the performances vary significantly, making it hard to push for trying out new theaters. But that we knew someone in the cast? Perfect.

(Note: The last day of this run is today, so I'm not going to worry about spoilers for once :)).

Anyway, the two one-act plays made up a single performance called Weird Romance: The Musical! Oh, and I forgot to mention that they were also speculative fiction, so right up my alley in more ways than expected. My oldest knew about that part, but he didn't pass the info on to me and I'd missed it in the Back to School night rush.

The first play was based on a James Tiptree, Jr. short story and told the tale of corporate planning gone a step too far because of the elimination of advertising. The corporation creates a mindless body that can be controlled through personality transference, if only they can find the perfect candidate who will not reject this body.

That candidate is found in a recently mugged homeless woman whose greatest desire is for a door with a lock, two locks even.

The story progresses through the "mad scientist" falling for the homeless woman in her real form, and the president's son falling for the host form but seeing through to the truth in her eyes. She is unaware of the scientist and torn about the president's son because what he sees as honesty, she knows is a complete lie. When she tries to explain, the president triggers some implants in the host body and ends up killing the homeless woman, but not before his son realizes his love had nothing to do with the form she wore. The scientist learns he has no self esteem because he continues to do the president's bidding despite having fought him over triggering the pain implants that ultimately killed the woman he loved.

His son disowns the president, but that doesn't stop the corporate engine. The host body returns in six months with a new controller and his son goes to see her. The host body retains enough memory to recognize him, but the woman inside has nothing to do with his love, proving his love had told the truth and that it is truly all over.

I walked out of this play (at the intermission) stunned and amazed at the quality of the performances and the singing voices. The actual play bordered on going over the top with sexual and gay imagery, but everything worked as a whole and I wouldn't have removed a single element :). Both women playing the homeless woman and the host had incredible singing voices, the mad scientist, the son, and well, let's just say that not a single one disappointed me. Even the band and sound work was well done, balancing out the volume so that we could hear the lyrics when necessary. I had a minor quibble with the lighting when one of the spots swept the audience instead of the stage and blinded me, but overall there were a lot of fun things done with lights and a spare, functional set design. I thought nothing could top this performance...until the second play.

The second play, based on an original work by the playwright Alan Brennert, was a complete turnaround. Instead of the overblown corporate environment that speculative fiction often warns of, this play focused on an innovative scientist who has lost the pleasure in his work and in his life. His experiment takes an unexpected turn into the paranormal and he wants to shut it down, not willing to let the rigors of science become polluted with the possibility of paranormal activity.

His assistant fights back with a rousing musical plea to the heart of research that had the audience laughing and touched the place inside me that wants to go concoct an experiment and see what I can learn. The scientist himself is reluctantly affected and starts to interview the person who was born and is rapidly growing within his image machine. While his assistant goes searching down any information regarding the young woman who has invaded their machine, the scientist gives up everything to spend each moment trying to understand why this spirit chose to come back, denying his wife all affection and the hope of a child. He's obsessive and comes to wonder if he doesn't love his wife but rather this woman whose life he has re-experienced through her growth process.

His assistant returns in time to see the scientist struggling to help this image through the trauma of a miscarriage. She turns herself off, needing some time on her own and leaving him devastated. The assistant points out that at her current rate of aging, she'll soon be dead anyway, something that harms his boss even more.

The obsession grows to the point that the scientist moves out of his home into the lab, leaving his wife upset and unsure whether he'll ever come back.

The assistant discovers the woman actually died of that miscarriage and that her husband at the time had never recovered.

The spirit reveals herself to the scientist as his wife in a former life. She's come back to him to bring him through his grief so he can learn to live and love again. While he was asleep, she had called his wife and, using his voice, asked her to come. She tells him he has to let go, but he doesn't want to at first, seeing this as a second abandonment now that she's just been restored to him. Instead, she tells him to look to his new love and the child they both want.

The spirit fades in time for the wife to arrive and she and the scientist are reconciled with a much more hopeful future.

This play was humorous in moments, poignant, traumatic, and just wonderful. Again, every single singer and actor gave an excellent performance. This play was more powerful for me because of its emotional content, both in the moment of connection over research and the tears that came to my eyes as the scientist struggles with his love for his current wife and for his past one.

The only element that didn't work for me...and which I deemed unnecessary so it didn't make it into the summary...was the wife's friend who made sexual advances despite them going almost completely unnoticed by the wife. Though the friend was also a woman, that's not my issue. Had it been man instead, still the intrusion on the rest of the tale, possibly for humorous intent, was only an annoyance to me and went against my nature in that if the friend had been a friend, whether or not she felt attracted to the wife, she wouldn't have pushed when the wife was vulnerable.

And again the band, sound, lighting, use of set design, all blended together to make for an excellent performance. The trick to make what appeared to be a holographic projector was fabulous and successful in that the image did seem to be interacting directly with the characters.

In case you hadn't guessed it, I was quite impressed. I'm willing to be forgiving to enjoy the theater I love, but there was so little to forgive in this. Just pure enjoyment.

Anyway, this has gone on much longer than I had planned, a testament to how wonderful these plays really were. Maybe my descriptions will pique your interest and send you to check out your local theaters. This performance was at the Truckee Meadows Community College, put on by the Performing Arts Department though the talent came from many sources as shown by my son's teacher playing leading roles in both plays. While I can't expect every performance to be this wonderful (though who knows :)), I've signed up for their mailing list and you better bet I'm going back.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Update and an Opportunity to Choose What I Read Next

Here I go waiting almost a month before posting again. Sorry folks. It's not that my life isn't interesting, but rather the reverse. Those of you who come here from Forward Motion already know that since September 1st, I (with help) have moved, patched, and moved again the Forward Motion site thanks to issues with not one but two hosting companies. I'm happy where we are now (joined my personal site, Left Brain/Right Brian) at TigerTech and hope it will be a long, problem-free engagement :).

Also in the same timeframe, though stretching back to August 31st, I started a new novel. This is my first urban fantasy and an amazing run. This novel came into being on the 17th or 18th of August with absolutely no warning, shoved aside a psychological/philosophical science fiction novel I was planning to outline, and raced to the starting line for the Labor of Love writing challenge on Forward Motion. The first draft is estimated (by my handy dandy plotting spreadsheet ;)) to be about 74,000 words. That's a little short for the market, but it'll grow in the editing phases at least 5,000 to 80,000 (all counts done in MS Word). As of this morning, I was showing less than 20,000 words to go. Not counting the 10,000 I added on the 31st, apparently September has been my own personal National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), though I'll probably come in short of 50,000. However, writing has kept me sane when I couldn't find the energy to work on anything else. And I love this story :D. If you're interested in more about the novel, check the Lifespan of a Novel link in the left-hand sidebar. The link will take you to my writing blog, which I update somewhat more frequently under normal circumstances.

So there you have it. The left and right brain of Margaret McGaffey Fisk. I did not succeed in making much progress on critiquing, editing, or planning for NaNo, but on top of the site stuff, I had some health issues to work through. Overall I think I'm doing fine :). And you didn't really expect more than a monthly update here anyway, did you?

So, enough about me; let's talk about books, as in what I've been buying and sneaking a read.

My plan (putting it out here officially to push myself to do it) is to post at least one book review/comment post each week through October, and ongoing if it goes well. These posts may be short, and they certainly won't be fancy, but I hope they'll offer some input and raise some interest because I haven't found a bad novel on my shelf yet :). Just lucky I guess, but amazingly most of them are by people whom I consider at least acquaintances if not friends, and I know some pretty darn good writers if I must say so myself.

Part of this plan is to make sure I set time aside to read the things on my shelf. Buying sprees are pretty darn worthless if you don't get the books read, right?

So here's what I've done. I just updated my Books Read/Waiting list here: I am currently reading, and enjoying, Dark Thirst by Sara Reinke. She and I will be presenting a week-long class on editing techniques together for the Muse Online Conference in October, so I thought I should check out her writing style since I've already been to a presentation by Sara. I'm almost at the end and I won't spoil the eventual comment by saying more than that I've found it hard to put down.

And since I'm almost at the end, here's what I'd like you all to do. Please follow the link above or click the link in the left-hand sidebar to see what I've got (well, the portion I've keyed in). On the right-hand side of the table is a column indicating what date I've read the book. If the date is blank, I haven't read it yet.

In the comments, list your top three picks in order of preference for what I should read next. You can even toss in a comment of why for the fun of it. As I said, I'm almost done with Sara's book and sometimes the sheer variety of things to read can stall me into hanging out with the Atlantic Monthly and Scientific American for a couple weeks. Save me from a pure non-fiction binge and set your vote :D. I look forward to seeing what you think.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Domino Effect (Or Monday Cubed)

It's been a while since I've had a canary post for you all, and I don't have one now. I'd characterize this as more of a domino post myself ;).

First of all, I haven't been saying much on this blog because this has been a crazy summer for me with almost no time at home to get things done. Though I enjoyed each piece of my summer in isolation, I've been desperately looking forward to the start of school and some return to normalcy and productivity.

I should have known better :p.

First, two questions:

1) What is the shortest distance between two points?

2) How many teenagers will go out of their way to get more exercise?

Keep those answers in mind while I tell you of the start of the first day of school...which was, of course, a Monday.

Everyone got up on time and was ready, up to carrying their backpacks, with a good 10 minutes to spare. So at 7:12 we head out down to the bus stop (me on the way to my morning walk). At about 7:18, with the bus stop in sight, my oldest realizes he's forgotten his class schedule. He had it earlier, but set it down to read because they were ready too early.

He runs back to the house, gets it, then walks the distance to the bus stop, presumably because he's tired.

With 1-2 minutes to spare, he's within 12 feet of the bus stop and there's no sign of the big, yellow vehicle.

He missed the bus.

Why you ask? How is this possible especially since his walking speed is a quick jog for most people?

Well, when they planted this bus stop, they put it on the opposite side of a 35 mile an hour street with no crosswalk. There are no houses or access on the side of the street where the stop is, only the sound wall for a housing complex. Basically it is in the middle of nowhere with no safe or legal way to get directly to it. On our side of the street the wall is broken by an entryway, but again, there's no good way to get to the other side, where the bus is scheduled to go.

There is a crosswalk at the corner some distance ahead (put there actually because I complained about this exact circumstance for the middle school bus last year though on a different street), and another crosswalk some distance in the other direction at the park (also one I had to point out to the city was a dangerous place to terminate a walking path into a 35-mile an hour road with a park on the other side). Yes, I'm guessing both crosswalks were in the original planning, but they sure showed up pretty quickly after my husband and I got the acknowledgement from the city.

So, no bus in sight, bus stop right there, and what do I make him do? Go down to a crosswalk to cross. Already at least one teenager had just walked across the busy street right in front of me.

And so he missed the bus. Because he couldn't jaywalk in 35 mile an hour, relatively constant for the time we were standing there, traffic.

Remember the questions above? We have a high number of accidents involving school children in this town, though mostly the much younger crowd. While I agree that the school and its related agencies can't do everything to protect our children, I don't think it's too much to ask that they put the bus stops in safe locations, is it?

So anyway, to continue with the domino effect, my chance at a walk is done, gone, kaput. Instead, I take my oldest back to the house, grab my purse for my license, and run out to the car. He will not be late on the first day.

He gets to the passenger side and says, "Hey, who left this door open?"

No one has driven my car in several days. You guessed it. The battery is dead.

An emergency cell call to my husband who rushes out of work and drives my son to school, arriving with a full two minutes to spare.

What do I do? I call the bus company. I point out the illogic and the fact that I had to report the same problem last year, which they solved by adding a stop down at the crosswalk (not removing the problematic stop :p). She says she'll report the problem to the coordinator and took my name and number.

Sigh. Yeah right. Back to normalcy and productivity. Why is it then that I'm still up in arms and have spent my writing hour putting together this post? I suppose there's still hope for tomorrow, right?

Oh, and I forgot to mention that while writing this with my morning juice which is grape because we're out of orange for some reason I knocked my glass and splashed some...luckily almost all missed the light gray carpet :P.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Con Report for Confluence 2007 (With a little history ;))

Hmm, a con report. I did indeed say that I would do one for Confluence 2007 in Pittsburgh, PA. The only trick is that I've never written one before. On the other hand, this seems an appropriate moment simply because Confluence marked a number of first for me.

1) I'd never flown to a con before.
2) I'd never been in a con program book.
3) I'd never done a formal reading.
4) I'd never spoke on a panel.
5) I'd never sang one of my own songs in a filk circle.

And from that list (and the grin you can't see), you have to be able to guess I thought Confluence was a wonderful convention. It's a small convention, possibly even smaller than Potlatch, which I've been to once. This lent the con a more personal feel. Most of the con going I've done has been at Baycon, and for someone like me, the concept of hanging out chatting with "pros" in the hallways just isn't that easy. At Confluence, I found myself chatting with strangers without even thinking about it. Everyone seemed just as interested in having a great time as I was, and I found people to be very supportive.

Seriously, as a first convention, I can't imagine a better one than Confluence, and as one to try your hand at being part of the program, it was wonderful.

Okay, onto the story. It's been so long since I found out about the PARSEC (Pittsburgh's Premiere Science Fiction Organization) short story contest that I can't remember how it first came to my attention. I do remember that when the topic of "Hard Port" came out in 2003 (for the 2004 contest) I couldn't help thinking no one would think of something hard to carry. I wrote up my idea, sent it in, and was stunned to receive a second place win. Not only that, but Barbara Carlson invited me to appear in Triangulation 2004, at the time a publication limited to PARSEC members only. (The current editor, Pete Butler, would like everyone to know that it is open to all submissions as of 2007, and he looks forward to seeing what you can come up with.)

That year I also sold Curve of Her Claw to Fantasist Enterprises for Cloaked in Shadow, so I checked with Ann Cecil regarding my eligibility. Then, even with her go ahead, I failed to come up with a story for the 2005 contest. I thought the same thing was going to happen with 2006, but then Unique Worlds (under the first of its three titles ;)) came into mind not as a full story but as a little girl with such a mix of hope and fear in her eyes. I struggled with it a bit because I couldn't see the shape of the story. Luckily, for once I wasn't playing on the edge of the deadline. There were several times though that I thought the story wouldn't come together. And then it did in time for the deadline with a grand 9 days to spare!

At this point you're wondering what's all this about a story? I thought this was a con report?

Well, my story won first place in the PARSEC contest, which includes being printed in the convention program book for everyone to read. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I'd always gone to conventions as someone lost in the crowd. There, I'd have a purpose, a role. So I said I was coming, asked if they wanted me on the program, and Kira Heston and Laurie D.T. Mann made it happen :).

So anyway, that's how I came to be stumbling off a plane early in the morning after a night of flying with enough time to get food, check in, get settled (even take a nap because 7 AM in Pittsburg is a nasty 4 AM in my time zone :)) before registration opened. I failed to negotiate my way through the process as a participant, but a few helpful suggestions and I arrived at my first panel (for the second time) with everything I needed.

This first panel was Introducing: Dark Fantasy and the first ever panel I was a panelist for. I shared this distinction with four other folks including Wen Spencer (an excellent science fiction and fantasy writer who I knew already from Forward Motion) and Judi Miller (the filk sign language interpreter who I met in the registration line all unknowing). The panel might not have come to any firm conclusions regarding a hard and fast definition of dark fantasy, but we had an interesting discussion about what made it different from both horror and fantasy. Wendy Delmater (of Abyss and Apex) was a strong contributor from the peanut gallery, a timely choice since their latest issue focused on dark fantasy.

From there I went to Short Form Fantasy to hear a discussion on whether short form fantasy was a viable form including current trends observed in Realms of Fantasy toward fairy-tale retellings as opposed to unique worlds. The majority of panelists focused their efforts on novels or short stories that shared the world of their novels, so the first discussion was whether short mean a standalone work compared to a multi-book trilogy ;). It was there that I first caught sight of Joshua B. Palmatier who I knew from the Online Writer's Workshop listserv.

My next panel came soon after with What's Next for the Web? We discussed the influence of audience on what comes to be, how the development of content management systems has enabled anyone to produce content and what the limitations of those systems are, and numerous other topics related to the question, including the need for dynamic content, and tricks to creating dynamic content with minimal effort.

The New Space Opera panel discussed whether the latest wave of Space Opera was a British or US invention, who might fall into that category based primarily on their short works, and a bit of the history along with some of the definition quibbles.

I spent the rest of the evening in the filk room until way too late at night, first listening to a memorial filk circle for Cynthia McQuillin and Leigh Ann Hussey, then joining in with open filk. My sister and I even sang a version of the poem Sea Fever that I set to music back in 8th grade :) all in haunting minor chords.

In an insane bit of nostalgia, my sister and I decided we wanted to watch Johnny Quest. This meant getting up a bare 5 hours after we'd crashed in bed (ignoring that the previous night was spend transferring between airplanes. We did manage it, watched an episode full of child-endangerment and illogical statements like, "I don't see any bad guys so I guess it's safe for you to go wandering in a 100-year old rotting hulk," (okay paraphrased :)), but still good fun.

I then slipped off to do the writing exercises, struggling with my Palm all the way, because I don't write by hand. Still, good exercises in which we explored different dialogue techniques such as how to work around to something or convey a statement or emotion without saying it outright. This also soothed my writing deprived soul enough so I could enjoy the conference guilt free :).

I went to a vocal workshop with Margaret Davis and Kristoph Klover who I had heard several times in the Bay Area. The exercises had some interesting variations just perfect for a science fiction convention, such as Muadib done to a rising and falling scale. We ended with the first verse of Will You Go (a Gaelic folksong from Brigadoon) which happens to be a favorite of mine.

Sadly, I missed Wen Spencer's reading due to too much going on all at once. It was hard to keep track of where I wanted to be at any particular time because there were always at least 2 if not more things I wanted to do or see. I skipped out on all but the early morning videos because though they would have been fun, I can see them elsewhere, which is not true of the panels and such.

I ended up missing or being late to several panels just because I ended up in an interesting conversation with someone, something that speaks to the comfortable atmosphere of this conference more than anything else. And yes, I had at least two bathroom conversations, but none with an agent and certainly not while clutching pitch material to my chest :).

I did make it to Alan Irvine's Irish Folktales, which is the true way to experience an Irish tale, and he did a wonderful job of making the stories come to life through vocal inflection and body movement.

I also went to Joshua B. Palmatier's reading and heard a bit from the world of Skewed Throne, which I'd been intending to check out for some time. My copy should arrive in the mail in the next week or so ;).

The panel on Glitches in Books and Movies turned out to be rants as opposed to how to avoid making the same, but the analyses of some of the works were interesting anyway.

And now looking at the schedule I see another panel I would have wanted to go to but missed. Isn't that always the way with schedules. I would have liked to have seen the swords though.

The discussion on Speculative Fiction Markets ended up going to the audience a bit more than expected, but we discussed some of the good markets out there and how to find new markets. We also touched on anthologies and where they fit in a writer's career. (Note: I say we not because I was on this panel but because they opened it to the audience and this is an area that I have quite a bit of expertise so contributed on a few points.)

The presentation of Grease Wars: A Musical Travesty was great fun. The play itself, by Luke Ski, was a well done combination of the two (Grease and Star Wars) and everyone did a grand time making it come to life. Oddly for the venue, it made me want to re-watch Grease not Star Wars, but...

The rest of Saturday was spent on filk, two concerts and then the open filk, though I didn't manage to stay up quite as late as the previous night :).

Sunday started early again with Thunderbirds Are Go!, a sad misunderstanding when I was thinking of Thunder Cats and honestly I think the extra hour of sleep would have done me better ;).

Again I joined in with the writing exercises, this time on cutting passages down to the telling details, which brought forth a character whose tale I still have to discover.

From there I dove into the science part of science fiction, starting with Low Tech Ain't No Tech which was a discussion on advanced scientific techniques used by ancient cultures, everything from medical science to the aqueducts and roads that still stand today, unlike the nearby highway that will need another resurfacing soon ;).

Then I went to Running Away from Science which ended up as an interesting discussion over whether science has moved so far beyond the public grasp that it fails to compel and what value do pseudosciences like astrology have to offer such that so many are willing to devote time to learning and understanding them.

I had to slip away early to do my first autographing session ever, something that didn't do so well as far as how many signatures I doled out, but which resulted in quite a few good conversations about the different topics we'd discussed in the panels.

The Robotics Presentation by Chris Urmson provided a behind the scenes look at the strengths and weaknesses of the challenges and what the teams went through to qualify and even place.

Here again I had to sneak out to make sure I made it to my own reading. I closed out the conference with Jamie Lackey, both of us reading our PARSEC contest stories. Among other things, the contrast between my story (an urban fantasy) and hers (an epic fantasy) showed just how not limiting a theme-based contest can be. Those who stayed to hear us seemed to enjoy themselves and some even came forward to pick up one of my cards (designed by Hanna Sandvig -- (See Below)). Maybe some of them will seek out my other publications.

I did go to the dealer's room and the art room in the few times when I didn't want to be somewhere else. Both of them were full of fascinating displays.

So there it is. A busy con, and I made it to probably less than a fourth of the offerings, and probably about half to three-fourths of the ones I wished I could have managed. Definitely a time when temporary clone technology would have come in handy.

As a convention goer, I'd say it's a busy, welcoming, fun convention. As a participant, especially a first timer, I'd say everyone was extremely helpful, from Wen Spencer steering me right on getting my name card, to the panelist who, when I asked a question from the very back, first introduced me to the audience as the PARSEC short story winner. Despite the distance, when I can manage the trip, I plan to head on back just because it was a wonderful experience that I'd love to repeat.

And that's my convention report. A little long winded, but I couldn't talk about one thing and not another. Hope you enjoyed it if you lasted this long, and that you'll consider giving Confluence a try :).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Review of Jim Baen's Universe, October 2006

Jim Baen's Universe, Volume 1, Number 3, October 2006.

I've never reviewed a magazine on my blog before, but I couldn't pass up a free magazine :). I had no idea what I was getting into, or that I would enjoy it so much. I read everything except the two serial novels (because they're already in the middle in this issue) and the classic story from Rudyard Kipling (because I didn't want to miss my deadline). I'm a dedicated reader but more of the slow and steady type than the Speedy Gonzalez one. I read half a dozen different SF and fantasy magazines on and off. I don't think I've ever had as high a ratio of stories I like to those I don't in a magazine. Some of these tales were just stunning and amazing, and almost all of them were good. I only remember one story I didn't like and it may have been an audience issue. Below I put a couple of sentences in response to each story so you can judge for yourself.

As far as the magazine goes, I have to say I'm impressed.

The illustrations seemed well matched to the stories overall, and enjoyable in their own right. My son glanced over my shoulder while I was reading one day and absolutely loved Laura Givens' conception of John Barnes' spaceship.

I did find the lack of contributor notes odd. I would have liked to know more about the authors I didn't recognize immediately...and to verify my supposition about some of the stories (to see whether there's a gap between what a newer author writes and what one who has been around for a while does). Some of the stories have a little note at the end, so the choice of not saying anything might have been the author's choice rather than the editor (a position I sympathize with since I struggle with those mini-bios.

I found the "If you like...You should try..." column that was tucked in at the end of a story a wonderful addition. At first I thought it was just an advertisement, which I suppose it is in some ways, but it's a good guide to the possibility of discovering new (or older but missed) authors.

On an odd note, the TOC is not in order in the PDF version I was given. Also, I tried to put the PDF on my Palm with the latest reader from Adobe and the errors were dramatic (like whole paragraphs excised. I understand Baen's Universe is usually delivered in an online environment, but if a PDF version is available, I hope they look into the incompatibilities. That said, the only other things that bugged me about the technical aspects were occasional proofreading errors, but as a copyeditor, I know how hard it is to catch everything and only in one of the articles did they occur with enough frequency to pull me out of what I was reading.

What I can say is that this experience has me thinking to count my pennies and ante up the subscription fee. As slow as I read, I want my time spent on worthwhile texts. Jim Baen's Universe satisfied my fiction needs and tossed in a couple of science and editorial articles for extra measure.

Specific comments about the content are below:

Science Fiction Stories

o All the Things You Are by Mike Resnick
I have to say that I'm a long-time Resnick fan so his story is both familiar and new. He has a distinctive voice that's clearly present in this tale. While the idea of the story did not read to me as a unique one, the voice and Resnick's specific take on the concept made for a good read.

o The Old Woman in the Young Woman by Gene Wolfe
The Old Woman in the Young Woman offers up an interesting take on both a post-apocalyptic world, and the question of clones and clone morality. Though not a traditional story-telling style, the narrative is catchy and the story explores, in its short moment, interesting questions.

o Every Hole is Outlined by John Barnes
Every Hole Is Outlined matches the feel of the two previous tales and surprisingly belongs to old style SF. Whereas newer stories expend their focus on drawing the reader into the headspace and emotions of the characters, these tales, Every Hole Is Outlined especially, hold the reader at an almost philosophical distance. The events are described in a fuzzy memory type way where the characters drift through events rather than feeling the touch of them. It makes the stories no less compelling, and this one definitely took the philosophical aspect to heart. I suppose these are more what I would call idea stories than character stories. Ultimately, Every Hole Is Outlined provides no answers that I could see, just information to contemplate and the feeling that someone would always be left to consider that information.

o A Time to Kill by S. Andrew Swann
A Time to Kill was just simply brilliant. This story is more in the personal style I've come to expect but at the same time it didn't tell a story so much as expose the story through a series of interconnected events. I can't say more without spoiling it, but I'll say this: It's generally accepted that unique time travel stories are pretty much exhausted with the plausible avenues already explored. This story proves that wrong and right all at once. Well worth the read.

o The Man Who Wasn't There by Gregory Benford
The Man Who Wasn't There is a short and sweet piece of hardware science fiction, a nature borne out by the masterful illustrations. Personally, I think it suffered from following immediately after A Time to Kill simply because both dealt with the issue of terrorism. At the same time, I've been waiting to see someone use the technology of that see-through suit and this portrayal came off well, if a little technical. This is hard SF at its best, and somewhat of its worst. The gadgets are fun and the way they work is explained in enough detail that I couldn't tell, with the ones I hadn't heard about, what was made up and what existed at least in prototype form. At the same time, this story tries to convey the emotional impact of a personal vendetta and that emotion didn't come across to me. It was too lost in the technobabble (which admittedly I enjoyed). That makes the epitaph all the more poignant in some ways because, though this story is written for one who I have to assume died in a terrorist bombing, the emotional impact just hasn't reached out of the story to me.

o Little Sips by Barbara J. Ferrenz
I have to question the classification of this story as science fiction, but that didn't stop me from being caught up in the storytelling. I can pick up situational clues rather quickly so the end came as no surprise. If anything, the doctor taking so long to see the connection between the two was more of a shock. On the other hand, the way the story came together and built, and especially the last hiccup at the end, was compelling and kept me reading even though I already knew the shape of the story. The ability to hold my attention that way shows real talent.

o Great Minds by Edward M. Lerner
This is an odd little story. Nothing comes as a surprise and it offers no themes that haven't been covered many times before. However, the story is short enough that despite the well-trod territory, it managed to keep me. The end has a cute twist, but I have to say this is the weakest of the stories I've read in the issue so far simply because it has nothing new to say.

o The Power of Illusion by Christopher Anvil
This story is a powerful combination of two tales, one set in a medieval-style culture on an alien planet, and the other in an interstellar military force commanded to keep another alien race in check. It's a story about instincts, generosity, and courage. The story is a long one, but it kept me going, made me want to see and understand the whole of it. A good read with an interesting message in the end.

Fantasy Stories

o Protection Money by Wen Spencer
This is an excellent extension of the Tinker world and the issues it will have to face now that the invasion has been dealt with. As a fan of Tinker, I enjoyed the story, but I wonder how it will seem to someone who has not read the book? In my opinion, the "catch up" material offered little to strengthen the story and not enough to ground someone who hasn't read Tinker. That said, if the backstory is skimmed, Protection Money still offers a strong story about learning the truth about yourself and defining who and what you are. I did have a problem with the first illustration though because it seemed to clash with the description. The image offered rounded ears while the story described cat ears.

o Baby Girl by Jon Skovron
This is a cute story with an interesting narrative voice and a funny ending. I enjoyed the almost traditional feel to it. As a "deal with the devil" story, it offered some unique twists and amusing turns that kept me reading.

o Femme Fatale by Jason Wittman
Wow! This story is powerful, strange, and sad. It has the feel of a torch song sung in a smoky bar, a little bit of light and a whole lot of sadness mixed in with the wonder.

o Gnome Improvement by Rebecca Lickiss
Another cute and fun story. It made no attempt to hide the truth of what was going on, but knowing didn't change the sweet nature of the tale, or how the characters grew to love something they weren't even sure they could believe in.

o A Hire Power by J. Simon
LOL! Okay, this story falls somewhere, I just don't know where. It's almost a vignette, but it has enough elements of a beginning, middle, and end to stretch beyond that. Does it have a point? Not really, but it's a fun frolic through the red tape of a futuristic, magic-based society. And if that's not enough to make your head spin, I don't know what would.

Introducing: Stories by New Authors

o The Men in the Mirror by Steven Ray
This is a weird story. It seemed at first quite traditional and, especially with the confused pronouns, not all that appealing to me. Having read through to the end, I still think I'm not the audience for this story. It's got too much that I've read before and too little to distract me from that fact. However, the ending does strengthen the overall, making it a better story than I had first expected.

o Songbird by Jeremiah Sturgill
Songbird is an amazing story (I almost typed song) with its entirety in the cadence in the echoes of an old man's thoughts. While not in any way a traditional form, it has power, and a message, and heart. This story tells me that Jeremiah Sturgill is an author to watch, one who creates stories that echo within me.

o Devil May Care by Jason Kahn
A curious story, this starts out with what has become a traditional portrayal of a bureaucratic Hell. However, the details of the setting make it well drawn, while the story itself is appealing. A fun read.

NonFiction Articles

o Doing a Slow Turn by David Brin
An interesting article that is simultaneously cynical and optimistic. I can't really give an objective opinion on the contents because I'm what I call an optimistic realist. Yes, I know the world is populated by idiots (myself included at least at times) but that each has the ability, given the opportunity, to both prove me wrong and stand up for all that is good about humanity. Brin suggests we look around us and notice the good in people. Trust me, you won't have to look far. I was hiking at Yellowstone National Park last week and had lost my sunscreen. There I was at the top of a mountain, already turning pink, and some complete stranger shared his sunscreen. Everyone is capable of acts of kindness and consideration as much as of rudeness. It's a choice.

o Terraforming: A Bumpy Road Ahead by B. B. Kristopher
This is an extremely pessimistic/realistic article on the realities of terraforming the planets within our solar system. I was somewhat shocked to reach the end and find a viable proposal because the step by step destruction of all options led me to expect a downbeat ending in which there are no options. Oddly, the option proposed is the one I've always expected. Terraforming whole planets from one environment to another always seemed a bit grandiose, something more of science fantasy than science fiction. This article nicely brought out facts to support those gut instincts, and offered another approach that seems much more plausible. Note that readers who hate copyedit issues will find a few teeth to grind in this piece though.


o Salvos against Big Brother:

Copyright: How Long Should It Be? by Eric Flint
In this article, Eric Flint offers up a clear analysis of the purpose and effects of copyright law. While I thought he was heading in a direction I don't agree with at first, by the middle he had my vote. Not only did he speak to my gut instinct that extending copyright past the author's lifetime is off, but he provided specific arguments to show that no one benefits from that with a very few exceptions. This is an interesting, well-grounded article that I hope gets read by the "right" parties where it can make a difference.

o The Editor's Page: October 2006 by Eric Flint
This editorial is a surprisingly detailed look at the financial projections and future of the magazine itself. Along with insights into the whole market of electronic publishing, Eric Flint gives us a look into the planning and current status of the magazine. He ends in a resounding statement that Baen's Universe has passed the first hurdle and is on the road to security. Oddly, one of the things mentioned in the article is something I've struggled with in writing this review. Baen's Universe offers an incredible wealth of quality material. Even with the planned reduction in issue size, it will have more than any of the leading paper magazines offer in a single issue. I hadn't realized just how much reading I would have to do to complete this review, but can't find it in myself to regret signing up.

To wrap this up, whether in the generals or my specific reactions to the stories, I think my enjoyment is pretty obvious. I hope Jim Baen's Universe has a long future and that more and more people move to accept the electronic form for magazines because this would be a sad one to miss. Click this link to check it out: Jim Baen's Universe

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Zette Appreciation Day

The Official Announcement of Zette Appreciation Day

There are a few people in this world who think first of others and a better example has never been found than Lazette Gifford. She would give the coat off her back and the precious minutes of her day away to anyone she thought she could help.

People like Zette rarely receive the notice they deserve. Complainers tend to speak louder than those who quietly appreciate her efforts. With that in mind, we have declared a Zette Appreciate Day to give those who she has helped the opportunity to speak up...and maybe introduce a few new people to the wonderful person Zette is.

P.S. Word went out by whisper campaign to keep this a surprise so if you were somehow missed, it's certainly not too late. Jump on the bandwagon and be welcome. Write up your post on your blog or website then post a link in the comments here. That goes for those who did know as well. If all goes well, the comments will contain a collection of links so we can share the experience.

Also, add a link to this post at the bottom of yours, so people who find one can find them all.

My Post:

When I first arrived at Forward Motion, back when Holly Lisle still ran the site, I quickly learned Zette was one of the ones to set the writing bar. Umm...two years later, I realized that was completely impossible and scaled my goals back down to what a normal person could conceivably achieve.

And it's not just in writing that Zette shows her incredible drive, creativity, sheer stick-with-it-ness, and open heart.

Just off the top of my head, I can come up with a small fraction of Zette's projects: writing; photography; editing; managing a Double Dragon Publishing imprint; managing/editing Vision, a free webzine for writers; and of course, running the Forward Motion site where the amount of time she devotes to coming up with creative activities and to making the site better for all of us is incredible.

And because it's me, I have to say her ability to get other people involved is also remarkable.

I was laid off from a tech job some years ago and my career counselor tried to get me to write articles about my experiences. I tried to wrap my mind around the concept that someone would be interested in what I had to say and failed. Two years later, Zette poked me in FM chat about writing a non-fiction article for Vision. I had the same reaction, but she said that was nonsense. So I said I'd think about it, fully planning to forget the whole crazy idea. Umm, not only did I write one article for Vision, I wrote several. And have had people unknown to me mention the articles on their blogs, in newsletters, and in conversations. I guess people were interested in what I had to say, something I would never have discovered without Zette. Oddly, she doesn't even remember pushing me to do it. Encouraging people just comes by instinct.

But that's Zette for you. She'll offer to help with what she can, encourage you to act on skills you might not know you have, help you gain confidence in the skills you do have, and generally provide a thriving, supportive environment all while she's scrambling quietly in the background to accomplish the mountain of tasks she's taken on.

I'm not a public speaker (writer) despite having taken courses in it so I know this all sounds hokey, but the emotions behind it, the stunned amazement, gratitude, and appreciation, are all heartfelt.

Thank you Zette for everything you do every single day no matter what the challenges you might be facing. (And I even refrained from using smilies.)

To learn more about Zette:

Forward Motion -
Vision -
Zette's website -


Check out the other tributes in the links below or in the comments: *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments* *Moved from comments*

More to come as I get them or as they are added to comments.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

5 Mini Reviews

I just looked at my notes and realized that though I'd been writing up the mini-book reviews, I hadn't posted any of them. If nothing else, this really makes me aware of just how many books I've been reading. Here are some brief reviews for your enjoyment.

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear

(Acquired: bookstore)

I've been planning to read something by Ebear for quite some time so when I saw her first novel at the store, I picked it up. As a first novel, it shows real talent and I look forward to reading more. I put first novels in three categories: not interested, amazing, and shows potential. This novel fell in the shows potential category because it didn't knock my socks off but at the same time the characters are compelling and the world setup is interesting. My biggest problem isn't the book's fault at all. Somehow I'd missed the memo that this was one third of a story and nothing on the cover warns me.

Edited -- I just asked a question of Elizabeth Bear only to find out that what I'd believed, that Hammered was the first third of a book split by the publisher, is false. She had written it as a trilogy with the first two books complete when her agent sold the first (and the other two as well). Honestly, I don't know how much that changes in my opinion about Hammered. Whether written as one huge book or a closely tied trilogy, I don't feel Hammered had a strong interim conclusion. Would this have bothered me if the cover made it clear? Probably not. So the rest of my note still holds. The incorrect part is now in square brackets.

[In talking to friends, I learned Jenny's story was originally one huge book that Spectra split into three.--a rumor] I question the decision not to indicate that on the cover because this piece doesn't come to a satisfactory close for me as nothing much is resolved. Knowing as I do now that it is only a third of the story and because other elements of the book did satisfy, I plan to snag the next two. Without that knowledge, what would tell me that Ebear could write a satisfying conclusion? And this is the kind of thing out of the author's control that can impact careers. That said, it doesn't seem to have stopped Ebear any :D. And I only expect the stories to get stronger because the characters and the interesting worlds are already there.

An interesting note is that Locus treated them all as one book for a Best First Novel award. Maybe that's where the rumor started.

Speed Dating by Nancy Warren

(Acquired: We Hear You)

I don't know whether this is representative of the Harlequin NASCAR line or not, but this book is a wonderful return to everything I loved about romances when I first started reading. If you read for the raunchy bits, don't bother with this book. No, this one is all about the people and the tension between them. It's about two people discovering what makes them tick and what makes them whole. Even knowing that they have to find a way back to each other, there were points that made me cry. For an emotionally powerful read, look no further :).

Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

(Acquired: family)

Yeah, I know. I'm behind the rest of the world. When we first started reading Harry Potter, I would sit in the living room with my two boys all washed up and ready for bed curled up next to me and my hubby relaxed in a chair as I read as long as I could hold out. But then my boys got tired of how slow it took me to get through the stories and so stole the books to read on their own and after a while they became nothing more than a placeholder on my to-be-read shelf, where they came and went depending on who wanted to reread them next. So I was given an ultimatum. The movie comes out this summer and frankly the movies are often pastiches instead of stand-alone stories as they try to cover even a fraction of the elements in the books. So I started reading. Unlike many people, I don't see that much original in Harry Potter. That's not to say they aren't enjoyable, it's just that I don't get the charge my kids do for example. On the other hand, I'm usually sucked in. This book however took too long to start and I came to understand why I'd started it and put it down before. There were some chapters that sucked me in to the point that I extended my reading time just to absorb them, and others it took two to three reading times (until I established the one chapter minimum rule for myself) before I got through them. My impression of this book is simple. I think it needed, deserved even, a better edit pass to cull some of the draggy bits and make the story flourish. Ultimately the story was a good one, but the read felt too much like a slog. I know there's a lot out there who will disagree, and that's fine. They're welcome to their opinions. I think this is a sad example of good authors who aren't reined in as well once they start raking in the bucks. Rather than pushing for recycled paper, I would have appreciated a closer look at the content for this volume at least and I'm finding some of the same issues with the Half Blood Prince (since I was on a roll, I figured I'd just keep going :)).

The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

(Acquired: family)

When I finished Order of the Phoenix, I really thought I'd seen the start of J.K. Rowling's decline. I've seen it in famous authors before where it just seems they no longer care about the quality of the story. That book had chapters that captivated me, but they were tucked in amongst a lot off floating. Anyway, I could not have been more surprised by The Half-Blood Prince once I got rolling. My chapter system defeated me with this book, but not because I struggled to finish a chapter at just one sitting. Rather I had to force myself away and go on to other things. I don't spoil, so I can't give any examples, but even with someone spoiling for me the "who dies" question, there were enough other surprises to have me stunned at the end. I'd pegged who owned the potions book before, but that was a minor reveal compared to what else happened in the book. I can't believe how quickly I read through it and am really looking forward to the next one, something I couldn't say with Order of the Phoenix. I guess the bottom line is that I am impressed and no longer think she's started to decline :).

Thunderstruck by Roxanne St. Claire

(Acquired: We Hear You)

I've mentioned this romance novel in several conversations because it demonstrated something successfully that I was trying to work out in my mind: how to withhold information within the POV of the knowledgeable character without the reader feeling cheated. It was a good story with a bit of intrigue, a bit of mystery, a good cross between instinctive chemistry and the determination to fight it for good reasons. I usually enjoy almost every romance novel I read because they tend to be good at meeting specific expectations. So far I've been very impressed by the Harlequin NASCAR line just because the two I've read have managed to give me good emotions while also giving a strong showing compared to other books that aren't constrained by the restrictions of happily ever after. I'm also happy to see the greater focus on both sides of the picture, male and female, because it makes the romance a matter of two lives coming together and working through issues rather than a more limited focus.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lea Schizas Appreciation Day

When I first heard of a day to recognize the contributions Lea Schizas has made, I signed up immediately because I think the people who contribute their time to helping others deserve the recognition, and at the same time, it helps build awareness of what resources are out there for those trying to find, or improve, their footing.

I learned of Lea through the Muse Online Conference. I saw a post about it last year, made a note to sign up, and figured I could participate in a few interesting chats and carry on with my life. Boy was I wrong :). The conference had the same gloriously overwhelming abundance of information about writing techniques, publishing, preparing submissions, and a ton of other topics offered in both chat and listserv format. I found myself unable to keep up with the loads of assignments I wanted to participate in, but those that I managed were strong and fun.

Since then, when I would have collapsed into a puddle of exhaustion, Lea has kept the listserv running, and continues to both encourage good writing questions and share her own experiences to help answer those questions. She's run a class to help beginners build a writing website and hosted several chat classes for this time between the conferences.

But I think the strongest testament to her influence is watching the people who have taken what they learned and ran with it. Several people have participated in blog tours, both hosting and being hosted; interviews are mentioned; and chats are being hosted.

I haven't had the time yet to implement even a fraction of what I've learned through Lea, but I know that learning will be there when I'm ready.

Me, I like to go to conferences in my pajamas ;) and I hope to see Muse Online continue to grow and attract even more writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

And while I spoke about the conference, that's not the sum total of Lea's contributions. Check out these links to know more about what she has to offer and I hope to see you at the conference next October. Just be prepared, and like any other conference, don't plan to get much other stuff done :).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Odd Things Meme

I was tagged by several people, and it has been awfully quiet around here. But you all are going to regret making me do this. Coming up with 8 things no one knew was tough! The last is a little creepy :D.

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

My odd facts?

1. I've been chased out of a desert minaret by an army. Everyone survived and I didn't spill the coke bottle I was holding closed with my thumb either.

2. In Elementary School, I played a kangaroo in The Nutcracker (and yeah, I know there isn't a kangaroo in the play, but...).

3. I have actually written fan fic, though I had no idea what it was at the time. I wrote a story starring Mr. Happy ( when I was 8 or so and even pasted each page on construction paper as a book.

4. I once performed two songs at an open mic night at a coffee house in Dupont Circle (and neither dropped my guitar nor lost my voice, but BOY were my knees knocking ;)).

5. I collect musical instruments...that collect dust :p. My collection (not including the few that belong to my hubby) contains a classical guitar, a beautiful steel string, an electric guitar, a flute, numerous other wind instruments in the recorder/song flute family, harmonicas, even some drum type objects, and an electronic piano we all share.

6. My parents gave me my favorite afghan rug for my wedding...and I keep it rolled up in its cover because though they promised me cats wouldn't harm it because our Siamese never had, our alley cats shredded one corner and I'm not brave enough to try again even though we have different cats now.

7. I have a stuffed alien called Gringa whose eyebrows sink if I don't speak Spanish to her...they're pretty much permanently down and I can barely put together a simple sentence :P.

8. My teakettle has to have a lid for the spout because in my second apartment out of college we had one of the old style "I'm a little teapot" type and one day when I was refilling the water I found a 1.5 inch bloated spider that had clearly been boiled several times in it.

And I don't have anyone else to tag because they've already done it :).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Simple Miracle

Like most parents bringing up kids in this technological age, I tremble under fear of the dual forces of computer and television. I try to remember all the things I did for entertainment, but I get the "aww, Mooooooom," reaction. It's so bad that back when the boys were just starting school, I had to enforce a 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off rule with the computer or playstation just to protect their arms. Yeah, really. They came back from school complaining about their hands hurting. Despite their fervent hopes for a "does not need to work in class" pass, when their symptoms turned out to be real, I restricted any hand/arm injury aggravating behavior at home. They get one turn a day on games that we determine will hurt their hands based on repetitive motion.

You might be wondering where I'm going with this, but the background is necessary to understand my moment of pure joy :).

Last night after family time where we watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD... (Let me tell you that is a whole 'nother story because we watch it several nights a week and have quickly progressed from the earlier episodes into the college life which deals with events and issues requiring...more emotional maturity. "Can't we skip the kissing," is a frequent comment, much along the lines of the little boy in Princess Bride.) Anyway, back on topic. We'd started early for some reason and there were exactly 30 minutes before bedtime.

My youngest says to my oldest, "Do you want to take the turn?"

After confirming that I hadn't misheard and getting over the heart attack of the offer rather than a screaming fight over who gets the last turn, I got the second shock.

The answer was no!

The reason? The oldest had just received his Amazon order with four new books in a Forgotten Realms series he's been reading. And the youngest? After several false starts, thanks to an Anne McCaffrey short story in English class, he dove head first into the surprising (not ;)) number of McCaffrey's I have on my shelf having collected them for years.

While I'd love to see them spend more time outdoors and become more independent about getting themselves around...right now they go to Jamba Juice and least I have proof positive that something is more important than the electronics they use to fill what seems like almost every minute of the day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Some Book Commentary

Sorry it's taken so long for me to find something to talk about. It's been crazy with trying to keep up with all the tasks in my life and most of my thoughts, stray or otherwise, have gone into my writing and might have warranted a mention on my Live Journal, which is where I put my writing thoughts.

That said, I've been collecting not so much book reviews as notes about the various books I've been reading. Here there are. Not exhaustive by any means, but all spoiler free as far as I can tell :). I hope you enjoy.

Pretty Woman by Fern Michaels

(Acquired: friend)

This is an uplifting book about changing your life yourself and not depending on anyone else to do it for you. It was a good read.

i see you by Holly Lisle

(Acquired: grocery store)

This book is not a romance in my definition of them particularly, but a great story. I had many of the pieces to the mystery (some even the characters didn't catch though that was plausible), but didn't have the answer. I don't know if it's because my ability to pick up all the clues is failing, or because all the pieces aren't present to help people like me get the answer before everyone else. Though I can usually see the answer, it didn't bug me that I couldn't. The story is enjoyable without the answer, in part because there's more to it than just the mystery, though the fact that Dia's life is on the line is a primary concern.

I can't explain why I would say it isn't a romance without spoilers, but let's just say things happen that I can't get my head around in a romance. However, I do have to say that the label on the spine is Onyx Novel, not Onyx Romance, Romantic Suspense, or whatever. Even the back blurb focuses more on the terror than the couple, another clue :). That said, there is a love story buried in amongst the thriller plot for our enjoyment. And the romance sub-thread has one of the most amusing lines in it for me. If you've been reading along here, you'll already know how I detest the trend toward excitement-based relationships as opposed to those that the characters have to work at. Well, Dia thinks, "She would be able to see if it was him she was in love with, and not just the fact that he was keeping her safe from a nut who was trying to kill her." Yep. That's exactly my problem with romantic suspense. That the character sees the same issue is just precious :).

Anyway, I read this book because I know Holly's writing and enjoy how she creates characters and makes them come to life on the page. Considering how quickly I devoured i see you in my spare moments, many of which were stolen when I had other, "better," things to do, I'd have to say she succeeded :). Oh, and this is the first book ever I've had that came from a supermarket. My husband bought it for me at the local Smiths.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

(Acquired: Bookcrossing)

Does the fact that I'm craving hiking more than ever, that I want to walk the Appalachian Trail myself, offer any clue? This book is a cross between an irreverent look at the hiking culture and a history/environmental lesson. Harsh, no holds barred descriptions of both the people he met and his own reactions are interspersed with descriptions both of the history of the trail (including politics, bureaucracy, and environmental decision making) and of the trail itself. This book reveals just how difficult this trip is and how easy the concept, and the reality, can suck someone in.

Dragon America by Mike Resnick

(Acquired: family)

This is an interesting, enjoyable story, but it also felt a bit episodic. The events were absorbing, as were the characters. However, the two didn't seem to intersect. As a reader, it was more like reading about Paul Bunyan than actually being there. I saw the trouble they were in and could sympathize with it, but didn't feel it. This may be in part because of the novella format where there isn't enough word count to add in all the layers. I've read others of Resnick's books and I don't generally have this issue so I'm guessing this is the format he was given. To my mind, there was easily enough material for a full-fledged novel.

Thunderbird Falls by C.E. Murphy

(Acquired: bookstore)

This book ends in the very worst possible way ;). With a note that I have to wait another year for the next one. If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I was stunned with the suck-in, don't-let-go quality of C.E. Murphy's first novel, Urban Shaman. This one is no less true to that feeling. As I read, extremely quickly for me, I was both eager to find out what happened next and hating myself for not slowing down, lingering more, making the time between now and the end farther away. I was surprised at how much of the story the back blurb reveals, but I don't generally read the back so I didn't read it until I'd already gotten past what it talked about. Did I know something wasn't quite right? Well, besides the fact that without a crisis it wouldn't have been much of a novel, yes, the seeds were there. I didn't have all the pieces in front of me by the time of the great reveal, but I had enough and was twitchy about others so that it was satisfying rather than coming out of nowhere. Ultimately, both story and voice work for me. And yes, *grumble, grumble*, I will be waiting however many months are left until the end of the book message is true :).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

To Be Read Shelf/What I've Read (up to 2007)

This is a list of the books I read up to the end of 2007. Some haven't made it to the blog yet, but just because they're not marked off doesn't meant they won't.

Note: New books (added in the past 30 days) indicated with bold titles.

TitleAuthorFromDate addedDate ReadReadBlogged
Pretty WomanFern Michaelsfriend01/01/200601/05/2007xx
Rebel IceS.L. Viehlblog contest01/01/200601/07/2007xx
Plague of MemoryS.L. Viehlbookstore01/01/200701/10/2007xx
i see youHolly Lislegrocery store01/01/200601/18/2007xx
A Walk in the WoodsBill BrysonBookcrossing01/15/200702/01/2007xx
Dragon AmericaMike Resnickfriend01/19/200702/01/2007xx
Thunderbird FallsC.E. Murphybookstore01/01/200702/08/2007xx
Speed DatingNancy WarrenWe Hear You02/08/200702/15/2007xx
ThunderstruckRoxanne St. ClaireWe Hear You02/08/200702/28/2007xx
HammeredElizabeth Bearbookstore01/01/200703/05/2007xx
Order of the PhoenixJ.K. Rowlingfamily01/01/200603/15/2007xx
The Half-Blood PrinceJ.K. Rowlingfamily01/01/200603/18/2007xx
On Basilisk StationDavid Weberfamily03/10/200703/23/2007xx
Dark ReunionJustine DavisWe Hear You03/18/200703/28/2007x 
Her Lawman on CallMarie FerrarellaWe Hear You03/18/200703/28/2007x 
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and MiniverE.L. Konigsburgfamily03/24/200704/04/2007xx
Threads of MaliceTamara Siler Jonesbookstore05/01/200605/07/2007xx
Gravity DreamsL.E. Modesitt, Jr.bookshelf?01/01/199005/13/2007x 
Married By MistakeAbby Gainesgift05/10/200705/17/2007x 
Virtually HisGennita Lowgift05/10/200705/22/2007x 
Feet FirstLeanne Banksno clue01/01/200105/28/2007x 
The Honor of the QueenDavid Weberborrowed04/25/200706/09/2007xx
Beloved ExileParke Godwinno clue01/01/200106/12/2007x 
Night LostLynn Viehlgift05/27/200706/22/2007x 
The Bull from the SeaMary Renaultbookshelf01/01/200107/09/2007xx
Angel with AttitudeMichelle Rowenbookstore08/01/200607/12/2007xx
Into the WildernessSara Donatiblog contest on by Jean Schara07/05/200707/30/2007xx
Night EchoesHolly Lislebookstore06/02/200708/05/2007x 
Magic BitesIlona Andrewsbookstore06/02/200708/10/2007xx
Ill WindRachel CaineMichelle Rowen (author contest: 
Heat StrokeRachel CaineMichelle Rowen (author contest: 
The Deathly HollowsJ.K. Rowlingbookstore07/21/200708/20/2007x 
Tales from the Arabian NightsAndrew Lang (translator)bookshelf01/01/198509/18/2007xx
Dark ThirstSara Reinkebookstore08/04/200709/30/2007x 
Valley of the SoulTamara Siler Jonesblog contest on by Jean Schara07/05/200710/08/2007xx
Alanna: The First AdventureTamora Pierceborrowed01/01/200710/13/2007x 
DragonQuestDonita K. Paulborrowed05/01/200710/18/2007x 
ScardownElizabeth Bearbookstore08/04/200710/25/2007x 
Coyote DreamsC.E. Murphybookstore08/04/200711/01/2007xx
MartriarchKaren Travissbookstore08/01/200611/15/2007x 
Summon the KeeperTanya HuffLibrary11/11/200712/01/2007x 
SwordspointEllen KushnerLibrary12/03/200712/19/2007x 
The Second SummoningTanya HuffLibrary12/03/200712/20/2007x 
The Short Victorious War: We Love Our HonorDavid Weberborrowed04/25/200712/29/2007xx
American GodsNeil Gaimanbookshelf05/15/200512/31/2007xx