Monday, December 01, 2008

Ruins by Lazette Gifford

So, today I finished my very first eBook novel.

That sounds silly and archaic I suppose, but I do have an excuse. I got my first Palm from work in the mid-90s. For me, it was a work object, and when I got a new one years later, I used it for editing and critiquing. That little screen had a purpose. I've read some great novels and short stories, but always in their raw form. I could see what they would become but I approached them with an editor's perspective.

However, a while back, a very talented writer I know let me critique one of her novels. I enjoyed the story a lot and could see what I'd always suspected was true...that she has an incredible way with words.

So, though I have yet to read any of the other eBooks I've been carrying around in my palm, when I needed something to test Holly's store (I do dev work for her), I took the opportunity to help a friend and bought Ruins even though it hadn't yet become available in paperback (which I'd been waiting for). I always figured if it turned out that I couldn't read an eBook, I could give it to my sister who reads eBooks like nothing else and go back to waiting for the hardback.

Well, at first it looked like that's what would happen.

But the day came that I didn't have anything to work on when I was stuck in a line. I had the choice of a number of Baen novels by authors I really wanted to check out. Instead, I opened Ruins.

Now I wasn't an instant convert. I only read Ruins in bits and pieces when I didn't have the brain to crit or edit. And honestly, it was hard to turn off my editor brain. Like most books nowadays, Ruins in the version I bought could have used another pass through the copyeditor, something that didn't help my instinct to work as opposed to enjoying.

But here's the thing. I didn't give up and give the book away. My sister had to buy her own copy :).

Every time I had a spare moment, I opened Ruins.

Every time I opened Ruins, I knew exactly where I was and what was going on no matter how much time had passed. That to me is the sign of a strong novel--when your mind puts you back into that space as soon as you open the page...or in this case, click the button.

Last night, I couldn't sleep.

I didn't want to keep my husband up, so out came my Palm and I started reading. Wonderful invention the eBook. I feel stupid for waiting this long to really *grok* it.

There were moments when I felt tired, but I wasn't at the end of the chapter, so kept going. And when I got to the end of a chapter, I just wasn't tired enough to stop.

I did eventually, but I'd gotten to the point where everything that had been building through the book was coming to a head and I didn't want to stop at all.

Morning came without that changing significantly and I managed to find time to finish the story off.

This is a long tale, but it's an important one for me. There are two key elements:

First, I have successfully read and enjoyed an eBook novel. Maybe this will start a transition for me to be less dependent on paper for long works. I've read many short stories, and even whole magazines, electronically, but never before something that takes a lot of time to consume and digest.

Second, Ruins is a wonderful story. It's strong enough to keep my interest despite long breaks and strong enough to hold my interest despite a form that is alien to me. The story focuses primarily on two characters, Lee and Chev. They both start at somewhat of a transition point, and by the end, through violence, mystery, and wonder, they manage to move to the next stage of their lives. It's a wild ride to get there, but if you like archeology, if you like mystery, if you like thrillers all wrapped up in serious people stories, Ruins is definitely worth the run.

Oh, and this is the same Lazette Gifford who will benefit from any sales made from the page accessed through the Pssst... icon on the left sidebar. So, if you want to check out her writing for yourself, just click the button. It'll be worth your time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Omega Games by S.L. Viehl

Omega Games is a continuation of her StarDoc series, only two books after she made the main character undergo a major change. Personally, I'd recommend reading the series from the beginning if you haven't because it's pure space opera candy, with some medical science tossed in. And the things that make you question the handwavium? They're actually resolved within the text of the later books. StarDoc is fun with the focus being on Cherijo, a headstrong medical doctor who manages to get mixed up in absolutely everything and is being chased across the galaxy for somewhat valid reasons. (Can you tell I like them? ;))

Anyway, specific to Omega Games, besides being a wonderful read, the way she's changed Cherijo's character really comes through in this novel. It opens a new dimension to her nature that I enjoyed experiencing. She's a bit less head strong, but just as stubborn, and her priorities are shifted so that it keeps the reader...and poor Duncan, her husband...on less firm ground. With Cherijo old style, I'd come to the point that I could predict what she would do and how she would react. This didn't mean she was predictable in a negative sense because there's a world of ways she could use the triggers, but more that her characterization was solid, consistent, and reliable. With the new Cherijo, there are unexplored depths based on her experiences when suffering from full amnesia and her experiences now when faced with people who expect her to be someone she doesn't completely remember being. It's a fascinating counter play that leaves me just a bit off-balance, right there alongside all the other characters that had come to know Cherijo very well.

Which makes it sound like this is a huge character fest without the tumultuous disasters that characterize the series, an impression as false as expecting the new Cherijo to be a carbon copy of the old. There are spaceship fights, divided loyalties, kidnappings, and more to round out the character experiences, making Omega Games a wonderful combination of the space opera candy I've grown to love and something with a little more to chew on. As usual, there's something going on that isn't what it seems, so talking specifics will lead to spoilers. It's enough to say that I really enjoyed reading this novel and it bodes well for the continuation of the series.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

The pile of books on my desk has finally reached a height that is threatening my view of my monitor, a desperate state indeed. This means I need to make some comments and get them safely off into a shelf of books I've actually finished. However, this state is a good sign, not a bad one. It means I have been reading a lot. When I read very slowly, the odds of time to slip in a review grows higher with every day. When I'm reading a lot, it's the pile of to be reviewed that grows while the backlog of to be read shrinks a bit (though not much since I keep adding to it.

Anyway, I think I'll write about the book on the top, simply because it is there, in closest view. This is not to say that this book doesn't deserve a review though.

There are few books that I read before college that linger in my memory, and often when I've reread those, I've ended up learning more about myself at that point in my life than about an excellent novel. The one exception I knew of was Pride and Prejudice. And now I add another to that list, one that isn't even a novel.

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie is an interesting book for me. I read it as part of a summer reading list along with James Michener's The Source, and fell in love with the book. It influenced my understanding of European history more than any other text, and as I discovered while rereading it, is most likely responsible for some of my oddest traits, like the way I taught my boys to respond to a whistle as a more effective/less intrusive way of getting their attention in public. (Not the police whistle type call, but a melodic one.)

So, imagine my surprise when I started in to this influential novel only to discover it's not a novel at all. This is a biographical account complete with scholarly asides, quotes from papers and diaries, and even quotes from later-day interviews of those present in these momentous times. I remembered the story it told, the loving detail of how these people lived and what were their struggles. I knew it was "based" in real history, but believed it to be a fictionalized account simply because of the strength of that story.

Kudos to Robert K. Massie. This isn't a narrative retelling. This isn't a fictionalized account. It's a scholarly text complete with speculations, primary sources, time jumps, and everything else one would expect in trying to piece together one of the greater tragedies of the European world. This book is a strong education in the political, societal, and religious influences of the time; in the interaction between the remaining monarchies and those countries struggling with new political structures; in the push and pull of a ruling class that were pretty much all related by blood; and the deadly impact of that little known disease, hemophilia.

I can't say enough about this book. Really, I can't. If all history were written/taught in this manner, more would thrill to the moment history turned up on their schedules. This book has the same appeal as the narrative retellings offered by the History Channel in an effort to educate a public trained to think of history as dull.

Nicholas and Alexandra has all the romance of a romance novel, the tragedy of a tear-jerker, the politics of a political thriller, and more. But when it comes down to the end, when you understand the path of unrelated circumstances that led to their final moments, it hurts to remember that these aren't just fascinating characters composed of ink on a page, but that these people lived, loved, ate, slept, and died just as any of us...well, except for the last part. There's a reason the myth of Anastasia (recently put to rest by DNA evidence) persisted despite all evidence to the contrary, why those few relatives of the Tsar felt compelled to meet pretenders and why young women convinced themselves they could have been one of that tragic family. Massie brings that feeling to life in a compelling historical document. The book moved me, captivated me, in my early teens, and it has no less power now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Psst! Help Zette Out

Folks, I've been trying to come up with a blog post to put around this offer that Holly Lisle, and others, is making on behalf of another friend, Lazette Gifford, but anything I say sounds stiff and formal.

Suffice it to say that Zette has given of her energy, time, and limited resources to make sure that writers like me could continue to have a home at Forward Motion. She's an incredible woman (at a time when I'm feeling surrounded by incredible women :)), and puts others first even when she can't afford to.

Right now is one of those times. She's in need of a little help, and Holly has come up with a way to get her that help. My part, and yours if you choose to accept it, is to make everyone aware of the offer Holly has put together to get Zette what she needs.

Zette has released a number of wonderful non-fiction and fiction titles through Holly's shop, and others have donated the proceeds from their sales as well to help Zette out. Please, take a moment to check out what you can get there and pass the word on to others who might benefit from these titles as well. Just click on the Psst button below:

Pssst! Help Zette.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Suzanne Brockmann's novels

Suzanne Brockmann's series of Navy Seal romance adventure novels follow usually 2-3 couples through life threatening circumstances that manage to be unique despite the tight theme. By the end of the book, one couple will have found their happily ever after, another couple will be on the road to theirs (to be resolved in a later book), and the third, when present, is often torn apart in such a way that you can't imagine them ever getting back together again. Being an avid romance reader, I've read many series centered around a town, a business, a high school graduating class, or whatever holds them together. Suzanne Brockmann is imminently skilled at working the series so that rather than being able to see into the future and determine who is up next, rather than being able to rely on the fact that those who seem connected will end up together, everything is up for grabs. Though the story revolves around the Seal group, people come and go from the team, form separate companies that continue to appear in the book series, pull in other groups such as an FBI negotiating team... Her books do not stagnate, nor do they toe the line of traditional romance. They're both realistic and befitting the romantic fantasy while providing a solid thriller/adventure story for the reader. She's a great writer. My husband is hooked on her books as well, so if you want a non-romance reader's recommendation, he definitely thinks she's worth the pretty penny :).

I have a bit of a history with these novels as I received my first as a barter exchange for a program I wrote. What you'll see in this post is my notes on not one but several of her novels in this series, mainly because I never got around to posting them. The latest, a post-surgery gift from my husband, I'll talk about first just to be contrary.

Force of Nature by Suzanne Brockmann (Acquired: gift)

This spinoff of the SEALs novels breaks with all traditional romance and focuses as much on the love life of one of her reoccurring characters who happens to be gay as it does on the heterosexual romance between the two main characters (though who exactly is the main couple is sort of up for grabs). At this point, Brockmann's made enough of a name for herself that such a radical deviation from the traditional isn't as dangerous, but considering the current political climate with gay marriage, I was fascinated by how she tackled this.

What's even more amazing, and a clear sign of her excellent character development, she'd received a significant enough number of requests from readers to give Jules, the gay character, a happy ending of his own that she felt it a reasonable extension. Of all of hers I've read so far, this is the first one where both the romances resolve in one book, her only concession to making sure the more traditional readers had a relationship to glom onto as well as Jules' HEA (happily ever after). And don't worry if you get squeamish :). The gay romance is just that, a romance. Not graphic detail about body parts, the physical details act to emphasize the emotional connection.

However, like her other novels, neither couple has it easy. There are several points in the book when I was sure that things wouldn't work out. Especially with Brockmann's history of leaving one couple hanging, I didn't have the guarantee that both would resolve tidily by the end even with the implicit promise of the author notes in the beginning. This is a fast-paced action novel where the characters, through no fault of their own, but as a logical extension of their circumstances, end up in the middle of an international incident where no one, not the private detective nor the FBI investigator, know who exactly is the bad guy (okay, who is the bad guy they're looking for). If you enjoy strong characters, emotional situations that will pull at you, and an action-adventure to rival James Bond...though without the easy out of his fancy gadgets ;)...give Force of Nature and Suzanne Brockmann a try :).

Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann (Acquired: Steph Tyler ( in exchange for the progress bar)

Steph gave me these books a long time ago in return for a copy of my progress bar program. They sat on my tbr pile not because I didn't want to read them but because I wasn't in the mood for that type of book. When my husband got addicted to another thriller/romance writer, I offered him these to try. He said they were wonderful and picked up Suzanne Brockmann's back list too. When he gave my copies back, they never quite managed to get on my shelf so when I needed to grab a book, I took one from the pile. Now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long. Over the Edge is the fifth book in a series, but Steph had promised they could be read stand alone so instead of getting the earliest, I started with the one she'd suggested...finally :). Though the very beginning was a little confusing with the huge cast, clearly people profiled in earlier novels that should have been familiar but of course were not, the very wonderful writing just kept pulling me along. Usually with thriller/romances, one of those threads gets the shorter end of the stick. Suzanne Brockmann manages not only to offer a good military thriller plot with terrorists and SEALs and tension and terror, but two full romance plots. Sure, both threads referred to earlier events, either in the series or just mentioned as back story (I can't tell the difference), but there was enough of the developing relationships to keep me grounded and involved. Then, on top of that, she layered in a story about a Holocaust survivor that not only tied into the characters but into the overarching plots (ALL OF THEM) as well. Really, I don't care whether you've never read a thriller, never read a romance, never read anything about the Holocaust before. There's something in this book for a wide variety of readers and the writing itself is strong and approachable. I'm jealous :). And you better bet I'll be reading the rest of them. It might take me a bit, but it'll take a string of sour books to pull me from adopting this author, something I already know won't happen cause my hubby's already read and enjoyed them :D.

Out of Control by Suzanne Brockmann (Acquired: Steph Tyler ( in exchange for the progress bar)

Brockmann didn't disappoint with this novel either and I have requested the ones my husband purchased (sadly he wasn't able to find everything) so that I can continue enjoying her writing and the lives of her characters. The stories begun or continued in Over the Edge show up again in Out of Control, some to find happy resolution and some that fail to, despite my hopes. The main story involves a character we know from the previous but only peripherally, and then an unknown woman and unknown couple. Considering how big the known cast is already, adding more seems overkill, or should. But nothing is weak about this novel or her writing style. She manages to keep ongoing threads that cross several books alive as well as offering multiples of new stories and reminding us of the sweet resolutions of previous stories. It's a complex blend that pulls me along as a reader on the edge of my seat watching disaster after disaster push the characters around until they all manage to come together for a tangled end that works and is a logical extension of everything that ever came before even though my mind says that isn't possible. It's an orchestration I've rarely seen outside of a Russian novel, but there is no question that she's joined my list of favorites. Actually, the very fact that I read another one so quickly shows that because I've still got tons of novels to read and giving the same author two spaces in that order is really saying something :).

The Defiant Hero by Suzanne Brockmann (Acquired: bookstore)

Suzanne Brockmann has become one of my favorite writers. I have a soft spot for SEALs, and she gives complex story along with believable romance. Even better, she manages to blend in a romance from an earlier point of critical history. This particular story is an early one in the series and contains the start of a relationship that I've already seen an end to but the beginning is only hinted at. It's a twisted pleasure to see those events play out, but it's a sign of her skill that I could enjoy even knowing the end, assuming that I do. And the piece of history for this book is Dunkirk, the evacuation of the British out of France with an armada of tiny boats, anything they could get into the water, while the Germans strafed those waiting evacuation. She made it personal, connected that moment of sad victory to the characters and paralleled the situation with the courage necessary to survive and succeed in their current troubles. Brockmann offers interwoven stories twisting through the lives and loves of a group of SEALs. Each book contains at least two relationships, one of which resolves and another that's carried on until later books. If ever there was a blueprint for how to keep a series interesting, The Troubleshooters (currently on book 12) is it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Last Lecture and Life Lessons

Sorry for the long silence, though this may actually explain some of it :).

As some of you may know, I spent the past year under a knife, figurative, but possibly literal, with a severe medical condition that no one could explain. It's made me think about things a lot, though most of that pondering got swallowed up by the pain/pain med-induced amnesia :p.

Now with that context, you might think the fact that both my sisters recommended The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch to be particularly ominous, but it's actually a coincidence. I had heard about the last lecture and stuck it in my head under physicists saying fascinating things. Yes, I know now that Randy Pausch is not a physicist, nor is he talking much about science. But that was enough to make me interested when, at a family reunion, I noticed my older sister was reading this book. She'd borrowed it from my younger sister, who then both recommended I read The Last Lecture and allowed me to borrow her copy as well.

So I got back from the reunion to discover that what we'd thought had resolved (in three wonderful, mostly symptom-free weeks) was back. The upshot of it was that I now faced a surgery to cure me instead of either being already cured or under a death sentence. Still, my frame of mind over the course of this past year had certain similarities to Randy Pausch.

Anyway, between preparing for the surgery and after, a small book with little chapters seemed the perfect read. I knew my focus could be measured in minutes, not hours, so a normal book would take too long. Except that I didn't read just a page at a time.

The Last Lecture is neither about physics (or virtual reality, his actual area of expertise ;)) nor so much about dying. It's a collection of thoughts and stories about how Randy Pausch lived his life, what he learned about people along the way, and what lessons he wants to pass on to his children, along with anyone else interested enough to listen. The book is surprisingly optimistic while being very grounded in the reality of his timeline. He focuses on the people whom he's met in his life, not to be maudlin, but to celebrate the wonderful things these people are doing, and to appreciate the chance to be part of their lives, to help them achieve what they truly wanted.

This is a book about childhood dreams. About striving toward them and about what you can gain whether or not you end up achieving those goals. It's a book about being aware of your life and how you interact with others.

And now that I've made it sound like a boring, Hallmark moment, let me tell you Randy Pausch is incredibly articulate and talented at choosing the right illustrations from his own life or from those around him to prove his point. For example, he talks about how he initiated the "First Penguin" award in his labs, not for the group that succeeded, but for the group that fails spectacularly. This example really speaks to me because I'm a largely self-taught programmer, database analyst, systems analyst, and process analyst. Okay, anything logical I'll tackle and enjoy ;). Sure, in the end I'll get things to work, but the way I come to the understanding is by first putting together something that does not. It might not produce any result, might be the wrong result, or maybe it's just a resource hog. The reality is that with each attempt to accomplish something that fails, I've gained a better understanding of the process and how I need to go forward. Each time I think I know the answer and the path leads me to a dead end, I learn about that section of the process and get clues about the overall process so I can set off on another path.

Okay, before I go too far on this tangent, I'll get to the point. I once worked with a project manager who I enjoyed talking to because he was an interesting man. Out of all our discussions though, the thing that stuck with me so many years later was one time when he mentioned that early in his career he'd been the system administrator for a Novell server. His comment? He'd been responsible for that system for something like five years and still knew little to nothing about it.

At the time, I was hip deep in an aging system that had been pushed well beyond its limits, was leaking data from every crack, and which my team was plastering together with duct tape in the hopes of keeping production rolling long enough for the new system to come into being (which would of course be 10 times better ;)). What I realized was, rather than cursing the old system under my breath, I should be hugging it. I came out of supporting that system with a clear understanding and direct experience with Unix, Oracle, Unix-Novell bridge solutions, and half a dozen other things. I became a successful programmer and data analyst because of that old system. And when the new one started dribbling data, I didn't have to learn everything from scratch because those skills I'd honed on the old system were globally applicable. Heck, I still use them in the systems I work with today.

To get back to the book though, that's only one of the many life lessons he offers that really clicked with me. Randy Pausch's analysis, in his final months on this Earth, made me sit back and appreciate some of the things I hadn't given much thought to, people things, computer things, life things. As it turned out, I wasn't under a death sentence this time at least, and I have more than four months to enjoy the world he's reminding me of, time he wasn't given. A lot of what he said wasn't new to me. I'm prone to self-analysis and so had already come to many of the same conclusions. But this book is a good reminder of things, of making choices and decisions, of not accepting the easy road when your heart craves the harder one, of being there for other people and making their way a bit smoother, and most of all, of seeing the brick walls we face in life not as barriers but as challenges to be conquered.

I have no doubt why this book is a national bestseller, and though it needs no help from me, I suggest you go out and get a copy, whether you buy one, borrow from a friend, or get it from the library. Me? I read my sister's copy, and there's a high probability that, when I return it to her, my own copy will nestle in my shelves.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Muse Online Conference 2008

Some of you might remember me mentioning this before, and some of you may even have gone the previous year, but it's time to set aside a week in October (October 13 - 19, 2008) for the Muse Online Conference. This is a free conference with no cover charge, no transportation costs, and you can participate in live panels in your jammies :). The conference signup deadline is September 1st so you don't want to delay too long if you're planning on attending.

I will be teaching a forum workshop on telling details this year, those elements that a writer needs to highlight in a scene so the reader is right there with the characters. The difference, in my head at least ;), between a workshop and a class is that in a workshop, the participants get to do all the work. If you've joined in on any of the Forward Motion workshops, you already know what I mean. If you haven't, this is your grand opportunity to discover the difference.

There are dozens of other lectures, classes, workshops, chat sessions, and probably some variations I can't think of on offer from authors around the world and in pretty much every area of writing possible. Whatever your particular interest or weakness, odds are you'll find something, or more likely twice as many somethings as you have time for. Some, like mine, are 100% forum to allow participants to join in no matter what the time zone. The chat presentations though are at specific times dependent on where the instructors live.

Register here:
Muse Online

Friday, July 18, 2008

Working For as Opposed to Working With

Why are so many revolutions started by intellectuals who impose the belief that life is horrible on people who might not think that way on their own? Is that why so many of the "ground-swell" revolutions don't live up to their initial beliefs and philosophies? Is that why intellectuals who have such grand ideas at the start transform into dictators of the worst sort?

After all, the core group begins with this wonderful idea, one of utopia where all are equal and work together to make a better whole, and then spends years pushing it at people who are satisfied (rightly or wrongly) with their lot. By the time the revolution succeeds, if it does, the intellectuals are so used to shoving the "proper" thoughts into the heads of people who are reluctant, or as often styled, too ignorant, to think these thoughts themselves that they continue to "dictate" what everyone is to think or believe, something that almost always violates the principles those self-same intellectuals were attempting to realize.

I find this connection especially odd when so much of the "intellectual class" believes in pastoralism, returning to the land, to the roots of humanity before we became so wrapped up in technology and workaholicism.

Offhand, the revolutions that come to my mind are the Russian revolution and Marxism realized in ways Marx would not have approved. The Iranian Revolution was started by college students, many of whom probably had some experience in other countries and definitely benefitted from the liberal aspects of Iranian culture. Did they really intend to bring about a restrictive religious regime? What other revolutions came about because of imposed ideals that turned into dictatorships? I know there are others, even though I can't name them at the moment, that demonstrate this same type of pattern.

So, I hope you enjoyed your stray thought for the month, brought to you by the unlikely combination of something Holly Lisle wrote in one of her classes about indoctrinating people into the belief they are victims combined with having reached the portion of Nicholas and Alexandra which recounts the roots of Russian Marxism through the early life of Lenin.

P.S. Yes, I've violated title capitalization rules. But I tried and I just can't decap the two most important words in the title ;).

Monday, June 16, 2008

An Interview with Maria Zannini, author of Touch of Fire

I don't usually post author interviews, but Maria Zannini's Touch of Fire is somewhat of a special case. Touch of Fire is the first book I have critiqued all the way through that has made it to publication. Though I haven't had a chance to read the polished version yet, I enjoyed the early version and am sure the polished one will be even better with her edits. I can tell you that Maria has talent in droves as well as the drive to get things accomplished, as shown from her book now available as an ebook and as a paperbound in Winter 2009. I will post a review when I get my hard copy, or maybe sooner depending. (I'm getting a new Palm that makes reading ebooks easier.) It will be worth your while to wander over to Samhain Publishing and check out this fantasy romance novel. Maria also offers marketing information, interviews, and fun anecdotes on her blog, experience that led her to take over the newsletter for Online Writers Workshop. (Links to the novel and Maria's site are at the end of the post.)

The other reason for the interview is as an extension of one of the panels I was on at BayCon (a science fiction reading, watching, writing, costuming, filking, and what have you convention in the Bay Area, CA, that I've gone to for years). I was asked to talk about small press, something I have some experience with since I copyedit for Dragon Tooth Fantasy Ebooks, and my short stories were all published by small presses. However, I have no novel experience as an author. With that in mind, I asked Maria to tell us a little about her recent encounter with a small press that led to the start of her career as a novelist.

How did you find your publisher? What led you to submit to Samhain?
It was a complete fluke! A friend of mine told me about a hook contest Samhain Publishing was running. I had five whole lines, but that's all I needed. Once my submission was chosen as a finalist, I offered the editor a partial. Well, wouldn't you know it, she wanted the whole thing! I burned up my keyboard getting her a full manuscript in five weeks.

What would you say is the highlight of your experience working with your publisher?
It's definitely been the editing. My initial fear was that an e-publisher might not have the same diligence in editing as a traditional publisher, but that was far from the truth. My editor was no soft sell. The book went through two full edit passes with her and then it went on to a line editor who made sure my threads were complete and I made no silly mistakes.

What would you say has been the hardest part?
LOL! For me, that would have to be the cover art. I loved it, but I was on pins and needles while waiting for the cover concept. Since I'm also an artist, I tried to be very specific on what I wanted to see. The artist, Anne Caine was terrific and she tolerated me like a saint. I was very happy with the final version.

Can you describe some of the marketing plans for Touch of Fire?
The marketing director at Samhain constantly updates the authors on promotional opportunities, advertising specials, book tours and conferences. Having spoken to a few of my friends who are published through traditional publishers, I know that's not always the case. Many times the author is on his own. With Samhain, it's still up to the author to do the legwork, but I appreciate having someone on the inside telling me what's available.

My personal marketing plans for TOUCH OF FIRE include blog tours, business cards, workshop presentations, and a little advertising. I look specifically at the quality of the marketing as opposed to the quantity. As I get closer to the print release of the book, I will probably boost my web presence and increase my appearances.

What are your plans going forward with this publisher?
I don't like to plan too far ahead because publishing is in such enormous flux. Traditional publishing houses are now including very specific contract clauses for ebook versions of their print books, so I suspect there might be more competition with the smaller presses in years to come. But there will definitely be other books through Samhain. They've treated me very well.

Making the choice to go small press vs. large press is a difficult one for many writers because they don't understand the difference and the pluses and minuses. What advice would you offer a writer on the verge of making this call?
A lot depends on your comfort level. Small press can be pretty beneficial, especially to new writers. Not only do they take more interest in your welfare, but they're more hands on. In my case, TOUCH OF FIRE not only comes out in ebook, but it will go to print in Winter 2009, selling in traditional brick and mortar stores.

While some authors with big presses have the luxury of PR and extra ARCs, it's almost always for established authors or those with power agents. So in the end, I think most of us are still in the same boat. We have the same obstacles and opportunities as anyone else in that store. A lot depends on how much effort the individual author puts in.

Anything else you want to share?
I had my reservations in the beginning about small presses, but it's been a good experience for me. When you're brand new and that amniotic fluid is dripping all around your feet, it's nice to know there's someone there to show you the ropes. I feel protected and more importantly to me, I feel in control. I like that.

Buying information:
Publisher information:
MySpace Page:
OWW newsletter:

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - July 2008

This is not the first issue of F&SF that I have read, nor will it be the last. I'm an on-and-off-again subscriber who often picks up a stray issue when my subscription lapses. Like any magazine, I rarely find that all the stories chosen speak to me. This goes in waves where sometimes more do, and I subscribe, and sometimes less do, and I wander away. I've been in the wander away (though I have a stack of singles to prove I didn't wander far) mode for a bit now.

The July issue is really making me rethink that position. If you last all the way to the end of this post, there's a relevant treat from the F&S F folks, who hope that my analysis will arouse your interest as well.

It's been said that Gordon Van Gelder prefers idea stories, and that trend is definitely reflected in the stories offered between these covers. This issue contains a broad range of topics: cloning in The Roberts, the search for an ultimate answer in Fullbrim's Finding, an interesting answer to precocious children in Enfant Terrible, the changing of the guard in The Dinosaur Train, the infinite library in Reader's Guide, and moral standing in the military in Poison Victory.

Of all of the titles, only "Poison Victory" didn't bring the story immediately to mind, and that's only a title issue in my opinion and not a reflection on the story at all. A good 10 days passed between when I finished reading the magazine and wrote up this review, time in which I've read a number of other stories, published and not, to cloud my memory. That all but one of the stories is memorable based on title alone and the one that wasn't is memorable after a quick glance at the first page (the equivalent of "do you remember the story in which...") supports my belief in how strong this issue is.

I did not dislike a single one of the fiction offerings, a rarity in short story collections. And though I read for the stories, I also found the columns interesting, partially in how they supported the general idea focus. One column, for example, explored the "new weird" in a way so true to the topic that my head spun afterwards, while another looked at the portrayal and expectations behind the superhero designation.

The issue as a whole was a thinking issue, as is the focus of F&SF in general, but I've rarely seen it upheld quite so thoroughly. Or quite so well.

The stories ranged from science fiction to magical realism to alternate history. I didn't feel fantasy was represented much in this issue, though The Dinosaur Train is possibly classified as borderline fantasy depending on how you look at it. I think, however, that none of the stories "felt" like fantasy, which is of course a completely subjective presentation, but one that I'll have to stand by as I can't give a better explanation.

It's hard to say which is my favorite story because they all appeal in different ways. In fact, I cannot. My least favorite was Poison Victory, though not because of the title, but that's a "least" in the sense of an 8 on a scale of 0-10 being least. It's so rare that every story in a magazine has something to offer me that I find it hard to articulate. Having failed to come up with a ranking, I'll offer some description of the stories so you can judge for yourself, trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible beyond general statements. Also, the order is that of the table of contents and has no significance beyond that fact. It's not even the order in which the stories appear in the magazine.

The Roberts is the novella offered. Michael Blumlein addresses the issue of dating and the time one must commit to a successful relationship through the odd window of cloning. And no, it's not as weird as it sounds. To be honest, it takes a little time for the story to move beyond a sort of male perspective on Sex in the City. This isn't a reach out and grab you story, but neither does it fail to catch the reader. It's more the type that piques the interest and slowly pulls the reader in until you're caught.

A minor segue, but I was talking with a neighbor about her husband's book that featured clones. This is of little significance except that two stories (one on my edit pile that I wrote a while back and never polished) and The Roberts came immediately to mind. The significance here is the 10 day that lapsed between finishing the magazine and that conversation. For the story to sit in my brain crystal clear despite editing, critiquing, going to a convention, and half a dozen other things that interfered, is unusual. And yet I was able to recount specifics in this conversation as though I'd just reached "the end," or had the magazine in front of me, which I didn't.

I wouldn't have expected this to be a story that appealed, but I'm glad I stuck with it and read all the way through because it raises some interesting questions and offers Okay, maybe the solutions aren't relevant to our lives. The questions, however, resonate with me, and I'd be surprised if they didn't touch most readers on some level.

Fullbrim's Finding by Matthew Hughes is an odd cross between a philosophical story and a hard-boiled detective one. I wasn't really sure what to make of this at the beginning, and still am not sure after I came to the end. That isn't to say it wasn't compelling in its very contradiction. The result is somewhat of a shaggy dog tale, and yet it completely isn't. It plays on the concept of obsession, and offers an answer to the quest for meaning that makes just a little too much sense, and yet the importance is the way of it and the exploration of the various personalities involved much more than the actuality of the plot. This is not the story I was thinking of when I mentioned magical realism above, but now faced with encapsulating Fullbrim's Finding in some pithy summary, I wonder if it's an example of magical realism in an science fictional rather than modern context. Judging from a recent definition I read, this story clearly falls into the category of interstitial. It's almost a mood piece and yet offers too much sense to be limited by that definition either. It is definitely a story that would not appeal to me all the time, but which filled a hole in my reading pile nicely when I came upon it.

Poison Victory by Albert E. Cowdrey is the one I mentioned above as the story that connected with me the least. This is not because it is alternate history, nor even because it's an alternate look at World War II, exploring what the world would look like if Hitler won. I am actually an avid reader of alternate history, and though Hitler stories are common, I fully admit this is a unique take on it. I guess the weakness that made me weigh it more lightly was simply that a lot happened which served little purpose beyond setting the scene. It involved the main character, but that involvement was conveyed at one step distant. This is, in part, because the story is written in diary format, an interesting approach, and largely a successful one. There is no question that both the events bringing the main character to the point of writing a treasonous journal and the actions he then takes come through clearly. Nor does the format limit what the reader sees as the main character is quite dedicated in his setting down of both current and past events. The story builds, piece upon piece, until the choices are limited to capitulation or revolt. He must choose whether to lay his ghosts to rest, or embrace what he has become and deny his moral failure.

Oddly, it's only now, in analyzing my thoughts about the story that the title's meaning comes clear. I withdraw my earlier statement. It's the perfect title, as I probably noticed at the moment of completing the read. I guess it's only that it didn't toss me back into the story 10 days later that made me doubt it. But a weakness of distance and titling is still minor when you're reading the actual text and reliving these moments with the main character. Whatever his lack of reaction to some matters, it's hard not to react for him. The reader has the facts of the case, and can see the burden he bears clearly.

Reader's Guide by Lisa Goldstein is the novelette I was referring to when I mentioned magical realism. In the tradition of Garcia Marquez, I believe, though Google is failing me at the moment, this story brings the reader to an infinite library filled with every book not just written, but imagined. It's the catalog of ideas awaiting nurturing to bring them to life. Through the style of a reader's guide, and the ruminations of a Shelver, one who is responsible for organizing these ideas, we get to see not just the library but the sometimes pathetic writers who roam its shelves in the hopes of uncovering the perfect, unique idea that would bring their writing to its pinnacle. In this odd manner, we witness the transformation of a Shelver as he/she gives up smug superiority in favor of a new purpose.

On a side note, the stories break down by point of view as follows: one straight first person, the detective styled one; two narrative first person, though one is through the reader's guide and the other a diary; two third person, the novella and The Dinosaur Train; and one actual second person. A rather broad range that indicates POV is not a defining characteristic for F&SF's choices. The reader may find anything within these covers.

Enfant Terrible by Scott Dalrymple is a second person story where you as the reader, despite being the protagonist, come to understand a series of oddities gradually. It is a trick in that information that should be known is hidden, and the assumptions you're led to make are red herrings, but it doesn't feel like a cheat. I'm highly sensitive to the author withholding information for the sole purpose of creating false suspense. That's not the case here. Rather, it's second person omniscient in the sense that you experience only what is in front of the character and make your own judgments about the material. Nothing is revealed, but neither is it hidden. The only way to know is to have access to the main character's thoughts, and that information isn't available. It makes the story into somewhat of a mood piece, and the ending left me a mite bit uncomfortable, but in a good way. Like some of the others, this story is hard to classify, and even harder to summarize without upsetting the balance of the information reveal. I'm just going to say it's worth the ride should you choose to take it.

The Dinosaur Train by James L. Cambias closes the magazine at least as far as stories are concerned. This is an appropriate end point because Cambias offers us a story about the moment of change, when old traditions are fading and new ones have to take their place, where the will and the way are not always clear, or free of obstacles. Stubborn human nature combined with a lifetime of experiences that taught hard lessons meets willingness and a pure heart that is still open to change and taking chances. This story is not a grand statement; it doesn't offer to change the world, save humanity from itself, or save the universe from humanity. It's a little story with a big heart, one young man having to face that his own choices will lead him away from what he's always wanted, and yet at the same time, those choices may be the only way to preserve what he longs for. As much as Fullbrim's Finding is about how obsessions define people, The Dinosaur Train offers the same look at people but through the filter of loyalty, loyalty to family, to tradition, and to the ideal even when it sets a person against those who should have first claim on allegiance. What can I say? I enjoyed the push-pull represented here. It touched my heart as well as my head.

Which brings me to the end of the magazine, and the urge to take advantage of the offer given to all who read this review (though for a limited time only). I hope my thoughts entertain and give some sense of what the July issue, and the general editorial focus of F&SF, can offer. They've got an interesting line-up planned, and if Gordon Van Gelder keeps purchasing stories like these, it'll be an enjoyable one. The magazine has been around for 59 years now. That says something, especially in this market.

Because I reviewed this issue for them, an obvious delight :), F&SF is offering me, and extending the offer to anyone who reads this review, a special discount on a 1- or 2-year magazine subscription. You can pay by either credit card or PayPal, and do a gift subscription at the same rate if you pay by PayPal. The offer is only available through this link:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sharpe's Battle by Bernard Cornwell

(Acquired: bookstore)

I read my first Bernard Cornwell as part of an Advanced Reader program (or at least the first I remember reading) and enjoyed how he brought me into the action. I'd been looking for Nicholas and Alexandra on my shelf this time, in the mood for some historical fiction, but when I couldn't find it, I noticed Sharpe's Battle. I do not regret the substitution at all. This novel surprised me in many ways because it is much more mature than the first one I read, The Last Kingdom, in both language and horrific detail, but still shows all that captivated me before. Sharpe is a soldier in the British Army in 1811 (at least for this book), and while reading, you can feel the grit beneath his boots and the dry gunpowder in his mouth from biting off the cartridges. Cornwell does not pull punches or in any way ""prettify"" war. People die, and die brutally, horrible things happen, people you come to admire are threatened and killed, while people you despise seem sure to walk away clean. There's tactics, strategy, politics, diplomacy, all mushed in together to form a cohesive, gritty whole that makes it a hard book to put down.

From the writer's perspective, there are two things Cornwell does exceptionally well: omniscient (which has been the subject of much discussion recently), and recap of the series. I hadn't been aware that I choose a late-stage book in the series since I picked it up on author name alone, but I'm not one who has to read things in order to enjoy them. On the other hand, the recap of previous events was subtle, touching only on the highlights, and served as a way to give Sharpe a well-rounded background. These events made him the person he was, and whether they'd been covered in detail in a previous book or not was irrelevant. Even better, since no detail beyond the fact was offered, I'm sure the original books that covered those moments will be just as wonderful.

On the omniscient, this is true omniscient, none of the "camera-view" people have started to call omniscient despite the oxymoron in that designation. The POV goes from up close and personal including internal contemplation, to hanging overhead as one army attempts to decimate another. He even managed to pull off a trick that would have driven me nuts in another book, which is he hid a crucial bit of information by temporarily sliding to someone else's close view, someone who could see, but not hear, the main character and another talking. Part of the reason it worked though is that he held the reader in suspense for a very short time. Within the next few pages, we had the answer to that odd confrontation.

Ultimately, reader or writer, I'd recommend Bernard Cornwell as a way to touch history and wallow in the enjoyment of a skilled author.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

(Acquired: bookstore)

Ilona Andrews did not disappoint with her second book, Magic Burns. Kate Daniels continues to be a compelling character, and the story is fast-paced, action-filled, and full of fun things to quote to my family and pique their interest. This book is actually one I had a hand in, though whether she took any of my suggestions I don't know seeing as I don't even remember what they were ;). Still, it's fascinating to read the final version and recognize some of the big changes she's made. Even more so, it's wonderful to finally get to read the end :), a downside of critting when the whole novel doesn't make it to the crit site.

Like Magic Bites, Magic Burns is set up as a mystery in framework, but most of the information we need to figure things out doesn't come into play until the character discovers it. That could be considered a weakness, but it hardly detracts from the fun read , and I'm a stickler for that sort of thing. There is one well-seeded item that I can't describe without spoilers, but I did enjoy having figured out one bit before the character, though Kate ran a close second. I did feel the reason for another aspect of the book ended up on the cutting room floor, but it was not a key element, and I can posit a reasonable enough explanation as much as I'd prefer a provided one, so this little hiccup didn't spoil my enjoyment.

There is no question about whether I'll be buying the next one in this series, or whatever else she decides to write. The only real question is when the next comes out :).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

(Acquired: bookshelf)

My husband introduced me to Lois McMaster Bujold through the Vorkosigan series a few years back. He gave me a stack of books that I was blissfully working my way through, enjoying the political trickery and sheer inventiveness of the characters. Then we moved and the pile vanished. Out of sight, out of mind, sad to say. With a ""to be read"" (tbr) pile like mine, there's rarely the urge to go seek out something that got mislaid :). My youngest started in on the series though, and loved it. Right up until he reached this gap where a book was missing. Some searching found it tucked in a corner of my tbr pile, overlooked because it wasn't in a big stack. I had a bunch of newer books to read and so didn't pick it up until this week, when I couldn't quite figure out what mood I was in.

Now I'm kicking myself. I love the Vorkosigan series. It has what I favor in military, political, and diplomatic fiction combined with a self-aware, sometimes ridiculously so, character leading a cast of interesting people through amazing chaos that could collapse at any moment but somehow manages to stay afloat. This book is one of those that makes me wish I could take a year off just to read, give myself time to enjoy other people's worlds and inventions.

I read a wide variety of genres, though not as wide as some, and I've been lucky to find some fabulous authors. It means sometimes an older book falls through the cracks. You can bet though, I'm getting my stack back on the shelf, because I now have (again) someone to fill that "I don't know what I want to read" slot. Of course I also have to take the leap and try her fantasy as well. Though SF is my first love, if authors I enjoy take the plunge, I usually find myself pleased with the results.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl

(Acquired: ARC my hubby won :).)

Lynn Viehl makes it very hard to choose a favorite in the Darkyn series. Anyone who has been reading the series so far will love this book. Though it doesn't really stand on its own, this is the culmination (though not an endpoint by any means ;)) of the questions raised throughout the series. While the other books had teasers and small advances, this novel gives actual answers...okay, really the start of answers, but Alex moves her investigation of the Darkyn light years beyond where she'd been. That much I can say without spoilers, because she makes some advancement each time, but any hint to the how or exactly what she learns would give too much away.

While Evermore still stands as my favorite romance in the series, the craftwork in Twilight Fall is incredible. When I first discovered I liked Viehl's writing, I went back and bought as much of her backlist as I could find (I still haven't found the Rebecca Kelly novels, but give me time :)). Her first romance was a bit confusing to me because of the large casts and the myriad threads running through them. Even by the second, her ability to control such complexity in so small a space had improved radically. None of them remotely compare to the rich storytelling offered by Twilight Fall.

As usual, there's an Alex and Michael thread, and a separate romantic thread between Valentin and Liling. However, this book adds in at least four others that I can think of (which I'm not going to list so I guess you'll just have to read it on your own ;)), and while they appear separate and distinct, piece by piece, scene by scene, they start to twist and combine until they stand united into a stunning whole.

The ARC came with a request not to spoil a critical reveal right at the end. This isn't a problem for me since I provide reader reaction (with a bit of the writer tossed in on occasion) rather than a summary of the actual text. However, the request stayed in the back of my mind so I was on the lookout for this spoiler. Now that I've read the whole thing, though, while I think I know what Viehl meant, I'm not sure. There are at least three big reveals in this novel. Even more so, the reveals are beautifully seeded to the point that none of them jumped out at me. With the subtle clues she'd laid (and seeing them is my specialty), I expected all but one, and the one I hadn't was a matter of not putting the specific pieces in place though I knew the shape of what was probably coming.

I have enjoyed Viehl's writing for years now. Part of that enjoyment is her characters; part is the unlikely pairing of medical skills and training with fantasy or science fiction; and part is how she likes to push the envelope, to put me in situations that I'm not used to finding interesting or entertaining. The last is a love/hate thing at times, but overall the compelling characters make me accept the circumstances. Twilight Fall has one of these bleeding edge aspects, but that was not my point. My point is simple: there are a number of aspects that keep me coming back to Viehl's writing, but having started (okay with reading the backlist) at the beginning and following throughout, her growth in writing skill is just incredible.

She started the Darkyn series when already a "mature" writer so it doesn't show the weaknesses in some of her earlier works, but Twilight Fall proves she hasn't reached an end-point. Not even close. Those same skills she used in the first romance are still being fine-tuned and perfected. Some writers stagnate once they find the successful pattern. Lynn Viehl is not one of those writers. She might push me, but she's pushing herself as well. And we all benefit from the effort.

So mark your calendars. July 1, 2008. That's the publication date for Twilight Fall, just long enough for those of you who have been lagging to buy the rest of the series and catch up :D.

Note: The reading list has been updated as well.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy

(Acquired: bookstore)

This is the first of C.E. Murphy's other series, and I was forewarned it was quite different from the Walker Papers. However, everything I love about her writing, her worlds, her characters? Still in there and going strong. Seriously, there is no question that C.E. Murphy has joined my list of "I will read anything she puts out." This means that I'm behind the times on many series just because I'm a slow reader and I've found an amazing number of great authors, but she's right up there.

A very long time ago, probably in a Forward Motion chatroom, I read a snippet from Heart of Stone. I hadn't realized that until the moment that Margrit (with the absolutely lovely and telling nickname of Grit :D) learns what Alban really is. It was intriguing then, and just as intriguing now.

Heart of Stone introduces a possible world in which our legends, our haunting nightmares, are members of earlier sapient species that, while they didn't quite die out, lost the race to dominance and now hide in plain sight...sometimes literally. The story builds upon itself in such a way that just when you make one connection, you learn it's much more complicated than you could have imagined, but at the same time the clues that you've learned still work, if not in the way you expected.

I'm limited by my prohibition against spoilers...I don't know what I can say at this point without revealing something out of order just because it all clicks into place now. I've lost the innocence of that first page. I've been tainted with foreknowledge of the significance and how things come together. This book isn't simple. It's got Murphy's straightforward, clear voice--though this time in third person with multiple POVs unlike the Walker Papers--but that very clarity allows her to take you on a twisted, thorn-blocked path where things have more than one meaning and significance. It's a strong book, a strong story, and a strong world. I'd be amazed if anyone reading this book walked away disappointed. Me? I'm waiting for a shipment of books from Barnes and Noble that just so happens to have book 2 in it :).

Oh, and for those writer readers, deliberate or not, there are some lovely discussions or word usages that form inside jokes. Offhand I can remember a mention of "forward motion" that knowing Murphy's background seemed to have a layered meaning, but what really caught me was the discussion of race. Oh, did I forget to mention that? In the midst of this mystery, adventure, paranormal discovery trail, there's also a social message, or more like a social exploration of the concept of race. But mixed in there is a fascinating argument/discussion between Alban and Margrit about the meaning of the word and how it's been warped until it has almost no meaning left. It's not heavy handed in any way as to disrupt the story; it just adds another layer to Margrit's character and the crossovers between Alban's world and ours while offering up some things to think about if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Suburban Adventure

It's been a while since I made a canary post, which I suppose is a good sign for my own health and existence ;), but this canary was not actually me. Like all my canary stories though, it has a happy ending, you just have to wait for it.

My parents have a wonderful "durable car" story in that when I was a kid they purchased a Range Rover in England and drove it across Europe to our new post in Iran. Seems simple enough until it broke down somewhere, Germany maybe? At that point, they discovered that the folks who checked off on their brand new car had failed to add any oil. It had driven more than half a continent on packing grease...and once it got some oil in its system, continued on to be the favorite car of my childhood without (as far as I know) any mechanical consequences.

That's pretty spectacular, but today I got my own modern version.

I was scheduled to do a career fair at my kids' school and had timed things so I was on time but not very early, since that's how I do things.

I had 15 minutes to do an 8-10 minute drive, find parking, and get to the library. Easily enough time to spare.

Then, when turning out of my housing complex, I heard a strange thump. I pulled to the side of the road and glanced back to see what looked like a gas cap on the road.

Now my car was almost below the last quarter so the odds of it having been mine and on the roof this whole time were astronomical, but I was in a rush and not thinking clearly. I turned on my hazards and waited for two cars to go by on this 35 MPH road before dashing across the lane to pick up the cap. I then had to wait for another couple cars before I could pop my gas tank cover only to discover my cap in place.

Now I had cut my time margin, AND got slick, smelly stuff on my fingers, all because I rode over someone else's cap. Sigh.

Forgetting about the 60 MPH winds, I put the cap face up on the curb where the hapless gas-cap loser could have a chance of recovery, having had my gas cap replaced not too long ago when my husband drove away from the gas station with it sliding about on the top.

I wiped my fingers with a tissue, continued on to the school, raced into the restroom to wash my hands with soap, and arrived just as things were getting settled.

As the career fair carried on, the whole incident slipped from my mind. After all, I hadn't lost my gas cap, I hadn't been embarrassed by being late, and nothing else had come of it, right?

So after a successful career fair in which I got some decent questions and had fun listening to the DJ and reporter who made up the other two panelists in my room, I headed back to the car and drove the short distance home.

Despite the winds, though, it was warm in my car as it had spent the last almost two hours under the hot desert sun. So I cracked the window and let the breeze flow over me.

Even so, I kept spelling burning oil or something like it. At first I thought it belonged to one of the other cars, but it lingered after they'd gone their own way.

I decided to park the car out front and ask my husband to take a look when he got home because sometimes I pinpoint problems by smells...and sometimes the smells are memory triggers that have nothing to do with current reality ;).

Then curiosity got the better of me.

Despite being in nice clothes for the presentation, I snagged another tissue and figured I could at least check the oil level.

When I popped the hood, I was stunned to see oil all over the engine block, dripping down from the raised hood, splashing down one side of my beautiful car (okay so she's a 1990 Corolla wagon with a bloomed paint job, but she's my first car, my baby, and always beautiful in my eyes :)). Horrified, I took some inadequate swipes at her with my tissue, all the while imagining oil seeping into the air filter, radiator and who knows where else.

So, scared now, I called my husband and told him what little I knew. He asked about fire, burning smells, weird sounds. Nope. Nothing but a faint smell of oil.

While he finished out his work day, I walked back to the corner where I'd picked up the "gas" cap, about a half-mile round trip. But when I got there, I couldn't see the cap anywhere on the curb. Frustrated, I scanned up and down only to find it in the middle of the lane again. Remember the winds?

Well, I dodged a couple cars, hoping no one would hit my cap, and rescued it once again. Only this time I happened to glance at the back. It was clearly labeled "Engine Oil." Sigh. I could have put it back on immediately if I'd just done that glance when I first found it.

Not only that, but in its tossing about in the wind, and/or the intervention of a car, it was now chipped as it hadn't been when I first picked it up.

So I trudge back home, use another tissue (hmm, maybe I should put in another box?) to wipe it clean, and put it back on the engine block, locking the barn door after about 3.5 quarts of oil had already escaped.

Hubby gets home and we (mostly him) wash off the engine with a garden hose and Dawn to cut the oil. I'm still worried because I'm not sure about the chip, because even with the washing there's still oil, and I'm worried about long term consequences on my baby.

I'm also not all that happy about the place that gave me my oil change. They're the only ones who ever touch the cap. My baby runs clean and clear. She doesn't lose oil or burn it, or at least not enough to be a cause of concern between oil changes and certainly not enough to pour some in on my own.

So here I am, grumbling about the mess, the injury to my car, and the person who'd failed to close the cap properly when my friend Val tells me to call the shop. At minimum I should report it, she says, so they can emphasize the importance, and at best they could do something to help. Well, I'd mentioned that to my hubby, but even though I'd only driven 98 miles (I use my car for road trips and little between), it had been over two months since the oil change. I hadn't been the one to take her in either. So I thought about waiting for hubby to get back from taking my youngest to the dentist, then I said no, I will deal with this disaster.

I called the company with my data on the mileage and the dates in front of me, expecting argument but hoping for the best as I asked who I should speak to about a problem with my last oil change. I was transferred to the service department and given into the hands of a gentleman called Ed. I laid out both the time and the few miles as I explained that the cap had come loose and sprayed oil all over the place.

I'd barely explained the basics when he asked: How soon can you bring it in?

Just like that. No quibbles, no "when did you last add oil," no "you waited too long."

I was stunned.

But then I remembered the chip and said that I wasn't sure she was drivable. But when I described the chip, he said it sounded fine to drive that far. And they would check it when I got there. Oh, and he also said that using Dawn was a bad call, not because it won't cut the oil, but because it can damage the paint job. Just in case you're ever in need of this info.

So not waiting another moment, I tossed my things in the car and set off. She drove okay, especially considering she'd just been hosed down with dishwashing soap. My hubby had warned me about some slippage of the belts so I was prepared for that, but when she stalled out, 18 years old and she does NOT stall, at a light, I started getting worried. I love my car if you haven't guessed and this shook me. Another almost stall, and I'd made it there. Found Ed, and he brought two others out to check the car. I went over everything again as they stared into my still-dripping engine. He unscrewed the cap and saw the damage there, declared she needed a complete engine detailing, a top off of oil, and a little TLC.

As we walked back, I asked about the gas cap, but he said the O-ring was fine so the chip would not affect the seal at all, one less worry. Then the guy moving the car can't get her to start. I'm staring at my little baby, watching her engine fail to turn over and imagining all sorts of disasters when a puff of black smoke comes out of her tailpipe and off she goes.

In comes Ed again to the rescue. He not only explains that the stalling and hard start is most likely water in the distributor cap from our attempt to wash the car, but that they'll deal with it. And the smoke is just because of the oil running everywhere. He takes me off to get a cup of coffee, listens to me waxing lyrical about my baby, my first car, my wonderfully reliable vehicle who is still on her first ever clutch after 18 years (got a surprised look on that one like I always do :D), and gets me a comfy seat to wait in.

Some time later (actually quite a bit of time during which she passed into my view then disappeared again much to my consternation), he comes for me and shows me my beautiful car again. Not only have they cleaned the engine, but they cleaned the rest of the car too just because. He proudly shows off the engine, saying I've probably never seen it so clean. I mildly deflate his statement as I remind him I bought her new, but she certainly hasn't been so clean in a long time. There's still hints of oil waiting to drip down from inside the hood because they can't very well clean up inside those tiny screw holes, but overall my car is in wonderful condition.

When I got home, my hubby noticed the receipt said their work was guaranteed for 90 days, so I was actually within the warranty period, but still, Ed took the time to take care of me, to reassure me, to answer questions about how to get the stains off our driveway even. I was impressed and coddled by their grand customer service.

My poor little canary is quietly back in her spot, having driven at least twice with oil splurting all over her engine without catching fire, blowing up, or doing any of myriad things that would have ended her little existence.

And now I have a car to take me back to the school to help with registration. I just hope this trip will be a little less eventful :D.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Evermore and Night Lost by Lynn Viehl

Evermore by Lynn Viehl

(Acquired: Valentine's Present)

By Jove, I think I have a favorite. I've been reading the Darkyn novels since the very first one and I love them. They're all the kind of book that makes you want to be late to appointments or stay up a smidge too long. But Evermore is just a bit better than the ones that have come before. It has all the elements we've come to expect from the Darkyn series with history creating trouble and bringing bad blood between people who surely should have resolved their differences centuries ago but for very plausible reasons did not. Things are tangled and twisted and what you think is right may or may not actually be so. And of course, Alex gets to wield her scalpel and prove once again that the knife is mightier than the sword :).

None of that is any different than the others, which is not to say the tales are anymore than superficially similar. What makes Evermore unique to me is its emphasis on love, true love as opposed to the obsession and blood bonds that bind the characters together in the other Darkyn novels. It's not so much that there is no love in the others but that the characters don't have to fight for their love as much as succumb to it? I'm not explaining well, and can't without spoilers, which I refuse to do. What I will say is that from the start I questioned whether this series belonged in the paranormal romance section. I read them because I enjoy Lynn Viehl's writing and because I don't care if they're romance or not if they're good books with compelling characters and an interesting tale. My husband certainly doesn't read the series for the bonding of hearts with nothing but love to hold them together ;).

Evermore, however, cuts through that distinction. This novel, more than any of the earlier ones in the series, is about real love, the kind of love you can walk away from and regret your whole life or you can decide to stick it out and do whatever it takes. A kind of love unassisted by blood bonds, by scents that twist the ability to decide. That to me is true love because ultimately it can fail. Ultimately the people can make a choice that will drive a copper-plated knife through the heart and leave only green-tinged scarring behind. Evermore brings us back to a love that anyone can share, a love that doesn't rest on the easy laurels of physiological and psychological bindings but which the characters have to fight for to make it work, to make it last.

Anyway, enough blathering on. I loved this book. I really like the rest, but I love this one :D.

It may be unfair to follow the Evermore comments with Night Lost just simply because Evermore was so much more than the others, but there it is. I wanted to post my new comments and couldn't fairly skip the previous book just because I hadn't posted it yet. Still, I don't think you'll find much amiss in these thoughts either :).

Night Lost by Lynn Viehl

(Acquired: gift)

I mentioned a long time ago (I think) how I felt that the first book of the Darkyn series seemed more like a world setup than a tight, strong story as much as I enjoyed the characters. Night Lost helps bring some of that together in such a wonderful way that it resolves issues I didn't even realize I'd been waiting for, but at the same time makes me feel more comfortable with the overall. As usual, there's a primary romance as well as further experiences for Alex and Michael. The story is strong, well-rounded, and has that ever important push and pull of a romance novel that makes the reader question how Nick and Gabriel will manage to pull this off despite the "happily ever after" requirement. My only quibble is a minor pattern of exceptions in the series (and no, I'm not saying more than that), but with my quibbles from If Angels Burn being resolved some time later, I'm willing to allow this discontinuity on the expectation that Alex will come up with a good explanation for what is going on. The worst part of finishing this book is the time before the next one comes out. If you haven't tried Darkyn (or you let the first one turn you off), I'd recommend giving it another try. Yes, these are vampire novels, but they're a different type of vampire, and Lynn Viehl always manages to come up with a new way of bringing two people together.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro

(Acquired: EOS Advanced Reader Review copy)

Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro is downright bizarre and completely compelling. I chose this book because it was about futuristic diplomacy, but the very beginning shows just how broad that definition is. This is a science fiction novel, that much is clear from the first page, but really it's a psychological thriller. There's so much going on that doesn't quite make sense but at the same time you're right with Andrea Cort as she tries to put the pieces together, hampered by her own limitations. I did have a point when I wondered if there were any clues for me to put together. I'd collected some, but none of them offered up a clear sight of an answer, so I questioned if the book had that ability. By the end, that concern was dismissed wholeheartedly. Not only had the clues I'd collected actually come to have meaning, but I'm kicking myself for missing something obvious, something that the other characters missed as well because they were thinking too narrowly, but I normally do better.

On the diplomatic side, this is more of an anthropological novel with the diplomats responsible for first contact. However, I can easily make the leap that those functions would become entwined as first contact and species relations became a matter of policy rather than academia. The world this novel is set in has levels of complexity that build on each other and provide fertile ground for the related novels hinted at to come. At the same time, the relationships and situations brought up within these pages make sense. Both the look at bureaucracy and the corporate extreme, while pessimistic, have clear seeds in our current world. This is a logical extension of humanity as existing today, with the added levels of other sapient species, including non-human artificial intelligences that spawned out of biological cultures that have long since died out.

Which brings me to my greatest surprise. I'm avoiding spoilers because this book is definitely one you need to experience in the order given to comprehend the results, but I do want to comment on the ending. As I approached the last few pages, I experienced a vague dissatisfaction because I was sure there was no way to wrap up some of the bigger layers, the ones outside of the scope of Andrea Cort's actual investigation. The investigation wrapped up if not tidily then at least appropriately considering the aims of all those involved (there were some facts that were to be suppressed no matter what, or so Cort was told in her initial briefings). And that was the surprise. After I'd given up hope, after I'd assumed the issue in mind would be spun off into a sequel, resolution happened. Not closure as there are definitely the seeds of another novel to come, but resolution. I hadn't given Adam-Troy Castro enough credit.

So going back to my original statement, this book was bizarre, strange, weird, not what I was expecting, and I'd definitely recommend it. Many were the times when I struggled to put it down because I had other things I had to get done; I often enough thought, "just one more scene," or "I'll read to the end of the next chapter," because I didn't want to step out of the kaleidoscope that was life on One One One.

If you like thrillers, the twisted works of the human mind, first contact, seeing the dangers of bureaucracy, and half a dozen other things people enjoy, there's something here for you.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

My "Young Whippersnapper" Rant

I really don't think of myself as old, but sometimes I do feel like I am because the definitions of the genre writing I've loved almost since I started reading have undergone a radical shift.

This is somewhat of an extension on my Arabian Nights rant, and a certain someone will snigger to read this. Her comments might have triggered this post, but the thoughts behind it are old.

I had a somewhat dicey initial experience with reading, which may have informed my attitudes somewhat. Because of that, I'll begin at the beginning and hope you'll stay with me.

I grew up believing I was a slow reader and just couldn't get impression that my dyslexia probably contributed to, but one it turns out was completely inaccurate. It wasn't until much later I learned the true story, which was this:

I went to a Montessori school much earlier than most kids because my older sister got to go, so of course I had to ;). When I joined the traditional school system, they made me repeat kindergarten three times because I was too young to start first grade. Add that to a family that reads and by the time I started first grade, I read at a reasonably sophisticated (for someone of my age) level.

That's the part that I didn't remember or recognize. I only know it from my parents telling me.

What I remember is that I was introduced to "reading" with the Dick and Jane books. These books were instantly worthless and boring so reading was obviously not worth learning. Looking back, they also have many similarly spelled words which are a nightmare for a dyslexic because the letters aren't the same each time you see them, a fact that may have contributed to my reaction.

So, in the most revolutionary way possible, I rejected the concept. I have my early report cards and they're laughable. I could not, or rather did not, read.

At the same time, my father would read Kipling to us every night out of these big black hardback books that were so removed from the Dick and Janes that I literally did not associate what he was doing with reading. I guess I thought it was just a prop because he was as likely to tell us a tale of his own making as to read it from a book. I have wonderful memories of all three of us girls in Jenn's room while Dad read from those books or told us tales. But it's the memory that focuses on the physical book. At the time, I really didn't comprehend that.

Then my older sister, a die-hard, avid reader even back then, forced books on me. I discovered there was so much more to the world of reading than Dick and Jane (though at this point I was reading more, just not avidly). She introduced me to Marion Zimmer Bradley (MZB) and Anne McCaffrey at about seven or eight years old. I don't remember whether it was my parents or Jenn who sucked me into the colored fairy tale books, but they all came at the same time in my memory.

Suddenly reading was wonderful. But I had it stuck in very distinct categories, that initial arrogance in rejecting Dick and Jane filtering through all my reading options.

Fairy tales were very structured and served their purpose.

Science fiction (which both MZB and Anne McCaffrey were classified as at that time) was wonderful, the harder the better, though I loved the soft sciences as well.

Fantasy? Well, that was stupid unicorn and fairy stuff, like the Dick and Jane. Okay, I didn't say I was discerning, just that I was adamant :).

My older sister spent years trying to push me to read fantasy. She occasionally succeeded, but it was *always* an exception. I would reluctantly admit that particular fantasy novel was a good read, but give me a hard SF any day, some Clarke, MZB, or Heinlein. I would never choose a fantasy novel on my own, or by my choice.

With this as my background, though I do read fantasy now...and a surprising amount of it is good ;)...I've always got a bit of a superiority complex, not for me, but for SF over frou-frou unicorn stuff. It's not supported by my reading habits, nor how I feel when I discuss specific works, but like not being able to fall asleep with gum in my mouth because my mother once told me I'd choke and die, it's ingrained, instinctive.

So you can imagine how it feels to have my favorite, the wonderful anthropological SF of MZB and McCaffrey, reclassified as that dreaded word...fantasy. And it's not right; it doesn't make sense. They're nothing like the fluffy unicorn or staid Tolkien high court fantasy. They're cultural, anthropological, and telepathic, all good scientific or scientific-based things. Nothing magic, nothing "you just have to accept because it is" about them.

The other day though, I had a breakthrough.

A friend who is not too much younger than me was introduced to Mercedes Lackey and Valdemar before she read MZB and McCaffrey. She says to me that psionics is clearly fantasy because magic horses use it. She says the elaborate cultures and social structures are clearly fantasy because...well...fantasy's like that.

At this point I fall to the floor and start kicking and screaming...okay, not literally, but how frustrating. When MZB wrote Darkover, fantasy wasn't like that. Fantasy has slowly moved from the pure fantastical to a more logical and cultural social basis. Bit by bit, fantasy is nibbling at the edges of what is clearly science fiction, stealing motifs and common elements of my favorites and undermining the definition of soft sciences so that the science part is left out. Instead of Tolkien and his constructed cultures or the random little races who exist for no other reason than to plague humanity, we have wars over resources, diplomacy, first contact, and half a dozen other traditional SF areas that are now claimed under the fantasy umbrella. For the first time in my life I understand the scoffing and embittered clinging of the hard SF folks. It's not that they really are trying to exclude the soft sciences or limit the definition of SF, it's that they're trying to hold something back, keep something sacrosanct before those fantasy writers take that away from science fiction too. I mean, look at it and tell me I'm wrong. Now magic has to follow rules, has to have physics either natural or created. It's not acceptable to just claim it works, you have to know why. How is that different than a science fiction that extrapolates so far beyond our current science that the only things they have in common are defined, consistent rules?

Now the funny side of this is simple. All these changes? Well, they've drawn me in. I now read more fantasy than I would have ever imagined I could. I can get my anthropological fix as easily from Robin Hobb as from Karen Traviss, my first contact from Wen Spencer whether she's writing about aliens invading the Earth or elves shifting between realms. I've been tricked! Deceived! Snookered into liking fantasy. It's all a sleight of hand. Don't look behind the curtain all you fantasy addicts...guess what you'll find? Science fiction.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Judging from my to be read pile, yes.

But no matter what, no matter how many of my old favorites you shuffle to another shelf, I've figured out the truth; I've figured out the trick. It's not that science fiction is becoming fantasy, it's that fantasy is becoming science fiction :). Now the prejudice against unicorns on the cover suddenly makes perfect sense. After all, whose roots can current fantasy claim? It's certainly not those frou-frou unicorn stories :).

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Albert's Rain by Annette Snyder

(Acquired: Blog contest by Rachelle Arlin Credo at

Albert's Rain was not quite what I was expecting, something I'm a bit grateful for because it ended up reminding me of a type of book I used to read but which dropped off the map.

I know Annette Snyder through one of the writers groups I belong to which is how I heard of the blog contest. However, on the group, Snyder has mostly mentioned romance novels, making me think this would be genre romance. The back of the book also supports that impression with statements like, "Can Albert's heart transcend language and barriers of repression and allow Rayna close?" Now I'm not saying the book does not have love within the story, because it does, but rather that the heart of the story is not two people overcoming barriers to come together.

No, Albert's Rain has no simple focus on the heart but rather speaks to the tangled web of emotions and reality that beset those confined to slavery before and during the Civil War. While I'm no historian and so cannot speak to the historical accuracy, this novel gave a very realistic seeming portrayal of a man who had set his heart on freedom and constructed his life to allow for no distractions from that goal. But everything changes when he crosses paths with a woman who has recently been torn from her island home and thrust into a life of slavery and of being owned that is as alien as the tongue everyone else around her speaks.

I studied literature in college with a focus on minority and women's lit. This book would have been comfortably tucked into any of my reading piles with its use of the rain as a harbinger of change and the way one man has to look beyond a strong and true desire to change his fate to accept responsibility for those around him.

Anyway, it's a powerful read that evokes both the cruelty and the compassion of that difficult time in US history through the eyes of a man and woman who come from different beginnings but find themselves joined by circumstance long before they admit there's more holding them together than just proximity.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Big Step Forward (an Ostrich Post)

Okay, folks, I've managed to make you fear for my life in my canary posts, so here we go, a new category...ostrich post :).

Where the canary bravely lives life on the edge (though usually not by choice), the traditional (not real) ostrich buries its head in the sand and hopes for the best. Don't know whether this is just a laugh or something useful for character study but...

I'm a nurturer. This has served me very well over the years and has been an incredible blessing in trying to manage the myriad of ways that my life changed when I married and when I had kids for example.

However, it has a downside. Very simply, it's hard for me to put my needs first. I have trouble buying things that I need if I can make do without them, I tend to get bowled over because I don't put my foot down, and being noticed makes me uncomfortable. Simple things that often go unnoticed in our "first person" world.

Well, today you should cheer for me...through your gales of pitying laughter of course ;)...because I have made a huge stride forward :).

When I was pregnant with my oldest son, my mother-in-law took me out to get some pregnancy clothes to places that honestly I could never have afforded on my own. Now remember that thing about not buying things for myself? Well it works out to being very uncomfortable when things are bought for me as well. But we muddled our way through my intimidation and discomfort quite handily and ended up with some clothing that while it could accommodate my physical changes, was also flexible enough that I'd be able to wear it more than nine months or even eighteen. (I wear clothes out, so ten, fifteen years later, I'm still in the same ones.)

Which brings us to the present (yes, all that was back story and if this were a short story, I would have to cut it out :p). My oldest turns fifteen on this very day. That means the whole preggy clothes purchase was some sixteen years ago.

Now many of the clothes purchased that day have worn out over the years, but I still have the leggings, mainly because I only wear them under jeans when cold because molded clothing is something I don't tend to wear...well, except for jeans, but I'm a bundle of contradictions :). One pair is my absolute favorite. It's good thick cotton with ribbing and is both comfortable and warm enough to make a difference. Given my preference, this is the pair I'd choose every time, except...

I have a long torso and short arms. This might sound like it has no relevance, but it is critical. It means that 90% of the tops I purchase, whether off the women's or men's racks, are not long enough to stay tucked in my pants as I prefer to wear them. So there's a tiny gap, okay, of several inches, of bare skin with nothing between it and the icy cold air.

And when I wear the pair of leggings I absolutely prefer because they're so comfortable and wonderful, their horribly scratchy and irritating label is right on that bare skin where it irritates until my back has a red itchy patch.

Now an age ago, I still clung to the belief that over time the label would get less scratchy, that as I washed it, the material would soften and become just another part of these comfortable leggings. Some sixteen years later? It's a bit long and WAY too many washings to hold on to that delusion. So instead, I just suffered. Accepted the bad with the good, accommodated to the world around me as I am wont to do. I still wore the leggings, just wasn't as thrilled or hopeful when I pulled them on.

However, this morning a crazy, wild, amazing thought crossed my mind.

Hmm, what if I...removed!...the label. I could do it. Just a few stitches snipped and my wonderful leggings would be wonderful all over. No one would care. No one would even know (a bit late for that now ;)).

So to make an already long story come to an end, that was my victory. I forced the world to conform to my needs for once. I changed my own environment to suit me. I snipped off the irritating label!

/me peeks out the curtains.

And the label police haven't even shown up yet as I sit here enjoying my now completely comfortable leggings :).

So, don't leave me out on a limb. Maybe I'm completely strange and out there, but I'd guess not. Share one of those moments where something becomes obvious that should have been all along so I'm not out here by myself :).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mike's Meme

Now I don't normally do tags because I struggle to come up with something to say, but I got tagged by a friend, Mike who's just as thrown by these things as I am, so I figure it's only fair :). Of course now I have to find six more to keep this going...eep! And the scary thing is that not only did I come up with six but I came up with more than six...and six not on Mike's list. As suspected though, it took all day to come up with six things to say.

1) When I was little, I was a matchstick white-blond who loved to wear mirrored dresses. Don't have a picture online of me back then, but the dresses looked sort of like this: Mirrored Dress. And in checking, I went to my parents' site to see if they did. They don't, but if you've ever wanted to do one of those semesters abroad on a ship, you might want to check out their blog: ScholarShip. Dad's teaching and Mom's coordinating offshore trips for a semester at sea.

2) I just recently started playing the guitar again with some seriousness (a friend is teaching me Spanish guitar) but I have a broad collection of instruments that I love but do not have time to play. Actually, it's more that I don't have anyone to play with, as for me, making music is not a solitary activity (Does this count as two?)

3) I had to put on my banned website lists in my browser because I was playing too much and it made my hands hurt...then I couldn't get the browser to stop banning it!

4) I appear all organized, but the reality is that I struggle to maintain order in my life and my study. I swear gremlins manufacture papers behind my back.

5) I have a fascination with large birds of prey. I love to watch them fly and want to be one with them up in the sky...which is bizarre considering I'm afraid of heights :).

6) When I was in sixth grade, I used to spend recess letting the bees dance along my arms and fingers. I never once got stung outside, but have been stung by bees at least twice inside my house, once in Virginia and once in California.

Here are the rules

Link to the person that tagged you
Post the rules on your blog
Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself
Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs
Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website