Dec 1 2018

Back from the land of limited Internet access


Yes, December 1, and my self-imposed fast is over.  It was… interesting.

I had considered the possibility of extending it through December, but it’s really become too inconvenient.  Since I spend most of my time at my office,  the things that one must do but can only do online started piling up.  I was able to take care of the urgent tasks for the duration, by doing them at home instead of here; but that had its own extra inconvenience, because all my supporting documents and paperwork and notes are here, too.

I’m very glad I did it, however, and I’ll certainly do it again.  For shorter periods, perhaps.  A month was pushing it; as soon as I logged on again, it was with a great flurry of bill-paying and finance tracking.

The experience helped me get a better perspective on how one’s day can be used to best effect.  I did some good stuff, and I’m rather pleased with myself!

I allowed myself to become bored, as well, and saw again how very useful that is.  A lot of what one perceives as the frantic pace of modern life is actually self-imposed.  Good to know…

I found that did a lot more reading than I had been doing lately, from feeling too stressed and time-pressed to give it the attention it takes. That was a great relief — I became a writer because I love the whole amazing mystery of words on a page turning into worlds in the mind.

And in aid of that, I checked out from the library (but have not yet got very far into) Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain.



I was inspired to get it in the first place, from hearing about Wolf’s latest book, Reader Come Home.


I had nabbed this because of its title and description — it seemed on-topic with my internet-fast experiment.  But once I started it, I realized that it would be a good idea to do Proust and the Squid first, since that one was more nuts-and-bolts.  Reader, Come Home seemed a more personal exploration and expansion of the repercussions of the information in the previous book.  So, I paused and backed up.  I’ll report back when I’ve read more.

As for fiction: the other day I decided I needed a breather (it’s sometimes very distracting to read fiction while I’m writing other fiction), and wanted something that I knew I could blast through — but would still have some real grace and strength.  YA, I thought, I want some YA — But good YA…

I have two reliable choices when it comes to that: Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series; and anything by Scott Westerfeld.


I confess that I had originally avoided reading this, because I knew that it involved a teenage girl who wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, sold it to a big-league publisher, and got vaulted into the publishing world and New York City, and the idea just made me jealous.  I freely admit this!  They didn’t have NaNoWriMo when I was in my teens — they didn’t even have the Internet. My buried seventeen-year-old me was grumpy and envious of the publishing career of a fictional character.

Well, but I could not leave it unread for long, because: hey, Scott Westerfeld.  I don’t think he’s ever disappointed me. So, this seemed a good time to give it a go.

Well worth the wait.  I swallowed it in two big gulps.  It has everything I could ask for in a YA.  And I even did not mind that it had a romance — two, actually.  I generally can’t stand books that center on romances, but one thing my favorite authors are able to do is make me like a book of categories that I generally do not like at all.

But I must say… if the protagonist’s first-novel advance is typical for YA writers, then I definitely am in the wrong genre! Ouch.

One interesting thing about reading YA is the meta-view, the overview.  It’s easier to see the bones, and appreciate the skill going into the twists of plot an turns of phrase.  In Afterworlds, Westerfeld alternates chapters of his protagonist’s real life as she enters the publishing world with chapters of the YA supernatural romance that the protagonist is completing.  It sounds like a cute gimmick, but its execution is not gimmicky at all, and he keeps both stories rolling along.  It’s a book that’s very intelligently written, while remaining as involving as a YA needs to be.  I’m sorry I waited so long  — and I learned a lot from reading it, I must say.

Plus: It has one of my all-time favorite sentences ever written by a human being.  When it showed up on the page, I was stunned.  I had to put the book down, and just sat there, saying the sentence over and over to myself.

Okay, it won’t hit everyone the way it hit me; but it perfectly articulates a thing that I knew, a thing that matters to me, but that I never articulated.  It is so true, and so simply said, that I cannot help but love it.

It’s a line said by the protagonist’s little sister — just a quip, just a tossed-off half-joke, as she casually explained her love of math:


Westerfeld just tossed that off, and went back to the story.

See, this is what the writers I love do.




Nov 22 2018

Okay, this is hard!


My Internet fast is far more difficult than I thought it would be.

One reason is that I spend so very much time at my office.  It’s not just where I write; it’s where I do pretty much everything, except sleep at night and have breakfast in the morning.  Writing, reading, finances, correspondence, research, phone calls, social media and even general chilling out — all of that gets done at my office.  I keep my guitar there as well, and do most of my practicing there, after normal business hours.  Very useful, given the amount of noise I can generate, including vocal exercises that are no fun for those listening, and the endless repetition necessary when learning a new and demanding guitar lick.  It’s cruel to inflict those on housemates and neighbors.

But being there for so long every day now means being disconnected for that whole long day.

It’s really surprising how often one (or at least this one) generally accesses the internet. Admittedly, I don’t need to look at Facebook or Twitter as often as I had been.  And even though, of course, I do so not merely out of social curiosity, but for legitimate writerly business reasons — well,  it’s still easy to slide from biz to social without even noticing.

And aside from that, there’s a sort of casual info-checking that I do automatically.  You know: how a particular word might be spelled ; where Albania is really located as opposed to where you think it’s located (I actually did need to know that the other day); that news the other day, about the black hole at the center of our galaxy, now where’s that article located again?; and really,  how many calories are there in a cucumber?

It’s a sort of off-site memory storage.

And I find myself a bit dubious about that lately.

I don’t want to sound like Socrates arguing against the usefulness of writing things down; but I sometimes worry that it’s become too easy to look something up instead of, say, learning it.  There’s a significant difference between knowing where to find something, and actually knowing it.  Especially if your intention is to create something new.  You can’t manipulate a fact or a principle in your imagination if it does not reside in your working memory (at least), or your long-term memory (for best result).

But if you’re a nerd like me, you love finding things out.  Every now and then, I’ve caught myself allowing the fun of finding information to replace the satisfaction of acquiring it; like picking flowers, and then tossing them over your shoulder so that you can go pick more flowers.

But despite all the above — damn, the internet is a godsend, isn’t it?   You know: information on your medical condition that your doctor doesn’t have time to explain; research into esoteric subjects; beauty, beauty, beauty;  inspiration; that book you’ve wanted all your life but couldn’t find, oh, there it is!; instant support from your far-flung friends when you’re down in the dumps and no one around you really understands; witticisms and wonders.

Well.  I feel I’m coming to appreciate the internet even more, now that it’s not always available.  As well as recognizing more clearly how easily it can steal time.

And in case you’re wondering: allowing myself to become bored is starting to pay off.

In other news: I mentioned briefly last time that I’d seen the movie First Man, and really enjoyed it.

I found the style particularly interesting.  The director (Damian Chazelle) made the decision to keep the camera, and thus the viewer, very close to Armstrong’s own perspective.  It’s immediately evident from the opening scene, where Armstrong is test-flying the X-15, and our point of view stays inside the cockpit.   We get to experience the events as  Armstrong did. It’s quite a different approach from other films about the space program.   As much as possible, a close perspective is maintained through the film.  And when it can’t be — say, when portraying events Armstrong did not see for himself — the film still employs a version that close style.  This leads to the sort of understatement that can make some things come across even more powerfully than if they were highlighted and stressed in the usual sort of way.

(Thinking of one scene in particular, but I can’t tell you about it without spoiling the power of the effect.  Yes, I know: it’s impossible to spoil the events because this is history.   Lots of you out there — space-program fanatics like me — will be following along in indelibly-graven memory, word-for-word.  But naming the scene would still spoil the effect.)

And the close-focus effect works particularly well because this is not a film about the space program.

It’s a film about Neil Armstrong.   It’s specifically about his experience, and it’s a portrait of the person he was, and how he lived within the world as it existed at that time.

And you know… I had completely forgotten how really oppressive it was to be a guy in the 1950’s.  We tend to talk about how hard it was for women (and damn, it was), but the guys had it rough in a whole other way.

And sure, things got loose & wild in the 60’s — but not for the mainstream, folks.  For most people, it was basically still the 50’s.

So:  a very good film, in so many ways.  You should see this.  Even people indifferent to the space program should see it, because of the excellent character exploration.   And hey, you’ll probably find yourself with some time this weekend, what with hanging with family for the holiday, and running out of things to do.  A good opportunity to drag ‘em to the movies.  Although, small children would not be able to relate to this, I think; it’s probably too nuanced.  But that’s why multiplexes were invented!

Now, if you want something that is about the space program, that really explores, explicates and celebrates it — you want this:

From the Earth to the Moon

12 hours of brilliant, brilliant presentation.  Great actors, great writing, and it looks at how we got ourselves to the moon, from every possible angle, including angles that you did not know existed.  Produced by Tom Hanks — hey, with Tom Hanks involved, how can you go wrong?  I could write reams and reams about how wonderful this miniseries is.

But I’ve said enough.  Time to post this thing and get back to — well, I’ve actually taken the day off to catch up on home tasks, internet tasks, and general home-style chilling out (including TV — have you seen Netflix’s Bodyguard yet? Wow).

I hope your Thanksgiving was great, and full of good food, good friends, and dear family.  Or equivalent other things that you want to spend time on instead!

Nov 12 2018

Internet Fast!


No, I have not lost all sense of syntax; nor have I, for the sake of brevity, decided to communicate for the immediate future entirely in tabloid-style headlines.

In fact, I’m not attempting to comment on the speed of my wifi connection at all.  The key here is: which word is the adjective, and which is the noun?

That’s right: I’m going on an Internet fast.  For the month of November, I have no wifi access at my office.

You know how easy it is to be enticed away from the task at hand when, right there on your desk, you have instant access to everything currently known so far about entire universe and everything in it, including all the possible opinions on every aspect of it.  And oh, five minutes from now?  There will be more new stuff and opinions that weren’t there before!

Well.  What red-blooded nerdy kid-at-heart could keep away from that bag of Haloween candy?

Of course it’s easy to stay on task when things are running smoothly and are themselves lots of fun.  But when the going gets rough, the frustrated look for diversion.  And that can be counterproductive in more than one way.

It’s not just that random googling, rabbit-hole researching, virtual window-shopping, Facebook-checking, Twitter-quipping, what’s-my-ex-doing-these-days-holy-frakkin-A-he’s-bought-himself-a-Tesla eats up time; it actually can steal from you one of your most valuable creative assets.

That would be: boredom.

I’ve been re-reading Manoush Zomorodi’s book, Bored and Brilliant. Zomorodi is the creator and host of the podcast Note to Self, and the book is a compilation of and expansion on a series of participatory experiments and investigations that Zomorodi ran on the podcast.  That’s where I first encountered the material, and found it all very illuminating.  I was glad to hear that she put it all together in a book.


Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self

Don’t let the cheesy blurb put you off.

The idea is that we’ve become so addicted to immediate diversion and entertainment via our devices and apps that we’ve lost touch with the constructive aspects of boredom.

Basically, when we have nothing to do, we think stuff up.

Our current hyper-connected lifestyle too often doesn’t permit even the briefest empty moment — we fill it immediately with a game, a glance at social media, a swift scan of the news.  And that ability is available to us all the time.  We turn to trivial entertainment, using up time and bandwidth, and eroding our ability to focus.

Zomorodi doesn’t just make assertions and collect opinions on the subject: she’s investigated previous ideas in the area, and checked out the current scientific research on what our brains actually do when we think they’re doing nothing.

Her prose style is not always to my taste… there’s a bit too much fake-casual chumminess, in the modern pop-psychology self-help-book style.  But the content is not pop-psych at all, and I don’t think you’ll find it all gathered in one place anywhere else.  (I preferred the the podcast’s presentation of the info, but I can’t seem to find those episodes any more.)

Now, I won’t (as Zomorodi’s experts suggest) get rid of Facebook and Twitter.  That’s how I stay in contact with far-flung friends, fans, and colleagues.  They’re social tools, but they’re also professional tools.  (That time that Anita Sarkeesian tweeted that she liked my books, my sales went through the roof.)

Plus, they help me understand what’s on people’s minds out in the real world.  But I do not have to look at them so many times in a day!  Honestly.

So: lack of office internet should help to keep the whim-searches under control.  I do have my phone, and I  have access to the Internet through that — but I don’t have an unlimited data plan, so I have to keep my access down.  I’m mainly using it for email, just in case something urgent comes through.

One hardship is the loss of streaming music via Pandora or Amazon Prime Music.  I do have plenty of mp3’s on my computer, and I can set them running.  But sometimes I rather like not knowing what’s going to play next, and the possibility that it might be something that I’ve never before heard in my life.  Alas, what to do?

Then I remember this thing, called — what was it now? Oh, right: Radio.  Turns out I had one in the back of my closet and by golly, it works!  I found a local classical station, and it’s quite lovely.  Also good for the news.

This is an experiment, for the month of November (and if I feel like it, December), and it only holds at my office (where I do spend most of my time).  I still have Internet access at home, and my morning ritual includes breakfast surfing, news sites, and Facebook — rather the way my Dad would read the newspaper over breakfast when I was a kid.

And should I need to do some heavy-duty research or downloading in the middle of the day, the library is just down the street.  Also, Starbucks and Dunkin’.

And as for blogging– well I wrote this offline and uploaded it when I got home.  And my email sends me a notice when anybody posts a comment.  So, we’re covered!

Now, from all this, you might have discerned that I’m planning to be especially focused on the book this month; and in this you are correct.

My tradition has been to head off to some undisclosed location over the Thanksgiving week and weekend, and have a bit of a writing retreat.  Being in an unfamiliar setting can be refreshing and invigorating.  But this year, I can’t afford to actually go away.  So, I have to refresh and invigorate myself by sheer force of will!

An Internet fast can’t hurt.

In other news: Saw the movie First Man. with my sister, and our pals R. and J. (You know who you are.)  Loved it.  I’ll say more later (this is getting too long), but I wanted to say right off that if anyone tells you that the American flag is not shown on the moon, don’t believe them.  It’s right there, in several shots.  What’s not included is the specific moment of planting the flag.  But the flag is there, despite what other people might be telling you.

I’ll say more in a couple of days; I’ve run out of time tonight.

Nov 6 2018

Hey, I voted!


You should, too.

Haven’t done it yet?  Are your polls still open?

Go do it now.  Seriously.

If you don’t vote, you let other people make important decisions for you.  Are you sure you’re going to like those decisions?  Do you think that all those other people, the ones out there voting right now — do you think that you’d agree with them all? Are you okay with the choices they’re making for you?

For you?

Instead of you?

Please.  If you haven’t yet, go do it.  Vote.

and you get a cool sticker.

Oct 21 2018

Montreal other than Scintillation. Plus: inexplicable symbolic architectural embellishments


Aside from the actual Scintillation events, it was nice to be in Montreal.   I’d only been there once before, as a teenager, when the family trekked up to see Expo 67.  Alas, we did not stay for long, as the trip was cut short by one family member who decided not to have good time.  (Hint: that person was not me, nor my sister, nor my mother, and there were only four people in our family.)   We left after not seeing very much at all.

I do recall, however, that one did not need a passport to visit Canada in those days.  I driver’s license would suffice.

This time I spent a lot of pre-trip angst worrying that I’d forget my passport and get turned back at the border!  I put the word PASSPORT! in various locations in my to-do lists, notes and bulletin board.  Just in case.

I had not realized that Quebec was so flat between the border and Montreal.   It was quite flat, for many miles, and very agricultural.

I got all excited when we crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway.  I don’t know why, but ever since reading about it in my Geography book as a kid,  it just seemed to me a very cool thing.  And it was!  Except that the bridge we were using (the Champlain Bridge) was under repair and squeezed down to two lanes.  Meanwhile, what looked like a brand-new bridge was being constructed right next the the one we were on, and it looked like it was going to be absolutely gorgeous: a graceful, modern design.   With plenty of lanes.

Actually, much of Montreal seemed to be undergoing repair — at least the parts that we were driving in.  A lot of stop and go, and we did not complain, as most cities have some of that going on.  New York, for example.  Plenty of repairs.  But it was Sabine who noticed the key difference.

Nobody was honking their horns.  Nobody was running the red-lights, or creeping into the intersections.  No causing gridlock.  And when the traffic cops gave a directing wave, everybody did what they were asked to do.

Whoah, we said.  Canada.

The hotel was very nice (if hard to figure out how to enter), right adjacent to Montreal’s Chinatown.  Loved the koi pond in the lobby, with the stone paths criss-crossing it.

And I took a little time out to wander the area (both alone and with Sabine),  and got some  good exercise and interesting sightseeing.

There seems to be a lot of public art…

This pole was QUITE tall.


Credit where credit is due.


A mural in Chinatown.


And then there was this:

Right to left.

These ladies were up on the third floor of a building — apparently just a random building, with nothing special in it other than old offices and a ground-floor shop of some sort.  They are left over, I assume, from a time when the building was much more important, and when buildings in general were likely to feature Important Patriotic Messages!  Embodied as women.  Carrying meaningful symbols.

I often make a point of looking for  odd architectural embellishments on old buildings, especially statuary.   And when they represent the apotheoses of some presumed elevated principle of a bygone era, even better.

These gals delighted me.  And confused me…

We see here, from right to left:

A Native North American, because hey, Canada. Let’s include the people who were here first!

Next, there’s… well, she doesn’t look very Asian, but that’s Buddha in a lotus position on her shield so…  this was right adjacent to Chinatown, so one can see the connection they’re going for, right?

Then, well: white lady with a good ol’ British lion, hurrah!

But then, on the far left:

Why here?

That’s a stereotype of a pharaoh-style head-dress.  And hieroglyphic-style figures on the shield…

So…  why Egyptians?  Why on the front of a building?  In Montreal?

What’s the message?  I’m baffled!

Can anyone explain this?  Because I just can’t decode this one.

Also: I’d like to give a shout-out to author Su Sokol and her partner Glenn Rubenstein, who made it possible for Sabine and me to not miss the Dead Dog party on Sunday night, when we would have otherwise been driving home.  Su and Glenn let us stay in their guestroom, with zero forewarning, and provided interesting conversation as well!  And breakfast the next day.   It was really kind and generous of them.

On the way home, we stopped off at Lake Champlain, which was lovely, even in the rain.

For some reason, people build cairns along the shore.  I don’t know why.



Oct 20 2018

Scintillation, Part the Third.


There were two other panels that I participated in, both well worth the time.

One was on Writing a Series, with Ruthanna Emrys, Sherwood Smith, Debra Doyle (with her oft-times collaborator Jim MacDonald commenting from the audience), and Fran Wilde.  Many issues were covered, including: planned series vs. accidental series ;   secondary characters who end up getting their own story;  famous series and what makes them good, bad or indifferent;  series where the milieu is the integrating element, with multiple simultaneous series weaving in and out.

In that last category, the prime example is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.  There are so many threads going on in that world: the witches; the wizards of Unseen University; Sam Vimes and the Night Watch; Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men; Moist von Lipvig, the reformed con artist who keeps getting dumped into important bureaucratic positions —  what am I leaving out? Because there’s more.  We took a little time reminding ourselves about how wonderful those books are.  They aren’t just charming and humorous; they include some true and deep observations about the human condition, and it’s so clear how much Pratchett just loved his characters.  And he didn’t just love them himself; he had a level of skill that allowed him to bring us right into the story, and love them too.  He was so wonderful. I’ll miss him forever.

Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan  series was held up as a good example of a series that follows one character across his or her life, and the panelists and audience had much to say about how they loved that series…  But alas, inexplicably, it has just never managed to grab me. I can’t explain it.  There seems to be nothing wrong at all with the books.  I simply fail to engage fully.  I’ve tried lots of times!  I suppose I ought to try each and every book, just to be sure.  Maybe there’s an entry point that will open it all up for me.  Because once I’m in, there will be a lot more available!  And I do feel a bit left out… Fortunately, Bujold does not need me.  She has plenty of people who love what she does, and more power to her, I say.

As for the authors in the panels:  Fran Wilde spoke of always having a plan, but also always going off-plan.  She needs the plan to exist, but never sticks to it.  Ruthanna spoke of having a place she wants the story to go, but not always knowing how she’s going to get there (I believe it was her who said that… I might be misremembering).  I told of how I always know where I want the story to end up, and really do like to have a planned structure to the story, which lets me tell tales that are integrated and interlocking; but the moment- to-moment writing happens at the keyboard, and I’m open to surprises, too.

The third Panel was “Where are the Books Like Pandemic?” with Alison Sinclair, Eugene Fischer and Ruthanna Emrys.   Pandemic is a board game, one that is unusual in that the players are not set against each other.  Instead, everyone cooperates toward a common goal — preventing the pandemic of the title.  I haven’t played it myself (yet; Sabine bought it), but I’m looking forward to it.  And the topic of the panel was:  What are the books that work that way?  Books that have no villain, that don’t pit person against person, but involve people working together for a solution to a problem?

Jo was supposed to be the moderator, but was called away for a family emergency.  Her role was ably covered by Emmet O’Brien, who did a bang-up job and introduced us to the idea (he was quoting someone, but I missed who it was — was it Jo’s son Sasha?) that the three types of plot can be expressed as “Man vs. Man, Man vs. Plan, and Man vs. Canal,”

And as we talked the issue through, it did become clear that most non-adversarial novels tended to fall under “Man vs. Canal.” There was a thing, a physical thing that had to be done, and we got together and did it, hurrah!  Blow up the asteroid, explore the alien world, make that starship.  I brought up Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky as in that category.  Let’s Terraform Ganymede!  But then we had to take time out to collectively grind our teeth at 1950’s Heinlein’s attitude towards women, and his assumption that a Real Man knows how to do All the Things,

I made sure to bring up what I consider a prime example of a cooperative novel that is not  in the (Hu)man vs. physical thing category:

Geary Gravel’s novel has no villain, and no big physical survival challenge for the characters to solve.  Instead, it’s a group of people gathered together to address an idea, an assumption held by a civilization.  It almost functions, in some ways, as the intellectual equivalent of a classic heist movie: individuals are selected according to the particular skill they each posses, and the organizer has to convince them to undertake this great cooperative task.

And… I’ve stayed up way too late again.  But that does cover the official parts of my visit to Montreal.

Next up: The unofficial parts.



Oct 19 2018

Scintillation, Part Two.


I really didn’t quite know what to expect from a panel all about my books.

Jo did contact me first, to make sure I was okay with the whole idea.   And after I was done being gobsmacked, I shifted over to chuffed, and naturally gave my approval for the whole concept!  What’s not to like, right?

Then, at some point, I went into a sort of “Wait, what?” mode.   Was that really going to happen? 

And I remained in something like a state intellectual limbo.   Because, how would that even work?  Could it even work?  How was I going to react, on stage, with a whole panel full of people discussing my work?  Could I predict my own reaction?  Should I even try?  Was I likely to pass out cold from the sheer unbelievablity of the situation?  If so, should I bring, like, a pillow to fall down on?  You know, just in case?


I eventually reached a stable point, propped up by the facts that the panel was thought up by Jo, who I know likes my books; and included Alison Sinclair, who I know likes my books; and Cenk Cokce, who I know likes my books; and while I’d never met Liza Furr, chances were pretty strong that she was on the panel because she liked my books.  And the audience was probably there because they liked my books.  These people were not likely to be there to tear me down…

On the other hand, that did not change the sense of unreality.   This was something from the Daydream Zone.

I decided to just roll with it.  Plus: it was one panel that I did not have to prepare for beforehand.  No research required.

And how did it turn out?

Here’s the thing.

There’s one thing that a writer — or any artist, for that matter — wants more than anything.  And that is to be understood.

To know that you have reached someone, and that they have seen what you’ve done, and known what it means.  It’s a sort of doubled success: you know, from the reader understanding, that you’ve managed to communicate well and clearly; and you see, by the reader understanding, that the people you hoped existed actually are out there.  It’s encouraging and uplifting from two directions at once.

Possibly I’m speaking for myself here — but really, what artist doesn’t want that?

Fame and fortune?  Sure, it would be great.   But without that understanding, it would be pretty empty.

At that panel, I had a whole room of people who understood, and who also told me that I understood them.   They showed that they are the people for whom I wrote those books.

And when they brought up particular moments in the stories that they especially liked — it was always for the  very reasons that I’d put those moments in there.

One woman in the audience told of how glad she was about Lorren and Eamer in The Language of Power, because it’s rare that you see in fiction any depiction of people who are elderly but still so very much in love; and that’s exactly why I’d put them there.  Because people do sometimes stay in  love forever, getting old doesn’t mean it’s over.   And then her saying that she loved the closing lines of that scene — and them someone else actually quoted them to her.

And (I think it was) Alison bringing up the fact that it’s  good to see books where the central  relationship is a friendship and not a romance; and I was so glad to hear that, because that’s exactly what I wanted to get across: that friendship is a deep and wonderful relationship, and it just isn’t recognized enough in literature.

And of course, there was talk about the original turnaround in the first book — And I’m always interested in hearing from readers about at what point they “got it.”  Because that point is not the same for everyone, and the difference is  not at all linked with how intelligent you are.  It has to more to do with your expectations, your preferences, and even your hopes.

And another thing I noticed: how very kind and careful everyone was in skirting around possible spoilers for readers who haven’t gone through the whole four books.  That was so generous of people toward future readers.   In fact, the only slightly negative reaction I got was when I accidentally dropped  a spoiler for The Outskirter’s Secret.   Some gentle warning rumbles from the crowd… it was actually very gratifying that they would care so much!

I was… well, I was  overwhelmed, delighted, encouraged, heartened.

So, my thanks to Jo, to the panel, and to the audience… and all of you reading this.  Because I’m pretty sure you’re here for the same reasons that people showed up for that panel.

I’m glad you’re out there.

Tomorrow: more about the rest of the convention.







Oct 18 2018

Scintillation in Montreal, Part One.


Way back on Monday of last week, I got back from Scintillation, the brand-new small convention in Montreal that Jo Walton started up via Kickstarter.

For years Jo had been throwing a  big yearly event called the Farthing party (after one of her novels), and this year she wanted to convert it into a more formal convention.  Using Kickstarter to fund it, she managed to get enough interest to keep it going for the next couple of years.

So: success!

The event itself was delightful.  After going to so many humongous conventions across the years, it was nice to attend one that wasn’t overwhelming, but was still interesting at every turn.  It was a great bunch of guests (not least of whom was the amazing Jo herself), plenty of opportunity to both hold forth on a panel and chat informally, a pleasant hotel, and a brand-new city to visit.

I  did not catch any of Ada Palmer’s panels, but I did get to hear her and her Sassafras companions perform on Saturday night.  They did some Renaissance tunes and selections from Ada’s Norse mythology song cycle, “Sundown”.   Jo added to the entertainment by reading a selection of her poems.  The woman seems to just generate sonnets spontaneously — I don’t know how she does it.  Makes me a bit jealous, actually.

I had some lovely conversations with friends old and new, like Ruthanna Emrys and her wife Sarah. I caught Ruthanna’s reading, where she read first from  Winter Tide, Book 1 of the Innsmouth Legacy; and then a bit from her upcoming novel, The Fifth Power (link has slight spoilers!), which was really quite a treat.  I’ve already fallen in love with the characters — protagonist and spouse had to pause to change the baby’s diapers while investigating an alien fortress.  My kinda people.


Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy) by [Emrys, Ruthanna]

Jo read from an upcoming work, as well, one scheduled for release next year:

Without giving too much away, it’s about Savanarola, who was apparently not the S.O.B. you thought he was.  The part Jo read made me smile, and at a couple of points laugh out loud.   Really looking forward to this one.

Sabine and I also had a nice dinner and conversation with Alison Sinclair, who I met a couple of years ago at and before Worldcon in Kansas City.

You really should check out Alison’s Darkborn Trilogy; she’s used such an interesting setup for her world and society.   I’ve only read the first one, and really enjoyed it — but Sabine’s read them all and can’t say enough good things about them!

Another discovery of Sabine’s:

Arabella of Mars (The Adventures of Arabella Ashby Book 1) by [Levine, David D.]

I bumped into David at the giveaway table — literally, as I physically bumped into him, and also knocked all his books off the table as I was setting up mine, causing him to view me askance as I dithered through an apology.  But Sabine glommed onto his first book, and fell in love instantly.   She got all the sequels, and is now full of enthusiasm about how delightful they are.  High adventure!  Plucky heroine!  You  should take her advice and check them out. I plan on doing exactly that myself.

As for me: I had three panels and a reading.   I read the bits that I previously read at Readercon, so if you went to that, you didn’t miss anything new…

But the panels were an interesting selection —  and I’ll say more about them tomorrow (running out of time today)…  Let’s just say that the words “chuffed” and “gobsmacked” both apply.




Sep 27 2018

That retreat…


Actually, I got back from the writing retreat with Laurie J. Marks over a week ago.  I just neglected to blog about it… this being due to my going right back into hunker-down-and-flail mode on Book 5, and basically ignoring all else.

But it was, in fact, a lovely time!  I don’t often  get to hang with Laurie for extended periods, so that alone made it a treat.

There were some negatives, however, one being: Far too short!  It was Friday through Monday, which sounds like four days, but when you really work it out comes down to two days.  One spends the first day getting there, setting up and settling in, and the last day packing up, moving out, and getting home.

But still, well worth the trip.  I’d show you some photos, but alas: my phone’s ancient battery refused to hold a charge, and shut the phone down any time I tried to do anything. I managed to take exactly one photo.

Fortunately, Laurie’s phone was just fine, and I’ve shamelessly nabbed her photos from Facebook:

Very very small.

The Hermit’s Hut, as they call it, is not accessible by any vehicles except back-country 4×4’s, which neither of us had.  Luckily, a member of the staff was on hand to shuttle our gear up the hill; but on the way back down, we were on our own.


All this. Down a hill. Except where the road went up for a bit. Then it was up a hill.

This was a fairly heavy load, but at least we were going down (mostly).  What was more difficult was hauling water up the hill, which we fortunately only needed to do once.

The hut was not really primitive as such; it would more accurately be called basic.

Interior, seen from the couch where Laurie mostly worked.

It was comfortable, and had both a screened porch and a screened pavilion, which I immediately claimed as my workspace!  Because I so love to be outdoors when I work.

My one and only successful photo.

The woods around were crisscrossed with multiple trails, both long and short, both climbing and ambling.  They invited thoughtful wandering, and in one case exhausting bushwhacking when we lost track of the trail markers.  It was an adventure.

I tended to be in front, as possessor of the trail map.  I was constantly running into  cobwebs and flailing at them, which at least spared Laurie the trouble!   They were replaced overnight, to be broken again the next day.

On our final day, what must have been one supremely frustrated spider constructed a massive web across the main access road as we were descending — his last chance to get us, and he made it good.

We successfully avoided becoming a meal or possibly a banquet for the entire spider-neighborhood.

Luckily I spotted it before running into it, and we sidled around.  Far too excellent a construction to break out of spite!  This thing must have been four feet wide, and was anchored right across the entire road.  You have to respect that.

But the critical question: was it a productive retreat?


I’m really tied to the keyboard.   At a keyboard, I think and it appears on the screen as if by magic.  I’m hardly aware of typing at all.

But it would be very useful for me to be able to write prose by hand, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to give it a solid, serious try.

Not very successful.   Prose written by hand just doesn’t look real to me.  I could make no good progress…

However, I’ve always been able to write analyses of the work in progress by hand, and spent some time bouncing ideas off myself, and reading the  manuscript print-out I brought along and noting what needed attention.  And then I worked on a poem; and when that stalled, on a different poem.

And then I worked on some song lyrics, which I’ve always written by hand.  And then I remember a song I wrote ages ago which I cannot stand to sing because the bridge was just awful.  The verses are gorgeous!  The melody is lovely!  The bridge is dreadful, clunky bad in pretty much every way —

Ah, but now I am much older and wiser, and I decided I could write a better bridge, one that did not actively suck all the beauty out of the song.  So, I worked on that for a bit, and discovered that I’d completely forgotten all the lyrics of the entire song except for the chorus.  I spent some time painstakingly recovering all the verses except for one line.  And that was enough to start figuring what went wrong on that bridge.

What went wrong became very quickly evident: I had tried to cram an entire novel’s worth of story into a four-line bridge.  Yeah.  That never works.

And yet, back when I was primarily trying to be a songwriter, that’s the error I made over and over — trying to put too much into one song.  I am, apparently, really a novelist.

Still, I do think I can rescue Hannah’s Song, now that I see the problem.  Songs are moments — forget the plotlines, the complications, and anything like a message.  Think awareness, now-ness, more like mindfulness meditation.

I think I can work with that.



Sep 12 2018

Radio silence due to hunkering down. Plus: easy on the eyeballs!


September and October both have chunks of time devoted to non-writing events, so I’ve been trying especially hard to hunker down and get some wordage banked so that I don’t actually fall behind.

Laurie Marks and I are heading off for a brief writerly retreat this weekend; a couple of weekends later, it’s Scintillation in Montreal (a new small convention  instigated by the remarkable Jo Walton); three weeks later, a visit to pals in Newport (an immense long-weekend house party).  And after that, Thanksgiving looms.

Actually, Thanksgiving has been a traditional time for me to hunker down especially hard, basically ignoring the entire world.  Sometimes I go away to do that; this time I’ll stay put.  It’s sort of the opposite of a staycation.

Usually, when I’m writing intensively I find it very distracting to read fiction.  If I immerse myself in someone else’s imagined universe, it can be hard to get my head back into my own imagined universe.  I tend to stick to non-fiction when I’m writing, but lately I’ve been on a fiction diet for far too long and could stand it no more.  So, more or less at random, I picked up Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep, about which I knew nothing — except that I’d read his Ventus ages ago and liked it.


Lockstep: A Novel by [Schroeder, Karl]

It turned out to be a YA — not a problem, actually, as many fine books are written for young adults, and deserve to be read by everyone (Scott Westerfeld is one of my personal favorites).  Lockstep is definitely a young-protagonist travel-through-wonders book, and it has one of the most interesting solutions I’ve seen to the social ramifications of slower-than-light interplanetary travel.

On the science side, I picked up Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Science Astray  some time ago,  but didn’t have a chance to get into it until now.

One of the interesting things about science is the way that a true theory so often turns out to be one that’s perceived as beautiful.  Hossenfelder takes the remarkable iconoclastic view that not only is this not universally true,  it’s actually doing damage to the pursuit of new breakthroughs in understanding foundational physics.

I haven’t got very far into it yet, so I can’t yet say whether she’s sold me on the idea.  But I do love seeing things turned upside-down, so I’m sure I’ll find it interesting no matter what.

On the audiobook side of things, I’m about halfway through Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, and I think that I’d do better reading it instead of listening… I might switch modes.   I’m having difficulty getting involved in the story, and I think it might be due to the fact that I read faster than I hear, and my brain gets impatient.

Everfair: A Novel by [Shawl, Nisi]

In other news:  One problem about writing intensively is the fact that you can end up spending whole days staring at a computer screen.  Actually, that’s a fact of modern life in general, not just a writer’s life.  We stare at our screens.  A lot.

Much has been said lately about the issue of blue light vs. more natural light, and the negative effects on sleep patterns of all this screen-time.  But a lot of it comes down to the fact that you’re basically staring directly at a source of light, for hours on end.

I used to deal with this by making MSWord, and later Scrivener, jump through some rather tedious hoops where I paint the background some dark color and the letters some other lighter color, thus reducing the light-source to the individual letters,  rather than the big fat background.  The problem there was reversing the fussing-around when I wanted to print out or email things.

But rather to my surprise, Windows 10 has a nifty feature built right in!  Yes, the operating system that we love to hate but have to have!

With one click, I can change this:

ARGH! My eyes!

Like staring into a light bulb.


To this:

Sorta peaceful…

Have to set it up first, but once set, it’s ready to go on request.

Like this:

Go into Settings; select Ease of Access; select Color Filters.

On the Color Filters screen, click on Greyscale Inverted, and checkmark “Allow the shortcut key to toggle filter on or off.”

Once you’ve done that, forever after you only need to hit simultaneously hit CTL, the Window key, and the letter C, and you toggle between full color and reverse greyscale.

But if you prefer not to go black and white, there’s a nifty app that will cool down your screen colors, depending on how close to bedtime you are.  It’s called f.lux, and it’s a free download.

F.lux also has a “darkroom mode” buried in its menus, that will give you a black screen with red letters, even easier on the eyeballs.

Holy Moses, is that the time?  Better call it a night.  Except, it’s morning.