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Supporting a New Writer 1: Introduction

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

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

Effie Seiberg: I hear you. Writing is such an inherently lonely business, spending that much time in your own head, that a good support group is critical. When I first started writing I went though wild mood swings ranging from "OMG this is the most hilarious thing ever" to "Why did I ever think I could English? This is total crap," and I began to fear that I wasn't emotionally stable enough to write. It was only after I found a community of supportive writers that I understood that this is just how writing works, and the only thing that improves is your ability to enjoy the highs and survive the lows. A good support group bolsters you through both.

Effie Seiberg is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Her stories can be found in the "Women Destroy Science Fiction!" special edition of Lightspeed Magazine (winner of the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology), Galaxy's Edge, Analog, Fireside Fiction, and PodCastle, amongst others. She is a graduate of Taos Toolbox 2013, a member of SFWA and Codex, and a reader at Tor.com. She lives in San Francisco, recently and upcoming (but not presently) near a giant sculpture of a pink bunny head with a skull in its mouth. She likes to make sculpted cakes and bad puns. You can follow her on twitter at @effies, or read more of her work at www.effieseiberg.com.

Barb Caffrey: For now, though...I can say this much to Wendy. It's never too late to do what you feel you must, as a creative artist. I have often felt like it's too late for me due to how my husband passed away suddenly; I'm now trying to carry on his work, and mine, and sometimes this seems like an overly heavy weight.

The important thing is that I'm doing it. No matter how long it takes, no matter what is up against me -- bad health or family health issues or foreclosures or anything -- I keep on working. Some days, all I can do is look at my works-in-progress and say, "Hmmm," and do a little fiddling but add nothing tangible. The next day, or maybe the day after that, the dam bursts and I have more new words again.Read more...Collapse )

The most important thing you can do -- and it unfortunately is also the hardest -- is to believe in yourself, and that what you are doing is valuable. No matter what anyone else says, no matter what anyone else does, you are going to do what you feel you must.
I wish I had a better answer, but persistence has mostly worked for me.

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

Alma Alexander: I'm roughly of an age with you, Wendy, and I think ours is now the generation which has to grapple with some of life's truths. I’m technically only "half" an orphan at this point - my dad left us three years ago, my mother is still around, in her eighties now, frailer and more fragile than she's ever been before, both physically and psychologically, and it's something that it's up to me to deal with, I am in full defend and protect mode with her, often, and it takes up a huge swathe of mental and physical resources. But there will come a time when she too is gone and at this point it will be as you say - the foundation is gone. Until that moment you can always "go home". Afterwards, that first home, the foundation home, is gone, forever, and it takes a shift of thinking to adjust to it. So before anything else is said... there's that. There's the acknoledgment, and the understanding. We've been here, or we're coming up on that milestone, and we can look into that shadow and know exactly where you're coming from.

You haven't said if you've pursued your writing before in any focused way other than it having been a dream of yours - you use air quotes around your "career" so I don't know if you tried, and didn't meet with immediate success, and that was why you took the hiatus, or if your fears of not succeeding have prevented you from trying at all. But the first thing that needs to be said is something I've been telling people for a long time. If you want to be a writer, nobody can stop you. If you don't, then nobody can help you. The first impetus, the first urge, the first passion, the first demand, must come from within. If this is your dream, then even if you cannot lay aside your fears you must learn to write while juggling them with your other hand. Do you have stories whispering in your ear as you fall asleep at night, stories that desperately want to be told? Then tell them. At this point, pursuing your dream to the point of a "career" (and now I am using the air quotes) starts with the first step of actually sitting down, and writing. Something. Anything. Starting with an audience of one, yourself. THEN, you build out.

Alma Alexander is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. Born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, she has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), and the story of her life so far has included climbing mountains, diving in coral reefs, flying small planes, swimming with dolphins, touching two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon.

Pat Rice: After thirty plus years of publication, I’m here to tell you that doubt and negativity never go away. First, we have to accept that self-doubt is part of our process, decide our goals are more important than our fears, and push on to the next step. For most of us, the next step is to write. Write and write some more. Throw out the first efforts and start over, because we all have to learn somehow, and it’s fine not to be perfect.

Support groups can be useful, but they’re only what you make of them. You can go to meetings and talk about your goals and expectations and brainstorm your plots. You can listen to others speak of their failures and successes. The camaraderie and support is often necessary -- but it won’t get you to your goal unless you take that energy back to your computer and WRITE.

Thirty years ago when I was lost in the wilderness of doubt, I turned to Writers Market magazine for advice. These days, advice, critique groups, support groups, and everything you might need are all online. You can check Romance Writers of America’s website for the nearest chapter if you need to meet in person. The greater risk is that you’ll get lost in the mass of voices.

So my advice would be to support yourself first. Make the choice to write, find a time of day or grab whatever free minutes are available and scribble down your stories. Do it every day. Feel free to throw it out every night. You are building a habit that will build a career. When you are finally ready to invest in yourself, then look for others who can read what you’ve written and encourage you. And if they try to discourage you, go back and read what you have and decide for yourself whether they're right or not.

It takes a spine of steel and the perseverance of a saint to be a writer. It’s never too late to exercise and put those muscles into shape.

With several million books in print and New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists under her belt, former CPA Patricia Rice writes romance, mystery, and urban fantasy. Her books have won numerous awards, including the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice and Career Achievement Awards. She has also been honored as a Romance Writers of America RITA® finalist in the historical, regency and contemporary categories.

Book Release Day! Thunderlord

It's book release day! Let's party!

Lots of places to buy it: your local bookstore (yay!), Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

[Jay Lake memorial link salad]

Human eye spots single photons. Human eyes are capable of detecting a single photon — the tiniest possible speck of light — new research suggests. The result, published July 19 in Nature Communications, may settle the debate on the ultimate limit of the sensitivity of the human visual system, a puzzle scientists have pondered for decades. Scientists are now anticipating possibilities for using the human eye to test quantum mechanics with single photons.

M13: A Great Globular Cluster of Stars . M13 is a colossal home to over 100,000 stars, spans over 150 light years across, lies over 20,000 light years distant, and is over 12 billion years old.

A Crazy New Species of Beaked Whale Has Been Discovered in the Pacific. On Tuesday, a team of scientists announced the discovery of a brand new species of beaked whale. The findings, published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, detail the lengthy process of finding and identifying samples from 178 beaked whales in and around the Pacific Rim. Previously, there were only two known species belonging to the genus Berardius—Baird’s and Arnoux’s beaked whales—but these new findings indicate there’s another species hanging out in the North Pacific.

How Much You Need to Exercise to Make Up For Sitting All Day. There’s been a lot of finger-wagging of late about the health risks associated with sitting at a desk all day, or binge-watching our favorite TV shows. Now couch potatoes can rejoice because a new study has found that just an hour of moderate activity a day wipes out all the negative impacts of sedentary behavior—contrary to some prior studies claiming exercise didn’t help much at all.

Badass New Dragon Ants Remind Us Nature Is Cooler Than Fantasy. Writing today in PLOS One, a team of entomologists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology has just described two new species of Pheidole, the most diverse ant genus on Earth. The distinctive feature of the newcomers is a crop of fierce-looking spines jutting out of their dorsal plates. The scientists couldn’t help but notice how this spiky armor afforded their specimens a dragon-like appearance, which is why they judiciously tossed out traditional Latin naming conventions in favor of Pheidole viserion and Pheidole drogon.

Distinctions blur between wolf species. Wolves are having something of an identity crisis. Gray wolves and coyotes might be the only pure wild canine species in North America, a new genetic analysis suggests. Other wolves — like red wolves and eastern wolves — appear to be blends of gray wolf and coyote ancestry instead of their own distinct lineages. Red wolves contain about 75 percent coyote genes and 25 percent wolf genes, an international team of scientists reports online July 27 in Science Advances. Eastern wolves have about 25 to 50 percent coyote ancestry.

Big-footed dinosaur
. A tourist guide working in Bolivia has stumbled upon an enormous dinosaur footprint measuring nearly four feet wide. Experts say it’s one of the largest prints ever found of a carnivorous dinosaur, and a record for South America.

Nose bacteria fight Staph, even MRSA strains. The human nose harbors not only a deadly enemy — Staphylococcus aureus — but also its natural foe. Scientists have now isolated a compound from that foe that might combat MRSA, the methicillin-resistant strain of S. aureus. “We didn’t expect to find this. We were just trying to understand the ecology of the nose to understand how S. aureus causes problems,” bacteriologist Andreas Peschel of the University of Tübingen in Germany said at a news briefing July 26 during the EuroScience Open Forum. Investigating the intense interspecies competition in the nose — where microbes fight for space and access to scant sugars and amino acids — might offer a fertile alternative to searching for new drug candidates in soil microbes.

Meme -- 1969

Stole this from sartorias, who labeled it "high school." But I graduated from Reed's Fine College in 1968, so here's what my life looked like the next year.

1. Did you know your spouse? Married hubby #1 in '69. Both of us were way too young to realize we were exactly the wrong people for one another.

2. Did you car pool to school? I lived in the dorms in college, but drove to grad school. High school, I mostly walked.

3. What kind of car did you have? After college, a Saab, one of those old 2-stroke engines where you added oil directly to the gas. Probably polluted like crazy.

4. What kind of car do you have now? Rather battered 2004 Prius and not-so-battered 2002 Mazda Van for hauling dog and garden stuff.

5. It's Friday night...where were you? Folk dancing, where else?

6. What kind of job did you have in high school? Babysitting, helping out in my father's print shop. In college I worked in the Bio stockroom, taught folk dancing, and was a dorm advisor. In grad school I typed up dictation for a psychologist.

7. What kind of job do you have now? Writer, and I'll be working at it forever.

8. Were you a party animal? You have got to be kidding.

9. Were you a cheerleader? See above.

10. Were you considered a jock? See above.

11. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir? See above.

13. Did you get suspended or expelled? Not even close (high school).

14. Can you sing the fight song? "Epistemology Forever"? Sure can do!

15. Who was/were your favorite high school teacher? College favorite was Lloyd J. Reynolds, calligrapher extraordinaire, who pushed us to see the white spaces inside the letters and think outside the box.

16. Where did you sit for lunch? With a gaggle of similarly geek-minded friends in college. Grad school varied.

17. What was your school mascot? College - gryphon. We had a high school mascot?

18. If you could go back and do it again, would you? High school, never. College I'd love to re-do, but not at my age. Grad school ditto.

19. Did you have fun at Prom? Nobody asked me, either school. Now I look at that and say, Yikes what losers to not see the spectacular person I am. But maybe I wasn't back then.

20. Do you still talk to the person you went to Prom with? see above.

21. Are you planning on going to your next reunion? Just went to college reunion. May go back when it's our 50th. Went to 50th high school and was amazed how many people remembered me (see #19) (and gloated at how good I look).

22. Are you still in contact with people from school? High school, recently got back in touch. I met my best friend in college, but she died in 2013, so I'm much less in touch. My life has moved on.

23. What are/were your school's colors? No idea, either one. I have better things to clog my memory up with!


In 1776, whether you were declaring America independent from the crown or swearing your loyalty to King George III, your pronunciation would have been much the same. At that time, American and British accents hadn't yet diverged. What's surprising, though, is that Hollywood costume dramas get it all wrong: The Patriots and the Redcoats spoke with accents that were much closer to the contemporary American accent than to the Queen's English.

It is the standard British accent that has drastically changed in the past two centuries, while the typical American accent has changed only subtly.

Why Do Americans and Brits Have Different Accents?
What if science was presented with the same dramatic flair as a thriller movie trailer? I'll be following this one closely!

Brexit thoughts

Dear friends in the U.K., I send you condolences and hugs. Prompted by Cliff Winnig, here is a quote from one of your many great writers:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


Orlando Heavy on My Heart

“Where were you when you heard?” In my life, that question has referred to so many terrible events. The earliest one I remember was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was in high school and was old enough to have vivid memories of walking down the corridor, not yet knowing what had happened but knowing it was something dreadful, the hushed voices, and most of all, the expression on the face of my favorite teacher as he told us the news. I recalled this while driving my younger daughter to her own high school and turning on the radio to hear, “The second tower is down!” To each generation, I thought. Columbine, Charleston, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, the Oklahoma City bombing, the list goes on.

My older daughter and I were returning from our college reunion when we stopped for lunch and I glanced at the newspaper rack and saw the news about the Orlando shooting. That same sense of surreal horror swept over me. Both of us had the thought that the world, our world anyway, would never be the same. In trying to grapple with events like this one or the others mentioned above, I find myself looking for events in my own life. That’s a thing we primates do, we put things into personal context.

I am intimately familiar with my own journey through the brutal murder of my mother, but that is not a good analogy. Her death, as devastating as it was, was an individual, one-on-one act of violence. Nobody blamed her or in any way implied she was somehow responsible for what happened to her. Closer emotionally are the stories my father used to tell of his boyhood in a small village in the Ukraine just after the Russian Revolution, when Cossacks would ride into town, line up all the Jewish boys, and shoot them. Today we find such acts heinous; nobody says the Jews deserved what they got at Auschwitz.

Yet that is exactly what some public figures have been saying about the young men and women who were having a night of dancing off the stress of their lives at Pulse. That is one of the ways in which this shooting stands apart from the others.

I found that as the days roll past, my distress at the Orlando shooting increases rather than diminishing. I keep having the thought, Except for not knowing many folks who go to night clubs, that could have been someone I love. That same daughter I was traveling with is part of the LGBT community. So are my other daughter and her wife. So is my sister and her partner. So are so many people I love.

That could have been my child or my sister or my brother or my best friend. That could have been me.

During this time I had been reading David Gerrold’s gritty, powerful thirteen fourteen fifteen o’clock. I take it in nibbles because it’s dense and emotionally intense. The following passage stuck with me, bringing to mind a poignant image of the people enjoying an evening dancing at Pulse:

“-- in that frozen moment, in that separate space, there was room to take my life out, hold it in my hands, hold I up to the light and examine it, look for secret meanings, and try to see the soul inside, I discovered, I’m not gay, I’m not straight either, not bi and not tri, not anything, just human, quietly desperate and alone in my head, not caring about the form or shape or position, not worrying about top or bottom, simply starving for that rare moment of completion, that brief bright flash of connection that tells me that I’m not the only hurting hungry thing in this universe, even if it’s just a splash of illusion in the night”

A friend who identifies as bisexual talked to me with great earnestness and trouble in her voice about how the Orlando shooting isn’t only about homophobia or gun control or Islamophobia or mental illness. I respect her point that what happened is a complex issue with no simple answers. To focus on only one is to engage in the same sort of single-issue black and white simplification that underlies all these issues.

At the same time, I am leery of straight-washing what happened. Of skimming over how hard it is every day for some of our loved ones to get through their lives, struggling to figure out who they are and live their lives with that integrity, without daily risking those lives. As Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate.com:

“There’s also another set of consequences that are specific to this crime, which targeted Latinos and Latinas in a bar that catered to LGBTQ patrons. When a man with an assault rifle mows down dozens of people in a school or movie theater, there is little reason for public accounts to speculate about the victims’ sexual or gender identities. The victims and survivors at Pulse, whether they identified as queer or not, have been seemingly outed to their families and communities. Many of the people Mateen killed were so, so young—some in their early 20s, barely old enough to drink; one just 18 years old. Maybe they hadn’t had the chance to come out to their families and friends yet. Maybe they hadn’t even processed it for themselves.”

She calls out “…the climate of hate, exclusion, and indifference to queer suffering fomented by political and religious leaders who champion anti-gay language, anti-trans legislation, and rigid gender boundaries...”

Maybe the crime is not just the shooting and the loss of precious, irreplaceable human lives. Maybe it’s bigger than that, the way we allow anyone to target them beforehand or afterward, and how it is in any way permissible to pry into their private lives and then condemn them. Maybe the Orlando tragedy will keep going on until each and every one of us says,

That could have been my child or my sister or my brother or my best friend. That could have been me.

THUNDERLORD cover reveal

Here's the cover for Thunderlord, to be released from DAW in August. The art is by the wonderful Matt Stawicki, who did the paintings for The Children of Kings and The Seven-Petaled Shield trilogy. (And yes, the resonances with Stormqueen! are deliberate -- this is a sequel.)

You can pre-order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble in ebook and hardcover formats.

Story in The Shadow Conspiracy III

My novelette, "Among Friends," (featuring Quakers, the Underground Railroad, and a slave-catching automaton) will appear in The Shadow Conspiracy III (edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Brenda W. Clough, with this gorgeous cover by Dave Smeds). ("Among Friends" previously appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2013). The book will be available June 28 in print and various ebook formats.

Here's the back cover copy:

In the world of the Shadow Conspiracy where the human soul has proven to be measurable and transferable to an automaton, the question arises: is the robot a person? The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 freed all the slaves in the states in rebellion against the Federal Government. What if that same document freed ensouled automata as well?

This third volume of the Shadow Conspiracy has seven stories that examine the question of humanity. We take you from an observation hot air balloon above the siege of Vicksburg to the soul-grinding Battle of the Crater, from simple farm folk who call themselves Friends, to the mysticism of Marie Laveau and Voudon. Our award winning authors ask the age-old question of what makes us human, what is the nature of slavery, and who deserves freedom? Only you can provide the answers.