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Medical Update: Great News

DONE!!! My colonoscopy was clear -- no polyps, everything healthy. No more routine screening colonoscopies for me!

The prep, tedious as it was, worked. Notice how I've downgraded it from "obnoxious" to "tedious." I refused the sedative but said yes to lots of Fentanyl (for pain), and I needed it. Adhesions from the appendectomy when I was a kid made for a twisty path, but we got there. The doc and the nurses were all wonderful.

Thanks, everyone, for keeping me in your thoughts. You are magical!

Today's Medical TMI

I haven't been very active here on LJ for a while, but I haven't been active anywhere in the last few days. Rather than simply being absent and feeling sorry for myself, I think I'll whinge a bit.

I'm prepping for a colonoscopy. If that squicks you out, come back later when it's all over. I haven't even gotten to the gooey bodily-fluids part. Here's a nice LJ Cut for you.
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In general, I'm pretty good at doing the screening tests my doc (whom I adore, and vice versa) recommends. I wasn't thrilled about the first colonoscopy, and that experience made me hesitate this time. Yes, it was 10 years ago and nothing showed up. Yes, I eat a ridiculously healthy diet. But the prep was -- well, to say the osmotic laxative tasted vile is to insult the word "vile" by insipidity. Instant, almost overpowering nausea. Barely managed to keep the stuff down (my sister, 5 years my junior, tried and failed on her prep). And that is to say nothing of the er, copious, results. As uncomfortable as the cramping and explosions were, I coped with lots of the softest toilet tissue I could find and a supply of Preparation H wipes (very soothing). To add insult to injury, it didn't work completely.

I remember the procedure, despite being sedated. I remember that it was painful, but not the pain itself. I remember hating the sedative and not being clear-headed for a week afterward. Since then I have had 3 surgeries (knee arthroscopy, cataracts in both eyes) without sedation and I'm willing to argue with any anesthesiologist who thinks it will make me more comfortable. I do just fine with my yoga breathing, thank you, and pass the Fentanyl.

So the deal this time is 2 days of clear liquids instead of 1, to which I added 2 days of a low residue diet before that. I have had a vivid demonstration of how much happier my body is on my normal (high fiber, tons of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fish) eating pattern. Innards got unhappy; blood sugar levels got really unhappy.

Today's the first day of the clear liquids. Apple juice (fortified with vit. C), herb tea, expensive delicious sodas (root beer is a godsend because it's so flavorful and chewy), jello. I haven't eaten jello in 10 years and now I remember why. Broth/bouillon. Aside from the microscopic amount of protein in the jello and broth, all my calories are coming from sugar. This on top of days of white bread, white rice, no fresh veggies or fruit... I'm beginning to understand why folks snarl at one another. It's cold and I feel even colder. My stomach hurts and there's no milk to soothe it.

Whinge, whinge, whinge.

Here's what's keeping me going. I only have to get through another day of this (and then an evening of disgustingness). If the test is clear, this is the last one I will ever have to do. (Unless there are special risk factors or polyps, the test isn't recommended after age 75, which I will be in 10 years.) I keep telling myself, "Just one more hour, just tonight, just tomorrow."

But the biggest thing is imagining jaylake with his big smile and his immense heart. And all the other friends I've lost to cancer. I feel their love and how they are cheering me through what is, after all, a minor inconvenience for a huge payoff.

Thanks, Jay and Bonnie and everyone. This glass of Virgil Root Beer is for you!

Great Reads for a Rainy Winter Day

The redwoods have been getting their fair share of the rain, and I’ve been holed up with a pile of wonderful books. Some of these came from my gigantic “To Be Read” bookshelf and others fall under the category of newly-purchased series addiction indulgences.

A Plague of Angels by Sherri S. Tepper was a thrift store discovery. Someone must have donated their collection of tattered, dog-eared 1990s science fiction to swell the fare that I’ve already picked through. For me, Tepper is a sure bet and I was pretty sure I didn’t have this one. That’s one of the problems of thrift store offerings, especially since my husband’s dowry included 70 cartons of books, much of it science fiction. Despite the cover images (couple on white horse, undoubtedly fleeing something; dragons in the sky and ruined castles on the hilltops), this is not fantasy. It begins like fantasy, with an Orphan growing up in an archetypal village where everyone has a designated role: Oracle, Thief, Hero, etc. Tepper’s world is much bigger than the village, and by the time our characters arrived at the Place of Power, I’d recognized genetic engineering, an analog of AIDS, the remnants of scientific institutions (the families Mitty and Berkli), ecologists on a multi-generational mission to restore habitats, and cyborgs gone seriously postal. Great stuff, wildly inventive.

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest continues (and supposedly concludes) the adventures of Lizzie Borden, she of the axe and the forty whacks that saved the world because Chthulu, and if you haven’t read Maplecroft, I won’t give away any more. As enchanted as I was by Lizzie, I found Chapelwood a bit of a letdown. Mind you, Maplecroft was a tough act to follow, with its exuberantly creepy mix of Lovecraft and American history. Still, despite the lesser originality of the concept, Priest’s deft storytelling kept me turning the pages. I definitely would not begin with this one, however. Start with Maplecroft and if you adore it, treat yourself to Round 2.

More of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse. Dead Reckoning, to be precise. That’s the one that begins with the firebombing on Merlotte’s. I think this is #11 of 13 and I’ll be sorry to see the end of Sookie’s world. I love how she cleans house when she needs to think. But once I have read them all, I will always have the option of binge-reading the whole shebang.

Likewise, two more “Laundry Files” novels by the inimitable Charles Stross. A delicious and often hilarious cross between James Bond, computer geeks, and the Chthulu mythos. It turns out that any sufficiently advanced mathematics is not only indistinguishable from magic, it is magic. And if you spent too much time contemplating certain theorems, things with glowing, writhing tentacles start inhabiting your brain. Like other series, these books are best not begun in the middle. However, I grabbed The Rhesus Chart (“everybody knows vampires aren’t real”) and The Fuller Memorandum (you really don’t want an Eater of Souls munching through the population of England) and read them in the wrong order, also skipping the one in between. Since I’d read the first ones, I wasn’t lost in terms of characters and world-building, just events. These two were vastly amusing nonetheless and someday I’ll pull a Sookie Stackhouse and read them all back to back and in the correct order. Who knows what otherdimensional horror that act of folly will unleash. Just kidding, really.

Last but by far not least – and I cringe to admit it – I finally sat down to read Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” books (the last one of which has yet to be released). Herein is a perfect example of bouncing off a book too far into a series. I attempted number 5 or 6, somewhere in there . I couldn’t figure out who the characters were, why I should care, and what was going on. Hoo, I thought, another Jane Austen – or in this case, C. S. Forester/Patrick O’Brien – mashup. But I dutifully opened the complimentary copy of the first volume, His Majesty’s Dragon, that came to me in a goodie bag at World Fantasy Con. I read at least the first pages of freebie books. Oh, all right, the first few words. Wow, I thought as the chapters sped by, this is corking good! And they are, really. I feel like a dolt for having taken so long and for having discounted all the praise as dragonmania. Novik has a light, sure touch with both characters and action. She never beats the reader over the head with the niftiness of her High Concept, and her handling of relationships is beautifully executed. As it turned out, my older daughter had just moved in with us, bringing her collection of Temeraire’s adventures. We passed them around, my husband and I reading them for the first time, Sarah for the 3rd, I think, and then we gave Sarah the last two volumes in print for a birthday present. The entire household awaits the final volume with bated breath. As for me, I have added Novik to the list of authors I will follow across genres. I look forward to the delights as she continues to mature as an author. Fame well earned!

Bowie and Rickman.

This has been such a sad week. Either that, or the age of 69 (which I turn in a few months) has been hexed.

New Year's Eve Wishes

2015 is winding down -- how did that happen? It feels as if it had just gotten some momentum. It's been a year of changes for my family, as for many others. Not as rotten a year as 2013 in terms of my personal losses, but not my favorite year, either. Still, there were bright spots and occasions for joy and hope. It's a little like eating horseradish and charoseth at Pesach, the bitter with the sweet.

May we strive together to create a world of peace and justice for everyone. And may we and our loved ones find much to celebrate in the coming year, remembering to be gentle with ourselves and tender with others, most particularly those already burdened with sorrow.

B'shalom, Deborah

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My first excursion into the wonderful world of making my short fiction available (to those fans who don't have the inclination to rush out and buy dozens of anthologies, not to mention old magazines) was through Anthology Builder. This nifty site allows you to choose from a library of short fiction, pick a cover, and create your own anthology.

Some of the work is in the public domain, such as stories by Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie, and Arthur Conan Doyle. But there's lots more by wonderful contemporary writers like Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Cat Rambo, Sarah Zettel, Aliette de Bodard, and Ann Leckie (and me!)

I put together a bunch of my best stories, slapped on a nifty cover, and came away with a nicely printed book to offer at conventions and give to family.

Later, I published another collection by the same name (and with the same lead story), available as an ebook from Book View Cafe, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. Please to notice, dear friends, that the ToCs are not identical. The Anthology Builder version contains some science fiction, like "Mother Africa" and "Madrelita." Here's the list of the stories.

Transfusion and Other Tales of Hope is listed as one of their best selling pre-made anthologies (although technically it's a collection, since all the stories are mine). What a lovely way to start the new year!

Holiday Wishes

A blessed season to all, however you observe it.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.

Cheering Each Other On

"When someone does something good, applaud!" said Samuel Goldwyn. "You will make two people happy."

The past few years in the science fiction and fantasy communities (no slight to you horror fans, you can have your share) have been rife with insults, denigration of one another's work, and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- downright nastiness. More than once I have wondered why folks who think that tearing down someone else's book will somehow make theirs better. This is not to say there is no place for literary criticism or personal taste. Not every book that's published qualifies as great literature. I've done my share of scratching my head, clueless as to why a book that did nothing for me has made best seller lists. And there are authors I won't read because I find their public statements, actions, or subtext abhorrent. (When Mein Kampf goes off copyright anon, I doubt I'll purchase a copy.) So the discourse about negative reactions to authors and specific books is complex.

I find the reverse to be quite simple. If I enjoyed a book, I like to praise it. Or a movie, or a piece of music, or a painting, or a dance, or any of the thousand other things that light up my day. It might not be perfect, but a thing doesn't have to be flawless to be enjoyable. When I share my private delight with others, I find it makes me even happier. If the other person also loved whatever it is I'm applauding, that's even better. Curious, how human nature works. We all smile together. Our hearts lift.

And of course, whoever created the thing I'm applauding is happy, too. I've been on both sides -- giving and getting applause. How great is that?

The thing about writing is that so much of it is done in solitude, where our fears and self-doubts multiply in the dark. No matter how thick-skinned we tell ourselves we are, we are not immune to gloom. So instead of looking at another writer's success and thinking, "I suck, I'll never be that good" or "There goes my readership" (or reeling under a review or a rejection letter that compared my work unfavorably to a piece by A Bigger Name -- don't laugh, both have happened to me), I remind myself that no matter who wrote it, the world is a better place with this story in it. I'm a happier reader for having found it. Some day, I'll write a story that makes other people this happy. The other author's success shows me that mine is possible. It gives me hope, as well as something to aim for.

Kindness in Fictional Characters

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." -- Mark Twain

As I read these words, I am reminded of what William Penn, Quaker and namesake of Pennsylvania, said: "Let us then try what love can do to mend a broken world."

When I talk about kindness and compassion, the state of the world often is the first thing that comes to mind. As I write this, folks are struggling to come to terms with and respond appropriately (or not) to events of spectacular violence. We're all feeling shaken. There's a great deal of public discourse about compassion vs retaliation vs pre-emptive action vs addressing root causes, so there is no need to elaborate here.

Kindness can exist "out there in the world" and it can exist inside ourselves, a quality to be cultivated. It is also an important consideration in the creation and development of fictional characters. First and foremost, just about everyone except sociopaths has some degree of kindness and it manifests to one degree or another in various ways under various circumstances. Sometimes it seems that authors are so fixated on dynamic action or escalating tension or nifty gee-whiz ideas that they forget the role of kindness in every human interaction. (In science fiction and fantasy, this includes non-humans as well!) It may be a small role, or so tiny as to be undetectable, or it may be the dominant emotional axis, but it is always there.
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Last night, I was watching a movie and noted that a series of breakneck action scenes was followed by a short catch-your-breath pause. Characters are binding up their wounds, repairing their weapons, that sort of thing. And there was a moment of kindness. Not the expected sort of comforting the injured or checking to see how everyone fared. This moment had more to do with taking that kindness a step further so that the care-taking character could see the good they had done.

Nationally, we talk about the Gross National Product, the total worth of all the products and services produced in one year in a given country. Well, the ones that are typically measured in dollars or shekels or pounds. Some years ago, the King of Bhutan talked about the Gross National Happiness, as if that, too, were something that can be quantified. How about a Gross National Kindness? Or, more specific to story-tellers, the Greater Narrative Kindness?

Kindness isn't about feel-good, let's-all-be-best-friends naive solutions to dramatic problems, or conflicts arising from powerful forces like scarce resources, injustice, blind ambition, or utter evil? It's about small deeds that weave together the lives of the characters, creating and sustaining loyalty and friendship, even devotion. It also isn't an either/or on/off thing.

One way to add depth and complexity, not to mention sympathy, to your characters is to take note of where they are on this spectrum of kindness at any given time and with these particular other characters. The most straightforward presentation is externally observable kind words or deeds. But it might also be that your character is feeling distinctly unkind -- how does that influence his behavior? her speech -- words, tone, contrast with body language? Or your character might be feeling kindness but unable to express it. This opens a host of possibilities for letting the reader know, for revealing and deepening that character.

Or -- and here the potential gets really juicy -- a character who feels no kindness but nevertheless acts in a kind way. Why the discrepancy? Is this an unfeeling person? Or a person who might be kind under other circumstances but not these? Why then behave contrary to genuine feeling? What does she have to gain? And how does the very act of kindness change her?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the role of kindness in character and story.
Listening
In an earlier post, I talked about my enthusiasm for Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings. One of the things I adored was Howard Shore’s music. I ran out and bought the CDs, of course. At first I listened to the music as a way of re-experiencing the movies. I’d done this with other movie music, like The Last of the Mohicans, Shakespeare in Love, Titanic, and all the work of Ennio Morricone. Romantic, evocative music fits the same slot in my brain as Mendelsohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” or his violin concerto, or Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” suite, or Borodin’s “In the Steppe of Central Asia” (one of the pieces I listened to while writing Shannivar). It’s narrative music, emotive rather than abstract, and I find it marvelous to write to.

Singing
When at long last it was my time to embark upon piano lessons, as a first-time older adult student, I grabbed a copy of the easy piano versions of The Lord of the Rings music. My goal was to play “Into the West.” I was one of those folks in the theater with tears down my cheeks as the song ended. But I was just starting out, I had zero self-confidence, and I wanted to make sure I had the skill to play it well. My teacher and I selected “In Dreams” (which is also the leitmotif for the hobbits) as one of my early pieces. Even in the easy version, it was a challenge. And it had words, words in a key within my limited vocal range.

Like others of my generation, I got caught in the folk scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and even taught myself a few chords on the guitar. Although I enjoyed singing in a group, I had become convinced I had a terrible voice. I remember being told as a child that I couldn’t sing. So of course, my voice was strained, thin, unreliable in pitch. With the piano to support my voice, however, along with lots of practice when no one else was in the house, not to mention having an encouraging teacher, I learned how to breathe more deeply and relax my throat. The higher notes became easier and more clear. I added other songs and vocal exercises, which helped my confidence. “Wow,” my teacher said after one class, “who knew you had such a voice?”

Learning to sing in this way helped me to see places in my life I had “lost my voice.” When preparing for a parole hearing, when I needed to speak loud and clear, this was the song I came back to. Like so many other songs, it became more than a particular piece of music by association.

As I gained in skill, I played other pieces from the easy piano book and eventually arrived at “Into the West.” Then came the seven weeks I spent taking care of my best friend and her family as she died of ovarian cancer. I found a place near her home to walk, a mile round trip down a country lane, and did this two or three times a day. The brisk autumn air, the glorious colors, and the solitude (except for a few horses and goats) gave me a blessed break. I found myself singing as I walked, as I once had done as a child. One of the songs that came to me was “Into the West,” octave leap and all. I sang it terribly and with tremendous emotion, often alternating phrases and sobbing. It said so much I wanted to tell my friend, but it was for me, not for her, who was not at all a Tolkien fan. It wasn’t her kind of song, but mine. Even now, when I play it (I can’t sing the key the easy piano version is written in), it eases me through another layer of grief.Read more...Collapse )