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BayCon 2016 Schedule

I'll be at Baycon 2016, Friday May 27- Monday May 30, 2016, at the San Mateo Marriott. Please stop by and say hello.

Evil to the Core: Villains in Sci fi and Fantasy (Saturday 11:30 - 13:00, Synergy 5)
Sure, the hero gets the gal (or guy) and all the glory, but it's the villain that does all the hard work. Where would Batman be without the Joker? Nowhere! A good villain can drive a story, but it's exhausting and thankless work. Come pay homage to your favorite villains and join in as authors discuss treasured villains in their own work and others to reveal what makes those villains engage or repulse us¦or what fails to. Find out if your antagonist is as villainous as he or she should be.

Autograph Session (Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, Convene Lobby) (I will have copies of Collaborators, Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and other books to sell).

Wonder Woman After 50 (Sunday 14:30 - 16:00, Connect 4)
Ageism in fandom, or, Mom aren't you too old to dress up in silly costumes?

The Adult In Young Adult (Monday 11:30 - 13:00, Synergy 5)
YA: no swearing, sex, violence, or drugs. So your hero is a young boy who's just been thrown in among a bunch of space marines; can you really write a plausible story without swearing and violence? Our panelists discuss finding the appropriate without sacrificing the authentic.

The Adventure of the Walkabout Cat

One of the challenges of owning indoor-only cats is that they don’t always get with the program. They dart out of open doors, find ways to squirm through gates and partly-opened windows, and so forth. We humans have yet to find the means to explain to them why they must stay on one side of the door when there are so many intoxicating smells and things to chase on the other side.

In our neighborhood, there are all the usual reasons for keeping cats indoors, plus a few local ones. Predators (mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, plus critters who can take on a cat and come out on top, like raccoons), diseases, ticks, fleas, cars. Things that cats are predators for: songbirds and helpful garden reptiles, to mention a few.

In our household, the situation is complicated by having a retired seeing eye dog who has been trained to open doors. She can’t managed round knobs, but latches are no problem, nor are sliding screens.

The icon depicts our two cats, Shakir and Gayatri. Despite having one eye, Gayatri is a fearsome hunter. If we acceded to her wishes, she would present us with a snake or lizard every single day. Since this would mean disaster for our garden ecology, we keep her in jail. She gets out occasionally, which is why we use flea/tick/heartworm prevention on her, and she always comes back a few hours later, irate that we have not let her in right now.
Shakir, on the other hand, would sniff at a screen door and then slink away to a cozy basket. We always believed that of the two cats, he was the stay-at-home. Until one day, we discovered that Tajji, our afore-mentioned door artiste, had managed to open the sliding screen door. We did not realize this until some hours after the fact.

“Where’s Gayatri? Oh, thank goodness, she’s here, napping.”

And we did not think to look for Shakir until the next morning, when he failed to demand his breakfast. Panic ensued, followed by a search of the property, unprintable words about all the hiding places, visits to the neighbors, calls to the vet, postings on Nextdoor, and putting up flyers and posters within a several block radius. Read more...Collapse )
“What's new?” I asked my friend, a young(er) writer.

“I finished my book!” she said radiating both relief and excitement.

“Finished, how? Finished, as in rough draft? Revision? Ready to send to your critique group?”

“This is like the eighth revision,” she said. “My group has seen it, in whole or part, many times.” She rolled her eyes. “I was at the point where the only thing to fix were nits, so it was clear that I needed to send it out.”

Although my friend has yet to sell a novel, she has several quite respectable short fiction sales to her credit. More than that, she has acquired an understanding of when revision is helpful and when it is detrimental. In our subsequent discussion, she pointed out that she is a “pantser” (“writing by the seat of your pants”) rather than a planner. With time, she has become better at planning out a writing project, but she still likes the spontaneity of letting the story unfold in unexpected and delightful directions. Hence the need for multiple revisions.

I was like this when I began writing. I had no idea that people outlined stories. When a fellow writer told me that she outlined each scene on a 3 x 5 card before she actually started writing the story, I didn't know what to think. I would just start writing with no idea where the story was going to take me. As a consequence, my stories were riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, and dead ends.

I had to learn to revise as a matter of survival. I don’t mean tidying up grammar and punctuation. I mean taking apart large portions of the story, writing new text, rearranging other portions, and so forth, until the final version bore little resemblance to my rough draft. Computers have made this much easier than having to retype the whole thing! Read more...Collapse )

Because I often have difficulty discerning the proper point at which to begin a story, in my early years I often had to either add one or more chapters or throw them out. Once I had to discard the first 150 pages of text. It was a good thing that I took to heart the advice to kill my darlings, or I would never have been able to do that and the story might have ended up in a trunk instead of a bookstore shelf.

As I wrote, and later sold, short story after short story and then several novels, my revision process became abbreviated. I learned the literary equivalent of looking before I leaped. I developed my own methods of writing down the structure of a work, either in progress or yet to be started. I say writing down rather than outlining because many of my early techniques involved sketches, maps, diagrams, and flow charts. Later I used text as well, although writing down the contents of each chapter before I have written it has never appealed to me. It takes the fun out of discovering what happens next.

Outlining, in whatever form, reduced the number of drafts, but did not eliminate the need for revision. I often joke that whatever I think a story is about before I start writing it, I'm wrong. No matter how fully developed an idea seems while it is still in my mind, I always find new aspects and connections that I did not know existed. Over time, my process of revision has changed from major reconstruction to deepening connections. Sometimes it feels as if I am Michelangelo, chipping away at that block of marble to reveal the statue that is already inside.

Revision, as indicated in the title of this piece, can also be an excuse not send a story out into the world, where it may be rejected. It is all too easy for a fearful or insecure writer to keep polishing until there is no life left in the story. As long as he can say, “I'm still working on it,” he doesn't risk the possibility of being told by an agent, editor, or critique group that this story does not work. We have all heard of novice writers who spend years, sometimes decades, on a single book. While it is true that some stories take a long time to coalesce, that's not what I'm talking about. I had to write about a dozen books (depending on how you count them) before one was finally solid enough to be to make a publishable novel. And that one, I revised four times before I submitted it to an editor. While previous attempts contained many intriguing concepts and even some respectable prose, I was not yet sufficiently experienced to bring them together in a cohesive way. This is why I almost never tried to revise them many years later. The central core of these attempt unsuccessful novels reflected who I was as a writer at that time. As I matured, I was able to tackle more ambitious themes, more complex characters, more challenging points of view, and so forth.

Occasionally, a story would present itself in those early years before I was skillful enough to do it justice.These drafts and fragments have become a treasure trove into which I dip from time to time. I am able to view my earlier attempts with a more critical eye and to extract what can be salvaged and reworked, often in a new framework, to the standards of my current ability. I should add that these older nuggets face fierce competition from the new ideas that present themselves to me on a daily basis. Like most writers I know, I am not lacking in ideas. To the contrary, I have so many that I must pick and choose which ones will yield the most rewarding results. I doubt I will ever come to the end of my queue of ideas story ideas. The challenge is, as it has always been, to prioritize.

Revision has taught me how to take a story, prune and discard elements that don't work, and flesh out elements the take the work in a deeper, richer direction. At the same time, it has given me a better sense of what stories are worth the energy and time. When I was a beginning writer, every story was the greatest thing I had ever written. This was absolutely true. I was improving all the time, so each story was indeed the best I had written to date. Decades later, however, I have written my share of flops, experiments that did not pan out, and just plain awful writing, not to mention ideas that seemed brilliant at the time but which history has proved wrong. So now when I consider potential projects, I keep in mind that some will succeed better than others. I never want to stay completely in the realm of safe, proven writing strategies, and I’m much more likely to dig into a story that challenges me.

My current process is that once I finish a first draft, I take another pass through it while the way the story has come together at the end is still fresh in my mind. Then I set it aside and distract myself by working on something else. Early in my career, I wrapped the typed manuscript in plastic and put it in the freezer “to cool off.” Computers and experience have eliminated the necessity, but not the humor. Then I’ll do another pass, usually a fairly substantial one. At this point, the story is ready for someone else to see it, usually a trusted reader and then my editor.

Everyone has a different way of revising. Just as it is a joy to some (me) and agony to others, so we approach this re-envisioning as individuals. We have different “signals” that tell us we are about to outrun our inner guides, or our workshop mates are reduced to pointing out typos instead of errors of substance. I find it endlessly fascinating to “talk shop” with other writers, even if I come away grateful that I get to do things my way...and they get to do things theirs. As long as it works, the details don’t matter.

As a dear friend who is also a fantastic writer said, “The only draft that matters is the one on the editor’s desk.”
Being discouraged is part and parcel of a working writer's life. Negative reviews, ditto. Some of us are naturally more thick-skinned about them than others, and most of us develop coping strategies over the years. This is where networking with other writers can be very helpful. We say things like:


  • If you're not accumulating rejection slips, you're not doing your job (taking risks, "pushing the envelope").

  • Just file the slip (or email) and send the story out

  • Remember how many times A Wrinkle in Time was rejected.

  • Editors are human, too; they have bad days, and it's no one's fault if your hero has the same name as their ex.

  • Hey, I'm making progress from a form rejection to a personal note and invitation to submit again!



Even after many professional sales, a rejection can sting. The sting doesn't last as long as it might when we were first starting out, and we have tools (see above) and lots of writerly commiseration to help us. We know from experience that the sting will pass; we have acquired the habit of immediately diving back into the next project, so that we always have something fresh and exciting in the pipeline.

Then there are the situations when a story or book is sold and the publisher goes out of business. The editor gets fired. I know authors this has happened to more than once. We find ourselves wondering if we killed the magazine. We didn't, but that laughter overlays the secret and utterly illogical fear that our writing careers are somehow jinxed. Then we sell something else and there are no thunderbolts from above. We carry on.


Reviews, ah reviews, and in this category I include feedback from critique groups and beta readers. So much has already been said about the power of a caustic review or harsh feedback of a work in progress that I won't belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that the natural human desire for praise (for our creative "children") leaves us vulnerable to interpreting criticism of the work with condemnation of ourselves. Or, having torn off our emotional armor to write from the heart, we've also ripped off any defenses against sarcasm, etc. I'm among those who, having received scathing feedback, went home, and cried. I never considered giving up (although on more than one occasion, I contemplated getting even and thankfully resisted the temptation). But some writers have. Read more...Collapse )

A Fruitful Absence

It's been a while since I've blogged regularly. This does not mean my writing has come to a screeching halt, however! Quite the opposite: I've been working on two and sometimes three projects. One is the next-next Darkover novel (Thunderlord is scheduled for this August, so this is The Laran Gambit, which I hope to turn in by the end of 2015.) I'm about 10K words into it; it's got some forward momentum building to the first thing-changes-everything moment. I've heard writers say they don't like to talk about a new project because their creative energy goes into the talking, not the writing. That's somewhat true in this case. And besides, why talk about a book that isn't even finished when one that is ready to go will be coming out soon? This is what happens when writers turn in one book and dive right into the next, while publishing takes its sweet time. If you're curious about Thunderlord, check my blog archives. I posted snippets of chapters from the first half of the book. And I'll blather on about it as the day approaches.

The other big project is a combination of fiction (sword and sorcery) and non-fiction (commentary on my own sometimes very dark journey of healing from my mother's murder). I've spoken about the latter, sometimes to large audiences, but writing about it, especially as intensely as I have been doing in the last couple of months, is much more immersive. I have no idea if anyone will want to read it, but the writing has been filled with revelations for me. Here's a bit from the introduction:

Because I am a writer, much of what I experienced — not the external circumstances but the emotions and insights — made its way into my stories. In the first few years after the murder, I wrote a short story, “Rite of Vengeance” (Sword & Sorceress V, ed. Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW, 1988) about anger and revenge; it also contained a glimmering of understanding of how these could destroy me. I followed the same wounded heroine in “Crooked Corn” (Spells of Wonder, ed. Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW, 1989) and eventually used these two episodes as the basis for a novel-length work, The Haunted Ring. The good news was that this gave me a sense of completion; the bad news was that it simply did not work as a novel. Eventually, I set it aside as a poignant but essentially dead-end exercise.

Years and much recovery later, this book presented itself to me again. I was speaking to a class of law students, trying to explain what it was like to live through the violent death of a loved one. I scribbled a few notes on the “stages” of healing — numbness and shock, anger and vengeance, letting go, re-engaging with life, and so forth. It occurred to me that The Haunted Ring was not a deeply flawed, episodic, meandering novel. It was a healing journey disguised as a fantasy-adventure.

Here then is that story, with my own commentary about how I now understand what all this was about for me, and some queries that have been helpful to me. Stories keep our intellects busy while the deeper parts of our psyches resonate with things that are not easily put into words. Every person's experience of tragedy is different. How we make sense of what has happened to us also changes with time. A reader brings his or her own history and temperament, beliefs and visceral reactions, to the tale.


The way I've structured this book, each chapter of story is followed by commentary about my own experiences, reflections on larger issues of clawing my way out of the darkness and then creating the life I want, and queries for reflection. I'll keep you posted about the progress of this piece. It's in revision now, but because it is so emotionally intense, it's hard to predict when it will fly along and when I have to take a breather.

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.
Read more...Collapse )
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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