It’s Nearly Out in The World!

Comeuppance Served Cold will be out in just about two months! Word is trickling out. It’s gotten some nice reviews on Goodreads, (readers who got ARCS). It’s starting to show up other places as well.

Publishers Weekly included it on a list of fiction empowering women and girls.

FanFiAddict put in on their “Anticipated Titles” list.

Autostraddle, a site dedicated to uplifting feminist and LGTBQ literature, called it out too!

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An Old Man’s Game

Andy Weinberger opened Sonoma’s beautiful bookshop, Readers’ Books, in 1991, along with his wife Lilla. I’m always pleased to discover a book by someone I know in a different mode. When I visited Sonoma a couple of weeks ago, I picked up Weinberger’s debut mystery, An Old Man’s Game at his store.

Detecting isn’t an Old Man’s Game unless that old man is Amos.

An Old Man’s Game was published by Prospect Park Books. In February, 2021, the publisher was acquired by Turner Books, so I don’t know what that means for the publishing house.

An Old Man’s Game is a detective novel featuring Amos Parisman, the “old man” of the title. Amos is a retired private detective in Los Angeles, called out of retirement by the board of a local synagogue to investigate the abrupt death of their charismatic and controversial rabbi. With his Latino helper Omar and an older, jaded police detective, Amos tries to investigate, but answers are thin on the ground, and the body count soon mounts. At home, Amos tries to adjust his life to the needs of wife Loretta, who seems to have a form of cognitive decline.

This wasn’t really my kind of mystery, so I found that aspect disappointing. I enjoyed Amos’s descriptions of various Los Angeles neighborhood’s, and his acerbic take on organized religion, even the one he was raised in. The bits of Jewish culture, particularly around food, were great.

While I liked much of Amos’s snarky first-person narration, I found a lot of the book to be uncomfortably dated. He comments that two junior cops learned everything they know from watching Dragnet. The second iteration of Dragnet went off the air in 1970. If the story is set in the 20-teens, as if seems to be, none of them would be old enough to remember it. Amos’s solution is talky and stagy, which is in keeping with the Chandleresque style he is emulating, but it didn’t engage me.

The subplot of the book involving the enigmatic rabbi’s controversial theory about Judaism was amazing though, resonating with Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I loved following Amos through the thicket of the rabbi’s mind as he reads the deceased’s sermons.

Enjoy this book for the travelogue of Los Angeles through nostalgic eyes, bits of snarky banter and the good use of L.A. landmarks and meeting places. And kudos to Andy for realizing not one dream but two–owning a bookstore, and publishing a novel!

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The Siberian Dilemma is a Dilemma

The Siberian Dilemma is the ninth Arkday Renko thriller by Martin Cruz Smith. I realized I’ve only read two: Gorky Park, something of a classic, and Havana Bay. I suspect this book would have more resonance if I’d read others, particularly its immediate predecessor, Tatiana, since Tatiana plays a major role in this one.

I was thrilled by this thriller in spots, but I wasn’t convinced. Arkady’s trek into Siberia seemed riddled with coincidences, and the final twist at the end felt random. On the other hand, the prose was lovely and Smith’s descriptions of a landscape I’ve only seen in movies was vivid and chilling.

On the other other hand, there was the character of Bolot, which makes me ready to forgive nearly everything that dissatisfied me. Bolot introduces himself to Arkady on the flight to Irkutsk. He offers his services as a factotum. And what a factotum he is! He develops (or is revealed) from a glad-handing fast talker to a hunter and woodsman, loyal, inventive, resourceful… and a shaman.

The titular “Siberian Dilemma” is explained to us in the last third of the book, and demonstrated in its last few pages–an ending that seemed a bit too coincidental.

People who have read the others will like this more than I did, because Arkady is still the rebel, the thorn in the sides of the establishment. I’m glad I read it, mostly for Bolot. It reminds me what good stylist Smith is.

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Year In Review

We’re firmly into 2022 now, a good time to take a look back at 2021.

Do I expect 2022 to be better? In one sense, yes. I have two books coming out in the first half of this year! Other than that, I expect different. Only different.

But, 2021. Let’s hit the personal highlights for me:

One single fact made me breathe a sigh of relief through all of 2021; we had a president who was an adult in the White House. That made a substantial difference. I look at where we are now–even now–with the Omicron variant and I get a chill thinking about how much worse it could be.

Downside, of course–the megalomaniac loser who had been in the White House before, the one who demonstrated that he had no regard for the United States of America, who would trample our security and destroy our republic if it put a dollar in his bank account or gave him a happy for two seconds, did spur his minions to engage in an act of treasonous insurrections that cost lives. He’s still out there, and one entire party has sold its soul to him. That wasn’t great during 2021. But still.

In 2021, the sold-our-soul party mounted an expensive and annoying recall effort in California, wasting millions of dollars and thousands of hours. Fortunately, they were soundly rebuffed.

In 2021, two jury verdicts gave me hope. No, I’m not seeing a pattern. I’m not holding my breath. But I do note it for the record.

Nationally, we were still in the grip of the Covid viruses in 2021. A large factor in that was a sizeable group of people who could be vaccinated and refused to be, giving the virus safe harbors and collaborating with the evolution of variants. These same people (obviously, please note that I am not talking about people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons) also ranted and threw tantrums about wearing a mask. If you’re wondering why we’re where we are in 2022, look at those people first. From a distance. Wearing your mask.

Personally, the list of health-maintenance chores for myself gets a little longer every year, and 2021 was no exception. Overall, though, my health is good and I’m grateful.

I’d laugh, but you know what? I did take a trip in 2021! It was a road trip with my dear friend Linda. And it was great.

I went to Mendocino a couple of times– and it was beautiful and inspiring, just as I always hope it will be.

Spouse is doing well, still managing to volunteer at the Wente Scout Camp pretty much monthly. A couple of times in 2021, the camp was on lockdown. (Spouse would have actually preferred to work during those times, because here would be no one around to slow him down.)

Speaking indirectly of Scouts–our friend Matt Fleming was awarded the Silver Beaver Award by his council. Much deserved!

I would point out that nationally, Scouting did not have a good year in 2021. Basically, the same avoidance practices the Catholic Church used with child molesters caught up with Scouting, too, resulting in a huge financial hit. Will the program take lessons learned to heart? I fear not, but I hope yes.

Friends and Community:

Friends and community kept me going during 2021–writing friends, long-time treasures like Linda and Sharon, new friends from workshops or Zoom classes.

Final edits on Comeuppance completed.
Developmental edits on Golden Rifts (Book Three of Copper Road) completed.
Practically polished draft of Chalice completed.
And this weird new thing started–a kinda magical spy thriller with sapient fungus.
A starred review from Publishers Weekly!
I figured out how to work with Goodreads! Kind of!
Reviews for Fantasy Literature as well as a weekly column.

I read so many great books in 2021. I… seriously. 2020 was a great year for speculative fiction books. 2021 continued the trend. I dare to hope that 2022 will build on those years, and be even better. Keep them coming, all you brilliant authors!

That’s it. I’ve looked back. (There are a thousand things I will remember as soon as I post this.) Now I look forward. Until I look back again. And check the side-views.

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Ink and Paper Blog Posted This!

Russell, a book blogger on YouTube, posted this awesome photo!

Check out Ink and Paper here!

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The Hugos: Three Big Wins for

My new publisher’s works took the Hugo for Best Novel, Best Novella and Best Novelette.

To be fair, they kind of had to win Best Novella since every single nominated work was one of theirs.

The winners for the categories are:

Best Novel: Network Effect by Martha Wells.

Best Novella: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo.

Best Novelette: Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker.

I have read one of those three: Network Effect, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I think its win shows that 2021 was a year when people voted from enjoyment (dare I say escapism?).

Having read The Chosen and the Beautiful, I celebrate Nghi Vo’s win with her debut novella. She’s a writer to watch. And Pinsker’s work is always thoughtful, funny, compassionate and human.

Check out all the awards. They’re always interesting.

Of course I think is the best place for novellas, because they’re publishing mine, but there are small publishers out there doing interesting things with the form. Neon Hemlock is doing some beautiful stuff right now, for instance. Check them out.

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The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

I bought The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James, at The Poet’s Corner bookshop in Duncan’s Mills. It’s a ghost story mystery with a girl’s boarding school, and in the midst of the hurly-burly of holiday prep, it seemed like just the thing for a few hours of escape.

St. James splits the story between two timelines. In 2014, journalist Fiona Sheridan still wrestles with the aftermath of the murder of her sister Deb twenty years earlier. Tim Christopher, the man convicted of her murder, is behind bars, but Fiona still struggles with details that make no sense. The biggest one is where Deb’s body was found, laid out on the sports fields of the abandoned Idlewild Hall, formerly a girls’ boarding school.

The other timeline follows four girls at the school in 1950. They are roommates who becomes friends and allies in an institution set up to warehouse, not educate, throw-away women. Their coalition is broken when Sonia, a European war refugee, disappears after a short visit to some relatives. The school immediately dismisses Sonia as a “runaway,” but her three friends track the gossip closely and it’s clear Sonia vanished on her way back to the school.

And Idlewild Hall has a resident ghost, Mary Hand. Mary leaves words written on steamed up mirrors in the bathrooms, she whispers in students’ ears, she wanders the grounds in mourning black. Mary is a terrifying presence. Generations of Idlewild schoolgirls have tracked her appearances by writing notes in the margins of the textbooks. Since this so-called “school” hasn’t updated its texts since its formation in 1920, our four roommates have an archive at their fingertips. What does Mary want?

Fiona is an active protagonist, fitting for a 2014 heroine. She has a hot-but-troubled relationship with Jamie, a local cop, and struggles to break through to her father, who lives in his own world since Deb’s murder. The girls in 1950 are powerless yet I found their story more compelling. Of course it has the ghost and the “active” mystery, which bleeds through into the 2014 storyline.

Halfway through the book, a revelation about Sonia and one thing she did at the school suddenly shifted the stakes for me. I went from being interested in the book to being 100% invested in Sonia’s story. I needed the truth to come out.

The pacing is brisk enough, but St. James isn’t afraid to stop and dwell for moments on the centuries-long practice of erasing and silencing women. All four girls have been sent away from 1950s homes because in one way or another they were “inconvenient.” The lengths reached to erase Sonia, her mother, and others like her is not new, but newly horrifying here. In 2014, Fiona confronts the former police chief (Jamie’s father) who laments that Tim Christopher, the scion of the town’s richest family, had “his life ruined” when a jury found him guilt of Deb’s murder. He says that this destroyed the town. Somehow, Deb, whose life was ripped away from her, is at fault for getting murdered.

Very close to the end, Fiona must do something stupid in order for the plot to work. I sighed in exasperation and rolled my eyes but kept reading–not because of Fiona, but because of Sonia. This was more than a quibble–it was a big pothole, but don’t let it put you off the book. (For one thing, it’s close to the end.) The active ghosts, and the final few pages, took the edge off my exasperation. Overall, this is a good read and I’m very glad I picked it up.

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Galley Copies!

Thursday evening someone rapped on the door and immediately rang the bell. This is the hallmark of UPS or FedEx these days. I was delighted to hear it because it meant the coffee beans were here, and we were nearly out.

The coffee beans were there. And so were these!

Five copies of Comeuppance Served Cold in a cardboard box.

These are uncorrected proofs, sent out as Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) to reviewers, librarians and bookstore book-buyers. My contract specified that I got five. I know that others have gone out at least to bookstores, because a bookseller friend got in touch with me saying she just got hers.

I had seen this beautifully composed photo on Twitter, courtesy of my publisher.

Cover of Comeuppance Served Cold against a matching blue background.
Notice how, by an amazing coincidence, the blue background matches the blue on the cover!

It wasn’t until Friday that I flipped the book over and found a great second blurb from Marie Brennan (Spoiler alert!)

Back cover: "Catnip for those who like watching con artists walk the tightrope of trickery and lies." Marie Brennan.

The book is real now. Even though my acknowledgments and dedication haven’t been added yet, the complete story text is there. (Well, I don’t know that, but I flipped through it last night, reading sections, and every section I wanted to read was there.)

This is really happening!

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A Rant

Odd time of year for a rant–odd time in my life for a rant, actually. I really have little to rant about right now. Given the state of the world, things are good for me, and I’m grateful.

In spite of that, my brain kept circling back around to a thing that happened the week before last. I didn’t really know why. I figured out, finally, that I was mad about it. This morning, when I woke up at 3:30 and had some time to think, a collection of other memories flooded into my head and I realized why I was mad about it. Thus, the rant.

Last week I had a reason to wait in line with a lot of other people. It was for a good thing, a beautiful fall day, and people were in a good mood generally. I struck up a conversation with the man behind me in line. He was in my age group, probably a couple years older. The conversation ranged and drifted as we inched our way up to the table. Finally, he mentioned that he was a writer. He’d spent several years in Columbia during the height of the cartel activity, and probably has a pretty good story to tell about it if he changes some names.

I told him I was a writer too, and I had a book coming out in March. By the way, I tell everyone this now. Even the dogs I meet when I’m out walking. “Hi! Who’s a good dog? You are! Yes you aarrrre. Who has a book coming out in March? I do! Yes I dooo!” He thought that was interesting. Maybe we could exchange work, he said. Maybe via Zoom. Personally I doubted there was enough overlap in our work to make that worthwhile, but I do have business cards, and I gave him one.

Two days later I got an email from him. In that time he had searched me up, as I would have expected. He probably found my reviews and columns on Fantasy Literature. He may have found my existing books on Amazon and Goodreads. I mean, I’m out there.

“You know so much about writing and publishing,” he said. “Maybe you could edit my book. I’d pay you of course.”

Fist clutching twenty-dollar bills.

I laughed. I didn’t understand why I laughed at first–except that Let’s Miss the Point in a Big Way is always kind of funny. I sent a reply email politely explaining that I wasn’t an editor and referring him to someone I knew who was.

But the story stayed in my mind. And slowly I realized it bugged me. It was funny, but underneath the funny, something was making me mad.

At 3:30 in the morning, other memories swirled in.

In the late 1990s, I attended a writing workshop. Its name now is Community of Writers–at that time it was the Squaw Valley Writers Conference. It was a residential conference with workshops in the morning and lecture events in the afternoon. I’ll state right up front that about 85% of my anti-creative-writing-MFA bias probably burst into life at this conference. One afternoon–probably the final day–the conference put on a buffet meal for all the participants. I ended up at a part of the long narrow table surrounded by people I didn’t know. I did what I do best in that situation; said nothing and listened.

Across from me sat two young white men. From their conversation, they were MFA students or recent grads. They were mocking a woman they’d seen at last year’s conference. The woman presenter was older than them, clearly, probably in her late thirties. She may have even been forty. There were two sources for their hilarity. Apparently she wore some kind of clothing that, as an American-Chinese person, honored her heritage, and she carried a tote bag that held her Yorkshire terrier. When she sat down, she put the bag by her feet and the dog peeked out. (I can’t remember when this was, but plainly it was before Paris Hilton made carrying a small dog in a purse stylish.)

I’ll ignore for a minute the practical aspects of carrying a small, energetic and assertive dog in a tote bag, instead of dealing with a loose Yorkshire terrier or the trip-hazard of one on a leash in a crowd of humans. I will say that this woman they were laughing at, with her dog and her “ethnic” clothing, this figure of fun, was someone the Squaw Valley Conference thought highly of. Others did too. You may have heard of her. Her name is Amy Tan.

I wanted to lean across the table and say, “How many New York Times-reviewed books do you boys have?” but I didn’t. I just ate my lasagna.

Black and white photo white men at a board meeting.
“How dare she carry a dog in a tote bag?”
(Image from CNN.)

One time I flew up to Washington State to visit my parents. I took a paper manuscript of a story to revise. A young man sat next to me. Seeing me lining things out and writing in the margins, he asked if I was a teacher. I said I was a writer. He said he was too. I asked what he wrote. He gave me a detailed explanation of the idea he had for a multi-book series based on this video game he really liked. He hadn’t written any of it yet, of course.

And decades before that, when I was nineteen, I took a sociology class at the local junior college. This class was a pre-req, and was a big group. The second class session, the teacher was unavailable so she sent in a teaching assistant who had us put our chairs in a big open circle. (It was the late 1970s, we did stuff like that.) He went around the circle and we were to say our first name and “what we were.” This was to make a point about society. When he got to me, my voice warbled, but I said, “Marion. I’m a writer.”

He nodded. “A mother,” he said, and started to move on.

I spoke louder. “A writer.”

He furrowed his brow. “A… rider?”

Across the circle, a woman yelled, “She said WRY-ter!”

“Oh,” he said, and moved on.

For years, when I told that story, I ended it with, “I should have spoken more clearly.” Because this attempt to erase my answer was my fault, right? Even though a person farther away from me than he was understood me, this still must somehow be on me.

These events are separated by state lines and decades. They look random, but there are common threads. One common thread: the speakers are male, in my case every one a white male. Another thread–women who say they are writers are ignored, misunderstood or ridiculed.

Two spoiled white boys, fresh out of a college system that feeds their privilege, look at a writer whose work actually changed mainstream fiction in this country, who told stories we hadn’t heard before, and feel comfortable articulating their envy in the form of mockery. How dare she, not only a woman, but an American-Chinese woman, dare to succeed before they publish their brilliant (if mostly so far imaginary) works?

A teaching assistant in a junior college class literally can’t hear a woman say she is a writer.

So I laughed at some random guy from a line–laughed and got mad. Because his take-away of my talent and hard work was, “Wow, she might be good, she must exist solely to help me.”

Here is the take-away. “Dude, I’m a writer. More than a writer, I’m a fucking author.”

You may not choose to hear it, or you may not want to remember it, but that’s okay. I will. I’m a fucking author, and I won’t forget. And you know what, men*? You’re going to be hearing that from me a lot now.

And that’s my rant.

*Not all men. Plenty of men have encouraged and supported and yada yada yada.

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Comeuppance Gets a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly.

That’s it, that is all, the whole thing. Here’s the link, so go read their great and generous review that mostly eschews spoilers.

Cover of Comeuppance Served Cold. 1920's woman outline in martini glass. blue and lavender fan shapes in corner
Because I’ll take any excuse to show off the awesome cover they gave my book.

Okay, maybe that’s not all there is. A starred review from Publishers Weekly (I’m quoting from “…recognizes books of outstanding quality.” So I’ll certainly take it!

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