My Eligibility List

The season of nominating works for the 2023 awards, like the Hugos and the Nebulas, will open soon, so this period is the “eligibility list” season, in which writers let readers know what works of theirs are eligible to be nominated and ultimately voted for.

COMEUPPANCE SERVED COLD is eligible for nomination, and so is GOLDEN RIFTS.

That’s my list!

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Today’s Chapter: Chapters

A couple of months ago I had a conversation in the checkout line with Cameron, one of my favorite checkers at the grocery store. He always asks about my writing. I said that I was working on something and trying to keep each chapter to five or six pages each. It was a change for me, since I usually wrote longer chapters.

Cameron nodded encouragingly. “Just keep at it. You’ll get it! You will!”

Thanks, Cameron.

That got me thinking about chapters. Why chapters? What purpose do they serve? Does the length matter? Should it matter?

I went to the internet to see why it thinks books have chapters. First off, here’s’s definition: “A main division of a book, treatise or the like, usually bearing a number or a title”.

(You can tell I didn’t take a very deep dive there.)

Next, I looked at some of the online fiction-writing expert sites. Somewhat to my surprise, the number one reason several of them gave for having chapters in fiction was: To give your reader a break. “Break” was used in two senses. The first was a convenient place to stop reading, a landmark to where to start when you pick up the book again. That seems like the most logical purpose for me.

The second use of “break” is like a rest break, even if the reader continues to read. A chapter ending/beginning is a cue, and moment of time for the reader to reflect and absorb information before the story continues. I like that too.

Can you tell a story without chapters? Off the top of my head, I can think of two examples that worked; The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King. In The Road, the endlessness of the prose combined with recurring incidents and themes expertly sold the dystopian future of this world, and echoed back the title. With King’s book, Dolores’s rage grew like a well-fed fire and the straight-ahead storytelling choice accentuated that.

And me, I write chapters. I just do. I think in chapters. I think in scenes, actually, but my mind combines them into convenient bundles. I use chapters:

  • For a change in time.
  • For a change in setting/place.
  • For a POV of shift (even though I also shift POV within a chapter).
  • For a change of mood.

A change of mood can also mean a dramatic moment that changes what the characters and the reader thought they knew. If The Empire Strikes Back had been a book, the line, “I am your father, Luke,” would have been a perfect chapter ending.

On those expert sites, advice ranges from “on your first draft don’t even bother with chapters, just write it,” to detailed outlining advice. Some sites prescribe chapter length (Middle Grade, for instance) or use a formula; total word count proportioned in some specific way. They also want to teach you how to craft a chapter. A chapter (in fiction) is made of scenes; each scene must have a beginning, middle and an end. Each chapter must have a beginning, a middle and an end, and every book must… yeah, you get the idea. It’s a lovely wheels-within-wheel image that doesn’t always work, but it’s probably a helpful model.

And then this guy just flat-out tells you what your chapter word-count should be.

One site suggested starting a chapter in the middle of a scene; others suggest outlining each chapter by “purpose.” Yet another suggests using a chapter to introduce the MC and primary characters—not shifting points of view, but devoting the chapter to each character. There were many other formulae and they probably all work to differing degrees of success for different authors. My approach to chapter breaks is usually more intuitive, and I’ll be the first to admit that my sense of story rhythm is affected as much by film and TV as it is books.

One thing I learned recently, by trying consciously to write a book with shorter chapters of nearly equal page length; short chapters weren’t right for the story, for a couple of reasons. It’s a complicated story. When I reread parts of it, instead of feeling like I had a “rest break,” I felt fragmented. The short chapters made me think that the tension, and the pace, were ramping up, when they weren’t—or at least not at the pace these chapter lengths were telegraphing. This book will do better with longer chapters that grow shorter as the suspense heightens (I hope) . I also ended up with 90+chapters. Who needs that? If I’m going to write a five-page-per-chapter book, it needs to be a shorter one.

With the thing I’m working on now, I’m using longer chapters again. Maybe not much longer; this book is designed to be shorter in length. Still, an average chapter so far runs to ten pages or slightly over.

Anyway—chapters. I like ‘em. That’s my report.

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Rebel Without a Dime

I haven’t blogged in over a month. Mostly, I’ve been busy keyboarding like crazy on a Comeuppance sequel, it’s heading into Holiday Season, and there have been a few personal issues taking up our time and attention. The poor blog has languished.

I struggled to find something to write about. The universe saw those struggles, took pity on me, and delivered a cornucopia of material in the form of a news story about an alt-right personality’s attempt to get a movie made of his comic-book, Confederacy-loving superhero character, and how he was allegedly scammed out of nearly $1 million dollars.

There is so much that makes this story a delight as a story. The surname of the alleged financial grifter is Wolfgramm. I couldn’t make that up. I couldn’t, but I very nearly did—one thing that does irritate me about this tale is that Wolfgramm (an assumed name) is very close to the villain in the Comeuppance sequel. It’s close, and it’s better. Damn it!

I’ll leave the link here and let you read it. (For some of us, it’s behind a paywall.) Here’s another link with more data.) But the fun, for us speculative fiction types, is just beginning.

Some of the fun is right on the surface. “Rebel,” is, I guess, a superhero who cribbed her costume from Wonder Woman but substituted used the confederate flag for the bodice. She goes around the world fighting a left-wing global police organization that imprisons free-thinking people. Her creator was envisioning a feature film to rival, well, The Avengers. I mean, I could stop right there.

Or I could start with the alleged scammer, James Wolfgramm, who has been charged with seven counts of fraud. He worked out of Utah, a state that wants to give the Dakotas a run for their money (that’s a pun) as the new USA “offshoring” hotspots. He named his financial business Ohana, (anyone who knows Hawaiian, savor that for a moment) and one of his comments was that he offered “banking services to the unbankable.” Ohana, that kindly family bank, is incorporated in the Kingdom of Tonga.

I could stop right there, too.

But those aren’t really the best parts. There is an element of just desserts in this story, at least for some of us—or, if you give the kaleidoscope of this tale one more twist, perhaps a very different story indeed. That’s because of who our alleged victim is. It’s Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, architect of the attempted coup at the Hugo awards in 2015. That’s right. On the surface, it seems like the Rabidest of the Rabid Puppies (their name for themselves, honest) fell for a scam anyone who watched one season of Leverage might have clocked to.

Or did he? Because as anyone who watched Leverage also knows, one of the best ways to dodge suspicion in a scam is to be scammed yourself, one of the indignant victims. You might even toss out suggestions that the scam was motivated by people on the left who want to attack and destroy your alt-right “community,” by stealing the money you crowd-funded for your film.

It’s easy to believe that gadfly Beale was so arrogant and desperate to bring “Rebel’s Run” to cinematic life that he got taken in by this scam. The little bit of reading I’ve done of Beale’s fiction, his market copy for his personal micro-press, and his blog posts, shows a person whose confidence in his own vision, intelligence, creativity and power of will vastly exceeds his actual vision, intelligence, and so on. Some might say, a perfect mark.

Beale is also the complete opportunist. He seized on the sense of entitlement of some disgruntled writers in 2015 and hijacked their movement, putting together a concerted group who controlled the nominations for the Hugo awards that year. Amazingly, many of the works they got onto the finalist list were edited by Beale. What a startling coincidence! In 2016, he tried the same thing again with even less success, and many of the titles they foisted onto the voters were published by his press. In retrospect, it became clear that both these shenanigans meant free publicity for Beale and his press. Is it so much of a stretch to think that there are two scammers, not one, at the heart of this?

Beale’s father, once a celebrated, Christian millionaire from Minnesota, served a ten-year sentence for income tax evasion. You can read more here, but please understand that it wasn’t just “Ooops, I knew I forgot to do something! It was pay my taxes!” No, Robert Beale set up a detailed an elaborate plan to not report income and not pay taxes, and he pulled others in with him. He was also a federal fugitive for 14 months, during which time he hid out in Florida and went on a cruise. Parents don’t define us; but it’s possible Theodore Beale learned a few tips and techniques growing up at his father’s elbow.

Whatever happened here, it is intriguing, and filled with unintentional irony. I doubt we’ll hear more, but I really wish we would.

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Remarkably Bright Creatures

A capsule review of Shelby Van Pelt’s novel Remarkably Bright Creatures: this book is an absolute charmer.

Like others who have reviewed it or discussed it, I’m going to start with the octopus, because, after all, he starts the book. Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus who lives in captivity in a small aquarium in the small Pacific Northwest town in which the book is set. Marcellus is very smart, very observant and speaks excellent English, so there’s no reason in the world why this book should not open with him addressing us in first person, and sharing his point of view about the various humans he knows.

Marcellus is a smart creature (although he resents being called a “smart cookie”), and he is aware of his own mortality–in fact, he is counting down the months and weeks of his lifespan. This doesn’t stop him from regularly escaping from his tank and wandering the aquarium, which is how he makes the personal acquaintance of Tova, who cleans the place after hours. Marcellus has watching Tova for a long time, but now the two become… well, friends.

Tova has her own issues, and her own circle of human friends. At the core of her life is a devastating mystery–how and why did her eighteen-year-old son disappear, thirty years ago? Tova, a reserved woman, holds her grief and many other fears close to herself, until events begin to unfold that she can’t control. Meanwhile, a smart but adrift young man, Cameron, journeys north from Stockton, enduring a series of small catastrophes that might set some kind of a new record for bad luck and bad decisions. Fortunately, Ethan, a friendly shopkeeper who is secretly in love with Tova, lends Cameron a helping hand… and things spiral from there in a book that is warm, profound, sometimes sad, often funny and deeply hopeful.

Pick it up for the octopus, stay for the loving and lovely descriptions of small-town lives and the way we make connections.

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Gallery Bookshop display, l to r, Burning Woman, Chicktionary, Comeuppance Served Cold.
The display table at Gallery Bookshop.

I had two book events the final week of August. Thursday, August 25, I participated in a three-writer event at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, CA. I joined Sharon Strong, who read from her memoir, Sherry Glaser, who shared information about her book and her movement to change the spelling of English words. We were a crone-energy panel, and the small audience, about ten people, radiated crone energy too. That’s a feature, not an insult. I felt welcomed, and had a great time. My book, a novel, was an outlier, but that added to the fun, and there was a lot of synchronicity across our work.

I wasn’t able to take any pictures. I could have asked Rob, our coordinator, but he had tasks, including timekeeping. I did get a picture of the most important member of the event, though–Catsby, the bookstore cat. He waited by the entrance for us to arrive (although it’s also possible the pavement was slightly warm and he was enjoying that). During the panel he wandered among the audience and finally jumped up on someone’s lap, which I think is unusual for him.

Our audience waited patiently. Catsby, the black and white store cat, curled up on the pavement outside the door.
Our audience waited patiently.

On Saturday the 27th I did a Meet and Greet at Word Horde Emporium of the Weird and Fantastic, at the Outlet Mall in Petaluma. Ross and Jenn moved their store a couple of month ago, along with Stephanie, who owns the pet-specialty shop Our Best Friends, which shares the space. Saturday was their Grand Reopening.

With my name on it! Sandwich board outside Emporium of the Weird. "It's our Grand Reopening." Join us! Meet Author Marion Deeds."
With my name on it!

A friend said it must be exciting to see the sandwich board with my name on it, and it was exciting. The event was relaxed and fun. Fiona, Stephanie’s Javanese terrier was the official greeter.

The official greeter. Black terrier lying in front of a case of games.
The official greeter.

It was a great chance to see friends from my old work, and make some new friends. And I loved the table they set up for me.

The Table. Raven and skeleton table cloth, black on white, l to r, Copper Road, Comeuppance Served Cold, Golden Rifts.

It was great to have actual events–due to the driving and the timing, it was also a little it tiring. I’m not sure how I would do in a fullblown old-fashioned multi-city book tour–but probably I’ll never have to find out.

Definitely a good time.

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Last month, I bought bunches of books. Seriously, bunches. This morning I stared at my bookshelves in the library and decided it was time to sort through, at least non-fiction, cull some I’m never going to use, and make some room.

Theoretically, this should be something I do twice a year, or at some kind of threshold. I will never be the “a new book came in, so one book has to go out” person (I mean, people didn’t do that with their kids, did they? So why books?). In fact, I do it when I feel like it… and that happens to be about twice a year.

Five shelves of a bookcase, filled with nonfiction. Lower left, a Victoria Whitehand porcelain figure.
Main non-fiction case

The image above is my “main” nonfiction/reference case. At the bottom left you see a Victoria Whitehand figure and the carved spiral rock Sharon gave me for Christmas. The jumble of cords curling out on the right is my “charging station.”

While my fiction section is sorted alphabetically by author’s last name, the reference section is loosely by topic. Topic, and one other important shelving factor–which shelf a tall book will fit on. For example, I have a mythology section in the other case but both Bibles, mine from Confirmation and the New Jerusalem bible I bought second hand, are on this case because that’s where they fit.

Sections, to the extent they are sections, include:

  • Personal family history
  • California and US history (and a pocket copy of the Constitution)
  • General history, kind of
  • 1920/30s books
  • The Inklings
  • How-things-work books.

The second shelf holds:

  • Bronte history/biographies
  • Victorian times books
  • Tudor times books
  • Hawaiiana
  • Native American history
  • Construction/architecture
  • Trade

And it goes on like that.

Close up of bookcase with dictionaries, style manuals , essays
The second case

The second non-fiction case holds a thematic jumble.

close up of bookshelf with essays  about writing

The first shelf contains essays about writing and two baby-book names. Why? Because they fit there. Also, C.S. Lewis’s religious books ended up there, and I don’t know why.

The second shelf, not pictured, holds style manuals and dictionaries, including all of my language dictionaries.

Detail of bookshelf with herbal books and tarot books.

The third shelf holds mythology/religion books, books on herbalism, magical systems (like Tarot), symbology and so on.

On the fourth shelf you’ll find my charging paraphenalia, my travel journals, a collection of letters my father wrote to my mother when they were long-distance courting and planning to get married, geology, and travel guide books. The bottom shelf holds a couple of hardcovers that wouldn’t fit anywhere else, and the start of the fiction section.

I was brutal. I managed to cull about 20 books, which I plan to offer to Second Chances Used Books today. At first I didn’t see any visible difference, but looking at the photos, I see I made some room on the bottom shelf of he first case. Probably just enough room for the Petaluma-themed non fiction books I got as prep for the next Comeuppance story.

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MCWC 2022

Another Mendocino Coast Writers Conference is in the rearview. This was the first in-person conference since 2019, and I would have loved it for that alone. I did love it for that reason, but there were many other reasons to love it as well this year.

Like any multi-person event, there were also things that didn’t go perfectly. I didn’t take advantage of the one-on-one consultations this year (I don’t most years) so I can’t comment on those. In retrospect, I wish I had signed up for one with our workshop leader. Anyway, now I know. I also skipped pitch sessions and the anonymous read of your “first lines,” so I can’t comment on them.

Wooden fence covered in lichen. Rose bush behind.

The things I loved included:

The morning workshop:

The morning workshops are the wellspring of the conference and everything else, bad or good, flows from them. The workshop leader is critical for this. The group is important too, but as a participant, you know something about the leader and can choose based on your category and interest. Since they’ve offered Speculative Fiction, I’ve signed up for it practically every year, mainly because it fits my work.

This year Ayize Jama-Everett was our leader. Workshop leaders have ranged from acceptable to great in my experience with this category, and Ayize was great. This year brought some twists; we had to be masked while indoors, which meant functionally during the workshop. For most (all?) of us, it’s difficult to project through a mask, and often challenging to understand something through a mask. (And we had a participant with a hearing loss as well.) The solution many workshop leaders took, including ours, was to meet outside. The weather cooperated, and it worked well. The first day we had some irritations with ambient noise, but otherwise, this was the solution.

It helped that everyone in the group was a strong writer and a smart, generous person.

I don’t know for sure, but I think the conference has embraced the new model of workshopping across the board. At least I know two workshops used it. 

Instead of a trial by ordeal, where the writer sits silently while people either flail around, trying to offer useful comments, or focus dagger-sharp criticisms in order to eviscerate the story, in the new model, the writer speaks first, and throughout the workshop process if necessary. They start off by saying what they want or need for the story.

This is just so… logical.

I’ve been in workshop after workshop where I’ve wasted brain energy and time explaining why the opening chapter didn’t really work for me, only to find out, when the writer is finally allowed to speak, this this is Chapter Six and they wanted to know if the narrative voice worked. I’ve been in groups where the participants have thrown out stuff like, “You shouldn’t use first person here. Write it in third!” or “Nothing works here except your fantastical city. Throw out everything and write a new story about the city.” (That last one is a quote.)  I also know of people who were deeply wounded, to the point of considering quitting writing, by workshop experiences.

All of this is to say that I’m a fan of the new model. It worked well for us, not only because of our leader.

Calm see with a white boat at anchor, cliffs in background

The weather:

The conference really can’t claim credit for the weather, but it didn’t hurt that it was in the high 60’s, with fog most mornings and sun the rest of the day, all three days. The one drawback to the weather was a cold, capricious wind that would spring up with no warning, creating a wind chill and slicing through wraps, coats and sweaters like a magic knife of ice. Otherwise, it was perfect walking weather, and perfect sitting outside weather.

Windblown raven on the corner of a roof, gray sky.

The food:

The food is conference food, with a focus on things that appeal to a broad number of people. Nothing is cooked to order. Chef Oscar makes a commitment to offer palatable choices to people with food allergies, who eat vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten free. They offer entrees in all these categories. She introduced “alphabet safe” main courses, which, she said, met all three of the options above. There was always a fresh green salad at lunch, and nice desserts.

Cooking for a crowd on a budget is challenging and there are things you learn to expect, like varieties of pasta. The selections are not going to be perfect for everyone. Fortunately, the school is about one mile from downtown Mendocino Village, where there are plenty of restaurants. At least two, The Good Life Café and Frankie’s, are less expensive, offering fast service and good value for your money. Fort Bragg is six miles north and a haven for fast food if you’ve got a hankering.

I like the food, but I like it making the allowance that it is conference food, and I’m the person who considers tortilla chips and salsa a light meal, so be guided by those facts.

Red Snapdragon blossoms with dew drops.

The Afternoon Sessions:

I attended two afternoon sessions. Faith Adiele discussed and demonstrated the “hermit crab” story; a story that fits into the “container” of another form, like a letter, a review, a set of instructions, or an advertisement. The mid-afternoon sessions ran an hour and a half and included both talk or lecture and a writing exercise. Faith is an electric presenter, with a delightful slide show, and I found the seminar inspiring. The next afternoon I found Ayize’s presentation equally so, and my friend Terry got a story idea out of that one.

The Staff:

Conference staff is always wonderful, and they were this year too. Plus, it was so great to see them in person! They all stay cheerful and friendly all the way through and frankly, I don’t know how they manage it!

Fog, tide coming in around rocks in a narrow cove.

The Bookstore. Gallery Bookshop always manages the conference bookstore. They know their stuff and they know their audience. In addition to books by faculty and books by participants, they bring writing books and inspirational books, reference books (Mendocino history for example) and lots of tchotchkes or “sidelines”—pens, journals, small notepads, bookmarks, etc. They had a location that was both good and bad, right in the main hallway from the lobby out to the classrooms where the workshops were held. Good for exposure, and, pun intended, bad for exposure and general congestion. Rob staffed it every day. I loved it.

There were things I liked less.

The classrooms.

The school is K-8. K stands for Kindergarten, and I wouldn’t have minded the kindergarten room if I only had to deal with the alphabet and the numbers running along the wall. Sadly, I also had to deal with a kindergarten-high table and chair. I doubt I could have hauled my carcass out of that teensy chair unaided if we’d had to sit there three hours. Going outside solved that problem mostly.

The restrooms.

Saturday, the final day, mostly of the restrooms were locked. There were four functional ones in the main building two were marked Out of Order. This was not okay.

The Contest Winners.

The contest winners were announced on the conference website, which makes sense and allows for an excerpt to be posted. That’s efficient and cool, but I wished there had been a general in-person announcement somewhere. At the final Open Mike, when some of the readers signed up, the host read off their names and shared some of the judges’ comments, but it wasn’t comprehensive.

Overall, though, it was great to be back in person. For the first in-person workshop since 2019, I am grateful it was wonderful.

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Comeuppance Served Cold Earned Out!

This means that I’ve sold enough copies that I’ve paid back my advance, and any royalties now come to me. This is exciting! Comeuppance is now The Little Story That Could in my mind.

Cover Comeuppance Served Cold. Caption: Any Excuse to Show Off The Cover
Any excuse to show off the cover.

This doesn’t mean the book hasn’t made a profit for the publisher until now. My royalties are a percentage of the hard copy’s or e-book’s profit. ( A different percentage for each format.) Many books are profitable and at least break even for the publisher without ever earning out the author’s advance.

We’ve all heard horror stories of advances being clawed back by the publisher, but those are mostly specific, and extreme, cases. And I won’t be one (at least this time) so, yaaay!

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New Book Event!

On Saturday, August 27 I’ll be at the Word Horde Emporium of the Weird and Fantastic, in Suite 805 in the Petaluma Outlet Mall. This will be a meet-and-greet as part of the shop’s Grand Reopening in its new location. I’ll be there about 4:00 PM.

What I love most about the new location is the plentitude of parking! What I love second-most is the official greeter, Fiona, the terrier who supervises the pet specialty store that shares the suite.

The official greeter.
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Things I’m Looking Forward To

The Mendocino Coast Writers Conference starts next week. For the first time since 2019 it will be held in person.

The conference is being diligent. They required the participants to provide our vaccination status, and face coverings will be used whenever we’re inside. Breakfast and lunch are provided outside so masks won’t be required. The conference isn’t requiring a daily test but they recommend it. I plan on testing daily.

As always, I’m looking forward to the usual things at the conference. I’m eager to meet all my workshop-mates and our leader, and discuss our work. I usually don’t attend many of the afternoon sessions but two of them this year look like fun!

Then there are all the conference-adjacent things I love visiting Mendocino for:

Eating out. Yes, I do too much of it, but the village has excellent restaurants, cafes and diners. It’s also when and where I get to catch up with friends.

Walking around. Getting a coffee drink and strolling the village? Check. Walking on the bluff, watching as the fog glides in? Check. Walking in the headlands park? Check. Driving up to Fort Bragg and wandering around there? Check again.

Botanical garden. Photos of flowers, the homestead vegetable garden, the succulents, the fir trees and the ocean. At least two hours of tranquility and wonder.

Browsing the bookstore. Buying a hundred dollars worth of books? Or two hundred? And why not?

Out of This World. Pretending to myself that I’m going to buy a telescope? Absolutely.

Ravens and crows. The photo opportunities are nearly endless.

Aloft Suite at the Alegria Inn. I’m looking forward to checking in with Eric and Elaine and climbing the eleven stairs to the Aloft Suite in Raku House, a suite I’ve started thinking of as “my writing suite.” And already imagining Elaine’s warm fresh scones for breakfast. Yum!

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