Today I have invented a new word: worldsetting. (I can’t prove I invented it, but it didn’t turn up in a Google search so I am taking credit.)

I invented it to solve a problem I’ve had for a while now, when talking about writing: worldbuilding. This element is not unique to speculative fiction, but it’s at the forefront of most books in the genre.

Speculative fiction takes place somewhere other than the “real world.” This requires developing a consistent world. It might be a starship or an alternative planet; it might be a “second world” or a fantastical version of a historical or contemporary world. Whatever it is, any aspect of life that will have an impact on the story have to be worked out, at least to a minimal level. Politics, economics, geography, social mores, etiquette, transportation, healing, clothing, food all require thought. The writer needs to know how these things work so they can avoid inconsistencies. Working out these elements is called worldbuilding.

Once the world is “built-out,” the writer needs to make sure the key details enter the story, preferably soon enough that they function as a safety net for the story. For instance, if your protagonist works in a salt mine, it would help readers if they knew pretty early that salt is a form of currency (or, alternately, very rare and expensive). Making sure these elements appear in the story as they need to, in a way that feels natural, is also called worldbuilding.

This leads to difficulties for me, both in reviewing works and commenting in workshops, because often I know the writer’s worldbuilding in the first sense is excellent… but getting the needed data into the work in the right amount needs work. Or, the precise details are beautiful, but inconsistent, because while the second meaning of worldbuilding is excellent, they still need work on the first meaning.

So, I’m inventing a new word for the second meaning. Worldbuilding is the interior development the writer does. Worldsetting is how they communicate it in the book.

What do you think?

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The Sitting Room

The Sitting Room is a national treasure tucked away in a modest tract home in a rural part of Sonoma County. This library/archive/meeting space devoted to literary works by women had a birthday celebration on June 4, which included an open house.

J.J. Wilson, Virginia Woolf scholar and professor emerita at California State University Sonoma (which everyone I know still calls Sonoma State) opened the Sitting Room in the mid-1980s, envisioning a women’s community library, archive and meeting space. She took the name from Woolf’s famous essay, “A Room of One’s Own.” Originally on the lower floor of an office building, the Sitting Room now resides in Wilson’s house.

Atop the collectibles case sits a collage of influential women writers.

The Sitting Room has an excellent collection of women’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry and critical work. It also houses Wilson’s own archive on women in literature. The archive has an online index.

Until the pandemic, the library was open to the public during regular hours. Now, it is still open to individuals by appointment. The group meetings the place is known for, like the book club and the writing group, are still being conducted via videoconference at this time. Later in the year the place hopes to open up to groups again. The library is staffed by volunteers.

Long view of the fiction room.
Bookcases flank a passage by Maya Angelou
One half of this long step-down room is devoted to Woolf and Friends. The other side houses Women in History and the obituary section.

It comes as no surprise that Woolf is something of a matron-spirit of the Sitting Room and gets half a room to herself. It’s not completely to herself; she shares shelf space with others of the Bloomsbury Group, and many critical explorations of Woolf’s work.

The Sitting Room is a 501(c)3, so donations are tax-deductible. They are always seeking volunteers. When the place opens up more, the Sitting Room would be a wonderful place to sit for a few hours and write.

Virginia Woolf and the Waves
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Pride Month is Here

Rainbow heart clasped in two hands.

Image from iStock
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Golden Rifts is Out!

Published by Falstaff Books

Golden Rifts, Book Three in the Copper Road series, is out in the world! Erin, Trevian and their allies from the Copper Coalition explore the mysterious abandoned complex at Orchard Hill and uncover dangerous secrets. Loyalties are tested and paranoia takes hold when they discover there’s a New Way spy in their midst.

Erin must decide where she belongs; in Trevian’s world, or her own?

Aideen and Ilsanja struggle to protect the family business and their home town from the hive-mind of the New Way while finding off the attacks of Aideen’s villainous Uncle Oshane. Aideen is forced to confront the truth about the fire elementals, which her family has always treated as a crop to be harvested.

This book is all about relationships, politics and trust. Okay, except for the elementals, a serial killer on the loose, and the secret of the Pit housed deep in Orchard Hill.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Making Mocktails; Everything but the Soda

Everything but the soda and the thyme

Saturday’s mocktails were made “from a mix,” anathema to mixologists everywhere, but it wasn’t bought in a store. It didn’t sit in a bottle on a shelf for days or weeks. I mixed it myself the day before the book launch.

The ingredients included Ghia, a non-alcoholic aperitif with a strong botanical flavor, fresh artisanal lemon juice squeezed in small batches–by that I mean I did it, one at a time with the citrus press from my fancy bar kit–and homemade black cherry syrup.

Pronounced like the VW car Carmen Ghia

The backbone of this summery, sparkling non-alcoholic drink is called Ghia. It’s laden with botanicals in a base of chardonnay wine grape juice. The flavor is… woodsy, and no, I don’t mean “woody,” I mean it tastes the way the woods smell in the morning, with a faintly bitter aftertaste. (I like that aftertaste.) It’s refreshing, but in my opinion, it’s too intense to drink straight and is improved by sparkles.

Ghia is also an investment, and when I say “investment” I mean “expensive.” The company makes a Ghia spritzer in cans that might be a better deal for casual entertaining. (I was prepared to spend the money because it was for a special event.) The beverage was challenging to find in Sonoma County. Miracle Plum carried it (I think I cleaned them out, though) and the Altamont Grocery in Occidental usually has it but they were sold out when I contacted them. Oliver’s seems like a supermarket chain that might carry it.

The next ingredient is lemon juice, which I did not include a photo of. Lemon juice is wonderful, but generally its wonders don’t translate to photographs. And besides, there’s half a lemon up there, I know you all will figure it out.

Black cherry syrup

The next ingredient is black cherry syrup, from a recipe posted by Elias Eels on his Booktube channel Barcart Bookshelf. He put the recipe for the syrup on Twitter.

By the way, it’s tasty in a glass with soda or sparkling water (or ginger ale) if you like sweet–and it’s great on vanilla ice cream.

First and final ingredient.

I didn’t have all the ingredients in that first photo after all. The drink begins, and is finished, with fresh thyme, once you’ve added the club soda.

The proportions are: 2 parts Ghia, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part cherry syrup. For mixing it in bulk, that meant 4 cups of Ghia, 2 cups of lemon juice (17 lemons, if you are curious) and 2 cups of cherry syrup. I mixed it all in a large bowl. (I have an 8-cup measuring cup, but it left no room for gentle stirring, which I wanted to do to get the syrup to blend.)

It’s served in a cocktail class. The ideal glass is a coupe, but we used martini glasses because 1) it fit with the book’s cover and theme and 2) it was what the rental place had. First thing, muddle fresh thyme in your shaker. Add 2 &1/2 to 3 oz of the mixture with ice, cap and shake for 15-20 seconds. Put on a hawthorne strainer and pour into cocktail glass. Fill the rest of the glass with club soda. Garnish with 2 sprigs of thyme.

The carbonation makes the drink fun and cuts some of the richness. It also changes the color, and I couldn’t help noticing that the mix, even though there is no particulate matter, looks almost murky. The bubbles sparkle it right up.

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Book Party Recap!

The May 14th book party was wonderful! People had so many options that glorious Saturday; to go to parks or the ocean, have a picnic, or show up to demonstrate for women’s rights, as many, many people did just one block west of the store. I was gratified to see them out there–and angry that we have to do this again.

But a lot of people, ranging in age from 9 to 92, chose to come to the book launch party!

20 people, mostly masked, seated on folding chairs.
People were respectful of the mask request. We had folks from age 9 to 92.

Brandy introduced me; I read a bit, took questions from the audience (good questions too!), and then signed some books. The crowd was full of writers, including two well-known authors; Brian Fies, author of Mom’s Cancer, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, and A Fire Story; and Ed Davis whose debut novel The Last Professional came out earlier this year.

Brandy Mow, on the right, introduces me. Both standing in front of the New Arrives bookcase
Brandy Introduces me.

The food table; left to right, napkins, crackers, cheese, grapes, cocktail shakers, hummus, cookies.
And the most important element, the food table!

We kept it pretty simple except for the mocktails; offering a couple of cheeses, crackers and glutin-free crackers, grapes, hummus and carrot sticks, and cookies including some vegan and glutin free offerings. The mocktail mixing stations took up the bulk of the table.

At least one person (jokingly) grumbled about the food blocking access to the all-important History sections!

View through window to back of store. Two copies of Comeuppance Served Cold in foreground
Because of the reflection I couldn’t get the announcement photographed, just the books.
Marion Deeds reading. Photo by Brian Fies
Me reading. Photo by Brian Fies.

The store was open during this time, but just as I was nearing then end of my reading, the door opened, a person stepped in, said, “Oh, no!” and fled! Brandy went after them. They said they’d come back, but I think I may have scared them permanently.

Aluminum Leaves and Copper Road, held by Jeff
Jeff, bookseller extraordinaire, shows my two Falstaff Books novels.
Marion holding pen upright like a dart, ready to sign a book. Photo by Brandy Mow
No, I’m not preparing to hurl my pen like a dart, I’m just getting ready to sign this. Photo by Brandy Mow, I think.
Marion Deeds (left) Ed Davis, right
Me with Ed Davis
Foreground, Marion holding cocktail shaker. Brandy in background
Nice shot of the Sebastopol Cookie Company cookies! Getting ready to get my shake on.
Pink drink in martini glass with thyme spring garnish, jigger to left
Here’s what they looked like.

Finally, an image not directly related to the event, but one I like. Here I am, relaxed, in the shop’s famous red chair, one the Three Sisters who grace Second Chances. (The chair is one of the Three Sisters, not me.)

Marion in a blue jacket and blue hat, seated in red velvet chair.
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Timing Isn’t Everything, But It’s a Lot

Stopwatch image by istockphoto
Stopwatch by istockphoto.

When I’m having difficulty with something in a work in progress, I get hyper-aware of that issue in any book I’m reading. I’m not talking about big overarching issues like character motivations or plot weaknesses (although, yes, those too). Right now I’m struggling with time and travel distance in my WIP, and the thriller novel I just finished reading, while generally entertaining and engaging, irked me, and then scaled up to outright irritation around that element.

I’m not talking about pacing or rhythm. I’m talking about a steady erosion of the suspension of disbelief because of the way Our Villain zips back and forth to do bad things, over a distance of about two hundred miles, while never seeming to be absent from his “spiritual retreat” in the mountains. Or the way our team of goodguys has a similar issue; one of them drives for hours, over rutted roads, with no cell coverage or working GPS, to find Our Villain’s place, but later in the story, a pair of goodguys drive out to the mountain compound in what seems like half an hour. Not to mention the MC who, when the book opens, has gone up into the mountains for a run, all the way from Los Angeles, the way he does two or three times a week… only it’s two hundred miles from his part of LA.

(I would not have this problem with a book set in Alaska or even some place like Wyoming or Utah, where driving long distances to “town” is expected. This is Los Angeles. Maybe it’s expected there too, but I don’t know that, and it didn’t sit right.)

I’m going to go back to the 1980s for a minute and blame television.

In color, drawing of a 50s woman driving a convertible
I’m going to drive from Point A to Point B, and you can watch!

Television is a visual medium. Over decades, TV showrunners figured out that transitions between scenes could be accomplished in a cut. In the 1960s, the MC rode on his horse across a plain and pulled up at the exterior of the next scene. Or the cops parked in front of the apartment building, and we saw them walk up to the lobby. Gradually, these liminal scenes vanished. We’d see the apartment number as the person opened the door. Now, often, the scenes go like this: “Let’s go interview Person B.” [End Scene.] [Next Scene: Sitting in B’s living room:] “Can you tell us how the murdered guy got along with his coworkers?”

This works great for movies, TV and streaming. Now, when there’s a transition in a visual medium, it does double-duty. Two characters have an important talk, or it sets a mood, or it shows off vital scenery, like the forbidding forest or the deadly desert.

Jump cuts work great in printed fiction too, and I’m a huge fan of them. They can really screw up a timeline, though.

In the book I’m discussing, I didn’t find any straight-up timeline glitches. I really don’t think Our Villain is in two places at the same time. What nagged at me was that there were points made about how very present he was at the so-called retreat—what a control freak he was, and so on. We knew he left now and then, but it was also clear how reluctant he was to leave.

Except for that time when he drove into LA and killed that person, then came back. Or that other time when he drove into LA, located a guy who had kidnapped two people for him, but now was hiding them, found them, killed that guy, and hauled two uncooperative kidnapping victims back to his hideaway without any of his guards commenting on him going or coming back. Or, as we discover at the end of the book, all those times he left to go kill random people because he is Our Villain and that was his job description.

I’m calling this a “timing” problem, but it’s a category of continuity. If it takes your MC an hour to go somewhere heading north, then (unless they were lost, stuck in traffic or something you explained) our pattern-seeking brains believe that it should take an hour heading south from that location back to the point of origin.

The best tool to catch these inconsistencies is a good first-reader or a writers group. As the writer, I’m often too close to the work, at least in early drafts, to notice that, for instance, they flew out from Atlanta on Wednesday but got into LAX Tuesday the day before. Even with the time zones, that’s not right. Odds are I will catch that on some reread, but I know my eagle-eyed writers group will.

Another handy tool is a spreadsheet or a table. In my case, I put that together after the first draft. Adding a column for Day/date is really helpful. It may not matter at all what time of year or day of the month the story covers so the “date” may just begin from Day One of the story.

A friend writing a YA fantasy novel where the MC starts a new school actually bought a notebook and set up a day-planner for the MC, so they weren’t going to Spanish class on a Saturday, or algebra twice in one day.

You can just use a calendar, either paper or automated.

In my work in progress, I wrote myself into one corner simply by starting a chapter with, “MC spent the next few days interviewing witnesses…” It can’t be a few days because of what other people are doing in a different part of the story. That’s an easy fix. The more frustrating fix is her partner’s problem. He got sent off to do something in another state. He’s driving. It’s at least a day there and a day back… and she needs to be doing something plot-advancing during the two, or more realistically, three days he’s gone. And yet, I don’t want to slow down the book.  Maybe he goes to a state where his commute will be shorter.

This is not a problem most reviewers or readers will call out, because I think it’s a hard one to notice consciously. I think that it grates on people’s nerves without them knowing it. For that reason alone, it’s worth paying attention to.

Have you noticed this in books you’re reading, or in your own work? What’s your fix?

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Launch Party!

Finalist in the Great Mocktail Experiment

On Saturday, May 14, at 1:30, Second Chances Used Books in Sebastopol is hosting a launch party for Comeuppance Served Cold! The store will have copies of the book for sale and I will be ready and eager to sign them!

I’ll read a little bit from it as well. I may or may not be in 1920’s costume for the reading. It could happen!

We’ll have light refreshments and serve mocktails in fancy glasses.

I hope you can come out and join the fun! If nothing else, stop by and check out the lovely store.

Second Chances is located at 6932 Sebastopol Avenue, Sebastopol. (707) 827-8291. Because of the town’s one-way streets, parking can be challenging. If it’s feasible, plan on parking in the Burnett Parking Lot and walking the one block to the store, or head for the Barlow, northeast of the store about one block.

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COMEUPPANCE Gets a Thumbs-Up Regional Review

Washington state’s Cascadia Daily News included Comeuppance Served Cold in a roundup of new paperbacks set in their home state. I’m in some intriguing company, and the reviewer clearly enjoyed the book.

Here it is.

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Sampler Platter; Writing News

Brandy has generously offered Second Chances as a venue for a book event (not exactly a launch), scheduled for May 14, at 1:30. More details to follow. Check the store’s Facebook page and mine for updates! (Teasers: I may be in costume! And there may be mocktails!)


I’ve mentioned in previous columns how challenging it is for writers to know if their works are selling and how well. I gritted my teeth and just asked my editor if Comeuppance Served Cold was selling. They replied with these actual words, “We’re very happy with how it’s doing.” They also sent along a sheet with information I could actually decipher. Since launch, it looks like I’ve sold about 500 copies (which doesn’t seem like much, but is definitely more people than I know). Ebooks outstrip hardcopy sales nearly 2 to 1, which I think means a younger crowd has found the book. (I hope they like it!)

The page also showed units shipped, presumably to bookstores and libraries. I know it’s showing up in libraries. The new anxiety-engine is that bookstore have a return clause, and they can send the book back if it doesn’t sell.

Right now I’ll hold onto the “We’re very happy…” part.


Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) is holding their annual Nebula Conference, all online, the weekend of May 20-22. Register here. I’ve applied to be on some panels, but if I’m not selected I’ll enjoy being in the audience, since I haven’t attended this conference for seven years. They always have great information and good people.

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