Hot off the Press Panel

Tuesday, February 23, I participated in a Hot Off the Press Author panel for Falstaff Books. I talked about the origins of Copper Road, and a little bit about writing process. It was a super relaxed author panel, like one from a con, only in my home.

The panel will air on Youtube on March 10, on Con-Tinual’s Youtube Channel.

My library lighting is not updated for evening Zoom calls if I want my bookshelves to show. I looked like an old camp counsellor, holding a flashlight under my chin while I told the campers a scary story. Live and learn.

Jason Tongiers was our moderator and Jim Nettles from Con-Tinual produced the segment.

I shared the panel with some great people. Theresa Glover has an omnibus edition of her New Templars series, Blood Moon Over Bourbon Street, as monster hunter Caitlin Kelly takes a vacation to New Orleans and finds it… the opposite of restful.

I’m curious to see how Sarah Madsen’s elf character Aylssa, MC of Weaver’s Folly, survives and thrives in a futuristic cyberpunky Atlanta. I ordered this one. She had me at cyberpunk elves.

John Hartness, who is an author as well as the publisher of Falstaff, talked about Houses of the Holy, which includes a crossover of two of his monster-hunter characters.

Before Jim started recording, John, Jim and Theresa took a few minutes to introduce everyone and break the ice. In the warm up phase, I learned about the F-Bomb wheel. The show is “family oriented,” so language is moderated, but Hot off the Press allows for one F-bomb per panel, awarded to a panelist at random. Some Restrictions Apply. For instance, you cannot use the word in the first ten minutes of the panel, and your win is good only for the duration of the the respective event. I did not win, which was fine since I probably would have returned the gift. But yes, Jim has actually created a Wheel of Fortune-style graphic that spins.

Remember when “weather” was offered up as the stereotypical example of boring conversation content? Sadly, weather has become damned interesting, and comparing notes on who had tornados and who had been snowed in, etc, was a great way to get to know people.

The panel itself ran just about an hour. We discussed our books, we talked about writing processes, and how they might have been different in 2020 (and now) than they used to be.

It was my first genuine Zoom panel and I enjoyed it. I hope there are more in my future!

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Author Copies!

Row of Copper Road books on bookshelf.
They sure look nice on that shelf!

They have arrived!

Second Chances Used Books will have some on consignment if you want a signed one. (I won’t be selling any directly.)

There will be opportunities for consignment in a few other independent bookshops later in the spring. I’ll keep you updated.

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Wishing He Were Here

Both of my parents have been dead for a long time. I still think of them often. Sometimes a picture, an object or a piece of jewelry reminds me of them. Sometimes it’s a story or a song. I miss them, but it’s rare now that I have a specific situation that makes me think, “I wish they were alive to see this.”

Right now, with the announcement that Beyond the Stars; Unimagined Realms, will be going to the moon, I wish my dad were alive so I could tell him.

My dad grew up rough. He not only came out of an abusive home situation but endured extreme poverty as a child, first in Oklahoma, then in California’s central valley where he was mocked as an “Okie.” He told stories of his stepfather, who he described as “mean.” It was years later before I figured out that he was more than mean, he was abusive, and the entire household was dysfunctional. (This probably explained why both my aunt and uncle struggled with alcoholism.) My dad was taken out of school at the end of eighth grade because he was needed to work on the farm. He left home, dragging his half-brother, my uncle, with him, at sixteen. As he left, his stepfather said, “You come back and I’ll kill you.”

My dad enlisted. Basically, the army educated my dad and probably saved him.

My dad was smart, one of the smartest people I knew, but he confused education with intelligence, and always thought of himself as stupid. The army introduced him to radios and communication technology, and he found something he loved—but he was interested in a lot of things. He took meteorology night courses at the local junior college when I was growing up, and some science classes. He was a ham radio enthusiast and loved to show his QSL cards from all over the world. Before he retired, he was building a home computer, just to see if he could. (He could.) And he loved outer space.

We did not watch TV during meals. That hard and fast rule was relaxed immediately whenever a space launch happened during mealtime. Dad would pull our black-and-white TV out of the living room–stretched to the end of its cord–and position it in the kitchen doorway while the rockets launched, or re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.

I remember the moon landing. I don’t remember it well, but I remember my dad’s breathless voice, just above a whisper, alternating, “My God,” and “I can’t believe it,” with “Will you look at that?”

My dad’s childhood and his war experiences didn’t lead him toward optimism, but space exploration did. He believed this was the best of us. He wasn’t interested in colonizing other planets or abandoning this one (although we both read enough science fiction with those themes). Back then there wasn’t casual talk of mining asteroids or anything. It was the exploration—it was reaching deep into a mystery, far beyond the confines of our wonderful world. That was what got him.

I wish he was alive, so I could call him at his little house on Orcas Island. I’d say, “Dad, guess what?”

And he’d say, “What?”

And I’d say, “One of my stories is going to the moon.”

And maybe he’d say, “My God. I can’t believe it. Will you look at that?”

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Fly Me To the Moon (or a Story of Mine, Anyway)

In fall of 2021, a short story of mine will go the moon. No, seriously. Our natural satellite? Neil Armstrong? Dark side? Werewolves? The moon, the actual moon. For real.

My short story “Adagio for Tiamat Station” was published in the anthology series Beyond the Stars, Vol 6, Unimagined Realms, a few years back. As you might have gathered, the series had legs (I was in Volume 6) and quite a following.

Recently the editor and publisher informed me that a digitized version of now all seven volumes will be part of the payload for the Astrobotics Peregrine’s Mission One. This lunar lander will deliver materials to the moon, including testing equipment. Reading material will be included. there are 57 writers represented in the series, and I’m one of them.

Here is some information about the public-private program and its first three missions. Here’s a cool infographic about the Peregrine lander itself.

This is the kind of wild serendipitous thing I never thought would happen to me. My words will be on the moon! Who will read them? Future terrestrial astronauts? Extra-solar visitors? Will they like my story?

In closing, here is the publisher herself, discussing the project, right after she sings the title song.

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Sampler Platter

Just a few small points to start the week:

Today, I sent off the revised version of The Project That Must Not Be Named. Hurray!

I hope to have author’s Copies of Copper Road by next week… plus a few more I paid for.

Thanks to my writing friend Donna, I am re-acquainting myself with the Goodreads site, and starting to set up an author page there. By the way, if you like keenly observed, darkly comic contemporary mysteries with believable, quirky characters, check out Donna’s Mormon murder mysteries.

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Farmers Market Dinner

Last Sunday, after I got a gigantic head of Napa cabbage, I stopped at the Franco Brothers sausage booth and bought the Calabrese sausage, which is pretty peppery and spicy. I asked if it went well with cabbage.

“Let me tell you! My mom used to make this thing in winter, it was like mac ‘n’ cheese for us!” he said. He rattled off the process. “It’s a twenty-minute meal!” he said.

It wasn’t quite twenty minutes the way I made it because I added fingerling potatoes. Here’s what I used:

  • 2 sausages (we froze the rest for sausage sandwiches some night)
  • half the head of Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 pound fingerling carrots
  • 1/2 pound baby carrots
  • 3/4 white onion coarsely minced (if that’s a thing)
  • 2 cloves garlic, thin sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Before I started the sausages, I heated up the skillet with no oil in it. When it got warm, I toasted the caraway seeds until the fragrance filled the kitchen. I set them aside.

I browned the sausages in oil over medium high heat, five minutes on a side. I took them out of the skillet and added all but a couple of tablespoons of onion to soften. I scraped up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the onions got translucent I added the garlic.

With both the fingerling potatoes and the baby carrots (not the milled kind, real baby carrots, about two/three inches long), I only cut the larger ones, leaving them close to the same size. I didn’t bother peeling the potatoes.

I added the cup of stock and let it come up to a fast simmer, dumped in the potatoes, covered the skillet and let them get a jump on cooking. After five minutes I added the carrots and started putting in the cabbage. I’d cover the skillet and let the leaves cook down. I added the rest of the onion, caraway seeds, salt and pepper. It needed salt because the stock was unsalted.

Finally I nestled the browned sausages down into the cabbage and let the whole thing simmer, covered for about fifteen minutes. We ate it out of bowls. It was pretty tasty. The cabbage was tender and had sweet flavor.

We decided it could do with less caraway, and it seemed like the fresh baby carrots absorbed a lot of the caraway flavor. We had this with a salad and some slices of Revolution Bakery buckwheat rye bread. I didn’t use butter; instead the bread was a sponge to sop up the juice.

You could leave out the potatoes and serve this over rice or egg noodles; I toyed with cooking the potatoes separately and quickly mashing them as a bed for the rest, but I like the flavor of the potatoes mixed with the juices.

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The Case of the Stand-in Horse

Gray horse with bridle facing camera
I refuse to work under these conditions.

As a writer I owe one important “aha” moment to that Master of Horror, Stephen King, and the character of Dick Hallorann in The Shining.

(Before anyone starts up about “spoilers,” the book came out in 1977, you all.)

In The Shining, a family moves to an isolated luxury hotel to act as winter caretakers while it’s closed. The Overlook Hotel is a vortex of darkness and evil, and those spiritual influences invade the family. The little boy, Danny, is especially vulnerable because he has “the shining,” a spiritual ability that lets him see ghost—and lets them see him.

Dick Hallorann is the hotel’s head chef, and he also has the shining. He is the vulnerable little boy’s only real friend. From very early in the book, I knew Hallorann would die. I’d read enough Stephen King by then to recognize the signs. As Hallorann becomes more and more helpful to Danny, even coming through the snow to save him, the plot-beats all aimed the story toward his death. His heroic death, but still death.

And then he didn’t die. Instead, he was badly wounded but got to live.
I was thrilled! I was also subtly disturbed. It was a cognitive dissonance problem. All the story elements pointed to him dying. “It was only a flesh wound,” seemed like a cheat at the end. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was happy. But still.

We talk a lot now about “subverting expectations.” Back then, King subverted expectations a lot; but one of his subversions was to kill off characters your previous fiction reading assured you would never die. (SEE: Salem’s Lot.) He was subverting his own subversion here, and my problem with it, I think, was that he didn’t go back and jigger with some earlier plot elements. It read a little bit like he didn’t play fair.

Years later I read somewhere that King said that he had planned for Hallorann to die, but the character became more appealing as the book went on. (Although he didn’t mention this, Hallorann shows up in later works, and it’s possible King was already thinking of other things this character could do for him.) At the end, he decided to let him live.

I laughed when I read that, like, “I knew it!” Stephen King, an idol of mine, didn’t have feet completely of clay, but he had a couple of clay toes. “He just liked a character too much to kill them off.”

I don’t gloat about that now, because I have a character like that. It isn’t even a character. It’s a horse.

When I sketched out the plot of Copper Road, it was inevitable that a Very Bad Thing would happen to a horse in the story. As the story progressed and I sent Aideen and Ilsanja on their trek, it grew clearer which horse that would be.

There is nothing special about the horse. There is no psychic or emotional bond between the woman and the horse (although all the horses I wrote were more reactive to their riders’ emotional responses than our horses seem to be). These people didn’t even name working animals, so the trail horse had no name. I imagined he was pretty, because of who he belonged to, but basically he was a conveyance, nothing more.

But, darn it, he started growing on me. He was a lively horse who pranced sometimes and tossed his head. He had a lot of energy. And as I got closer to the decision point, I couldn’t bring myself to make a Very Bad Thing happen to him.

I was more craven than King. I didn’t even use the “it’s only a flesh wound” approach. No. I wrote in another horse, just so I could have the Very Bad Thing happen to it.

Yes, I wrote a stand-in horse.

Because I remembered that sense of cognitive dissonance, of something not quite right about Hallorann living, I went back through my draft and found places to foreshadow the possibility of a stand-in horse. With any luck, the only people who will know about my change of heart and the subsequent ruse will be you guys.

And I’ll never mock Stephen King for the Hallorann thing, not even in my own head, ever again.

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The Watch; Hmm, Maybe

I’m watching The Watch. Yes, I just wanted to type that. The Watch, a partnership between BBC and AMC, is inspired by characters from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I applaud BBC’s honesty in their use of the phrase “inspired by,” because this is nothing like Pratchett’s ground-breaking humor-fantasy series. It does, however, have some characters who share names and occupations with Pratchett’s characters, in a city named after Pratchett’s fantasy city.

I stopped watching after the first episode because I was disappointed in the poor world-building. Later, though, I saw a teaser for an upcoming episode that had extraordinary silliness—a dance number to Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-go–and I was swayed. I binged the eps I’d missed and watched the one with the dance number, and it was good, silly fun. I have cautiously decided to watch the first season.

While they were busy amping up the silliness quotient and making one of the secondary characters really likeable, I think my internal approach to the show changed too. I’ve almost stopped wanting it to be Pratchett. I can almost like it for itself. Almost.

In addition to the gonzo dance routine episode, the show uses a lot of music. There’s music in the episode where the members of the Watch join the musician’s guild as part of an undercover operation. There’s incidental music whenever the characters hang out at the Busted Drum. That’s nice.

The character of Cheery, played by Jo Eaton-Kent, is great, and they are expanding her scenes. Cheery is a female dwarf (who’s about six feet tall) who shaved off her beard in an act of rebellion and came to the city. She is the Watch’s forensic expert, which is to say she’s pretty much inventing forensics as the show progresses. Cheery is tough and kind, and her kindness to others has paid dividends in at least two episodes so far. And please, please let Cheery/Jo Eaton-Kent sing in more eps. Please.

The show has made a mistake with the villain Carcer. Right now, what makes him interesting is a little bit of his backstory, but mainly the intensity of the actor, Samuel Adewunmi. It appears that perhaps Carcer isn’t quite as bad as we first thought—even though he plans to literally “burn the world”—but right now the show is putting all the weight of the villain on their actor. He’s up to the task, but this shouldn’t be how showrunners develop characters.

Carcer isn’t the only character who is dependent on the actor to create a connection. It’s Lara Rossi who’s making Lady Sybil Ramkin watchable, not the attempts at British humor or the pass at giving her a tragic backstory that enflames her passion for reform, or justice, or something. (And please, could you let her sing more too?)

I do think the showrunners are on their way to a car-crash of Unintended Consequences with the character of Wonse, Carcer’s female magical sidekick. The issue? Wonse was a cleaner at the magical Unseen University (the most highly visible building in Ankh Morpork). She learned magic in secret, because women aren’t allowed into the university. She is a powerful magician, but because she’s aligned with Carcer, if the showrunners are not careful, Wonse is going to prove the bigots at the university right. See? You teach women magic, they just go off and help the first villain that comes along.

You can watch this show for sweet moments like the love story between Jocasta and Perdita, members of the Thieves Guild, or bantery exchanges that mostly work. Certainly I believe the vulnerabilities of the characters as they’re presented now. The will-they-or-won’t-they between Anguia and Carrot is a snooze, but hey! Maybe Cheery will show up and do something*. While I appreciate how she makes everyone feel better, I wish Cheery would get to develop some kickass forensic techniques while we watch.

The librarian is an orangutan**, so there’s that.

It’s not appointment television, especially now that American Gods is back, but with On Demand I can see it when I want, so I’ll probably watch it now and then.

*UPDATE: Cheery has uncovered her connection to a powerful magic source.  It’s not forensic, but it gives her great costumes, so…

**In world, I mean. They haven’t cast an actual orangutan.

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The Way We Live Now #12: Vaccination Centers

As I write this, Sonoma County is vaccinating first responders, health care workers, and people 75+ years old against Covid 19. The choice to focus on the 75+ comes from a number of factors. One is simply that nearly 25% of the population of Sonoma County are senior citizens (65+); another is that the most fatalities have occurred in the 75+ population. Another issue is that many folks live in multi-generational homes and the elder in the household can become a disease vector.

The county hopes and plans to move into the next phase, 65+ years old, by mid February.

On yesterday’s Covid update, county health staff requested again that people with private insurance and “medical homes,” (what we called “the doctor” when I was a kid) utilize those resources, so that the vaccines the county is administering are available for those with no medical home and little or no insurance.

Speaking of health insurance, California’s Public Health officials announced that Covered California has created a special enrollment period to run through May 15, 2021, effective February 1. Here’s the website. can help you find the closest vaccination center in your area–please note that Sonoma County’s information had not been fully updated as of January 29, 2021. has a lot of info on the county’s response. I thought the vaccination centers were in there. I can’t find them but I’m sure that’s just me.

And finally, let’s talk “nano.” The definition of the prefix “nano” is 1 billionth of something. Colloquially, it’s used to mean “a tiny, tiny, tiny part of” something. There are nano-lipids in two of the Covid vaccines. Lipids are a type of molocule that is not water-soluble.

These are not nanites, which is tech-speak for tiny little machines. I mention this because in any public venue, if you bring up vaccines someone will immediately show up to tell you “there are nanites!”

You won’t be able to prove to their satisfaction that they’re wrong, but you may help out an innocent bystander by providing the definition.

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Wardrobe in Worldbuilding

One of my favorite new books is M.A. Carrick’s The Mask of Mirrors, a second-world fantasy. “M.A. Carrick” is the pseudonym of two well-established fantasists, Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms. I loved this book for lots of reasons, and one of them is how well the story uses clothing and fashion to create this world.

In this story, Ren, a young con woman, is trying to score a place in a noble family, in an occupied city. The Liganti are imperialists, trying to control the native Vraszenian people. Ren is a Vraszenian who was adopted into a harsh crime-gang when her mother’s death left her orphaned. Ren and her sister Tess fled the gang, and now Ren has created the persona of the daughter of a disgraced Liganti noblewoman who left the city twenty years ago. Ren’s secret weapon in her con-woman arsenal is Tess’s amazing tailoring ability.

Clothing and fashion show us this world. Even the people whose clothes are utilitarian wear them slightly differently from us. For instance, some things don’t button up center front or back, but up the side.

It is in the realm of fashion, though, that we learn a lot about the Liganti nobility. (Plus, the story’s “fashion wars” provide interest and suspense. Will Ren be unmasked by a fashion faux pas? Will her social adversaries recognize a “repurposed” item?)

Specific items of clothing are named very early in The Mask of Mirrors. We read of underdresses and surcoats, and later learn of the Vraszenian sashcoat, which gives their clothing a different silhouette. Among the Liganti nobility, two fashion accessories are vital; gloves and masks.

Masks might seem obvious, given the title, especially when you learn that there is a masked Robin-Hood-style vigilante in the city. Masks are favored by the Liganti during social events and festivals, but soon we learn that masks are a vital part of the Vraszenian spiritual system. Nearly every deity has a masked aspect. Without delivering a long expository lecture about it, the book shows up how the Liganti took a revered spiritual element of another culture and made it a fashion element.

The world-building in The Mask of Mirrors is detailed, intricate and complex. Wardrobe is only one part of it. It is part of it, though. The clothing they wear springs from all aspects of the imaginary culture they were raised in and the imaginary world they inhabit.

What do your characters wear?


Clothing can be a quick and fun way to delineate aspects of your world. Fabric, colors and clothing types can show contrast, and give you a shorthand way to demonstrate the society’s technological, economic and social levels without pausing the story to deliver a page and a half of exposition. When creating wardrobes for your characters, think not only about shirts, trousers, dresses, etc, but jewelry and footwear.
Things to consider:

  • What textiles do they have available? Do they make it locally?
  • What is the climate, and the weather, like?
  • How does clothing get made? Have they automated or mechanized manufacturing? Do they have access to dyes?
  • Do they trade, or have regular contact other nations/societies?
  • What’s your society’s economic base? Agricultural, hunting or shepherding communities may have a different approach to clothing than a city filled with merchants and cloth brokers.
  • Is the society egalitarian or hierarchical? While sumptuary laws dealt with more than clothing (often regulating types of food and drink), colors and fabrics occupied a large part of the discussion. Does your society reserve certain colors or certain fabrics for certain classes?
  • Does religion or politics dictate modes of dress? The Puritans chose simple black and white clothing to distinguish themselves from people who dressed in ways they considered pleasure-loving and immodest.
  • Does your society have rigid gender roles? Does clothing enforce that? Do women lace themselves into corsets that restrict breathing? Do men wear boots, or certain types of belts, or weapons to amplify their gender? Are men pressured to have beards?

Wardrobe can deepen your world, and it can also be a lot of fun. It’s an amazing playground, so go play! Here’s a fun site to get you started.

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