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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Small Plates

I usually don’t give space to negative reviews, but Deborah Ross’s review of the ill-conceived Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is not only hilarious, it’s perceptive. Ross knows Austen and she knows exactly what’s wrong with this version (It’s temping to say, “Short version: Everything.”)

The James Webb Space Telescope brings us images of wonder and beauty. The experts say that it’s the later information, scientific in nature, that will enrich us. Right now, though, the beauty is breath-taking–a potent reminder of our place in the universe.

Our workshop leader for the Speculative Fiction workshop at Mendocino Coast Writers Conference asked us to find a one-page story we really liked. I found a George Saunders story. Do you have a favorite one-page story?

Syfy, which once again has no programming, has started “Flashback Friday”– basically a marathon of an SF series that runs all day Friday and a few hours Saturday morning. As much as I’m mocking this (and come on, I totally am) I was delighted to see Warehouse 13 as a choice on Friday. That show was so smart, so silly and so fun! A tidbit–the artifacts were a collection of fabricated objects, yard sale finds and stuff from the garages/attics of cast and crew.

Today at noon, our time, Gabrielle Mathieu interviewed me for the New Fantasy podcast–all he way from Switzerland. She came well-prepared, and was a delight! My interview lasted just under half an hour, and will be combined with her capsule review and a read of a brief passage from the book. I’ll update you when it airs.

That’s my report. Have a good, safe week!

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I’ll Be at The Gallery Bookshop August 25, 2022

Mendocino Village’s Gallery Bookshop hosts a monthly Authors Showcase, and I’ll be part of their August event! It starts at 6:00pm on Thursday, August 25.

Sharon Strong, who wrote Burning Woman; Memoirs of an Elder, and Sherry Glaser, author of Chicktionary; Taking the Dick Out of the Dictionary, are also part of the panel. We each give a short presentation and the moderators opens the session up for Q&A.

Front Door of Gallery Bookshop. Mendocino, with woman and girl.

I’ll be discussing Comeuppance Served Cold. I need to decide what I’ll talk about? Magic and patriarchy? Dashiell Hammett? Prohibition?

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Writing Conferences; Some Nostalgia

This morning I was reading about several immersive writers conferences that start soon. to my surprise, I felt… yearning.

I’m going to an immersive workshop in August. It might simply be that this will be the first in-person workshop since 2019, and I’m experiencing nostalgia.

Anyway, that sense led me into a journey down memory lane, good and bad, which I will now share with you, so get out while you can. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve gone to several immersive workshops. I’m going to write about the best and the worst, starting with the worst so I can end on a high note with the best.

There are my memories of my personal experience. As with anything, your mileage may vary.

Nothing like a glass mountain to boost your confidence.

The worst, by far, was held in what is now called Palisades Tahoe, by a group now called Community of Writers. I’ve written about this one-week workshop before because it included the Amy Tan incident. The then-Squaw Valley Writers Workshop had an elevated reputation. I attended because of that reputation. I don’t see how they earned it then, unless it’s purely a triumph of marketing.

My workshop group was about sixty percent recent MFA grads there to shop their novels and make important connections with established writers. As I’ve said elsewhere, the behavior of said graduates definitely helped shape the disgust I feel for MFA Creative Writing programs, perhaps unfairly. I have a sizeable list of what didn’t work for me (a wunderkind workshop leader one day who had to make it all about herself; two cut-throat MFA’s in serious rivalry with one another strewing chaos through the group; sloppy programming and bad organization). The attitude of the program’s leaders tops this list though. They had been together for years. There was a familial connection; I want to say father-daughter or woman and father-in-law. Other than basic annoyances (afternoon events starting late, etc), this little group, four people, were noticeable for being very pleased with themselves. They felt they knew a lot about writing, publishing, the inner workings of the arcane business and the alchemical magic of storytelling. The shimmering soap-bubble of their schtick popped for me on the next-to-last day, when I learned that while one of them had some short stories in print and one had sold a non-fiction book, no one in the quartet had sold a major work of fiction, to anybody. They were wannabes just like us, only they’d been wannabes longer.

They also kept to themselves at meals, inviting the guest lecturers/writers to join them a their table, but rarely mingling with the participants. It made an impression, and not a good one.

I didn’t love the location. This was my problem, by the way, not the workshop’s. I wasn’t familiar with ski resorts. I knew Palisades Tahoe had a mountain in it because, well, it’s a valley and, well again, it’s a ski resort. I failed to consider that a mountain famous for being covered in snow five months out of the year might not have a lot of trees. And while I knew I was miles and miles inland from the ocean, I failed to take into account what that really meant. It meant I was nowhere near the ocean. I could drive to Lake Tahoe, a beautiful, highly commercialized and very popular blue lake, but it didn’t satisfy.

Worst immersive experience, hands down.

Haystack Rock, Coast Explorer Magazine
Or I could walk on this beach every morning. Image by Coast Explorer Magazine

Best immersive experience: A three-week residential workshop offered by Portland State University in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Did you note the name of the location? There’s a beach. On the ocean. Already a win. Its focus was speculative fiction; a win again. In previous years, this workshop had Ursula LeGuin as a leader. For three weeks instead of one, it cost about as much as the one-week Community of Writers workshop. I had a great group; people I still connect with (and this took place in the 1980s).

A great location, a great group. Held in a grade school, it also offered some important amenities (looking at you, Community of Writers…) like a photocopier we could use.

Then, our workshop leaders. We had a different leader each week. I’ve written elsewhere here about one of the three, definitely the least satisfactory; but Week One introduced me to Marta Randall. I’d only read Islands, her science fiction novel, before this. Marta was and is an amazing teacher in addition to being an excellent writer. She also helped our group coalesce. Marta brought her significant other, but they were both up for pizza most evenings, or walks on the beach with the work-shoppers. There’s no rule that says leaders have to make themselves available to the workshop after formal hours, and I understand better than anyone about introversion and a need to recharge. Still, it’s really nice when the leaders do join in on things.

Week Two brought us Paul Preuss, a science fiction writer. Thoughtful, probing, Paul was a considerate leader who gently (but stubbornly) prodded each of us to push our own barriers. Like Marta, he and his wife spent some after-hours time with us.

Week Three was Peter Beagle and his new woman friend. He was the least successful of the leaders, but even he couldn’t damage the value of what I’d already absorbed. Best immersive workshop.

With three days instead of a week (or three), the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference is already in a different category. It still delivers for me. Faculty make themselves available, staff are supportive, friendly and efficient. In the internet era things like print services and photocopiers are less crucial, but available if you have a situation. The workshop offers things like a quiet writing room and yummy meals. I’m in a place that resonates for me.

Instead of looking back, I should be looking forward! Looking ahead to walks on the bluffs, great workshopping with a great instructor, and lots of time with good friends.

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Morbius: A Review

I could watch Morbius for $3.99. The price was about right. I don’t know the character from the comic books, but I’d seen a few articles and reviews so I knew that a doctor turned into a super-vampire.

Michael Morbius has a rare genetic condition that leaves him weak and likely to die young. He vows to find a cure. In the hospital/hospice where he lives (he’s about 12) he befriends a younger boy with the same disease. the kid’s name is Lucien, but Morbius dubs him “Milo.” “You’re just the next Milo,” he says. When Morbius first arrived, the boy in the bed next to him was named Milo, and he died, as did the next and the next.

Flash forward. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) declines the Nobel Prize for his life-saving artificial human blood, and returns to New York to continue his work on a cure. Nice (unintentional) bit of character development here–he declines the Nobel from the podium in Stockholm, instead of politely refusing it via email the way everybody else does. This way he gets all the attention and wastes everybody’s time, and Leto gets to look awesome in a tux.

Morbius is experimenting with the DNA of a rare species of vampire bat, aided by his partner Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona). The serum works! Uh-oh, side effect–he morphs into a monster thing and drinks human blood. How will they fit this in the “side effects can include..” statement?

Because of this, er, glitch, Morbius refuses to give the serum to Lucien/Milo, (who is now the impeccably stylish Matt Smith,) living in luxury in New York, too. Milo steals the serum and takes it, and starts killing people.

I should mention that becoming a vampire in this fictional world means you move faster than the human eye can track, with trippy whorls of color following you, you’ve got sonar hearing, you’re super-strong, you can run, jump, climb, break things and so on. Milo loves this, especially the killing people and drinking blood part, so now you have a Bad Vampire and the Not As Bad Vampire and the plot goes pretty much as you expect until it gets to the end, where is it still pretty much what you’d expect.

What did I like:

  • Jared Leto and Adria Arjona are pretty.
  • The swirls of color. So cool!
  • The bat scene at the beginning of the movie.
  • Evil Milo (Matt Smith) dancing shirtless in his apartment.
  • Flying in the subway tunnels. Morbius rides the pillow of air pushed by the train and… it’s physics, don’t expect me to explain it.

That’s it. If that’s enough for you, or Morbius was your favorite comic-book hero, by all means check it out.

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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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