Hot off the Press Panel

Here is the link to the Hot off the Press Panel. This was fun!

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The Way We Live Now #13: Writing in Laundromats

This should be titled, “The Way We Lived Then.”

In the Before Times, I’d sometimes to go a laundromat and write.

Sometimes it was out of necessity. On vacation, I’d need to do a load of laundry. The sound of the machines–the churn of the washer, the steady soft thump of the driers–created an ambiance like the murmur of an ocean, or a soft rain. The places are always a little humid, and there is the smell of clean, warm fabric.

Laundromats are good places to watch human interactions, but mostly, for me, it’s a place to put words on paper, or on a screen.

Mostly, laundromats, like bus depots, train terminals, and airports, are transitional spaces. When you’re in one, you’re suspended, on your way from one point to another. Nothing else is usually demanding your attention. (The way we live now, I suppose this isn’t true–people may be sitting in the laundromat doing day job work or attending a Zoom call, wearing their masks.)

The other thing about laundromats though–no offense–is that they aren’t picturesque. They usually don’t offer good snacks or beverages. In short, there’s not a lot there to distract.

Two years ago our drier broke. In the week before the repair guy could come out, I went to one of our three local laundromats. I got a lot of writing done!

To be blunt, as restrictions lift, the first “alternate location” I’m going to pick will NOT be a laundromat. It will be a coffee house or a cafe, no doubt about it. But I won’t forget that alternate transitional space, and the smell of clean clothes.

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The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk

Soulstar, the third book in C.L. Polk’s fantasy trilogy, is out now. The books are a beautiful mass market paperback set, with themed covers. With in those covers Polk introduces us to a complex, believable world, a world in the midst of transition. Each book is narrated by a different character in Aeland’s capital city of Kingston, and each story unveils a different facet of society.

The first book, Witchmark, Miles, an army doctor suffering from PDST. Miles has more than just the trauma of war to deal with; he has spent his life hiding his magical abilities–and the last several years hiding his identity. Miles is the son of a powerful politician, and his sister, Grace, is one of the Royal Knights, a secret society who use magic to head off the devastating storms that would otherwise ravage Aeland. Every member of the Knights has a “second;” a magical person tethered to them and used like a battery. Miles changed his name and fled his home to avoid being tethered to Grace. As the book opens, a member of the fae-like Amaranthine people has approached him and asked him to help solve the mystery of the “accidental” death of an apparent vagrant. Before Miles can fully investigate, Grace finds him. Miles soon realizes that the death is part of a much larger state secret, a terrible one, and he must also expose a sneak attack by the enemies Aeland thought they defeated in the recent war. He is hindered by his brilliant sister, who betrays him over and over again.

Stormsong is narrated by Grace. Like Miles, Grace has faced the truth about the source of energy their country thrives on, and what that means for anyone gifted with magic. She is horrified, determined to make things right. Grace rises to a position of importance in the government, but even though she knows her villainous father’s part in the decades-long atrocity that literally powered the country, she wants to think the best of him, and keeps falling for his schemes. Can Grace grow up? Will she do the right thing even if it means a sacrifice of power and luxury–or even her freedom?

Stormsong was an interesting book for me, because by the end of Witchmark I detested Grace. Let me be clear; I didn’t dislike her as a character–I disliked her as a person. This is a testament to Polk’s characterization skills. I seriously wondered, going in, if Grace was ever going to win a second chance from me. Grace’s dilemma is real in a number of ways; it’s hard to divorce our feelings for family from their actual actions– and when we’re on the good side of the privilege rope, it’s hard to give up privilege, and so tempting to believe that systems are ultimately fair, just slightly corrupted, and that incremental change will be enough. Grace eventually won me over–and she lost a lot in the process.

Soulstar is the story of Robin Thorpe, who we met in Witchmark. Robin is a member of the Clans, a community where many people manifest magical ability and nearly all have been imprisoned “for the safety of the state.” The enslaved magical people are being forced to produce energy that feeds the power grid. When Soulstar opens, Grace, with the help of the Amaranthine, has forced the release of all the witches. It’s winter, the power grid is down and thousands of unjustly imprisoned people have been released into the city. Robin is reunited with her first love, and plans to quietly help a nascent political movement that seeks a democratic approach instead of a monarchy, but events thrust her into the spotlight, making her a leader and a target. And Christopher Hensley, Grace’s evil father, still influences the brash, power-hungry young king. Robin is beset by adversaries on all sides.

Polk’s trilogy is jam-packed with plot and exciting elements. The various communities are well-described. There are romantic or intimate conflicts in every book, there is physical and political danger, there is a looming question of how people will literally survive the winter with no heat. Book One took the form of the mystery novel, while Stormsong and Soulstar are more what I would consider political thrillers. In each book, Polk gets the ball rolling on page one. Her fluid prose makes these easy to read. The world is believable and the danger is real. I recommend the series.

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Writing Promotional Copy; the Struggle is Real

I sent my editor some copy to be incorporated into a larger release announcement due out later in March. It’s about the Project That Cannot be Named. Actually, it could be named and even renamed, which is has been, but that’s another story.

Writing the copy was brutal.

It’s a simple request. “Tell us briefly about how you got the idea for the story, or what you think is interesting about it.” Briefly. Tell us briefly, like in 250 words or fewer.

What I think is interesting about it? Honestly, how would I know? How would I know? I have some thoughts, certainly, but those were things that were interesting to me.

Promotional copy for your own work is hard. Author bios are hard. Writing about your own work with a marketing/promotional slant is a terrible ordeal, unless you started from a marketing slant and learned to tell stories later–and I’ve definitely read some books where I’m pretty sure that was the case.

I avoid “pitch-fests” and pitch parties diligently, in part because I always viewed them as teaching a splinter-skill that had nothing to do with storytelling or honing your prose. I’m reluctantly willing to admit they might serve a purpose. (I’m still going to avoid them as much as I humanly can.)

You know what I think helps the best with promotional copy? Your writers group and your friends. Lean on your alpha readers and your workshop for assistance. Even–or especially–your reading friends who don’t choose to write can help you. If they use reviews and cover copy to decide what books to read and they are analytical at all, they can help you.

In the case of my copy, my editor sent me links to several of their announcement columns. It didn’t ease the pain, but it gave me a good template. You can do this yourself by reading the Amazon market copy of books you’ve liked, or books put out by the publisher you are planning to market to, or the genre in which you tell stories.

All these things help, but it’s still hard work. At least, it is for me.

A serendipitous find when I googled “Female Sisyphus.”
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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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