Posts from 2013

Hazards of the Bookish Life

By: Mike Jan 14, 2013

Patty is an inveterate bookworm. I've long since made my peace with the constant stream of parcels from UPS, and the need to stop by every book store in town on a regular basis. It's part of who she is, and after all, at least it's not shoes. However, over the past year or so I'm detecting a disturbing trend.

Those who have been following the site for a while have doubtless heard about the housing debacle of a couple of years ago. After the dust settled, we found ourselves in a lovely and newly remodeled home. Kudos for us. Home version 2.0 is several hundred square feet larger than the original, and I've been enjoying the extra room to spread out. My tastes in decor are decidedly minimalist, and I would love to have broad open spaces.

Patty, however, has other ideas. Bookshelves are initially placed strategically and decoratively in hallways and closets, filled with a scant handful of attractive hardcover books. I nod and smile, and all seems good.

Have you ever noticed how, if you pass the same objects in your house each day, you no longer really see them? The bookshelves in our house, once filled with a few nick-knacks and a decorative smattering of books gradually, almost imperceptibly fill up. I usually don't notice until I bump into one and one of the towering, teetering crenelations of stacked paperbacks thunders to the ground near me, and I realize that I have once again dodged death by inches.

One of Patty's Book Shelves.
What would OSHA say?

Books, you see, are matter. Matter has mass. Mass has gravity, and the interesting property of attracting other masses. Books, I postulate, must warp space-time in a non-Newtonian fashion, creating virtual wormholes to other books. How else could the few that I bring into the house multiply in such an astounding and alarming fashion? I begin to suspect that the secrets of mass and time and inter-dimensional travel are contained in books. Not in their pages, per se, but as an integral component of their construction.

The photo above is not staged. It's a small bookshelf that appeared on Patty's side of the bedroom closet shortly after we moved in. At this size it's hard to see the danger. It's disheveled but sort of cute. The big bookshelves in her office are truly monstrous, and I suspect they're actually dangerous. Be careful, when you marry a bookish person, for their hobby is not without hazards!

Looking At The Road Ahead

By: Mike Feb 10, 2013

I finally got the appearances page updated. It appears that there were a few last-minute changes (including a couple of changed destinations). I thought it was all solid except for the times when I posted it last week, and it looks like I should have waited. Sorry!

We've had a lot of questions lately about what books Patty's working on, and where she's going with things. Of course, the problem is always that our long-term plans always seem to be on a collision-course with reality. So, with the understanding that nothing is set in stone, here's where we're at.

Frost Burned will be released in a few weeks, and early reviews are already trickling out. Patty's decided to do a book of short stories next. I don't think she's chosen a title yet, but the plan is to publish several of the "Mercy's World" stories from previous anthologies along with a number of new stories in a single volume. She's finished a story featuring our favorite British werewolf, Ben, and a story featuring Samuel. She's working on another couple of stories, and hopes to have the initial work on this book done by the end of this month.

March, of course, is largely filled with travel and signings. When she catches her breath, she's start work on another Mercy Thompson novel. In a perfect world, she'd finish that by Christmas. If I were a bookie, I'd lay odds against that, but Patty seems pretty confident!

The next book is a head-scratcher. Her contract is for another book in Mercy's world, but not a Mercy book. She could write another Alpha and Omega, or she might decide to explore some other corner of the world. She hasn't decided, yet, just what she's going to do. It's a mystery project!

After that, well who knows? She still has one more Mercy Book under contract, and I know she wants to write another Alpha and Omega. My crystal ball isn't good enough to look that far in the future!

Updating the Website

This is one of those little projects that should have been a cake-walk. I promised the marketing department at ACE that I'd give the website a face lift months ago. And then we started talking, and the simple face lift turned into a bigger and bigger project. Scope creep, my old nemesis, had joined the battle.

Of course, the chaos of our lives continues unmitigated. We have three children in college. All in different schools, and in different towns. At any given time, at least one of them needs help with school, taxes, cars, etc. We love them, and it's nice to feel needed. Still, we end up making a lot of "emergency runs" to various kids. And, of course, we have the little horse-farm business. Patty still thinks she can eventually make money breeding horses. I've learned not to doubt her, but for now there's always fences to build, water to haul, and hay to move around. Finally, of course, we're building an office building adjacent to the house. And . . . well, suffice it to say that the list goes on.

So, the new book is almost out, I've got a half-baked version of porting the site to WordPress. I had no idea how many different pages (and how many different page layouts) this site uses. Even with the help of a couple of Word Press experts, things kind of bogged down.

So, now I'm trying to just freshen things up in the current site, and go back to the big design process in a couple of weeks. Alas, I had forgotten how much I love the broken, inconsistent CSS implementations of various browsers (Internet Explorer should be outlawed!). And, of course, what should have been couple of days has now run a couple of weeks. The marketing folks at Penguin are probably frustrated. I feel their pain -- I've pulled out most of my remaining hair. I'm working on it, honest!

Counting Down The Days

By: Mike Feb 28, 2013

We're back to that fingernail-biting time just before a book is released. The first reviews are trickling in, and we're watching them closely. So far, the overall impression seems favorable, and we're keeping our fingers crossed.

We're getting ready for the Frost Burned promotional tour. This year I'll be coming with her. Since I don't know anything about writing, I'm obviously the comic relief. Maybe someday I'll make it to plucky sidekick! If you're near one of these stops, we'd love to see you! For additional appearances this year, please check the appearances page.

March 5, 2013: Seattle WA
University Bookstore 4326 University Way NE. Phone: 206-634-3400. Signing begins at 7 PM.
March 6, 2013: Beaverton OR
Powell's Bookstore — Cedar Hills Crossing 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd. Phone: 503-228-4651. Signing starts at 7 PM.
March 7,2013: San Diego, CA
Mysterious Galaxy 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, Suite #302. Phone: 858-268-4747 Signing starts at 7 PM.
March 8, 2013: Houston, TX
Murder By the Book 2342 Bissonnet St. Phone:713-524-8597. Signing starts at 6:30 PM
March 9, 2013: Oak Brook IL
Barnes & Noble 297 Oakbrook Center. Phone:630-684-0586. Signing starts at 2 PM
March 10, 2013: Fenton MO
Barnes & Noble721 Gravois Road. Phone: 626-326-4619 Signing starts at 4 PM.
March 11: Richland, WA
Hastings — Hardback Cafe1425 George Washington Way. Phone: 509-946-1060. Signing starts at 6:30 PM.
March 16, 2013: Tri Cities, WA
Patty will be signing at the Bookworms in Kennewick and Richland.

Patty is working long hours, trying to get another short story finished before the signing tour. Patty and short stories have a tempestuous relationship. She's a novelist at heart, and loves to weave little threads of plot and background and action together. A short story is a smaller canvas. Imagine a conductor accustomed to a large, symphonic orchestra. Movements within movements, thundering crescendos, polyphonic textures woven from dozens of individual instruments. Now imagine that same conductor stepping up to the podium, rapping her baton, and finding only a flute, an oboe, and a lone violin in the orchestra. That's Patty trying to write a short story. A short story doesn't have the scope for multiple sub-plots and subtle character development. You have to find the heart of a story, and strip away everything else. Instead of an orchestra, you've got a quartet at best. She usually manages to make it work, but it's surprisingly difficult for her.

We just got back from a quick trip to Scottsdale AZ where we watched a plethora of gorgeous Arabian horses. Horses have been Patty's passion since she was a very young girl, so this was Disneyland for her.

Hallelujah, The Great Storm is Over!

By: Mike Mar 24, 2013

Frost Burned is offically launched. The signing tour is done, the interviews are complete, and the last of the local signings was completed last night. We woke up this morning not to an alarm clock, but to morning sunlight falling on our bed while our horses neighed complaints about the lazy people who should have done the morning feeding hours ago.

The signing tour was a lot of fun — and a lot of work. I accompanied Patty on this one. Basically, it involves getting up early and being driven to an airport, then spending an hour or so convincing TSA that we're still not terrorists and our shoes are unlikely to explode. Then we'd get herded aboard a flying cattle car airplane and flown somewhere, where we'd check into a very nice hotel, and rush to make ourselves presentable for the signing.

Patty's trusty assistant Ann came with us on the first part of the tour. She's always enthusiastic (and should totally replace the Energizer Bunny ™ in those battery ads!) and never fails to find the bright side of any situation. She greatly enjoyed the lovely accommodations.

It's a hard life for Ann.
Patty's Hard-Working Assistant. The wine is good, the bed is soft and the Godiva chocolates were pronounced excellent. It's a tough life!

The signings were actually a lot of fun. This trip the crowds weren't too large — usually somewhere between a hundred and a hundred fifty people. Smiling, friendly, enthusiastic people who always made us feel very welcome. Patty would read and answer a few questions (which takes longer than expected because, well, she's a novelist and short-form responses aren't really her area of expertise!). Then she'd start signing and I'd go chatter with the people patiently waiting in line. The key word here is patiently. Patty likes to take a minute or two with people. After all, if someone buys one of her books, drives across town, and endures the hour or so of sitting on hard chairs to meet her they should be able to expect a couple of minutes to talk with her, right? So, she'll chatter like a magpie, and smiles and nods and has a great time. I walk up and down the line until I find a likely-looking victim and then strike up a (hopefully witty) conversation with the folks nearby.

A book signing with Patty.
Patty Reading To A Friendly Crowd.

The funny thing about talking with strangers is that is simultaneously delightfully entertaining and exhausting. By the time the signing runs down, Patty is generally unable to string together a coherent sentence and I'm in scarcely better shape. So, we grab a quick bite to eat, and run off the hotel room to read for an hour or so and then get up and do it all again. After six days, I was exhausted. I hear of rock stars touring for three months or more, and I have no idea how they do it!. This was very fun, but I'm very glad to be home again.

Great News

When we got back from the signing tour we had some amazing news waiting for us. Frost Burned had made it onto the New York Times bestseller's list. Patty had not-so-secretly been checking her sales rank at B&N and Amazon -- it's a guilty pleasure most authors are probably guilty of, and she was optimistic that she'd make the top ten somewhere. The NYT list is actually kind of a funny measure of success. All it really means is that an author's sales velocity (sales/time) was high relative to other books. So, if your book comes out the same time as a Patterson, or Dan Brown, or Nora Roberts they're probably going to take the top spots. There are other authors who seldom hit the top-ten, but manage to occupy the extended list for months or even years — their total sales are almost certainly higher than the flavor-of-the-week authors. Nonetheless, for some unfathomable reason, making to the NYT lists is a badge of honor and a mark of distinction among authors. So, we were understandably delighted to find that "Frost Burned" was a #1 NYT Bestselling Novel. Woot! Break out the sparkling cranapple juice, we're celebrating! Also, Patty's publisher sent her a lovely authentic New York cheesecake. How do I know it's authentic? It got Fedex'd from New York, with a block of dry ice to keep it cool. I'd often heard of the sweet taste of victory, now I've experienced it. It tastes like sweet, creamy cheesecake!

Surprisingly Awesome

By: Mike Apr 10, 2013

Based on shows like Castle and Magnum PI (for those old enough to remember it) everyone knows that good authors spend their time in fabulous penthouse condos or upscale island estates running around spending their millions. Once a year or so they spring into action and whip out a fabulous novel in a week or two. Hey, if it's in the movies, it must be true.

So every year, sandwiched between the midnight Ferrari races and the luxury yacht tours, Patty does a few workshops at schools and libraries. (Okay, I'm kidding about the yachts and Ferrari's — Patty owns horses and there's simply no money for frivolous fripperies like private jets!) This year she agreed to do an afternoon presentation at the "Coyote Ridge Corrections Center", a medium security prison. I suspect she agreed because it has coyote in the title, and she likes coyotes.

As the date drew nearer, she became more nervous about this particular appointment. I tried to help by getting a series of prison movies from Netflix to help prepare her, but Patty wouldn't watch them! By yesterday morning she was pretty jittery and couldn't concentrate on work. At noon, she and her trusty assistant, Ann, waved goodbye and drove off. Ann, of course, is unflappable and perpetually enthusiastic. Patty left with all the cheer of a funeral procession. I stayed home calmly debating whether guns or explosives would be required to rescue her, and checking our current inventory. I gassed up the helicopter just in case . . . (OK, too many action movies for me. I'll cut back, honest.)

Several hours later Patty returned home practically effervescent, smiling from ear to ear. It turns out that the staff were very friendly and the inmates were enthusiastic and well-informed readers. She had a great time. Despite Patty's initial fears they were extremely polite and well mannered. They were interested in writing and literature, and many of them offered astute observations and fond recollections of authors from Simon Green to James Patterson. They were passionate about writing, and several of them were aspiring authors. There were lots of smiles, and a very supportive atmosphere. Apparently, it was one of the best events she's ever had. She returned emotionally charged, and anxious to get out to her office and get some writing done.

So, here's a big "Thank You" to all the folks at Coyote Ridge. Patty had a grand time, and will look forward to another visit!

The Home Front

This spring we started work on a new building next to the house. It's intended to be an office for Patty and Ann, and a workshop for me. It has a large room on one side that will (someday) hopefully hold a carousel. We don't have the money to complete construction, but we wanted to get the foundations laid this spring. That work is now complete, and the water, sewer and electric are all installed in a giant slab of concrete. It looks kind of like a skate park,except for the bolts sticking up like punji sticks around the perimeter. We're saving up pennies to start the framing next spring.

For my part, I'm working on some of the things that I still haven't gotten to around the house. For example, our closet has no closet rods or shelves. Patty has a little folding table leaned against one wall, with the legs extended and has been hanging her clothes off the leg. Too many clothes and the table tips over and dumps them all on the ground. There's no mirror in the master bathroom. Apparently, this is something that the female of the species requires. There is a mirror in the second bathroom, but it's just leaned haphazardly against the wall, which is Not Good Enough™

However, life is a question of priorities. The recent construction broke a few of our irrigation lines, and changed the boundaries of the yard, so we need a few more sprinklers installed. I decided to run the lawn irrigation from our irrigation water rather than from the rather wimpy house well. Naturally, I broke a couple of additional lines while trenching for the feed line 1. Obviously fixing the sprinklers is a higher priority than fixing the mirrors and closets, right?

Recently Patty said that the budget probably wouldn't support a full summer's worth of projects, and suggested that we wrap up the current projects and take a breather. She expected me to be upset. Breather, you say? A day off, you say? I'll believe it when I see it. The "current projects" will keep me busy well into 2017, and by then she'll probably get another paycheck! And now, where did I leave my cement mixer?

  1. In my defense, there is a maze of sub-surface pipes in the yard. The well only produces enough water to run three or four sprinklers at a time, and we've got at least a half-acre of yard. That translates to about twenty watering circuits, with feeder lines and buried electric to keep things interesting.

Flowers in Springtime

By: Mike May 9, 2013

As Patty and I were contemplating our home, a pronounced lack of greenery became apparent. For the past several years, there has been construction of one sort or another. Every spring, a number of foolhardy flowers greet the spring by bursting optimistically from the tumbled remnants of their old beds . . . then immediately get run over with a bulldozer or backhoe. This year, for the first time, there are no construction projects near the house. Looking at the now-barren flowerbeds, we thought that perhaps this year we might try to add some color and beauty to our lives by planting a few flowers.

Both Patty and I come from families who love green and growing things. Sadly, the knowledge is not genetic, and apparently talents can skip generations. We are both viticulture challenged. We do have one houseplant — a giant elephant-ear that has survived neglect and abuse for twenty-eight years. That is our one and only success story. Still, we're only looking at a few flowers. How hard can it be?

We who are about to die
Morituri te salutant — We who are about to die salute you!

Since Patty is trying to finish Night Broken by mid-June, it was decided that I could figure out how to bring irrigation to the flower beds. After all, based on our track record, an automatic waterer is a far more reliable than we are. So I dug, trenched and tunneled and within a day or so there were water lines sticking up in various flower beds. Since we wanted several different sizes of plants, we planned on using drip irrigation. It's quick, inexpensive, and easily adjustable. At least, that's what we've been told.

I fired up the pickup and headed into the nearest hardware store, which happens to be a Home Depot. Our youngest daughter is in her senior year and a botany major, so she decided to come along and help. I quickly found the irrigation department. A vast assortment of hardware occupied nearly a full aisle of the cavernous store, laid out in some Byzantine fashion that defied reason. Pipes, tubes, fittings, timers, emitters and parts whose function entirely eludes me were laid out in multiple shelves reaching well above my head. This was my first inkling that things might not be quite as easy as I had anticipated.

While I pondered, my daughter drifted into the garden center. Since I had assured her that the water was as good as done, she decided to fill a cart with flowers. When she finished the first cart, I was still pondering, so she filled a second cart.

After some effort, I finally tracked down one of the in-house experts: a well-meaning teenager working Home Depot as a summer job. I described my setup, and he began to confidently explain what we needed to buy. However, as he started selecting items he became less and less confident, and spent more and more time scanning the nearly-endless array of hardware. "I think you can hook some of these up, but it might require a different system. Maybe you should use these instead . . . no, that doesn't look right." Eventually, the cart was loaded with a sufficient volume of materials. Since it looked like the sleigh at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas I suspect that being done was simply a matter of not being able to cram another goof plug or emitter into the cart.

So, red-faced from pushing a cart thats mass was more appropriate for open-ocean cargo ships I headed to the garden center where I found that a substantial percentage of their inventory was now waiting for me to produce the credit card of infinite bounty. Make that nearly infinite bounty. After this purchase I'll need to treat it like Gandolf's advice regarding the ring — "Keep it hidden, keep it safe!"

When we got home I began assembling the drip lines. Naturally, it was a disaster. I bought thick-walled funny pipe rather than the thin-walled stuff. Half of the fittings didn't. The other half required superhuman strength and numerous "power words". The final result looks like a junior high science project cobbled together from bits taken from the local landfill. It does not look like the illustrations. Maybe if I'd had more time (I'm talking eons, not hours here) but since we already had all the plants we couldn't dilly dally with the water. Looking at it again, maybe I should have dilly-dallied a bit more. Still, when you turn it on water sprays pretty much everywhere. It's undeniably effective at getting things wet — what more can you ask for?

Blessed by Artists

By: Mike May 16, 2013

Patty and I recently attended an art symposium dedicated to improving the support for the arts in our area. The Tri-Cities is getting to be a moderately populous area, with about 250,000 total residents. However, we have fewer concerts, art galleries, ballets, etc. than many similar-sized towns. The good news is there are lots of people hoping to change that. One of the difficulties in bringing art to the area is that many of the government and business leaders don't believe that art is necessary. It's not seen as integral to the community, but as the proverbial icing on the cake. It's the last thing to add and the first thing to cut from the budget. Personally, I think that's a mistake: art is humanity, distilled.

Patty and I don't have any degrees in art, haven't spent years in Europe painting at the hand of some great master, and have no fancy titles. And yet we love art. Sometimes, I think that art means more to those who don't have a particular talent for it. If it were up to me to decorate our home it would look very . . . industrial. Instead, there are paintings adorning almost every wall. How wonderful to live in a day where great art can be reproduced as high-quality prints so that people on every budget can enjoy it. Thanks to various artists, we wake each day surrounded by beauty I could never hope to create.

But art is so much more than beauty. It's a means of communication that transcends words. I suspect that many of the people who follow this site know a little about feeling like an outsider; about not quite fitting in. Many years ago I saw a painting called Fitting In by Mark Ferrari. Go ahead and click the link, it's worth it. At the time, I was a young professional, whose ideals were shaped by a steady diet of Science Fiction and Fantasy reading, trying to blend into a world of NASCAR and boxing fans. This painting hit me like a truck. I couldn't stop looking at it. That was, metaphorically speaking, me, choosing which path to follow. And different, at least in Mark Ferrari's eyes, could be beautiful.

The art in our house isn't florals or landscapes. It's not the sort of thing one will find hanging in hotel lobbies or corporate conference rooms. They are pieces that have called to us from across convention art shows or the internet and captured the imagination.

When Dan Dos Santos painted the cover for Bone Crossed we had to have it. In the stories, Mercy had been battered, abused and tested (Patty is not kind to characters!). We had kind of expected an action-shot of some sort for the cover. Instead, Dan painted this incredibly lush canvas with deep saturated blues, showing Mercy standing in the rain, with her head tipped back, just sort of letting life wash off her. She looks serene, or at least like she's trying to find that place again. To me, it's a philosophy course rendered in a single frame.

Like many readers, many of my earliest friends and heroes were fictional characters. I so wanted to sail the stars with Anne McCafferey's Helga, or travel to Cherryh's tree of sword and jewels. I wanted to have the courage of Louis L'Amour's Sacketts, and the brains of Sherlock Holmes. I alternately wanted to be a space marine and a wizard. Sometimes I was Spock, and I often played guitar with Spider Robinson's characters at Callahan's Bar. All of these heros were more real to me than the political and sports figures of the day. My character was shaped by elves, my morals forged in the fires of Mordor.

And music, of course, is perhaps my first and most abiding love. When life hands out lemons, there is no comfort like the familiar sound of favorite music. Finding a new band I like, particularly if they already have several albums out, is like coming down the stairs on Christmas morning.

I am not an artist, I am merely a consumer of art. But as I look at the playlist on my computer, the shelves full of books, the rack of DVD's and the walls laden with pictures I recognize how deeply art has affected me, and how much it means in my life. We live surrounded by beauty that I could not have created myself. We are supported by people who find in Patty's stories something worth paying for. Thank you to the artists who have enriched our lives, and to those who support them. Thank you to everyone who believes that creating beauty and meaning is not just an afterthought in life, but the focus of it.

Polymorphic Pirate Protection

By: Mike June 18, 2013

We make our living selling copies of books. An ever-increasing percentage of those sales are e-books, which are small little text files. These little text files are, unfortunately, ridiculously easy to copy and send a few million friends across the internet. I'm not as prosaic as some, and I really don't like pirates. However, just because I'm firmly anti-pirate doesn't mean I can't get a chuckle out of the antics of the copy-protection crowd.

Pirates and content producers have been engaging in technological one-upmanship for years. It sounds impressive, but the results have been less "James Bond" and more "Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner". Every episode seems to end with the freshly-battered content industries saying, "How could rocket-powered roller skates have failed?". Don't get me wrong, I would love to see a magical copy protection scheme that was perfectly reliable, and didn't make the product offered for sale less useful, less convenient, and less valuable than the pirated version. Of course, while I'm wishing for the impossible, let me add world peace and honest politicians to the list.

First, lest I seem too harsh, content protection is really hard. In traditional encryption, Bob and Alice want to keep their communication secret from third-parties. That's pretty well researched and well understood. In content protection, Bob wants to send the Alice the message, but keep her from telling her friends. If Alice is a gossip, the secret is out. Technology has, so far, been unable to stop Alice from sharing.

As an aside, the whole idea of marketing and selling an easily-copied text file has thrown a colossal monkey-wrench in the gears of technology, copyright and even our ideas about ownership. The coming years will bring huge changes, and I really, really wish my crystal ball were working. . .

In recent years, some publishers are opting for "kinder, gentler" approaches, either abandoning the technical approach in favor of begging Alice not to share, or inserting watermarks into the text so that when she does, they will be able to trace the shared copy back to Alice. The problem is, watermarking generally relies on whitespace or non-printable characters. For example, replacing some tabs with spaces. Alas, it's pretty easy to reformat the book, and the watermark gets left behind.

Well, if the solar-powered lighting-generator fails there's always earthquake pills, right? So a new company came up with a clever new plan to keep the watermark intact: just change the text of the book. When a customer buys a book, a computer will scan through the book and replace a random assortment of words with synonyms, and create a record of the changes. Now when the nefarious Alice uploads a book, a quick analysis of the text will point the finger of blame back at her! It sounds like a plot from Scooby-Doo™.

Authors spend a great deal of time looking for the right word. A thesaurus is a useful tool, but as anyone who has read high-school essays can attest, not all synonyms are created equal. Authors, like most artists, are often control freaks. Editors are well-educated experts who suggest changes to manuscripts, and I have heard several authors letting off steam like a tea-kettle that someone dared to suggest a change to their manuscript, I can't imagine their reaction when a computer algorithm makes similar changes. If someone started protecting classical music by replacing random notes with a kazoo, or paintings by re-coloring things like hair and eyes, there would be an outcry from the consumer. Here's some titles as I imagine they might be rendered:

  • Magic Masticates by Ilona Andrews
  • Perished Witch Perambulating by Kim Harrison
  • Defunct Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
  • Kilometers Vorkosigan Series by Lois McMaster Bujold

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Book News

Patty is back out to the office trailer doing battle with the eighth Mercy Thompson novel, Night Broken. It was supposed to be done by mid-June, and it's going to be a race to finish by the end of the Month. She's putting in long days, but hasn't yet hit the point where we all tiptoe around the house. Give it a week or so. If it were up to me, we'd be eating pizzas and frozen burritos but our youngest daughter and our house guest Theora have both shown some culinary talent and have taken it upon themselves to make dinners several nights each week. How come children generally leave home just about the time they become useful and pleasant? At any rate, Patty seems happy, but I've only read the first forty or fifty pages. The rest is coming soon, she says.

How Patty Writes

So, about an hour after I posted this entry I came in the house and found Patty and Ann, her assistant having hysterics in Ann's office. They had found a blog that perfectly captures the writing experience of a die-hard pantser. If you want to understand the mind of an author, you need to read Libba Bray's Writing Despair

Of Course Wizards are Antisocial.

By: Mike June 18, 2013

Once upon a time, many years ago, lived a girl who read books. She read books when she woke up in the morning, and before she went to sleep at night. Her mother sometimes had to remind her not to read at the dinner table. Her teachers often caught her reading during class. The librarians knew her by name, and smiled when she came to visit.

Eventually, she had read so much that her head was full of stories, all jumbled and tangled together. They were packed in so tightly that there was scarcely room for another, but she kept reading. And eventually, when she was a young woman, this great ocean of stories overflowed. It trickled down her arm and past her hands and flowed slowly onto pieces of paper where a new story took shape and went out to find new readers. The reader had become a storyteller.

This is the story of many writers. The problem is that telling a story is only one of many skills one needs be a successful storyteller, and without a bit of knowledge and support the writer's tale may well turn tragic. When Patty published her first book she had never been to a convention, never met an editor, and never talked with another author. She was writing purely by instinct, and flying completely blind on the business end. We were fortunate to live in the same town as author Kathy Tyers. I summoned my courage, made a blind phone call, and set up a lunch.

Patty was nervous, but Kathy was very friendly and helpful. That luncheon was priceless. Patty got to talk to someone who understood the struggles of plot and character in a way that I could not. Kathy validated Patty's approach to writing. Here was a flesh-and-blood person who made a living telling stories. She wasn't ten feet tall and possessed of multiple superpowers. She was brilliant and hard-working, but not superhuman. If she could be an author, maybe Patty could, too. Kathy also gave Patty an introduction to the business end of writing which was immensely helpful. And she told Patty about SFWA.

SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, is an organization of professional authors. Sadly,when we first learned of it we were too poor to afford the modest dues (Ahh, those halcyon college years!). Years later, when she first joined, I can remember reading the bulletin and eagerly absorbing wisdom from the sages and greybeards of the genre. I remember the wonder of that first membership list, which showed the address and phone number of virtually every one of my childhood heroes. Of course we didn't call anyone, but just knowing we could was a heady power.

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us

Over the past month or so SFWA has become embroiled in political kerfluffle. Basically, a couple of folks said a couple of things that were insensitive and ill considered. People chose to be offended, tempers flared, and a flame war has swept through the boards, spilling over rather unattractively onto the internet as a whole. Feeling have been hurt, posts have been vacated, and a number of people have left in anger.

Personally, I think there's been plenty of outrage and vitriol launched on both sides, and have no desire to add further fuel to the fire. However, I would like to take a moment to talk about why SFWA is important, and what it does for authors.

Once you get past the giddy rush of membership, the glitter fades pretty quickly. The members-only forums are not a hotbed of insider information, where the secrets of the universe are made clear. There's not a rent-a-mentor service, and frankly even the bulletin articles are often pretty ho-hum. Disillusionment is understandable — and don't even get me started on the lack of a decoder ring and secret handshake!

So there are potholes in the streets of Utopia, and they're not paved with gold after all. Before you assume that the organization is useless, stop and bide a while. Look over the member list. There's a couple thousand names there. Grizzled veterans, cranky curmudgeons, rising stars and new talent that have barely made their first sale. There is power here. Feel it, latent and heavy. The brightest imaginations of several generations fill these ranks. They come from all walks of life, from every race and gender and sexual orientation. Pagans and Christians, atheists, agnostics and every flavor and stripe of morality and religion. They have only one thing in common — they are the story tellers, the word-wizards, the ones who dare to ask "what if?"

Of course they don't all get along. Most of the time the best that SFWA can hope for is to politely ignore one another. Storytellers are often antisocial, living in the rich worlds of their own imagination. Naturally, they're surly and obstreperous. There are mean drunks and political firebrands. It's a loose conglomeration of sometimes-allies that lurch and sway to disparate drummers. And yet they are an army.

Authors are often dreamers, and where you find big dreams you'll find people willing to take chances, brave risks and make deals. And you'll find the con-men, grifters and snake oil salesmen happy to prey on those big dreams. Publishers with poison contracts, agents who promise to make your dreams come true . . . for a price. Collaborators, packagers, book doctors good and bad. And SFWA not only tries to sort through the flotsam and jetsam and point to the more dangerous bits, they're willing to go to war.

If a new author is pressured to sign an abusive contract by a big bad publisher, what can he do? He can try to publish the work himself (an option that's becoming increasingly viable) or shut up and sign the contract anyway. SFWA gives that author a voice, echoed by a couple thousand other authors. A publisher might not care if they lose one novice author, but they will certainly notice if all of their mid-list and senior authors push back. SFWA performs much the same role as a labor union, but at a vastly lower cost.

But Wait, There's More

No, not the secret decoder ring. The membership. Remember that really amazing panelist you saw three years ago at DragonCon, the one who talked about Aboriginal myths? Or that physicist-slash-author who talked about propulsion systems for spacecraft? If you have that program book, you have their names. And in your SFWA directory, you have their email, and maybe their phone number. SFWA membership doesn't guarantee they'll talk to you, but it gives you an in. You're not a stranger, you're a colleague. With a bit of luck and some manners, you may be able to save hundreds of hours of research on your next project, and quite possibly make a friend.

Now, look at that directory again. There's a couple of thousand names there — all storytellers like you. Even if you never talk to any of them, doesn't it make you feel less alone to see those names. Look again, and you may see the name of someone whose work got you through junior high, or guided your college studies. Doesn't it feel good to see your name printed next to theirs? Are you not inspired and uplifted?

We seldom call the folks in the directory, and Patty doesn't often post on the SFWA forums. SFWA is sort of like an army in peacetime — quietly powerful without doing much. Don't be too quick to judge it based on the screeching and shrieking of twenty or thirty members — there's a vastly larger number that are quietly going about the business of telling stories and reinventing the world.

Horsing Around

By: Mike Aug 13, 2013

Patty's life revolves around three things: family, books and horses. Earlier this month we took a quick trip to California to see some of the horses being bred by Sheila Varian. Varian Arabians is sort like Mecca for those who love the Arabian Horse. Of course, for their patient and supportive husbands, it a chance to sit for hours in the hot sun while the girls say "ooh" and "aah!". I pass the time by pondering the various types of financial ruin that will doubtless befall us if she reaches for her checkbook, and wondering if taking Patty to a horse farm is the moral equivalent of taking a drunk to the brewery. However, the look on her face renders such speculation merely philosophical. She's deliriously happy, and happiness is contagious.

Happy Author
When she's around horses, Patty is joy personified.

There's an old Swedish proverb that says "Shared joy is a double joy". For this visit, we met up with some delightful new friends, Ed and Adriana Roth. Ed is an amazing wood carver, who specializes in carousel figures. Adriana is an artist, and is almost as horse-crazy as Patty. While the girls were happily comparing the merits of the various horses on display, Ed and I talked about cars, and carousels, and how fun it was to see our wives happy and enthusiastic. It was a perfect trip . . . until we tried to go home.

Due to a comedy of delayed, canceled and overbooked flights, we ended up spending an extra day in California, then flying to Seattle, some 250 miles from home, and driving the rest of the way. I couldn't help but think of the lyrics of Hotel California, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." By the time we finally got here, my usual good spirits had vanished. Yes, it's true, I was a grumpy bear. After a short night's sleep we were up and jammed in the car for a long drive to Calgary, Alberta for a writer's conference. I'll write more about that in a day or two, but suffice it to say that the good folks there soon put a smile back on my face.

One of many beautiful horses at Varian Arabians.

When Words Collide

By: Mike Aug 14, 2013

Our desert home in the Tri Cities lies about 600 miles from Calgary Canada. We loaded up the car, grabbed a couple of travel-mugs of Mountain Dew™ and headed North. We picked up Patty's assistant, Ann, in Pasco. She gets car sick easily, so she took a couple Dramamine and spent the trip snoozing in the back seat. Patty likes to drive, and the miles slid by pretty easily for the first bunch of the trip. By late afternoon we were high in the mountains, following a rather sketchy dirt road that Tom-Tom assured us was the fastest route to Calgary. There was snow on the road, and dark clouds gathering ominously ahead. No cell reception. No radio. Somehow the scene looked suspiciously like the opening moments of a bad horror film. Lighting illuminated the twilight and cold rain fell ever more heavily on the dark ground. We were just waiting for the engine to stop inexplicably.

I remembered I'd pulled the survival kit out of the car. Without it, we had no coats, no shelter, and only a couple of candy bars for food. We were also unarmed. The vision of me casually lugging the survival gear into the garage to make way for cosmetics and costumes would make a lovely framing shot for the aforementioned horror film.

Fortunately, the next turn brought us back to a paved road, and the rain tapered off. Within twenty minutes or so we were seeing signs of civilization, and our little Tom-Tom cheerfully guided us to the convention center.

The convention staff were wonderful. Cliff, Kim, and Randy were super-friendly and very well organized. The whole convention ran like a Swiss watch. Patty spent the first couple of days doing a writer's workshop. Since Ann and I aren't writers, we were treated to a visit to Heritage Park and shown around the city, guided by the very cheerful and knowledgeable Ryah. I've been told that this convention prides themselves on hospitality, and their reputation is well deserved. Thank you to everyone involved.

The writer's workshop was sixteen hours of intensive feedback, critique and discussion. The students were quite good, and their skill level was quite high. Patty had a great time meeting so many talented writers, and disussing the finer points of the craft. Although she was nominally the instructor, she says she learned as much as the students. The only down side is that she's used to workshops that last three or four hours, so she was pretty worn out by the end of it, and the convention was just starting!.

As a writing convention, rather than a Science Fiction/Fantasy convention, the focus was very clear. There were eight tracks of paneling, and not a boffer weapon, princess Leah, or Klingon to be found. The dealer's room looked like a book store, and all eight tracks of paneling were focused on publishing.

All of the guests of honor were articulate, witty and informative. The convention invited writers from various fields of endeavor, so we were able to learn about non-fiction and mystery publishing, as well as movie and TV-script production. We often have fun at conventions, but we've seldom learned so much.

We were scheduled for several events with two guests in particular, Michael Cassutt and David Coe. Michael is a brilliant script writer and has been deeply enmeshed in space exploration. He's friends with numerous astronauts and can probably tell you the number and size of rivits used any piece of space-related hardware you care to mention. I was astonished at how much we didn't know about Hollywood and the business of movie production -- it's safe to say we'll be paying very close attention to whatever he has to say!

David Coe, who also writes as David Jackson, is a gem of a human being. He's charming, funny, and a natural educator. He's got a doctorate in history, and is currently writing an enchanting series about a thief-taker set in revolutionary America. Tri-Corner-hat urban fantasy. I'm about halfway through the first book, and I'm totally hooked. We had a great time with him, and I'm really hoping we bump into him again soon!

We're back home now, dealing with kids and horses and all the things that predictably go wrong when we travel. We're a bit tired, but very happy and very enthusiastic about telling stories. Patty's been out in her office all day today, and flashed me a big, bright smile when she came in to eat. If your writing needs a shot in the arm, I strongly suggest you add When Words Collide to your schedule next year.

Book Giveaway

If you've read this far, you deserve a reward. The wonderful moderators on our forums have decided to give away a signed hardback of Frost Burned (we'll have to do something nice for them soon!). The form below will allow you enter the drawing, which will be open Friday at 8:00 PM. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

But Does it Have Pictures?

By: Mike Sept 15, 2013

Patty's staying up late again tonight. My vision is starting to blur and I'm beginning to cast longing glances toward the bedroom. . .

Alas, I hear the tap-tap-tap of her keyboard, and she'll need to "wind down" when she finishes, so I'm expecting a late night. Ann, if you read this, be werry, werry quiet when you come in tomorrow!

What she's writing is a bit interesting. A few years ago we signed contracts to produce a few Mercy Thompson graphic novels. The road to production was rocky, and the process was far more time-consuming that we had expected. The project changed hands, changed artists, and suffered from various delays in production. The final products were good: solid artwork and writing.

The problem is that they were good, but not outstanding. They sold well to fans of the Mercy novels, but failed to really catch on with comic enthusiasts. From a purely practical standpoint, we had largely decided to give up on comics entirely. It simply made more sense for Patty to focus her talents on the print books.

We had what I assumed would be an exit interview with the head of Dynamite comics. We explained, politely but bluntly, our position. Much to my surprise, instead of getting angry or defensive, he agreed with us. And then he gave us a little free education in the world of comics. Our previous contracts involved retelling previously published works. This is basically just picking the bones of a previous kill — the story's already been told, and the profit made. To risk the extra time and money needed to further improve the production values, they needed fresh meat. An A-game story that hadn't been told previously.

So, after a bit of noggin-scratching, we decided to give this one more try. Patty would produce an A-grade story treatment with original content — the sort of story idea she would otherwise base a book on. Dynamite would give it the headliner treatment: more content, fewer ads, great artists. The project got the green light . . . and then life happened. Missed deadlines, medical issues, the excuses are endless. At last, Patty's schedule cleared a bit. The copy edits for Night Broken were done, and she had a few days before she was ready to start the next big project.

So, last week Patty finally began work on the long-overdue comic treatment. She promised them a story by Monday. She's had me look at various myths and legends, debated the merits of undead vs. fae, checked the history of several local towns, and spent part of the night watching as a thunderstorm raged outside. And so I sit in a quiet and largely darkened house, looking at an empty bed and listening to the intermittent tapping of the keyboard. Apparently, sleep must be sacrificed to appease the creative muse. That, or Patty's creative side thrives on a critical combination of sleep deprivation and Mountain Dew™.

Late Night at the Author's House
"But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep"
~Robert Frost~

I am Chicken Little

By: Mike Oct 28, 2013

We recently attended a lovely anime convention in New Hampshire. While we were there we were invited to leave the hotel for an evening to attend a park that had been converted to a haunted house. This seems to be a growing trend in America. The cynical part of me is convinced it's just an excuse to extend the summer earnings into late fall, weather permitting.

We also observed a recent tradition of taking our children to the somewhat-local "ScaryWood", where a slightly hokey hillbilly-themed amusement park is converted into something quite different. Gone are the gay colors and the omnipresent bluegrass music with an extra-heavy helping of banjo. Now it's dark and sinister. The midway lights glittering against the dark October sky, while the screams of the patrons carry on the faint, chill breezes that rustle leaves and scatter the occasional bits of litter. A cotton-candy cone stirs restlessly amid the fallen leaves; a relic of gayer times.

I'm sort of hyper-vigilant by nature, and I was scared of the dark for a very long time. Then I learned that my night vision was better than most people's, and the darkness became an ally. I don't like to be scared. I feel a sudden of coldness, and a clenching in my stomach, and then the rush of adrenaline. I can feel my heart pounding, the blood thundering through my veins. My whole body gets lighter, tighter, and faster. My field of vision narrows, and my senses strain to feed tactical data to a brain that is suddenly focused on a single task: find the threat and eliminate it. When I'm scared, I'm not the prey, I'm the predator. This Jekyll and Hyde response scares me more than all of the sharp-toothed clowns and elaborately-costumed zombies that wander the grounds.

My companions all seem happy. Smiling, laughing, anticipating the scares to come. I'm busy reciting my mantra for the night, "It's all in fun. Don't kill anyone." I can do this. I've done it before. Breathe in and out. Smiling wife. Happy friends. No blood. And so we enter the redone rides. Mansions filled with fog and creepy sounds that render my eyes and ears untrustworthy. Flashing lights and shifting floors to further confuse the senses. The lights mean my eyes can't truly dark-adapt, and everything is dim. The corridors have unexpected alcoves, boxes, ledges and overhangs. All perfect spots for an ambush. Ahead, I hear screams. Behind me, a member of our party shrieks as a dark hooded figure steps from the shadows behind her holding a knife. "It's all in fun," I mutter to myself, "Don't kill anyone". The dark figure chuckles and withdraws back into the darkness, the faint light glinting on the silver knife.

Past another corner, and animatronic figures burst from their hiding places, their eyes illuminated and recorded voices warning of dire consequences. These I can ignore. Their bounds are set. The maze continues through a variety of creepy rooms, well staged, with actors lurking menacingly in corners and wandering near us. They too, it seems, have their bounds set. begin to believe I will survive the night without incident, and then it happens."

I'm walking through a room decorated with a lavish feast, except that the main course is a dismembered human figure. It's so realistic that I can identify several of the organs and major muscle groups. I was staring at the centerpiece, wondering who would bother with such realism, and how much such a prop would cost. For just a moment my attention was diverted, and suddenly a charnel figure, his face a ghastly wreck of bone and gobbets of flesh rose from beneath the table right beside me, reaching for me as his one functioning eye locked with mine . . .

There was an open space to my left, so I slid into into it, feet and legs falling into Sanchin dachi. I felt the familiar clench of core muscles, and heard a sharp exclamation that might have been my own. My arms came into guard position with what felt like leaden slowness while the warm fire of adrenaline burned its way toward my chest and arms. Super powers on-line in 3 ... 2 ... And then the the ghoul stepped back and away. Out of threat range. Stand down. Breathe. Laugh, and say something stupid like "you got me!", while the fire in my veins turns slowly to ice and my muscles start to tremble slightly. I feel suddenly tired, and the people around me are once again laughing. In a few minutes, I'm out of the haunted house, back on manicured lawns and decorative footpaths. A bat jukes and darts in the nearby trees -- I'm not sure if he's confused by the lights and sounds or hunting a particularly evasive insect.

And then I'm being tugged and pulled toward the next attraction by a laughing wife. There's three more to see, and the night is young. I settle more deeply into my wool jacket, and mentally repeat it one more time "It's all in fun. Don't kill anyone."

The next day Patty is happily writing. She tells me I'm good inspiration for her stories, and that someday soon Adam and the pack may have to visit ScaryWood. My mind simply boggles.

Google Books Officially Fair Use

By: Mike Nov 15, 2013

The big news in publishing is that an eight year long court case between the Authors Guild and Google was resolved yesterday. Google digitized several million books from university libraries, sweeping up not only a number of obscure and hard-to-find references, but also a large number of books that are currently protected by copyright. The Author's Guild, whose membership is only a small fraction of authors, sued for copyright infringement. The case took a number of very interesting twists and turns which have been exhaustively documented and produced copious speculation, before yesterday's resolution.

Currently, Google has amassed a huge trove of scanned books. They've applied their considerable skill with search technology to make the entire collection searchable, and provide snippits of text from the books. Naturally, publishers and authors are concerned that the full text of their books not be made public, and Google has put some thought into making sure that they don't become just another pirate site. There are a series of mechanisms in place that basically insure that Google will never display more than about 80% of a book, and won't show even that much of things like poetry collections or cook books where the content is naturally divided into small blocks. Personally, I was pretty content that they were being good guys, and possibly even helping the publishers sell books.

However, by declaring this use transformative, and therefore protected under fair use, I fear that Judge Chin may have opened a can of worms. I'm not worried about Google, I'm worried about the business models this opens up. Fair use is a very important limitation of copyright. If an action is considered fair use, the public may freely engage in that use without regards for the wishes of the copyright holder.

While Google only shows snippits of text to visitors, they just got a green light on collecting and storing a huge library of digital works which were obtained without compensating the copyright holders. If the ruling is upheld, anyone should be able to collect a huge digital library by whatever means is most expedient, as long as they provide some public access to snippits of that library. Effectively, the collection becomes protected, even if illegally obtained, as long as there is a public interest in accessing the contents. I'm sure, given the number of people hoarding thousands of pirated books, that someone will bang together a quick search script (which doesn't have to be nearly as complex or useful as Google's) to provide some sort of access to the collection. Suddenly, instead of evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the pirate's trove becomes a protected resource, beyond the reach of copyright law.

My other concern has to do with Chin's assertion that because the whole text is not being served the search engine does not cannibalize sales, and is therefore not detrimental to the publisher. Google, overall, will show about 80% of a text. Suppose I build a similar service, grab copies of the current bestsellers, and display only the remaining 20% of the text. My site would also be protected under fair use, but suddenly the whole text is available.

Or perhaps I simply spawn two business entities. and I could scan all the bestselling novels and post the even pages to one site and the odd pages to the other. Neither site would have more than 50% of any given book, and if I have a search function of some sort, both sites would fall neatly under judge Chin's interpretation of fair use. Naturally, I would also offer a very simple application that would combine the search results from both sites into a single volume, making a completely legal site that would clearly compete with the publisher's ability to sell their work.

The problem, in a nutshell, is neither Google nor Judge Chin's decision. The problem is that copyright operates by restricting copies of a work. In the world of the printing press this worked beautifully. In a world of instant communication, cheap computers, and facile copying a system based on limiting duplication is increasingly impractical. The big question, of course, is how to design a system that is more compatible with a digital world, while insuring that content creators receive fair compensation for their work. Until then, we're likely to see an increasing number of cases in which copyright, like a Lycra dress several sizes too small, is relentlessly tugged and stretched to cover things it was never meant to cover.

Underappreciated Authors

By: Patty Nov 19, 2013

Writers, most of us, read. We read a lot. People ask me who my favorite author is, I can spout ten or twenty off the top of my head. Most of them would surprise no one. Someday I would love to write half as well as Lois McMaster Bujold does on an off day.

I love books. You might remember when Mike posted a photo of the lone overwhelmed bookcase in our closet. 'Nuff said. Over the years I've discovered some favorites that you might not have heard of.

I discovered Nicholas Stuart Gray in my elementary school library (where my mother was the librarian). He was an actor and playwright who also wrote children's books and short stories. The first book I read is still my favorite: Grimbold's Other World. Grimbold is a cat who involves himself in the life of Muffler, a shepherd boy who was a found as a baby wrapped in a muffler (hence his odd name) and adopted by a whole village. Among the personalities who populate this delightful children's book (which adults will also enjoy) are Muffler's goats, the two farm horses, an evil sorcerer and a lost prince or two. Unexpected and charming, Grimbold's Other World is a collection of short stories masquerading as chapters, that build gradually into a single narrative.

Perhaps Nicholas Stuart Gray is better known in his native UK, but in the US, I haven't met very many other people who have read him. The next two writers are (as far as I know) both US writers.

There are a lot of unfinished trilogies published the last fifty years. Ever since Tolkien's book was divided for economic reasons, trilogy has become a popular way to tell a big story in multiple volumes. Sometimes it is because the author died: Louis L'amour started three trilogies shortly before his death, one I didn't care for. But The Walking Drum and Last of the Breed deserved books 2 and 3. But I digress since Louis L'amour is very well known, and thus not eligible for this blog post.

In the current marketplace, beginning your writing career with a trilogy is dangerous. If book 1 or 2 don't catch on, there might not be a book three. Another problem with having the first published novel be the first part of a trilogy is that for a lot of writers finishing the story can be difficult. Finishing a trilogy is harder than finishing a one-book story because the build up is so much bigger. The upshot is, then, that I have read a number of trilogies where there were only one or two books ever published. Only one of those do I read over and over again.

Those two books, the incomplete story of The Song of Naga Teot, are Heather Gladney's Teot's War and Bloodstorm. Published in the late eighties, these are first books and they show it. They suffer from confusing scene changes, some odd pacing, and at least one character whose personality totally shifts affiliations between the first book and the second without explanation — beyond the obvious one of the author forgot that that particular character was supposed to be a good guy. Even so. Even so. I read them every year or so and have since I first bought Teot's War. Gladney has a gift for characterization combined with incredibly good actions sequences and powerful scene writing. Good stuff.

The third author, I have to confess, I didn't read the first or even the tenth time I saw her books at a bookstore. Doorstopper fantasies are not my favorite, mostly because I usually want to cut about half the book and it makes me cranky and her fantasy novels are huge. I do read SF, but outside of a few favorite authors, I generally read ten or eleven in a row —and then not again for a year or so. I just didn't run into her SF when I was reading SF.

So when I met Jane Fancher a number of years ago at an SF Convention, I knew her name, but had not read her books. I was so impressed by her enthusiasm, I picked up a few of her books in the dealer's room. This is something that is not uncommon for me. When we drove home I needed to relax before going to bed and pulled out one of Jane's books. That isn't unusual for me either. What was unusual is that I finished the first book about two in the morning and instead of going to bed, I started the next one. Her SF reads like fantasy and her fantasy reads like SF. When I finished the first doorstopper fantasy, instead of wishing I could cut pages, I couldn't believe I was done already. Fancher's writing is like dark chocolate — I never get enough. I am a character reader and her characters live and breathe — and ooze sexual tension while they do so. Yumm.

Nicholas Stuart Gray's and Heather Gladney's books are available only on the secondary market. You can try or I am hoping that the rise in self-publishing opportunities will entice Gladney into publishing that third book — there have been Internet rumors for years that it is written. Jane Fancher is self-publishing now — since her writing partner is C.J. Cherryh the editing on her new books has not slipped. You can find her books as ebooks at or you can find them on and pay a little more for them. As a bonus, Closed Circle also publishes Lynn Abbey and C. J. Cherryh.

You can thank me later.

Calling In The Spring

By: Mike Dec 27, 2013

A couple of days ago I saw an email conversation between Patty and one of her horse-crazy friends1. They were discussing the proper way of clipping an Arabian horse for show2. Her friend provided some diagrams and some helpful instructions, then suggested she try body-clipping some of her horses for practice. Patty seemed enthusiastic.

I jumped in, and reminded them that while clipping a show horse might indeed be a desirable skill, it was still winter and our horses had grown great, shaggy coats for a reason. Since we don't have a heated barn with nice warm stalls for the horses, clipping off their hair and leaving them shivering in the pasture wouldn't be very nice3.

I was informed that they were not planning on clipping the horses now, merely planning for the future. Which began a discussion about the rites of spring.

Prarie Grass in Winter White
Our place, this morning.

Seasonal rituals are something we usually sort of assign to ancient peoples or primitive tribes. Old druids charting the southward march of the winter sun, and raising stones marking the point at which it begins to climb once more. Dances or sacrifices to stay the long nights, and bring back the warmth of spring sunshine. However, some of these rites have passed to modern times.

Christmas has acquired the trappings and meanings of Christianity, (literally, Christ's Mass), but it began as a solstice festival, celebrating the shortest day of the year, and welcoming the coming of the spring. Patty's friend mentioned that her husband (an avid gardener) was looking through a stack seed catalogs. Planning for the spring.

In some cultures, it was believed that the rites of spring were necessary, without them winter might be eternal. The rites of spring called the sun, flowers, birds and life itself back to the land. While the scientist in me is content with the explanation of orbit and axis, I'm still happy to see the seed catalogs and listen to my sweetheart talk of grooming horses. Maybe she really can help call the spring.

  1. Patty's primary email,, is viewed by Patty, her assistant Ann, and myself. She has another private email that she can use if she doesn't want me snooping!
  2. Horses, like many mammals, grow long, heavy coats in the winter. The extra hair makes them look coarse and unkempt compared to their slick, glossy summer coats. For show horses, the winter coat is often clipped and trimmed to make them more attractive.
  3. I wasn't really worried, but Patty is a very enthusiastic person, occasionally bordering on impetuous.

Book News

Patty's working on the last short story for the Shifting Shadows anthology. I'm editing Samuel's story, and Ann is editing one about Asil and the young girl who was changed to a werewolf and sent to the Aspen Creek pack. The anthology has taken longer than Patty had hoped (I seem to say that about all her books), but should have some excellent stories in it.

Small Office Woes

We've been plagued by a rash of equipment failures. Patty's keyboard quit working. Ann's mouse broke. The paper shredder stuttered and died. A toner cartridge that was just replaced decided to malfunction, dumping bright blue toner all over the inner workings of our office laser printer. The list goes on. By nickels, dimes, and dollars the cost of running a home office grows ever higher.

When we considered having Patty write full time, we badly underestimated the costs of running a small office. Everyone needs a computer, loaded with the appropriate software. Then there's the phones, printers, scanner and internet access. There's office supplies like paper, pens, and file folders, and furniture like desks, chairs, and filing cabinets. All of it gets used, and all of it wears out.

Speaking of wearing out, there's another problem with a small office. If you've got twenty or thirty employees you can justify buying commercial grade equipment with the associated service contracts and warranties. If you have three people working an office, it's harder to justify spending several thousand dollars on a color copier or a business class phone system. It seems like everything from network storage to paper shredders comes in three versions: cheaply made plastic junk for personal use, slightly-less-junky versions for small workgroups, and overpriced but durable units for commercial applications. We've been using a lot of workgroup-rated products, and I'm categorically not impressed.

For example, our office printer is a multi-function unit that cost just under a thousand dollars. It's two years old, and we probably print three or four hundred pages a month, which should qualify as very light usage. In the past year I've replaced about half the moving parts, and had an ongoing litany of failures and mulfunctions. Not only is it plastic, I suspect it's made from recycled soda bottles. It's a thousand-dollar paperweight that came with a one year warranty.

The paper shredder that just went up in smoke was a couple hundred dollars and just a shade over a year old. It was workgroup rated, and of course lasted just a week or two beyond it's one-year warranty. We probably shred less than five pages a day. I should teach one of the cats to shred paper — it would be faster and would doubtless cost less.

In contrast, we also have an ancient commercial-grade monochrome laser printer that we use for manuscripts and large print jobs. It weighs well over a hundred pounds, and the cooling fans sound like it's trying to get airborne. But it prints reliably year after year, without hesitation. I've never done anything but replace toner cartridges, and it's printed many thousands of pages.

Today we went to a big, commercial office equipment vendor. We looked at printers, and copiers, and even paper shredders backed by a local company with a good reputation for service. The problem is, the price is far higher than if I just grab something from a local box store (let alone order it from an on-line discounter). So, do we spend thousands and HOPE we can run an office without repairing or replacing something every week, or do we head down to Staples and roll the dice again? Office expenses may be tax deductible, but that's not the same as free, and the dollars add up!