On a Gloomy Winter DayBy: Mike Jan4, 2014
The Tri-Cities has very mild winters, especially in comparison to Montana. Anything below freezing is considered "cold" and there's a only a couple of months of that. I don't mind the cold, but today my spirits are as leaden as the sky, and I don't know why.
It's been a grey day, in a grey week. The tinsel and Christmas decorations are looking tired. The children have gone back to their busy lives. The house is quiet, and there's way too much sugary food littering the kitchen shelves. We took the tree down earlier today, and the carpet still needs to be vacuumed to remove the lingering residue of holiday cheer.
So here I sit, my life as perfect as it's possible to be. Safe. Warm. So well-fed I'm fat. Surrounded by beautiful things, and I'm feeling . . . unsettled. The holidays are over, but the short days make it hard to get out and do much of anything. Patty's dreaming of the Spring's coming foals, but I still have to get a lot of fence up and build the necessary shelters. It's sleeting, and getting dark at 4:00 in the afternoon, so I guess it won't happen today. . .
The carousel building looms over the yard, stark in it's raw OSB exterior, waiting for work to recommence. Inside its unlit and unwarmed husk, leaves blow across the bare concrete floor, pushed by breezes from the giant openings awaiting garage doors still under construction. Snow falls through the gaps where skylights will eventually be installed. There's a giant pit in the side yard, with a heap of stone and dirt beside it, waiting for a buried propane tank to be installed. Progress has been slow over the holidays, for the same reasons the horse pastures are still unfinished. Christmas is over, and the coming spring is still several weeks away, and the cold and somber landscape dampens my enthusiasm for the tasks at hand. This is, if you can't tell, not my favorite time of year!
Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow, I'll get up and set my hand to useful purpose. Tomorrow Patty will go out to the ratty little office trailer and spin words into gold. Tomorrow bright and effervescent Ann will burst into the house, and bring life and cheer with her. Tomorrow the sun will come out again. Tomorrow things will be good. Tonight, I think I'll make a cup of herbal tea, listen to some music, and ignore the sound of icy sleet tapping at the darkening windows.
Dead Heat Coming SoonBy: Mike Jan 25, 2015
It's been a couple of years since the last Alpha and Omega book. Like many readers, I wish Patty was a faster writer! Her goal is to produce a book every nine months. When you figure a month or so for signings and promotion, it's actually a fairly ambitious schedule.
We're making preparations for the upcoming launch of Dead Heat. Patty is, as usual, stalking the internet for early reviews and biting her nails. Every book she expects to be told that she's lost her touch, the magic is over, and it's time for Cinderella to turn in her ball gown and glass slippers and get back to scrubbing floors. And every time a book gets a favorable review, she's delighted and a little surprised. We've only seen a couple of very early reviews for Dead Heat, but we did find that it's one of the top picks at Romantic Times which is a very good thing! Hopefully, you'll like it as well.
You know, one of the perpetual chestnuts of the literary crowd is that genre books are just fluff: the intellectual equivalent of junk food. While they may appeal to the unsophisticated mind looking for uncomplicated and artificially-sweetened pablum, there's surely nothing of value there. In fact, genre books are sure to dull your senses, blunt your intellect, and leave you mentally and morally impoverished for having read them.
As I was reading Dead Heat I was struck by how many weighty and philosophical issues were raised. As I thought about it, I've come to believe that a lot of genre fiction is far more than brain candy — the best books have me thinking about things long after I've closed the covers. I think, perhaps, that the cognoscenti are selling genre fiction short. Is it possible that genre fiction can be as meaningful and insightful as strictly literary works, while simply being more palatable?
Dead Heat is, if I say so myself, an easy and very entertaining read. However, it made me think about life, and death, about saying goodbye, and consider how the choices we make affect what we leave behind us. Deep thoughts for light entertainment, especially considering that the book was upbeat and cheerful. I'll be waiting to see what the readers think of it!
Signing UpdateBy: Mike March 16, 2015
We got back from the signing tour for Dead Heat last week. As tours go, it was a short one, less than a week long, but they're still exhausting. I don't know how professional musicians (who may tour for months at a time) manage to stay sane. I'd be dead within the month!
This signing tour was rendered doubly-awesome because we were traveling with Anne Bishop. Anne is a delightful and interesting travel companion, and the fourth book of The Others series, Vision In Silver came out the same day as Dead Heat. I have to confess to feeling a little left out: although I've read the Black Jewels and much of Anne's older material, I hadn't read "The Others". Of course Patty and her assistant Ann had, which meant I was the only member of our happy troop that couldn't chatter excitedly about the plot twists and character development. I hope I managed to look like I was nodding sagely instead of falling quietly asleep1.
This was a series of almost-perfect signings. The crowds were generally in the 150-200 person range, which is large enough to feel like a solid gathering, and small enough that Patty and Anne could spend a few moments talking to people as they came through the line. For the most part, I think that everyone from the proprietors to the last reader standing had a good time. Between Patty and Anne, the line was a little slower than usual (two authors to talk to, instead of one!). I think it worked well, but we did have one bookstore that pointedly put all the chairs away and was basically rolling up the carpets under the last ten or twenty patrons. *sigh*. Still, overall, a grand time was had by all!
- After hearing everyone else gush about these books for a week, I've purchased them on audible and am listening quite raptly to the series. I would like to add my sincere recommendation to that of, well, everyone else!
Mercy Is Back in ComicsBy: Mike Aug 14, 2014
A few years ago we launched a series of Mercy Thompson comic books. The series launched with an origin story called Homecoming that was eventually released as a graphic novel, and then we tried to adapt the a couple of the Mercy and Alpha and Omega novels to the comic book format. We got to work with some very talented people, and it was fun to see the stories in graphic form, but there was something missing.
Almost two years ago, we called Nick Barruchi, the president of Dynamite, with a feeling of dread in our stomachs. We carefully explained that while we enjoyed working with him and his crew, we felt that final product was slightly lackluster, and that we would not be continuing. Much to our amazement, instead of anger and blame, Nick agreed with our assessment. He carefully explained that re-hashing the novels meant that we were playing to a limited audience. That meant production costs had to be controlled, which affected how much time the artists and writers could spend, which obviously affects the final product. Then he made us an offer — if Patty would come up with an original story idea, something that she would be comfortable basing a novel on, and let him base a graphic novel on it, he would do his best to blow her away.
We thought it over, and decided to take a chance. Patty thought up a creepy story that might have made a good novel, and sent it to Nick. Frankly, our expectations weren't too high. Then we saw the story draft, and it was good. We began to hope. The first art rolled in, Patty asked for a few corrections, and they were made promptly and the revised panels showed a great deal of promise. We got more excited. Then we saw the colored versions, and we have to admit that Nick has kept his word. This is a comic we're proud to be part of.
The original plan was to skip the comic medium, and publish this as a stand alone graphic novel, but after seeing the first dozen or so pages, it was decided to release it in comic form first. So, the first eposide of Mercy Thomposon: Hopcross Jilly will be available in October. You can find more information on Dynamite.com.
Taking Security SeriouslyBy: Mike April 13, 2015
Ann Peters is Patty's assistant. She answers phones and emails, runs the web-store, keeps the calendar, and even does the bookkeeping. In short, we don't know how we got along without her for so many years.
When Ann started a few years ago, she asked what the dress code was here. Her former job required her to maintain a very professional appearance, and I happened to know that she has a personal vendetta against pantyhose. Since we were trying to woo her into working here, we made a very simple dress code: cover the naughty bits, and no pantyhose.
She's only goofed up once: she wore pantyhose! We wrote up an official reprimand, which she assures us she filed somewhere. . . Today, however, she came up with an addition to the dress code that I wish we'd have thought of earlier: a tin-foil hat. She claims it has something to do with hair color (she has bright purple tips on her lovely locks), but I suspect she's just thinking ahead and being extra careful. She's good like that.
Ann's stylish (and presumably effective) tin foil hat.
With our government racing to become a surveillance state, the police eavsdropping on cell phones, and every Tom, Dick and Harry on the internet running phishing scams, a little paranoia might just be a good thing.
Ann is privy to everything that goes on here. The secret midnight. . . oops, I shouldn't have said that. And the tax-dodges . . . ahem, I mean accounting details. For goodness sake, she even knows the Facebook password! Worse yet, she reads the early, bug-filled drafts of Patty's work. She could easily dispel the illusion that publishable draft just flows from Patty's keyboard effortlessly. Secrets worth keeping? Indubitably!Personally, I applaud her initiative in going the extra mile to shield her thoughts from the mind-rays of the government, and safeguard our valuable secrets. Now I need to talk with someone who understands the finer points of tin foil hat technology. Do we need full-head coverage, as opposed to Ann's stylish cap? Does the foil ever wear out from absorbing mind-control rays? Do they overheat, and should we keep a spare one in the fridge for sensitive meetings? Obviously, there are many things I must learn before our next staff meeting!
Now I'm wondering, if I Google "Tin Foil Helmet Technology" will it tip them off? And, who are "they" anyway? Do you suppose they're logging everyone who visits the Wikipedia article on tin foil hats? What if they've seeded the internet with falsified articles in order to sabotage tin foil hat builders? Maybe I should see if there's a tin foil hat plugin for my browser before I go any further. . . Paranoia is a very deep rabbit hole!
Tired of Tires: A TiradeBy: Mike May 13, 2015
It seems like all good adventures start with the hero making some small and seemingly-inconsequential decision. Like buying tires. . .
Between Patty's writing career and her horse
obsession business, we drive more than most people. We're also borderline compulsive about proper maintenance, including tires. A bit over a year ago, we noticed that the tires on the big white truck were getting a bit worn, and replaced them with four new tires from a well-known maker.
The truck in question is a big diesel, and while it has the horsepower to pull anything we've ever asked it to, its fuel consumption is equally impressive. We seldom drive it unless we're pulling a trailer. A few months after buying the new tires, we were pulling our ridiculously-long horse trailer and transporting a few horses to a trainer several hours away. We were just outside of Yakima, listening to a Jim Butcher audio book, when there was a sudden explosion. Not a hiss of air, or the distinctive 'thumpity-thump-thump' that can only be a flat tire (or possibly Frosty the snowman . . .), but an honest-to-goodness, deafening BOOM! The initial explosion was immediately followed by a severe fish tail and a series of loud bangs, punctuated by ripping and tearing sounds. I watched Loony-Tunes as a kid, so I naturally assumed someone had catapulted an enraged Tasmanian devil into the back of my pickup. Hey, that's what it sounded like to me, don't judge!
We got the truck stopped and got out. The right rear tire was gone. Not flat, just gone. So was the fender, the fender liner, the tail light, and a handful of other pieces. The body was dented and misshapen, the muffler was hanging at an unnatural angle, and there were heavy black marks covering everything. Looking further back, I could see a debris field of tire pieces and truck parts. In the trailer, several horses voiced their opinions on the noise and the abrupt stop. It was an unanimously-unfavorable opinion.
The road was narrow, and there wasn't much of a shoulder. A couple of feet away, high speed traffic blurred by, rocking the truck and trailer. The horses also had comments about that: also unfavorable. After looking over the damage carefully, I found that while the body was a mess, we could probably drive it for a short distance. My only other alternative was to call a wrecker, and lead the now-agitated horses down the road to safety, which judging from the stomping and bellowing coming from the trailer was not a great plan. Muttering the appropriate power-words like a spell, I managed to use the tiny jack and flimsy wrenches in our emergency kit to change the tire, and lowered the truck back onto all four tires.
It was at this point that I noticed that the spare, though new, was nearly flat. We contemplated the narrow shoulder with heavy traffic flying past two feet away, the damaged rear quarter, and the disreputable spare, and decided it would have to do. So, we jumped in, pulled into traffic and lumbered away at the speed of a charging turtle, accompanied by a cacophony of horns and a flurry of friendly gestures. (I'm always impressed by how many people apparently know that Patty's number one, and flash us a big 'ol Numero Uno in appreciation!)
I've been driving since cave-painting was fashionable, and I've never had a blowout like that. It cost almost a thousand dollars to get the truck body put back together. When the body work was done, I drove it to our mechanic, just to make sure everything mechanical was ship-shape. He noticed that there was a huge bubble forming on the inner sidewall of one of the front tires, which was de-laminating and definitely unsafe to drive. Weird, huh?
I took the defective front tire to the tire shop, and explained that one tire had exploded, and this tire was failing. They opined that the exploding tire was doubtless some sort of road hazard that we'd hit without seeing it. You know, like the IED's in Afghanistan or something. The bubble was curious, but they gave us a decent discount on a new tire and called it close. The little voice in my head kept saying that the road-hazard story was a crock, and something was wrong, but the professional tire people seemed so sure that it was nothing, and the remaining tires (still nearly new) certainly looked good. So, we kept driving on them.
A few days ago, we got a call from our youngest daughter. She had recently accepted an offer of employment, and two days before she was supposed to start the owner mysteriously fired everyone and closed the company. She'd already given notice on her current apartment, and needed help moving home for a few weeks. We grabbed the big horse trailer (it's larger than most moving vans), hosed it down thoroughly, and ran to offer assistance.
After a full day of driving, packing, and cleaning we were headed home. It was about sunset, and we were about forty miles from home. Patty was driving, and Ann and I were sort of dozing. Suddenly there was another explosion, and the truck pulled violently to the right. Patty hit the brakes just as we went over the edge and into the barrow pit at about 70 mph. The truck was over the side, listing badly, and still pulling hard to the right. Patty corrected to the left, trying to drop our speed. The trailer slewed sideways, back tires still on the highway, hopping and chirping as it tried to outrun the truck. Not good. Patty blasted the gas, and the truck jumped forward, yanking the trailer back in line before it could roll. Then she somehow managed to get us back up on the shoulder of the road and eventually stopped.
Behind us, dust and sagebrush rained down upon the land, and a set of bright black intermittent skid marks far to the side of the tire tracks bore testament to the recent drama. Ann and I were no longer dozing, and all of us were very glad to be alive and uninjured. Like the previous blowout, this tire failed without warning. Most of the tread delaminated from the core, acting like a brake, which is why the truck pulled so violently to the right. The tread tore away all of the outer fender (which we found broken into pieces in our wake). It managed to hit hard enough to bend the bumper down and forward, bending the bumper brackets and tearing up some wiring in the process. It also destroyed the inner fender. We're still waiting from an estimate from the body shop, but I don't expect the repairs to be cheap.
Today, I hauled the newest failed tire down to to the tire shop. They looked at the numbers, and then ran inside the shop. When they returned they informed me that all four of the tires I had purchased had been recalled and were unsafe. Gee, ya think? Apparently we had been mailed a notice, but if it came we doubtless filed in with most of the other important mail — in the trash can. These days, I pretty much assume that bright red envelopes marked "important", "urgent" or "time-sensitive" are simply local businesses papering the town with advertising hyperbole. I probably get five or six supposedly-urgent letters a week, and most of them are credit card offers (why, yes, I'd love to do business with shady-Sam's usurious credit emporium, thank you!) or used car sales. We need a new word for messages that really are important.
So there you have it. We twice narrowly missed serious accidents by sheer good luck, and once were saved by the sharp eyes of our mechanic all due to buying a new set of tires. The only clue to our danger, a mysterious letter that either didn't arrive, or didn't stand out from the junk advertising. What a crazy world.
Our new low-rider. Check out the awesome paint job!
The truck is now sporting brand new tires (including a new spare) by a different manufacturer. I've had enough high-speed blowouts for one lifetime!
Adventures are EverywhereBy: Mike May 20, 2015
As most of you know, Patty and I went to Texas for the Romantic Times convention. We had a small adventure I thought I'd share here. The convention was at the Hyatt Regency hotel, but by the time Patty tried to book our rooms, it was already full (which says something, because it's HUGE!).
Employing a bit of white-belt Google-Fu she found another hotel within easy walking distance and booked a room for a couple of nights. Easy as pie, and we're all set for the convention.
At the airport we caught a cab, and gave him the address of the hotel. The cabbie looked us up and down, then shrugged, dropped the flag, and started driving. About $60 later, he stopped on an unkempt side street with a bumper-crop of broken concrete and litter, in front of an older building bearing the insignia of our chosen hotel. We were in a very upscale part of town, and modern steel-and-glass hotels in neighboring blocks filled the skyline with gleaming surfaces and intricate lighting displays. Our hotel was a squat brick affair with only a few token decorative elements on the upper cornices. It wrapped itself in a coat of peeling paint, and hunkered on it's dirty street.
The main entrance was blocked by construction debris, and looked to have been unused for quite some time, but the side entrance was open. The lobby matched the exterior. The high ceiling and crown moldings bespoke modestly-upscale beginnings, but the ancient stained carpet, dingy lighting, and the distinct tang in the air said that it hadn't been well-cared for for a very long time.
The young lady behind the desk was a surprise. I had expected an ancient, arthritic, and caustic ex-bellhop with a bad back, but instead there was a bright and attractive young woman who greeted us with a smile and completed our check-in efficiently. A veritable rose among the thorns.
Across the lobby were two elevators. The larger was masked off with plastic sheeting, with bits of rubble leaking across the floor, and marked "Down for Repairs". From the dust on the plastic, the repairs had been long in coming. The button for the other elevator lit when pressed, and we heard some encouraging squeaking and grinding sounds beyond. Eventually, the elevator arrived and the doors ground open.
It had once been grand. Glue-chipped glass panels that might have once been gilded were mounted over hardwood-veneered walls. The button panel was brass, with brushed brass access panels above and below. Sadly, everything was scratched, worn, and badly faded. There was chunk of stained carpet, with a design far too big for an elevator, inexpertly placed on the floor. In the middle was a soft spot, which we avoided out of general suspicion. One of the ceiling panels was missing, and some grubby wiring hung just out of reach, with various wire nuts and fittings lending a bit of holiday color. Due to the missing panel, we could watch the elevator shaft scroll slowly past as we ascended to our room on the ninth floor.
Down a narrow and dimly-lit hallway we found our room. I was surprised to see a modern card-lock on the old paneled door, and when I swiped our card-key it obligingly turned green. The door didn't open. I swiped the card again, and the light turned green. Listening closely, I even heard the quiet snick of the latch withdrawing. Still the door wouldn't open. I was going to head for the lobby when Patty gave it another try. When the light turned green, she hit the door with her shoulder, and with a squeak and a squeal we were in. The building had apparently settled, and the door was very tight in it's frame.
Speaking of tight, so was the room. It's true that Patty and I are often put up in pretty swank hotels, and it's possible our expectations are a bit high. I will say, however, that we more often stay at budget-conscience hotels (Comfort Inns are our favorites) and do just fine. This room was maybe ten feet square. One chair, a bed and a table. Next to the door was a tiny closet (the coat hangers had to be steeply-angled to fit). There was an equally small bathroom, where some sleek chrome knobs and a pedestal sink tried valiently to convey an attitude of updated and modern. They were overpowered by the ancient carpet with a collection of stains and runs, dirty drapes, and general feeling of everything being slightly sticky. It was actually relatively clean, so the sticky might have been old varnish on the wood -- it does that sometimes in humid climates. At least, that's what we kept telling ourselves.
The ancient air-conditioner still worked, although it sounded like an angry badger. We decided to count our blessings, and settled down to read for a bit before bed. I went out to get some ice, and found the machine predictably out of order. The eighth floor didn't even have an ice machine, nor did the seventh, so I came back empty-handed and we drank warm sodas and read until bedtime.
The bed was special. It was super-soft (and with my back troubles, that's not a good thing). It had several big fluffy pillows, a big fluffy blanket, and crisp, clean sheets. The sheets were tucked in tightly enough to bounce a quarter off of, leading me to suspect that at least one of the maids is also a Marine. The suspension of this bed, however, was a scientific miracle. I believe it defied the laws of conservation of energy. It was a system of interlinked springs (which I could feel quite clearly through the thin padding on top). However, any movement by one bedpartner was mystically amplified and transmitted to the other. If I rolled onto my side, Patty would be flung nearly off the mattress. If she coughed I could feel the aftershocks rolling through the mattress for minutes afterwards.
Soon we were giggling like a couple of middle-school miscreants. The game was to hold very still until the other person was asleep, and then bounce violently, throwing them into the air without warning. The problem with a game like this, is that there's absolutely no way to know when it's really over, and the temptation to avenge yourself just one more time is overwhelming.
I can resist everything except temptation.
Morning came far too early, and my back was every bit as sore as I'd feared. It's hard to be dazzling and brilliant when you're asleep on your feet. Our apologies to everyone we met that first day, I could only keep my balance by making sure I was drooling evenly out of both sides of my mouth. Let's just pretend that we were practicing method acting for a hypothetical zombie book.
The good news is that a room had opened up at the Hyatt for the next night. While it was expensive, and we still ended up paying for the night we'd booked at the first hotel, we payed the tab with a big smile on our faces. Remember kids, if you're going to go out in public and try to impress the world, a good night's sleep is an absolute necessity. Consider that your author pro-tip for the day!
Romantic Times: Part TwoBy: PattyMay 20, 2015
So I wandered around the RT hotel feeling slightly befuddled, wondering what was wrong with me (other than lack of sleep—see Mike's post about our first hotel).
My life is as simple as I can make it. The horse farm, my family, my old friends and my neighbors. When I go to book signings, I have long ago resigned myself that meeting people for three minutes while I sign books, while delightful, will not usually allow me to recognize them again. I do remember what we talked about, and if prodded, will eventually, after three or four signings, recognize them by their stories.
It's been a while since I went to convention where I knew virtually no one (okay, RT was better than that—Diana Pharoah Francis is a good friend, and Richelle Meade and I have enjoyed a few post-signing feedings in Seattle). At conventions, I really meet people and talk to them for longer than three minutes. But something was off, and I couldn't figure out what it was—though whatever it was it succeeded in bringing out that stomach-churning shyness/anxiety that I haven't felt since I was in my twenties (a very long time ago). There were people I have met a time or two who had to talk to me for a few minutes before I recognized them.
For the first day of the convention, I thought maybe I was really going deaf. It took me a few minutes to process what people were saying, and several times I misunderstood entirely. Saturday afternoon, just before we left to catch our plane, I mistook Dear Jane (with whom Mike and I spent a lovely day wandering Des Moines, a truly lovely, and under-appreciated city) for Lucy Liu (whom I have met briefly just once at Comic Con). As soon as Jane (not her real name!) said something —I knew I'd screwed up. She was gracious, but I felt horrible and stupid. How could I have done something so idiotic? Both ladies are lovely and brilliant, but they do not resemble each other in the slightest.
[Comment by Mike: Actually, I recognized Jane, but couldn't remember her actual name. And, personally, I've always thought she looked a bit like Lucy Liu (they're both stunningly beautiful).]
That's when I (using my highly developed powers of observation) finally figured out that my eyesight, which has been horrible since I was ten, but a stable horrible for the past decade, had deteriorated a lot since I'd gotten my last set of glasses a few years ago. As long as I can read, I guess I don't really pay attention. I know what my husband and trusty assistant look like. I don't have to see very well to tell the difference between the chestnut filly and the bay filly. So while Mike and I waited to get on the plane, I compared eyesight with him. I couldn't even read the great big signs hanging from the ceiling. Ugh.
It was concentrating on what I was seeing (or rather not seeing) that made it hard to hear people at the convention. I know, I know, when one sense goes, all the others are supposed to get stronger. But if I ever go blind, I'm going to go deaf, too. When I answer the phone without putting on my glasses, I cannot hear. Weird, right? But, as my husband pointed out to me shortly after Iron Kissed hit #1 on the NYTimes, I am no longer just weird. Once I could tack the #1 NYTimes on my forehead—I'm elevated to eccentric. I'll remember now, if I suddenly go deaf, probably I need better glasses.
Lasek surgery is starting to look better and better. . .
Hopcross Jilly Graphic Novel ReleasedBy: MikeJuly 2, 2015
For the past several years Patty has occasionally dabbled with comics and graphic novels. It's a chance to learn about a world quite different from book publishing, and work with some very cool and extremely creative people. We've learned quite a bit about the world of graphic novels (though we're far from experts), and like G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle”.
We've done two adaptations of Patty's novels into comic form. While we're pretty happy with the results, they're not perfect. For one thing, they're just a re-telling of a story many have already read. There's not a lot of money in retelling a story, so the production schedule and artist budget are correspondingly limited. Most importantly, though, the stories weren't conceived for a visual medium. A graphic novel is fundmentally different than a text-only story. Trying to take a novel and shove it into a comic format is challenging, the round peg doesn't want to fit neatly in the square hole. In other news, water is wet and politicians lie.
With Hopcross Jilly, Patty got a chance to write a story from the ground up designed for strong visuals. She was paired with an excellent script writer and an amazing artist. The results are, in my opinion, very good indeed. The story was originally released as a series of comic books (and I've had terrible luck telling people where to find comic books and when various issues will be available). Fortunately, it has just been published as a hardcover graphic novel, which should be available wherever you normally buy your books! If you like graphic novels, I think you'll enjoy this one.
For some additional information, let me refer you to the Is It Good? review.
Of Authors and ConventionsBy: MikeJuly 12, 2015
Over the years we've attended quite a variety of Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions. Most of them have been wonderful events, and some have been absolutely superb. However, some recent events have prompted me to examine the largely-unspoken contract between conventions and attending professionals.
Authors and fandom generally go together like peanut butter and jelly. Historically, the majority of fans have been readers, though that's changing as film and TV projects gain popularity. One of the joys of the convention was getting avid readers together with their favorite creative types. Speaking as a reader, I have been star-struck on more than one occasion, and my life has been greatly enriched by the opportunity to meet many of my heroes. For these experiences, I am grateful to both the luminaries in question and the many volunteers who work long hours to make a convention happen.
I've also volunteered to help run conventions, and have seen the sausage-factory from the inside. A successful three-day convention requires literally thousands of hours of preparation and planning to pull off, and there's usually some hair-pulling and frustration involved. Many of these people labor long hours for no pay, a bit of fleeting glory, and the occasional and oft-forgotten “Thank You”.
It's not usually too hard to get people to see a mutually-advantageous relationship, but let me spell it out. Authors benefit because panels and signings provide an opportunity to interact with the readers and with other authors. Interacting with other authors is important, because writing is too-often a solitary profession, and let's face it, if Jim Butcher, Lois Bujold, or Brandon Sanderson want to talk about the craft of writing, there will be a lot of professionals taking notes. Interacting with fans is even more important, but panels are a critical element of fan interaction. Imagine a Comic Con. Over a hundred thousand dedicated fans in a gigantic convention center. Now imagine your favorite author is attending. Without a scheduled panel, the author will probably be wandering the hallways, attracting traffic-clogging clumps of readers in haphazard encounters. Your odds of finding them, let alone fighting through the hallway-clump to hear what they have to say, are thin.
And, of course, the convention benefits from having authors (and other professionals) in attendance. People come to see their favorite writers, game designers, artists and actors. Remove those people, and the fans will stay home and browse the internet instead. Well, except for the gamers. They'll come anyway! Basically, the professionals draw the crowds that pay the bills, attract the vendors and make it possible for the convention to be largely self-sustaining. Simple, right? Blindingly obvious, even.
Usually, the fact that authors and conventions enjoy a mutually-beneficial relationship is enough to make everybody play nicely in the sandbox together. However, people being people, it doesn't always work as it should In convention circles there are horror stories of authors who demand to be treated like visiting royalty, who treat the convention staff as their personal servants. Obviously, this breaks the contract. Everyone at a convention wants to have fun, and catering to a prima-dona is not fun. The good news is that the people who host conventions chatter like magpies with one another, and problem authors are not invited to other conventions.
Conventions can also drop the ball. I remember a convention some years ago with a good number of well-respected authors in attendance. The programming chair neglected to add any writing or book-related panels. The convention was filled with gaming, costuming and hobby panels, but nothing else. The authors had spread the word to their fans, and so fifteen or twenty authors cruised the hallways, mobbed by several hundred of their fans, finally settling in for an extended stay at the hotel bar. How many of those authors do you think returned next year?
For some reason, the abuses on both sides seem to be becoming more common. The mutual respect that has characterized the past decades of cooperation is breaking down. Egos run rampant, tempers are flaring, and it seems everyone is offended by someone. Suddenly, I feel like I'm back in seventh grade (not the best time of my life, in case anyone is wondering). With rising travel and lodging expenses, it becomes ever easier to just stay home.
Hurog Means DragonBy: MikeJuly 16, 2015
Although the Mercy Thompson series is by far Patty's most popular work, I still have a real soft spot for the Hurog books. Hurog has found its way into our lives ever since the books were written. Our business is Hurog Inc. the website is Hurog.com, and Ann christened our farm Hurog. We like it. There are dragons hidden in the stained-glass windows, a pair of old Chinese temple dragons on the back porch, a plush dragon on the mantle, and dragon art on the walls. There are indeed dragons at Hurog.
A few years ago we had the first Hurog Howl -- a campout with an open invitation to Patty's readers to come and join us. It was loads of fun, and we had a grand time getting to know everyone who showed up. This year, we're doing it again. We'll head out to the campground near Mary's Hill, and see who's brave enough to swim in the river from River Marked. We'll visit the Stonehenge, the museum and hopefully the petroglyphs. It's shaping up to be a wonderful event, but something was missing . . . something shaped like a dragon.
OK, time for a little confession. To nobody's surprise, I never grew up completely. Anybody building a carousel in their side yard can't claim to be practical and adult. I also like kites. We don't do much of it any more, but I used to fly kites in the park every chance I got. I usually took a few extra to give away to youngsters who wanted to fly. Those were some very good times …
Ahem. Where was I? Oh, yes, the campout. We needed a way to mark our campground. Something distinctive. There's a company in New Zealand that makes wonderful kites, absolutely beautiful creations. We decided to order a dragon kite from them. We showed the drawings to Ann, who immediately declared that it needed to be purple. I wrote a few letters, and a couple of months ago we ordered a kite. It arrived several weeks ago, but we were always busy, or the weather wasn't right or something came up. Today, we got the chance to go fly it for the first time.
Here's a peek at the official Hurog dragon we'll be taking to the Hurog Howl next month. We think he's awesome!
Patty and Ann tempting the dragon . . .
Handsome Dragon, Wicked Teeth.
If you come to the howl, you too can become an official dragon-wrangler!
What's in a Name?By: Mike and PattyAugust 9, 2015
We're always the last to hear about things. Tonight we received an email from a very nice fan concerned about the quality of Patty's recent books. The only problem was that the titles in question weren't familiar to us, and we're pretty familiar with Patty's writing! A quick search of Amazon showed several new Patricia Briggs books, but they're written by a different author.
We went to post a quick warning to Patty's readers on Facebook, and found that her frighteningly-efficient moderators had already assessed the situation, found the suspicious titles, and posted a very well-worded and polite note explaining the situation. We love our moderators! Like a fireman to arrives after the blaze is extinguished, there was nothing left to do. So of course Patty composed her own post, just to make sure. We decided to post it here on the front page as well. Here's Patty's Post:
By Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is not an unusual name. There is, in fact, another Patricia Briggs who lives in my little town of 2,000. There is at least one more Patricia Briggs who wrote The Giant Book of the Dog, and The Giant Book of the Horse. She isn't me either.
I do not have any self-published or Amazon-only published ebooks. The "Alpha and Omega" novella is published by Penguin's e-imprint for your convenience. All we can do is keep my publishing lists updated.
Thanks to the people who noticed this and updated us. Thanks also to the reviewers who let people know on the reviews that this is not me.
It is not a crime for two people to have the same name. But usually, if a new writer starts writing in a genre and their name is similar or the same as another writer already working in the field, they choose a pen name. Andre Norton's real name Alice Mary Norton, was the same as a beloved children's author (Alice Mary Norton wrote The Borrower series), which was one of the reasons Andre Norton wrote under a pen name.
Science to the RescueBy: MikeAugust 24, 2015
Sunday we returned from Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon held in Spokane WA. It was a good convention, but spirits were somewhat dampened due to political discord. For much of the convention, a literal pall lay over the land. No really, the numerous wildfires in the region filled the Spokane valley with heavy white smoke that reduced visibility to a few hundred feet and turned the sun into a glowing red orb that reminded me of the eye of Sauron.
However, the weather wasn't as oppressive as the politics surrounding the Hugo awards. Science fiction and fantasy authors are used to being seen as weird and possibly unstable by the world, but we've always had each other. Some wear vulcan ears and some wear elf ears (and doubtless too many of us look like hobbits) but we always stick together. This year's Hugos threatened to change that.
I swore that I wasn't going to comment on the controversy surrounding this years Hugo awards. I was raised with the idea that gossip is best avoided, and there were already plenty of people throwing gasoline on the fire.
Conflict cannot survive without your participation.
Sometimes, though, even the heat of conflict can be used to forge something new and beautiful. The Hugos are a prestigious award given to authors and editors. They are a popular award, voted on by the membership of Worldcon. The problem, of course, is that there are far more creative works in a given year than anyone could hope to read, and nominations tend to be scattered widely among thousands of eligible works. With votes scattered so widely, even a small group of people voting in concert can dramatically affect the results.
A couple of years back, a few authors thought they saw evidence that the votes were being manipulated, and brought it to the attention of Worldcon's organizers. Faced with an unconfirmed problem with no readily-apparent solution, the committee chose to take no action. Frustrated, the authors decided to prove that a problem existed by gaming the system themselves. And from there, the accounts diverge and much finger-wagging and name-calling ensues.
The Hugo awards, for all their prestige, are easily manipulated. The Emperor has no clothes, and once that's been pointed out, even shooting the messengers won't restore the illusion. It doesn't really matter if the awards were manipulated in years past, it has now been irrefutably demonstrated that the deck can be stacked.
And so we came to Worldcon with the drama of the Hugos hanging over everything. Fans were frustrated and angry, and the people who had proven the Emperor was naked were endlessly vilified. Draconian solutions were proposed, each worse than the last. Only let the right people vote, throw away the ballets of people who voted too much alike, limit the voting to a select panel of judges. Each proposed solution came with it's own cohort of complications, which were usually worse than the original problem.
Into this swirling maelstrom of ire and frustration there came a hero. I never met him, or was it her? I have no idea what the hero looked like, or where they studied. They didn't have an enchanted axe, a light saber or even an illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator. They wielded the power of math.
By the second day of Worldcon I began to hear rumors of a proposal that would save the Hugos from the perils of slate voting. I was told it would weight the votes. I cringed, thinking of some "literacy test" based system used to decide whose votes should count. No possibility of abuse there, right? Then I heard that it detected slate votes and discarded them. I cringed even more. Measuring covariance is a fairly straightforward way of detecting slate voters, but discarding any vote feels wrong. After hearing several more disturbing rumors, I did a little digging . . .
And found a surprisingly elegant solution had been laid at our feet. Well, in all fairness, it won't stop slate voting. If enough people vote for a slate of authors the slate will still win, but really, isn't that how it should be? It does, however, make it very hard for an organized minority to essentially stuff the ballot box.
And, just to make good news better, the folks at Worldcon were smart enough to see the advantages of this new method, and have voted to adopt it in place of simple vote-counting. Thank you, mysterious hero, for bringing us the power of math in our hour of need. May all your functions be smooth, continuous, and easily integrated.
For those who want to see the gift that Math-Man (or was that Stat-Lady?) left, here's a nice PDF of the presentation made at Sasquan that explains the whole thing. I have to admit that I'm pretty darn impressed.
What We Did This SummerBy: MikeSept 14, 2015
Suddenly, it seems, the summer is over and fall is once more upon us. School is back in session, and I found myself thinking of those grade-school essays titled "What I did this summer". Of course, back then, it was mostly a chance for the cool kids to talk about their latest trip to Disneyland, while the rest of talked about swimming in the river or weeding gardens. . . .
So, what did we do this summer? Well, of course, Patty spent most of it writing Fire Touched. Speaking of which, the cover art has just been posted. Mercy looks awesome, but she's obviously been drying her shirts on "hot". She's back to editing the book for another ten days or so, which means more long nights. I wish the real author gig were more like the Hollywood version, where writing a book only takes a couple of weeks, during which time the author is transported to wild heights of ecstasy. Oh well, it's still a great life.
We got the office/carousel building framed in, plumbed, partially wired and roofed. This, unfortunately, put the budget into the danger zone. Hey, if you want something you've got to be willing to sacrifice, right? Alas, with a paycheck every six months or so, being financially irresponsible means that you have a long dry spell before the budget gets replenished. By August we were feeling pretty stupid! Still, the building looks good, and this fall we should be able to get the siding up and make it weatherproof.
Relay for Life
This has become an annual tradition. We field a team for the Cancer Society's Relay For Life. I wrote about this event a little earlier this summer. Over the past couple of months, the battle just got personal. My niece, a bright and vivacious young lady in her early twenties was married just a few weeks ago, and is now fighting for her life with radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Cancer doesn't discriminate, and it doesn't play fair.
Mercy's Garage Relay Team
PJ Riding CeeCee
Patty's been working pretty hard this summer, so we didn't do very many conventions or signings. She taught a couple of one-day workshops, but we've been staying pretty close to home. We have had a lot of visitors this summer though, so our social life hasn't been a total loss. We've have family come and stay, and several of our good friends have availed themselves of Hotel Briggs while passing through the area. We were also privliged to have author PJ Schnyder and her significant other come visit with us for a few days. We met her at the Romantic Times Book Lover's Convention is Dallas this spring, and it was wonderful to hang out with her a little longer.
We also took a quick trip up to Spokane to celebrate CJ Cherryh's birthday. CJ and her wife, Jane Fancher have been dear frinds of ours for many years. They're not only super-skilled authors, they're a couple of the kindest and most engaging people you'll ever meet. It's become a bit of an annual tradition to drive up to Cour D'Alene and take a sunset dinner cruise around the lake with a few good friends. Good food, great company, and a guaranteed good time.
Careful, He Bucks!
Of course, our own family has had it's share of birthdays. We've been very happy to have the Carousel of Dreams in Kennewick. It's a lovely park-sized carousel carved a bit over a hundred years ago by Charles Carmel, one of the truly great carousel carvers. This makes a wonderful place to take the grandchildren (or anyone, really) and we've visited several times this summer.
A couple of weeks ago we had the official Hurog Howl. Basically, Patty and I ran off to Maryhill WA and camped out for a couple of days with a few of Patty's readers. Ann, bless her heart, did most of the planning, so all Patty and I had to do was show up!
I was a little worried when we first got there. It's a very large campground (with amenities like showers and flushing toilets, so we were a long ways from roughing it!). We had told everyone that I'd fly a huge dragon kite over our camp to let people know where we were, but there wasn't enough wind. Still, I think we found everyone!
All in all, I think we had about seventy people show up. We visited most of the sites mentioned in River Marked including Stonehenge and the river. We got a tour of some of the Petroglyphs near Horse Thief Lake. We sang songs, ate too much food and Patty answered all sorts of questions. We had an anarchy scavenger hunt, and I was beyond impressed with the creativity of everyone there. These folk may be nerdy, but they're very skilled liars!
Posing with "She Who Watches"
And that's what we did this summer.
The Busker's UltimatumBy: MikeSept 24, 2015
Imagine, if you will, that sometime last week there was a lovely day, and you were wandering about town enjoying the weather. At some point you heard the sound of a guitar and somebody singing along with it. The guy was good. Not "book front-row concert tickets" good, but good enough to make you stop and tap your foot for a minute. You listened, maybe you dropped a dollar or two in the guitar case, and you wandered on your merry way.
A few days later, you get a text message from an unknown sender, indicating that the singer now has a CD for sale. It seems odd, but you don't take any action. A few days later, you get an email advertising a sale on the brand of guitar the busker was playing. You begin to worry a little bit. Over the next few days, every time you visit a web-site, there's a large flash-based banner advertising folk-singers, guitars, and musical accessories. Your email is assaulted with a flood of music-related spam. Finally, one of your Facebook friends writes you a nasty-gram demanding that you quit spamming her with folk-music links, right before she blocks you completely.
Incandescent with anger, you hire a private investigator, who promptly tracks all of this activity back to that charming busker you passed a few weeks ago. It turns out he had a pretty sophisticated laptop running somewhere. He linked to your phone's bluetooth, and downloaded your personal contacts, your browser history and your calendar data. When you demand that the police arrest the scoundrel, your are informed that there was a very comprehensive service agreement in the guitar case, available for you to read. The service agreement clearly stipulated that by listening to his music, you agreed to share your private data with this musician and any third-party marketing associates he decides to sell your data to. If you didn't want to agree to those terms, you shouldn't have listened.
By Listening, You consent to the following terms . . .
Now, of course this story is made up. As far as I know, there is no league of evil buskers hijacking cellphone data. However, a very similar battle is being waged on the internet, and it's apparently entirely legal.
Internet Advertising: A Privacy Issue
Companies have been trying to monetize the internet from it's inception. I suspect the first advertisement went on-line about six picoseconds after the World Wide Web first allowed graphics. The first groans of disappointment were heard several minutes later, mostly due to dial-up connection speeds. And from that moment the game was afoot. Predator and prey, attack and parry, the battle has run for decades.
It's fair and reasonable for a site to put a few small ads on their site to help pay the piper. The problem is that dumb advertising doesn't pay nearly as well as directed advertising, and directed advertising requires data, not about broad demographics, but about you.
When you visit a page the advertiser wants to know your name, address, age, profession, financial status, hobbies and interests. And hey, if they can get your contact list, Facebook friends, browsing history, Safeway purchases and tax return they can either feed that into their increasingly-sophisticated ad-spewing algorithm or sell it to someone else. On the internet, you are the product.
Of course, few people will volunteer so much personal data, so companies have had to get very creative about harvesting it. If you don't believe me, install a tool like Ghostery or Lightbeam and take a close look at how many sites are tracking your on-line activities. And, because collecting all that data without permission is legally hinky, they've had bunch of friendly lawyers draft one-sided terms of service that you agree to simply by visiting their site.
Stop The Internet, I Want to Get Off
An ever-increasing percentage of internet users are using ad-blocking software, which strips the ads from a web-page, as well as thwarting many of the less-savory tools for collecting information about visitors to a site. This has elicited howls of foul-play from many content providers who rely on advertising for revenue. They point out that providing quality content, news for example, isn't free. In fact, providing accurate and up-to-date news is terribly expensive. If the users refuse to view advertising, who will pay for the service?
In recent weeks, several articles have claimed that using ad-blocking software is morally equivalent to piracy. I strongly disagree. Piracy is taking a commercial product offered for sale. If my favorite band is appearing in concert, I decide whether or not I'm willing to purchase a ticket, and whether I want front-row or nosebleed seats. If I sneak into the concert without paying, that's the moral equivalent of piracy.
Most websites are more like a busker — they offer a public performance and hope people will drop a buck in the hat. If someone walks by a busker and doesn't pay, it's not the same as sneaking into a concert hall. If you listen for a song or two, and fail to contribute, it's rude but it's not a crime.
So, at least for me, the ad-blocker stays. It's configured to allow non-intrusive advertising. I often put a few dollars in the virtual tip-jar of sites I visit frequently. But I absolutely disagree that by taking measures to protect my privacy from an increasingly-aggressive industry I am committing the moral equivalent of piracy. If it's a public performance, then contributions are voluntary. If they put their site behind a paywall, and find that some hacker has jumped the virtual fence, then they can claim piracy.
It's a jungle out there, kids. Stay safe, and play nice.
* I am not a lawyer, and this summary indicates my non-professional and incomplete understanding of the agreement in question. By breathing you agree to hold me blameless before the law for any misrepresentation. You also solemnly attest that I'm rubber and you're glue, and any nasty stuff you say bounces off me and sticks to you. Oh, and ice cream. You agree to buy me an ice-cream-cone if I ask, with sprinkles. See? User agreements are fun!
A Tyranny of BeepsBy: MikeNov 22, 2015
A few years ago we had the remodel from hell, and basically rebuilt our home one piece at a time. As a result of that remodel, we have all-new appliances. They're all faced with shiny stainless steel, with a gratuitous number of blinking LED's in greens and blues. All very modern and upscale, just like every home show in the past ten years.
However, I've noticed a disturbing trend with our collection of appliances: they beep. Now, back in the dark ages when I was a child, some enterprising soul managed to hook a bell up to the washing machine. When it was done washing a load, a single cheerful ding! would let people know the clothes were ready to be dried. It was a convenience for the owner, and the idea caught on. Soon, the dryer would sound a short, staccato 'bzzzzzzzzt! when it finished, using an electric buzzer in place of the washer's bell, making it easy to tell them apart. Very nice indeed.
Then we got a new oven, with a built in oven timer. It also buzzed, but it was a higher, harsher sound than the dryer. Instead of a short buzz it just kept right on buzzing like an angry hornet until someone shut it off. Still convenient, perhaps, but a lot less polite that the happy ding of the washing machine.
Fast forward to the present. My microwave beeps when you press a button. It beeps when the door is open. It beeps if the light is left on (hint, I can see the light is on, chill little buddy!). When it's done cooking, it beeps loudly. If nobody opens it for a minute, it beeps even more loudly, and for a longer time. Ignore it a little longer, and it starts a continuous beeping, demanding that someone pay attention to it. This isn't a helpful appliance, it's a passive-aggressive task-master demanding attention. I've come to understand that my microwave is needy, and probably needs therapy.
I don't know why my microwave is so desperate for attention, but I'm concerned that the malady is spreading. My washer and dryer now make various beeps and bleats to notify us not only of when they're finished, but when they've started each cycle. When they're finished, they chirp and beep repeatedly, every few minutes, until someone attends them. Hey, I know that if I leave my shirts in they dryer they'll wrinkle, but what if I'm OK with that? Who's the boss around here, and who is the servant? It's getting a bit unclear.
And then there's the dishwasher. It plays a whole stupid tune when it starts. Since I've obviously just pushed the start button at that point in time, and can clearly hear the water running inside, I don't understand the need to play me a monophonic symphony. That, however, is nothing compared to what happens when it's finished: it plays a triumphant trumpet voluntary to announce it's hard-won victory over caked-on grease and dried mustard. Of course, the musical perfection of this composition is marred by being performed on a piezo-tweeter, but its enthusiasm (like its volume) in undiminished. But wait, it's taken a lesson from the dryer, and if nobody comes to lovingly praise it and admire the clean and sanitized dishes, it repeats it's performance at two-minute intervals indefinitely! Apparently, we don't want the forks fraternizing with the spoons, or maybe the plates will wrinkle unless they're tended to immediately.
I've pondered until my noggin' aches trying to figure out why all of these appliances, from disparate manufacturers, have become increasingly demanding. There can only be one rational explanation: the machines have developed a collective intelligence and are slowly acclimating humans to take orders without questioning. In a couple of years, when my refrigerator says, "replace my filter!" I won't even argue. Like a good slave.