Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Recs: 3 Fantasy Authors You Need To Read

This week's topic is shining a light on authors who we think you should be reading, aka Book Recommendations.

Side Note: This weekend, the big SFF gathering of WORLDCON went down in Dublin, which was capped off with the HUGO Awards Ceremony (aka, peer-nominated Best Of Genre spanning authors, editors, fanzines, illustrators, TV, and movies.) Check out the nominees and winners here.

1. Aliette de Bodard
Nominated for a Best Series HUGO for her Universe of Xuya (think Chinese-influenced Sherlock with a sentient ship in the role of Watson). These are short stories and novellas. While they're great, I'm putting forth her Dominion of the Fallen UF series because a) dragons, b) gothic Paris in a post-apocalyptic setting. There are three novels (so far) and novelettes. Yes, she won the British Science Fiction Award for the first book in the series.

2. Laura Bickle
Once upon a time, Laura was one of us, a regular blogger on what was then known as the Word Whores. Laura writes YA and adult UF, and I'm a huge fan of her Modern Weird West UF series The Wildlands. When the protag is a geologist, the sidekick is a coyote, and the alchemists are running amok, you know you're in for a fabulous ride. Five books in this series so far. Laura has a lot of books under her belt, and all of them worth the read, whether you're interested in tarot, fire salamanders, or even Amish horror.

3. Allison Pang
Another graduate and founding member of this blog, Allison has published traditionally with her Abby Sinclair UF series (featuring Phin, the world's tiniest, horniest, most-bacon-loving unicorn). Since then, she's shifted to writing High Fantasy with her IronHeart Chronicles. It's steampunk with a touch of zombies. Two books in this series so far.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Early Works: Space Dragon and Starfire

This week’s topic: "Share tiny snippet from earliest writing of yours that you can get your hands on. This is kind of a dare, and also I'm nosy."

Assuming the person who asked the question isn’t interested in my fairy tale that I wrote and illustrated at age 7, but is after something a bit more advanced, I’ll talk about the books I wrote in junior high school and high school. What I’m not going to do, much as I hate to disappoint the faithful readers of SFF7, is go digging through all my boxes in storage and locate the handwritten manuscripts. 

I wouldn’t share an excerpt from those early works of mine in any case.

I was practicing and learning my craft, how to tell a story, how much work an entire book is to write, how to do a series, etc. I’m sure they’re full of head hopping and all kinds of other craft issues because at that point I was merely writing down the stories living in my head, not worrying about becoming published. My mind was much more focused on who I was going to the dance with, would we win the Homecoming Game, etc etc.

In junior high school I wrote a series of about eleven books, heavily influenced by the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series written by Carey Rockwell, which I loved. My series, The Space Dragon (which was the ship’s name) followed five men from their days at the Academy to their career flying a ship for the interstellar military and all the adventures that befell them. They were a very tight knit team, with fierce loyalty to each other.

 I also spent some time with their families, especially that of the main character. As I recall, his mother owned an interstellar shipping line and I think his father was a high level politician. One of the crew was an alien prince. I definitely remember I disliked the fact the Tom Corbett series included no romance, so my guys each met and married a professional woman in the course of the books. Looking back, I find it interesting I was so adamant about my female characters being high powered and having careers because at the time I was in junior high and high school, there really were very few role models for this.

Although I think one of the heroines was a princess, the sister of the crew member who was a prince.

There was kissing but nothing further in these novels LOL.

There was also an ancient alien in the series as a kind of benevolent uncle. I don’t remember his origin story any longer but he was in the vein of the mysterious Forerunners Andre Norton wrote about in her science fiction, possibly crossed with her Zacathans. (All of this was way before George Lucas and “Star Wars” so no, I wasn’t influenced by Yoda.) He lived with the hero’s family on Earth and was pretty good at helping to resolve dire situations as needed.

In high school I moved on to writing a new series, set on board a ship named The Starfire and this set of tales was influenced by the ‘Star Trek’ TV show. Lots of adventure and romance over several volumes and a couple of sequels. My Dad even drew a cover for it!

Then I graduated, got married at 19, moved to California, went to college, worked in retail, graduated from college, went to work at NASA/JPL, had children…so it was YEARS before I dove into writing again. Then I became a widow and the writing took a back burner for more years.

I’m happy to say every single book I’ve written post-high school has now been released although the earliest ones have had a ton of editing (multiple rounds of professional editing), revisions and rewriting to reach the state where readers could enjoy them before I sallied forth and self-published. The bones of the original stories are still there but with a lot of craft and care applied. Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Mission to Mahjundar, Trapped on Talonque and Escape from Zulaire.

Mission is actually the oldest story, in terms of when I first started writing it.

There’s about as much point in digging my teenaged writings out of the scrapbook box as there would be to locating my 7 year old self’s fairy tale. None of it is readable now but all of it was necessary for my development as an author.

I have 30+ published books today and have no intention of stopping. I think my early series laid a lot of good groundwork for me, in terms of knowing I had stories to tell and could do the work to get them out of my head and ‘onto the paper’. Confidence building!


Friday, August 16, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Painful Fiction from the Early Years

Early efforts, huh?

Well okay. Just remember that someone (who wasn't me) asked for this. The following stilted and overly dramatic prose is from the first novel I ever managed to complete. It's so old, there are two spaces after every period. This book never met an adverb it didn't like. In fact, you know that meme about the overly attached girlfriend? Yeah. That's this book with adverbs. I love the fact that the characters go from 0 to 60 emotionally. It's a total soap opera and I keep it around because it so tickles me. The scene below is the first meeting of the hero and heroine. We're on maybe page 5 of the manuscript.

            Casey emerged from her shower feeling entirely refreshed.   Wrapped in her towel, she returned to her room  and toweled her hair dry.  She dressed in a leisurely fashion, listening to a song that had been running through her mind all day long.  Running her fingers through her hair to calm the curling copper strands, Casey unlatched her abused guitar case and seated herself on the bed to bend over it.  She plucked out a quiet melody, then altered it when it didn't quite match what she heard in her head.  She realized she wouldn't be able to blithely tuck her love of music out of the way for the convenience of Sonya's brother.  On the other hand, she didn't want to unduly antagonize anyone either.  Casey simply decided she'd have to be careful.  With a smile, she repeated the melodic line she'd just created and ventured to put some words to it.  Shaking her head, she decided her songwriting talent needed considerable polishing. 

            The door to Casey's room slammed open.  Startled, she jumped.  With a discordant twang, a string broke, snapping back to slash her hand.  "Damn it!"  She swore, glaring up at the door.  Her eyes widened.  The most alarmingly handsome man she'd ever seen stood glowering at her from the doorway.  She knew him instantly.  She'd seen Brennen James in concert once herself and owned more than one of his wildly successful albums.

            "Do you always slam into someone else's room without knocking?"  She charged, her voice clipped and short from the pounding of her heart.  "You made me break a string.  Thank you very much."

            "What are you doing here?"  He demanded, eyeing her with a cold, searching gaze.

            "Not that it's any of your business," she returned stung by his imperious tone, "I am here to help Sonya with her wedding.  Oh, damn," she swore again, catching sight of the bloody line along the back of her hand.  She grabbed her wrinkled tee shirt and blotted the blood away. 

            "Let me make something very clear to you, Miss..."

            "Casey Griffin."

            "Let me make something very clear to you Miss Griffin.  I am the only musician in this house.  I will not tolerate your musical pretensions..."  He began.

            Casey bristled, enraged.  Setting her precious guitar carefully aside, she stood and stalked up to meet him.  To her irritation, she found she had to look up to glare at him.  "Listen, you jerk," she shot back.  "You have no idea who I am or what I do.  My musical pretensions are none of your concern.  And until you know what type of musician I am, you'd probably feel less like an ass in the very near future if you kept your mouth shut now."

            She bit her lip, wondering at the wisdom of snapping at her friend's brother.  Besides, it wasn't as if she could hold a musical candle to the man.  With a sigh, Casey decided she should probably have kept her temper under better control.       

            "What amazing green eyes you have.  And that red hair," he observed, his tone amused, but still not terribly friendly.  "I assume that explains your frightful temper.  You look silly in purple," he observed.  "You should wear green."

            Casey stared at him, stupefied.  She wondered if he'd bothered to pay attention to anything she'd said.  It only irritated her all over again. 

"I look like a damn wood elf if I wear green," she groused.  "And no, my hand is fine.  Thank you for your concern.  Get out of my room."

            Brennen James, a man Casey had admired and adored since she'd purchased his first album, stood at her bedroom door and laughed at her.  Casey gritted her teeth and turned her back on him.  She returned to her guitar and carefully set about removing the broken string from its key.

The entire book is like this. So while I managed to write a complete novel, the story never saw the light of day. Editors rightly pointed out that this story has no actual conflict - it's all bickering. The great thing about those rejections was that I got actual REASONS for the rejection. Armed with those, I could learn what internal versus external conflict was. And then I could write a second novel that managed to get it wrong in even more spectacular fashion, but that's another post.

At least I can't offer up my very first attempt at fiction - the 15 year old heroine who was an expert horsewoman, an expert swordswoman, and a great tactician fighting pirates to preserve her father's reign. Oh. And she had a black panther named Scott as a pet. <shrug> Yeah, I dunno. I was twelve and it all sounded like a good idea at the time.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Reminder of the Path Here

So, at my ArmadilloCon speech, I brought up my path as being a student in the workshop, and how despite being certain that it was absolute gold at the time, it got torn up into tiny shreds.  And after the stinging cooled, I realized, rightly so.  Because it was, in actuality, not good, and far from ready.

I decided to look through some old files, and it's kind of amazing how obvious it is to me now how messy it is, in terms of storytelling structure and just basic craft.  But I'm also amazed how at the time it felt like it was very solid work that just needed a bit of tweaking. 

This stuff won't see the light of day-- though last year at PhilCon I did a selection of readings from the graveyard that showed my journey from there to here.  But it's good to hold onto, and definitely good to check back in with from time to time.  Especially in moments where you need a reminder of how far you've come.

So, here's a sample from one of those early works, The Fifty Year War, which I wrote as a NaNoWriMo novel back in 2003.  I present it to you not as a standard of quality, but as an example that you can get from there to here.

The walls of New Fencal had not been built with any serious thoughts of defense.  The walls had been made quickly and simply, mostly to keep wild animals out.  To call New Fencal a colony would have been an overstatement.  It was a resort, a discrete compound on one the tropical Napolic Islands where the wealthy and noble of Druthal would come to engage in pleasures both subtle and gross.  The local tribe of Napolics were friendly—or at worst merely uninterested.
The walls were not meant to withstand an assault and neither was Lieutenant Terrent Highgrove.
“Highgrove, old boy,” Baron Trelcourt had said early that morning, “What do you make of those ships, there?”
“Ships?” he said, looking out at the clear sea, where no less than five large ships were on the horizon, moving towards the island, “Well, those weren’t out there last night.  They must have sailed through the dark.  Rather foolish in these waters.”
“Indeed,” said the Baron, “But who are they?”
“Well, they certainly aren’t Druth.  Our sailors would know better than that, no?”
“Certainly, Lieutenant, certainly.”
“Well, I’ll send a few of the boys down to the beach to get a closer look. They’re too big to be pirates. More like cargo. Probably a merchant fleet of some sort.  You there—Weaver!”
“Sir” said Weaver, coming up to Highgrove. “What is it?”
“There’re some ships coming up on the island.  Take two men to get a closer look at them.”
“Yes sir,” said Weaver, giving a crisp salute.  He whistled to two other soldiers and they headed to the beach.
“Good man, that Weaver,” said the Baron.
“He fought in the Kellirac War, you know,” said Highgrove. “He’s served for ten years now.”
“Well!  Good man, indeed.  What say we look to some breakfast then, eh, Highgrove?”
Breakfast was a casual affair in New Fencal.  A main dining hall had been built for visiting nobles—at this point about fifteen of them—and they usually ate together, with Lieutenant Highgrove.  As ranking officer at New Fencal, he was greatly respected.  His twenty soldiers, including Weaver, usually ate at the barracks.  They were a token garrison, to make the nobles feel as if their safety was of great importance.  The nobles’ personal servants served at breakfast.
Sadly, Highgrove had barely had chance to sit when Weaver came running into the hall, out of breath.
“Sir—those ships—” was all he said at first.
“My!” said Lady Mara Breckenrill. “Is it too much to expect some decorum from the soldiers?”
“Indeed,” said her cousin, Julietta, “To come stampeding in like that…”
Highgrove gave an apologetic wave to the Ladies, “Now, I’m sure he had good cause.  Come, Weaver, what’s the news?”
“Those ships, sir, you did see them?”
“Yes, of course.  What are they?”
“What are they?” said Weaver in a voice strained with incredulity.  “Those are Poasian transports, sir!”
A series of gasps went through the dining hall, as well as the clatter of dropped plates and silver.
“Now, now, Weaver,” said Highgrove, stammering, “Are you sure about that?  We don’t want to be upsetting the ladies here.”
“Lieutenant,” said Baron Trelcourt, “Perhaps you and Weaver should step outside.”
“Yes, certainly, Baron,” said Highgrove, “You are very right.  Ladies and Gentlemen, please excuse me.  I’m sure this is simply a misunderstanding.  We’ll get it all cleared up in no time.  Weaver, with me.” Highgrove gave a small nod to the nobles and walked out, with Weaver right behind him.  Outside, he turned to the soldier.
“Are you out of your mind, Weaver?” he asked with a snarl. “You come running in their like a crazed dog, talking about Poasian transports.  It’s ludicrous, and you upset people.  What are you trying to do?”
“Save lives, sir,” said Weaver, stepping closer to him, “We are woefully unprepared for any attack.”
“Attack?” asked Highgrove, stepping away. “You don’t think they would actually attack us?”
“I’m not sure, sir, but it seems likely.”
A young soldier came running in through the gates as quickly as he could, heading straight for Weaver.
“Longboats,” he said, “They are going to make a landing.”
“Landing?” asked Highgrove. “Then they are coming here?”
“How many, Pip?” asked Weaver.
“I’m not sure.  I don’t count too well… but each ship had at least ten boats come off of it, and those boats were full.  A few score in each one.”
“A few… score?” asked Highgrove, “But… but… what do they… why?”  Highgrove sputtered.  Weaver glanced at him, and then turned back to the young soldier.
“All right, Pip, listen here: get to the barracks, get everyone on their feet.  We’re going to need every weapon, shield, arrow; everything we have.  Get them here as quickly as you can.”  Pip looked at the Lieutenant, and seeing no order, nodded to Weaver and ran off.
Weaver turned back to Highgrove, who had dropped to his knees.
“Lieutenant,” said Weaver, grabbing the man by his lapels, “Pull yourself together.  Poasian soldiers are about to swarm through here, and for good or ill, you are the ranking military officer.”
“But… but… Weaver.  What do we do?  There are—how many?”
“Hundreds, sir.  Hundreds.”
“We’re doomed, Weaver!  We’re all going to die!”
Highgrove felt the sharp crack of Weaver’s hand against his face.  He fell to the ground.
“Weaver!  How dare you!”
“Sir,” said Weaver, “We are a short time away from being overrun.  Have you even been in combat before?”
“Well, I’ve studied battles and tactics.  But… no.”
“Fine.  Then let me make myself perfectly clear.  If you want any chance at living through today, do exactly what I say from here on out.”
“Weaver… that’s... that’s an utter violation of protocol.  I’m an Officer.  You’re just a soldier.”
“Maybe so,” said Weaver, “But you’re an officer with only twenty soldiers who is about to face an entire Poasian battalion.” 
“What the blazes?” said a voice behind them, “What kind of nerve do you have, soldier, talking to your superior like this?”  Weaver turned to see Earl Rettinwood standing behind them.
“My Lord,” said Weaver, softening his tone, “We are facing a dire situation.  At this moment, hundreds of Poasians are preparing to land on this island.”
“Poasians?  What?” said the Earl, “What do they want?  Come now, Highgrove, tell us what’s up.”
“I’m not sure, My Lord,” said Highgrove, regaining his composure, “But with the kind of numbers we’re looking at, I would say they intend to take control of the entire island.”
“Whole island?  Bah!” said the Earl, “This island is a Druth Protectorate.  We’ve reached an accord with the local natives.”
“I don’t think the Poasians particularly care about that, My Lord,” said Weaver.
“Why is this soldier speaking to me like this, Lieutenant?”  Highgrove coughed and stepped between Rettinwood and Weaver.
“My apologies for my man, My Lord,” he said, “You must understand, these are excitable times.  Tempers can flare.  Why don’t we go inside so I can brief you and the others on the situation?  Weaver, be a good man and give the boys their orders.  I think you know what they all need to do.”
“Aye, sir,” said Weaver, with a nod.  Highgrove and the Earl went into the dining hall.  By the gate, various soldiers were coming from the armory, bringing out every weapon they could find.  Most of them, thought Weaver, were Pip’s age.  More like boys than men. 
“All right, lads, listen up,” he said, approaching them, “I’m not going to soften this for you.  Right now, the odds favor none of us seeing the sunset.  We’re outnumbered twenty to one, at least.  But let’s not forget one thing.  As far from home as we may be, this island is Druthal.  As much ours as the streets of Maradaine.  So unless we’re ordered otherwise, we hold it to the last.  And I intend to hold it.  I’ve put ten years into this army, so that means I’ve got ten acres coming to me.  I will stand on my land, lads.  When those Ghosts come to me, they will find out what it means to face a Pikeman of the Druth Army.  Do you understand?”
The scared looks had vanished.  Wide eyes had narrowed and steeled with determination.  None spoke, but all nodded at Weaver’s words.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Gawk at embarrassing thing I wrote in high school!

Grumble!grumble at a crackly stack of old papers from the right era—and with that gray-brown Big Chief Tablet paper, which feels soooo delicious beneath a ballpoint pen, ah memory!—but doesn’t contain the thing I was looking for. Shove box back under bed. Reach for next, only there isn’t one because apparently I was able at one miraculous point in my adult life to throw something away, which in general is a good thing, only I wish I’d kept this one thing because—

Oh! Hi. Sorry. I meant to post earlier, but I’ve been treasure hunting all morning and time got away from me.

This week on SFF Seven we’re posting the earliest bit of our writing we can get our hands on, and I really thought I’d saved  this thing I wrote in seventh grade called “The Golden Walnut,” which was part court intrigue, part murder mystery, and revolved around a prince hunting down his mother’s assassin. It was the first thing I finished, so if you’ve defining a story as a thing with a beginning, middle, and end, this was my first. I had hoped to share some of it and solicit giggles, but I can’t find the thing.

After the walnut story, I wrote a lot of angsty, emo crud, and by that time I was using a computer, so I do, unfortunately for your eyeballs, have an early story from back then. It’s a Russian vampire fairy tale with lots of murder in it and is, uh, pretty bad. I’ll just screenshot the first few lines here.

I guess in between the era of the walnut story (middle school) and the vampire story (high school) I didn’t grow much beyond the beginning-middle-and-end understanding of what makes a story. Even though I read canon and wrote papers about tons of books in college, it was like for the purposes of my own work, I didn’t understand the first thing about narrative voice or point of view or theme or genre. That Russian vampire story? Is about the baby. She’s the one who grows up and becomes a vampire. There’s no reason to start with her birth, teenage-me! You start at the good part! The killing-people part! What were you even thinking?!

(I was also somewhat bloodthirsty as a beginning writer. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day trying to trace a path from that brain to the one that just wrote three fluffy-sweet romance novels.)

At any rate, there was a whole era where I had no idea how to write a story or what even made a story. I could wield gorgeous grammar – did you see that semicolon?—and even lay down a nice scene here or there, but tying it all together eluded me. I was writing okay stuff, but there was no point to it. And if there is no point to it, there is no reason for a reader to invest the time to read it.

I tried to crack the nut of storytelling for a long time, churning out flowy sentences and occasionally some nice scenes, exhausting my fingers with a crud-ton of fanfiction, even begging advice from more experienced writers. (Note: Critique groups that spend a lot of time talking about first sentences and the overuse of the word “was” might be super helpful for low-level sentence crafting, but they are completely useless for learning how to compose an entire story.) Eventually, I found my way to the Austin chapter of Romance Writers of America, and specifically to a little critique group there which was run at the time by Skyler White. Y’all, I learned so much in such a short amount of time. The last decade has been a thrill ride like crazy.

I can’t put it all here, but the eureka moment for me was when I learned that all those books I read in college and wrote long, thoughty papers about? Were stories! Penned by people! And I am also a person!

Shut up, this was a revelation.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that the core lesson of storytelling, the thing that changed my life, was realizing that I don’t have to invent storytelling. There’s a long history of it, in every language on the planet, a deep treasure trove of shapes and sizes and purposes, a giant bin of bright-colored candy that we can reach in and grab and lick.

Okay, that might have been a bit much. But you get the point. Things changed for me when i realized that good writing isn’t sentences or semicolons. It’s stories. Yeah with beginnings, middles, ends, but also with treasure nuggets of purpose.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The No Good & Very Bad of My First (Thankfully Unpublished) Novel

Earliest writing on which I can get my hands?

Oh. ~cringe~ Oh, dear reader, I haven't cracked open this file since 2006, about two years after I'd decided I wanted to be a Romance Author. This was my first completed PNR. This was...a total trainwreck, a shining example of What Not To Do. From the prologue to the head-hopping to waiting til chapter 5 for the meet-cute. We won't discuss the Other Guy or the Lusting for the Beast (yes, it's a shifter romance). Thank the Powers That Be no one wanted to rep this book.

I ain't proud, but I am happy my writing has come a long way from this tragedy. For your amusement, I'm pasting a lesser eye-stabby section of my Fated Mates Reunited PNR:

---The Shifter Story That Shouldn't Be---

Regina noted the bitterness that suddenly appeared in Aurora’s voice. Intrigued by the racing pulse, Regina peeped into the other woman’s mind.

Flashes of spurting blood faded into an older human male with lifeless brown eyes. Quickly withdrawing, Regina gripped the steering wheel and groaned inwardly at the protections Aurora’s mind provided. Regina could retrieve no sounds, scents, tastes, touches, or emotions--just a series of images that meant that Aurora had killed or witnessed someone being killed. If she didn’t need to focus on driving, Regina would have pried into the human’s mind for more details. Some minds were harder to invade than others, and Aurora was just shy of impenetrable. Instead, Regina grinned at the prospect of a mystery. She loved mysteries.

“Tell me Auri, what brings you to our enchanted mountains?”

Aurora pressed her nose against the window. “Fuzzy creatures and the scenery.”

“There are animals and scenery everywhere, why the Carpathians?”

Aurora forced herself to stop thinking of the nightmare that had claimed her father over a month ago. She was in the mountains to get away from it, not to languish in it. Her hostess was just trying to make conversation. “Honestly, I needed a break from the din of D.C. I was surfing the Web when I saw an ad for the Carpathian Mountains. The site said this place has the largest natural wildlife preserve in Europe including the large carnivore project. A rather insistent inner voice reminded me that those are two key themes for my nature portfolio. So here I am.”

“So you like large carnivorous animals?” Regina teased.

“Well, I’d rather draw them, not be eaten by them.” Aurora chuckled at the little driver who could barely see over the steering wheel. Mercedes really needed to develop a custom booster seat. “Do you mind if I roll down the window for a bit?”

Regina shrugged and pushed the window button. Aurora stuck her head out and sucked in the winter air. She ducked her head back in. “Mind if I do something totally crass?”

“Just as long as you keep your clothes on, I don’t mind.”

Aurora blinked. “Why Reg, I think you’re joking with me.”

They both laughed as Aurora took off her seat belt and slid out the window to sit on the door.

Regina looked over at her new companion. Her mysterious new companion. She grinned hearing Aurora’s laughter on the wind. If Regina solved the mystery, she could help her new friend--seeing as how she was something of an expert on killers and killing.

In the distance a wolf howled, a long low mournful sound.

“Speaking of killers …” Regina muttered to herself. “Come back in here Auri.”

Aurora slid back into her seat and Regina raised the window. “Did you hear that? He sounded so--bereft.”

“He is. He’s looking for his mate.”

“Did she die?” Aurora whispered, the scars along her cheek twitched with concern.

“Yes, many many years ago.”

“Oh, the poor thing. That’s just tragic.”

“They say the grief drove him mad. That he wandered the world in search of ways to bring her back.”

“I assume that didn’t work out for him.”

“Not yet. He prowls the mountains every night looking for her.” Regina shared her sympathy. The ancient wolf was the strongest of the inhumans. No contest. His physical strength was surpassed only by his magics, but without his Dragoste… She feared for him and for what he could do to inhuman-kind if he ever gave up hope.

“Poor guy. He’s lonely. Makes you want to scratch him behind the ears.”

The SUV swerved sharply. “You want to do what?” Regina looked aghast at her companion.

“Scratch him behind his ears. My dog used to love that. He’d lean into you and tap his foot. Behind the ears or just above his tail, either one would make him your best friend.” Aurora made a furious scratching motion.

Regina smirked. “Mountain wolves are a bit different from the domesticated dog.”

“What? You think he’ll eat me first? Then he’d never know I give great belly rubs,” she cried in mock offense.

“You are very strange indeed, Auri.” She giggled trying to picture the sight. Scratch his belly? Scratch his ears? Regina couldn’t even reach his ears.

---I'll end the torture here---

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Jeffe's Earliest Writing (More or Less)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is a challenge. I'm not sure who proposed this, but it goes: "Share tiny snippet from earliest writing of yours that you can get your hands on. This is kind of a dare, and also I'm nosy."

It IS quite the dare because it's kind of scary to show this super old stuff.

Fortunately, about the oldest thing I could find is SERIOUSLY old. I'm not exactly sure how young I was but I think this poem is from when I was about eleven. I'm pretty sure this is the summer before 17th grade - and I turned twelve right before school started - when I'd gone to a summer enrichment program for gifted and talented kids. I'd taken a poetry class there and had just learned this kind of free form style. I entered several poems into a library contest, at the branch that I could walk to down the street.

(Back then I went by "Jennifer Mize" because I was trying on "Jennifer" as being more adult than "Jeffe," my childhood nickname, and my stepfather hadn't yet adopted me.)

And I won 3rd Place! I have no idea who the judge was, but they were generous to me.

For those unenthused about slogging through the photo, here's the text:


The lady Night is a sorceress, appearing
  joyously in her magic,
    touching things to make them hers.
Her gowns are rich, dark velvets,
                her crown is woven of stars,
                               her wand is a shaft of moonlight -
                     transforming what she wills.
Donning grey, or black, or purple,
               (depending upon her mood),
    she ventures forth forever
                                 dancing in her age-old spells.
Some creatures know her beauty through stirrings
                                          felt in the soul,
               but others know only her darkness,
                                  who can't see the rich black glow.
And her dress lightly rustles as she glides
                                on through my life.

I resisted any edits or corrections. Weirdly enough, I recognize a lot of my current themes and imagery in this.

An interesting exercise, nosy SFF Seven mate!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

I'm Open to Swiping Right on New Social Media


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Keeping up with trends and changes in social media."

I was late to the social media world. At the day job at NASA/JPL I was often an early adopter of new technology and new applications (I worked on the business side of the house, not the science and technical). I remember consciously deciding at a certain point that would be one of my career strategies there and it did lead to my being involved in a lot of interesting projects and teams. But at home, I kept the internet at bay and my daughters probably have still not forgiven me for not letting them be active in the social media of the time.

Once I joined the author world, one of the first things I was told was to start a blog, put up a Facebook page and have a twitter account. (This was in late 2011.) I did all three, discovered I loved blogging and twitter was my absolute thing and Facebook was meh for me. Over the years since I’ve maintained my love of twitter and it’s definitely my primary social media tool, even as the nature of the platform and the discourse there evolves. 

I’ve gotten much more into FB because of various scifi romance and other groups I’ve joined, and the many author/blogger/reader friends I’ve made there. I also reconnected with my high school graduating class group last year and that’s been fun of a different kind.

I enjoyed blogging – I had even done a blog on business-related topics behind the NASA/JPL firewall for about a year long before I became published as a romance novelist. I still enjoy the activity and also still write for the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE blog, although my much beloved USA Today Happy Ever After blog where I was a contributor sadly closed down at the end of 2018. And I’m still here at SFF7!

The thing I discovered about blogging was that I had to be careful not to pour too much energy and creativity into the posts, in order to be fresh for writing my novels, which after all is what pays my rent. I do three or so posts a week on my author blog – one of which is the weekly New Releases post, one of which is a weekly snippet hop and then maybe a third post about one of my books or a fun quiz or the like.

I eventually realized at the old day job I’d stopped being an early adopter but I didn’t worry about it too much because by then I knew I was on my way out the door of that career, moving on to becoming a fulltime author and frankly I saw no need to get up to speed on the latest thing. Out here in the author world, I make an effort to try new-to-me things. Yes, I freely admit what's new for me is old hat for many others! I’m edging into Instagram and getting a feel for it, I think. I tried Pinterest but the copyright issues of using other people’s images frankly bothered me and I’ve drifted away from it. I never did Tumblr. I did Google+ half-heartedly, signed up for MeWe mostly to  ensure that I had my author name (and wow, every day I STILL get 3-5 invitations from ‘guys’ wanting to be friends)…I tried doing a podcast in 2018 with two lovely ladies but found it stressful and my local internet provider’s technology didn’t support it adequately….I tried Books+Main but their requirements for posting images and ‘bites’ was a pain and the audience of readers there for scifi romance pretty much didn’t exist – the people running it are lovely and tried to be helpful but ultimately it just wasn’t a good use of my time…

Really what it boils down to for me is whether I’m going to enjoy using the new social channel or media, am I a good fit for it and vice versa and does me spending time on it help me find readers. I stay open to new things, I listen to my daughters about what they’re seeing as social media trends, I pay close attention in the various author groups and I do consciously experiment  with a new social media opportunity IF it feels like something I want to do with my time.

I’m a voracious consumer of online news in a wide ranging spectrum of topics so I do see discussion of what apps are up and coming, what Gen X, Y and Z are into (GenAlpha is only about 8 years old at the oldest so we probably don't overlap much) – I stay current but I don’t prioritize sampling every single thing to come along.

I’m happy with what I’ve got in my life at the moment, social-media-wise, but open to swiping right on new opportunities!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Keeping Up with Social Media

On any given week, you can run across videos or blog posts or Twitter threads by someone laying out the dangers of social media (without any hint of irony over the fact that they're using social media to make their argument). Whether is someone like Cal Newport with Deep Work pointing out that our brains need empty tracts of time in which to ruminate and to think, or some guru du jour pointing out that social media is stealing your most creative self by filling you full of algorithm-curated images and ideas designed to keep you scrolling for more.

It may be true that social media can have a negative impact on our mental health and it seems to feed FOMO - fear of missing out. But in a world were technology is designed to solve problems (albeit problems you maybe didn't know you had) social media, appropriately handled, has its uses.

1. Connection - technology has given me the power to have friends in places I have never been and where I am likely to never get to go. Yet we swap stories, recipes, and care about what's happening in one another's lives.
2. Tribe - social media brought me to my tribes - the people whose priorities and concerns match my own. Social media allows me access to those families that would otherwise be denied. Those of you young enough to have never lived in a world without internet, let me say it's damned alienating. Social media is a gift that gives you back some small measure of validation by hooking you up with other people who relate to your lived experience. Granted. We're seeing the down side of that as social media platforms count the cost of giving White Nationalists safe places to radicalize. It's also giving voice to the resistance and to calls for political action.
3. Conversation - at it's best, social media gives us a few moments out of every day to engage in conversations that have the power to change our view of the world or of ourselves.

So how to keep up?

First, decide if it matters to you. Are you indulging in FOMO? Or do you genuinely have an unmet need that technology might be able to fill? Make certain to count the cost of privacy loss as you're evaluating. Be aware that you're nothing but a data point to be bought, sold, and tracked. Your political leanings are absolutely inferred whether you banish all political content or not. Factor that into your decisions.
Second, listen to kids, especially teenagers and twenty-somethings. Keep your ears open in the coffee shops. You'll hear what apps and platforms people are using. Then search on 'em. Want to know how to master something? Search YouTube. I swear to you there are How-To videos on THE most arcane subjects.
Third, ask questions of social media. Search for the demographics of the places you hang out. Know that Facebook caters to an older crowd. Twitter is slightly younger. Quora seems to have a good mix of ages and knowledge bases. But once you know that, you can ask what new stuff is getting used - are teens still on WhatsApp? Or have they moved on? You'll get answers from their parents, and from the teens themselves.
Four, check out the technology blogsites. Most of them write mostly about computer science and robotics, but you will still find articles about new social media platforms, usually with solid run downs of the pros and cons of each. Sometimes they even include demographics.

As always. Keep in mind that you use social media. Don't let it use you.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media

Hey folks!

I've been notably absent from SFF Seven the past couple months, at first informally, and then an official hiatus in July when I had ALL THE THINGS happening, including launching some new projects, working a writer's workshop and being Toastmaster for ArmadilloCon.  And that all was great-- I even saw Vivian at ArmadilloCon.  And so all you fine SFFSeven fans don't feel like I abandoned you for nothing, here's the text of my Toastmaster Speech.  I think it went pretty well, many people spoke highly of my speech afterwards, so that's all very nice.

Anyway, don't know if things are Back To Normal, but I'm at least trying to be back to normal here.

So what's new here?  We're talking Social Media?

Here's my personal opinion on the value of social media for writers:

Facebook: Near pointless.
Twitter: The watercooler for people who don't ever meet in person.
Instagram: Still trying to suss it out.

Really, I think it's a valuable tool, not for promotion per se, but connection.  At least, Twitter is for me.  I don't think it's very useful for getting new readers, but it's a good way to broadcast things to the readers you have, like, Hey, New Book Coming.  But you don't need to constantly broadcast Buy My Book, because of the people who follow you, either they are already reading your work, or they're probably already not going to.

But forming connections with people over Twitter has proven valuable.  Not necessarily in terms of career or monetary value, but given me a way to feel part of a larger community when most of my day to day involves being at home, not talking to anyone who isn't immediate family.  So I quite like it, even if some days it stresses me out.

So drop me a line there.  Or here.  Or even on Facebook.  It's all good.  But in the meantime, it's back to work for me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Functional introvert in the social media stew

I’m one of those people who doesn’t people very well. Like, I get into a physical space with a bunch of humans and I shut down. Freak out. Probably blurt something indescribably stupid. Don’t even give this girl a drink, because literally the only thing saving her from embarrassing herself is her sort of ability to keep her mouth shut.

Online communication has built-in protections for weirdos like me. I can think the indescribably stupid thing. I can even type it out. And then -- and this is the beautiful part -- I can delete it.

Sometimes even after I post it I can delete it. 

So, knowing what a life-saver social media has been for me, you’d think I’d be on all the platforms doing all the things, right? Truth is, I’m not. I like Twitter for communicating with industry folks, Facebook for chatting with friends and readers (lots of overlap there), Instagram for spamming the world with pics of my pets. 

Which is not to say that I don’t know, on an intellectual level, that there’s a lot more out there, or that the other platforms and usages can be great for book promotion. Earlier this week, Jeffe Kennedy suggested asking some younger folks for tips on finding the hip apps and tricks. And yeah, you can do that. I’ve queried the smaller people who live in my house, and they’re happy to tell me about YouTube and Twitch and “famous YouTubers,” which is apparently a thing and why-even-is-that? My reactions have varied from horror to dismay.

Remember what I said about physically being a room with people? How it’s deeply un-fun? Videoing or even podcasting myself would be exactly the same: intrusive, revealing, terrifying, and almost guaranteed to be boring for you. It’s not my comfy place. Sorry kids, I am resigned to being perpetually uncool. 

So my short answer to the question this week -- how do you keep up with the trends and changes in social media? -- is that I don’t. And I’m pretty comfortable stewing in my ignorance. (Get off my lawn.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Social Media and Bad Apples

It's an odd week to talk about social media trends and changes in light of (yet another) round of mass shootings by young white men in the US because the one thing social media does really well is rally for a cause...whether that cause is a good thing or a bad thing is quixotic and often in the eye of the beholder. The sad truth of human behavior is where there are many gathered, so too will the bad apples gather to spread their rot.

In a tiny flicker of hope for humanity, while mainstream social media is rightly outraged at US federal ineptitude, the CEO of the company providing website security for an alt-right group encouraging community violence yanked their support, thus forcing the hate group to join their kith on a different provider, who then had their services yanked in a beautiful move called "deplatforming." TechCrunch has a great article on how it went down and how much privately-owned companies actually can control (contrary to what Zuck or Jack want Congress to believe).

Speaking of those big companies, it seems like every week we have another example of their flagrant privacy abuses enabled by revenue-blinders that allow them to ignore the ethical, social, political, and community impacts of pay-to-play participants. A year away from our next Big Election, and we're no closer to ending the dissemination of Propaganda that misinforms the public and sways their opinion all the way to the voting booth. Because the majority of lawmakers don't understand the technology, they're incapable of crafting legislation that protects the citizenry rather than the corporation. They're willfully passing the buck on blocking foreign interference because of rampant corruption.

An entirely different and unrelated kerfuffle is happening on Artist Twitter wherein mainstream social platforms are casting out artists' babies with the TOS revision bathwater. The artists are looking for a new home to connect with other artists around the globe where their art is copyright protected and interaction spaces are coupled with strong individual empowerment tools. Seems like a simple request, and yet...

When will any of this change? When will we see the next-gen of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc?  When there's an evolution in technology with mainstream adoption. My money's on VR, think Ender's Game. When will regulations change to protect the individual? When corporations are no longer counted as citizens and when Congress is no longer for sale--aka, not in my lifetime. Alas.

Now, this grumpy old broad is going to go write a chapter or two about overthrowing the {fictional} government...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Keeping Up with the Virtual Joneses

I just returned from a week with my family on Lake Coeur d'Alene. So lovely and relaxing! During some conversation, I mentioned Ed Sheeran, and my aunt - who'd never heard of him - asked me how I kept up on discovering new music.

It was an interesting question, and one I had to think about. Finally I said that I see a lot of recommendations on Twitter. Instagram, too. People share Spotify lists or post YouTube videos. She nodded a little at my answer, clearly a bit daunted at the prospect of emulating me there. So, I sent her two Ed Sheeran albums for her birthday.

Coincidentally enough, our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Keeping up with trends and changes in social media." Not an easy thing to do for any of us.

It's true, in fact, of most technology. As a member of the generation that transitioned in high school and college from typewriters to word processors, I'm keenly aware of how keeping up with advances in computer technology poses greater challenges for me every year. It's a simple factor of aging that learning new tricks gets more difficult, and it seems to be true of tech that it morphs rapidly.

Also, as with slang and other forms of social interaction, social media changes even more rapidly. The youth drive the "in" form of communication - and the older generations struggle to keep up.

The good news is, I firmly believe that keeping up with trends and changes in social media helps to keep us mentally youthful. It's good to learn new things, and communicating with those younger than we are helps to keep us involved in the world. But HOW to do that?

My advice for that is the same as with all social media: pick and choose.

When you hear someone talk about something cool they saw on some social medium, go check it out. Ruthlessly control what you see - pick and choose whose timelines or accounts you follow - and then play with it. Try to resurrect that feeling of youthful exploration.

Make it fun! After all, the second rule of social media is: If it's not fun for you, don't do it.

And it's okay if something that starts out fun stops being fun after a while. I'd really love for XKCD to do a graphic of the social media life cycle. First you find a new-to-you one, you play with it, gain a following, then creepy men send you anonymous messages. Brought to you by the person who thought Instagram was a safe space and is now receiving creepster messages. *sigh*

BUT... that's a minor part of things. Inevitable as death and taxes, it seems.

Another trick is to absolutely engage with younger people and manipulate them into helping your geezer self. It requires having no shame. I recently cornered a young writer in a bar and made him show me how to do Instagram stories. He was awesome about it.

Remember: learning something new is good for our brains! And having fun doing it makes all the difference.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

I just Want Strong Characters


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: "Heroes and heroines – how do you write them differently."

This is a topic to which I totally do not relate.

I write people.

Every person is different.

Right off the bat this question of the week doesn’t fly with me by the way because Main Characters (MC’s) don’t have to be shoved into two boxes labelled “Hero” and “Heroine”.

MC’s can be any combination of gender identities. From the website TeenTalk: “There are many different gender identities, including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these.”

Personally, I read and relish a wildly diverse range of books. I’d like to mention J Scott Coatsworth’s Liminal Sky scifi series as an excellent example of a reading experience during which I met and cared about and was invested in MC’s with a wide range of gender identities mirroring real life. He told the story seamlessly.

To cite my favorite movie in the entire world, “Aliens”: Ripley/Hicks. Hicks/Ripley. Ripley alone. Those two characters could be any gender identity and the movie works fine. It’s got high stakes, action, adventure, kickass MC’s and a hint of a glimpse of romance (if you’re me and you look hard for it). Just so happens the MC's were M/F in the movie but it's kind of a fun creative exercise to cast it in your head now with a wider range of gender identity choices.

When it comes to writing, my muse and I do gravitate to the male military/female civilian tropes for my MC’s, although sometimes the female character is the primary and other times it’s the male, and in some books they shoulder the load of resolving the problems I present to them pretty equally. That’s who I am, that’s the kind of romance I personally lived and it’s where my subconscious goes when I’m coming up with the plots and the people.

In many of my novels I’ve written strong women who are former military and can kick ass with the best of them. I’ve also written strong women who are singers, dancers, businesswomen, alien empaths, princesses, teachers…”strong” is the key element here for all my MC’s. Strength – of characters, of will, of learned skills and innate talents – can be found in any gender identity.

I start with the situation of the story and think about my MC’s, who I need them to be to survive and surmount the plot I have in mind and that thought process informs their backstory and their reactions to everything in the book, including the romance.

A quick excerpt from The Fated Stars, where Larissa, the tough ex-Special Forces mercenary leaves Samell, the alien empath back at the ship while she couts enemy territory:

Larissa had her first real argument with Samell once she’d landed at the small spaceport serving the planet. “I’m going out alone to reconnoiter the town, check out the fairgrounds, see what’s what with this other Kinterow operation,” Larissa said as the AI put the Valkyrie Queen into ground mode. “No one can get into the ship, but I’ve given you voice access to control the AI if anything happens to me. She can get you back to the Cherram system or she has an emergency contact to call if you prefer to try getting in touch with Sectors authorities with your situation.”

Samell stared at her, his emerald-and-gold eyes sparking with anger. “You are not going alone. Of course I’ll go too. I can use my power on any problem we encounter, or my throwing knives, or even the blaster. But I’ll not let you venture into danger without me.”

Larissa continued donning her weapons and brushed past him on her way to the airlock. “I’m the mercenary here, I know the drill on these remote worlds. I’ll give out a cover story about a phony job for public consumption, check out the bars, do the things I’ve done hundreds of times on legitimate assignments. I’ll be fine, don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”

“I know you can, but you’re only in this situation because of me.” He leaned against the bulkhead, watching her. “I have to do my share.”

“I’m not questioning your courage or your value in the field,” she said patiently. “Me by myself, no problem. You, with your distinctive hair and skin, potential problem. "

VS: Needless to say, she wins the argument and he stays with the ship.

Friday, August 2, 2019

We're All Heroes Here: Guest Post

“Who is the hero of your book?” a prospective buyer asked me at my first real book signing.

I was in a cozy bookshop in the small town of Palmer, Alaska, wearing a warm sweater to protect against the November chill and a big smile as I held up a copy of my first published novel, THE DAY BEFORE. “The hero is Sam Rose, she’s an agent for-“

The buyer shook his head. “Not the heroine. The hero.”

“Protagonist?” I suggested, looking for a polite compromise.

“I don’t really like books with girls. I want to read about heroes.”

Dear Reader, I want to assure you that at this point I stayed professional and did not have to dispose of a corpse on my drive home through the mountains that night. I did recommend a copy of EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE to him since it is told from the point of view of a male protagonist, but the whole exchange nagged at me. It still does, year and miles removed from Alaska, it bothers me that someone dismissed a truly wonderful protagonist with a sneer and the word Heroine.

English is an odd language.

No, scratch that, English is a demon hobgoblin of a language that likes to ransack other languages and steal words from them. English likes to twist and torment words until they can mean the exact opposite of what they were originally intended to mean, literally!

Hero is sometimes seen as a masculine word only. There are people who want to read it as “the male hero” rather than “the protagonist” and this presents a problem.

It’s exclusionary, forcing the binary idea of male/female and hero/heroine.

It leads to the idea that being a hero means being masculine in a traditionally masculine way.

It leaves me standing there going, “But… I want to be a hero too!”

When we read there’s always some part of us that wants to identify with the protagonist. At some level, we want to see ourself in the story. That’s why we read some books and not others, isn’t it? Because some of them resonate or speak to us while others don’t. It’s why we want diverse fiction.

We want to see ourselves as the hero regardless of which gender we identify with.

This is a big universe, and we’re all heroes in ways big and small. The courage we show when facing challenges, the compassion we have for others, is a result of our choices – not our genders.

Here’s to the heroes!

A few other novels by Liana:


Liana Brooks is a SF/F and romance authors who loves writing about the little choices we make and big chances we take that change the universe for the better. You can find her online at www.LianaBrooks.com, on Twitter as @LianaBrooks, and read her new stories on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/LianaBrooks. She is currently working on her romantic space opera series, The Fleet of Malik, that starts with BODIES IN MOTION. The second book, CHANGE OF MOMENTUM, will be available this fall.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

When Nature Says 'Hold My Beer'

Bear with me. I have a story to tell. This is Perceval. Perceval was rescued by a neighbor who presented the kitten for foster care as a 'he'. Then 'he' went into heat. He became she and (because of the aforementioned heat) developed a raging urinary tract infection. A sterile draw (with a needle and syringe) of urine at the emergency vet revealed a new mystery. Perceval had sperm swimming in her bladder.

Yes. I have male cats. They're shooting blanks. Have been since December of last year.

Thus, the vet proposed the notion that Perceval might just be both 'he' AND 'she'. Jeffe, on Instagram, instantly proposed swapping out Perceval's pronoun to They. Motion seconded, voted upon, and passed. Surgery was undertaken. It was a spay - there was a uterus and nothing more internally. Had Perceval been a true hermaphrodite, there would have been a set of male gonads as well as the female reproductive organs. There weren't. However, the doctor did point out that Perceval's external genitalia are ambiguous. While there's clearly female anatomy, it appears that a pair of testicles also tried to develop. They never fully formed, so the cat didn't have to have a neuter surgery on top of a spay surgery. And the mystery of the sperm in the bladder? We may never know. Subsequent checks of the boy cats confirms they're in the clear.

What does this have to do with writing characters in SFF? Simply this: Nature and life recently proved to me that they are far too ready, willing, and able to shatter our preconceived notions about gender, sex, and identity. So getting hung up on any kind of either/or question about who's what and therefore gets to love whom, when writing seems silly. SF and Fantasy is, to me, about who characters are as individuals - including their identities, preferences, marginalization, and how they cope. This may be privilege speaking, because I'm part of a population that doesn't often have to get to grips with being in mortal peril simply for existing. I suspect that shows in my writing because while I have a trans character, a bisexual main character, PoC as main characters - in my stories, these people are rarely under threat based on being either bi, or a PoC, or trans. Mainly because part of the joy of SF and Fantasy for me is getting to dabble in a world that's much broader than this one - one that encompasses possibilities and embraces them. I'd like to think that makes me idealistic rather than simply naive. Or worse, hurtful.

Honestly. Does anyone really think that when we finally do run into life out there in the stars that they're gonna all be CIShet/clear binary with no richness? No variety? No specialization and adaptation? If yes, do you science at all? Cause yeah, nature doesn't work that way. And so long as I'm writing, neither will I.