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Friday, September 21, 2018

Excerpts from upcoming SF novel WATER TO WATER

My SF novel Water to Water is due out on October 17th, so it's high time I posted an excerpt.

Well, more than one, really. First, you'll need this bit from the Preface to understand the excerpts proper.

Nitpicky note (for all the excerpts): the formatting here is not identical to either the ebook's or the paperback's.

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When a Vushlu reaches the age of adulthood, its family, or if it has none, respected community members, take it to the ocean. Traditionally, it will never have been there before, unless its family catches sea creatures for a living. Often many families will travel together, a pilgrimage of celebration.

On its last day of life, a Vushlu swims out to sea, or if too weak to swim, wades in and lets the waves carry it. The ocean swallows its front legs, its rear legs, its back, its torso, its arms, its shoulders, and finally its head. Immersion in the water softens its living armor, its exoskeleton, until the plates sheet off and wash away, followed by the soft flesh within.

No Vushlu has ever returned to its home with this process incomplete. But Vushla splashed with seawater report no pain.


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Now for the first Actual Excerpt, a short one. This comes early in Chapter 1, and introduces us to Honnu, one of two major Vushla characters.

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Honnu squatted by the campfire, all four legs comfortably sunk in the sand, his lower armor sealed tight to keep sand out, and watched the procession approach the sea. It was a small group, with only one young Vushlu among the older ones. A funeral, then. The young one must be the son or daughter of the Vushlu, aging or ailing, whose funeral it was.

Honnu turned away before the group reached the edge of the water. He knew, of course, what would happen, but he had no wish to watch. After all, he lived with the ocean, lived from it, rode out every day to toss the nets and haul them back. He and his family depended on the ocean. But he often thought he must feel like a farmer with a very, very large and powerful bull. Such a useful animal — it sired strong beasts like itself, and it pulled plows through earth too sticky for pull-cycles. But it could, any time it chose to, trample the farmer into jelly. The farmer could hope that the bull would never turn on its master. Honnu lived with the certain knowledge that one day, the ocean would reveal itself as the largest possible beast, and devour him whole.

No, he had no need to watch it happen to others, not when he would be paddling the boat out again tomorrow morning.

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Here's one more excerpt, a longer one. It starts shortly after the first, and switches partway through from Honnu's POV to that of Kititit, a visiting peddler. (Kititit is a Weesah, not a Vushlu. The two species' anatomy differ substantially, a fact to which Honnu makes a passing reference.)

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The last taste of dinner was fading from Honnu’s mouth. Even food was different when the peddler came. This very night, around this same fire, they had roasted and eaten plump sausages spitting with juice, made from some crawling creature that pushed through underbrush and rooted in the earth of far-off forests.

Honnu stretched his arms and upper body to soak in the warmth of the fire, welcome as the end of hot season brought cooler night breezes. Which of the peddler’s tales might actually be true? Honnu had never traveled farther than the nearest market town — far enough away from the shore that the sea could not be seen, but not too far for its smell to carry, competing with the smell of the fish he sold and the pastries and spices and flowers in the stalls all around him. Were there really trees so tall that a Vushlu would have to rear back on its hind legs and lean against something sturdy in order to see the tops? Did mountains soar even higher? Did rivers of water pour out of those mountains? Did the mountains rise above the air itself, so that the air strained and grew thin, and one could look down and see the thicker air below? Did fountains of fire leap up from hidden places to consume travelers? Did birds, glowing as bright as any fire, swarm over the fields in springtime, keeping farmers from sowing seed until the birds had flown away? Did a species of giants, giants who never came near the ocean, giants with two legs and two arms like the Weesah but each limb twice as thick as a Weesah’s trunk, raise beasts for farmers, never leaving their ranches, requiring farmers to come to them? Were there places where the sky was always red, and others where the sky was always black?

Honnu’s family must know the answers to those questions, or to some of them, but his aunt never wanted to talk about it, and his grandfather changed his story from one time to the next, and his mother said none of it was true. Honnu refused to believe that.

Unless he found a way to go see for himself, he would never know.

Now he heard sounds of movement and conversation, and tires pushing through sand. The procession must be leaving, with one of its members gone forever into the sea. They would probably not go very far in the dark. There was an inn serving such travelers in the market town. But by morning, they would be on their way back to wherever they came from. To one of the many, many places Honnu had never seen.

 * * * * *

Kititit looked at different Vushla in turn as he told the story about buying a beast from a giant and tricking the fellow into lowering the price. The Vushla’s armor mostly left their faces bare, so you could see them drink the story in, especially the young ones. All right, maybe his mate’s uncle’s cousin wasn’t exactly a giant, but he was big enough that none of his neighbors gave him any backtalk. Kititit had come out of that exchange well enough to enjoy bragging about it, even if he did embellish the details a bit for effect.

It was a fine way to spend an evening. It would have been, even if the breeze hadn’t been a trifle nippy. He’d always liked campfires, but he particularly enjoyed them in villages like this. Vushlu armor wasn’t exactly reflective, but almost, enough to catch the firelight and play with it a bit. And while he always liked the smell of a campfire, it mingled especially nicely with the unique tangy smell of the sea. As for the traces of fish odor, he didn’t mind them. He did wonder, looking around at the Vushla, how much of it all they could smell with those small holes in their faces. His big mesh-covered nostrils had to do a better job, unless they somehow didn’t.

He caught the fisher lad’s eye for just a moment before the lad looked away. A bit shy, that one, but with thirsty ears, always soaking in whatever story Kititit chose to tell. Kititit’s oldest son had been like that, when he was a good bit younger. And when the boy and his sister had come with Kititit on his journeys, there had been plenty of time for telling tales.

Naturally the boy, or rather the proud young father, had started staying home now that he had a mate and little ones. And Kititit’s daughter, once proud to be included, had lately been more like willing. A good-hearted lass, ready to help her father in case he was too old and feeble to handle things alone; but it was time for her to live in the center of her own life, and Kititit to go back to how he used to travel, enjoying his own and the beast’s company.

Still, it was nice to have a youngster or two around the campfire.

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Well, what do you think? Want more? The ebook, and possibly the paperback, will be available for preorder on Amazon if their website starts cooperating just a little better. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Cover reveal for my next release!

I've been vacillating about when to do a cover reveal on this (much neglected) blog, but the time has come. I'm thrilled to show off the cover that Damonza did for my upcoming novel Water to Water.


Here is my (tentative) teaser for the book.

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Two young Vushla questioned what everyone knew about death. What should they do with the answer?

When the time comes for Vushla to die, they go into the ocean and are dissolved away. Or so Terrill has always believed, and still believes after accompanying his father on the latter’s final journey. But after meeting another young Vushlu, Terrill must confront new information that calls this fundamental belief into question. Will the two of them discover the truth? And what should they do with what they find?

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If all goes well, the book will be out on October 17, 2018.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

One more poem -- this time, a curse (general issue)

For my probably-last poem post, here's one with no autobiographical aspect. I particularly wanted to point that out because the poem is, as the title indicates, a curse (in the ill-wishing sense). The final lines may suggest a spurned lover, but could cover other situations. Feel free to recite it at any enemies you may acquire.

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Curse

May your blood boil by night,
and freeze by day . . .

May the passing of clouds across the sky
be to you
as nails dragged shrieking
across flat dry stone . . .

May the trees whisper soft nightmares
as you shivering pass by . . .

May the moon’s light be blinding
and the sunlight
dim . . .

May you know no more piece
than I

and may you never forget me.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Even more serious - poem about a murder, plus some backstory

I went to Stanford University for my undergrad degree (English and American literature). I liked spending time in the Memorial Church, enjoying the quiet, looking at the impressive stained glass windows. (You can see photos of the windows at this link.)

One night, when I'd been visiting the church again, I tried to leave and discovered I'd been locked in. The minister had failed to notice me when he locked up and left. This was long before cell phones, and there was no pay phone anywhere I could see in the accessible area. After a while, however, the minister came back for something, found me, and let me out.

I believe it was a couple of days later that a girl was stabbed to death in the church at night. As you can imagine, what would have struck me as tragic and shocking in any event had an extra impact, given my recent experience.

So I wrote this poem. The imagery refers to several of the windows.

--------


On the Murder in Memorial Church

Strange impotence:
stained glass night-frozen,
unable to beam
its pictured Salvation;
Jesus the healer,
caught trapped in a corner;
Christus crying into the darkness,
take this cup away! –
the Agony presiding
invisibly helpless;
unillumined, the desperate
disciples
will drown.


Another, more serious poem, siding with Lot's wife

Here's another post about my decades-old poetry, recently unearthed.

I can only remember writing two poems with Biblical subjects, and one -- re Job -- is hiding somewhere. But here is the other, untitled but basically siding with Lot's wife rather than Lot.

-------


When Lot’s wife
turned to salt from grief;
her posture proclaiming,
I will be a dry monument to tears,
her protest,
I give not my leaving to this, God;

Lot
stood
stunned
still

Lot looked up
The Lord rumbled faintly
Lot looked down
Salt crystals gathered at his feet

Lot
looked up
looked down
and proceeded on,
careful not
to look round.


-------

Next time, a poem with a truly serious theme -- murder.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Well, I used to write poetry . . . (first of several)

I started out -- no later than age nine -- wanting to be a novelist. I wrote my first novel-of-sorts at age ten. But I didn't write my second until after I turned 55. What, if anything, did I write in the meantime?

Well, first I tried poetry. I kept at it through high school and the beginning of college. Later in college, I tried short stories, until I let myself be discouraged as to all creative writing by a stunningly clueless teaching associate. For decades, all I did was jot down a line or two of potential poetry once every blue moon. Then, while I was pregnant with Daughter #1, I started writing picture book manuscripts. Fast forward seventeen years or so, and I followed that daughter into National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or NaNo) -- and the rest, if not history, is a total of eight novels with two more in the pipeline.

But back to poetry.

Recently, pondering the awe-inspiring bad luck of a friend, I was reminded of a poem I wrote long ago about Job (as in the Biblical figure). I dug up a folder of my poetry and looked for it. I didn't find it, but I did find a few others I liked enough to bring into the light of day.

Here's the first, one of the lightest in tone. I believe I wrote this during or after my high school physics class. If I were writing it today, the title might include the word "nerd."

---------

Love Song

Every mass
has an attraction for every other mass
which varies as the inverse square
of the distance between them.
That is,
if you allow me
to decrease the radius of my orbit
you will find me
increasingly attractive.

I wish to
race toward you at ever-increasing speed
(known as acceleration)
(which, times my mass,
which is constant,
would become the force with which I would
collide with you,
hopefully
"knocking you off your feet")
until we engage in
a perfectly inelastic collision
(in which the two bodies concerned
collide and
stick.)

---------

And yes, I know the punctuation at the end is incorrect, but it works better that way.

Here's one more, untitled, frivolous and fanciful.

--------

The conductor and the violinist
are near each other.
Bow and baton
time after time
come perilously close.
Will they cross swords?
The conductor looks angry.
We can expect a duel
any minute.

---------

Next time, a poem or two with more emotional heft behind them.


Monday, April 30, 2018

The Dangers that Grow in the Dark

I've been pondering the very unwelcome news that the candidate running closest to Senator Dianne Feinstein in California's primary (which does not separate out Democratic and Republican candidates) is Patrick Little, an unabashed anti-Semite whose rhetoric would make Adolf Hitler purr in his grave. I'm trying to explain it to myself, since I don't believe either that a large number of Americans actively hate Jews or that Californians are significantly more inclined toward such hatred. I've had a few thoughts on what might be going on.

What came to mind first were some memories from my youth. I'm not ancient enough to have seen the movie Reefer Madness when it first came out (in 1936), but for much of my life, there have been teachers and government officials doing their best to convince young people that marijuana was highly addictive and wildly dangerous. And for much of my life, young people have looked around at their weed-smoking friends, or at their weed-smoking selves, and observed that these claims were largely invalid. Some of them almost certainly overgeneralized from this observation and concluded that all claims about the dangers of illegal drugs were just killjoy hokum. (Indeed, some of those other claims were grossly exaggerated -- but not all.) How much better young people would have been served by open, accurate discussion of the effects and qualities of various drugs.

Then there's the perennial problem of kids with insufficient accurate information about sex learning about sex from other kids. How many pregnancies and STDs have resulted?

Finally, and most controversially these days, we have the issues of ethnic, religious, and gender differences. It's a rare and brave soul who dares to discuss crime statistics concerning different ethnic groups and ask whether social and cultural factors have anything to do with those statistics. Or to point out that the male/female distinction, though far from all-encompassing and inadequate to describe some individuals and conditions, has a fundamental basis in Terran biology, and to ask whether such a fundamental distinction might indeed have some correlates in human psychology and behavior.

What difficulties might result from the prohibition on these last areas of discourse? Well, when open discussion is loudly declared to be taboo, and when well-informed, well-meaning, rational people yield to that prohibition, who's going to be left standing and talking? The haters, that's who. The actual haters, not those who for fear of that label have fallen silent. And who will be left listening? Those who resent political taboos but themselves know little about, e.g., ethnic groups outside their own acquaintance.

When speech is suppressed, many will admire anyone who defies that suppression, little as a particular defiant individual may deserve admiration. When people are berated or threatened for discussing such questions as whether a disproportionate percentage of Muslims embrace religiously motivated violence, some of those people will be more ready to believe slanderous claims about other religious groups, including Jews. And the woefully inadequate teaching of history in this country, lo these many years, fails to provide an antidote to such slanders.

It has always been a core American value that the answer to false speech is true speech, not suppression of speech -- even if laws and lawmakers have not always kept that in mind. And the consequences of suppressing speech show us the wisdom of that maxim. The candidacy of Patrick Little should provide a loud and alarming wake-up call.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Appropriate Census Questions and the Fourteenth Amendment

As often happens, I am posting what my husband could post in more detail, had he the time and inclination.

There is much agitation at present about the plan to add a question to the census concerning citizenship status. This is not a new idea. In 1950, every household was asked about citizenship. For much of the time since then, the long form census questionnaire (received by a smaller sample) included the question as well. However, that history doesn't answer the question of whether asking about citizenship is constitutionally appropriate. (What, we're supposed to consider the Constitution in figuring what questions belong in the census? Well, yes, since our federal government is supposed to exercise only enumerated powers, quaint as that restriction seems to many.)

Before the Fourteenth Amendment, the language of Article I, section 2 provided that "Representatives  . . . shall be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons . . . three fifths of all other Persons." It went on to prescribe the schedule for "the actual Enumeration." Note the use of the term "persons," and the inclusion of three-fifths of the number of slaves, who were obviously not voting citizens.

The Fourteenth Amendment, section 2, replaced this language with the following: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State . . . ." We're still counting persons, not citizens. It went on, however, into new territory: "But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial Officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, shall be denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State." (The Nineteenth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments extended the right to vote to female citizens and citizens eighteen to twenty years old, respectively.) There is no mention of, and hence no change in, the language setting out the schedule for counting "persons," aka the census. It seems a logical inference that, since the new language requires knowing how many citizens with the franchise there are in the state as well as which of those citizens are being prevented from voting, the census is the appropriate tool to find that out. Based on those numbers, a state that prevents citizens entitled to vote from voting should find its number of members in the House of Representatives cut back in proportion to those so prevented.

It is thus not only appropriate, but necessary that the census, while continuing to count "persons" resident in the states, also count citizens entitled to vote, and quite possibly inquire whether any of those citizens have been unlawfully barred from the polls.