Friday, January 26, 2024

Some Ways Not to Lose Story Ideas

Whether an author is first coming up with a story concept, musing over how to approach that concept, planning a future draft, actually writing a draft, or revising a draft, the author never knows when an idea worth preserving will pop up. And many of us can't count on remembering that idea for very long, or even once we walk into the next room. (There's actually something called the "doorway effect" whereby short-term memory tends to evaporate once one passes through some sort of boundary.) So how can one avoid losing ideas about character traits, plot directions, new scenes, or "just right" endings? It's easy to say "write them down," but what if you're in bed, or the car, or in the shower?

Well, you need to have a way to write notes to yourself in those places. Yes, even in the shower. There's actually a product out there that could have been tailor-made for authors: Aqua Notes. I plug it whenever this topic comes up (and no one ever pays me for doing it). It's a pad with suckers on the back for sticking to shower walls, with waterproof pages and a special pencil for writing on them. I also keep a notepad with attached light on my nightstand -- though my handwriting at 3 a.m. is not always decipherable when I get up in the morning.

It's trickier to keep ideas from escaping if they show up while I'm driving. What I generally do is mutter to myself, repeating the idea, until I can pull over and get hold of my phone. Then I send myself a quick email. (One of these days, I'll figure out how to just talk at my phone, or at my newly leased full-of-bells-and-whistles car, and send myself an email while driving.)

What are your handy ways to keep ideas from getting away? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

All My Science Fiction, for National Science Fiction Day

 Happy New Year, all, and Happy National Science Fiction Day! 

In honor of the latter, here's a list of all my science fiction novels to date. As you can see, they're a varied lot. I've included links to the Kindle editions, but they're all available in paperback from many (mostly but not entirely online) retailers.

--The Twin-Bred series (Twin-Bred, Reach, and Leaders): This series begins on a planet colonized by us Earthers about seventy years before. Communication with the indigenous intelligent species has been difficult, and bewildering conflicts keep arising, with the potential to escalate into war. Dr. Mara Cadell, a scientist with a very personal secret, has a novel proposal for how to bridge this gap between species. For more details, see the link to Twin-Bred, above. All I can say about the latter two books without spoilers is that they continue the story of the Twin-Bred. To quote one of my favorite plays, Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons: "I trust I make myself obscure."

Water to Water: I think of this book as science fiction, but it could be read as fantasy. It takes place on a planet which has had no contact with humans, or vice-versa. It has sufficient intelligent species without them. It has certain aspects of a YA novel, including young protagonists, a quest, and coming-of-age themes. Here's a description: "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 taking part in his father's final journey. But when he meets a young Vushlu who lives by the sea, Terrill must confront 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?"

The remaining four SF novels are all set on this planet in the near future. All of them also have extensive courtroom scenes, informed by my other head's career, practicing law. I'll list them in the order of publication.

Division: This story's tag line sums up the central conflict nicely (if I say so myself): "New technology, new choices . . . but who gets to choose?" To be more specific:
     "Conjoined twins Gordon and Johnny have never let their condition keep them from living full and fulfilling lives. Gordon looks forward to many years of closeness and cooperation. Johnny, however, faces their future with increasing restlessness, even dread.
     "When the boys are in their teens, the new technologies of accelerated human cloning and brain transplants are combined into a single medical procedure. Someone whose body has suffered such extensive damage as to make normal life impossible may -- with court approval -- be cloned and then given a brain transplant into the clone body. With Gordon's unwitting assistance, Johnny realizes that this procedure provides the chance he had never dared to hope for -- the chance to live in a 'normal,' separate body.
     "But Gordon considers their conjoined life a blessing, rather than a curse. He has no intention of accepting separation -- not without a fight . . . ."

Playback Effect: This book gave me the weirdly invigorating opportunity to have breakfast with a sociopath. Here's the description: "In the near future, new technology records the highlights of emotional experience for others to share. Buy a helmet and you can feel the exhilaration of an Olympic ski jumper, or the heat of a lucid dreamer's erotic imaginings. Commit a crime, and you may be sentenced to endure the suffering you inflicted on others. But such recordings may carry more information than the public has realized. What will criminals learn about their victims? When a husband is wrongfully convicted of injuring his wife, how will their marriage change? And what uses will a sociopath find for recordings of the experience of death?"

Who: Here's another favorite timeline: "Have they changed their minds? Or have their minds been changed?" The context is digitally stored personality and memories, and the details: "Death is no longer the end. Those who prepare, and can afford it, may have their memories and personalities digitally preserved. The digitally stored population can interact with the world of the living, remaining part of their loved ones’ lives. They can even vote. Except - someone's in charge of the code. Someone who may have an agenda. After the young and vital Thea dies and is stored, her husband Max starts to wonder about changes in her preoccupations and politics. Are they simply the result of the new company she keeps? Or has she been altered without her knowledge and against her will? And if Thea is no longer herself, what can they do?"

Lastly, Donation: This book took the longest to write, if "write" includes writing, revising, running by beta readers, revising again, deciding not to publish it, leaving it to lie fallow for months, revising it again, and sending it out into the world. It is in some senses timely, not to mention possibly controversial and/or dystopian in parts. It concerns the possible consequences of (a) a ban on abortion, made politically feasible by (b) the development of artificial wombs, and the related technology for allowing women to "donate" embryos and fetuses, with (c) the entire setup controlled by centralized government. One of those consequences: mission creep. To know what I mean by that, you can click through to the description -- or read the book!

Happy reading, all, and may science fiction continue to lead us into (with apologies to Star Trek) strange new worlds, and unexpected ways of viewing our own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Atrocity, Barbarism, and Israel's Response

 This post will not concern books or publishing. It is a response to the attacks on Israel. Read at your own risk.

In the last hundred years, the United States has twice been attacked on its own soil with thousands of  casualties. The first was Pearl Harbor; the second, 9-11. Both of those times, it responded by going to war. And war is not, by its nature, a calibrated proportional response to the attack that led to it.

As a percentage of population, the attacks that began Saturday in Israel have dwarfed, by far, both of those events. After so many years of affirming "Never again," Jews have seen their deadliest day since the Holocaust. And there are other fundamental differences. Pearl Harbor and 9-11, especially the latter, resulted in the deaths of civilians. However, neither of them included face-to-face slaughter of entire families. Or mass rape of women. Or rape followed by murder, or by the display of the naked, bloody bodies of the victims to ecstatic crowds. Or the wholesale murder of babies, in some cases by beheading. Or children surrounded by the same crowds to be taunted and beaten. Or the taking of well over a hundred civilian hostages.

These atrocities are not unprecedented. Many hundreds of years ago, this is what happened when cities were sacked. More recently, there have been civil wars and religious conflicts featuring the same horrific barbarism. Russian forces have been accused of similar acts in their war against Ukraine. But those who are excusing or even cheering the attacks perpetrated by Hamas, supported and possibly planned by Iran, should think carefully about whether they want this way of waging war to become, in a much-used phrase, the new normal.

On both December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, the entities that attacked us meant to wound us to the heart, and/or to change our foreign policy in dramatic ways. In neither case did they have the ambition to wipe the United States and its citizens out of existence. Hamas and Iran have made no secret of their intent to destroy Israel and its Jews. Israel, unlike the USA when embarking on those previous wars, is facing -- not for the first time -- an existential threat.

You may recall how the USA ended World War II, the war we only entered because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. You know the names Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Israel very likely has more, and much more powerful, nuclear weapons than the United States had at that time. Israel could easily drop such bombs on Gaza, and may well have the military capacity to hit Iran with them as well. Should we expect that earthshaking outcome?

I for one doubt it, and here's why. When we dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, we had a different goal. We wanted to induce Japan to surrender, and to do so before the USA suffered hundreds of thousands of fatalities and more than a million casualties. Israel, on the other hand, knows that neither the Hamas jihadists nor the Iranian mullahs are likely to surrender, no matter how many of their people are killed. What Israel needs to do is wipe out Hamas, both its soldiers and its leadership, and permanently change Iran's regime, which probably means killing everyone currently in it. A sufficient nuclear attack could achieve that goal, but the huge number of civilian casualties involved will probably discourage Israel from taking the nuclear path unless absolutely necessary.

So Israel and its enemies are facing either a very well aimed campaign of targeted strikes, whether from the air or from the ground, or else a long, bloody conventional war. It may well be impossible to avoid igniting yet another cycle of hatred and longing for revenge. Israel will most likely strive, still, to keep civilian casualties to a minimum -- while realizing that the possible "minimum" has unavoidably changed. But no one should count on, and no one can in good conscience insist upon, any overriding concern with this war's being "proportional."

Friday, September 15, 2023

Release Day!! for fantasy novel FAR FROM MORTAL REALMS

 It's finally here! Or rather, they're finally here -- Release Day, and the book.

(I made the .gif on Photofunia, which is a delightful time sink.)

If you're reading this post, you may have already read the multiple excerpts I posted over the last couple of weeks. If not, you still can! (If you got to this post via social media, just head to my blog, Looking Around, and scroll down.) In either case, here's the book description.


Negotiating with the Fair Folk is a tightrope walk over deadly perils. 
And even the most skilled can misstep.

The many wondrous realms the Fair Folk inhabit offer tempting opportunities for mortals hoping to benefit from faerie magic. But making bargains with the Fair Folk is a dangerous business, for the fae have a habit of leaving loopholes to snare the unwary. Father-and-daughter lawyers Abe and Adira have made a career out of helping their fellow humans reach such agreements safely.

Abe and Adira know the rules for dealing with Fair Folk: don't reveal your true name, don't say thank you, don't accept gifts, don't eat fae food, don't tell even the slightest of lies . . . . Oh, and always, no matter the provocation, be unfailingly polite.

A moment of carelessness, a brief lapse, and a professional defender of mortal interests may be in dire need of rescue.


This is where I've been putting the preorder link, but hurrah! It's now an order link, and I hope you'll hurry over and make use of it. You should have a choice of the Kindle edition or the paperback. (By the way, what used to be called the "Look Inside" feature, available by clicking on the cover, is now "Read sample," a separate link below the cover.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, the paperback has been available for preorder on Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and possibly elsewhere -- so it should now be available to actually purchase from those sites.

Once you read the book, I would be deeply grateful for ratings and reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, blogs, or anywhere else that occurs to you. Thanks again for sharing this release ride with me!

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Very short excerpt: the ultimate teaser

 Far From Mortal Realms comes out tomorrow! So as far as excerpts are concerned, I'll leave you with this very short and redacted cliffhanger. (I'm not bothering with ellipses where a few words have been deleted to avoid spoilers.)


"But you may not so blithely leave this realm behind. Here you will stay.”


I hope I've sufficiently intrigued you that you'll want to go on from there! The preorder link -- which is already the order link for the paperback edition -- is here. And here's one more look at the (IMHO) gorgeous cover -- in 3D this time.

While you're waiting for tomorrow's release, I hope you'll consider sharing the preorder/order page or the book's Goodreads page on social media -- or mentioning it to someone you know. Every little bit helps!

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. I hope it's been entertaining or even exciting for you. For me, it never gets old.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Next excerpt: the trial begins

On with the excerpts! We've heard Tom's side of the story. Now it's time for the rulers of the Ice Realm to hear it.


Adira had almost had to drag Tom out of the cave, and his footsteps still dragged. Dad walked close behind them as if prepared to herd Tom along. The fae led them through a forest planted thick with what looked like birch trees, snow resting on their ice-encased branches. The earlier haze must have dissipated or otherwise vanished, for tonight, unlike the fateful night in question, there was a moon shining through the trees, and here and there Adira could see stars glimmering where leaves would have obscured them. Dad was mumbling to himself the way he sometimes did before meetings, when there were points he wanted to make sure to remember.

And then they were suddenly out of the forest, and the lake stretched in front of them, frozen ripples along its nearest edge and flat frosted ice beyond. Tom stumbled and moaned. Adira hadn’t realized she could hear Dad breathing until his breaths stopped for several seconds, then resumed with a quiet gasp.

Off to the right, about ten yards away, stood three tall ice fae, wearing what must have been crowns, though they looked like branches broken off from the trees and fashioned into headdresses. On the upper points of the branches, diamond-like chunks of ice had been fastened, like those their escort wore, but larger and shining with their own light. Beyond and behind the three, a cluster of other beings had gathered, ice fae and a few other creatures: two foxes in winter pelts, one snow-white dove, three incongruous crows – and two white seal pups.

Surely seals were salt water creatures, not fresh? Dad tapped her shoulder to draw her attention and mouthed the words, Their Majesties. For whatever reason, the rulers of the ocean realm had come to observe.

The tallest of the crowned fae, standing between the other two, struck the ground with a tall white branch it held like a rod of office. “We begin,” it announced in a voice somewhere between a creak and a shriek. “We will first hear from the accused, and then from his advocates. Accused mortal, step forward.”

If they had had more time, and if they had known what was coming, she and Dad would have discussed the pros and cons of having Tom speak. Trial lawyers were often wary, for good reason, of having a defendant testify and possibly give the prosecution useful ammunition. Here, they had no choice – and it would probably work well enough. Tom’s youthful demeanor, his terror, and the details he would relate might well do more good than harm.

Tom told his tale again, in much the same words and even less coherently. When he had repeated half his sentences and finally stammered to a halt, the crowned figure to the tallest one’s left stepped forward and held up a scorched stick of wood. “Is this the torch you lit?”

Tom stared at the piece of wood, panting, his breath making little clouds. “It – it may be, but I wasn’t looking at it – I was trying to see where I was.”

The branch vanished as the fae said in its eerie voice, “So you did light a torch.”

“I – I – I didn’t know – I’m so sorry, I’m so awfully sorry, I wish I’d never done it! I wish I’d frozen to death and gone to heaven, instead of ending up in the lake forever and never dying and never going home and never seeing anyone I love again and – ” He dropped to his knees, arms outstretched in desperation. “Oh, please, please don’t do it! I didn’t know!”


What happens to Tom? And then what? Keep reading. . . . There's only one more excerpt to go, though, and that's a short one, so you may just want the preorder link. (The paperback has become available ahead of schedule, so that's also an order link!) If you'd rather preorder from Barnes & Noble's online store, you can do it here. And if you haven't yet clicked "Want to Read" on the book's Goodreads page, it's still there waiting for you . . . .

That last excerpt appears tomorrow. Until then!

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The next excerpt: Adira's and the reader's introduction to the Ice Realm

And we're back to excerpts from my upcoming fantasy novel Far From Mortal Realms, coming out September 15th!

As you may have guessed, Abe and Adira have, despite their trepidations, decided to take on the case of the boy who lit a torch in the Ice Realm. Now it's time for them to enter the realm and meet the boy.


Adira hadn’t realized how grateful she had been for the return of spring, until she found herself once again plunged so deep into winter.

The portal brought them to a wilderness of bare trees stretching in every direction, their branches coated in ice to the very tips. Her father’s earlier description suggested that he had visited on a sunnier day; the ice did not glint or glimmer in what muted light came through. The air seemed dry, and yet the cold seeped into her as if borne by damp currents.

Two ice fae met them at the portal, their skin – if it was skin – resembling silvery bark. She could see nothing, amongst the lines of the bark, that looked like eyes, though the fae did have what appeared to be mouths. Not that they seemed to have anything to say to the visiting mortals. Was she imagining the hostility she felt radiating from them, some combination of disdain and aversion? She had no way to know, though she wasn’t given to pessimistic flights of fancy.

Where was their client? As soon as she asked herself that question, a boy appeared between the fae, trembling, eyes wide with panic. The fae seized and held his arms, tight enough that they must be hurting him. Still without speaking, they pivoted to the right, dragging the boy with them, and started walking, long strides covering the ground swiftly, the clusters of roots that served as their feet piercing the crust of snow. Adira and her father lurched into motion to catch up.


And here's Tom telling Abe and Adira what happened to him.


The two fae led them to a sort of cave, icicles hanging from its entrance and frost patterns covering its walls in an simpler semblance of tapestry, and wordlessly pointed to its interior. The three of them sat on cold stone benches at a small, roughly hewn stone table, Tom across from Abe and Adira and reaching out to clutch Adira’s hands. He could have been inspired by her undoubted attractiveness, his sweetheart notwithstanding, but from his pallor and Adira’s warm, gentle expression, it seemed more likely that he was viewing her as a sort of maternal surrogate, or at least an adopted aunt. And he was confiding in her, in a panicked babble. “I didn’t know! I was distracted, and I got lost, I couldn’t see anything I knew, there wasn’t any moon . . . and it kept getting colder, and my hands and feet were going numb . . . and then I saw a flicker of light and thought it was from someone’s window, or even my pa coming out to look for me . . . .” He choked back a sob.

A light, on a moonless night in the realm of the ice fae. What might explain it? Some ceremony or revel of which Abe was ignorant?

Or a light kindled for Tom’s benefit, as a lure?

“So I went toward it, and I thought everything would be all right, and then it just – disappeared. And I was left in the dark, still lost. And then I stumbled over a branch, and I remembered that I had matches with me, and I could maybe make a torch to see where I was. I figured the weight of ice must’ve brought it down, though there wasn’t any ice left on it.” He let out something between a sob and a laugh. “I thought I was lucky to find it, that fortune was being kind to me.”

Neither fortune nor fate may have set it in his path.


To preorder, go here. (That Amazon link now includes the paperback.☺) Whether or not you order the book before the release date, I'd be VERY grateful if you would share these blog posts, or tell friends about the book, or plan to post a review of it once you've read it . . . or all of the above. Help me keep writing!

Next time: an excerpt from Tom's trial.