Event Horizon – Free and available until July 15, 2017!

Cover picture of Event Horizon 2017, a compendium of Campbell Award-eligible stories
Proud to have a story in this collection!

Event Horizon is an anthology of stories by authors eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer–meaning writers whose first pro sale have been published within the last two years. The volume contains over 75 authors and 350,000 words, and, thanks to the efforts of Jake Kerr, is available for free download–until July 15, 2017–at […]

via Event Horizon Available as a FREE Download — Everyday Magic | M. E. Garber

“Spoiling Veena” in Brave Boy World anthology

brave-boy-world-antho-amazonI’m delighted that my short story, “Spoiling Veena” is in this awesome new, very timely, anthology.

This story, first published in 2009 in Expanded Horizons, has since been reprinted several times. In that time, my own understanding of the story has changed. Here’s what I wrote about it in the book:

“Spoiling Veena” is my most-anthologized story. It was first published in Expanded Horizons, an online magazine with inclusiveness as its primary goal. Since I’m the kind of writer who keeps discovering that my stories are more complex than I thought when I wrote them, I’ll let this one speak for itself. I’m still finding layers in it.”

I’m really looking forward to reading the whole book.


Did He Mean It?

November 15th. Pouring rain in Seattle. So soon after the Election Shock.

There was a Spec Fic reading at the Vermilion Bar in Seattle. I attended, mainly for a chance to meet some of the writers I knew, and see them in action.

I went up to get a hot drink and a snack. They had no coffee, only tea. While I waited at the bar, a man next to me asked me if I was a writer. His name, he said, was Don, and he didn’t give a surname. I asked him the same thing, and he said something about having a bookshop. Then he asked me to give him three words, and he’d write me a poem. Without thinking too much about it, I gave him Balloon, Phoenix, and Rocket. My food arrived, I excused myself, and took it back to the table with my writer friends.

poem-by-donA little later, he brought me the poem. The reading had started, and so I just glanced at it and thanked him. Later, I read it, and it seemed an extended metaphor for the political dream that became a nightmare.

The balloon drifted away
From the child
like a dream
Up and away
No rocket
Perhaps a phoenix sometime
but maybe not
I worship the ground
She walked on
and pull up the blanket under my chin.

“Do you like it at all?” he asked.

Yes. I did. I do.  I pulled up the blanket under my chin. What else was there to do at 3 a.m. when it had all gone wrong?

I still don’t know, as I look at the handwritten poem on a scrap of paper, whether that was what he meant. But that’s what it meant to me.


— x —

Mosaics Anthology 1 is Published

The charity anthology Mosaics, A Collection of Independent Women, Volume I has just come out. (The second volume is already under way.) It benefits the Pixel Project, a charity that is trying to fight domestic violence across the world. Their slogan is, It’s Time To Stop Violence Against Women. Together.

Mosaics Vol 1 anthology cover

I’m proud to say that it includes my story, Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels.

Here’s the blurb: Whatever happened to the Miller’s Daughter, the one who spun gold into straw? This is the part the Brothers Grimm didn’t tell us.

Selling a story to this anthology was a quick education in how to promote an Indie book. Some of the stuff they did: An illustration for every story, except these were for use on social media, not for the book. The hashtag, #IamAMosaic for everyone to use when they discussed their stories or the anthology. Lots of stuff on Twitter. Asking all the authors to try to get readers to post reviews on Amazon on Launch Day, and providing us free Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) that we could offer for the purpose. A Facebook launch party, with giveaways, including a Kindle Fire.

It went at a breathless pace that I wasn’t quite prepared for (especially since it happened when I had other stuff going on) but built momentum.

mosaics HEA in 12 stained glass panels

I hope very hard that this antho succeeds. It’s a very worthy cause, and Pavarti Tyler and Kim Wells have thrown themselves into promoting it.


Why I Write American (Part 2)

In a forum I’m on, we were talking about how story structures in other countries differ from US story structures. And they do. US audiences – whether the gatekeepers or the readers – do have specific ideas of what constitutes a good story in terms of characterization and story arc, and these are not always the same as those in other cultures.

One of the issues that came up in the discussion was whether non-US writers change the structures of the stories they write to conform to the expectations of editors/ publishers/ readers in the US. This is my take on it.

My question is, who are those writers writing for? This is a real choice for writers who have non-US experience and backgrounds. I wrote an essay on my Live Journal blog some years ago called “Why I write American.”

The fact is, I write for a primarily US audience. This is where the markets are. Even when I write stories set elsewhere, most of the readers are going to be USan, as are the editors who I want buying my stories. (With exceptions. A couple of my most recent publications were from UK publishers: Unsung stories published “The Mother Goose Virus” and Flame Tree Press published “Genetic Changelings.”)

So it’s generally got to be a US story, even if it’s set outside the US, even if the characters aren’t American.

I think it’s possible for very good writers to write a non-US story structure and sell it to an editor and then to a US audience. But I think it takes extra skill and vision. The bar is set higher.

There’s also the danger, in that situation, of writing exotica. The story becomes interesting because it’s so different, because it’s alien. I’m not sure I should call it a danger. Exotica is an interesting genre; I’ve read books because they show me a culture that’s very different from my own experience. But it is, in a way, sight-seeing.

And perhaps that’s as it should be. Every culture has its social struggles, but they’re not the same ones. We can observe others’ battles, but they’re not ours to fight.

Eli Bishop Artwork for FOGcon 2016! (And, T-shirts)

If you’re coming to FOGcon 6 in Walnut Creek, March 10-13, 2016 (and you should, it’s an wonderful little con that’s both laid-back and interesting) – the artwork from Eli Bishop has been revealed. It’s awesome, and it’s available as a T-shirt. If you order now, you can pick it up at the Con.

Here’s a part of Eli’s FOGcon 6 art (you can see the whole thing on his website, just click on the pic).

fogcon 6 artwork - by eli bishopI love his art. Here’s what he did for FOGcon 5 last year (again, click on the pic to go to a larger version on Eli’s page):

fogcon-5-artwok by eli bishopI’ve heard rumors that signed posters may be available at FOGcon 6… hope so!

Story in “Mosaics: Indie Women Volume I”

12669608_1indie women anthology vol 1My story, Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels, has been accepted for the Indie Women Anthology Volume I. I’m thrilled… and delighted to be on the same table of contents as these writers:

Authors of Volume 1, on track for publication March 8, 2016 (in no particular order):
Tonya Liburd
Keyan Bowes
Carol Cao
Julia Ray
Kelsey Barfuss-Maki
Elizabeth Wolf
Sarina Amanda Dorie
Deborah Walker
Jordanne Fuller
Ariana Harradine-Noble
Keira Michelle Telford
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Naomi Elster
Patty Somlo
L.s. Johnson
Karen Heuler

A Dark and Stormy Night for SF in SF

cecelia holland terry bisson and kim stanley robinsonIt was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, and parking spaces were all occupied by immovable objects, some of which were cars. SF in SF had moved to a new location, too far from the Muni for a multi-block walk on a dark and stormy night.

SF in SF is a neat program in San Francisco that hosts speculative fiction author readings. Rina Weissman co-ordinates. Terry Bisson moderates, and often starts the round of questions. There’s a cash bar and a book table, I think from Borderlands. I try to get to it whenever I can.

terry bisson listening to kim stanley robinsonIt used to be held in the Hobart Building on Market Street, easy to reach by train even on a dark and stormy night. But things change, and that venue is no longer available.  With the help of author Madeleine Robins, who works there, the American Bookbinders Museum may be its new home.

I walked in late (because I went round the block several times until a car pulled out), and it was a bit awkward. The door was already locked, and they had to let me in.  enthralled audience for SF in SF Jan 17 2016But it’s a lovely space – kind of concrete and glass, with all these wonderful old book-binding machines most of which are still in working condition. (They give tours. I’m going to take one, one of these days.)

There was a great turnout with standing room only (despite the dark and stormy night).  I was happy to find I knew quite a few people there.  One of the nice things about these events is a chance to see people you don’t ordinarily meet.

Kim Stanley Robinson read a funny short story from the viewpoint of a lawyer who may or may not have been an attorney for people who may or may not have been aliens. Cecelia Holland read from a new work. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them both.

If you live in the San Francisco area, or even if you’re visiting – this is a nice event to meet with authors and the spec-fic community here. And all the readings I’ve attended have been awesome. But next time, if it’s not dark and stormy, I’ll try walking down from Market and Powell.




What I Loved at Con-volution 2015

Con-volution 2015: Legion of Fandom in Burlingame, CA. A most excellent Con. Definitely one I will return to next year. Unlike the book-focused cons I mostly prefer, Con-volution’s totally inclusive. Books, bronies, babies, battles, beer, it’s all good. The result is a nice mix of ages (strollers to seniors), ethnicities, genders, interests. It was delightfully eclectic (and eccentric).

With its central location at the Hyatt airport hotel in Burlingame, a lot of people came by either for the whole Con or for a visit.  I got to meet writer buddies I hadn’t seen for a while, both Conning and Bar-conning. Many were local or semi-local, others came from Southern California. It’s so lovely hanging out with interesting people who are doing and writing intriguing things. We had the traditional Codex meetup (Codex being an online group of writers), always a pleasure.

your book is why daddy drinksBesides panels, there are some fun events that I don’t see at the literary cons I more usually attend. I have to say a highlight was the podcast, Your book is why Daddy drinks. The panel discussed (or made fun of) “Tarnsman of Gor,” while imbibing much booze, dressed in fur bikinis because they’d met their charity fundraising challenge goal. The Gor stories (for the generation that is blissfully unaware) are a series of 33 misogynist books that started in 1966 based on a fantasy world which was also, the panel told us, a rip-off of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This ran from 12 midnight to 2 a.m., and it was hilarious. Thanks, intrepid panelists!


The panels were unusually good. Last year, I enjoyed the panels too, but in most cases, only a few people went and they ran out of steam early. This Con I didn’t feel that way at all.  A decent number showed up for nearly every panel I attended – enough to keep it interesting, small enough that audience participation was easy.  Here are the ones I went to. (For some panels, my notes got so long I linked them separately.)

How to get started as a voiceover actor.  (Xander Jeanneret, Bonnie Gordon) This was an immensely useful intro panel, presented in an engaging way by Bonnie and Xander. Here are my Detailed Notes.

To be or not to be: Listening to critique. (Jennifer Carson, Marie Brennan, Bradford Lyau and Cliff Winnig) Again, a panel that delivered what it promised – a discussion of how to use critiques, best and worst examples, and what to do with strongly negative criticism. Marie described how someone critiqued one of her stories, and found the exact thing that wasn’t working about it. Jennifer described one incident when a big-name author came in late, interrupted the session in progress because he was in a hurry, critiqued 2 sci-fi stories at considerable length, and used his last few minutes to be utterly dismissive of a fantasy story. Jennifer named no names. But I thought I’d met that author.

Kinky and geeky. (Dario Ciriello, Jaym Gates, Veronica Belmont , Lance Moore) This started out with a funny anecdote about how Dario found himself an inadvertent Dom on Second Life, but quickly got serious. What I came away with was a discussion of how difficult it can be to create safe spaces for kink especially in those parts of the US that are more conservative and not kink-friendly or sex-positive. There’s a need to preserve anonymity, to enforce a very strict policy non-photography policy, and also to maintain physical safety. There were a couple of sad stories out there, including a young woman getting murdered because she wouldn’t believe that she was at risk from someone who thought he was entitled to her because she danced near-naked. The SF Bay Area is, fortunately, relatively accepting.

Actual science in science fiction. (M Christian, Jay Hartlove, C. Sanford Lowe, Edward Pizzini Ph.D., Heidi Stauffer)  Many of the panelists were scientists. The discussion centered on the balance between getting the science right, and changing it in the interests of not boring the audience you’re writing for. Someone gave the example of CSI. In its first season, it was very accurate, but it appealed to a limited audience. In the second season, the producers went with flashiness over accuracy, and it grew in popularity. This popularity even unrealistically skewed expectations regarding the speed and accuracy of forensic science. But it’s also inspired a lot of young people to become scientists by making it cool. This has always been an important role for science fiction. So in the end, it’s a balance between: How much accuracy and research do I need to make me-the-author happy? What does my audience need to know (barring the experts, who’ll probably be thrown out of the story anyway)? What’s my responsibility to the public who will learn science from my stories (example: Michel Crichton’s recent climate-change-is-fake book)? What’s my responsibility to people who will be inspired to learn or to fund science? My only quarrel with this really good panel was that there was no time for questions.

Cover me, which was about book and comic covers. (Jennifer Carson, Maya Bohnhoff,  Anna Warren Cebrian, Cliff Winnig) Again, a very practical panel. The tl:dr version: A cover advertises a book. Color palette and image often determine the genre, and the font must match. It’s got to work as a thumbnail. The author name font should be as large as the book title font. Lots more detail including cost discussions in my panel report.

Mythologies: The world outside Olympus and Asgard. (Bret Sweet · Emily Jiang · Balogun Ojetade · Jason Malcolm Stewart.)  This dealt with non-European mythologies, and to my delight focused mainly on African myth systems. There was a good discussion of the importance of the feminine in traditional myths in Africa (missed which tradition, may be Yoruba). They also talked of how African myths got transformed when slaves brought them to the U.S. – trickster stories became Brer Rabbit stories. They also considered Native American influences. (Someone suggested that Trickster meets Coyote would be a cool theme for a book!) I ended up buying several books recommended by Balogun on the spot. (Thanks, Amazon.) Emily accidentally missed the beginning, but contributed some interesting inputs about East Asian mythos, and written vs oral traditions. Jason talked about how a Western audience is trained to expect the three-act structure: Presentation/ conflict/ resolution. As a result, they may be quite unable to accept other ways of story-telling. For writers, there’s a trade-off, in that if we want to sell our work, we do have to conform to reader expectations. I’m really there. I looked at this issue in “Why I write American” a blog-post later published in the electronic version of the Wiscon Chronicles.

Writing fight scenes that aren’t wack.  (Balogun Ojetade)  This was a great panel for me. I have no martial arts training – unlike just about every writer I know, who all seem to have some exposure to aikido or karate or fencing or something. (The others are all linguists. Some are linguists who do martial arts.) But fight scenes are an essential part of every spec-fic writer’s vocabulary, so off I went. Balogun is an expert in African fighting styles (and there are many of them). An interesting point he made: African “wrestling” (which includes fighting with weapons) incorporates “feminine” moves. “I’m 6′ 3,” he said, “and weigh 200 lbs. In a fight, I’ll use my strength. But if a woman who’s 5′ 2 and weighs maybe 120 lbs has to fight, she’ll develop effective techniques. That’s what you need to know.” He showed us, with actual demos, why staged fight scenes *have* to be choreographed to be completely different from real fights – and why we have to describe real fights. He cautioned against too much actual description of blood and guts except when writing horror, because reality is really very very gory. Weapons and fighting styles have to match, and are often determined not just by the level of technology but by culture. Zulu and Yoruba fight differently, as do medieval swordsmen and Chicago knife-fighters. The Zulu, for instance, fight using stealth tactics. The example he gave: “You’re charging at a Zulu warrior with your broadsword, and he’s only got a short spear. You’ll kill him, easy. But when you run at him, you fall into a trench he’s standing behind – and then he gets you with the spear.” (It was only just now when I looked it up on the schedule that I realized this was a Master Class limited to 6 people and I was supposed to have pre-registered. Oops.)

[The short spear was called an “ikwa.” I’d never heard of it before. And then, two days later, at a consignment store I found this:

pics36 001 ikwaThe note said, “This is an ikwa (e-kwah). Zulu short spear. South Africa.” Neat coincidence!]

The one that got away: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation? I didn’t go because I’d heard this topic discussed elsewhere, notably Wiscon. But… the reports I got afterwards made me wish I’d attended. It ran for three hours of its allotted 75 minutes!


library bards and dancing robot
Library Bards and dancing robot

Besides the crazy fur-bikini booze-fueled book critique podcast, I attended the Liars’ Panel, which was also hilarious. It was a bunch of people dishonestly answering embarrassing questions.

The Diplomat’s Ball was notable because of the Library Bards (Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon, who perform great sci-fi parodies of the Top 40 Hits) and a 5-foot-tall dancing robot. My writer friend A.E Marling showed up in his Dr Horrible costume, and joined them onstage for the appropriate section.

The Masquerade was a creative melange of 18 quite different entries. Disney Steampunk was a performance by a family of kids, reprising Aladdin in the steampunk genre (the magic lamp is reinvented as a ray-gun), with Princess Elsa of Frozen visiting too.

Roadside Warrior Shaman wore a costume that included a staff that was covered with interesting stuff, and rebooted the world with Control-Alt-Delete! Of course there were Mad Max: Fury Road tributes. And a huge white furry nine-tailed fox.

some of the prizewinners

This was my second year at Con-volution (here’s my report from 2014). It’s an easy local Con for me.  Staying at the hotel anyway lets me do the late night/ early morning stuff that just wouldn’t happen if I were driving in. Like that “Your book is why Daddy Drinks” podcast!


The organizers got so much right that it seems churlish to mention the few things that didn’t work so well, but I will for completeness.

They ran out of program books – printed way too few of them. I got there before the opening ceremonies, and they were already gone. This was in response to the previous year’s surplus and the high cost of printing. So the only way to know the program was to stay in the hotel (so you had free wifi) and use your smartphone. Or to have printed the program out in advance (which, very luckily, is what I did). The downside to that was you couldn’t print out any details like who the panelists were and what the panel was actually about (“Cover me”?) Again, fortunately, I had an iPad in my room, so I could look up details and then hand-write them on the printout I’d made. I felt like I had The Knowledge. (Except, not quite: see my Oops under the Fight scene panel.)

I suggested an easy fix would be a big bulletin board next to the Reg desk. They could post the Schedule. Honored Guest bios. The map of the hotel (it takes some getting used to, with events happening on two floors or more, on two sides of the quadrilateral of the hotel). The newsletter (they had one, but I never saw it.) Notices/ changes. Maybe even a members bulletin board if you want to contact someone (Wiscon has one of those, and it’s useful.)

Some people mentioned programming clashes. I usually had at least 3 things I wanted to attend in each time-slot, but that’s okay. I’m beginning to realize that’s a sign of a good match between me and the Con I’m attending. And there apparently were a few sparse panels, but not the ones I attended.


The Dealer Room and Art Show were fun. I only got one thing this year: This picture. Daniel Cortopassi does these whimsical cartoons of cats. They were all amusing, but I really couldn’t resist this one.

himalayan hijinx by daniel cortopassi



How to Get Started as a Voice Actor – Panel Notes from Con-Volution 2015

library bards poster smThis was the kind of panel I attend because it’s a subject about which I am Totally Clueless. It was totally worth it. Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon are voice actors who started in in theater, and now do voicing. As the Library Bards, they sing nerdy parodies of current hit songs.

Main points:

  • Major markets can be split into: Commercial, industrial, games, anime. Usually commercial and industrial pay the best – and may require Union membership.  They may also pay residuals i.e. like royalties every time the sound clip is used. (The relevant Union is SAG-AFTRA.) Anime, games, cartoons tend to pay a one-time fee and that’s it.
  • You need to be able to record and edit your own clips. They recommended Audacity and a good microphone that plugs into your laptop. They use a Snowball mic. (I’ve done Audacity once, and it wasn’t easy – but I could see how it could become so with practice.)
  • You don’t need a home studio, you can improvise. A closet makes a good studio, because the clothes damp the sound and improve the acoustics. In an emergency (like recording in a hotel room), you can throw a blanket or towel over your head, the mic and the laptop. Audacity has a noise reduction option; if you give it a few minutes of silence before you start recording, that defines a background “noise” to get rid of.
  • Sometimes, local studios are available for rental by the hour.
  • You can do a lot of voices by changing speed, level, pitch, or adding a speech impediment. T.C. Helicon  audio equipment can help change pitch.
  • You absolutely need a “reel” – a demonstration MP3. Some voice actors include actual work they’ve done. People who are just starting out can invent their own – read some stuff out loud and show the voices you can do. (Tip: Do not do existing commercials! But you can make up your own commercial for a fictitious product.) Xander recommends putting your reel on Youtube with a headshot so it’s easy to share.
  • You can get projects on the internet. The three sites they mentioned were Voices.com (free), Voices123 (which charges a fee), and ACX.com which is an Amazon audio-book site.
  • You can get voiceover agents, but Bonnie didn’t feel it was very valuable for her. This was in part because she took on a lot of very small projects, mostly from Voices.com
  • Bonnie recommended taking all the gigs you can get initially – even unpaid ones – to build your contacts. Sometimes, you can do voice work for someone as a favor, and they can give you some professional help.
  • Union membership is a double-edged sword. Union jobs pay better, but there aren’t that many of them – and especially people who are starting out need to do non-Union jobs to build their networks. If you’re Union, you can do a non-Union job, though it’s frowned on; but if you’re not in the Union you aren’t eligible for Union gigs.
  • Screen actors are beginning to do voice-acting work and are in demand because of the name recognition. Not all of them are good voice actors, though!
  • Voice acting usually requires exaggeration, not perfect realism. One of the best ways to learn is to listen. Watch the commercials, listen to how they do it.
  • They recommended Dee Bradley Baker’s blog, I want to be a Voice Actor as a good place for beginners.

Cover Me – Panel Notes on Book Covers from Con-volution 2015

Jennifer Carson, Maya BohnhoffAnna Warren Cebrian, and Cliff Winnig put on a very practical panel at Convolution 2015 (Oct 2-4, Burlingame, CA) about book covers. These are more important than ever with so many books coming out of small presses or being self-published.

thumbnail of spirit gate by maya bohnhoffThe most important thing to bear in mind: The job of the cover is to sell the book. It has to attract attention, and give the right signals about its content. It doesn’t have to perfectly reflect any scene in the book, or even be completely true to the book. But it shouldn’t cheat the reader’s expectations – that just ends in bad reviews.

If you’re writing genre fiction, the cover should reflect the right genre. This means the right color palette, the right image, and the right font for that genre. For instance, science fiction uses blues, black, green, red, orange and modern-looking fonts. A space ship on the cover is a clear signifier. Romance uses pinks and reds. Urban fantasy uses darker colors and appropriate images.  The best way to figure this out is to look at a hundred different covers in your genre, and see what they have in common.

  • With online sales being large and growing, the image must work as a thumbnail. It should still tell the genre and the the title and author name should be clear.
  • For print editions, the spines are extremely important – that’s what the reader will see on a bookshop shelf. Plan to wrap the colors and carry the right information.
  • If you’re writing a series, the covers should indicate the series branding. The images and colors should be related, and a blurb should establish that it is a series, and which number book each one is. If it’s a print edition, the spine should say which number book of the series it is.
  • Generally, a cover should have no more than three fonts, preferably in the same font family.
  • It also should have not more than three image elements, and they need to work together. More becomes cluttered and confusing.
  • People on the cover (faces, figures, whatever) draw the eye more than just scenery or objects.
  • The font of the author’s name should be large, ideally as large as the title font. If it doesn’t all fit, make the surname the largest for print editions, since that’s what they’re shelved by.
  • If you’re publishing the book in print, don’t make it an awkward size. It’ll get shelved separately and be harder to find.


There are two parts to a cover – finding the art, and then designing it into a cover. For the art, you can use stock art; commission artwork; use photographs made by you or your friend and family; or bypass the whole thing and use premade covers.

Stock art. If you’re using stock art, it’s important that all the elements work well together. For instance, the scale of the objects should be appropriate, relative to each other. The light falling on the object should be at the same angle, so it seems to come from the same light source. The level of hue and saturation should match. A good way to check saturation and hue is to look at the image in black and white. If an image is just stuck onto a single-color cover, it looks self-published. (A whole bunch of sites offer stock art for sale.)

Photographs taken by you, friends or family can be useful. One panelist found her son’s photos from an Aquarium visit made great space photographs for science fiction covers.

Commissioning a cover. You can either commission a complete cover, or get the artwork made separately and then design it into a cover.  With the internet, prices have plummeted because excellent artists from Asia and Eastern Europe are willing to work for relatively low prices and send a good digital file that can be converted to a cover. (Deviant Art is one source.) However, these artists are not necessarily book designers, and you may need to do that or hire someone to do it. Prices are vary between $250 and $2000, but a good professional cover is typically around $500-800. Artists who will work with existing art and design the cover typically charge around $50/ hour. Online sites (like this one) offer cover design for far less.

Premade covers. An increasing number of sites offer pre-made covers, where you scroll through until you find one that would work for your story. In some cases, they are one-offs and so you have an exclusive; others will offer the same cover for sale multiple times. It’s worth doing an image search to see what else that cover is associated with. Sites mentioned at the panel: Safari Heat Book Tours and Author Services (offers exclusivity, and will tweak the covers for an extra charge); HowardDavidJohnson (not exclusive unless you pay extra); and one other I couldn’t find. These looked a good bit cheaper than the prices discussed, but perhaps there are charges I didn’t look at.


There was discussion of the white-washing of Octavia Butler’s first book covers. The original cover  was pretty good at selling the book, but, as Cliff Winnig pointed out, it will live in infamy.  The picture was of a white woman while the book’s characters were dark-skinned. The marketing department decided that it would sell better than way. It may even have been true, for two reasons. First, readers’ biases. Second, the book might get shelved with ethnic books (bookstores’ biases), and not reach its science-fiction audience. However, this practice contributes to erasure and the impression that the reading audience is all white. Publishers are learning not to do it.

If your book is not self-published but going to a publisher, you may not get a say in the cover. They may make the decisions without any input from you at all.  This too is gradually changing, as self-publishing and small indie presses change authors’ perceptions of how much control they should have. Even the large presses are beginning to listen. If you hate the cover they’ve designed it may be worthwhile telling them; in some cases, they are willing to change it.  Small presses are usually more accommodating than large ones.


The Stinkfisher’s Lovely Daughter

I submitted The Stinkfisher’s Lovely Daughter to the Desi Writers’ Lounge writing competition, and it won an Honorable Mention. But even better than that was nature of the mention:

“This fantasy tale of loyalty and sacrifice came ever so close to the top three positions. Bowes deserves appreciation for putting together a complete story, excellently paced and with some incredible magic.”

Thanks, DWL!

“The Mother Goose Crisis” in Unsung Stories

Unsung Stories, the UK-based online magazine, published my story, The Mother Goose Crisis.

When a nursery-rhyme virus threatens to take out the internet – and possibly its users too – a creative solution is needed to save the world as we know it. But what, and can the tech team pull it off?

The story is short and light-hearted. I wrote the first draft years ago, in the era when 5 1/4 inch floppies still existed. From time to time, as I do with all my stories, I’d pull it out, revise it and update it. (There is no such thing as a Trunk Story – only one that hasn’t yet found its purpose.)  The floppies in the story became 3 1/2 inches. Then they became thumb drives.  The cast changed a bit. I still found it amusing, but had no idea where to send it.

Recently, on Codex, someone linked to Unsung Stories. Here’s how they describe themselves:

Unsung Stories is a fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Publishing a London-based small press. Unsung Stories publishes genre fiction, most commonly described as science fiction, fantasy and horror. But as useful as those classifications are, we look beyond them, into the potential they contain. We love the fuzzy bits between genres: hard, soft, gooey and fuzzy sci-fi, high, low, top, middle and bottom fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, weird, dark, comedy, satire, bizarro and anything else that falls somewhere between any or all of those…

So I sent it off, and here it is. I’m delighted.



“Genetic Changelings” in Flametree Publishing’s Science Fiction Short Stories

Gothic Fantasy 3 books covers 2015 August

Flametree Publishing, a UK-based publisher, is coming out with three awesome collections of stories classic and new: Ghost stories, Horror, and Science Fiction. They’re publishing my story, “Genetic Changelings,” in the Science Fiction anthology.

Deepali’s a science writer whose latest book, “Genetic Changelings: The Slippery Slope from Normalcy” is a runaway hit. She’s becoming the voice of the Normies in a world where it’s becoming more and more acceptable to be Designer. But her own sister’s about to sabotage that…

Flametree recently sent me a link to the Table of Contents, and I am going to be TOC-mates with an awesome bunch of authors – new and established. Here it is:

Science Fiction Short Stories

The Body Surfer by Edward Ahern
Behind the First Years by Stewart C. Baker
Genetic Changelings by Keyan Bowes
Overlap by Beth Cato
Rest in Peace by Sarah Hans
The Hives and the Hive-Nots by Rob Hartzell
The Vast Weight of Their Bleeding Hearts by Alexis A. Hunter
Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones
The Julius Directive by Jacob M. Lambert
Metsys by Adrian Ludens
Fishing Expedition by Mike Morgan
Red by Kate O’Connor
Nude Descending an Elevator Shaft by Conor Powers-Smith
Sweet Dreams, Glycerine by Zach Shephard
Jenny’s Sick by David Tallerman
Shortcuts by Brian Trent
A Life As Warm As Death by Patrick Tumblety
Butterfly Dreams by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1 by M. Darusha Wehm
Clockwork Evangeline by Nemma Wollenfang

“These new authors are surrounded by classic work from the following writers: Edwin A. Abbott, Ray Cummings, Arthur Conan Doyle, E.M. Forster, H. Rider Haggard, Henry Kuttner, Jack London, Edward Page Mitchell, Philip Francis Nowlan, H. Beam Piper, Arthur B. Reeve, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Edgar Wallace, Stanley G. Weinbaum.”

(I never ever thought my work would appear in the same book as some of the greats! )

This is going to be an awesome set of books. Look at this cover! (Which you shouldn’t judge a book by, but – look at this cover! Including the alien baby amid the scrollwork.)

Science Fiction Short Stories 2015 cover

“Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement”

The standout panel for me at the World Fantasy Con last November was Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement, moderated by Mark L. Van Name. It was excellent because panelists Griffin Barber and Alistair Kimble actually work in law enforcement. Barber is in the police force, and Kimble, if I understood correctly is (or was) in the FBI.

Here’s the panel description, taken from the World Fantasy Convention 2014 website (and I love that it remains up after the Con is over!):

Fantasy writers who are also law-enforcement workers discuss how fantasy fiction portrays law enforcement, and compare those practices to real-world law enforcement.  They will talk about where fiction differs from reality and discuss what works in stories and what really is fantasy.  In discussing such works as The City and The City (China Mieville), Finch (Jeff VanderMeer), London Falling (Paul Cornell), and Servant of Empire (Raymond Feist), they will contrast the real and fantasy worlds of law enforcement.

I finally got round to compiling my notes on it. (This may contain errors because this area is new to me – please feel free to correct mistakes):

  • Paul Cornell gets it. In response to which authors they knew who got it right, they picked Paul Cornell, a UK writer. It’s authentic and rings true. (When I googled him, I found he’d written some Dr Who episodes.)
  • Use of force. Books often portray police as trigger-happy. Barber said in 13 years in law enforcement, he hadn’t discharged his weapon once – though his finger crept to the trigger a few times. There are many steps of response well before reaching lethal force. And there’s a “force continuum” – starts with the baton, goes to a sleep hold (not a choke-hold), and goes to pepper spray before getting to shooting someone.
  • For the FBI, it’s one-zero. Kimble said the FBI doesn’t use weapons as a threat or a deterrent – it’s one-zero. They also don’t shoot to kill; they shoot to eliminate the threat.
  • When an officer shoots – not what you think. Barber pointed out that if there is a shooting, the standard by which the officer is judged is not what the public perceives. The legal standard is, Would another officer with the same training have done the same thing? (It’s like the standard used to evaluate medical malpractice – would another professional have made the same call?) But he says that officers don’t shoot lightly; it weighs on their minds all the time.
  • Personal video cameras on police officers make a difference. They not only provide evidence when things go wrong, the public were less likely to complain about an officer’s actions where video cameras were used. They don’t necessarily stop an officer from shooting if his life in in danger – according to Barber, “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” The problem is cost. They generate a huge amount of data, which means there are storage and handling costs.
  • The FBI is mandated to record every custodial interview (audio or video).
  • It’s not like CSI. Kimble talked about the TV program CSI creating the false expectations – that a DNA test was routine and could lead one to the criminal in short order. First, DNA is not always tested; tests cost $800 a pop. Even if it is tested for, the time to results is 3-5 weeks. The True Detective TV show is a better model than CSI.
  • Handcuffs aren’t the end, there’s paperwork.  Barber pointed out a case doesn’t end with the criminal taken away in handcuffs. There’s the paperwork. Lots of it. Your supervisor is going to want to see your report. You have to make sure the paperwork is done in case of complaints. Evidence collection requires a chain of custody; if it’s not solid, the case won’t hold up in court.
  • The worst kind of cases are domestic violence and Driving Under the Influence (DUI). They’re frustrating, with a small payoff. You end up doing 4 hours of paperwork, and most domestic violence victims return to their abuser.
  • Writing law enforcement authentically:
    • Don’t dehumanize people wearing uniforms. They’re still people.
    • Writing about loads of boring paperwork without being boring – have the officers complain about it!
    • When in doubt, denigrate upper management!
    • FBI has something called Citizen’s Academy which is an excellent way to learn about the FBI.
    • Black humor is a common way to relieve the stress of dealing with crime and death.

(If anyone has anything to add or correct please leave a comment. Comments are moderated because of spam, but I should get to it within 24 hours.)

FOGcon 2015 Writing Workshop – Interested?

I’ve blogged before about FOGcon, the ‘Friends of Genre Convention’ held in the San Francisco Bay Area. (It’s not to be confused with ‘Fans of Gaming convention’ that goes by the same acronym.) It’s a lovely laid back Con, full of interesting people and conversations – small enough to be comfortable, large enough to be engaging.

FOGcon 5 is to be held March 6-8, 2015, at the Walnut Creek Marriott. It’s the same hotel as last year and the year before. This time, the theme is The Traveler, and the Guests of Honor are Kim Stanley Robinson and Cat Valente. (Warning: We’re still updating the website, so some bits are still talking about the previous Con. You can email us if you have specific questions.)

But what I want to talk about is the FOGcon Writing Workshop (which I’m coordinating again this time) and give a heads up if you’re interested. I blogged about it after FOGcon 2014.  My conclusion is, we’re doing something right. Lots of people come back, both participants and instructors. I was particularly delighted when Kaylia Metcalfe – who’s attended several times – emailed that it was “One of the highlights of the year!”


The workshop consists of small critique groups, led by published authors who volunteer to provide their insights. We get the manuscripts from participating writers about six weeks in advance. The writers are split into groups of three or four, and we put them in touch with each other by email and each group gets all the manuscripts for that group. At the Con, they meet for a roughly one-hour session (which can sometimes go to two hours!) There’s a workshop fee of $20.

The workshops look to be increasingly popular,  so we’ve been experimenting with ways to accommodate them. Instead of having all groups meet over Saturday lunch hour in the programming space like FOGcon 3, last year we had it in a room behind the Consuite and spread it out through Saturday and part of Sunday. We also tried to set it up so if a group wanted to run over the hour and fifteen minutes allocated, they could do so. We got positive feedback on the new format, and that means we can actually add some more participants.


Even though we can accommodate a few more people in 2015, places are still limited. So please email us  if you want to join. We’ll be accepting applicants until we’re full, or January 31 2015, whichever happens first.

So here are the steps:

1) Email us at workshop@fogcon.org if you’re interested.

2) Once you know that there’s space, confirm that you’ve registered for FOGcon 2015, and we’ll reserve a place for you.

3) Any time between December 15th, 2014 and January 31, 2015, submit your <7,500-word manuscript and pay the workshop fee ($20 admin charge) using a special Paypal link we’ll send you.

4) In early February, we’ll put you in touch with the others in your Critique group, and send you their manuscripts so you can prepare helpful critiques before the Con.

All the details are on our website, HERE. (And if you have questions that aren’t answered, email us!)

World Fantasy Con 2014 at Washington DC

hyatt lobby World Fantasy and Rolling Thunder

This year’s World Fantasy Convention was in Washington DC, in other words – accessible. (Last year, it was in Brighton, UK, and the year before, in Canada.) The last time I went was San Diego, in 2011. (I blogged about it here.) So I grabbed the chance to attend. I’m so glad I did.

desirina boskovich and ann vandermeerThe highlight of the Con for me was the people. I’m in an online forum of neo-professional writers called Codex. I’ve met some  in person, usually at Cons. This time, around 40 Codexians attended WFC. This gave me a group  of writers to hang out with – smart, friendly, and interested in a broad range of topics. It was such a pleasure meeting people who I’ve mostly “met” only online. I also caught up with people I know from other cons, and of course Clarion peops like Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, and my Clarion classmate Desirina Boskovich – who I was meeting for the first time since 2007!

WFC had two tracks of programming, and one track of readings. After my recent experience at Convolution, which had so many tracks I lost count, this felt pretty manageable. This meant that they were all pretty well-attended, since they didn’t have ten events simultaneously competing for everyone’s attention.

All the panels delivered very much what they promised in their descriptions. On Thursday, I went to Humor in Fantasy, and Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement. Friday, it was Language and Linguistics in Fantasy; Adoption and Fostering in Fantasy; Beyond Rebellion in Young Adult Fantasy; Historical Influences in Fantasy. On Saturday, I made a hard choice between Animals in Fantasy and International Fantasy and Translation, and opted for the ‘Translation’ panel.

Every one was interesting and I learned something, but the standout was ‘Law Enforcement.’ Two of the panelists were an FBI person and a police officer – and both are writers. So they had interesting insights about law enforcement, how it’s portrayed, how to make it authentic without being boring, and the role of paperwork in law enforcement. One point that was valuable to me: Use of force. Police officers very seldom discharge a firearm. If there are questions about it later, the standard to which they’re held is not “What does the public think?” It’s “what would an experienced and trained police officer have done in that situation?”


desirina readingI attended three readings.

  • The Broad Universe ‘rapid fire’ reading, in which a number of authors each read a short piece.
  • Chris Cevasco reading the powerful and painful opening of his novel Eventide, in which King Harold’s wife and mother are searching for his body after the terrible defeat at the Battle of Hastings.
  • A story by Desirina Boskovich Frew (she got married only days before World Fantasy!), in which a woman is driven to terrible vengeance when a man repeatedly revs up his noisy truck under her window at 3 a.m.

I didn’t go for the Awards banquet; instead, the Codexians had a group lunch at Cinnabar. Excellent company, marvelous conversation. Later, as I was preparing to leave for the airport, I met Ellen Klages carrying a World Fantasy Award – the cartoon head of HP Lovecraft – and congratulated her. I hope we’ll see her at FOG 5 in March 2015.


Of course I had to go to the Steampunk User’s Manual launch party. The book is co-authored by Jeff Vandermeer, one of my Clarion instructors, and by Desirina Boskovich, who was in my Clarion 2007 class. It gave me a chance to meet Desirina again after all these years, and though we didn’t get to hang out a lot, we did get to catch up. I also got to talk with Ann Vandermeer a little, though as the main organizer for the party, she was doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes management.

steampunk manual launch party

I’d meant to get  copy of the book and ask Desirina and Jeff to sign it for me but unfortunately I waited too long and it was sold out.


Hyatt Regency turned out the be a superb con hotel. The meeting rooms were arranged around a core area, most of which we could access both by elevator and escalator. Unlike some hotels, where attending any panel involved a very long trek, here the rooms were clustered and accessible. The staff were friendly and helpful, and I really liked the food – I ate most meals at the two restaurants, Cinnabar and Lobbibar. It was good to excellent, and quite reasonable for hotel restaurant food.

Rolling Thunder had a convention at the same time, and a large number of bikers floated around the lobby in cool leather vests covered in patches. This organization focuses on keeping POWs and MIAs in public memory and before legislators – and many of them are bikers. They hold an annual rally in DC with thousands of bikers.


Not just Rockets and Robots thumbnailOn the freebie/ exchange table, I was surprised and delighted to find an anthology that had one of my stories. It was Daily Science Fiction’s compendium of stories from their first year, called ‘Not Just Rockets and Robots.’ My story, Chick Lit, is the same one that was later republished in Polish.

The Dealers’ Room was mainly books – I lost count of the bookstalls. Some were retailers; others were individuals or groups promoting their own books. I resolutely avoided buying any, though I was tempted; my suitcase was already several pounds heavier than when I came in with just the freebie books.

They also had jewelry, which is easier to buy because it’s lighter and takes less space. I especially liked Janet Kofoed‘s work; she does lost-wax castings in silver and copper, and strings them with beads or pearls or stones into necklaces, rings, and ear-rings. I bought a copper lunar moth pendant on a string of pearls.

luna moth necklace Janet Kofoed

Silkworms near Bangalore

One of the things I love about India is how much life is lived in the open. It’s as though you can see under a skin of the world that in other places covers up the processes of living.

I was recently on a road trip outside Bangalore with friends. On the way back, I saw some woven rush mats with interesting spiral patterns standing in roadside villages. They looked elegant, in a minimalist sort of way. “Those are for silkworms,” said Pratima, noticing my interest.

Really? So we stopped at one of the villages to look. Pratima speaks Kannada, and the villagers were happy to respond to her interest.

For people unfamiliar with how silk is made: It’s unwound from the pupae of the silkworm moth, which is killed in the pupal stage (usually by immersing it in boiling water). Breeders keep a stock of moths, and collect the eggs they lay. The larvae go through five instars (stages of growth) before they form their cocoons. They eat mainly mulberry leaves, and so South India has mulberry plantations for sericulture.

pix7 094 silkworm larvae before pupating
Late stage silkworms getting ready to pupate

Sericulture in the state of Karnataka is a cottage industry, providing flexible employment without need for serious capital investment. What we saw in the village were the late-stage silkworms, and the cocoons. I’m not sure whether they sourced the silkworms as larvae from a breeder, or whether they purchased the eggs and hatched them. We did see sheaves of mulberry leaves being brought in, but since it’s the late-stage larvae that are the most voracious, that didn’t indicate very much. I think they harvest the cocoons and sell them to other processors who actually unwind the silk.

pix7 103 silkworm mats stacked horizontally
The silkworm mats are stored horizontally with spaces between.
pix7 105 silkworm mat lowered to show cocoons
They lowered one mat to show us the cocoons
pix7 090 silk worm cocoons in mats propped up
During the day, they may be taken out and propped up in the air and sunlight
pix7 093 silk worm mats
Silkworm frames with cocoons
pix7 096 cocoons
Closer view of cocoons

The village itself was a delight. The houses were painted in bright colors, and vegetables grew randomly here and there, probably volunteers escaped from kitchen gardens. A hen with half-grown chicks wandered around, with no apparent attempt to contain them. A bunch of curious kids gathered around us, listening to their elders explain how they cultivated silkworms. Pratima asked why they weren’t in school. They were still on holiday, they explained. They had another 2 days off. We smiled our goodbyes, thanked them, and left.

pix7 104 village doorwaypix7 097 bicycle and chickenspix7 102 village near Bangalore

(Edited to Add: Incidentally, the swastika symbol in the picture above? It’s the auspicious symbol, not the Nazi one that Hitler stole. Talk about cultural misappropriation.)

First Time at ‘Convolution’ near SFO

freebie table

Convolution, held last weekend at the Hyatt Airport Hotel near San Francisco Airport, started only 3 years ago. I’d never attended before, and really enjoyed it. I came at it from a literary con experience – Wiscon, World Fantasy, FOGcon.  I’m not giving up those Cons, but this was different.

people in awesome costumesConvolution was a multi-con, a big tent. From steam-punk people in gorgeous gowns or vests and hats to a troop of Vulcans and Darth Vader himself, to singers and authors and gamers, it seemed to have something for every flavor of fan.  It had literary tracks with discussions of genre divisions and publicity for authors. It had science tracks, and a Silicon Valley Science Fiction short film festival (which unfortunately I missed). It had filks and karaoke (going on simultaneously). It had costuming – people making them, people wearing them, and people entering a masquerade contest.  It had a whole children’s track – Playzone. And a Dealers Room and an Art Show. I even got to attend a panel about Babs Con, a convention for the thousands of followers of My Little Pony.

masquerade costumesThe programming was insanely wonderful. For a 700-hundred person Con, it had up to 10 events going on simultaneously! I always found 3 or 4 I wanted to attend at the same time.  The downside was that the audience for each thing was small – sometimes only 3-4 people. With such small groups, they tended to run out of steam before the allotted 90 minutes, though all the panelists were very good. (Well done, Convolution!) The only really well-attended events I went to were the Masquerade, and then the closing ceremony. Convolution hopes to grow into this amount of programming – they would like to see 1000 people there next year.

Costumes. Other Cons I’ve attended don’t encourage costuming. I thought it added atmosphere. This was especially important because owing to the hotel’s layout, Convolution doesn’t have a hub. There’s no place where people can hang out and gather.  The hotel is laid out in a giant square, with a beautiful tree-lined atrium with a restaurant. There’s no place to gravitate to. The sports bar is off to one side. The Con suite was up on the 2nd floor, a long walk from the elevator. (There’s only one set of elevators, so it can be a very long walk indeed.)

Convolution had events going in multiple venues on 3 sides of the square, which diffused the effect and reduced the buzz – except that there were all these people in awesome costumes wandering around.

dragon hunterI wondered how many of the 700 people attending actually stuck around the whole time.  I went in on Friday evening, after the opening ceremonies, and stayed through the closing ceremony  – but I think quite a few people only came for a day or even just a few hours.  That’s the downside of the location being so accessible.

The hotel is ADA-compliant, and quite a few people with mobility issues attended. It didn’t seem easy, exactly, because the hotel had some many different levels with steps up and down, but it was generally feasible.  It was also nice to see gender and race diversity.

The food situation at the hotel wasn’t great. It was not too bad in the morning and until 2 p.m., though their cafe easily gets overloaded. But from 2 p.m., there’s either nothing but the sports bar, or the rather expensive restaurant for dinner. The Con Suite, to my surprise, closed at 8 p.m. (though  parties went later, to maybe 2 in the morning). Some people ordered in food from outside restaurants. Next year, I might bring a care package from home and stick it in the mini-fridge.

Victorian wonder womanThe hotel apparently discouraged signage, and so there wasn’t enough. It took a while to get oriented, especially since the Con had so many venues . The parties (on the 2nd floor) were especially tough to find. I never was quite sure whether I was in the right room for a panel, because the doors didn’t have signs on them saying what was going on. Unlike FOGcon and Wiscon, where the hotel seems to welcome the Con and want to support and be part of it, this hotel seemed to just tolerate it. At the feedback session, some people mentioned maintenance issues, like the mini-fridge not working or not existing.

role reversal leia and slave Han SoloOther than that, the hotel was nice. The atrium was awesome – my room looked out onto trees inside the hotel! The hallway also had windows overlooking SFO’s runway, and planes were always landing or taking off. The staff were friendly. The person who checked me in comped my parking when I said I was at the Con but hadn’t registered early enough to get the block rate. They also comped the internet, which was good enough though not as fast as I would have liked. Apparently, they normally charge for it – even in the 21st century.

hyatt sfo atrium at night