“Picnic, with Xels” in Cat’s Breakfast Anthology from Third Flatiron


A new anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing – it’s called Cat’s Breakfast: Kurt Vonnegut tribute. It’s available on Amazon as an e-book, and a print edition is planned.

It includes my story,  Picnic, with Xels.


I’m thrilled to see it published. This is one of my early stories, and a favorite of mine for many reasons both writing-related and personal.

I was just counting up my short stories and poems published. This is the 26th. Thanks, Clarion!

[Edited to Add: They did bring out the print version, and it rocks! Each story has a little graphic accompanying it.]


Criminal Minds – Notes from Orycon 2016


I found my bunch of Orycon 2016 notes the other day, and  thought some were worth writing up. This panel particularly impressed me, since the panelists (Matt Bellet, Bart Kemper, SD Perry) brought some very interesting experience and insights. Matt has worked in rehabilitating young offenders on parole; Bart Kemper, an officer in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and is also an engineer with current Secret Security clearance with the DoD); and SD Perry, who writes horror and dark fiction and therefore researches this stuff constantly.


Is there such a thing as a “Criminal Mind”?

  • SD Perry: Yes, there are brain differences. Psychopaths show reduced frontal lobe activity, no emotional reaction to danger words, and increased amygdala activity. However, ordinary people can also be criminals through anger and self-righteousness. There’s sociopathy.
  • Matt: Yes. Some people have brains that work differently. Others are “typical” but do things that are criminal because of their circumstances.
  • Bart: Not all criminals are psychopaths nor are all psychopaths criminal.
  • SD Perry: Yes – some psychopathic traits can help careers. They’re over-represented among surgeons, CEOs, media journalists for example. Our society values people without empathy. They avoid criminal acts through rational decisions.
  • Bart: Killing people is acceptable depending on the circumstances – if the people are on the other side. It’s the difference between being a soldier, who kills people vs a murderer who needlessly kills people. Killing can be justifiable, but other crimes like rape may not be. The death penalty for rape is rational because there’s no justification for rape.
  • Question: What about women killing their abusers?
  • Bart: Most murders are personal.
  • Matt: I told my guys that I will talk about what’s legal and illegal, but not about right and wrong. It’s not my job to look at the ethics of the situation.
  • SD Perry: Psychopaths don’t think of right and wrong. They consider everything only in relation to themselves. Rehab also has to be different. It’s also true with narcissism – everything is about them. Difficult to treat them. There’s the Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism. Together with Sadism. Goes into the “Criminal Personality,” causes Criminal thinking errors.
  • Someone said something about Death Squads and Torture. “You lose part of your soul.”

Question: What about naked craziness? (I think the reference was to people on the street who act really weird and dangerous, but not sure.)

  • Matt: Drug addiction, rule-breaking, mental illness, drawing attention – these account for some of those behaviors.
  • SD: There’s a thin line between sanity and not-sane.
  • Bart: Criminals aren’t stupid. Smart people can deceive themselves.
  • Matt: Criminals are not only the hero of their own story, they’re also the victim.
  • SD: Psychopaths will lie.
  • Matt: They know what you want to hear.

Question: Is the internet causing psychopaths?

Psychopaths are born, not made. But people can relate to them: for instance, John Wick (violent action movie hero) was a sympathetic person.

Question: There was some study in the 1920s which found there was no psychological difference between police and criminals?

Bart: A manipulative personality can be used to manipulate people in good ways. E.g. a coach, or a criminal rehabilitator.

SD: Any job that offers power will draw psychopaths. E.g. Police. Surgeons. CEOs. Don’t have moustache-twirling bad guys as your villains.

Matt cited the Milgram studies. He noted that people who hadn’t completed high school wouldn’t press the button (to apparently torture the “victim” of the experiment). High School is where you learn to obey authority.

Bart: Countering the stupid authority requires ethics training. “Question every order.” Military reward people who revealed the Abu Ghraib incident, and prosecuted the bad guys.


That’s all I have in my notes. Really liked the session. I think I learned a lot. I was reminded of it recently when I read the Atlantic Monthly article, When Your Child is a Psychopath,   which notes that 80% of psychopaths are not criminal, and also this article: Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.


Old Typewriters and a Ray Bradbury Tribute


I was at San Francisco Airport yesterday, and came upon this tiny exhibit of old typewriters in Terminal 2. (Of course, I thought of Mary Robinette Kowal, who collects them.)

It was quite charming – a whole range of old typewriters. I’d liked to have spent more time there looking at them all, but with only a few minutes before I had to head for my Gate, I just took a few pictures.

But the most interesting thing to me was the display of typewriters belonging to well-known authors. Orson Wells. Tennessee Williams. Hemingway. [Edited to add: I got an email from Steve Soboroff, who said they came from his famous collection.]

And perhaps the best of all: Ray Bradbury.

Reminded me of the tribute video by Rachel Bloom as well as all the lovely stories of his I’ve read over the years.


“Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels” in Expanded Horizons


My second Rumpelstiltskin story, “Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels” is on line at Expanded Horizons. It was first published in the Mosaics I anthology.

“Usually, the Queen rode alone to her hunting lodge deep in the forest. This afternoon, she’d brought her son King Rushken, recently come of age. Now she had to steel herself, resist the urge to turn back, to postpone.” (Read on)



My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Advanced Self-Publishing


Advanced Self-Publishing (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Mark Teppo, K. M. Alexander, Elliott Kay)

The discussion started with genre silos – writing books that are strictly within a genre, vs cross pollination. Also: If you write in more than one genre, should you consider different pen names?

Annie: It’s important for new writers to stay strictly within a genre, because of the way Amazon algorithms work. The most important element is the Recommendation engine, which will tend to recommend books similar to the ones a reader has already bought. The “also-boughts” are key: If people who bought your book also bought other books within the genre, then the also-boughts will give the correct signal. If you use the same name for two separate genres, you might get some cross-over readership – people who liked your Urban Fantasy may also enjoy your Adventure thriller series. But percentage-wise, most genres are separate readerships, and the result is the also-boughts get confused and give the wrong signals. So if you’re writing in two genres, at least use slightly different pen-names – like adding in an initial – to distinguish them. The Romance readers are more likely to cross into other genres than most other readerships.

Series are good for self-publishers; if readers like one book in the series, they buy all the others. The best thing you can do for your sales is to publish the next book in the series. It gives a boost to all the previous books.

How soon should you publish your next book?

For traditionally published books – about one a year was the conventional wisdom.

For self-published books, the ideal would be every 30 days (!) in the same series. If you can’t do 30, go for 60. If you can’t do 60, go for 90. If you’re a slower writer, then wait until you have at least 3 books in a series ready to go, and then release them once a month. This again comes from an Amazon algorithm. They have a 30-day “Hot New Release” list. If your next book comes out in time to get on the list *again* it will boost your series’ profile. They also have a 60-day list and a 90-day list.

Writing fast is important.  She said that when her pace of writing slowed, her income dropped every month. If you want to write faster, Annie recommends the book: “2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” by Rachel Aaron.

What’s the difference between paper books and e-books?

For much of the readership – they’re two different things. People who buy paper books don’t always read e-books. But people who read e-books often read paper as well.

For a self-publisher, paper books aren’t worth the trouble. The pricing is hugely different – an e-book can be priced at 99 cents to maybe $7.99, while the paper book will be $15 or more. The margins are tiny. You don’t have the reach to get them into bookstores. That’s where the traditional publishers have a stranglehold on the channels. Annie said she makes more (per book) on a $3.99 e-book than on a $25 hardcover book. On Amazon, at any price above $2.99, you get to keep 60-70%.

Annie sold the paper rights to her “20-sided Sorceress” books to Saga, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. They called her when her series took off on Amazon, and asked if she was interested in a deal. She crunched some numbers, and said it would require an advance of around $2 million. There was complete silence from the other side. Then after a few minutes, they asked about print-only rights.

“That… would be a lot less,” Annie said. So she sold them the print rights (and, she says, immediately turned round and paid it to the Federal Government as tax!), and took down the print version of her books. They were selling only a few copies anyway.





My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Running Your Author Business


Running Your Author Business  (Raven Oak (M), Tori Centanni, Annie Bellet, Jak Koke)

The panel emphasized that unless you were writing as a hobby with marginal expenditures and earnings, you need to run it as a business. Annie recommended watching “Shark Tank” to get the flavor of it.

Publishers are not employers. They can and will drop you and your books. You have to look after your own career.

If you’re self-publishing, you have to find and hire and co-ordinate with editors and cover artists. It’s your book when you write it, but once you publish it, it’s a product. Like hamburger. You want people to love your hamburger. Put on your publisher hat .


You can find a cover artist by looking at the covers you like, and contacting the artist. Or ask the author of the book who the artist is.

Annie: Very important to find an artist branded to your genre, who understands the tropes of your genre. If you’re a romance writer and you hate man-chests… well, that’s the branding for your genre. The cover must convey the flavor of the genre. (She related a story of going through 4 different covers for one of her books to get the right one. The first two weren’t too expensive, but the 3rd one cost $650. And it was a beautiful cover, just not right for the genre.)

Raven Oak does A/B splits to see which cover will work (for books from her micro-press).

Back cover blurb: Keep it short, but long enough to convey the tone. It should capture the character, setting, tone, and stakes.

Best marketing?

Annie: A new book. It boosts the sales of all your books. Besides that, good covers. Third, mailing lists.

Tori: Bookbub!

Jak: Blurbs and reviews. (Annie disagreed. Kirkus reviews had no effect on sales. The only one that mattered was Library Journal and that was hard to get into.)

Raven: Make friends with librarians, other contacts like Seattle Times, independent book sellers.

 Various income streams?

Tori: Amazon is the largest, Kobo if they do a promotion

Annie: Amazon dwarfs the rest. In one month, I made $31,000 on Amazon, $1500 on audio, $700 on Kobo and bits and pieces elsewhere. [I’m not completely sure I noted down the numbers correctly, but the point was that Amazon accounts for at least 80-85% of her income stream.]

Jak writes traditionally published books. Many have earned out. He also does freelance work for hire.

What about audio? When is a good time to do an audio book?

Someone (Raven? Jak?) said, ideal would be right away. Annie pointed out that making an audio book was expensive – it would cost $150 per hour or so just for a voice actor. She suggested waiting for Audible or one of its competitors to approach you. She has a audio contract with royalties.


Definitely get an accountant. Very well worth it.

Keep records meticulously, in real time. Record all your earning at the time in an Excel spreadsheet. The IRS recognizes income when it can reasonably be expected to arrive, not when you actually cash the check. A lot of expenses are deductible, including furnishings for a dedicated home office.

Don’t expect a 1099 will arrive. You may have to track it down. You’re responsible.

Is an LLC worth it?

Probably not. It’s state level, not federal level. It doesn’t make a difference on taxes. It only protects against liability, but not against libel/ slander/ copyright infringement – the things of most interest to authors. If you get sued, you would be better off using the money to hire a lawyer.  It’s only useful if you want to hire employees. If you’re big enough, you may want to form a corporation, but only when you’re really big.

What about Conventions? And what promotional material do you use?

Jak: I go to all affordable Cons within driving distance. For large Cons that are outside driving distance, I try to combine it with other stuff like visits to family. WorldCon is huge. I use business-card size cards of my book covers with contact information.

Annie: I go to Cons to hang out, meet other writers, and help others. I go to local Cons and WorldCon. I don’t sell a lot of books at Cons.

Tori: I go to local Cons, and now I’m the Track Lead at Norwescon. It’s for learning, meeting people. I carry business cards.

Raven: I go to all local cons, and a few outside. I booth. Sell books, make a connection with readers. When I’m at a Con, Con sales outsell online sales. (She also has “drop cards” that enable her to sell her ebooks at conventions to people not interested in buying print editions.)

Other forms of promotion? What about social media?

Annie: Have a mailing list and a monthly newsletter. Doesn’t really promote her books on social media.

Raven: I use Instagram. Pictures of our books photographed in interesting locations. It does boost sales.

General suggestion: Pick the social media you already love. You may or may not get much of a sales boost from it, so don’t do it if you hate it.




My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Writing to Market


Writing to Market  (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Marta Murvosh, Brenda Carre, Tegan Moore)

For me, this may have been the most interesting panel of the day. It nicely complemented the New Publishing panel I attended earlier.

  1. What is writing to market?
    • Marta: Understanding the tropes of a genre and making sure you deliver what the readers want. (She writes to anthology calls to challenge herself, and considers that writing to market.)
    • Brenda, who is published in many short-story markets – both spec-fic and literary – writes to her passion, and less to the market. She’s also published several books.
    • Annie (who is a very successful self-publisher): Writing with reader expectations in mind.
    • Writing to market is not writing to trend. Writing to a fan-base is ultimately a more successful strategy than hooking on to the latest trend. Even if you can do it, you may not be able to repeat the performance.
    • Teagan writes mainly short fiction, and writes to anthology calls. Pacing in literary markets is slower than in spec fic markets.
    • Markets may be more liberal than people think.
    • Distinguish between writing to the reader and writing to the editor.
  2. So how do you achieve this “genre methadone”?
    • Marta: As a librarian, I look for “appeal factors.” When someone likes a book, I ask what they liked about it. For e.g.: Hunger Games. Some of the factors: Dystopian; Speaking truth to power; Love triangle; Action adventure; bows and arrows. Then I can recommend another book with the right appeal factor.
    • Annie listed all the things she loved about books she read, focused on the urban fantasy genre, and wrote a series (The Twenty-sided Sorceress) using that analysis.
  3. How do you study the market?
    • Annie: Read! Read extensively in the genre you want to write.
    • Brenda: Read widely, it can spark new ideas.  Markets change over time, especially Young Adult.
    • Teagan: This is even more true (changing markets) of short fiction markets.
  4. Marketing to readers vs marketing to editors
    • Annie: It’s easier to market to readers than to editors. Editors are jaded, and they have to read lots of manuscripts and get fatigued when the same tropes keep appearing. Readers don’t care, they like what they like.
    • Brenda: Also, editors are responsible to a committee. Readers only have to please themselves.
    • Annie: For commercial success, reverse-engineer your tastes to the market. There is no such thing as trash. You have to enjoy popular culture. Find out what will connect you to your market. Susan Kaye Quinn suggests starting out by writing fan fiction of genres you love.
    • Annie: Look at the sales of sequels to your novel. Ideally, it should be >50% of Book 1.
  5. Is there a market for everything? Can I just take what I like, and extrapolate?  Someone spoke about books written from the point of view of the bad guy. Does the protagonist have to be appealing? We go into a discussion about flawed heroes and anti-heroes.
    • Marta: The market may exist, but it may be small. Who in this room has read “The Best American Short Stories 2016”?  [ I look around, and maybe 2-3 people have raised their hands.] “Right? Not many. It’s an important book, edited by Junot Diaz, but it appeals to a small market.”
    • Annie: I think there’s a market for everything, but there may not be a market for everything we write. And your market may be too small to support you as a writer. (She also has trunk novels which will never get published.)
    • Marta: It may appeal to a different audience than intended. I get YA Romance that aren’t really YA. They don’t address the concerns of teenagers,  the characters don’t think like teenagers. They’re just cleaned up romance novels. But there’s a market for clean (i.e. no onscreen sex] romance, and so I direct them to adults who want clean romance.
  1. What are the biggest mistakes?
    • Annie: They want to write something no one has seen before. It’s difficult to do and even harder to market.
    • Brenda: Only getting the low-hanging fruit – duplicating the market.
    • Marta: Not understanding what the reader wants

NorWescon 2017 in Seattle


I’d given up blogging about the Cons I attended, until the recent LiveJournal kerfuffle made me realize that I really valued having those Con notes afterward. So I’m starting again.

I only heard about Norwescon last year, when writer friends rounded up a bunch of people for breakfast. Next year, I decided, I really must attend the Con as well. It’s large – around 3,500 people, and very much a ‘big tent’ Con with books, media and costuming. There are literally thousands of people milling around, many of them in quite fantastic costumes.

The registration lines were long, but once that was done,  I attended panels, made a round of the pretty awesome Dealer Room, visited the art show twice, and also got to the Masquerade (amazing) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I’ve wanted to see for years.

It’s also a great Con for meeting people, if you set it up with them. (You *can* run into people, but with such a crowd, it’s easier with planning.) I’m lucky to be a member of Codex, a neo-pro writers group, and so I knew a few people there. I imagine it could be quite daunting for someone altogether new.

Overall, I attended a bunch of writing/ publishing panels, as well as a couple on other media (film, sound) and a few others that were new information/ experience. I am putting some of the panel notes into separate posts for easier access. And, of course, got to hang out with a great bunch of Codexians.  I really hope I can make it again next year.

Links to my Panel Notes from Self-publishing Panels:

  1. Panel: Navigating the New Publishing
  2. Panel: Advanced Self-Publishing
  3. Panel: Writing to Market
  4. Panel: Writing as a Business

Norwescon Film-making Workshop: Introduction (Daniel Kaufman (M), Ryan K. Johnson, Brian D. Oberquell, John Medlong)

Each year at Norwescon, the film team and a bunch of volunteers put together a short film over the weekend. It’s planned on Friday, shot on Saturday, and shown on Sunday. They showed us two films made in previous years They talked of how film-making was now very affordable, since the technology costs were very low and even excellent equipment could be rented at a reasonable price. Anyone could make a film – it was  a matter of learning (and the internet provided lots of information) and then, practice.

  • Three phases to making a film:
    • Pre-production (time to do the planning for the film and pull together all the elements needed);
    • Production, which is very time-sensitive because you’ve assembled the team and rented the equipment etc so it has to be done right then and there or it becomes too expensive.
    • Post-production, which is essentially the editing stage. A lot of things can be accomplished here.
  • People will tolerate poor video, but can’t stand poor sound. Make sure you get professional sound quality. Beware of copyright issues. (That made me remember the whole story of Sita Sings the Blues, where the maker thought the songs she used had aged out of copyright, not realizing that the studios had tied up all the rights for decades more.)
  • Pointers and tips:
    • You can get people to participate by asking for volunteers among your friends.
    • Feed your crew on-set – at least one hot meal, coffee, snacks. Especially when they’re volunteers! (Check if anyone is vegetarian, they may not mention it in advance. Also ask about allergies.)
    • During production – know what your role is and stay within that role even if you can do others. It’s not your job.
    • Especially when you start out, you don’t need to buy very high-end equipment. Also, rent! Glazer’s in Seattle treats a weekend as one day and only charges one day of rent.
    • For camera equipment, lenses are more important than cameras. “Latitude” (sensitivity to light from white to black, measured in “stops”) is as important as resolution. (8 1/2 is good enough, 13 1/2 is excellent).
    • Most times, the audience is more interested in the story than in the cinematography. No use shooting technically perfect shots that don’t advance the story.
    • Practice is more important than equipment quality.
  • Seattle’s grey overcast skies are wonderful for filming. You can brighten it up in post-production so it looks like summer in L.A.
    • (But to make Vancouver look like L.A., we bring in heaters to dry the pavement, and people scraping moss off the benches!)
    • The problem for Seattle is sound – crows and airplanes.
  • Special effects is not just blowing stuff up.

I’ll put panel notes on other panels in separate posts. I don’t want this thing to become 5,000 words long!

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Navigating the New Publishing


Navigating the New Publishing (Mark Teppo, Raven Oak, Shannon Page, Marc Gascoigne [Angry Robot])

I didn’t take notes, so all this is what I remember from the panel.

  1. Publishing, as we all know, is moving really fast as an industry. There are many options beside the traditional Big Publishing Houses. Small publishing houses like Tor and Angry Robot; micro presses that are even smaller, and often the work of a few individuals, maybe even one person; and, of course, self-publishing
  2. The big publishers have the best reach – they can get books into stores, they can get books reviewed in prestigious venues, they can promote your book in a big way. The question for most authors is, will they? The big publishers are notorious for concentrating their resources on the books they think will sell in millions of copies, and not doing very much for others. If your book is one of the left-behind ones, it may get hardly any promotion.
  3. The small publishers do better for new authors. They still have reach and a name in the market that provides an advantage. And with fewer authors, and especially, fewer big-name authors, they pay more attention to newcomers and new books.
  4. The micro-presses take it a step further in terms of personal attention and support for the author. They don’t have big budgets, but they are in your corner. You have a committed supporter who can take over many of the tasks writers don’t enjoy – the technical and business side of publishing and promotion. They can seldom afford to give advances.
  5. Self-publishing can work really well if you’re willing to make the effort and do the work. You start at a disadvantage without the reach, but the flip side is that you keep a much larger percentage of the sales, and you have complete creative control. You don’t have to hassle with trying to find a publisher willing to take your book. Some self-published authors have been very successful.
  6. Should you get an agent? It depends.  The panel had mixed views on agents as sellers of your book. If the agent has a really good list of contacts, it may be worth it. But it’s usually a lot of work to find an agent, and many writers discover that after all that trouble, it doesn’t work out. (I personally know several people who’ve parted company with their agents.)  If you’re willing to look at contracts really carefully and do your own negotiating, you make not need one. Shannon said she’d had an agent but they parted ways amicably. Mark said he has an agent whom he pays 15% for agented sales and 10% for sales that Mark negotiates, not so much for sales as for being there if something went wrong and needed fixing. Raven doesn’t have an agent, but has a lawyer who looks at the contracts. Tom, speaking for Angry Robot books, says that they don’t accept unagented submissions except for personal invitations (and he invited everyone in the room to send him manuscripts); it’s basically to keep the worst of the slush out.

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.