Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

OK, now it's Christmas. My creche is at one end of the big table in the living room, and the Magi are at the other end, to be moved a bit closer each day until Epiphany.

Book View Cafe is having a sale starting tomorrow. There was considerable debate about what to call it, because nobody believes all the customers are Christian. I admit that I rather liked "The Twelve Days of Book View Cafe," but after considerable debate as to whether everyone knows what Boxing Day is, it was finally agreed to use that. (My position is that when I see half-price eBook sale, if I don't know what Boxing Day is, I'm not going to care--and if I really want to know I can always look it up.) One thing we all agreed on was that we liked the "discount magically applied by our checkout fairies." Now if only we could find some "site update fairies"....

The sale includes MZB's The Complete Lythande, which I spent most of last week turning into an iBook. I got three books and a short story (to test the process without having to re-format more than 100,000 words of book) into the queue before iTunes Connect shut down for Christmas, but only The Complete Lythande made it as far as the iTunes store. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the rest of them to make the journey.

Speaking of late-December holidays, I read a really good book last weekend: An Unlikely Witch, by Debora Geary. It's the latest in her series about an extended family of witches living in Berkeley, California (and Nova Scotia, Canada--teleportation spells are so useful). I downloaded it on the day of the solstice, started reading it before I went to sleep, picked it up again when I woke up, and finished it just as the sun rose the next morning. This was appropriate, because it is about the celebration of the Winter Solstice and about a child that had appeared in a magical vision the day his parents met each other. It's now several years later, and they're anxiously waiting for his arrival. Debora has been writing about these characters for years (this is her third series about them, and I believe there are thirteen books as well as a handful of short stories), and while she says that this book is not intended to stand on its own, she does a good enough job of sprinkling in background material that I don't think you'd be totally lost if it were the first one you read. But it is more fun to read (or re-read) them in order. I'm now starting the entire sequence over again. The book that first hooked me is a prequel to the Modern Witch series (books 1-7), called To Have and to Code. I'm more interested in computer programming than witchcraft, but I love the way she combines computers and magic. And An Unlikely Witch serves as a reminder that, regardless of the holiday you celebrate, the birth of a child is a miracle.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Season of Giving, Part 2

Despite what you could be forgiven for thinking if you walk into a mall these days, it's not Christmas yet. Christmas starts on December 25 and runs until Epiphany on January 6. (If you haven't heard the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" recently, just go to a shopping mall and you will.)

The season we are currently in is Advent, the start of the Christian year and a time of preparation for Christmas. That's spiritual preparation, not frantic shopping, card mailing, cooking, and attending parties. I try not to attend parties during Advent. If possible, I spend Advent at a convent, which is actually a lot of fun. I'm not at the convent this year, but I have developed a strategy for avoiding the malls. I generally start shopping for Christmas gifts around August, as I see things I think my friends will like, and try very hard to have it done by the end of October. By now I'm relaxing at home, saying the Daily Office and opening my Advent calendar each day. Ann Sharp gave me a very nice one in the shape of Neuschwanstein Castle.

Of course, some of my friends are easy to buy gifts for. Bookstore gift cards are very popular in my peer group. My friend Misty gets a flock of chickens each year, but not to add to the birds already living with her. These are sent through Heifer International, a wonderful organization that works on the "teach a man to fish" principle. Instead of landing in her backyard, a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks, along with training in how to care for them, goes to a family in need. The family gets eggs to eat and sell, and when the next generation is born, the family passes on offspring to another person in need. According to Heifer's website, in some places they can trace 22 generations of animals. (I'm not sure I can trace any of my ancestors back that far.) Heifer provides other animals as well, including sheep, goats, llamas, water buffaloes, camels, and, of course, heifers. You can give shares of the larger animals, which is a good thing. My budget does not include $850 for a camel, no matter how seasonal it may be. Perhaps when I sell my next novel...

This is truly a gift that keeps on giving, and I think it's quite appropriate for any "Season of Giving."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Season of Giving

Back in September, I wrote a blog about a game called Disney City Girl. I don't play that any more, but there are a couple of other games on the Playdom site that I still enjoy. One is Disney's Words of Wonder, a vocabulary game. It can be played in English, French, or German, but unfortunately it won't let you use words from the other two languages (unless they've crept into your own, of course--there's a lot of French and German vocabulary in English). Frequently I'll win a level, look at my "best" (highest-scoring) word, and say "That's a word?" Did you know that "jak" is short for "jackfruit"? I certainly didn't before I looked it up.

Speaking of the meaning of words, however, Gardens of Time, the other game I play, has decided to redefine the word "giving." First they started calling it "gifting," but it still meant that your friends gave you gifts to build whatever the item in your garden was. The last one was a hayride that you completed by collecting colored ears of corn: a different color for each day. The current "fun new 9-Days of Gifting event," instead of allowing you to get items from your friends, which is doable and fun, requires that you complete your Reindeer Stable by crafting Reindeer Tokens from the current Time Lab. Not only does this interfere with your using the Time Lab for anything else, it's virtually impossible, expensive, and/or a full-time job. Your friends can't help you. In order to get a Reindeer Token, you need to collect candies: three each of peppermint, spearmint, and butterscotch. For Vixen, today's reindeer, you need six tokens, which equals 54 candies. (I'm dreading the day they demand ten tokens.) Candies may, not will, come from playing scenes in your garden or competing in blitz contests in your neighbors' gardens. Each scene/blitz takes about a minute to play (or longer, depending on the load time) and a scene uses 10 units of energy, which takes 30 minutes to accumulate. You don't get a candy at every attempt, and they aren't evenly distributed, so you can have nine of one kind, two of another, and only one of the third.

But don't worry! Playdom has a solution that doesn't involve your playing the game all day and getting mouse wrist. You can buy a candy for one piece of gold! Gold, of course, is the stuff you pay real money for, the kind that comes out of your back account. Playdom is offering a new opportunity: "this time you don't need to worry about sending/receiving gifts." If it hasn't occurred to them yet that we like sending/receiving gifts, a glance at the message boards should tell them differently. There are references to "bait and switch" and "9 days of buying," so I'm obviously not the only person who feels that Playdom is changing our season of giving into a season of buying.

This is a stable Jesus couldn't afford to be born in. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fire's Daughter

"Fire's Daughter" was written for Elementary, the second anthology in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series, published today.

It's a sequel to "Fire's Children" in Elemental Magic and is about the hero's twin sister. In the course of the story, I found myself creating the beginnings of a group of women I call the "Young Girls Club." These are the Elemental Magicians who are not eligible for the White Lodge simply because they are female. I asked Misty if I could do this, she said yes, and I started planning to use it in future stories.

By the time I finished "Fire's Daughter" I even had an idea for the next story in the series I was creating. But then I found out that we're going back to Valdemar next year. So I'll table that idea (I'm sure I'll find  a use for it someday), and go back to "A Wake of Vultures," the story I had already started for the next Valdemar anthology when we switched to Elemental Masters.

If you want a writing career, you've got to be flexible.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Those who do not remember history...

It is said that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. I am beginning to suspect that those who do not remember history become copy editors.

I have a story in the anthology Elementary, which is coming out next week. The stories are set in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters world, and mine is set in Victorian England. (Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and died in 1901.)

When I got the copy-edited version of my story, it contained comments such as: “But a girl is a person” in response to a request that a twelve-year-old Fire Master be treated as a person, not just a girl, and “The general message that’s coming through is that being feminine is a bad thing...”

Even today, a twelve-year-old of either sex has limited rights. Just think of how many Internet sites require you to be at least thirteen to have an account (which explains the 22-year-old on Facebook who was still in middle school—really he needed to add only one year to his age, ten was overkill). Today a girl is considered a person and does have some rights.

But let’s go back to the mid-20th century. Where I grew up it was illegal for a married woman to use birth control until 1965. This meant that my parents were breaking the law, but it’s why I’m the oldest of three children, not the oldest of seven or more. And that was in Connecticut, which is not exactly a bastion of conservatism.

Women could not vote in the US until 1920—and not every woman cared. I once asked a ‘feminine’ woman (one whose primary interests were getting married, having children, and making a nice home for her family) what she was doing during the fight for women’s suffrage, and she replied, “Oh, I never paid any attention to all that nonsense.” She got the right to vote at the age of 24, and probably just voted for whoever her husband told her to—if she bothered to vote at all.

In England women who met age, educational, and property-ownership requirements could vote in 1918, but it wasn’t until 1928 that all women could vote. And a married woman could not even own property prior to the first of the UK’s Married Women's Property Acts, which was enacted in 1870.

In the mid-19th century, being a woman meant you had few, if any, rights, and choices as to what to do with your life were severely limited. So if you take a girl who has been raised—and educated—as a boy, and a mother who thinks that pretty clothes and a suitable marriage are a woman’s highest aspirations and expects her daughter to instantly learn to be a proper young lady, you are going to have conflict. And that’s what gives you a story.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November Books to Read

Books I have read or want to read in November (I've read about half so far):

Books I edited that were published in November:
I intended to post this at the beginning of the month, but with two books being published then, I was first busy and then exhausted. November is also National Novel Writing Month, which is really not helping with either the lack of free time or  the exhaustion.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trodden Down by the March of Technology

I just read the release summary of WordPress version 3.7 (October), which updates version 3.6 (August), and announces that version 3.8 is expected in December. Did anyone think Windows 8 was bad? At least updates from Windows are measured in years, not months, and you generally are not forced to update until you buy a new computer or they stop supporting your current operating system.

I am also the owner of two iPods, neither of which will run the current iPod operating system. Fortunately, both of them still work perfectly well for the things I need to do with them (mostly read my eBooks). And it's not just the hardware and software that's changing faster than we can keep up with; there's also the problem of what these changes are doing to the English language.

For example, I recently saw this post in a group I'm in:
 > I don't know how to get buttons.
 > We need a thread, I think.
 Perhaps we need the thread to sew on the buttons? Oh, how language has evolved.
The language has evolved all right; we can now make puns that weren't possible before, as each word carries still more additional meanings.

We live in interesting times indeed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where Do You Get...?

All writers get asked where they get their ideas. Another question that comes up (especial during National Novel Writing Month) is "where do you get your character names?" That's actually a pretty good question.

Back in the olden days (before the Internet), we collected baby name books. I still remember one that claimed that Gamaliel, a boy's name usually said to mean "recompense of God" meant "camel of God." Even in Biblical times, I don't think parents named their children after camels. I could, of course, be mistaken.

Now we have the Internet, where large amounts of data can be gathered together and indexed and made searchable. There are a number of baby name sites, generally sponsored by companies that make baby food, clothing, toys, etc., of which my favorite is www.babycenter.com/baby-names.

Another popular source of character names is to use the names of your more obscure ancestors. Even though I complain that I come from a family that has way too many people named John Brown and Mary Smith, there are unusual names in my family. One of them even comes from a book: in 1897 somebody had twin daughters and named them Vivian and Villette. Villette is a novel by Charlotte Bronte, published in 1853, and for the longest time I thought that Villette was the heroine's name. It turns out it's a fictional city. But Villette's daughter was named after her mother (and called Letty), and there are two more of them in my generation. One of them dropped her first name and uses her middle name instead, and I can't say I blame her.

If you don't have enough strange names in your family tree, or if you've never bothered to trace it back far enough to get to names like Phineas, Zebediah, Tamesin, Jabez, Elihu, Caleb, Clerice, and Hepzibah, don't despair. The Social Security Administration is happy to help you. They've been collecting names since 1880, and on their website, at www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames, they have names broken down by year, by decade, and by state or territory. From 1880 until 1924 the most popular names were John and Mary, which probably explains all my John Brown and Mary Smith ancestors.

I still have a lot of my baby name books. My current favorite is A Saint's Name, which contains the names of many saints even I have never heard of before, thus making them suitable for characters for my fantasy stories.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Many Proofreaders Does It Take...

Q: How many proofreaders does it take to make sure your book is error-free?
A: At least one more than you have.

I work for the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, which has been publishing her backlist since 2005. We started with Fictionwise. Fictionwise, alas, is no longer with us, but its (multi-format) inventory was acquired by Barnes & Noble and converted to Nook eBooks, limiting the format available to ePub. Because the Trustee and I both have Kindles, we took the original source files and published Kindle editions. Recently one of our readers complained about the quality of Falcons of Narabedla, or, more accurately, its lack of quality.

I read the publicly-available version and was appalled. Did we release this, or did it escape? I'm amazed that nobody ever said anything before this. I really hope people don't think we consider something filled with errors as acceptable quality. For the record, we don't. We replaced the files for both the Kindle and Nook versions, and we did a paperback edition while we were at it.

The eBook files for most of our older books are created by purchasing a used copy and having it shipped to the Humanities Computing Lab in North Carolina. They do great work there, so the digital files we get back are in pretty good shape. We do, however, need to check every Darkover book to make certain that the spell-checker has not changed coridom (the Darkovan term for the steward of an estate) to condom, which is in its dictionary. Ditto laran and loran (LOng RAnge Navigation), a problem made worse when MZB named a couple of characters Loran. Sigh. When your source is an old paperback, it is all too easy for "ri" to become "n" and "rn" to become "m" (I had to change comer back to corner in quite a few places), and for commas, semi-colons, and periods to become hopelessly confused. Nowadays we have somebody who has not read the book before (i.e.: not me) proofread it before we put it on sale.

This year the Trust joined Book View Café. Our debut book, The Complete Lythande, is being released on November 5th. Everything but the last story in it has been previously published, some of the stories are available separately, and the book was proofread after we turned it in. Then it went to the formatter, who found still more errors.

I have become convinced that no matter how carefully any number of people proofread a book, there are still going to be errors. A misplaced comma. Dialog in the middle of a paragraph starting without the opening quotation mark. "To" when the word should be "too"; "wondered" instead of "wandered"; "worse" instead of "worst"; etc. (the last three come from a short story published by Baen).

Most readers will not notice a few minor errors because readers get caught up in the story and they see what should be there. So we do the best job of proofreading we can manage and hope that the story is sufficiently absorbing to cover the rest.

Marion often repeated something her father said: "God only made one perfect man, and look what they did to him." I'm not certain whether that's supposed to be comforting or not.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ouch!

First thing Monday morning I went in for my annual mammogram. It's like eating a live frog before breakfast; I can hope that nothing worse will happen to me this week.

For the benefit of those of you who have never had a mammogram, it's a screening test for breast cancer: a digital x-ray of both breasts from two different angles (i.e.: four images). It hurts, but it's a lot better than it was when I started getting them. Now, instead of two pieces of cold metal, the breast is compressed (OK, squeezed painfully) between room-temperature plastic, and the technician can tell immediately if the image is good enough. In the old analog days, they would take four shots and leave you sitting there while they developed the plates. Then they would come back and usually re-shoot at least one.

I get one every year, so it's a fairly routine experience, until this morning when the technician told me there would be eight images. I yelped "What?" loudly enough to be heard in the reception area. She said, "Don't you have implants?"

I said no and was about to follow up with "are you sure you have the right chart?" when she realized that she had read across the wrong line. What I had, some years ago, was a bilateral reduction mammoplasty, more commonly called breast reduction. If you've ever seen the movie Weird Science, where two teen-age science geeks create their dream woman, you may remember the scene where they're designing her and start to give her horrifically large breasts. Fortunately, they think better of it, but I cringe every time I see that part. What most people don't realize is that having large breasts hurts. They also cause backaches and make bra straps dig painfully into neck and shoulder muscles. My insurance didn't cover the surgery, but I still consider every penny of it well spent.

There is no way I would ever get breast implants. I think anyone who wants large breasts is crazy (or, at the very least, ill-informed). And if having implants means that your annual mammogram has twice as many painful images taken...

Ouch. Definitely ouch.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Media Vita

"In the midst of life we are in death...." It's the first line of a Latin antiphon, a hymn (actually, several hymns), part of the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer, and songs by at least two current musical groups.

The original Latin is:
Media vita in morte sumus; quem quaerimus adjutorem, nisi te Domine, qui pro peccatis nostris juste irasceris? Sancte Deus, sancte fortis, sancte et misericors Salvator, amarae morti ne tradas nos.
Thomas Cranmer translated it to:
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
This year it's beginning to seem to me that it could also be paraphrased to "in the middle of our lives we are surrounded by death."

Since the beginning of the year, nine people I know have died, two of them last week. The list includes two first-cousins-once-removed: Villette (it's a family name) died in January; and her brother Robert in August. It also includes one of my favorite authors, Barbara Mertz, who wrote fiction as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. There were two people from my generation, but the rest were the mothers of four of my friends. The mother of a fifth friend is in the hospital and is not expected to regain consciousness.

I suppose that I have reached the age where statistically my parents' generation is dying. My father would be ninety now if he hadn't died fourteen years ago. Smoking really shortened his life. So did living with a smoker; my mother died of cancer almost five years ago--after nine years of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, remission, repeat ad nauseum.

I wish that my friends didn't have to go through the pain I went through, but the death of a beloved parent is not something where they can profit from my experience. All I can tell them is that the people they loved were wonderful people, and that there is nothing wrong with missing them or with crying over their deaths. They are worth grieving over.

I believe sincerely in the resurrection of the dead and in life everlasting, as do many of my friends, but that doesn't mean that we don't miss the people who are no longer in our lives.

May they rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My I Want to Read List

This is good month for new books. Mercedes Lackey's Bastion, the final volume of the Collegium Chronicles, came out on the first, and today, in addition to the new Percy Jackson book, The House of Hades, there's a book out by one of my favorite authors: Fixed. It's the second in a series, and I'm just finding out about it because she used a pen name I didn't know about. So now I have two more good books to read.

Of course, this is not helping my New Year's semi-resolution: less reading; more writing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Small Craft and Warnings

When I was in junior high school in Greenwich, Connecticut, I had classmates who thought it was fun to take a sunfish (the small boat, not the animal) out during small craft warnings. I thought then - and still think now - that they were idiots. I was accidentally caught out on the water in a sunfish during a storm once. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, and we were well inside Greenwich Harbor when it started. The storm blew in out of nowhere; the sky suddenly turned almost pitch black, the rain was falling so hard that it felt like hailstones when it hit my skin, and the winds were high enough to blow sunfish hulls off their racks on the shore. The storm didn't last long, but I'd guess the winds were somewhere in the 65-75 mph range. It's a tribute to my father's sailing ability that he got us (the poor guy had all three of his daughters with him) and the boat on the beach in one piece.

Technically, there is no such thing as a small craft warning. The scale goes: small craft advisory (varies by location; in California, winds 21-33 knots), gale warning (winds 34-47 knots), storm warning (winds 48+ knots) and hurricane warning (winds 74+ mph). Except for hurricanes the speeds are given in knots (nautical miles per hour) rather than miles per hour, probably because anything less than a hurricane doesn't require people on land to take major action such as evacuation. Or to know what "knots" means.

There is also no legal definition of a "small craft." The practical definition given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is "any vessel that may be adversely affected by Small Craft Advisory criteria."

The America's Cup should have ended today, and that was worst case planning. It allowed for seventeen races, as the first team to reach nine points wins. It had reserve days built in to allow for bad weather. It just didn't allow for enough bad weather, because there are up to six races still to go. There have been three races abandoned (stopped after they started) because the winds were too strong, and one because the winds were too light and the leader didn't reach the finish within 40 minutes after the start. In all four cases, the leader was New Zealand. I have lost track of the number of races that have been postponed (stopped before they started) due to too much wind. Today there were no races sailed at all. The top allowable wind speed is approximately 23 knots, adjusted by a factor for the current speed and direction.

Bravo, Oracle! You've invented the 72-foot small craft.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Actions Speak Loudly

It is frequently said that actions speak more loudly than words. I am finding this to be particularly true in the matter of the cheating by Oracle in the America's Cup World Series. Much of what is said has been untrue, nonsensical, disgusting, or repetitive (or all of the above). While I have been wondering all summer what my late father, a WWII veteran of the US Navy and enthusiastic sailor, would have thought of the AC-72 catamarans being sailed in the current races, I don't have to wonder what he would have thought about the cheating. My father had a strong sense of honor.

There are a couple of basic facts that nobody is denying:
  1. Of the 24 sailors on Oracle Team USA, only two are actually from the USA. Eight are from New Zealand, seven from Australia, and the rest come from the Netherlands, Antigua, Canada, France, and Italy.
  2. A number (allegedly a very small number) of the members of Oracle Team USA illegally modified the AC-45 catamarans they sailed in the America's Cup World Series.

So, leaving aside exactly who did what, and who knew what when, what do these facts say? The first one says that Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle (or whoever chose the sailors for the team) did not think that Americans were good enough to defend the America's Cup. The second one says that some members of this carefully selected team did not think they were good enough to win without cheating.

Given the fact that of the races sailed to date Oracle has lost three (by 36, 52, and 28 seconds), while New Zealand has lost only one (by 5 seconds), the latter "statement" may be true.

Bob Fisher, who is writing a series of books about the America's Cup: An Absorbing Interest; Sailing on the Edge; and An Absorbing Contest, plans to call the next book The Poisoned Chalice. He is certainly not going to lack material for it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to become an Author - Disney City Girl Style

I recently stumbled across a new online game: Disney City Girl. It begins with your character deciding to move to New York City. Once you get there your friend Jenna finds you an apartment and takes you shopping for furniture and new clothes, leaving you broke. (Apparently your character is lacking in common sense.) Then your friend Olivia shows up to "get you started in your dream career!" You have only three choices: Fashion Designer, Chef, and Author. I don't care much about clothes, and I hate to cook, so I chose Author, and things got truly surreal.

My new job is assistant to "the most famous author in NYC." Given my two decades as assistant to a best-selling author, this is something I actually have experience with. So I meet my boss Frieda, who instructs me to be there on time so that she can focus on her "undisturbed writing." So far, so good. At least she doesn't have preteen children for me to keep track of. She assigns me some tasks and tells me not to bother her until they're done. She then goes off to write.

The first task to is retweet. For some reason this involves buying a coffee maker and drinking coffee. (I loathe coffee.) And, although I have a perfectly good computer in my apartment, I have to go to a cafe/coffee shop/whatever to do the tweets. The place is obviously not near me, because I have to take the train.

I need to improve my writing level. One way to do this is to write a short story. It takes about three seconds - I only wish it could be done so quickly in real life!

Then comes the second task as a writer: "Like the boss's status." The dress code for this is professional, so I have to change clothing. Then it's another train ride to the coffee shop.

Now my boss has decided that I have potential, but I have to buy a bookshelf for my apartment and read a grammar book three times. And for my next assignment I have to get two friends to recommend me (and I'm pretty sure that Jenna and Olivia don't count).

And then there's the "Needs" bar. The game has decided that I need a balanced life: Rest, hygiene, health (I have to eat, even if the only things available are noodle cup and leftovers), fun (the bookshelf has romance novels, but not mysteries, fantasy, SF, etc.), and friendship. When one of them drops into the red, I have to take care of that before I can do anything else.

Not only is this not a realistic view of writing; I very much doubt it's a realistic view of any young woman with a career living in NYC. (I know of one girl who got a dog because she didn't have time for a boyfriend.)

It's not that I'm opposed to a balanced life. I think it's great to have time to hang out with friends and to read for pleasure, and I'm very much in favor of sleeping, eating, and bathing on a regular basis. It's just that I know a lot of authors, including myself, who place a higher priority on our careers.

If a set of page proofs lands in my inbox, they are done immediately. If I'm writing a short story for an anthology, there's a due date that goes with it, and I have to get it in by that date. If I want to succeed as a writer, I need to write.

I have seen writers tell their children that they're busy--and the children are in the same house, if not the same room. Writers on deadline don't go out to visit their girlfriends. A writer immersed in a project will (temporarily) neglect her family, her friends, and her life.

Being a writer means that you don't have to get dressed and take the train to go to work. You can roll out of bed, turn on the computer, and grab a Diet Coke and a granola bar while it's going through the start-up process. If the writing is going well, you may still be in your pajamas at 4 pm. Your editor doesn't know and couldn't care less. Even if you are one of the writers who spends large amounts of time on Twitter and Facebook, nobody can see what you're wearing, what your hair looks like, or if your makeup is flawless. Dressing up is for public appearances, not for everyday work.

Housework is another thing that tends to fall by the wayside. I'm reasonably good at keeping up with the dishes; washing dishes is a nice mindless task when you're trying to figure out what needs to happen next in your story. Making beds, laundry, dusting, and vacuuming are harder to keep up with.

Writers who don't live alone need an understanding family. Marion Zimmer Bradley had that in her first marriage - if her husband came home to a spotless house, he'd say sympathetically, "Bad day on the book, dear?" He would be right, too. Only major creative frustration makes scrubbing the kitchen floor something a writer wants to do today.

As a game, Disney City Girl may be amusing, but as a portrayal of life in New York or of the way to succeed in a career, it's ludicrous. If you want to see something funny that's a more accurate portrayal of what a writer's life is really like, I highly recommend the first scene of the movie Romancing the Stone.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

They that go down to the sea in ships...

When Italy beat Sweden in the semi-finals and advanced to face New Zealand to determine who would race against Oracle Team USA for the America's Cup, I was less than thrilled. It wasn't that many of my ancestors lived in Sweden. It was the fact that Italy had already raced New Zealand in the round robin races and lost. Badly. Their scores for five races were one DNS (did not sail), 2 losses, and 2 DNFs (Did Not Finish). They did make it to the finish line, but the rules say the race is over five minutes after the first boat crosses the finish line, so if you're seven minutes behind you get DNF for your score.

I was expecting the finals to have all the excitement of watching paint dry--or, in this case, watching paint get wet. I was wrong.

The schedule called for two races on Saturday. The first race was scheduled for 1:10 pm, and things began to go wrong even before the start. First the start time was pushed back twice because the wind was blowing too fast. They started at 1:30 pm. Luna Rossa (Italy) had been frantically fixing a problem with its starboard daggerboard right before the race--nothing like having your shore crew crawling around the boat with a hacksaw and a glue gun to get you into the right frame of mind to race. Unfortunately, the repair failed just as the race started. You need both daggerboards in order to race the boat, so Luna Rossa limped to the downwind end of the course and waited to see if anything would happen to New Zealand's boat.

New Zealand sailed the first downwind leg, rounded the mark, sailed the upwind leg, and rounded the upwind mark. From there all they had to do was sail another downwind leg, make a right turn around the downwind mark and sail a short leg to the finish line. But as they rounded the upwind mark things went--well, Biblical. As in Psalm 107:
23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
The winds were on the high end of safe, and rounding a mark is like turning a corner while driving a car: you accelerate coming out of the turn. There's a video on the America's Cup YouTube channel, but it all happened so fast it's hard to see. There wasn't much mounting up to heaven, but the front of both hulls went underwater. I didn't see anyone reeling to and fro, but two of the crew did go overboard, and I suspect there was quite a bit of prayer. Fortunately the Lord sent the chase boat, which pulled the two men out of the water. This left the racing boat with a nine-man crew and some damage to the boat, but they did sail the rest of the course successfully.

So the race ended with two boats needing to be fixed and a second race scheduled for 2:10 pm. Fortunately, the wind speed increased and the second race was cancelled, giving both teams much-needed repair time.

And that gives me an idea for a story.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Job That Will Not Die, part two, or What Is this Money For?

As I mentioned last week, I still have my old job as Secretary to Mrs. Bradley, even well after her death, and I'm dealing with issues she never foresaw, even in her wildest dreams as a science fiction writer.

I refer both  to our ability to self-publish both domestically and internationally and to the electronic transfers of royalties into her bank account. When we get paper checks, they generally come with a stub or statement that tells what they're for. If information is missing or incomplete, we contact whoever issued the check and say something like: "Your check #9999 dated 06/03/2013 has a line that says SWORD AND SORCERESS. There are 27 volumes with that title, so could you please tell us which one you're paying us for?" But when money appears in the checking account, sometimes it's a bit difficult to tell exactly where it came from.

We can identify the Nook payments; there's only one a month, and it's the only thing we get from Barnes & Noble. Kindle royalty statements aren't too bad. There's one per country, but they send us e-mails with the payment number so we can match them up. But then we have the dead tree editions. We have two different physical book publishers: CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

Lightning Source provides monthly 3-4 page long sales statements for both the US and the UK. The books they published are Sword and Sorceress 22-26, so the title for each item is "Marion Zimmer Bradley's," which means that the only thing that identifies which book they're reporting is the ISBN. So I find the page with the ISBNs and enter the data in my spreadsheet. The payment amount for the UK, of course, is in pounds rather than dollars, and there's no conversion figure because they won't be paying us for another few months. I have the sales for July, but the most recent payment was for April. The payment notice has dollars, but not pounds. I entered the amount in pounds when I got the sales figures, but for the benefit of those who didn't, the statement has one line:
"UK PCOMP-GBP(1.54354) APR-13 Sales Comp" along with the total amount for all five books, in dollars. Because these are anthologies and each book has to be split among different contributors, I need to apportion the total among the individual books, and then enter the final amounts into another set of spreadsheets. It's tedious, but it's not as bad as the Nook royalty statements.

CreateSpace, which we're using for everything else, also sends information in installments, albeit much more quickly. First the money shows up in the bank, looking like this:
24-Jul-2013        33.33               ACH Credit
Amazon EU SARL Rebate ACH CRED MIS/
24-Jul-2013        44.44               ACH Credit
Amazon EU SARL Rebate ACH CRED MIS/
I know that one of these is the UK and the other is the rest of Europe, but at this point I don't know which is which. Shortly after the money lands in the bank, the payment is reported on the CreateSpace site, providing the answer to that question. Then all I have to do is download the associated reports and parcel the money out to the various books.

As we republish MZB's backlist and publish new books, the CreateSpace report gets longer, so it's a good thing that it's readable. We are currently working our way backward through the Darkover anthologies, and the trade paperback of FOUR MOONS OF DARKOVER should be available this week.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Job that Will Not Die

I call "Secretary to Mrs. Bradley" the job that will not die. She's been dead for well over a decade, and I'm still working for her--or, more accurately, for her Trust. There's a good reason I still have this job, and I dread the day that I need to train someone else to do it. I still have this job because I'm the one who remembers both the original names and the current names of the authors we still pay royalties to. I'm the one who knows that the Darkover anthologies were broken up by foreign publishers to make new anthologies (six in France and four in Italy) and can match the foreign titles to the names of the authors we need to pay.

The most frequent challenge, however, is dealing with the monthly royalty statements for our self-published books and ebooks.

As far as ebooks go, Nook is definitely the worst. We actually began our venture into e-publishing with Fictionwise. Fictionwise paid us 50% of the list price, and their royalty statements were wonderful. They paid once a quarter, and they provided a statement sorted by author and then title, with one line for each title. Then Barnes & Noble bought them, and the Fictionwise ebooks became Nook ebooks (and multi-format became ePub).

The most recent monthly Nook statement contained 610 lines of data. That represents 708 copies of 160 titles (close to a line of data for each copy sold). It took me three days to get it sorted out, because what B&N reports is not the information we need. They report a long list of things including: Date of Sale; Date of eGift; Publisher's ISBN (we don't use one); Title; Publisher (uh, that would be...us?); List Price; Unit Royalty (which is 40%, not the 50% we were getting); Units Sold, Units Returned; Net Units Sold; and Total Royalty. I'm not certain whom they think they're preparing this report for--somebody who wants to analyze sales by date by ISBN?

What we need from that list is Title, Net Units Sold, and Total Royalty. What we need that is not on that list is Author. The money we get every month has to be split between 17 different authors, not counting Marion, and I am the only person who can look at the title and know who the author is. So after removing the information we don't need, I fill in a column with the author's last name, and sort the spreadsheet by author and title. Then the really tough part begins: for each title, find the sum of the net units sold and the sum of the royalty for that title. Put the amounts on the top line for each title and delete the lines below until the next title starts. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Take Advil for sore wrist. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Give up for the day. Repeat daily until done. If this sounds tedious, I can assure you that it is.

Thank God for Kindle, which reports the authors' names and generally has only one line per title.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Racing the Wind

I was tempted to call this post "For the glory of the skies," which is the next line of the hymn "For the beauty of the earth" that I used two posts back. But although the skies--or at least the wind--are a large part of my subject, the sea is almost as important. Normally I would say as important, but when I see a sailboat zipping along at almost 50 miles per hour with only three small points of contact with the water, I think the wind has a greater influence on it.

The America's Cup, a sailing race started in 1851 in England, is being held in San Francisco this year. It has changed a lot since 1851. The race isn't held at regular intervals; it's held whenever another country issues a challenge to the country that won the previous race and currently holds the cup. The yacht America won the first race in 1851, taking home what was then called the "100 Guinea Cup." The cup was renamed "America's Cup" after the yacht that had won it. The US won 25 challenges before losing the cup to Australia in 1983, and by then the name was pretty well established.

If horse racing is "the sport of kings," the America's cup is the sport of billionaires and/or large corporations. The current defender is referred to as Oracle Team USA, and the other teams are Artemis Racing (Sweden), Luna Rossa (Italy), and Emirates Team New Zealand.

An interesting feature of this competition is that the defender, subject to agreement from the official challenger, gets to make a lot of the rules. One of the major things covered by the rules is boat design, and the boats they're using now are not traditional yachts. A yacht used to have only one hull. The Oracle boat that won in 2010 had three. This time they're down to two hulls (a catamaran), but instead of regular sails, they have a wing, something like an airplane wing pointing up. There is a smaller sail called a jib in front of the wing, but New Zealand beat Italy on July 21, despite losing their jib in the third of seven legs of the race, so it is possible to handle the boat without it. The boats are beautiful to watch, especially when their speed gets above 20 knots, both hulls come up out of the water, and it's hard to say whether the crew is sailing the boat or flying it. Check out their YouTube channel. Not only do they have beautiful video clips, but they also broadcast the races live.

The really interesting thing about the design is that these boats can sail faster than the wind when they're sailing upwind. Downwind, they can go about twice as fast as the wind behind them.

They're racing the wind, and they're winning the race.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Serial Writing

I'm currently reading my first Kindle Serial: INDEXING, by Seanan McGuire. I'm enjoying it tremendously. The Index of the title is the Aarne-Thompson Folktale Types and Motif Index, which I remember well from a folklore class I took some years ago (about the time I wrote the short story Shadowlands, my version of the Orpheus myth). It's surprising how many variations there are for  the common fairy tales we grew up with--and that's before Disney gets hold of them.

So far I've received five out of an estimated twelves episodes (I can always hope that she'll write more). I love what she's doing with the story; the biggest problem is that I reach the end of each episode asking "what happens next?" and have to wait two weeks for the answer.

I wrote my first novel, CHANGING FATE, as a serial, but it was nothing this formal. I had a short story that I wrote for Marion Zimmer Bradley's anthology SWORD AND SORCERESS 3,  and I was writing "what happens next" in the hopes of turning it into a decent novel. I'm better at short stories, but I had a reason to write a new chapter each week. Madeline L'Engle was a friend of mine, and this was the summer that her husband was dying. So I mailed her a chapter every week, hoping they would serve as a pleasant distraction from her daily life. By the time he died, I had a novel. DAW Books published it in 1994, and I dedicated it to Madeleine and Hugh. Since then I have written and sold 29 short stories and edited 11 anthologies, but I am still trying to finish MENDING FATE, the second novel in the series. I think I'm on my sixth draft. I wonder if it would work better if I wrote it as a series of short stories....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

For the Beauty of the Earth

I'm currently re-reading Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling books (I'm on at least my fourth reading of the latest, Heart of Obsidian). In her books she credits the Changelings with saving the earth's environment, while the humans are the ones who produce art and music. In our world, unfortunately, humans are going to have to save the environment--unless the dolphins are ready to take over the job.

There's a lot of news these days about climate change, there's a holiday called Earth Day, and in church I keep hearing about responsible stewardship of the earth (the idea that God gave us dominion over it seems to be out of date). There's talk of the damage to the ozone layer and the garbage patch floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. I live in San Francisco, so I'm expected to sort things into recycling, compost, and garbage almost everywhere I go: home, museums, movie theatres, and even McDonald's. (It would be nice if all those places could agree on exactly what constitutes compost and/or recycling, but I suppose it's a work in progress.)

The America's Cup, being held in San Francisco this summer, is deeply concerned not only with the earth but also with the ocean. It has a Healthy Ocean Project and is committed to "Sustainability." My first encounter with their notion of sustainability, as enforced by Security at the entrance to the America's Cup Park on opening day, convinced me that somebody should be committed. There are items that they refer to as "single-use plastic bottles." I have a plastic Coke bottle into which I pour the contents of an aluminum can of Coke before I put it in my tote bag or if I'm using it next to a computer. I spilled soda on a computer keyboard once. That was more than enough. This is most emphatically not a single-use bottle, but the security guard told me I would have to throw it out before I entered the venue. This meant discarding a perfectly good plastic bottle (after I had chugged down its contents) into the unsorted trash can on the city sidewalk outside the venue, from whence it might conceivably migrate to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then, of course, I needed to buy a new plastic bottle of  Coke on my way home to replace the one he had made me throw away. This did not strike me as ecologically sound at all. Apparently other people felt the same way, because now there are large blue recycling bins at the entrance where you recycle the bottle after they make you give it up. I suppose every little bit of progress helps.

Humanity, however, has a long way to go. I was reminded of this when I stopped at the market on the way home today and saw what the man in front of me was buying: a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of vodka, and a large plastic bottle labelled "Smart Water." As my research tells me that this is filtered tap water with small amounts of minerals (electrolytes) added to improve the taste, I wouldn't call it smart. Now if somebody came up with bottled water that made you smart enough to pay attention to what you were doing to the earth.... I think there may be a story idea there.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From Real Life to Fiction

I believe that all ideas for fiction come from real life. After all, where else would we get them? Real life is what we know. One can, of course, argue in favor of divine inspiration, but that's included in my view of real life: "all things visible and invisible." Some ideas are drawn deliberately from real life, but most are filtered through the writer's subconscious, which can produce some very strange stories indeed.

The fact that something resembles a real person or entity, however, does not mean that particular reality was necessarily the source. Correlation is not the same as cause and effect. Sometimes ideas just seem to be in the air, and different writers will write about the same idea at approximately the same time.

For an example of cause and effect: I once contributed to an anthology, In Celebration of Lammas Night, based on Mercedes Lackey's filk song Lammas Night. Nineteen writers started from the same place, but the stories were as individual as the writers. Misty's story, Hallowmas Night, and mine, Midsummer Folly, are both available as eBooks, if you want to see how much two people can diverge from a single idea. The song serves as the cause, and the stories are the effect.

An example of correlation would be the Free Amazon/Renunciate Guild Houses in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels The Saga of the Renunciates (The Shattered ChainThendara House, and City of Sorcery) and the Beguines. Somebody once sent Marion a copy of a paper which referred to "Marion Zimmer Bradley's unacknowledged debt to the Beguines." The reason this "debt" was unacknowledged was that Marion had never heard of the Beguines. She derived her Guild House rules from the Rules used in Christian convents. If you are looking for a way for a large group of women to live together in relative harmony, convents provide a model that has worked for many centuries.

In fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, something may walk like a duck and quack like a duck without actually being a duck.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Does SF Have a "Casting Couch"?

I was reading a blog post this morning about sexual harassment of a writer by an editor at a recent science fiction convention. The writer decided to make a formal report—and I applaud her decision, but among the concerns she listed for a writer making this choice, particularly a young writer just starting out, was concern that this could hurt her career, that the editor wouldn't buy her work, or that he would get her blacklisted so that nobody would ever buy her work.

Let’s look at these fears. One: The editor won't buy your work. This is certainly a possibility, but do you really want to sell to this editor? Do you want to work with him to polish your novel and get it into production? Given the lack of respect he has shown for your person, how is he likely to treat your work? Think about it. Then find another editor. There are lots of editors out here, and it's a pretty diverse group.

Two: The editor will get you blacklisted so that no other editor will ever buy your work. Not in this universe. Even in the days when all editors were men, there wasn’t that much unanimity of opinion. I sold my first novel to DAW Books, and I can imagine what Don Wollheim would have said about an editor who treated a woman like that, not to mention what his wife Elsie would have said—and possibly done—about the situation. And the next generation of editors, including the current head of DAW Books, Elizabeth R. Wollheim, has a lot more females in it. By now, we might even outnumber the men.

There are certainly reasons why a woman would hesitate to complain about such mistreatment. I was raised in an era where I wasn't even supposed to notice it. These days my feeling is that if I don't complain and do everything I possibly can to stop what he's doing, I am at least partially responsible for the damage to the next woman he hurts. SF does not have a "casting couch," and nobody should be left to believe that we find sexual harassment—or any other kind of harassment—acceptable.

If something like this happens to you, don't chose whether to report it based on fears for your career. Jerks like this are people you don't want to work with, and our field has plenty of decent, caring, and supportive people who are a joy to work with.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Song For Capella

I started my blog with weekly accounts of where I got the ideas for each of my stories. After a couple of years I ran out of stories, and (after exhausting 'Operas I Have Been a Supernumerary In') moved to other topics and a significantly less regular blogging schedule. Now I have a new story out, so I'm back to my original topic.

I recently edited MUSIC OF DARKOVER and, following Marion Zimmer Bradley's practice of ending each anthology with a short funny story, I wrote one. I was already reprinting a few stories with musical themes from the first twelve Darkover anthologies, so I included one of mine. It had been nineteen years since the last anthology, so I figured there were people who hadn't seen them before, even though the MZB Literary Works Trust is slowly reprinting them (five done, seven to do).

My story "A Capella" from SNOWS OF DARKOVER used one of my favorite characters from Marion's novel THE HEIRS OF HAMMERFELL: the composer Gavin Delleray. In a Regency novel he'd be considered a dandy, but in addition to his interest in his clothes and appearance, he's also a musician and composer.

In this story he's supposed to be writing a song for a celebration of the marriage of Capella Ridenow and Lord Alton, and he's having trouble. The fact that the bride referred to the groom as "a brute and a bully" and prefers his white stallion to her new husband makes it difficult to write anything romantic, and Gavin is a romantic soul. I don't know if there's such a thing as composer's block, but it certainly seems reasonable; I think all creative people have days when the creativity just doesn't seem to be there.

There has to be at least one musical in-joke, so while Gavin is struggling to write something and thinking of horses, his mind veers off to cats and he writes "Duel for Two Cats." This is a take-off on Rossini's Duetto buffo di due gatti (aka Duet for Two Cats). There are several versions of this on YouTube, and it's really funny. Gavin finally manages to produce a song, of course, about Capella, Lord Alton, and his white stallion.

The anthology begins with Leslie Fish's song The Horsetamer's Daughter, but I didn't realize until somebody pointed it out that I had produced an anthology that began and ended with horses. That's an idea; we're always looking for anthology titles. Next year's will be STARS OF DARKOVER, but maybe one of these years we'll try HORSES OF DARKOVER and see what we get.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Proofreading

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because it's amusing to see how a computer program thinks I should write.

Once you come up with great ideas then you have to put them on paper, and all too often what I typed is not what I thought I typed. Fortunately there are utilities to help me with proofreading, such as spell check and grammar check programs. For ordinary business writing, they're probably pretty useful, but once you start writing fantasy, or even historical fiction, you run into problems. I long ago turned off the grammar check on Word, and I've lost track of the number of browsers/computers I've told to ignore "spelling errors" that are actually the names of my characters. The Darkover anthologies, such as MUSIC OF DARKOVER, which I just edited, are even worse, because Marion Zimmer Bradley made up her own languages. Still, spelling can be managed. Grammar is much more difficult.

Recently I discovered a site called Grammarly, which not only does grammar checking, it also checks for plagiarism. I wondered how well that would work, so I put in a 500-word chunk out of the middle of my first novel, CHANGING FATE, and it gave me an "Unoriginal text detected" message. It must have one heck of a database to catch that.

I also put in part of a legal waiver:
Whereas, (a) some of the Vessels are experimental and developmental in design and intended for extreme propulsion; (b) use of such Vessels involves an inherently high risk of damage or injury that is accentuated by their intended competitive use; (d) sailing or mere presence on any Vessel is an inherently hazardous activity...
Grammarly objected to the passive voice, but it does not appear to have noticed that the text has (a), (b), and (d), but not (c).

I don't know what grammar checkers have against the passive voice. What was this document supposed to use in place of "...that is accentuated"? Perhaps "...that their intended competitive use makes worse"? Also, the passive voice is particularly useful in dialog, especially when the character speaking doesn't want to say who did whatever it was that someone did. Consider this wonderful example from Lois McMaster Bujold's novel BROTHERS IN ARMS:
"Er—insults were exchanged, sir."
"And?"
"And tempers kind of got out of hand. Bottles were thrown, and thrown on the floor. The police were called. She was punched out." Xaveria eyed Danio warily.
Miles contemplated the sudden absence of actors from all this action, in Xaveria's syntax.
Grammarly gives this blog a score of 56 out of 100.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Music of Darkover

It's easy to know where I got the idea for MUSIC OF DARKOVER. Deborah J. Ross and I are editing an anthology called STARS OF DARKOVER, to be published in June 2014, and Leslie Fish submitted a 34,000-word story. (It's the story version of the filk song "Horsetamer's Daughter, which runs 12-14 minutes, so I guess the length isn't too surprising, but that's a bit more than a third of an anthology.)

I really liked the story, so I came up with the idea of giving it its own anthology--after all it was a third of a book. And if there was a subject I knew something about after spending two decades in MZB's employ, it was music. Marion was a gifted musician and a great lover of opera--she had box seats at the San Francisco Opera. Then there was the memorable occasion when she was in Germany for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and somebody invited her to go to the Vienna Staatsopera. She jumped at the chance and made it memorable for the rest of us by not telling us about it. From our point of view, she disappeared in Germany, and then turned up in Austria three anxious days later (anxious for us, that is; she had a great time).

So I started with Leslie's filk song and story, and added a story by India Edghill with an accompanying song by her sister Rosemary, three stories about music from earlier Darkover anthologies, an article by Margaret Davis about working with Marion when Margaret and Kristoph Klover were starting Flowinglass Music, Marion's songs from DARKOVER LANDFALL and the two she wrote herself, filk songs by Cynthia McQuillin, new stories by Raul S. Reyes and Michael Spence, and the traditional short, funny story for the end, which I wound up writing myself.

One amusing this about this project: Marion always said that "filk singing should be done in private by consenting adults." I remarked in one of the introductions that nowadays it seems to be done well after I go to bed at cons. I was at CONduit in Salt Lake City a week before the book came out, and I woke up at 3 a.m. Monday morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up and went down to the business center to work. On my way to the elevator I encountered a group of filk singers, who hadn't yet been to bed. For me it was Monday morning; for them I think it was still Sunday night. So I guess filk singing is being done by consenting adults.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Long Green Season

Trinity is called "the long green season"--both for the color of altar hanging and vestments and for the fact that in England and the Eastern US it's summer and the trees are green. In Northern California, where I live now, our green season is winter (also known as the rainy season). In Australia and New Zealand, Trinity actually is in winter, while Christmas is in summer. This is on my mind lately because I've been reading Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mystery series, which are set in Australia. I started with Cocaine Blues (free for Kindle) in mid-April and just finished The Green Mill Murder (book #5) so I still have another fourteen books to enjoy. (Occasionally I have to look something up; it turns out that ANZAC stand for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but I can usually get a pretty good idea of what a word means from its context.) I've read Kerry's Corinna Chapman series over and over (only six books so far, starting with Earthly Delights, and I hope she writes more), so it's nice to find another series of hers.

And next week, on June 4, one of my favorite authors, Nalini Singh, who lives in New Zealand, has a new Psi/Changling book coming out: Heart of Obsidian. Mercedes Lackey, another favorite author and longtime friend, has the new Elemental Masters book, Steadfast, out the same day, and I've promised myself those two books as a treat for getting Music of Darkover published on the 3rd. (This involves staying up until after midnight on the 2nd so I can go to three different sites to publish the book and have the publication date be the 3rd. It's the 13th Darkover® anthology, so I'm certainly spending a lot of time with series these days.

I love Trinity Sunday. "Holy, Holy, Holy" is one of my favorite hymns. Marion Zimmer Bradley loved it too; when she was a child she thought that they sang it in honor of her birthday, which was June 3. As childhood delusions go, I think that one is preferable to thinking that "Gladly the cross I'd bear" is "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear." I supposed that one could create a religion that worshiped a cross-eyed bear named Gladly. That might even make an interesting story. Come to think of it... (pause to scribble down idea for new story)

This year I was in Salt Lake City attending CONduit, so I went to the Episcopal Cathedral there. The Trinity is a very complex doctrine, so the sermons are always interesting. This one started with "One plus one plus one equals..." followed by several voices from the congregation slowly replying "One." I think it might be better to use multiplication instead of addition, because one times one times one equals one, both theologically and mathematically.

The sermon on Trinity almost invariably refers to the Athanasian creed. The Athanasian Creed starts out:
Whosoever will be saved,
before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled,
without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
That sounds ominous, but at least it doesn't say you have to understand the Catholic Faith. It then gets to the details:
And the Catholic Faith is this:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father,
another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,
and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,
but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
It's easy to see why this will never replace the Apostles or Nicene Creed in public worship. There's a lot more, but this is as far as most people get before joking, "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible--the whole thing incomprehensible."

This is true enough to be funny, but it's using two different definitions for the word "incomprehensible." The last instance uses the current meaning of "impossible to understand" while the rest of it is in Early New English where the word means "limitless; not limited or capable of being limited." (I love Dictionary.com; it's great to have a place where you can find both sets of meanings.)

I wish you a great summer or winter, depending on where you are.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dying Suddenly and Unprepared


"...from violence, battle, and murder;
and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us"
(The Great Litany, Book of Common Prayer)

I was talking to a friend the other day about a woman who had died unexpectedly. I mentioned that "dying suddenly and unprepared" was one of the things that members of my church prayed to be delivered from. He asked "how do you prepare for death?" and the first word out of my mouth was "Compline." This is what happens to a person whose favorite vacation destination is a Benedictine convent. When the day is broken into sections divided by the services from The Monastic Diurnal, it's really hard to forget God (a feat that is easily accomplished in today's secular world). Compline is the last service of the day, right before bedtime, and it starts with the general confession, so by the time I go to bed I'm at peace with God, even if I'm not precisely in a "state of grace" as defined by the medieval church. That would required the "last rites": the sacraments of confession, holy communion, and extreme unction (anointing a body at the point of death). When people believed that unbaptized babies went to Limbo, they baptized them within two days of birth, and when they believed that a person who did not die in a state of grace went to either Hell or Purgatory... that was practically its own industry: prayers for the dead, indulgences, pilgrimages.... I remember the first time I attended a Roman Catholic funeral: they started the Dies Irae and I turned to my mother and whispered in total bewilderment, "What are they talking about? Hugo was a good man!"

There is, of course, a secular definition of "dying suddenly and unprepared." I don't know what it does to your soul, but it can make life hellish for your survivors. Dying without a will is not a good idea. Dying without a will when you are legally separated but still married and have various children by different women, when the youngest child is both illegitimate and a minor...it gets messy. Then there was the writer who had five half-siblings. His father had three sons by his first marriage, and his mother had two more children by her second marriage. He died without a will, and the trust I work for is still paying royalties to his estate. We tracked down all the heirs, but the next challenge was convincing them that we weren't playing an elaborate joke.

So, in addition to prayer, to prepare for death: make a will (even if you don't think you have enough to need one); have an Advanced Directive/Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare; keep an inventory of your possessions, especially anything not located in your home; label your keys (especially safe deposit box keys--include bank name and address); have a list of your bills, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.; and, in this digital age, keep a list of the online accounts you have: e-mail accounts, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. My list is currently 114 lines long, but at least it will tell whoever is handling my estate what they need to cancel. Directions for your funeral service and the disposal of your body (for mine: donate usable organs; cremate remains; and send the ashes to the cemetery where I already have a place for them) are helpful as well; the fewer decisions your loved ones have to make right after your death, the better.

Remember that, despite what the insurance companies say, it's "when you die" not "if you die." You are going to die. Prepare for it as best you can--and with regard to the people you love, tell them so. Every day. Sudden death is really hard on the survivors, but knowing that the last thing you said to the person was "I love you" does help.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Childhood Memories

My earliest memory is falling off the back porch. I was four years old at the time. Comparing notes with my friends tells me that four is about as far back as our memories go, and that our earliest memories tend to be things that break the flow of our daily lives. It would be fair to call many of them traumatic memories.

This week another child got an early traumatic memory. He is five years old, and he just killed his two-year-old sister. The rifle he used is called a Crickett. The news stories say it was given to him last year, which could mean last Christmas or when he was four. While crickett.com appears to be down for maintenance (or perhaps a comprehensive rewrite), one of the cached pages says: "The Crickett rifle is ideally sized for children four to ten years old..." Obviously the manufacturer does not feel that four is too young to possess a rifle. As for their claims that their products teach kids safe gun handling, in this case they demonstrably failed to teach either the child or his parents the first rule of gun safety: the gun is always loaded. When you shape your hand like a gun, point your finger at your sister, and say "Bang! You're dead!", she isn't. When you use a real gun... well, there's a reason they're called deadly weapons.

You can't buy liquor before you're twenty-one, vote or serve in the military before you're eighteen, or get a license to drive a car or pilot a plane before you're sixteen. Before age thirteen there are restrictions on what you can do on the Internet. We do not expect mature judgment from children, and our laws reflect that. But you can own a gun at age four, the age at which you are forming your earliest adult memories.

I am not against responsible gun ownership. We had cap pistols when we were children and real guns when we were old enough to understand that they were not toys. But in our household the guns are stored in locked boxes and the swords are on shelves above my head. We don't leave a weapon propped in the corner where a child can get at it. We feel that a child is not able to use a gun safely without very careful adult supervision.

In a few years this boy probably will not remember the person who was his sister. But shooting her will always be one of his earliest childhood memories.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring cleaning

My last post, which I just re-read, was done in Advent. It is now the middle of Lent, and I still haven't found my library card. I have made some progress. The genealogy papers are now in a box under my bed, waiting until I have time to do more research. The junk table has been cleared off and re-positioned and has now become my computer desk. I am back at work on my novel (I think it's the sixth rewrite).

I am currently going through the drawer under the printer, which is provoking comments such as "Oh my gosh, I still have this thing." The particular thing in question is called "dotFIT" and is an armband that I was using when I had a gym membership and a personal trainer, several years ago. Wearing it taught me that I burn more calories when I sleep than when I sit and read a book. It also taught me that strapping this gadget to my arm produces severe skin irritation. Pause to start another bag for Goodwill. The drawer also contains expired credit cards, adapters I can't identify probably belonging to devices I no longer own, and three pairs of old reading glasses (I labelled them, so I know they go back to 2005). Pause to put them on the shelf next to my keys so that I can take them to Lenscrafters and donate them the next time I go out. They're certainly not doing anybody any good in the drawer.

Digging deeper I find another expired credit card and my "Border rewards" card. Remember Borders? Remember when "your neighborhood bookstore" was a physical location within walking distance? I like eBooks, but I do miss having a local bookstore where I could wander through and look at physical books. Deposit stamp for a bank account that was closed in 2011. Sigh.

The drawer is empty now, except for dust. I'll clean it out and put back the things that belong there: ink for the printer, deposit stamps for the current bank accounts, cleaning solutions and cloths for the computer screen and my glasses, the backup hard drive for my computer, etc. Not too much etc.

Doing this makes me wonder: how many of us have stuff forgotten in drawers and closets that other people could use? I think Lent is a good time both to ponder the question and to act on it.