Defying Themes – and Succeeding Anyway!

The sun cresting Pusch Ridge in Tucson, spilling light through the cleft at sunrise – so beautifully dramatic. 

I came to Tucson to give the Saguaro Romance Writers my workshop on Defying Gravity: Writing Cross-Genre and Succeeding Anyway. They’re a terrific group and we had a great time. 

This week’s topic at the SFF Seven is Make a Meme: You vs. Your Protagonist. And I… just can’t do this. I’m staying at my mom and stepdad’s house in Tucson, and my mom says she thinks memes (she pronounced it may-may) are silly and I should tell all of you that. 

I admit I’m not a huge fan of memes either – and I don’t really think of my protagonists as other, so I’m coming up empty on that one. However, I thought I should let you all know that the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle sale is almost over – ending November 2 at midnight ET! Last chance to buy four books for $5 or twelve books for $15! My book, LONEN’S WAR, is part of the core four books, so here’s a little excerpt of that, if you’d like to check it out!

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Lonen had seen many strange things in the past weeks. Impossible magic and horrific deaths that would take him years to purge from his nightmares, if he ever could.

If he lived that long.

The sight of the woman in the window hit him with enough force to unbalance him. Through the blood-drenched night, he’d kept focus on one kill after the next and only on that, much the way he’d climbed the wall, except that he slit the throats of defenseless women, one after another, instead of reaching for holds. They died so easily, seeming oblivious to his approach, focusing their placid attention outward to the battle where the booming assault of the sorcerers diminished and ceased as their sisters succumbed to the blades of Lonen and his men.

The fact that they didn’t fight back, that they remained so vulnerable, sickened him, each death layering on unclean guilt that he’d ignored until the vision of the woman in the window knifed into him like an unseen blade. Maybe it was because her fair coloring was so much like the first woman he’d killed. After that one, he hadn’t looked at their faces, taking the dispensation offered by their featureless masks.

For whatever reason, the sight of her gripped him, standing in the open window, illuminated by candlelight in an otherwise dark tower that rose from a deep abyss. Her hair shone a copper color he’d never seen on a living being, like a hammered metal cloak that shifted with her startled movements. She put a hand to her throat, eyes dark in her fine-boned face. A creature from children’s tales perched beside her, staring at him intently. He would have thought it a statue carved from alabaster, but it swiveled its head on its neck to look at the woman, then back to him.

Lonen had seen illustrations of dragons in his boyhood books, but they’d been huge and…fictional. This thing looked very like those, only smaller—maybe as long as his forearm, not counting the tail. All white, it shimmered in the bright torchlight from the walls much as the woman’s hair did. It sat on its haunches, taloned feet clutching the stone windowsill, bat-winged forearms mantled. Large eyes with bright green shine dominated a wedge-shaped head with a narrow jaw and large ears. It lashed its long, sinuous tail against the stone, as a cat watching birds would.

Beautiful, both of them, and as fantastical as if they’d stepped out of one of those storybooks. The wonder of the sight swept away all the bloody horror. She was the bright face of the terrible magics—something lovely, pure and otherworldly. Something in him lunged at the prospect of such beauty in the world, a part of him he hadn’t known existed. Or rather, a part he hadn’t thought survived from childhood. That sense of wonder he’d felt looking at those storybook illustrations, long since lost to the grind of the Golem Wars. He lifted a hand, not sure what he meant to do. A salute? A greeting?

“Prince Lonen!” Alby ran up, bow in hand. “Why do you—a sorceress!” He reached for an arrow and notched it, a smooth, practiced movement that Lonen barely stopped in time.

“No,” he commanded. “Stand down. She wears no mask. She isn’t one of them.”

“They’re all the enemy,” Alby insisted through gritted teeth, resisting Lonen’s grip. “She’s seen us.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Abruptly weariness swamped Lonen. Far too soon for him to wear out, as much remained to be done. That bright bubble of the fantastic had distracted him, the shattering of that brief moment of childlike wonder more painful for the sudden loss of it. He’d have been better off not feeling it at all. “Her people are largely dead, their defenses falling around them. Look out at the plain.”

Alby followed his nod. Grienon, enormous and low in the sky, waxed toward full, shedding silvery light on the quiet field. None of the magical fireballs or earthquakes thundered through the night. The golems had dropped like corn stalks after harvest. The Destrye forces moved in a familiar cleanup pattern, groups of warriors methodically searching the field for the dying, to either save or dispatch, depending on which side they’d fought for—and if they could be saved. Other groups remained in pitched battle, but the Destrye had the upper hand. Without their magic, the Bárans would eventually fall.

For as many years as they’d worked towards this day, Lonen had expected to feel jubilation, triumph, the roar of victory. Not the drag of exhaustion and regret. Their plan had worked far better than any of them had dared to hope—and yet only bleakness filled his heart.

The copper-haired woman’s fault, for showing him a glimpse of a dream of something more than monstrous death and destruction. He’d been better off hoping simply to live to the next moment, or not to die in vain.

Hope and the promise of wonder could destroy a man’s spirit more surely than a well-wielded blade.

With one last look at the woman in the window, he turned his back on her and her false promise. “Come, Alby. Let’s find a ladder or stairway down to the city inside the walls, so we can open the gates.” One that wouldn’t plunge him into that dark abyss. “There must be stairs or ladders that the sorceresses climbed. By sunrise, Bára will be ours.”

Soon he would be done with this evil place.

Flash Fiction: The Lost Hour

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I was at the Tucson Festival of Books so I switched days at the Word Whores blog with KAK.

Most amazing moment: I got to be on a panel with Terry Brooks! And I may have squealed unbecomingly when he held up my book and read reviews from the front. Forever thanks to faithful reader Lynne Facer for grabbing this truly epic photograph.

And now, my contribution to the Word Whores’ flash fiction challenge, filling in what happens during that hour we lose by springing forward.

You Know You Want It

the pages of the mind crop 2Yes, this is the tagline for THE PAGES OF THE MIND.

From the seriously gorgeous cover!! Yes, yes – I know I’m a tease. YOU people know I’m a tease! But the cover reveal is coming Thursday, September 17, via RT Book Reviews. But look at it on Amazon – even MORE Of a tease there, I think.

Only two more days!!!! I can’t wait for you all to see it. 🙂

Dark SecretsIn other news, look for a really fun thing tomorrow, from the DARK SECRETS crew. Rachel Caine is lovely, enthusiastic and a brilliant writer, but when she asked us about doing a FaceBook party… well, you’ll just have to see the results. There may be video evidence.

If you’re in an around the Denver area, there’s still time and room to register for the Reading Until Dawn Conference. I’ll be road-tripping up with my buddy Darynda Jones, which should be a kick. I’ll be the one drinking wine and playing Cards Against Humanity. There’s also a signing open to the public, Saturday, October 10, 3-5:30pm, if you’re in the ‘hood and want to drop by!

header_0Finally, I’m super excited to announce that I’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books this spring, March 11-12. This is the 4th largest book festival in the U.S. and will be crazy fun. I might be a fangirl puddle by the time the weekend is over. Plus my mom, stepdad, stepsister, brother-in-law and nephews are all there, too. Spring break in Arizona + family fun + Books! What more can a girl ask for?

Well, lemon-drop martinis, but I’m sure I’ll get those, too. 😀

What Genres Do You Read While Drafting?

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Edward Zelster Photography

This is the Kensington cocktail party at the RWA conference. I’m apparently describing something very large to Alexandra Nicolajsen, who manages the digital marketing for the house. Maybe a bus ad.

(That’s the lovely Carolyn Crane sitting next to me.)

As I mentioned previously, I brought back a lot of paper books from RWA, along with a wish list of ebooks I want to download to the Kindle. However, I also have a big road trip coming up. Today I’m flying up to Denver where I’ll help my mom and Stepdad Dave rent a U-Haul truck. My mom has sold my childhood home – after 41 years! – and they’re moving permanently into their Tucson house.

I’d already taken some things a few weeks ago and my aunt went and took some things. Then they had their friends over for a “take some things” party, followed by an estate sale. So there’s not THAT much to convey to Tucson. But there will be two vehicles and neither of them are all that comfortable driving alone for long periods of time. We’ll drive down to Santa Fe on Saturday (about 5.5 hours), spend the night, then go on to Tucson (~8 hours). I’ll hang out on Monday, then drive their “extra” vehicle back to Santa Fe, where it will now be ours. All of this boils down to one thing: audio books.

I sorely need to listen to some books, to help pass the solo driving time.

So, I went to Audible to find the right ones. After all, this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on books I really want to read – for research or because friends wrote them or because they’ve been on my list for a while. But then the two books I wanted most weren’t on Audible! I considered doing them on the Kindle text-to-voice, but I don’t LOVE that. The robo-voice takes away from the story for me. My friend, Sassy Outwater, who is blind, essentially told me I couldn’t bitch about that because, hello, welcome to HER world. I see her point, because Audible books are *expensive* – but I still like them better.

At any rate, I was in the odd position of finding books, any books, on Audible that would be good for the trip. And I didn’t want to burn a lot of time searching. Also, since I’ll be losing writing time doing this trip, I wanted books that would at least feed the story I’m working on, which is an Adult Fantasy. (Book 2 of Twelve Kingdoms, for those who don’t have my life memorized.)

Here’s where I get to my point, because I do have one (shocking!). I wonder what better feeds an in progress story – the same genre or a different one? Someone at the conference says she never reads books in her own genre, because she’s afraid of accidentally stealing ideas. That doesn’t really resonate for me. But I do think it’s better for me to read other genres than the one I’m cooking in.

I ended up choosing the first in Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English m/m detective series, as it’s been recommended to me many times. I’ll listen to Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ contemporary romance Ain’t She Sweet, though I’ve read it before, because it’s practically the text book on how to redeem an unlikable heroine – which I’m dealing with in the story I’m writing. Finally, I got Christina Lauren’s erotic romance Beautiful Bastard, so I can find out what got people so excited about it.

So, I’m curious. For writers, what do you read while you’re drafting? And for the non-writers, do you choose genre by what else is going on in your life?

One commenter will win a book from the ones pictured in Tuesday’s post. Except Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name – that one has been snapped up by a previous winner.

Pressing the Sheets

This begs a comment about all reproductive activities following certain patterns…

I took this pic near my folks’ house in Tucson. The agave plants are sending up their spires, with varying kinds of blooms. Some of them will use up all of their resources to make the spire and flowers, much like a spawning salmon, dying to reproduce. That’s my biologist lens coming into play.

Tawna Fenske would undoubtedly find a rude joke to make, perhaps even run a contest about it.

Marcella Burnard would undoubtedly buy a huge textbook on agaves and write a mini-dissertation on them.

Linda Grimes would find an array of dirty pictures derived from cactus to share.

We all see these things differently because we all have different ways of processing the world, particularly sexual matters. Even if it’s plant sex. Sex is a deeply personal and intimate thing. It’s also one of those things where what we SAY about it doesn’t necessarily match what we DO. Because the doing, except in certain circumstances, is usually done privately with only one other participant, or maybe several, plus the dog.

(Had to throw that in, for my CPs!)

At any rate, this is on my mind, not just because of the prodigious agave spawning we witnessed, but because of this article. The author’s intent is to make the argument that if a married man isn’t getting satisfactory sex at home, then it’s better for him to pay a professional than to have an affair.

It also has the, perhaps unintended, effect of illustrating how the author feels about sex in general. To sum up, she finds it normal that she declined sex with her husband so as not to mess up the nicely ironed sheets.

Worse, *all* her friends that she polled agreed. They don’t like sex, don’t want to have it. From this she extrapolates that women don’t like sex.

See, I have a really different circle of friends.

Most of whom still have their mouths hanging open, muttering “she IRONS her SHEETS???”

This is, of course, why I love you all. And hey – if you’re a sheet-ironer out there, you can still hang with us. Then you can explain where you find the time!

I once went to one of those Chippendales shows, back in small town Wyoming. You know the thing – the male dancers take over the bar, women patrons only, they strip and strut about, dancing sometimes an overstatement. I went with this group of gals I worked with. Over the evening, they transformed. Some of it was the drinking, sure, but there was more. These usually demure wives and mothers, who would be disgusted if some cowboy in a bar stripped his shirt off and grabbed their hands to run over his chest were screaming in delight and tipping guys to do this.

You could say it’s a power thing, which could be true, but I suspect it’s more that it’s how they thought they should behave. After all, the guys like that kind of thing. Men are openly honest about enjoying sex and sexual things, whereas women range over the spectrum in how frank they are.

There are lots of reasons for this. But it’s not that all women don’t like sex.

In fact, my main response to that article was a fervent wish that the author would seek counseling. You don’t have to be that woman, screaming with desire and pawing young dancers, but if perfect sheets are more important than being intimate with your life partner, then something likely needs revisiting.

Actually, if perfectly pressed sheets takes priority over anything at all, I think you need to come sit on my patio and have a glass of wine.

We’ll talk.

What Did He Use to Do?

Every morning while I’m in Tucson, I get up early and walk the circuit of the 9-hole golf course, before the golfers get going.

I miss going to the gym first thing, but the walk takes 45 minutes and makes up in length what it lacks in intensity. Plus there are bunnies and quail everywhere. Birds sing. This morning I saw an owl. I also saw a spot where it looked like an owl had gotten a dove. Feathers scattered everywhere told the tale of a midnight scuffle.

Every morning, too, I see the same two guys, prepping the golf course for the day. This fellow does the raking of the sand traps and grooms the grass with his Zamboni-ish machine that creates those long stripes. He looks African to me, both in his face and the way he doesn’t look at me when I walk by. The other guy always says hello. He’s tall with silver hair and a golf course jacket. His job involves testing the putting greens and tees. Or tamping. Perhaps he both tests and tamps.

I wonder if working at a golf course is a good living. Probably it’s a better deal to be the tester/tamper than the raker/rider. Like most jobs, though, you likely have to start out as raker/rider guy.

It’s funny because so many people in this neighborhood are retired. Sometimes, when they talk about their friends, my folks will mention what people used to do. “Oh, she was a lawyer, you know. And he held political office.” At this time, though, they have no uniform that tips you off. They carry no briefcases, have no tell-tale packets of real-estate sell sheets. At the Starbucks, the retirees and vacationers stand out easily from the people heading to jobs.

I had a friend from Madrid many years ago and she commented on how odd she found it that Americans always ask each other what they do. She’s right – it’s among the first things people ask each other when first meeting. She thought it indicated that Americans define themselves by what they do for a living, where for the Spanish it means so little that they often have no idea what a person does for money.

So many of us writers have a dual answer to that question of what do we do. We say oh, my day job is ex, but I’m also an aspiring/freelance/well-published author. Sometimes we specify the day job, other times we leave it vague. It takes a while to fess up the writer part, too.

I like to think my raker/rider guy who never looks up is deep in thoughts about his painting or his poetry. The Zen of the golf course gives him time to think. He works early hours, then composes in the afternoons.

Or perhaps he hangs with his kids. Or has two other jobs. Maybe he breeds horses.

I’ll just make up my own story for him.

Surprise!

I’m in Tucson this morning. This photo is from my early morning walk around the golf course.

Me being suddenly in Tucson is why I didn’t post yesterday. I left early and flew here to surprise my mom for her birthday. My fabulous stepsister, Hope, who’s forever lurking on this blog and never saying anything, picked me up at the airport. She’d invited my mom to lunch, so when we met up at the restaurant, I just happened to be along, too.

Big surprise. Very fun. All went flawlessly.

I did try to post to the blog yesterday, anyway, but all I could think about was the impending surprise. I imagined it would come out something like this:

That’s right [birthday!]: write every [Tucson!] day. Write at [no, no – I’m not flying anywhere today. Ha! Ha! Yes, I am!] the same time every day [Surprise!] if you can. Set your rituals and follow them, ahem, religiously. [Oh, boy! I can’t wait!]

And then my mom would have read it and, well, all that subtext would have given it away.

So, today we’re off to play. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Believe You Me

I’m off this weekend to attend a wedding and have a bit of belated Christmas with my stepdaughter, son-in-law and grandbabies. So this is a post with a bit of fun. Something to lift the end of this sad week.

I haven’t mentioned, because everywhere you look there’s something about it, but the shooting in Tucson was just a few blocks from my mom’s house. A florist in that Safeway shopping center is where I bought her wedding flowers. My mom and stepdad voted for Gabby Giffords. My stepsister worked on her campaign. My mom first heard the news of the shooting because my older nephew called her in tears. My younger nephew will turn 9 in a few months – the same age as Christina Greene.

So close to home. And yet, as President Obama pointed out, this was close to home for all of us.

I hung onto this email my mom sent me back in November because I thought it would be interesting to share here. The first in this collection of old advertisements is great just for the stomach-turning sexism. Let me show you a workout with that feather-duster, buddy.

I remember seeing this series of Camel ads.

But then, you already knew how old I am.

What was great about this campaign was all the rationalizing about how Camels were the healthiest cigarette. This is like saying crack cocaine is less addictive than heroine.

Um, okay.

Actually, the yeast in beer is supposed to be good for milk production. But look how far the mindset on drinking during pregnancy has migrated.

Okay, you all know about the tapeworms in the diet pills, right? Tapeworms, an intestinal parasite that is still the scourge of many 3rd World countries, were distributed as diet pills. Little tapeworms eggs you could swallow so they’d take root in your digestive system and absorb all the nutrients while you waste away.

Note that these were Sanitized, however.

Makes all the difference.


This one has got to be my favorite. I just love how this growing teen needs SUGAR for energy.

Sugar swings!

Sugar’s got what it takes.

Serve some.

Serve it now.

And they say things don’t change.

What strikes me about all this most, however, is that all this made perfect sense at the time. Yes, it was a Mad Men kind of world, but people believed this stuff, argued for it, defended it.

They weren’t stupid. There was evidence for all of it. Strong beliefs that made it all seem true.

Just seems to me like this should be a reminder that everything we know to be so true right now? In fifty years, it might look seriously ridiculous.

Always keep in mind what they’re selling.

Tao of Kitty

Bougainvillea from Thanksgiving in Tucson. No need for autumnal tradition there.

Every day my cat Isabel waits for her chance to go outside. It’s her very favorite part of the day. She loves to stalk the birds, roll in the dirt sit in the sun. With these short days, she has to wait longer and longer to go out, because I won’t let her until the sun is high enough that there are unlikely to be coyotes hiding in the shadows.

Fifteen minutes ago, just after 7, three coyotes trotted by. Well after sunrise, but the shadows are still long. Isabel wanders into my office, mewing with charm, coaxing me to let her out.

Not yet.

Because it’s colder now, and sometimes blustery, she doesn’t stay out long. She’s spoilt with me working at home. Ten minutes after I let her out, she’s outside my office window, asking to come in. I don’t mind – it gets me out of my chair, after all. I’ve threatened to tweet every time I let her in and out, with cheerful encouragement to bring it on.

And they say Twitter has no real substance.

Every morning, though, Isabel seems to head out with supreme confidence and joy. Sometimes a cold gust will hit her and she’ll crouch down, flattening her ears. Other mornings are still and she’ll venture out with tail high, but come in sooner to warm up.

I wonder what she understands of the seasons. Does she have a sense that we’re just heading into winter and that there will be a long cycle of cold before her hot summer days return? Perhaps every day is new and immediate for her. She could be expecting to walk into flowers and heat any day now.

It’s likely more that she has no expectations. If animals live in the moment, then things are what they are. Yet, I know she misses us when we’re gone and she remembers good hunting spots. I watch her making the rounds of places she’s caught mice and gophers in the past. From the moment the alarm goes off, she’s prancing around, excited to start her day. I believe she understands past and future.

Some people say you should never let cats outside at all. That if you never do, they can’t miss what they’ve never experienced. I’m not sure I believe this. The world is the natural habitat for all of us. We retreat to shelter, for warmth, for safety, but that’s not where any of us belongs, cloistered for our entire lives.

So, I wait for the sun to get bright enough – not yet, and it’s almost eight now – and I watch her go embrace the world for what it is.

I try to do the same.