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I should have posted this yesterday, but appropriately enough, I was too busy prepping for the game I ran last night. 🙂

Dice Tales: Essays on Roleplaying Games and Storytelling is out now! If you play RPGs and have an interest in them from the narrative side of things — the ways we use them to tell stories, and what GMs and players can do to make them work better in that regard — you may find it of interest. Follow the link to buy it from Book View Cafe, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or (in a first for me) DriveThruRPG. And if any parts of it wind up working their way into the games you play or run, let me know!

Also, the New Worlds Patreon has headed off into the wilds of rudeness, with two posts on “Gestures of Contempt” and “Insults.” The theme will continue through the end of this month before turning in a new direction for August. Remember that patrons at the $5 level and above can request topics, so if there’s something you’d like to see me discuss, you can make that happen!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Michael F. Haspil at Denver Comic-Con recently, and he had me at the word “Egyptology.” The hero of his debut novel is a mummy and former pharaoh — how could I not be interested in that! But I’ll let Michael tell you about how it took a different character to bring his mummy’s story to, er, life for him.

***

cover art for GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Michael F. HaspilI wrote the original version of GRAVEYARD SHIFT during NaNoWriMo some time ago. However, I still remember when the story really jumped into gear and, regrettably, that wasn’t truly in the first draft, though at the time I thought it was.

As I began revisions and sorted through the aftermath of a NaNo first draft, certain aspects stood out as being decent. The main character, Alex Menkaure, an immortal pharaoh now working in a special supernatural police unit in modern-day Miami, and his partner, Marcus, a vampire born in ancient Rome, needed minor work. The climactic battle at the end against the villains needed a lot of polish. While the action was solid, I wrote the section in a blur and it showed. Also, there was something missing. While Alex and Marcus are formidable, the villains I’d set up for them to go against were more so, and they needed help.

The help came in the form of Rhuna Gallier, a young but vicious shapeshifter with her own agenda. I’d had an idea for her character while brainstorming another novel, but realized with some minor tweaks, Rhuna and “The Pack” could fit into GRAVEYARD SHIFT’s story and world.

When I wrote the next draft, as I seeded Rhuna’s presence throughout the book, she threatened to take over the entire thing and make it hers. This may sound weird to non-writers, but she didn’t seem to understand this was Alex’s story and she was a supporting character. So I promised her besides the climax she would get a cool action scene. I knew in the scene Rhuna needed to be mostly on her own with minimal support so I could showcase her lethality.

In GRAVEYARD SHIFT’s world, a practice goes by the underground name of S&B. It stands for Sangers, a derogatory name for vampires, and Bleeders, humans who willingly let vampires feed on them to experience the pleasurable sensations that come with it. Participants meet in bloodclubs, which are akin to prohibition-era speakeasies. Many unsavory activities such as human trafficking, blood and drug dealing, and murder, happen near the clubs and they are part of Miami’s criminal underbelly.

In the early draft, I had a criminal vampire who liked to prey on young girls, take one of his victims to the club. It was an unhappy chapter and ended with the vampire killing another victim. In the new draft, Rhuna showed up. That’s when the story jumped to life. Rhuna took the place of the victim and suddenly where I had a naïve girl falling prey to an old vampire’s wiles, now I had Rhuna going in as a Trojan horse and the vampire and his companions never knew what hit them.

I rewrote the sequence, several chapters long, in one sitting. Now, I can’t wait to write Rhuna’s novel. It’s going to be great fun.

***

From the cover copy:

Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, born in ancient Rome, are vice cops in a special Miami police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, bootleg blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.

When poisoned artificial blood drives vampires to murder, the city threatens to tear itself apart. Only an unlikely alliance with former opponents can give Alex and Marcus a fighting chance against an ancient vampire conspiracy.

If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodier than any the world has ever seen.

Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have whispered directly to his soul. An avid gamer, he serves as a panelist on the popular “The Long War” webcasts and podcasts, which specializes in Warhammer 40,000 strategy, tactics, and stories. Graveyard Shift is his first novel. Find him online at michaelhaspil.com or @michaelhaspil.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I posted a little while ago about today, July 12th, being the “Battle for the Net.” The short version is that the FCC is trying to roll back the “net neutrality” protections we currently enjoy, which would have the effect of letting corporations control how you interact with the internet. Think of your cable company: you know how they charge you more money for “premium channels”? You might find yourself paying your internet provider extra fees to access “premium sites.” (Not paying the sites; paying Comcast. Or whoever provides your internet connection.) Sites they don’t have a financial stake in might load more slowly. Streaming sites could be throttled to the point where you can’t watch a video or listen to music or play an online game without constant hiccups.

All of those things are bad. But here’s what’s worse.

Think about the flood of online political activity we’ve had in the last year. All those petitions, all those videos, all those political blogs. Right now, the only thing controlling your access to them is your level of interest and will to engage. But if we let the FCC empower internet providers to become the internet’s gatekeepers, then it may get a hell of a lot harder for us to make our voices heard. A lot of the groups speaking out right now are precisely the ones being disadvantaged by the current administration’s policies; they’re the ones who can’t afford to pay prioritization fees to keep their sites from being buried. This would be another way to screw them over, to make sure the voices we hear first, last, and loudest are the ones with money behind them: a negative feedback loop that ensures that power stays in the hands of those who already have it.

We can’t let this happen. Call your senators. Call your representative. Write a letter to the FCC. Speak up now, while you still can. As tools for speech go, the internet is up there with the printing press and the invention of writing itself — and our democracy depends on freedom of speech. We have to protect it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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This started out as a joke yesterday, but then I figured — why not?

SO! I am offering a signed book from my stash of author copies for someone who can provide me with a quick cartoon-style/chibi/super-deformed sketch of this man:

standing on a pressure plate and looking extremely grumpy, while this woman:

armed and armored like a D&D rogue, skips around sticking pink companion cube hearts on him:

. . . because yeah, last game session my PC left the Blackjack standing on a pressure plate in a hallway to disarm a trap while she went inside to plant a magical surveillance device. Which led to jokes that he was her companion cube, a la Portal. And then my sister said she would totally draw this cartoon if she could draw, except she can’t, and neither can I, but maybe one of you can! There’s a signed book in it for you if you do. 😀

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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So, net neutrality.

It’s an important thing. Without it, cable companies will have far more control over what you see and do online: they’ll be able to slow down or block websites, or charge apps and sites extra fees in order to reach their audiences. They’ll push you toward sites belonging to companies who can afford to pay for “prioritization.” Marginalized communities and voices will be muted by the power of money, and your ability to say “I want to hear them” will be weaker, too.

Ajit Pai, the new FCC chairman (and not coincidentally, a former Verizon lawyer) thinks this sounds great. Me, not so much.

There’s a protest planned. I’ll be back on this topic July 12th, because I’ve signed up to participate. If you want to do the same, you can sign up at that link. My microphone isn’t huge, but the more of us that shout together, the louder we get.

Let’s get loud.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I decided to delay this month’s tikkun olam post until the 4th. It seemed appropriate.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

A more perfect Union. That’s the goal this country was founded on — and though we may have often and egregiously foundered in pursuit of it, that doesn’t make the goal any less worthy. We must keep striving to establish Justice: to make it clear that Black Lives Matter, Native Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter. We must ensure domestic Tranquility: stop homegrown terrorism, partner violence, police brutality. Provide for the common defence: but not unending aggression. Promote the general Welfare: through programs like Medicaid, Social Security, and the ACA. Secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity: protect voting rights, protect the freedom of speech, religion, the press, and peaceable assembly.

If the people in charge won’t do it, then we have to do what we can, in our own lives and in our communities. So share what you’ve done lately, however small, to repair the world: to establish a more perfect Union, in the United States or elsewhere, through donations, volunteer work, good deeds, anything. Share what you intend to do in the days to come. The work is ongoing.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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One of my funding goals for the New Worlds Patreon was bonus essays. I promised four posts each month, on Fridays — but some months have five Fridays. Since we’ve reached that funding goal (did it right out of the gate, in fact), our first bonus is “Worldbuilding as a Habit of Thought,” discussing how to incorporate the kinds of details I’ve been discussing without having to go through a laundry list of topics every time you sit down to write. Comment over there!

And don’t forget: if you become a patron, you get weekly photos, plus perks like the ability to request topics, the chance to get personalized answers on worldbuilding questions, and even critiques of your work. Plus we’re not far from the next funding goal, which will bring book reviews into the mix!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’m off this evening to Denver for what I’m going to assume is the highest-altitude Comic-Con of the lot. If you’re there this weekend, here’s when and where you can find me, and what I’ll be doing!

  • Friday, 1-1:50 p.m. — Avadakedavra! Magic in Literature
  • Friday, 2-2:50 p.m. — Kicking Butt in Corsets
  • Friday, 5:30-6:20 p.m. — The Past Is Here: Writing Romantic Fiction with an Historical Backdrop
  • Sunday, 11-11:50 a.m. — But Is It Epic Enough?
  • signing 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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How often is the thing that brings a story to life a question of grammar? And yet, I know exactly what Linda Nagata means. Here she is, explaining how verb tenses turned out to be the key:

***

cover for THE LAST GOOD MAN by Linda NagataIf there ever was one bright spark, one bit of insight, one unexpected plot twist that brought The Last Good Man to life, I don’t remember it. What I do remember was how flat and uninteresting the manuscript felt to me in the earliest days.

This wasn’t an unusual situation for me. Beginnings are hard and it can take time to work out a tone and style that feels right. So I kept pushing forward, telling myself that if I kept going, the essential spark that every novel needs would eventually ignite.

It didn’t happen. Not for over 30,000 hard-fought words. Sure, the story was advancing but I wasn’t happy with the tone or with the way it was being told—and I didn’t know why.

I’d done my preliminary work—a lot of preliminary work. I’d been tossing ideas into the literary stew pot for months, revising my synopsis again and again. This was a very near-future story centered on a small private military company—contract soldiers of the sort hired by corporations, NGOs, and the US government. These were “white hat” mercenaries, choosy about their clients, working only for the good guys, and though they were a small force, that force was amplified by the autonomous robotic weaponry they could deploy. And I had an unusual protagonist in True Brighton.

Middle-aged women are not generally considered cool enough to serve as the lead in a techno-thriller, but I wanted to give it a shot—I wanted the challenge—so I made True forty-nine years old, a retired US Army veteran and mother of three who is still fit, strong, and agile enough to qualify for field missions.

All the pieces seemed right. For months I’d sensed the potential in this story, but still somehow the spark was missing.

Up to this point I’d been writing in third person, past tense. Then—30,000 words in and on the verge of despair—I chanced to read a novel written in third person, present tense and I was intrigued. Could I write The Last Good Man in third person present?

Present tense is commonly used with first person, where the narrator relates the story using “I” or “we.” I’d done a whole trilogy in first-person present. But I’d never written in third-person present. Inspired by the novel I was reading, I decided to try it.

And I liked the energy of it! It was just a technical change, but at last the tone of the story felt right. I continued to move ahead, writing additional pages every day in present tense, and at the end of the day I would revise my past work, gradually shifting it from past tense to present, adding detail as I did.

I was far, far happier with the feel of the story. The change in tense had given it the spark it needed—or maybe it had given me the spark I needed. Whichever it was, I never considered shifting back.

***

From the cover copy:

Scarred by war. In pursuit of truth.

Army veteran True Brighton left the service when the development of robotic helicopters made her training as a pilot obsolete. Now she works at Requisite Operations, a private military company established by friend and former Special Ops soldier Lincoln Han. ReqOp has embraced the new technologies. Robotics, big data, and artificial intelligence are all tools used to augment the skills of veteran warfighters-for-hire. But the tragedy of war is still measured in human casualties, and when True makes a chance discovery during a rescue mission, old wounds are ripped open. She’s left questioning what she knows of the past, and resolves to pursue the truth, whatever the cost.

“…a thrilling novel that lays bare the imminent future of warfare.” —Publishers Weekly starred review

Linda is a Nebula and Locus-award-winning writer, best known for her high-tech science fiction, including the Red trilogy, a series of near-future military thrillers. The first book in the trilogy, The Red: First Light, was a Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial-award finalist, and named as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and several anthologies.

Linda has lived most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and an independent publisher. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

Website | Twitter

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve been sitting on this news for nearly a year, waiting for my first piece to go live so I can tell you all about it.

So there’s this game called Legend of the Five Rings. It was a collectible card game and RPG; I got involved with the RPG, doing some freelance work for the later parts of fourth edition, because it had sucked me in overnight. The setting, Rokugan, is inspired by Japanese history and culture, and it’s got the kind of rich worldbuilding that makes the place come to life for me. So when the parent company sold L5R off to Fantasy Flight Games, I was, shall we say, rather determined to stay involved.

And I am. But not writing for the RPG this time: instead I’m one of their fiction writers. You see, one of the defining characteristics for L5R has always been the ongoing narrative of the game, influenced by the winners of various tournaments, and expressed through official canon stories.

My first story is here!

I think it should be a decent introduction to the setting for those who aren’t familiar with it. (In fact, that’s one of the goals for this first set of stories: give newcomers an overview of Rokugan, clan by clan.) If you like what I wrote, you might find L5R overall interesting, and you can check out the other fictions here (those provide links to the pdfs if you want to see the pretty formatted versions).

Yeah . . . I’m pretty excited. 😀 The setting has been rebooted back to the Clan War, so there’s an opportunity to do all kinds of cool new things, and this story provided a really great chance to showcase that, with the Dragon facing two entirely fresh conflicts that don’t come with easy answers attached. And I’m working on more stuff as we speak, so my involvement will be ongoing. *\o/*

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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The most recent New Worlds post is on sumptuary laws, i.e. the ways in which societies try to regulate the outward signifiers of class and rank.

Looking back at my previous blog series of BVC — Dice Tales is now set to be an ebook! You can currently pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, and Kobo; or you can wait for the on-sale date of July 18th and get it from DriveThruRPG or direct from the publisher, Book View Cafe. This is edited and expanded from the original blog series, with more than half a dozen new essays.

And — as a teaser — while it is my first foray into game-related publishing, it may not be my last . . .

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve been making these tikkun olam posts for about half a year now, and responses to them have been slowing down, which I suspect is in part a sign of fatigue. It’s hard to keep on working to repair the world when so many people seem determined to break it, and when it’s hard to see any result for your effort.

But sometimes you can make a very real difference to a very specific person. Chaz Brenchley has put out a call raising funds to treat his wife’s multiple sclerosis. If we lived in a country where this was covered by insurance, they wouldn’t have to worry; instead we live in a country where Republicans are trying to take away even the insurance we already have. Karen is the primary earner in their family, and she doesn’t know how soon she’ll be able to return to work. Helping out, either by donating directly, or by subscribing to Chaz’s Patreon, can make all the difference in the world to these two people, and to their friends and family.

And while you’re at it, call your senators and beg them to oppose Trumpcare. Because I’d like to live in a world where things ranging from anxiety to surviving sexual assault don’t count as “pre-existing conditions,” and where health insurance companies are required to cover things like doctor’s visits.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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When we bought our house last year, the property included one Meyer lemon tree, two apple trees (producing four kinds of apple between them, because grafts), and something we dubbed the Charlie Brown Cherry Tree.

Remember the Christmas tree in the Charlie Brown holiday special? Yeah. It was like that. Shorter than I am, spindly, rather lacking in leaves, and though we can’t remember how many cherries it produced, the number was small enough to be counted on one hand. I don’t have any pictures of it, but you get the idea.

This past winter, we finally got an abundance of rain. Also, our neighbors trimmed back a tree on their property that had been overshadowing the cherry.

Oh. my. god.

Here’s one branch of the tree. Note how there are more cherries on this single branch than the entire tree produced last year.

a small cluster of cherries on a tree

Here’s a shot of the most abundant section when it was really starting to gather steam:

a downward shot of cherries on a small tree

And here’s the near-final tally; there are still a few more cherries ripening on the tree that I haven’t picked yet.

a plastic container full of cherries

About half of those were harvested yesterday. Reader, I tell you: I got BORED picking cherries. Pick, pick, pick, for god’s sake why are there still more cherries to pick; I’ve been out here forever. They’re frozen because the tree is still shorter than I am, and even with its present abundance, we have to save up to get a useful amount. (They’re sour cherries, so less the kind of thing you just snack on than what we buy at the farmers’ market.) But we have enough to do . . . man, there are too many possibilities. My husband has been making jam out of various fruits, so maybe that. Or a pie? Is this enough for a pie? Maybe some little tarts or something? I don’t know.

I only know that it’s no longer the Charlie Brown Cherry Tree. Ladies and gentlemen, this is The Little Cherry Tree That Could.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Not to be confused with my own series! Brenda Cooper’s novel Wilders takes place in a world on the other side of an ecological collapse. Here’s what the cover copy has to say:

cover for Wilders by Brenda Cooper

Coryn Williams grew up in the megacity of Seacouver, where every need is provided for—except satisfaction with life. After her parents’ suicides, her sister, Lou, fled the city to work on a rewilding crew, restoring lands once driven to the brink of ecological disaster to a more natural state. Finally of age, Coryn leaves the city with her companion robot to look for her sister.

But the outside world is not what she expects—it is rougher and more dangerous. While some people help her, some resent the city, and still others covet her most precious resource: her companion robot. As Coryn struggles toward Lou, she uncovers a group of people with a sinister agenda that may endanger Seacouver.

When Coryn does find her sister, Lou has secrets she won’t share. Can Coryn and Lou learn to trust each other in order to discover the truth hidden beneath the surface and save both Seacouver and the rewilded lands?

What was the spark that brought Coryn to life?

*

Wilders is the beginning of a new series for me. Although I’ve written a number of near-future stories set on Earth, Wilders is the first novel-length science fiction I’ve set on my home planet. Everything else has been set some indeterminate time in the future in a different solar system, in space, or once, in the far past. Setting things in brand new made-up worlds is easy. I love world-building.

But I wanted to write more directly about us. So I plunged in a book about two broad topics I care about: the environment and technology. Wilders is about a time fifty years in our future, with fabulous and powerful cities full of technology, entertainment, and safety. The land between cities has been ravaged by climate change. In order to explore the technology thread, I needed a naïve protagonist who readers wouldn’t fault for being way-too-dependent on her robot companion. Even though my viewpoint character, Coryn, would learn enough to be compelling through the story, I struggled to bring her to life early on. Some very bad things happen to her. These give her great pain, so she is sympathetic, but still, frankly, a little boring in the first few chapters. Coryn also doesn’t know enough at the beginning of the book to tell the story of the world to the reader in any detail.

So I needed help, but I didn’t know what kind.

Coryn is a runner. This is how she dumps her pain, and her loneliness. Running. Her robot, Paula, is her only friend. Paula trains her, and together they run through the city, deeply immersed in augmented reality worlds. Then one day a much older woman, Julianna, runs right past Coryn, and makes it look easy. Intrigued, Coryn follows her.

Now, I had never seen Julianna before. She wasn’t in my rough outline. She wasn’t on my list of characters. I didn’t know who she was or what she looked like other than the gray ponytail from the back. But Julianna’s existence opened entire avenues of exploration into the hidden secrets of my future city, and she became a main character in Wilders and in the sequel (tentatively named Keepers). Her backstory is the backstory of the city, her wealth is the key to resources I need later, and her deep distrust of robotic companions makes Coryn question her own blind trust of Paula. In fact, the first moment this happens is on the first run, where Julianna make Coryn leave Paula outside of the restaurant with her own security robots. Here is when that happens:

At the landing, the still-nameless woman leaned over to her. “Leave your companion outside.”

That surprised Coryn. “She usually sits with me.”

A slightly perturbed look crossed the woman’s face. “Well, I’m going to eat with you. She doesn’t need food. She can stay out with my guards.”

Coryn blinked. Paula’s job was to keep her safe.

So that’s the spark that helped bring Wilders to life. Its name is Julianna. She sprang to existence exactly when I needed her.

*

* Reserve an autographed copy from University Bookstore in Seattle
* Amazon Kindle Version
* Amazon paperback link
* Indiebound

*

Brenda Cooper is the winner of the 2007 and 2016 Endeavor Awards for “a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors.” Her work has also been nominated for the Phillip K. Dick and Canopus awards.
Brenda lives in Woodinville, Washington with her family and three dogs. A technology professional, Brenda is the Chief Information Officer for the City of Kirkland, which is a Seattle suburb.
Brenda was educated at California State University, Fullerton, where she earned a BA in Management Information Systems. She is also pursuing an MFA at StoneCoast, a program of the University of Southern Maine. Learn more or sign up for her newsletter at her website: http://www.brenda-cooper.com.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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The latest posts from my New Worlds Patreon are:

Also, I’m going to be at Denver Comic-Con! Just got my schedule today:

  • Friday, 1-1:50 p.m. — Avadakedavra! Magic in Literature
  • Friday, 2-2:50 p.m. — Kicking Butt in Corsets
  • Friday, 5:30-6:20 p.m. — The Past Is Here: Writing Romantic Fiction with an Historical Backdrop
  • Sunday, 11-11:50 a.m. — But Is It Epic Enough?
  • signing 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday

If I can scrounge up the time and brain cells, I also want to post about Wonder Woman. Short form: go see it! Longer form will have to wait, though.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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My beloved Timbuk2 messenger bag is kind of dying. The bag itself is still pretty solid, but the waterproof lining on the cover has at this point cracked in enough places that just sticking electrical tape over the splits is no longer going to cut it.

The problem is, Timbuk2 doesn’t seem to make this bag anymore. It’s their convertible messenger bag/backpack — I don’t remember the product name anymore, but I don’t see anything like that on their site. (If I’m just overlooking it, do point me in the right direction!) Who else makes a good, solid product in that vein? My three requirements are 1) waterproof, 2) with a protected laptop compartment, and 3) convertible.

Mind you, there is an argument to be made that I’m better off with an actual backpack and an actual messenger bag as separate things, because this was never ideal as a backpack. But it was dead useful when I did my research trips for the Onyx Court books, because I could put it on my back while hiking ten or fifteen miles around London, and then switch it to a messenger bag to look more professional when I met with people. I’m not doing that type of trip these days, so the need is less pressing than it used to be. But still, I’ve gotten used to it, and don’t want to give up without at least a bit of a fight.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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One of the hardest things about our current political situation is that it isn’t going to be over any time soon. Getting involved for a day? That’s easy. Staying engaged for a month? That’s manageable. But keeping it up for years . . . that’s hard. It’s like the whole concept of dieting: the best thing to do is not to restrict your eating habits for a limited time, but to change them indefinitely, in a way you can sustain long past the point when that initial surge of energy has burned out.

Tikkun olam doesn’t work very well as a binge. It’s a way of thinking, a way of living. So another month, another repetition of the question: how have you been thinking and living? What things have you done to repair the world, in your own life or someone else’s? Donations, volunteer work, efforts to build a better future or to mitigate harm you see coming. Any good is good, no matter how small.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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My husband is allergic to citrus — not badly so, not to the level of “get him to a hospital” or “break out an epi pen,” but he should try to avoid it when possible.

. . . there are a lot of recipes that call for small amounts of lemon juice.

Is there anything that would make a good substitute for this? Something mildly acidic, I presume — maybe some kind of vinegar? White wine strikes me as the most “neutral,” but then again, I know little enough about this that I may have just typed utter nonsense. Recommendations appreciated.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Safe Haven

May. 25th, 2017 11:55 am
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Over the past few months I worked my way through the five seasons of the TV show Haven. In its core structure, it’s basically Yet Another Procedural: each week there’s a mystery, the heroes investigate, the mystery is solved by the end of the episode. But the premise of this one is speculative — an FBI agent discovers weird things going on in a small Maine town — and spec-fic shows usually pair their procedural-ness with at least some degree of metaplot, which I find myself really craving these days. So I figured I would give it a shot.

And for the most part, the structure is indeed conventional. Weird Thing Happens. Audrey Parker (the FBI agent) and Nathan Wuornos (the local cop) investigate. The problem is inevitably being caused by the Troubles, a set of supernatural afflictions that plague many residents of Haven. Our heroes find the Troubled person responsible —

— and then they help that person.

I mean, every so often they do have to arrest somebody or it even ends in death. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on solving the Troubles, not punishing them. In many cases, the person responsible doesn’t realize they’re the source of that week’s weird thing; when they do know, they’re often terrified and unable to stop their Trouble from hurting people. These supernatural abilities trigger because of emotional stimuli, so week after week, you watch Audrey untangle the threads of someone’s psychology until she figures out that they need to accept the fact that a loved one is gone or reconcile with an estranged friend or admit the secret that’s eating away at them, and when they do, their Trouble lets go.

It is amazingly refreshing, after all the procedural shows I’ve seen that involve people with guns using those guns to solve their problems. (There’s a key moment late in the series when the entire Haven PD gets sent out to manage a big outburst of Troubles, and they literally get a speech from the police chief about how the people causing problems aren’t the enemy and need to be helped, not beaten down.) In fact, it’s so refreshing that I was willing to forgive the show’s other flaws. The scripts are often no better than okay, and for the first four seasons the characters are remarkably incurious about the metaplot: they accept that the Troubles show up every twenty-seven years, Audrey is somehow connected to them, etc, but it takes them forever to get around to asking why, much less making a serious effort to find the answers. (In the fifth season the show dives headfirst into the metaplot, and the results are less than satisfying.) Furthermore, if you’re looking for characters of color, you basically won’t find them here. Haven does a pretty poor job in general with secondary characters, often getting rid of them after one season; I can only think of two people who get added to the cast after the first episode that stick around instead of getting booted out of the plot.

But the character dynamics are pretty engaging, some of the episodes have a pretty clever premise . . . and it’s a show about helping people. About resolving problems through addressing their underlying causes. About how, if somebody has a Trouble but they’ve figured out ways to manage it without hurting anybody, you clap them on the back and move on to someone who’s having more difficulty. There’s a good-hearted quality to the show’s basic concept that kept me interested even when I could have been watching something with better dialogue but less compassion.

More compassion, please. We need it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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If you’re like me, the phrase “Orpheus myth in space” gets your immediate attention. Here’s Jessica Reisman to tell us about the spark that brought Substrate Phantoms to life!

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cover to SUBSTRATE PHANTOMS by Jessica ReismanSubstrate Phantoms had a long road to publication, so I’ve had to cast my mind back to remember the original writing and when the fire seemed to catch. I already had my far future science fiction universe, the Aggregate, in which I’ve had several stories and my first novel (so long ago now that Substrate gets to be a new debut), and had been playing around with the idea of the Orpheus myth in space, a kind of ‘don’t look back’ when a character is fleeing a space station, trying to save a loved one.

That was all very well, but things weren’t really taking any compelling shape. It was with the haunting of the space station that the first sign of heat flared up. A kind of film reel unfurled in my mind, of powerful images and feelings having to do with the intersection of technology and futurity with superstition and our need for the kind of possibility inherent in the more inward, arcane, and irrational side of our natures. Where these elements—often set in opposition—cross is a deep vein of story for me.

It was a pretty potent unfurling of image and feeling, that film reel. It had what felt like the whole story—and more—within it. My writing process is what we sometimes call “organic.” The initial phase of image, feeling, and story arc is like a seed for me, a tiny, dense ball of potential in which the story exists. To maul the metaphor, note-making, research, background work, and world building are all preparing the ground, planting, and fertilizing; the actual searching march of words onto page is when the growth begins and the story stretches toward its shape.

So there was the spark of the haunted space station—a usefully compelling elevator pitch, but what now? I think it leapt into full conflagration when I found the opening of the first chapter:

Revelation deck rested currently in station shadow, spangled in reflections off the solar collectors. Long glimmers cut through the high dim space in a slow dance. Revelation deck was a big space with open gridwork, gridwork being the bones of station superstructure hidden on other decks. Tall viewports and a lack of adult traffic made it a favorite haunt of station kids, four of whom sat clustered under a twenty-foot span of the grid arch. Likely there was someplace they were supposed to be, and strict regulations said they shouldn’t be there, but it was a regulation never enforced.

Jhinsei, two-thirds of the way through sitting a shift at the automated shuttle monitors, liked the murmur of voices. He had been such a kid himself, not too many years past, listening to tales on Revelation; besides, they lessened the loneliness of the cavernous deck.

Revelation deck, far future space station, kids telling stories, future and past: it makes friction for me and, voila, sparks!

*

From the cover copy:

The space station Termagenti—hub of commerce, culture, and civilization—may be haunted. Dangerous power surges, inexplicable energy manifestations, and strange accidents plague the station. Even after generations of exploring deep space, humanity has yet to encounter another race, and yet, some believe that what is troubling the station may be an alien life form.

Jhinsei and his operations team crawl throughout the station, one of many close-knit working groups that keep Termagenti operational. After an unexplained and deadly mishap takes his team from him, Jhinsei finds himself—for lack of a better word—haunted by his dead teammates. In fact, they may not be alone in taking up residence in his brain. He may have picked up a ghost—an alien intelligence that is using him to flee its dying ship. As Jhinsei struggles to understand what is happening to his sanity, inquisitive and dangerous members of the station’s managing oligarchy begin to take an increasingly focused interest in him.

Haunted by his past and the increasing urgent presence of another within his mind, Jhinsei flees the station for the nearby planet Ash, where he undertakes an exploration that will redefine friend, foe, self, and other. With Substrate Phantoms, Jessica Reisman offers an evocative and thought-provoking story of first contact, where who we are is questioned as much as who they might be.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Publisher

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Jessica Reisman’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. A three-time Michener Fellow, she has been writing her own brand of literary science fiction and fantasy for many years. Jessica has lived in Philadelphia, parts of Florida, California, and Maine, and been employed as a house painter, blueberry raker, art house film projectionist, glass artist’s assistant, English tutor, teaching assistant, and editor, among other things. She dropped out of high school and now has a master’s degree. She makes her home in Austin, Texas, where well-groomed cats, family, and good friends grace her life with their company. Find out more at her site.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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