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Oct. 30th, 2008


Phillies Win!

The Phillies won the World Series and immediately car horns started honking up and down my quiet suburban street. Half the neighbors screamed as if someone was attacking them, or they were being attacked. It was hard to tell. People poured out into the street just to share the joy.

This is a town that suffers soulfully, often colorfully on talk radio, and rejoices from the bottom of its working class heart.

I'm not a huge baseball fan. I go to games when the tickets are free or the husband insistent, and then I go mostly for the people-watching. A couple of hot dogs and a watered-down root beer can't hold a candle to listening to some oblivious, annoying twenty-something chirp about the love lives of her countless friends, none of whom would be friends for long if they knew how she talked about them where dozens of total strangers could listen in.

I was a Brewers fan, sort of, for a long time. When I moved to Philadelphia and married the love of my life, I adopted his sports teams. It was part of the marriage contract. In sickness and in health, losing seasons and winning seasons, good umping and bad.  Philadelphia takes its sports seriously, even if that means the entire population wallows in wholesale euphoria, delusion and depression. Mostly depression, because in recent years the local teams haven't been winning very much. Hopes generally get pinned on the Eagles, a football team that's prone starting out promising but always ends up disappointing. I'm allowed, by virtue of having been born and raised in proximity to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, to continue cheering for my Packers. But only if they're not playing the Eagles that week.

Yesterday I sat beside a man I married but seldom see: a steely-eyed, grim-mouthed, set-jawed male whose intense gaze somehow manages to stare straight through a glowing TV screen directly into the environs of a baseball field ten miles away.  This man can tell me the batting average of every player in both leagues.  He mentally adjusts pitcher stats during games.  He knows who's in the minors, whose contract negotiations have stalled, and who will be on another team next year.  He has only two words for the announcers on Fox News.  "They suck."  He points out that they only show the "magic box" that displays where pitches are in the strike zone during Tampa Bay's at bats (I kept track and... he was right).  He wanted a Philly victory so badly he sweated an aura of yearning that, combined with all auras of yearning sweated by all the natives gathered around all the television sets in this metropolis of several million, covered a few hundred square miles of the eastern seaboard in a thick cloud of unrequited hope.  One kiss from the beloved and it would ignite into an orgy of love.  Just give 'em a win.  Just one.  This one.

And they won.  And the fireworks exploded, and the town and the streets and the people ran Philly red with joy.  I never saw anything like it.  It was beautiful.  I can only imagine the rampant victory boffing taking place.

I'm still not much of a baseball fan, but I think I'm starting to get it.

Oct. 7th, 2008



I just finished a story I'm pretty sure I'm incubating to be a novel.  By that, I mean I could turn it into one with very little effort.  I love the characters, can envision expanded scenes, and sure as heck can craft a longer story arc.  I turn stories into novels while washing dishes.

Wouldn't you know, I decide to write another story of the Andes and come up with a romance.  But it's fantasy, too.  Or horror.  Something.  While writing it I rediscovered my love for conquistadors.  Don't get me started.  I've always had a thing for conquerors.

It was kind of neat, though, taking an old idea of mine scribbled on a scrap of paper, combining it with a post-conquest setting, star-crossed lovers, the world's richest silver mine, Aymara beliefs that pre-date the Incas, and research into amalgamation.  Sometimes (okay, often) I think research is the most fun any author can have with a story--except, of course, for seeing it in print or (better yet) fan letters.  Everything else is pure work.

Here's a pic of one of the salt lakes in the story.  It looks redder in person.

Sep. 17th, 2008


Bindaphobia Anyone?

I just get a kick out of stuff like this.

Newly Invented Words in English

While researching the Aymara language's propensity for generating neologisms, I came across this collection of English's most recently coined words. I scratched my head for a while over the writing ones.

Instead of saying "Stop overusing commas," perhaps I should be telling my critting partners to "Stop your virgu,ex,yusa!"


Sep. 12th, 2008


Push Shove

Few people in the U.S. follow what's going on in South America. I do, closely, thanks to having been married to someone from that region. The marriage left me with three children and a lingering interest in, and understanding of, affairs way south of the border.

This latest round with Venezuela, for example.  I've seen it play out before.  They kick out our ambassador (or someone), we kick out an ambassador or someone of theirs.  Or there will be a cycle of TV ads aimed at letting Americans who our real friends are and, by the way, our government is not looking after us properly.  Or bring in some old Cold War boogie man for joint military manuevers and see if they can scare us into line.  Or suddenly some government--Bolivia is always good for this--begins harping that unless the U.S. government changes somehow (cough... vote out the Republicans), there is going to be trouble.

It's ham-handed, and fascinating.  I'm not sure why, exactly, but these guys are sure--certain, absolutely convinced--that there's a gulf greater than the Pacific Ocean between the American public and the government.  If they could just get us to understand what we have to do... 

I wish I could believe they're well-meaning, but I can't be, because I really don't believe Chavez or Morales have our best interests at heart, and it sounds awfully like a threat when they start promising how there'll be trouble if we don't change our government.   Al Quaeda issues similar ultimatums every so often, and I don't see the logic in doing what they want, either.  Ironically, these same leaders call foul when Washington does it to them.   It's all politics and quite interesting.  It most likely will amount to nothing more than hot air.

So the sabers are rattling and the veiled threats are flying.  Must be getting close to an election.  :)

Just to be safe, I have forbidden the offspring from traveling to Bolivia until December.

Sep. 10th, 2008


In Print

I'd forgotten what a thrill it is to see my words in print. 

The other day I received my contributor copies of the The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction, and it's lovely.  Beautiful book, and a great collection of magical stories.  I just love the company I'm keeping in the TOC.  :)

I started reading right away, of course, because I'm voracious.  But when I saw my own story, I thought: "Wow, did I really write that?"

I felt the same way when my novel was published years ago.  The words were amazing because I couldn't believe I'd arranged them.  Stories always feel so organic to me, I like to think they wrote themselves.  They're creations, and when they're published, take physical form, they stand apart from the author, exist outside the author.   That so totally cool.  The only other thing I have ever done that feels like that is giving birth.  My kids still astonish me.  It's like, "Where did you come from?  Oh yeah, me!"  Of course, kids are different, because I can't take full responsibility, but still.  It's strange wonderful.

I'm also pleased that my story made it into this anthology because it's one of the few alternate world fantasies the editors chose.  I wasn't sure the pagan element would be what they were looking for, but the foreword zeroes in on the story's themes of family tradition and healing.  They "got" it, and that makes me ever so happy.

Sep. 6th, 2008



My short story "Snake Eater" has been accepted by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  It will appear in issue #39.  I just love this publication, so couldn't be happier.

I'm particularly happy about selling this story, because it is the first of my Andean fantasies to find a home.  I've recently been writing two other stories set in the Andes among the native Aymara and Quechua people, so this sale is encouraging.

In other news: I have finally defeated the evil head cold from Canada (although I have begun to suspect it was given to me by the eldest son, who picked up something nasty in London).  In any event, the invader has been repelled after five bottles of cough syrup, several packets of Thera-flu, and four entire boxes of tissue.  Had I known ahead, I could have bought stock in Kimberly-Clark.

And my eldest son is moving to London.  This may be the first step in his world-takeover...

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Sep. 2nd, 2008


Rushdie and I

I never thought I'd have anything in common with Salman Rushdie, other than knowing someone wanted me dead.  Maybe that was the reason I've always felt particularly at home with his fiction.  But then I realized just this morning that we both employ character pairing.  Many of his main characters are paired with an alter-ego, a Jungian shadow.  I use this technique also, with Dorilian and Stefan in my Triempery novels being the main examples.  Both are struggling with self-identity, and being presented to readers as characters in search of themselves.  Neither can see himself in the other, but I hope readers can.  It's a puzzle, not unlike real life, I like to think, where no man is truly an island, nor a unique evolutionary example.

I think some of this fondness for using alter-egos may stem from being migratory.  Rushie was an immigrant, something I cannot claim, but my childhood was a continual upheaval, and I seldom spent more than a couple years in any given location.  First grade was Virginia, second grade was Colorado, third grade Massachusetts, fifth grade Texas... constant cultural shift, even if within an overarching culture.  I was forever trying to figure out how a new city/school/regional ways worked.  Look at all the angles, try to see how life fits together.  Always the outsider, and I still tend to see myself that way.  So do many of my characters.

By pairing characters, they can illustrate two or more aspects of a problem.  I try to make these characters complex, so the reader can identity with both aspects.  Neither character can stake claim to the one "correct" viewpoint.  That's for readers to decide and I am delighted when readers tell me they sympathized with the antagonistic character, or realize the protagonist is about to do something totally wrong, even though he's sure he's totally in the right.  That's how terrible things happen.  People absolutely certain they have the right of it.

I also tracked down Mr. Rushdie's first novel, Grimus, published in 1975.  It's billed as a mix of science fiction and folktale.  Interesting.

Aug. 28th, 2008



More precisely... Civilization Revolution.

I've been playing this PS3 game with Steve for a month or so now.  It's tremendously addictive, and loads of fun.  What happened this past weekend, though, illuminated something about my personality.

I'm the person you want defending your empire.

My eldest son, Mike the Conqueror, stayed over the weekend and we played a game of Civilization.  Steve and I had not won militarily at that level and we wanted to try, so we started a game as the Germans, who come with military bonuses.  So the guys crank out one group of warriors and start exploring in one direction; they take the next group of warriors and explore in the other direction.  And I'm, like, "Guys?  Berlin is completely undefended."  Do they listen to me?  No.  They've discovered the Aztecs to the east and Alexander's Greeks to the west and, oh yeah, we have Japanese to the south!  They need warrior armies... everywhere. 

"We can take them!" cries Mike the Conqueror.
"Who first?" queries Steve the Controller.
"Hey, how about giving Berlin a damn archer unit?" pleads Linda the Defensive.

So the guys, rolling their eyes, generate an archer unit for Berlin.  I am placated... slightly.  We're still woefully underdefended.  Fortunately, our enemies are stupid and don't try to attack Berlin.  Maybe because Mike the Conqueror is urging Steve the Controller to attack Osaka. 

I continue plotting out our tech so we can stay ahead and not get annihilated by superior units.  Oh, and maybe we can get to space...

They make pretty short work of the Japanese, mostly because we discover catapults before anyone else.  I argue that we should leave Kyoto in place, crippled and pathetic as it now is, because it strategically blocks another civilization: France.  Why fight them if you can block them? 

"We can take them!"  says Mike.
"Maybe Linda's right," says Steve.
"Linda's right," says Linda.  "Berlin only has one archer.  All of our troops are in Osaka and Yokohama, and Montezuma may be acting all peaceful, but I don't trust him.  He's up to something.  He's winning the culture race."
"We can take him, too!  They've got nothing!" 

By then, we have tanks.  Three turns later, the guys have wiped Japan off the map and are invading Napoleon's France (this is not a real world map, you may have noticed).  They only need one unit of tanks for that... the rest have been shipped off to the eastern border to take on Montezuma's Aztecs.  They've never caused us any problems... which is probably why he's unprepared for Mike the Conqueror and Steve the Controller, gleefully delivering armies of tanks to blast him away. 

I set our new cities of Osaka and Yokohama to doing something useful, like building factories.

Several turns later, no more Aztecs.  Having discovered the Atom Bomb and wanting to demonstrate the cool graphics to Mike, Steve launches it at Paris.  Napoleon is annoying anyway (fear not, we're equal opportunity, having nuked Washington the week before because Abe Lincoln is just as annoying).  The French are weakened and Alexander the Great is getting worried.

He should be.  Mike the Conqueror has decided it's time to take him on.  He's always wanted the opportunity.

"Come on!  Look at the guy's troops!  They're wearing sandals and carrying sticks!  We've got tanks!"
I sigh.  "I've seen guys with sticks take out tanks!  It happens.  And Berlin still only has one archer!" 

I put the Aztec cities on more production and building space parts for the shuttle I plan to launch since they won't let me defend Berlin, or anywhere else.  Rather than listen to me complain, they give me a rifleman unit and a plane to protect Berlin, which doesn't need protecting because clearly our enemies are more worried about other things.  Athens will soon be toast and the French are clinging to Orleans...

And then we start launching space parts into space.  Yep, we're building an interstellar space ship.  The Germans are going to Alpha Centauri.

Mike the Conqueror belatedly notices that if our space ship reaches Alpha Centauri, we win the game.  Which is the point.  But he still wants to take out the French and the Greeks.

Not a shot.  But the guys do have fun with a few more full scale military engagements before our ship triumphantly colonizes a new planet.

Germans win!

If we'd been playing again a human being and not a computer, though, we'd have been in trouble, because I just know a human being would have attacked our capital city and its one archer. 

Mike and Steve joke that if we ever play each other in a multiple player game, I will only have one city but it will be impossible to take.  That's probably true.  Not the one city part.  I believe in expansion.  But my cities will be defended to the teeth.  Those guys are going to wear themselves out attacking me... and then I'll launch my nuke at whoever's annoying me most.  :)   Mike the Conqueror will never know what hit him.

Aug. 27th, 2008


Research... Vacation...

I have yet to meet a vacation that didn't yield valuable research.  Even familiar destinations harbor a few surprises just waiting to be unearthed.  Just last winter in Milwaukee, I toured a microbrewery and learned how root beer is made.  But I am fondest of journeys to points more distant.  I can't think of greater pleasure than talking with people who've lived lives different from mine, and seeing geology, architecture and history that are new to me.

Granted, Canada isn't exactly the height of foreignness to a Yank like myself.  Sharing a border fosters a degree of similarity, and there's lots of cross-fertilization in the immigration and historical arenas.  Even so, every time I go to Canada, I return wanting to live there.  The people are so darn nice and I find their opinions refreshing, and their country lovely.  Something tells me I will buy that condo in Halifax someday.  Until then, I simply pay a visit every other year or so.  Next year, Vancouver.

The last two times I visited the Maritime provinces, I saw mostly fog.  Last year, our cruise ship docked in St. John, New Brunswick, and... seriously, from the deck it was pure pea soup.  Nary a sign of the city.  I had no clue how far we might be from habitation.  Well, this time no fog and look...

Yep, straight from the deck of the ship.  Right smack in downtown St. John (bigger buildings off to the right).  Never saw it first two trips.  Similarly, we finally got a good view of the Bay of Fundy from the Martello Tower.  And of the tower itself, which is where the research comes in, because the tower was cool.  Not unique, by any means.  There are scores of these towers still standing around the world, the British being prolific tower-builders and having an extensive empire to boot.  This is, however, the first I have explored.

Trust me, there was a great view.  I also got to peek around inside the tower, thanks to the nicest docent, who didn't insist I pay for a proper tour (I was on a guided tour already that did not allow time for a proper tower visit).  She explained quite a few things, actually.  I have Steve to thank for any pictures, because I spent most of my time poking around inside and learning about how the tower's construction allowed it to resist cannonballs.  The ugly top, by the way, is a modern addition from WWII.  As the tour guide wryly noted, though the tower was manned so as to detect any German U-boat incursions into the Bay of Fundy, the Bay is so often shrouded in deep fog the Germans could have sailed their entire fleet into it without anyone the wiser. 

Here's a shot of the interior of the tower, where the men lived:

Spartan, but somehow comfy. 

Anyway, I'm back from Canada.  Back from the cruise.  Nursing a nasty cold.  That's not Canada's fault, though.  I spent a week on a cruise ship with 4,000 other people, and you can just bet a bunch of them had viruses to share.

May. 6th, 2008


Food for Thought

Thought I'd share this favorite essay by Peter H. Myers.  He's an artist, a photographer, but what he has to say about new artists trying to make it today applies just as much to new writers.

From the Big House to the Outhouse

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