Thursday, June 23, 2016

My husband, the legacy of my father, and a small kindness

NASA image, used under cc license

This is a small story of a kind act.

One done with no expectation of reward or notice.

One done because we are all on this blue marble spinning in the void together and not one of us will get out of here alive.

One that is emblematic of the person my husband is, and how he respects and honors the legacy of his father-in-law.


My father was a wise man. This is not to say a formally learned one; he had only a high school education. But he was a curious man, an observant man, a practical man. He taught me many lessons as I was growing up and many of them (all?) had to do with humility and gratitude. He might not have categorized them as such, but from my vantage point in adulthood, I do.

He taught me the CEO and the janitor were worthy of the same respect. That 'if your job was digging ditches, then you dig the best damned ditches you know how to dig.' (Kind of a tongue twister!) And he always tipped generously, saying 'it won't make them rich, it won't make you poor, and it's the right thing to do.'

The right thing to do. That's something he taught me well and not just through his words.


So two nights ago, my husband came home after a long day at work followed by an equally long meeting. He seemed subdued - more than would be explained by the fatigue and the stresses of the day. I waited and it wasn't long before he told me about his evening.

He was walking through Boston to get to the venue when he walked by a homeless man on the sidewalk. The man was sober and clean; just sitting quietly asking for spare change.

My husband usually keeps change in his pocket, but tonight he had none. He stopped anyway. He opened his wallet, looking for a dollar bill for the man. He had no singles. He drew out a $5.00 bill and handed it to the man.

The man thanked him, then looked at the bill. He paused, looked again. Then he looked up at my husband and thanked him again, quietly, saying "Now I can eat dinner."

My husband reached out to shake the man's hand and wished him well.

They both had tears in their eyes.

My husband teared up again in telling me.

He said, "I heard your father's voice in my head saying 'It won't make them rich, it won't make you poor, and it's the right thing to do.'" 


I tell this here not to embarrass my husband (though I know it does, even as he told me I could relay the story), nor for any kind of praise on his behalf, but to highlight a moment, a small kindness that meant so much more than that to two humans struggling to hold on as the planet whirls through the darkness. 


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Monday, June 20, 2016

Guest Post: Sandra Ulbrich Almazan and the Season Avatars series

Today I have turned over my blog to Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, a fellow SFF writer and Broad Universe member. But not only is she a member of Broad Universe, she is one of its founders and I also learned from reading her official bio, that she appeared on Jeopardy! (Which is most cool!)

I recently read book 1 of the series and enjoyed the unique world building and mix of magic and religion that inform the story. 

Book 3 of Sandra's Season Avatars fantasy series, CHAOS SEASON has recently been published and she has allowed me to post a small snippet for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Jenna strode forward until she stood in the center of the lawn. Back on the farm, she used to pull off her boots so she could feel the earth with her feet. Noblewomen, however, wore boots with lots of little buttons that took forever to undo. Jenna had to squat and press her palms into the lawn to connect with the seeds.
These seeds were unlike any she’d ever worked with. They were light, with a leaf-like wing attached to the seed pod. The shape reminded her of a maple seed, but the color was as white as death. Maybe they were the seeds she’d seen earlier. How did they get here so quickly? Despite the hard seed pods protecting the seeds, the new plants inside seemed to sense her magic. She didn’t even have to focus on the seeds before they germinated. Each new plant drew upon its seed pod and wing so fiercely for nourishment they they crumbled to dust. These plants were hungry, hungry as animals, and just as willing to seek out their food.
Jenna didn’t like that at all.
There’s something not right about these plants. I shouldn’t encourage them to grow….
Hold, two of them!” a man shouted. “Two of the harpies who attacked the most talented, most wondrous Sal-thaath!”
Further shouts answered him. Jenna didn’t speak Selathen, but she did know their word for “Avatar,” and that was the only word she could pick out. They had to be talking about her and Kay. Even if they were here for Ysabel, they wouldn’t mind giving Jenna and Kay to Sal-thaath, the boy who’d attacked Gwen, as well. Jenna had no other plants she could use as weapons, and she couldn’t count on Kay to defend them. It was up to her and the strange plants to stop the Selathens.
Summer, help me, I beg you. Help me make these plants grow faster than weeds.
Each sprout sank a tiny root into the dirt and stretched down deep. At the same time, the seed leaves opened, drinking in faint sunlight shining through the drizzle. The roots spread out and grabbed other plants next to them. The grass turned yellow and brittle, but the new plants shot up tall and thick, sending out heart-shaped leaves—and fine needle-like barbs covering their stalks. Jenna retreated before her own defenses attacked her. But the deathbush—the best name she could give this strange plant—continued to grow supernaturally fast even without her magic. In heartbeats, the stalks towered over her, each shoot half as thick as her waist. The Selathens would think twice about chopping the deathbush down. The spines would prevent them from getting too close. The only problem was the sidewalk to the front wasn’t blocked. Ysabel’s father charged down the path toward Jenna.
Before she could react, Kay stepped forward, her hand raised and her eyes paler than normal. Jenna shivered as a chill enveloped her for a couple of heartbeats. The sidewalk glimmered with a thin sheen of ice. Ysabel’s father slipped, fell, and slid into a deathbush.

Chaos Season

Jenna Dorshay t’Reve isn’t your typical farmer’s daughter. Blessed with plant magic, she’s been impatiently waiting to take her place as Summer Avatar of Challen. All she and her sister Season Avatars have to do is tame a Chaos Season, a magical weather storm sent to Challen by a wrathful demigoddess. They’ve done this many times in other lives, but now dangerous plants resistant to Jenna’s magic make Chaos Season worse. Even the assistance of the War Avatar, father of Jenna’s child, may not be enough to stop the plants. Before Jenna can conquer the deathbushes and tame Chaos Season, she must fully link with the other Avatars in her quartet, but to do so means revealing a secret that can tear them apart.
You can find CHAOS SEASON in all the usual places.
Barnes and Noble


About Sandra

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan started reading at the age of three and only stops when absolutely required to. Although she hasn’t been writing quite that long, she did compose a very simple play in German during middle school. Her science fiction novella Move Over Ms. L. (an early version of Lyon’s Legacy) earned an Honorable Mention in the 2001 UPC Science Fiction Awards, and her short story “A Reptile at the Reunion” was published in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. Other works include the science fiction Catalyst Chronicles series, the fantasy Season Avatars series, SF Women A-Z: A Reader’s Guide, and several science fiction and fantasy short stories. She is a founding member of Broad Universe, which promotes science fiction, fantasy, and horror written by women. Her undergraduate degree is in molecular biology/English, and she has a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. She currently works for an enzyme company; she’s also been a technical writer and a part-time copyeditor for a local newspaper. Some of her other accomplishments are losing on Jeopardy! and taking a stuffed orca to three continents. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, Eugene; and son, Alex. In her rare moments of free time, she enjoys archery, crocheting, listening to classic rock (particularly the Beatles), trooping as a Jawa with the Midwest Garrison of the 501st Legion, and watching improv comedy.

Sandra can be found online at the following links:


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Friday, June 17, 2016

Where to find me - virtually (part 2)

Dev and I are still hard at work!

The blog tour in support of DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE continues! I've been hither and yon and my fellow bloggers continue to host my rambling - for which I am grateful. If you've missed any of the guest posts (and you definitely shouldn't miss any of them . . . there will be a test later. Okay, not actually a test, but a scavenger hunt. With prizes), you can find part 1 here.

Masha DuToit, whose fantasy/magical realism novels CROOKS AND STRAIGHTS and WOLF LOGIC  rocked my world in 2015, (seriously - have you read them yet? Why not????) invited me over to her blog for a lovely interview. Want to know what book I hated and why? Head on over.

Randee Dawn is an absolutely lovely human being and talented writer who I have met through Broad Universe. Randee's brand new agent is shopping her fabulous urban fantasy book. I know it's fabulous because I got to read it last summer. All you mere mortals will have to wait until some lucky publisher snatches it up. Here's my guest post about integrating my medical/rehabilitation background with my writing life.

Spec Fic writer, geek dad, and fellow-in-the-trenches indie publisher, Ryan Toxopeus, was kind enough to interview me on his blog also. He asked me some wonderful and thought provoking questions - it's definitely not your generic author interview! His fantasy books are still on my TBR list. My only excuse is that I've been reading mainly SF these days. 

Another fellow Broad Universe broad (EJ Frost) hosted me to talk more about writing injuries and disabilities realistically - a topic that is near and dear to my heart from my physical therapy past. My main point? Don't use an injury or disability as a plot device, especially not to engender false sympathy for a character or to motivate one either.

Another day, another interview! Phew! I know you're all dying to know everything there is to know about me and this interview gets us at least part of the way there! Thank you to Melanie Tomlin for allowing me space on her blog.

Hey - look - it's another of my Broad Universe colleagues! This time Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, fellow  SF&F writer, who invited me to her internet home to talk about the importance of speculative fiction. You can read about why I think it is subversive and wonderful. And what I wanted to be when I grew up.

And last for this round up, but certainly NOT least, a post on Karen Conlin's blog about how it feels to work with an editor. Karen has edited three of my novels in the past two years and I lovingly say she is brutal in all the right ways.

Stay tuned for more posts next week!

And a reminder, if you are new to the novels of Halcyone Space, you can start with where it all began. DERELICT (book 1) is only 0.99 for kindle. 

A group of teens stranded on a sentient spaceship must work together or risk being killed when the ship's AI wakes believing it's still fighting the war that damaged it decades ago.



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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Confused thoughts on representation

We all live at the intersections of multiple identities. Most of mine happen to be privileged or relatively so in our society. Some are not. Some vary, depending on context. It's confusing, messy, like all things pertaining to people.

Some of my identities include (in no particular order and certainly not an exhaustive list):  white, cis-female, heterosexual, Jewish, American, feminist, neuro-atypical, and writer.

I include writer here because it's not just what I do, it's interwoven with the way I process the world. If I want to understand how I think about something, I write.

This post is an attempt to work my way through an enormously important issue that pertains both to myself as a writer, but also as any of my identities; that of representation in fiction.

Once upon a time, a white, cis-het, female writer wrote a space opera series. 
That series contains an ensemble cast of a half-dozen principal characters, each of whom gets 'screen time' as a point of view (POV) character. Unless that cast consists of clones of some version of the writer, that means said writer is creating characters outside of her own direct experience. Not only are there male characters in the cast, but also characters from non-white backgrounds. There are also characters who are not heterosexual.

The writer did not create this cast as an exercise of filling out some kind of diversity bingo sheet. She grew up on the original Star Trek (albeit in syndication) and imprinted on the message (albeit somewhat flawed in the show) that the future was for everyone. And when she grew up, those were the kind of stories she wanted to tell.

Speaking for one, not for all
So, it's pretty obvious that writer is me. And in crafting the series and its characters, I worked hard to balance honoring the (not) diverse (enough), (not) inclusive (enough)  world I live in with my vision/hope of a future that is more so. I was aware the identities that bring me privilege also put me at risk for drowning out writers with less. I was also aware it was not my place to speak for someone else's experience, especially when someone from an identity different than mine could speak with their own voice. And yet, I also knew that creating a future with a cast of characters who were all cis-het and white would be erasing the reality of the majority of people on the planet.

 Imagination can only take you so far
I chose to create a cast of individuals who came from different backgrounds and who lived at the intersections of their own specific identities. Each of these characters are uniquely themselves. They represent, not a race or a creed or a belief system in any way, but a richness of individualities.  They are each, based in part, on pieces of people I know who are themselves living at the intersections of many identities. I also draw on personal history and experience of simultaneously being privileged for some of my identities and disadvantaged in others. 

But you're not . . .
Fill in the blank: gay, Black, Latino, Japanese, etc. There are characters in the Halcyone Space book who have those as part of their identities. By far, the most criticism I get is why I chose to make Ro (Rosalen Maldonado) and Nomi (Konomi Nakamura) gay. I have been accused of "ruining" my space opera with some sort of homosexual agenda. Never mind that their relationship is primarily a deep emotional one, with little overt physicality. (The novels are SF, not SF/Romance.)

My answer is something along the lines of 'because you're still asking the question.' I live in a world where I joyfully attended the wedding of my sister-in-law and her wife. Where my dear friends Alan and Paul used to tease me that I was their token 'breeder' friend. Where my son carries the name of my husband's former boss and mentor, who passed away while I was pregnant and whose family had disowned him for coming out.

Because when I introduced Nomi to the story, she was everything Ro needed, but didn't know it yet. Because I couldn't imagine a future where love between two women would be anything to remark about. They are simply two people who care for one another. That is neither revolutionary nor particularly worthy of praise.

And yet, and yet, and yet. . .
I'm somewhat dismayed that it has become something to notice - that there is a gay couple in a space opera series.

This is a screen shot from this afternoon. DERELICT is the 2nd highest selling book in the LGBT SF category on Amazon. When I took this screen shot ITHAKA RISING was 7 and DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE 8. (It also made the hot new release category.)

On one level, I'm thrilled. I've worked hard on these novels. They are good stories.

On one level, I'm dismayed. First, that the bar is so damned low that a series with 2 woman in love as a very tangential part of the plot is enough to have the books rank this well in the subcategory. Second, that 3 of my books are in the top 10 of this list and I very well may be drowning out the voices of queer writers of SF in the process.

I don't know if I am or not. I do know I never marketed these books as LGBT SF. And yet, here they are. I can't pull them from the category and I wouldn't want to. I do know that I am proud of each of my characters and their individuality.

And I will continue to do my best to honor that little girl who grew up to believe that the future was for everyone.



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