Category Archives: Uncategorized

THE DREADED EDIT LETTER

This isn’t a real edit letter, although when procrastination sets in, an edit letter awaiting a response can feel this old. Let me back up for those who might not know what an edit letter is. After a story or book has been accepted for publication, the acquiring editor will usually send the author a letter explaining whatever changes the editor believes will improve the work. They range from minor stuff like commas and hyphenation of words, to adding or deleting sentences or paragraphs, or more significant issues. Sometimes editors will point out plot holes or the need to explain more about how a character acts or feels. They may include suggestions or leave the fixes to the writer.

As a writer, I never know what the edit letter may contain until it pops into my inbox. Thus the trouble begins. By this I mean brain weasels take hold before I have a chance to open the email. The brain weasels scream that the editor has decided not to publish my work after all. No, I reply, that’s absurd. Next the brain weasels say the editor has major problems with my work, intractable problems. That’s absurd, too, I reply. But wait. What if the editor has found something I don’t know how to fix?

You can see why I’m tempted to postpone opening the edit letter. When I do, it’s fine. Rather, there are some good suggestions that make for a better story. with relief, I fix stuff. As I turn in the revisions, I swear I’m never going to let the brain weasels play their tricks on me ever again. Then next time…

MY 2021 YEAR IN REVIEW

I’m pleased to announce that I had a couple of stories and several articles published in 2021:

  • The Next Frontier: an alternate-history novelette about the 1960s space race in the July/August issue of Analog (link is to current issue, not previous one)
  • The Holy Wars of Mathematics: A Secret History of the Calculus of Chicanery appeared in 99 Tiny Terrors. It’s my first published flash fiction (under 1000 words).
  • Monumental Thinking was in the January/February 2021 issue of Analog, is my take on suitable replacements for statues being torn down these days. (Link is to current issue, not previous one)
  • Astounding Analog Companion: Q & A in which I talk about writing alternate history
  • My first SFWA blog post: Reasons to Publicize Your Award-Eligible Works

My Virtual Appearances:

  • World Fantasy Convention panel on dreams and nightmares in fantasy and horror

Most Enjoyable New Novels I Read:

  • Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Garcia Moreno
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Most Unexpected Pleasure:

  • Being solicited for a hot new anthology to be assembled next year. I can’t tell you or they’d have to shoot me. (Wait…is this how that sentence is supposed to end?)

Best Trip:

  • June excursion to the Big Island of Hawaii in June. Have a look at some of my photos from it.
  • August runner-up: time spent at a lake in the Adirondacks

Best Educational Opportunities:

  • Virtual Humans to Mars conference: three days of inspiring, uplifting presentations by remarkably clever humans from all over the world. You can attend in 2022 and find out how these people from around the globe are making future trips to Mars a real thing!
  • Close Runner-up: The Rambo Academy classes for writers at all skill levels featuring many different aspects of our craft. They even have gift certificates if you are stumped by what to give the writer in your life.

Best Pandemic Antidote:

  • Occasional flower deliveries for creating beautiful arrangements via ReVased.com. Have a look at some of my creations here and on Instagram.

Most Fun New Series:

  • Tie: WandaVison, For All Mankind (season 2)

Guilty Pleasure:

  • Bridgerton

Things to come in 2022: Watch this space for new announcements:

  • Etruscan Afterlife is a short story appearing next year in The Reinvented Heart, edited by Cat Rambo and Jenn Brozek (preorder now!)
  • Branching out into two new projects I can’t disclose yet!
  • Moar dinosaurs!

What were some of your favorites in 2021?

VOTING: OUR RIGHT, OUR DUTY, OUR PRIVILEGE

Four years ago, Analog Magazine readers had the chance to read my thoughts as to what it’s like to serve as an election officer or poll worker or judge helping to make democracy in the United States run smoothly. Today I am pleased to say that Analog has posted my guest editorial on its blog for free. I’ve also added a quickie update as to what’s changed since 2016 and what hasn’t. This topic is near and dear to my heart as I spent over 25 years as an election lawyer. Hope you’ll have a look at my thought, maybe even while you are in line to vote.

National Fossil Day 2016

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Calling all cat lovers: Who doesn’t need a wonderful drawing of a sabertooth in honor of National Fossil Day 2016? Today! The official name is Smilodon fatalis, and it’s not the only feline hunter of the Pleistocene. There were also thoroughly scary prehistoric versions of lions, cougars, jaguars, lynx, and cheetahs in bygone eras. Just look at those seven-inch teeth. This is 600 pounds of predator.

Here’s a Smilodon fossil skull from the famous La Brea Tar Pits.

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For more about National Fossil Day and fossils discovered in the United States, have a look here.

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BEST of MIDAMERICON 2–PART 2

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Hey look–Stan Schmidt (former Analog editor and author), Trevor Quachri (current Analog editor), Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog author) and me at MidAmeriCon 2. Stan, Alec and I read stories from our stories in recent and forthcoming issues of Analog. Also participating but eluding the cameras was long-time Analog writer James Van Pelt. My thanks go to Trevor for moderating the panel and to my fellow writers for such entertaining readings.

I have to say that I was a bit dubious when I saw that those in charge of convention programming had organized several of the author readings by the various magazines in which their stories had been published. Well, I sure changed my mind in this case. The room was packed and people had some interesting questions.

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World Fantasy Convention 2015 – Disability and Accessibility

THIS. We all need to work to put an end to accessibility fails.

Blogging with dragons

So.

I spent most of last week up in Saratoga Springs, NY, for the 2015 World Fantasy Convention. As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, it was….interesting.

I was scheduled to be on two panels, one Friday and one Saturday, and one reading on Friday – my very first World Fantasy panels/reading. I rolled up to my 1 PM Friday panel on Epic Fantasy properly caffeinated and chatted briefly with various people as we waited for the doors to open. The doors opened, people poured out, I rolled in and headed towards the stage –

And felt my heart sink.

The panel had a stage for the panelists.

That stage did not have a ramp.

I use a wheelchair.

I had a brief discussion with an Ops person, who had not been advised that I use a wheelchair, and with Stephen Donaldson, the panel moderator. (Brief largely…

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HUZZAH FOR CONSTITUTION DAY

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Now that many of us in the United States have taken some time to remember the tragic events of September 11th, we should turn to another significant, but lesser known, date: September 17. Today is the day established by law to commemorate the United States Constitution. That’s well worth a few minutes to pause and reflect, don’t you think? I mean it is the road map that has guided Americans for generations as we navigate the tricky highways and byways of democracy, as we find ourselves in seemingly unfamiliar territory. It has also served as a model for newborn democracies around the globe.

I’m not saying our Constitution is the best possible. Sure, it can be improved upon. But I am saying that it’s well worth reading, or rereading, the thing. You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to do so. Plus, there’s a lot of interesting stuff after that preamble, which you might have already memorized in school.

What’s that you say? Too long? Too boring? Too nerdy? Stuff and nonsense. It’ll scarcely take any more time than reading a short story or news article. Besides, you’re already hanging out on social media or perusing blog posts, and this is the document that establishes our government, with its powers and duties. It also sets forth our individual rights. So here you go.

http://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution#

And for those looking for a smart phone app:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/u.s.-constitution-and-facts/id391169491?mt=8
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.darkdesign.constitution&hl=en

You’re welcome.

SERVING AS AN ELECTION OFFICER

On Tuesday, I’ll arrive at my local elementary school before 5 a.m., which is a major undertaking for a morning-challenged person. Since I’ll be on my feet for significant stretches with very little time for breaks, I’ll bring along a spare pair of comfortable shoes, caffeine, lunch, and snacks. I’ll help set up the voting machines and electronic poll books, put up signs, etc. Everything must be ready for those morning people who will be waiting in line when the polls open. I’ll spend twelve hours checking people in to vote, answering questions, directing people to the next available voting machine, handing out I VOTED stickers, and such. When the last voters have left after 7 p.m., I’ll remain on the job with the other election officers to verify vote tallies for every race and bond referendum, shut down and seal the equipment, and pack up. The last time I did all this, the only time I saw the sun that day was when I assisted in bringing the portable voting machine outside to the curb so that a mobility-impaired driver could vote.

I volunteer to serve as an Election Officer at nominal pay for several reasons, chief among them is my belief in the virtues of our democratic form of government. Sometimes we Americans take it for granted, looking at voting as yet another on the ever-lengthening list of things to cram into a work day. I find that attitude both reassuring and alarming. It’s alarming in that it can and does lead to low turnout, reduced personal investment in our democratic institutions, and correspondingly lower support for elected officials who are trying to do what they believe is best for people. It’s reassuring in that our electoral system is so entrenched over so many generations that we have the luxury of not thinking much about it because it’ll just be there for most of us. But I can never think this way, not after checking in 18-year-old first time voters or handing an I VOTED sticker to a woman older than me who lived most of her life under Soviet rule and only just became an American citizen in 2012.

Actually, so many people worldwide have no meaningful ability to participate in the selection of their leaders. And when democracy does come to a nation for the first time, it isn’t easy or automatic. We take our fancy electronic voting machines, many with touch screens, for granted. In fact, we’re indignant if we don’t have new, perfectly working equipment, and enough of it to reduce the wait. We also take for granted our ability to move about easily and get to the polling place, or to send in an absentee ballot. It isn’t like this everywhere. There are many, many places where the obstacles to voting include the lack of electricity, poor transportation, and no tradition of peacefully and safely casting secret ballots. The least we can do, and I mean all of us, is to show the rest of the world that we value our precious democratic ability to vote.

Plus there is more that we can do. Counties, cities and other local governments are frequently short-handed when it comes to Election Officers. If your situation is such that you can take election day to serve your community in this capacity, I urge you to consider doing so next time around.

THINKING ABOUT ANTARES AND SPACE EXPLORATION

Yesterday evening at 6:22 p.m., my husband and I were outside enjoying the lovely fall weather as we waited to see the Antares rocket rise in the southeastern sky, bringing the ORB-3 resupply ship to the International Space Station. As we followed the count-down via my cell phone, our concerns were, in retrospect, trivial. We noted that we might not have a terribly good view, given the amount of light in the sky and the scattering of clouds. After so many years of watching space missions, going back to the days of the grainy black-and-white images accompanied by static-filled audio, I still get excited by our accomplishments in space.

Alas, yesterday evening was not a time for excitement or achievements. Six seconds after launch, there came the explosion.

With it came a reminder that human exploration is now—and always has been—a risky endeavor. Thankfully, this particular setback did not involve loss of life. When I think about the current age of space exploration in which we live, I am always reminded of the hundreds and thousands of years that we humans have sought to explore our world—every continent, the mountains and deserts, the seas, the depths of the ocean. Those expeditions formed the foundation for our own efforts to send out spacecraft to the moon, other planets, and deep space. When the outriggers and sailing vessels, and dog sleds, and other small expeditions set forth in centuries past, those back home waited months or years for word from them. Sometimes there was no word, no painstaking post mortem analysis of lessons learned. And yet, they went on. They tried again. As people do. As we always will.

LUCIFERASE IN ACTION

Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms

Some years ago, Analog published my story, Birch Glow, about glow-in-the-dark Christmas trees. The premise of the story was that the enzyme luciferase would be taken from fireflies and injected into trees so that nobody would ever have to festoon their Christmas trees with strings of lights.

Little did I know that luciferase is found elsewhere in nature, including in a species of mushroom known as Omphalotus illudens. Because it’s bright orange, it’s also called the jack-o’lantern mushroom. Nor did I suspect that I would find big clumps of these orange mushrooms growing on the wooded hillside behind my house.

So here’s what they look like in the wild in the afternoon. And in the dark, when you look at the underside of the mushroom, they say that its “gills” glow a striking dark green. Or maybe not, in the case of the ones I found.

Oh one more thing — as lovely as they are to look at, they are poisonous. While they may not out-and-out kill you, they’re said to induce symptoms that will make you wish they had done so.

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