2016: The List and the Lesson

Cuore - Pagine - LibroAs 2016 draws to a close, I realize that it’s that time again. A time to look back at the books I’ve read during the year and share some of the top lessons I’ve learned as a writer. More than most other years, the best I can say about 2016 is that it’s nearly done. Every month has been tough–good news has been hard to come by. Good books, however, are another matter.
THE LIST:
I successfully met my goal of reading 50 books this year. Less than I wanted, and I discovered a couple of new-to-me authors I’m happy to recommend.
Favorite new (to me) authors:
51-3ubj2sflI’ve had her books sitting in my ‘read me next’ bookshelf for years, but had never read any of Robin Hobb‘s books until this year. I plowed through all three (hefty) volumes of the Farseer Trilogy in record time, marveling that each book was better than the previous. What a wonderful cast of characters–this complex world is fascinating, and every bit as unique and addicting as George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Wonderful stuff, I’m planning to dig into her Fitz & the Fool series as soon as I can.

Not everyone enjoys horror, but I do. This year, I read quite a bit, some of it quite good. In particular, The Least of My Scars, by Stephen Graham Jones stunned me with a truly horrific tale–his beautiful, offhand literary style reminds me of Theodore Sturgeon.   Definitely too intense for some readers, but oh so complex and powerful. His newest book, Mongrels, is on my must-read list.

On a very different level, I also enjoyed Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. I am not a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, or anything Cthulhu, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, where jazz musicians provide the necessary magic to summon a savage beast.
Notable Classics:
51zeepnspsl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Every year I make an effort to read a few of the fantasy or science fiction classics of the genre. Last year, I read the first two volumes of Amber by Roger Zelazny. This year, I finished reading the series (all 10 books). I can see why it’s a classic, I loved the characters, the tarot cards and family intrigue, even as I would have been satisfied if the series ended after about volume seven or eight. I would certainly recommend the first five volumes–which retain a contemporary feel even 40 years after its original publication date.
Biggest Surprise:
Another book that has been out for a while, but I hadn’t had a chance to read was The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey. I didn’t realize it was a zombie story until after I started reading it, but by then it was too late–I was hooked. A sweet and original tale of a bleak future and hope against all odds.
Favorite Books from Favorite Authors:
61sivautddl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Last year, I was dazzled by Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. This year, I became a true fan as I read my way through much of his backlist, and enjoyed each novel: The Water Knife and Ship Breaker were both excellent, but I really adored The Drowned Cities. The bleakness of a post-apocalyptic America, consumed by swampland, and torn apart by maverick generals, heartless child soldiers, and lab-created life forms is a fantastic adventure on multiple levels. Like The Windup Girl, his novels work on many, many levels, and his future hits disconcertingly close to home.
Favorite Writing Book(s):
I find that there are fewer writing books that offer something new, craft-wise. Annually, I usually revisit Stephen King’s On Writing, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, Lajos Egri’s The Art of Creative Writing, and Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Now I have to add Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Do the Work. This year in particular, resistance has been a real bugaboo for me. I’ve found his books to be both practical and inspiring.
THE LESSON:
One of the first rules a newbie writer learns is don’t be a jerk. That said, I think I’ll remember 2016 as the year of the jerk. Politics and the international stage aside, the lesson was brought home to me as I witnessed writer after writer being a jerk. For example, at WorldCon this year, both men and women writers, in separate incidents, were rightly expelled  for bad behavior–at a place where science fiction fans, families, and artists come together to celebrate fandom and genre–not to be subjected to a particular panelist’s self-indulgent demand for attention. Another writer I know was pilloried by peers in social media for bad behavior (nothing illegal, but abusive nonetheless). The storm of outrage grew to the point where contracts were rescinded and freelance jobs lost/relationships severed. I pass no judgment on either the behaviors or the consequences. Karma is a bitch. But the virulent reaction by uninvolved bystanders stunned me–a mob of ‘supporters’ lashed out at other authors and editors in a big ball of hate that went on for days, if not weeks. In football, this is called piling on, and the offending team would be charged with a penalty. This is because once the player is down, the sheer weight of the extra piled on players can cause unnecessary injuries. As soon as the referee blows their whistle, the play is dead and no extra hits are allowed. There is no excuse for piling on. Being a jerk cuts both ways.

I’d planned to add a couple of other lessons for the year, but after writing this one, nothing else seemed worthy. As a writer, I know to harvest those pent-up emotions and infuse my characters with all that outrage, disgust, and sense of injustice. Writers are lucky; we can add jerks to our stories and our readers will love hating them. No need to be the living example.

Don’t be a jerk.

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Happy Solstice

solstice2017loresHappy Solstice!

Tonight we experience the longest night of the year, and the return of the light.  It’s my favorite day of the year. I count my blessings, set my goals for the future, and cook up a special dinner.

Ancient pagans of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day winter solstice holiday called Yule. Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, and Yule log are descendants of pagan Yule customs.

As for me, I relish the change in the seasons, and the ever-changing aspects of nature.  This morning, I saw a bufflehead duck emerge from the fog out on the lake with the sun in a halo behind him–beautiful (if very cold).

It’s also a great time to enjoy a good book. Here’s a link to some of mine.

May your days be peaceful and full of light.

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Winter is the Vegas of Seasons

ice3Why yes, we did have an ice storm in Oregon this week–turned practically our whole state into an ice cube. Fortunately, we’ve got some pretty good weather forecasters here in the Pacific Northwest, and we had a day’s warning. My company decided to play it safe and told us not to come into work the following day. And considering what a nasty bit of weather we got, it was a good call.

icy2So there I was on Thursday morning, drinking hot cocoa while I tooled around the internet, doing random searches, looking for inspiration, while outside, Portland grew a half-inch skin of ice over every surface. The bridges iced over and trucks couldn’t get enough traction to get across. We don’t often get that kind of weather here in Portland–our winters are usually pretty mild.  But Friday morning, people had to put chains on to get out of their parking spaces.  Nasty weather to be out in.

snowmenYeah, but to some folks, winter is more than  just snowmen and ice angels.

As my mind drifted toward images of weather, I let my fingers do the searching, and I began to develop a theory that there are more events and celebrations of the winter season than any other time of the year, save perhaps Halloween, which is not a season, per se. I mean, you hardly ever hear of Summer Festivals, but there are actually lists of the “Top 5 International Winter Festivals.”

reindeerAnd as for sporting events, winter is far more than the Olympics. For example, there’s the annual Iditarod in Alaska, the Elfstedentocht in Holland (a traditional, 120-mile speed skating competition), the Russian Kalevala ( 270-mile skijoring race), even reindeer racing and ice sailing.

winter5There’s winter carnivals, ice  hotels, and snow sculptures on a grand scale, constructed of ice and snow, and as transitory as the weather.

icy6

icy8And of course, all those holiday lights make everything prettier when the nights are long.  When you’re looking at the reflection of those lights off the glassy smooth surface of an ice rink or from inside your igloo hotel room, it a far cry from black ice on the freeway and chipping open your car door with a plastic ice scraper.

Yeah, I guess winter ice does have it’s place.

Besides, it’s good writing weather, and dogs love it. winter2

And it’s not even winter yet!

 

 

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My OryCon Schedule

  It’s time for OryCon 38orycon2016!

Nov 18-20 at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront (1401 SW Naito Parkway |Portland, Oregon 97201)

Special guests include author David Weber and editor Diana Gill

 

Here’s where you can find me:

Sat Nov 19 11:00am – 12:00pm
Fantasy vs. Science Fiction: Salon C (LL1)

Sat Nov 19 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Paranormal Romance: Sunstone (3)

Sat Nov 19 3:00pm – 4:00pm
If You Could Talk to the Animals… Sunstone (3)

Sun Nov 20 10:00am – 11:00am
Endings: Cuddling with the Reader: Douglas Fir (3)

Sun Nov 20 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Structurally Speaking: Douglas Fir (3)

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Kindness in Interesting Times

dreamstime_l_3242979-koipondlillies-workingWikipedia, the great source of all modern wisdom says that the saying, “May you live in interesting times” is an English translation of a traditional Chinese curse, although no actual Chinese source has ever been produced.

I am certain that anyone even vaguely aware of the recent state of affairs via media (both national and international) would say that we do indeed live in interesting times. The present is plagued with bad news, bad choices, bad behaviors–even bad weather–and the future is looking pretty dim, as well. It’s almost like there’s something in the air.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the idea of karma and wondering whether humanity in general is trotting down the path to the dark side. I grew up in the heyday of Mad Magazine, when the cold war and civil rights movement provided rich pickings for satiric humor.  This year, I can scarcely believe what is happening: to Native Americans and journalists in North Dakota, or our presidential election, or to American citizens at the hands of police in so many of our cities, or even the homeless in my own state. I’m not blaming social media, but there is a lot of negativity going on there, too. Almost as if the pink slime in Ghostbusters has become an airborne virus.

Lately, I find myself stunned at the smallest courtesy. The woman at the bank who asked for my drivers license and said I looked far younger than my birthdate–or my photo.  The sincerity of my new co-workers when they tell me I’m doing a great job (and there’s no but or ulterior motive behind it). A chance comment on social media from a friend that came a just the right time–and the following exchange that made me feel blessed to be able to call this person my friend.

This past couple of weeks have been particularly difficult for me, with one thing hitting right after another.  On one hand, I’ve leveled up in my career in the last six months. I’m still in the kiddie pool, but it’s a much nicer pool.  At the same time, my personal life is teetering at the edge of a vortex of suck, and in spite of all my efforts, the gravitational pull of inevitability is dominating most of my thoughts. The hole is getting deeper. I’ve found myself wondering (more than a little) if all the bad things I’ve done in my life are catching up to me.

And maybe from my last couple of lives, too.

Before I became a writer, I did not accept compliments well or easily. Perhaps it was the nature of my job (engineering and technology, then). ‘Good’ was a statistical measurement, not a matter of karma. If it was important, it must be measured, and achievements measured against goals.  Either you made it, or you didn’t.  Your career trajectory bore a direct correlation to your ability to deliver results to predefined goals.  Your number against goal was all that mattered.  No mystery there.

dreamstime_l_14863611And then, out of the blue today, a blessing is bestowed for no good reason. A significant gesture, from an unexpected quarter. Not a solution, not a handout, but a kindness and a gift of grace. And the reason stated was simply this: what goes around comes around, and this time, it’s come around to me.

As writers, we are far more attuned to the concept of karma and the continual conflict between good and–for lack of a better word– not good.  Of course, in fiction, good does not always win out in the end–it does not always balance out. Life is like that too. But if we’ve got to live in interesting times,  I like the idea that one good turn deserves another.

Maybe there’s someone in your life who has done good turn for you in the past. Maybe you return the kindness today. Sometimes, a kind word is all it takes to make a world of difference to someone.  We could all use a little extra kindness in the world, don’t you think?

 

 

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Proud SFWA Member

sfwa-cardloresLook what I just got in the mail–my  membership card for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

Gorgeous, isn’t it? There are two different styles, the other style (equally awesome) has more of a fantasy theme, but I am so glad that Cat Rambo (SFWA president and all-around nice person) chose to send me this Science Fiction image, which is my favorite of the two.

Although I joined the group of 1900 professional authors, artists, and allied professionals  last year, these membership cards are new. Joining SFWA is a rite of passage most speculative fiction writers aspire to reach, and it’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Full membership requires a minimum number of paid sales (at pro rates) in professional/vetted publications. For me, membership is one of the first affirmations to myself and the writing community at large that I am, indeed, a ‘real’ writer.

The membership card is a tangible reminder of that.

About SFWA

“SFWA is an organization for published authors and industry professionals in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and related genres. Founded in 1965, SFWA informs, supports, promotes, defends, and advocates for its members. We host the prestigious Nebula Awards at our annual SFWA Nebula Conference, assist members in legal disputes with publishers, offer the Speakers Bureau, administer grants to SFF community organizations and members facing medical or legal expenses.

Novice authors benefit from our Information Center and well-known Writer Beware site. Between online discussion boards, private convention suites, and a host of less formal gatherings, SFWA is a source of information, education, support, and fellowship for its members.”

To find out more, visit their website at www.sfwa.org

sfwacard2loresScience Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America  is now a proper 501(c)(3) charity, and the cards are a reminder of both the benefits and responsibilities of membership. I just sent them a tax-deductible donation to:

SFWA
P. O. Box 3238
Enfield, CT 06083

I’ve marked my check “where the need is greatest”.

It feels good.

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Mystic Jive Release Day – Hand of Fate Book Four

MYSTIC JIVE RELEASE DAY

MysticJivelores

Mystic Jive

MYSTIC JIVE by Sharon Joss

Nothing can hurt the dead. They’re lucky that way.

As Mattie Blackman’s personal life with Rhys heats up, the dead frantically appeal to the Hand of Fate for help. An ancient evil is stirring.

Cursed by a vindictive cult of sorcerers that law enforcement doesn’t dare confront, Mattie gathers her friends and allies to stop a dark ritual with the power to tear her whole world apart.

Amazon 

And there’s more…

And if that wasn’t enough, Brothers of the Fang, my ‘other’ urban fantasy, is free for the next few days only. Grab a free copy while you can. Let me know if you like it!

2016 BROTHERS OF THE FANG 032916lores

Brothers of the Fang

BROTHERS OF THE FANG by Sharon Joss

FREE on Amazon until 8/28

Detective Mike Bane is a shape shifter with two beasts: a 300-lb black jaguar with a taste for turtle meat, and a psychotic Olmec shaman named Tehuantl with a taste for blood.

When Mike accepts a security job at Mythica, America’s only supernatural theme park, he discovers an unexpected kinship with the park’s werewolf pack. But when his curiosity gets the best of him, he’s ensnared in a centuries-old feud between Mythica’s vampires and the fae of the neighboring High Tor clan. Only Tehuantl’s magic can save Mike’s brothers of the fang; in return, Tehuantl wants permanent possession of Mike’s body, mind, and soul.

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