Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I've posted before about how I don't think I would do well as a YA writer, for various reasons.  Two reasons that stand out are these.  One, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through highschool graduation, so I lack that very common school experience that informs a lot of contemporary-based YA, and even some non-contemporary "magic school" YA.  Two, YA was much more scarce when I was that age.  There weren't many books in the genre to read.  As a reader, I skipped past much of it and went straight to "adult" books.

Reading recent posts about YA, it's occurred to me that these two reasons are connected.  People have cited how much they struggled to find books where could see themselves in the protagonists.  This is, they claim, one of the best things about the current surge of YA for young readers.

I don't ever really recall having trouble finding characters to identify with, though I do remember being irked at the paucity of female characters at times.  (That's a whole different post, and one I believe I've written, but I was always of, "Fiiiine, you writers are poopooheads and I'll write the girl heroes" mindset.)  Those tropes of growing up and finding your identity aren't limited to YA characters.  The characters tend to be younger, true, but what else is a midlife crisis?  In my own writing, Anaea in Scylla and Charybdis is very much on a journey of finding herself, but at 19, she's a bit past the usual age of a YA character.  Kit from Flow is only fifteen, but outside the supernatural aspects of her life, she's pretty grounded in who she is.

One of the aspects of being homeschooled is your social circle, while it may be smaller, larger or equivalent to that of someone in conventional school, is almost never composed primarily of your age peers.  I had some friends my age, but I also had younger friends - I had a lovely friendship with my neighbor's daughter, who I tutored in math later on - and I had a number of adult friends.  One of the best things about volunteering at the Cincinnati Museum Center was even during the school year, I had weekday hours, so I got to hang out with the adult volunteers.

Which leads me to the theory that part of the reason I didn't desperately want/need more YA is the fact that I didn't necessarily need a character to be my age to identify with them.  I just wasn't trained into that sense of peer grouping.

Interestingly, this even continued in college:  when I attended culinary school, there was a range of ages.  I was right in the middle, between teenagers who had just graduated highschool, mid-career culinarians going back to school to build their resume, and second career or retiree students.  And again ... I hung out a lot with the latter.  One memory that sticks out is when a fellow student, retired from the flavor industry (the industry that creates artificial flavorings), put on his music and Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby" came on.

Me:  "Oh, I love this song."

Other student:  "What *is* this song?"

And the pair of us (retiree and I) proceeded to riff about the plotline.

Now I'm working in a job where I'm the oldest person by several years ... no big deal.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Song Styles

Lindsey is about to depart from the usual character themesong focus of this post and discuss a musical album - so if that's not to your taste, exit now, but I will tell you it has a very fantasy vibe, even though it has no specific speculative content.

I'm speaking of Aurora's All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend.  I first encountered Aurora through the television show "Good Behavior," which used Running With The Wolves in the close of an episode.  The song mesmerized me enough to look her up, and I ordered the album ... but on the advice of those who had purchased the digital album, I ordered the deluxe version, which wasn't available on CD yet (and still isn't) ... and forgot about it.

(Sidebar:  I say that there's no speculative content to the music, but on my first viewing of the music video above, that very theatric and peculiar mini story definitely has dystopian / fantasy elements.  So I think it's fair to say that there's a very dark, mythical, fantastic bent to her style.)

Quite a while later, I realized that the CD was still pending on Amazon, and I was still also very interested in the music, so I bit the bullet, canceled my order, and bought the digital version of the deluxe album.

Aurora's music is generally dark and moody, slower in tempo, though with a few exceptions, such as Conqueror.  (Here's another one where the music video is purely fantastical.)  Some of the songs blur together, and because of the overall musical pace, it's somewhat monotonous to listen to the album as a whole ... but individually, most have a lot to offer.  I'm a bit obsessed with her Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1), which is faster tempo and a perfect blend of mood with atmospherics.

As far as the deluxe version goes, it's a mixed bag.  There's a cover of the ubiquitous Nature Boy.  I found Wisdom Cries actively painful to listen to, but Half The World Away is lovely.  The best parts of the deluxe edition, in fact, are the two alternate versions of Running With The Wolves and Murder Song, which take opposite tactics.  Running With The Wolves takes the musical themes and multiplies them in mesmerizing repetition.  Murder Song strips out the atmosphere and lets the song stand on its own.

Recommended, but the deluxe version is optional.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Guest post: Part-time Human

I'm over at Part-time Human (yeah, that has to be one of the best blog titles ever) talking about Scylla and Charybdis (of course) and life as a creative (complicated, but funny):

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A recent Facebook post reminded me of the old days of fandom roleplaying and fan fiction, when everyone had to post prominent legal disclaimers to avoid being sued by a favorite author, and even that didn't prevent threats and harassment.  As a writer myself, it's not hard to understand the kneejerk reaction:  these people are stealing the work I spent years developing, then years more jumping through the hoops of publishers and agents ... but the majority of these fandom folk were simply expressing their joy and devotion, not claiming the author's words as their own.

Over time, the attitude towards fandom softened, but it is still ridiculed, derided and given side-eye by many.  I missed many of the horror stories, but I was present for the Anne McCaffrey's "Renewable Airforce" drama, when she set down the sexual orientations for the riders of the various colors.  Within her rights to do so, perhaps:  at the time, it was unequivocally "her world, her rules."  Some will argue that since it couldn't be interpreted from the books themselves, fans were free to interpret as they would, as long as they didn't claim it was her stance.  Regardless, a lot of the fandom games I played in scrambled, rewriting old characters and old plots, sometimes scrapping them entirely, to retroactively work with these rules.

On a lighter note, I'm put in mind of stories of fanfiction writers who had written Luke / Leia romance stories after the first Star Wars movie, and then the frantic scrambling at the revelations later.  I've heard there's even an official novelization that at least hinted at a romance there.

A small group of friends and I approached Gayle Greeno, writer of the Ghatti books - telepathic cat companions - to ask if we could create a small fandom game in her setting.  She was confused and a bit tentative about the idea, but approved it.  Nowadays, it's hard to imagine any author not being familiar with the concept.  So of course, especially since I had my own fandom days, I turned it over myself.

When I roleplayed in fandom, it was always in the author's world, but not with his / her characters.  Either the fandom was set in a different time era - long before or long after the author's characters lived - or sometimes in an alternate reality, where they never existed.  As much as author-insert characters get a bad rap (look up "Mary Sue" sometime), I think everyone put some aspect(s) of themselves into their roleplaying characters.  In a world that wasn't ours, that person or people we portrayed was our gateway, our own private vehicle.

For me, my characters were very personal.  Sometimes, people would ask friends to "puppet" (temporarily portray) their character for live online events they couldn't make.  I could never make myself do this, and I pretty much panicked the few times I was asked.  I couldn't possibly.  Those were their characters.  That went doubly for the author's characters.

So when it comes to the possibility of fandom set in one of my books, I think my reaction would be that I'd be honored that anyone enjoyed my settings enough to spend time in them - as long as, of course, they're not making profit off it.  I don't even think I would mind if they were doing unconventional things with the setting.  But when it comes to the characters, I'm highly uncomfortable about the idea of someone else writing them.  It feels a bit like a violation of privacy.  I would never harass, threaten or pursue legal action, but I hope that readers would respect this; or if they chose not to, that they would keep their writings private or for select friends, where I couldn't happen across them accidentally.

So maybe this seems unfair of me or high-handed, but it's my gut feeling, and I can't really alter that sense of wrongness.  I'm certainly not a hypocrite; I would never write another author's characters, and I feel that's as polite as not letting myself into their houses, even if all I'm going to do is admire the wallpaper.  And I would humbly hope that, if readers knew my stance on this, that would grant me the same courtesy.  That's all I can ask.

GoodReads Review: The Man Who Tasted Shapes - Richard E. Cytowic

The Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the wide range of this book, from the prevailing attitudes of medicine and neuroscience to the well-described details of how to hypothesize and conduct experiments on synesthesia. However, this is not a book about synesthesia, at least not in its entirety. For that, try Cytowic's "Wednesday Is Indigo Blue." This is a much broader book about the functions of the brain, perception, and in the final sections, consciousness, metaphor, and even spirituality. It's an interesting exploration of ideas.

View all my reviews

(Included here for general writer / creative interest.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Song Styles

Happy Mother's Days to all the moms out there, whether your children be human, four-legged, biological, adopted, or a spark of hope for the future.

Here's a song that I always associate with mothers, even though I don't believe it's explicitly mentioned in the lyrics:

Roots and Wings - Anne Murray

Grimbold Interview!

My Grimbold Books interview is up on the Jackson Tango today.  Check it out:

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

So just for fun, here's a little peek into the circuitous methods my brain undergoes while coming up with a story idea I want to write.  Mind that this one isn't complete; I haven't sketched out the plot yet, which I do for short stories so they don't run ridiculously long.  Sometimes they do that anyway:  see "She Loves Me Not," based on the fairytale "The Flower Queen's Daughter," which clocked in at a little over 11,000 words.  But having an overall shape for a story at least somewhat keeps my novelist tendencies in check.

In any case, one of the random story prompts I've had floating around is to take the letters on license plates and turn them into acronyms.  On Monday, I picked up the following trio:


I decided that HBU = Here Be Underlings, and EQE = Elemental Queen Elegies.  So I had this image of a group of servants who were trying to deal with an overly dramatic queen in mourning.  Magical grieving, perhaps, hence the elemental?  I did fool around with the acronym a bit before deciding on that form.

But still not a complete concept, or at least not one that interested my brain enough to stick.  So I hunted for another license plate:


All right, to me, YLL = Young Lions Legion (or League).  I wanted some connotation to the use of lions that wasn't necessarily the obvious:  fierce, brave, etc.  All right ... so why young?  My original thought was that young male lions get kicked out of the pride by the alpha male, so "young lions" would be without mates - pure, in other words.  Now, I just looked this up, and it turns out lions don't actually do this, but I may go with it as the denizens of a fantasy society don't know any better ... or I'll change the animal of the acronym, since the point is the inspiration, not slavish dedication to its source.

In any case, I decide the YLL is a mixed gender military company that derives some kind of power from abstaining from sex.  And yes, mixed gender, which means that this abstinence is a bit tricky to maintain ... and this starts to suggest a character.

Still not a story.  One of the best techniques for coming up a story is to throw two disparate ideas together, so I decided to randomly select an exercise from The 3 A.M. Epiphany (Brian Kiteley).  I don't think I've raved about this book recently.  It is probably the best writing exercise book I've seen, and best of all, it works for a fantasy writer.  My problem with a lot of exercise books is they presume a mainstream setting, and/or the exercise requires modification / contortion to write SF/F ... this one wasn't intended for SF/F writing, but most of the exercises are broadly applicable.

The first exercise I chose was to write a story based off a sporting event, where the result is life or death.  Nothing wrong with this, but it just didn't inspire me, so I moved on.  A couple inappropriate results, and then I ended up with:  "Write a story in which, during several conversations, two people create a fictional character."

That.  Lightbulb.  I can see a plot where two people, one of them a member of the perhaps-to-be-renamed YLL, the other a palace servant, try frantically to "cover" for their queen to a visiting dignitary by inventing a third party responsible for her distraction.  A conclusion suggests itself (which I'm not going to spoil by sharing).  A vague arc is implied within these multiple connotations.  And I still don't know the details of this fiction-within-a-fiction, but this, to me, is a rounded idea that just needs fleshing out.  I've already got some flashes of worldbuilding and character, a conflict, a goal, a direction for solution ...

It's game time.  No, I discarded that part.

Maybe ...

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Song Styles

Last snippet from my Scylla and Charybdis playlist for now, also from the inimitable Kirsty MacColl.  This is a general feel and theme song, and while it may not match in details, I thought it was fitting for a society in the wake of a great disaster, still paying for the mistakes of the past, and still fighting battles - metaphorical and literal.

Children Of The Revolution - Kirsty MacColl

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings: Hiraeth

Obviously, Scylla and Charybdis is full of exotic names and words, from planets and cities – though many of those are based in Earth mythology – to technological devices and the mysterious alien Derithe.  But there is one term in particular that comes from our world and runs through the novel:  hiraeth.

Hiraeth is a Welsh Gaelic word that means homesickness, nostalgia, home longing – the grief of a place or person lost.  It’s not a term that is precisely translatable, but it is very Celtic, recognizable in the sensibilities of Scottish and Irish music (hey, I’m a musician) as well as the Welsh.  There’s a bit of an illusion to it:  maybe the thing you’re longing for never existed, at least not the way you remember it.

(A joke I like to use in setlists involves the Irish tune Southwind, a lovely ballad where the singer, lonely for home, asks the winds to carry his words back to those who live there.  Except … it’s probable he wasn’t more than ten miles from home at the time the song was written …)

Gwydion introduces Anaea to the word early in the novel.  At the time, it doesn't mean much to her:  she's too focused on the larger universe to think about missing home.  As her journey continues, and the universe challenges her at every turn, she begins to identify with hiraeth and what it means ... but where is home?  And was it ever the way she imagined?

The way hiraeth came into the novel was due to a series of unrelated choices.  The original short story on which the novel is based had only one named male character:  Gwydion.  I had already decided to name the denizens of the female-only space station after Amazons in Greek mythology, so it seemed appropriate to give Anaea's counterpart a name from a different mythos.  I've loved Welsh mythology from a young age - in fact, the first fantasy novels I read, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, are strongly based in it.

Hiraeth wasn't in the first draft of the novel, either.  What was in the first draft was a lengthy word game sequence, which I talk about in more length in my post on Sarah Jane Higbee's blog.  Anaea needed an alias to play, and I wanted one that had resonance.  I chose the word hiraeth for that reason, and then had to go back and introduce it into the narrative.  The word game ended up being removed - it was (fittingly) too many words with too little relevance - but hiraeth stayed.

And it's a fitting place to end my formal "tour" of the virtual realm, though I've still got a few extra stops to make and a guest to welcome.  In the end, we hope to return home.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Song Styles

Anaea's world changes irrevocably within the first few chapters of Scylla and Charybdis, and though she has allies (as well as enemies), she is the only one who can save herself.

I have a few theme songs on this topic - I've already linked to Fire Under My Feet, which was added recently.  In the playlist I created back when I was writing the novel, this one stands out:

Suddenly - Leann Rimes

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tour Stop: The Games People Play

Sarah Jane Higbee hosts me today, talking about games and entertainment ... of the fictional variety, that is.  Check it out:

Friday, April 27, 2018

Stories From Marco!

A few weeks ago, Marco Dijkstra of Barely A Blogger hosted me talking about (what else?) Scylla and Charybdis.  Today, I have two stories of his to share.  He's experimenting with writing styles and would love feedback ...

For those who enjoy horror and suspense:

For fantasy readers: 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings: The Tale (Tail) of the Kearl

There's one prominent character in Scylla and Charybdis who never utters a word ... of dialogue, that is.  She has a full range of sounds and expression at her disposal.

I'm speaking of Penelope, who is a kearl:  a genetically engineered monkey-cat hybrid, designed to be a comfort and companion animal.  I came up with kearls in a backwards fashion.  I had recently reread the Evil Overlord list:  one hundred strategies (and then some) for surviving as a fictional villain.  They range from "if I have a fatal weakness, I will fake another one," to, "If the princess refuses to marry me, I will say 'oh, well,' and kill her."

As mentioned elsewhere, I participated in an online writers' conference / workshop during the building phases of Scylla and Charybdis.  Influenced by an item on the Evil Overlord list, I said that I wanted to have some kind of monkey-like companion animal, but it was *not* going to help the main character out of prison by stealing the keys from a guard.  Beyond the joke of it, I liked the idea of my narrator being accompanied by a clever pet.

And so ... the kearl was invented.  I wanted the creatures to be quick and agile, empathic and loyal to their people, but also quite independent.  Penelope in particular is the companion of Anaea’s dear friend Orithia; how she ends up with Anaea is matter for the books.  (Or rather, the book.)  Penelope turned out to be a welcome addition to the story and a strategic source of comic relief.  It's good to have an ally, even a furry one.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Layover at ...

Today I'm visiting Kate Coe's blog and talking about not only Scylla and Charybdis, but other creative endeavors.  And dogs:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Song Styles

As I've mentioned before, my Scylla and Charybdis soundtrack is largely composed of songs that are older to me - ones I've been familiar with for a while.  One of these was massively popular when it was released ... and it was the song I learned to drive to, because it was on the radio constantly at the time.

I think of this as being (loosely) from Gwydion's perspective towards Anaea; few of the precise details are accurate, perhaps, but the soul is there:

Drops of Jupiter - Train

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hanging out with Jennifer

I'm over at the blog of Jennifer Lee Rossman today.  She very kindly let me ramble about whatever I wanted:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday's Tour Stop!

Today, I get a little bratty over at Daniel Ausema's blog, talking about music.  Check it out here:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings - Books Within Books

Books – physical books, stories contained within pages and ink – play a small but vital role in Scylla and Charybdis.  This is, admittedly, a product of personal bias:  as a reader, I am devoted to the book you can hold, the tactile sensation, the subtle scent.  I am a highly kinesthetic person and related to the world via movement, touch, and the intangible “feel” of things.  (Just to prove Mother Nature can have a twisted sense of humor, I also have an ocular-motor dysfunction:  a disconnect in my eye-hand coordination.)

The world of Scylla and Charybdis is highly digitized, and nowhere is this more evident than on Themiscyra space station.  Fleeing the chaos of a dying universe (or so it seemed), the women of the station preserved few physical books, and those have been locked up in climate controlled chambers.  Anaea has seen them only through glass.  Removed from the days of pure survival, the space station has made room for the arts and has a rich repertoire of entertainment – often in the form of holo movies – but books are not part of that reality.

In the broader universe, there is room for this niche art, for physical printing, and even new volumes.  For Anaea, part of the charm of books is the fact that they are unchanging; an electronic fictional work might be updated to adhere to the tastes of the times, but an old Harlequin (… not an actual example) still has the same flowery language and heaving bosoms it always did.  For someone whose world is in upheaval, there’s comfort in that stability.

There are a few specific books referenced throughout.  One of them, Falling Stars, is an Earth science fiction novel, written pre-colonization, which inspired the popular name of one of the colonized planets.  Given that science fiction geeks are already naming astrological bodies, it didn’t seem that much of a stretch.

My editor encouraged me to quote a few of these books.  At first, I was uncertain about this:  the imaginary book always has a mystique, and can an excerpt ever live up to what the reader imagines the content might be?  But I decided to tackle it, and I was pleased with the results.

There’s also a reference to a compendium of zombie stories, because why not.  It can’t all be great literature.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday's Tour Talk!

Visiting Joanne Hall today to talk about culinary nonsense!  Check it out:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Today is the Day! Scylla and Charybdis out (ebook)

Today is the day!  My space opera / soft science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis, is now available!  Check it out HERE!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings - What's In A Name?

Some writers use placeholders in their works instead of character names, using Find-Replace when the right name comes to them.  I can’t even imagine being able to do that.  While I’m not a writer who gets clever with hidden meanings and inside jokes, to me, a name becomes inextricably bound up with the character.  I don’t have a clear picture of the character until I know their name.

(Changing a name, which is necessary every now and again, is torture for me.)

In Scylla and Charybdis, the individual names may not have meaning, but there is some structure and theme.  The all-female space station is populated by women with the names of mythological Amazons.  They’ve retained surnames from their various pasts, which sometimes makes for unlikely combinations and/or a contrast with physical appearance.

The same sort of unusual combo shows up in the rest of the novel's setting.  When I considered the history of the universe I had created and the circumstances that sent people into the stars, it seemed only natural that the ethnic distinctions of names would blur, be adopted in unusual places, and be handed down to children, grandchildren, etc, with a different surname or origin.  So without trying to make every name "weird" to our modern ear, I did apply some mixing of name origins.  The bubbly Upala Manuel, who shows up later in the narrative, is one example.

In the original short story, there was a particular reason for Gwydion’s name.  Since I had chosen Greek mythology for my female characters, it seemed fitting that Anaea’s male counterpart would have a name derived from a different mythos, and I chose Welsh.  The name of his unrequited love, Sophie, was also deliberate:  it means wisdom.

Don’t ask me why the kearl (a genetic cat-monkey hybrid kept as a companion animal) is named Penelope, though.  She just is.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Song Styles

Since it was put together when I wrote the novel, most of my Scylla and Charybdis soundtrack is older.  My music tastes have drifted and acquired new nuances since.  But there is one more recent song that I simply had to add, because it has a heartbeat to it that works beautifully for Anaea:

Fire Under My Feet - Leona Lewis

(As is usual with many of these ... I don't think I've seen this music video before.)

For anyone who enjoys this song, I have to put in a plug for the rest of the album, I Am.  As I've described it, it's not a breakup album:  it's a "goodbye and good riddance" album.  Very powerful.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Touring To ...

Well, hey - I'm over at Marco's blog today, talking about worldbuilding!  Check it out.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Goodreads Review: Did You Say Chicks?! ed. Esther Friesner

Did You Say Chicks?! (Chicks in Chainmail, #2)Did You Say Chicks?! by Esther M. Friesner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to love this anthology: parodies of sexist sword and sorcery stories are right up my alley, and I've always enjoyed Friesner as both an author and an anthologist. Some of the stories are very good: Doranna Durgin's "A Bitch In Time" about a faithful hound; "A Quiet Knight's Reading," Steven Piziks' tale of unconventional dragon treasure; and of course, Friesner's own "A Big Hand For The Little Lady." (The title in itself is a terrible pun.) But too many of the others have humor that was too broad for my taste, silly rather than funny. The comedy required too much suspension of disbelief for me. It was hard to sympathize with the characters or feel much tension, and a tale that is just laughs rings hollow.

... and I still don't quite understand why the anthology title is funny.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings - How It Started

I never intended to write a novel.  Scylla and Charybdis was supposed to be a short story.  In hindsight, I’d never written a “real” science fiction novel before:  I’d dabbled in it, but they were all terrible, straight up fantasy-in-space, or both, written when I was too green a writer to know better.  (There’s a particularly entertaining project, unfinished – two chapters, maybe? – entitled “The Universe Is On Fire!” which featured an alien race I can only describe as fire elementals.  This whole idea came about because of writing advice to be sparing with exclamation points:  one should only use multiples when “the universe is on fire.”  This is a pretty good example of how my head works, I just have a much better filter from idea to execution now.  I hope.)

Back to Scylla and Charybdis.  At the time, I knew my limits.  I figured I could “fake” science fiction for the duration of a short story, but no longer.  So I wrote it up, got it extensively critiqued, revised, was highly satisfied with the end product … and I couldn’t sell it.  Multiple editors were very complimentary, but they all said the same thing:  it read like the beginning of a novel.  This was several years ago; now I have a lot more resources for markets, and I might have found a place for it.  Maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t, because I don’t think I would have considered expanding it had I sold the short story.

So I trunked the story.  It was a few years later, when pondering what my next novel project might be, that the idea resurfaced.  I hesitated:  I knew hard sciences weren’t my forte, and as much research as I could do, I was afraid of making invisible mistakes – assumptions that I wouldn’t even think to look up.  But I still really enjoyed the idea and the characters.  I ended up deciding to solve my science problems by defining as much of the technical specs of the setting as I could.  Knowing star strengths, orbits, lightspeed calculations, etc, helped me to avoid making dumb assumptions.

Of course, I also had to come up with an answer for the question that was the end of the short story:  which route would Anaea take?  I had initially envisioned that the short story would only be a small portion of the novel, but as I re-explored the opening events, I realized I needed more development and conflicted.  It ended up being much more pivotal than I had anticipated, taking up the first quarter (roughly) of the book.

And then I was in uncharted territory, plotting a new course …

Scylla and Charybdis releases April 15th!

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Guest Author Interview: Frances Kay

I'm not the only excellent author at Grimbold Books, and today, fellow author Frances Kay visits, interviewed by the titular cats, Grim and Bold.  (As a person owned by two fluffy white dogs, I cannot endorse cat supremacy, but cats are sometimes as wonderful as dogs.  Sometimes.)  Here's Frances' intro:

What are Dollywagglers? A dismissive name that some puppeteers call others. Once upon a time I was the voice and puppet of 'Cosmo' in BBC TV's 'You and Me' programme. My own children were young enough then to give me expert advice on what to put in the scripts.   Dollywagglers owes a lot to the seascapes, fields and woods of Suffolk, where I lived for many years; NUTMEG PUPPET COMPANY appeared regularly on Southwold Beach, and I was lucky enough to play a pirate, a female knight and Queen Boudicca in our puppet and actor beach shows. 

DANCING ON BONES reflects my recent connection with Wales, a country I have come to know and love through friends and family who belong there. 

MICKA, published in 2010, was the runner-up for the Society of Authors' McKitterick Prize in 2011, and featured on BBC Radio 4: A GOOD READ with Mavis Cheek and Chris Smith - click on this link.

Please come and read my blog:

Until 'Micka' was published, my writing was all for theatre and mostly for children. My most recent play, 'A FEAST OF BONES' will be part of the Imaginate Festival of children's theatre, Edinburgh, in May 2018.

Writing gives me a chance to explore my obsessions - bones, early twentieth century Antarctic expeditions, dystopias, Ancient Rome and the secret lives of children, amongst others.

'Micka' was partly inspired by children I met on adventure playgrounds in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Tyneside, as well as Walsall and Perth, where I worked on two projects with travelling families. The boys who tell the story are composites of many children I knew growing up in the toughest part of Notting Hill, together with elements of myself. The challenge was to speak in the voices of two very different boys, and to create a fictional world where empathy and compassion were, for both of them, almost completely absent.

It's not a happy read, I know, but I believe there is a possibility of redemption at the end.
Thank you for being a reader!

Author Questions

So, this story you’ve written. What’s it about? Why should I interrupt my nap-time to read it?

After I’d finished ‘Dollywagglers’, I realised there was still a lot of story to tell. The events cascaded out of my brain and onto the page. The first book was pure dystopia, with the evil power-crazed rulers very much getting their own way. ‘Dancing on Bones’ has dystopian elements, but I’ve allowed a little utopia to creep in too. As a writer, I find I can’t just keep destroying bad ideas and people – we need light as well as shade. Though the odds are, of course, stacked impossibly high against our protagonist, who represents a force for potential good, even as she denies it vigorously.

Where do you get inspiration? Where did the ideas for your latest novel come from?

Ever since I read ‘1984’ and ‘A Brave New World’ I’ve been fascinated by dystopias, and the idea of writing my own has long haunted me. I needed to know what it was I wanted to say, though, which is why it’s taken me so long… nearly seventy years!

Who’s your favourite imaginary friend? Is there anyone you don’t like?

I have a couple of real friends who died far too soon and I still feel they are out there somewhere – does that count as imaginary? Nicci was passionate about children and literature and made brilliant television dramas – one was about a girls’ football team. I see her looking at what I write and prodding me sternly with questions like ‘Is this the best it can be?’ ‘Have you done all the research you need for this?’ and finally -  ‘Never stop, never say your work is finished.’

My other friend, Jude, who died last month, was my best friend at school and in a very formative time for me she showed me funny writers like Stella Gibbons ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ and I realised that pastiche is a perfectly respectable and very flexible tool – metaphors are what we need to lift our work into another dimension.

What are your plans to conquer the world?

Simple – I trust in our youth to make the changes we all need. I’ve spent my life and my writing career giving a voice to those who are never heard, and working for a fairer society where everything is shared and power is not given to those who abuse it – the very reverse of our current political reality. The fact that we are all now living in a dystopia has made me shift away from that view of the world – any future books I write will get away from the increasing sense I have that the world is out of control.

What research rabbit-holes have you been down while writing? What was the most interesting, or the most tedious?

Very hard for me – the geography of the novel, where it takes place. I had to research the Elan Valley dams, the history of Machynlleth town, some engineering stuff about siphoning petrol out of cars. I have to fight the feeling that this is school homework and needs to be done if the book is to have any cred at all. And I can’t compare my work on this one with Dollywagglers, where I didn’t have to do any research at all, it just romped along.

How often do you provide a cat sleeping spot- I mean, write? Do you have a comfy chair and a routine, or do you freelance cat-nap style?

First off, I have to make sure Jasper is comfy. He loves being stretched out on my lap, which means I have to have the pc squeezed into one side. He will occasionally swat a cup of tea out my hand, so I have to be on the alert. I write lying on a day bed – it was not always thus, I used to have a cramped little space in our other house, but I loved it. I wrote all my scripts for ‘The Morbegs’ up in that room, and plays for Team Theatre and Theatre Lovett. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, it suddenly became ok to lounge and laze as I write. Handy for naps too, Jasper’s and mine. Today I’m on the upstairs daybed, where he is not allowed. My writing routine would not make the grade. I’m not methodical, I write when inspired, otherwise put it off. When I feel I have been too lazy for too long, I deprive myself of news [no papers, no radio, TV or internet new]  for a week and this invariably gets me writing. This is one of those weeks.

When you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing? Besides looking at cat pictures on the internet, obviously.

Politics. I belong to Welsh Labour, which is recent, since Jeremy Corbyn was elected. I also belong to an Irish campaign group, formed to stop the Irish government from selling off all the kelp around the Irish coast to the highest bidder. The most recent atrocity was a licence to one man to mechanically cut 1800 acres of kelp in Bantry Bay, with no environmental impact study and no preliminary scientific surveys. The government was so desperate to make a profit that they cut all kinds of corners and made it impossible for local residents to know about these plans until too late. Happily, the campaign has just been granted a judicial review, which means a judge considers we have a case the government must answer. So, fighting dystopia continues in my non-writing life too. I also spend happy days playing with my two granddaughters, Nancy and Bess. They remind me what fun life can be, and how easy it is to embrace life and all its wonders when you come from a secure and happy home. Other activities in season – making elderflower champagne, planting stuff in the polytunnel, swimming in the sea [not until the end of May, I’d say, this year] and having bonfires.

Is there anything you’ve read/seen recently that would be worthy of my attention? [aka. what book or film recommendations would you make?]

I have recently seen Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri and celebrate that fantastic woman Frances McDormand. She won the Oscar and accepted it wearing a long-sleeved dress and no makeup – just what I would do if it ever happened to me. I’m currently reading anything by Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell. Thrillers are a better option for me as a reader these days because, unlike dystopias, thrillers assume a framework where justice can be applied to put a bad thing right.

Kitty Questions

If you kindly brought your human a present, and they scream and tell you that they don’t like dead mice - that’s just rude, isn’t it?

It’s all about training. If your human catches on, they will respond by playing with the dead mouse, obv, and then Jasper would, I know, begin a graduated series of lessons at the end of which I would be able to stalk and catch my very own mice [and rats]. Alas, I always fall at the very first hurdle by sweeping mouse up with the rubbish. He doesn’t have a high opinion of my intelligence.

Cats. Fabulous, or completely fabulous?

Wonderful creatures. No house is complete without them.

What’s your second-favourite food? Because obviously you are a human of taste and discretion, and therefore your favourite is tuna.

Pork figures largely in my dream menus – with crunchy crackling. Or bacon, crispy and hot. I am also somewhat obsessed with apples, notable English varieties like Discovery, Worcester Pearmain, Beauty of Bath, Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange and its Kerry cousin, the Kerry Pippin, and Egremont Russets. In our orchard in Ireland we have planted all these, which means we have fresh exquisite apples from early August through till October.

Bold’s bow tie: excellently stylish, or rather dashing?

Bow tie a rather daring choice, might lead to confusion of identity with, for example, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Robin Day of recent memory? In cat terms, this could be a good thing, for all I know.

On a scale of ‘excellent’ to ‘needs more practise’, how good are you at giving ear scritches?

I’d say I am rather good, as I can imagine it being done to me. The high level of purring and [rolling over so I can stroke the fluffy tummy] trust thereby engendered is a good sign, I think.

By the way, I left you a present behind the chair. I hope you like hairballs.

So very kind. Hairballs are my favourite. And I am impressed by your dexterity with the keyboard.

Author links:

Blogs sporadically at
(blurbs on the Amazon links)

Monday, April 02, 2018

The Tour Rolls Along ...

And I'm visiting Paul James Caiden to discuss how I came up with the idea for Scylla and Charybdis, and why an SF novel has such a mythological name, anyway ... check it out!

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Song Styles

My Scylla and Charybdis soundtrack has a variety of selections, from songs about the overall arc to those focused on specific characters and situations ... but there's one group of songs that I can only describe as bratty.

With a male dominated and female dominated society, and Anaea's female-only home, the topic of gender comes up a fair amount, and I just had to add a few classics:

It's Raining Men - Geri Halliwell
There Is Nothing Like A Dame - South Pacific soundtrack

There's one song in this vein that's a little more serious (a *little*).  It's a song I've always liked, and even if it doesn't exactly fit - in fact, the setting here is almost inverted from Anaea's experience - I love the message enclosed of being brave and exploring new possibilities:

Us Amazonians - Kirsty MacColl

Guest Author Post: Daniel Ausema!

Today, I welcome Daniel Ausema to my blog to talk about his book, The Silk Betrayal!  He's a fantastic writer with a great knack for unusual, vivid settings, and an experimental bent that enhances whatever project he's tackling.  Here's Daniel ...

Thank you, Lindsey, for hosting me here today. I’m looking forward to you coming to visit my blog soon, as well. And thanks to Lindsey’s blog readers and anyone else who stops by for reading.

When Lindsey and I were discussing topics for blog posts, she told me she’s always interested in hearing the origin stories for other writers’ novels. It’s not something I’ve explained in much detail with The Silk Betrayal, though I actually began the first draft for the novel some ten years ago. So here it is at last, the origin of The Silk Betrayal.

I forget now where I first heard the advice, but someone once told me that discrete ideas for stories are easy, but on their own those ideas often fizzle out. It’s only when we juxtapose two seemingly different ideas that a story really takes off. The world of Eghsal definitely began with that kind of juxtaposition.

On the one hand, I liked the idea of a land that was cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice, a far northern land where the people only managed to survive because of volcanic forces warming the valley. I had a character to fit this land (someone who was later cut from the novel), but little more.

At the same time, I found myself drawn to the idea of a strict caste-based society. In an essay on SF, Ursula LeGuin writes that SF writers don’t write about the future, except by accident. All they can do is tell you about the present, their lives as they’re living them. I’ve always felt the same idea applies to fantasy and historical time periods they might seem to fit, and that for whatever reason, for whatever things that were going on in my life at the time, I wanted to explore the idea of castes more, of being stuck in a prescribed role. Of resisting.

Those two basic ideas gave me the start for the world itself, for the isolated northern valley of Eghsal, though it still wasn’t a story.

Before I could tackle that, I immersed myself in learning about real-world castes and the societies around them. It would have been easy to simply take my own assumptions about such things, received stereotypes and ideas, but I wanted to better understand how they really play out, not just how an outsider might think they do. So I read about and spoke with people from India, approaching the caste system--as it’s existed at different times in history--with what I hoped was openness and humility.

Then I sat down to write a short story. I often do that when I create a new setting, hoping to get my mind into the world before I’ve committed to the novel’s story. “Untouched by Fire,” which would eventually be published in Guardbridge Books’ Myriad Lands anthology, centers on a high-caste girl who has been cast out, made untouchable, because of an accident involving fire.

After that story was done, I began to see the character that the novel would center on. He would be an enigmatic man who could blend in to any caste, someone with an uncanny ability to fit in wherever he went and be overlooked. In fact, I saw, that ability would be a form of magic, not just a magic to blend in but rather a magic that could play on peoples’ assumptions and ideas, on the archetypes of how they saw the world. A performance magic that’s new and exciting for its practitioners. I pictured him meeting the famous but aging discoverer of this magic, being introduced to the world of performing, pictured it as a sort of young Bob Dylan meeting Woody Guthrie moment. And with that I knew Pavresh and his place in this northern, volcano-warmed world of Eghsal.

But a funny thing happened. Usually the stories I write to get me into a new world are one-off things, the characters there to serve that specific story but nothing more. But I kept coming back to Jaritta, the high-born outcast of “Untouched by Fire.” She was clearly important, too. And so was the world she’d left behind, the brother who was still a part of the city’s high-caste rulers.

Once I had those three characters figured out, then the whole story began to fall into place. A story of court intrigue, new magic, revolution...and betrayal.


Today, Sunday April 1, is the release day for The Silk Betrayal in ebook format. It has also been available since December in paperback and hardcover formats.

Daniel Ausema is a writer and stay-at-home dad from Colorado. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Diabolical Plots, and many other places. The Silk Betrayal is the first book of the Arcist Chronicles, published by Guardbridge Books. Daniel is also the creator of the Spire City series of books and stories. He can be found online at his blog Twigs and Brambles.