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.