Sunborn Bookbub Blast

Sunborn by Jeffrey A. CarverIn conjunction with the good folks at Bookbub, I am knocking 83% off the price of my Sunborn ebook, for a limited time only! If you’ve read the first three books in The Chaos Chronicles and want to keep going with the fourth book, this is your chance. (Or if the dog ate your ebook copy or you’ve lost it under a pile of unpaid bills and requests for political contributions, and you need a new copy.)

That’s $.99 for a book that Library Journal said “ensures [Carver’s] place among the most inventive of contemporary authors of hard sf and speculative theory. Filled with startling ideas and ingenious plot twists, this sf adventure (along with its series predecessors) belongs in most sf collections.” Continue reading “Sunborn Bookbub Blast”

Transforming Conflict (and Myself)

I just finished up an online class in conflict transformation. I stumbled on it by accident scrolling through the Coursera class catalogue and decided to sign up on the spur of the moment.

Conflict transformation is part of the growing movement in conflict resolution and other kinds of peacemaking efforts that work to address conflicts ranging from neighborhood disputes to all out war.

The transformation aspect emphasizes two major points. First of all, conflict is not inherently bad; it points out where deep-seated problems are and can lead to a path to do something about them.

And secondly, many conflicts involve people in very unequal situations. By approaching the problems with an eye toward transformation, rather than simply resolution, those trying to find a peaceful answer must consider that inequality in helping the parties find a solution.

To quote a phrase often heard at demonstrations: “No justice, no peace.” An ordinary mediation session at which both parties give something up is not going to resolve a conflict when major injustice is on the line. Continue reading “Transforming Conflict (and Myself)”

Auntie Deborah Returns From Wildfire Evacuation To Answer Your Questions

It’s been an exciting couple of months. Back in mid-August, Auntie Deborah and her household fled from the wildfires descending upon their small California town. After a month staying first with friends and then in a hotel, she and her people and all four cats returned home to a herculean clean-up job. Actually, the cats did not contribute, except in a profusion of shed fur. Order and cleanliness are gradually emerging, along with a return to writing her own work and advising younger writers.
~~~~
Dear Auntie Deborah,
How can a literary agent tell from the first ten pages whether they want to represent a book?

Auntie Deborah: Most agents can tell from the first paragraph if they want to continue reading. Agents have read thousands of manuscripts by the time they’re in the pro league and they, like magazine editors who plough through mountains of slush, can spot right away if the author has the command of fictional techniques and language that are the bare minimum for a publishable story. It doesn’t matter what comes after that first paragraph if the author has failed to engage and intrigue, with every indication that if the reader places themself in the author’s hands, as it were, the experience will be reliably satisfying.
Dear Auntie Deborah,
Is it okay to write when I’m upset and not feeling like myself, or should I wait until I’ve calmed down?
Auntie Deborah: What makes you think that when you are “emotional, upset, or worried” you are not yourself? Passion is as much a part of writing as intellect. Let it all out on paper! Give yourself something intense and uncensored to then revise and mine for purest gold.

I am now revising a novel I drafted while caring for my best friend in the final weeks of her life. At the time, it was pure escape, a place to put all my strongest, most painful emotions. Only afterward did I see the amazing heart of the piece. It’s required several rounds of being taken apart and put back together the way fiction needs to be structured. This last round follows a long discussion with my agent, who is very excited about it. (As a note, I’ve been publishing fiction for over 35 years, with 15 novels and umpteen short stories, so I have experience with this <g>)

Dear Auntie Deborah:
Why do people advise me not to address an editor as “Dear Sir”?

Auntie Deborah: I strongly advise you not to address an editor as “sir.” The primary reason is the likelihood that the editor is a woman. In 2016, 78% of editors were women. (All 3 editors at my publisher are women.) Do you want to begin your letter with the assumption that an editor must be male?

Instead, say, “Dear editor.” Better yet, address your letter to the specific editor to whom you are submitting. (“Dear Ms. Jones” — not Miss or Mrs!) You should know this as part of researching your markets. Some publishers have a first or slush reader, usually anonymous, in which case, “Dear editor” or “Dear publisher” would be fine.

 

Dear Auntie Deborah,
What do I do when my main character simply won’t fit the scenario of the plot?

Auntie Deborah: You have a choice: let the character tell their authentic story, or promise to do that in order to keep the character quiet and happy, and stick another, more appropriate character in the current story. The fact that your character is talking back to you is an excellent sign, by the way. I’d go with that. You might discover you are an author who prefers character-driven stories, and this is a great place to start. Continue reading “Auntie Deborah Returns From Wildfire Evacuation To Answer Your Questions”

Comfort reading

The other day, we were chatting, in the usual Treeehouse way, about one of our favourite topics. The question we asked each other was not “Which books do you like?” but “Why do you like this book in particular?” We were talking about elements of a book where the author had put the finger on something so precisely that that author and that trait give us pleasure, even years after we first read it. We decided that when one of us remembers something about a favourite book, we might write about it here. We all need comfort right now, after all, and comfort reading is right up there with chocolate as something worth sharing. I’ve eaten some excellent chocolate today and I have a cup of tea at my right hand.

The book I want to share is one that’s really not very well known these days. I’m not sure it was even published outside Australia. It’s by Ray Harris The Adventures of Turkey. Boy of the Australian Plains. I have the 1960 edition, but didn’t read it until some years later. My school library had an earlier edition. I learned about space travel in that library and dreamed of becoming a science fiction writer. I learned about history in that library and dreamed of having history as part of my life. I watched the moon landing in that library, in 1969, when I was eight, and I read The Adventures of Turkey in that library.

Turkey was a schoolboy who lived outback, in an Australia I thought I visited on holidays. When I was a teenager, I was on a school exchange programme and discovered that almost everything in the novel either never existed or was in the past. Mostly in the past. I spent a lot of my early history quests trying to find out about Turkey and his life.

What is it in this book that still grips me? It’s a perfectly created world. It’s what most fantasy novels dream of being, but it chronicles the apparent everyday of school children from way out Woop Woop or from back of Burke. This is an Australian fantasy place, where the climate is tough and the people tougher, and where snakes are dealt with calmly and the real hero is a lanky boy who looks like a bush turkey.

The conversation us Treehousers (I’m now stuck in Australian English, sorry) had, was about writing techniques.

What writing techniques did Harris use that makes me dream about this non-existent Australia every time I read the book? (Do not ask how often I’ve read the book: I’ve owned this copy for about 45 years. We are talking about ultimate comfort reading.) This is not about what the book gets wrong. It’s about what it gets right.

One of my favourite openings of novels is in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. In the first paragraph we learn so much about a family that everything that happens to Will Stanton happens in that family context. The events are more startling because we know his family, intimately, from Will’s reaction to them in that first paragraph.

Ray Harris uses a similar technique.

“Turkey, me toe’s sore!”

Without speaking, the lanky fourteen year-old slid his school bag in front of him and took his small stepsister pick-a-back. He carried her easily enough. She put her perspiring cheek against his not neck, pushing his hat on one side. He made no protest.

 

It’s at once very Australian and very simple.

Everything in the novel is Australian and simple. We were just getting used to the idea that we could use our own dialect for protagonists in the 1950s and 1960s, so Harris used a voice even in that opening paragraph and that voice is what comforts me.

It’s my father’s voice.

Dad was brought up in country towns. I’m very much a big city person and I’ve never spoken the way Turkey does. I use a bit of dialect (‘Strine’ is its official name) now and again, to tease people, but I actually had to learn it from others as a child. The Adventures of Turkey was one of those others. It helped me to understand my father’s jokes. It helped me to see that there was an Australia outside my suburb and that I wanted to find out more about that Australia. It did all this by presenting the often-humorous life of Turkey, one day at a time.

While as a school story Turkey was new to me, the humour wasn’t. My father’s jokes are in it, and the entire novel lovingly embraces the narrative style of CJ Dennis (The Sentimental Bloke is another story I visit and revisit when I need comfort – it’s an Australian retelling of Romeo and Juliet) with hints (mere hints) of the adventures of Bunyip Bluegum (Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding) and the short stories of Steele Rudd about Dad and Dave.

If you find the common elements in all of these, you will see what gives me comfort in The Adventures of Turkey. Whimsy walks alongside stern practicality. There’s an acceptance that even simple prose can be used to share the reality that ordinary life is tough but still worthwhile.

All of this was communicated through a writing style that supported resigned humour. The comfort comes from Strine itself, in a way. When I first discovered it, I was reading British school stories and dance books and horse books and I was reading about Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was reading science fiction and fantasy and anything that contained history. None of them gave the firm foundation that Turkey did.

It’s the sense that the everyday can be story, I think. Even if it’s an everyday that is so unlike my own that it felt ultra-real.

That opening says it all. Susan Cooper’s opening said that the everyday can be turned upside down and inside out. Harris said that the everyday didn’t have to be turned upside down and inside out to make good story. This is the comfort.

Modern News Consumption

I get my news from Twitter.

I know that sounds silly. Social media is infested with bots and trolls and people who retweet conspiracy theories and outrageous claims without checking them out.

Let me assure you that I am not getting my news from that part of Twitter. I am very careful about who I follow; in fact, I curate my Twitter feed with an eye to getting information from reliable sources.

For me, this started with local news. It is a sad truth of the San Francisco Bay Area that the only use for most of the local print publications is lining the compost bin and their digital sides are no improvement.

When I first moved out here, I read the venerable free weekly East Bay Express, but I gave up on it a couple of years ago when it was endorsing pro-developer candidates against progressives for state assembly. It fell apart pretty spectacularly after that and the good reporters found other jobs. I don’t even know if it’s still publishing during the pandemic.

So when I wanted to know what was happening in Oakland, I searched on topics on Twitter. Somewhere along the way I stumbled onto Jaime Omar Yassin, known on Twitter as @hyphy_republic. Continue reading “Modern News Consumption”

Tool Love

My Driver’s Ed teacher, Paul Menin, insisted that every girl in his class had to be able to change a tire, check the oil, and diagram the basic workings of an internal combustion engine*. I have had occasion more than once to bless Mr. Menin’s curriculum: at the time I was in High School this was unusual, and empowering, information for a woman.

My father wasn’t much of a car guy. He could check the oil or change a tire, but his idea of car care was to find a decent mechanic. I’m not sure he observed a maintenance schedule: you waited until there was A Noise or a light came on, then went to the garage.   This is in contrast to my husband, whose father taught him from boyhood all about cars. Danny’s the kind of guy who wants to know how his tools work and how to take care of them. The scheduled maintenance visits are religiously observed. When our daughter got her car, Danny gave her a book about car maintenance (and he agonizes over the fact that four years later she still has not read it).

I’m afraid–my ability to change a tire notwithstanding–that I tend more toward my father’s attitude than my husband’s. Continue reading “Tool Love”

Car Culture

Lincoln Continental Convertible[I wrote this a few years back and published it on another blog. It’s still relevant.]

When I was sixteen, I developed a passion for a yellow Lincoln Continental convertible with a black leather interior. Not a Corvette, which was the hot car of my youth (why, yes, I did watch Route 66), or one of the adorable tiny English sports cars of the ’60s. A Lincoln Continental, the ultimate land yacht.

In my dreams, I would have this car by my mid-20s, when I’d be living in Kemah, Texas (on Galveston Bay), and working at some job or another (the details of employment were not part of this fantasy, though it must have been well-paid). I would also have a shrimp boat, though I wouldn’t be a working shrimper.

Why a shrimp boat, you may ask? Possibly because I really, really liked (and like) to eat shrimp. But also because it wasn’t the sort of boat the wealthy acquired. That is, I wanted a rich person’s car, but a working person’s boat.

It should go without saying that I never achieved this dream. In my mid-20s I was finishing law school and pretty much broke. The car I did have – a Plymouth Valiant – had bit the dust and I was commuting around Austin by bicycle.

Even if I’d had the money, I didn’t want that car or that lifestyle by that time. Kemah was no longer a sleepy bay town but a bustling suburb and I had developed my life-long allergy to commuting. And I had other dreams, few of which involved cars. Continue reading “Car Culture”

Wildfire Journey Part II

Once we’d gotten settled with the cats and the hotel routine, daily life became a matter of watching the progress of the fire containment and waiting for news about water and power, and when the evacuation order might change to a warning, allowing us to go back. The CalFire damage inspection teams went through the neighborhood, and we cheered when we saw our house on the map, marked green — no fire damage! Our little neck of the woods had the misfortune to lose the tank that supplied us entirely, so a new temporary tank would have to be installed, with temporary piping, on rugged terrain, with smoldering hot spots…and our electricity came through an area that had been badly burned. Water was restored to other areas (to be truthful, just about every other area) first, although at first it wasn’t clear how badly contaminated it might be. About 5 miles of aboveground HDPE pipe melted, creating the possibility of backflow due to depressurization of water contaminated by the products of heated plastic (VOCs). Later testing revealed most if not all of that water was safe, so the Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil orders were eventually lifted, although not for our block. It seemed to be one lumbering, unfolding disaster, with visions of returning home to water safe only for flushing toilets, no power, trees apt to fall over at any time. Looters. Lost pets. Dying wildlife. 

Finally the mandatory evacuation order for our street was changed to a warning, and it happened the same day when we decided to go look at our place, regardless. There were road blocks, but further up the highway so we could get in. Each passing mile brought us into more familiar territory. Driving into our little town and seeing ordinary vehicles as well as emergency equipment was a highlight, but not as tear-inducing as pulling into our carport and seeing the gate, pretty much untouched. There were chunks of ash outside, but no burning or other fire damage. The mud room and adjacent office reeked of smoke, although the interior of the house wasn’t too bad. We walked around, seeing “home,” until I wrapped my arms around my daughter, sobbing, “It’s here, it’s okay…” Home is safe. 

We gathered up a few more things, then went into the garden. Despite our fears that everything would have died between the high heat, no water, and smoke, some parts were thriving. The squash plants seemed intent on taking over the county. Apples and grapefruits littered the ground. The green beans had mostly produced seed. The tomatoes looked fat and happy, now being inadvertently dry-farmed. The rhubarb was okay, and one unseasonal asparagus spear raised its solitary head. We gathered a basket of edible-sized zucchini, grapefruit, and apples, leaving a supply for the family of scrub jays that lives in our orchard. On the way out of town, we stopped at the volunteer fire department to thank them and offer grapefruit, but they couldn’t risk any ill health effects from the ash and soot, so declined with thanks.

Back at the hotel, we decided that in order to move back in, we needed water and power. There was no possibility of cleaning without these things, and between the smoke odor, the light fall of ash, the ordinary dust of several weeks, and the condition of a refrigerator without power for over two weeks, we couldn’t stay overnight without cleaning.

The next step was meeting with our smoke damage adjuster at the house. We did a walk-through, inspecting and discussing. One of the down sides of the online local community, I found, was a sort of mob effect that magnified the unwillingness of other adjusters to address issues such as toxic ash and environmental testing or additional living expenses and created an adversarial relationship. I found myself getting worked up in anticipation of having to fight for the coverage we had paid for. As it turned out, we and our adjuster achieved a surprising amount of cooperation. They explained their findings, we each asked questions and got clarification. In the end, we felt the settlement offer was fair and would allow us to pay for a professional cleaning if we could not do it ourselves.

Although we’d been prepared to pay for a few extra days at the hotel, power and nonpotable were restored in enough time for us to make several trips to do enough cleaning of the bedrooms and bathrooms that we felt optimistic about moving back on the last day of our paid housing. First came prep, aka cleaning! The bedrooms were by far the least affected by smoke but the places I wanted the cleanest first. I set to work, wiping down surfaces, dusting and vacuuming with our new HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, changing linens, washing floors. Moving from room to room. I was surprised at my sustained willingness to be meticulous and also my endurance. After two exhausting but satisfying sessions, we were ready to move back in.

We walked from room to room, speechless with appreciation for all our treasures that had survived. Much work lay before us — salvaging the refrigerator and freezer, going through the rest of the house, then hiring local professionals to do a deep cleaning that included walls, ceilings, and blinds (windows and the exterior would have to wait for the rains). We watched the cats explore their “new” surroundings, their joy in being in a familiar place. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been the custom in our valley to go outside at 8 pm and howl like wolves for five minutes. On our first night back, our daughter and I did this. We heard only a few, distant howls. We howled back, We’re here! And at every following night, more voices joined in. Another joyful event was hearing our neighbors’ voices on the street, going out to greet them (masked and socially distanced, of course) and celebrate that we all made it. Hey, let’s have a block barbecue on the street once we get clean water again!

Wildfire evacuation has been an ordeal, no question. With climate change, this will increasingly be the new normal. It was at times terrifying, saddening, and yet also exhilarating to see the community flourish using technology. I feel profoundly grateful for how fortunate we are. All people and cats are safe, and we have a home to come back to. We have experienced amazing kindness and have done our best to extend it to others.

How Not to Win an Award

Each month, I ask my patrons what they’d like for their new essay. They vote. This month the vote was split, and I chose the one I wanted to write about, because no-one was asking me and I had stories to tell. You’ve seen the announcement here – that I won a prize for one of my novels. A not-unimportant prize. It struck me as odd that only my patrons want to know why I wrote this novel. Or maybe the oddness is that people are curious, but have not asked. Either way, I wrote that essay and it will go out tomorrow or Thursday.

The story of the novel may be cool, but I thought you’d like the story of what happened on the night of the award ceremony. It was the beginning of what promises to be a very interesting year.

The Ditmars are the Australian equivalent of the Hugos – awards for writing and art and criticism and more voted by SF fans. My novel was one of the finalists for best novel. I assumed I wasn’t going to win because I could see no reason why I should. I was fully expecting Eugen Bacon to win, in fact, so I didn’t worry too much about the award itself. My brain pushed all deep thought and lists of debts owed to the side, although I did wonder when the announcement would be made.

I only heard about the award ceremony three hours before, and that was a form invitation that all the finalists received. It was already Rosh Hashanah. My New Year.

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I wouldn’t even have kept the computer on. Work was out of the question and for me, that award ceremony was work. It took me a while to puzzle this out. I did it on Facebook with many contributions from friends. I discovered then that a lot of people go to award ceremonies for fun. I don’t. I love it when people I care for get recognition, but I find the ceremonies themselves hard work. Speaking to a big audience about a topic I love, however, that’s fun.

I finally puzzled my way through the whole problem, sent an email to my publisher, and sent an apology to the organisers. The only reason it took me that long was that I was dealing with medical issues all that week. I had to decide through a haze and it was not comfortable physically or emotionally. My mother was happy with my decision, which was the big thing. I couldn’t tell her about it until afterwards, however. Three hours is not a long time.

When the three hours were nearly up, I was spending my new year with two of my close friends. Yaritji Green, in the middle of our chat, asked me if I knew someone and I told her they were on the Ditmar committee. I asked her if that meant she was at the online ceremony. Not only was Yaritji at the online ceremony, but she was willing to stand in for me if needed. 

She asked me for some dot points, in case. I didn’t take the need seriously, for that whole day had turned improbable three hours before. I told her “This was an impossible work and the award is in an impossible year and it’s impossible for Gillian to be here cos it’s Rosh Hashanah.” I tried to think about it more but, “I have heaps of things I would say, but I can’t think of them tonight. My brain is outside work zone.”

She asked me about the nomination and I explained, “I had my heart stuff then wrote that novel the following October/November, BTW, so it’s very appropriate that you’re (as a doctor) my sub.” (I’ve cleaned up the impossible typing – everything looked impossible at that moment.) “I cogitated on the conditions for the novel for 20 days in hospital, then while I was recovering, then when I found myself with no paid work because the uni was leading up to sacking me and then splurged and I wrote it very quickly. You don’t need to say any of this – I’m just remembering that this was the first time I sorted out HOW to turn garbage into fertiliser. Fruitcake was the first flower in my new garden.”

My mind didn’t have much time to dwell on the irony in what I’d explained to Yaritji. In fact, the moment I finished typing it, I sent it and two words arrived from Yaritji.

You won,” she typed.

She had been speaking on my behalf while I was trying to get my mind around why it was impossible to think lucidly about this novel. My immediate reaction to “You won” was “Wait…what!!!” Yaritji knows me very well and sent me a picture of her computer, with the announcement writ large on the screen.

That’s the end.That’s how it happened. I suspect I won’t believe I actually won until I see a trophy.

 

Good Things to do to Stay Fit After 50

At least for me, it’s hard to eat right, exercise enough, and feel good about myself if my feelings aren’t in the right place. I had an unpleasant experience recently. Years ago, events like these would have set me back for months, and maybe even years. I can still remember bad things that happened to me when I was young. These seem laughably trivial in hindsight. For example, my grandparents liked to go to Solvang, a small Danish tourist town north of Santa Barbara. There’s lots of pictures of four- or five-year-old me riding in the front of the “Danish Days” parade wearing an elaborate Danish outfit and sitting between two white-bearded elders. So, there’s not a Danish bone in my body but as a little blonde, blue-eyed girl dressed perfectly, they apparently thought I was the right kid to put in the front of the parade. Mostly I remember the beautiful horses.

That’s a good memory. But when I was about 12, I wore Danish clogs from Solvang to school and I got teased on the bus for the way my feet looked. Apparently the problem was the pale skin on the arches of my feet, and maybe their bony look or veins. Still not sure. But it made me want to wear thick socks and sneakers or boots for years. No – not socks and sandals – but it made me horribly self-conscious about my feet. I’ve got chigger bite scars persisting on my right instep right now … I was teased about my fat rear … didn’t wear a certain kind of pants for years … I was called “Blueberry” for wearing a loose dress with a belt that rode up over my stomach when I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter …

As we grow older, I think this type of incident — and we all have plenty of them to draw upon — gets less bothersome. But a couple of weeks ago, Bruce and I were on Venice Beach (FL) and he was playing his guitar. I started singing with him and this older guy sitting a few yards away gets up and moves his beach chair closer.

“Play louder,” he tells Bruce. I immediately stopped singing.

Then he says, pointing at a young family farther down the beach, “Ha ha, you know what they say, nobody’s interested in women once they get past 30.”

I turned around and looked at this joker. “Yes, I’ve heard that many times,” I said. “It’s total bullshit. My experience is the exact opposite.” Continue reading “Good Things to do to Stay Fit After 50”