Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Habit will sustain you

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice.
— Octavia Butler


My oh my was there a kerfuffle over the recent bit of writerly advice from Pulitzer Prize winning author Stephen Hunter, published by BuzzFeed! I would find it hard not to laugh at the whole thing if it wasn't disturbing on a number of levels. As Foz Meadows points out, at the piece's core there is a solid message: good writing habits are more important than talent and inspiration. But man did that core get dented, dinged, and tarnished by the spacejunk around it.

For starters, this humdinger of an opener:

In a few days or weeks, I’ll start a new novel. I don’t know yet and won’t for years if it’s good, bad, dreary, enchanting, or merely adequate. Moreover, I don’t know if it’ll help or hurt my reputation, make me rich or a fool, or simply pass into oblivion without squeak or moan. [So far so good, but wait for it ...]

What is certain is that on that same day, whichever one it is, one thousand other people will start their novels. In order to publish mine, it has to be better than theirs. So, forgive me—I pretty much hate them.

Early in my writing career, I would sometimes feel miffed by the success of other writers. And sure, even at this point in my career it's hard not to wish for a small piece of the action some bestselling authors enjoy. But I am a GROWNUP. I get that there is no algorithm for writerly success. It's talent, luck, timing, and fairy dust, and it can rarely be predicted. And guess what else? Anyone's book sales equal good news for me: PEOPLE ARE STILL READING BOOKS YAY. And if it's in my genre? All the better. As co-blogger Laurie Green once said to me: A rising tide floats all boats.

There is no need for me to further smack down this piece, as Foz has done that already. I'll leave you with a few of her choicest words, and you can decide whether to read the rest for yourself.

Presented without Hunter’s caveats and curlicues, the core recommendation – make regular writing part of your routine, because you can’t ever publish a book you don’t finish – is a reasonable one. That Hunter has managed to turn such simple advice into a purple, self-congratulatory screed about the failings of other, lesser beings is, if nothing else, a cautionary example of hubris in action.

The piece is also riddled with insecurity and what I agree with Foz seems to be signs of a clinically depressed outlook. Almost as sad as that is there are actually a few nuggets of good advice mixed in with the other bits that I'd only give to someone I wished to discourage. But probably saddest of all is the fact this guy is 71 years old and it sounds like he's lived a rather miserable life. Some things ain't worth a Pulitzer.

So I leave you instead with the quote on the same topic, at the top of this post, by Octavia Butler, who did not win a Pulitzer, but WAS a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. And here is a little bit about HER, whom I'd much rather talk about...

When I've told other women that I write sci-fi, several of them have asked whether I've read Butler. Sadly, because many of the top female writers of sci-fi are largely, mmmm, shall we say de-emphasized, I had never even heard of her. (And get this: She died the year my daughter was born, not five minutes from my house.)

I finally got around to reading one of her books this month, and here's a short review. KINDRED is the story of a young black woman who is somehow psychically linked to a white male ancestor of hers in the antebellum South. She travels back to his time at points when his life is in danger (he's rather accident-prone). It's a harrowing tale with high stakes and very complicated motives and emotions. The novel is written in first person, and I've never read a book that gave me such powerful glimpses into the psyche of a slave in the South—not to mention the many stark non-choices they faced in their brutal lives. I understand her other works are more traditionally sci-fi, and explore very similar themes. The story does feature a romantic relationship, but this is NOT a romance. I do recommend it highly, but don't read it when you're feeling down. Because this is a romance forum—SPOILER ALERT—I will tell you that neither the heroine nor her husband dies, and their relationship is a sustaining force in the story.

As for Hunter's piece, pfthpfthpfh I say. Butler's quote is much more succinct and kindly meant.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Special Remembrances on Memorial Day

This is the day set aside every year to remember loved ones and those who served. Coming from a family with a brother, father, uncles, nephews and niece--not to mention my spouse and several members of his family--who all served the U.S. military in various branches, this day holds a lot of meaning for me.

The military is a long and honorable tradition that has helped keep our country and our way of life secure for generations--and did, in fact, allow us to gain independence as a nation with the creation of our rag-tag colonial military.

I never served in the military, but I did serve the military for over 20 years in a civilian support capacity as a budget director for the New Mexico National Guard. Though the experience isn't at all the same as being among the ranks, I learned a lot about military life and what it means to serve via being "married to the military" and from my career immersion involving two branches of service, since the National Guard incorporates both Army and Air Force components. (The Army and Air Force Reserves are actually separate organizations).

Sadly, the National Guard is probably the most overlooked of all our military entities, even though its members have probably done as much or more to aid, assist and protect our country. That's because the Guard not only makes up a good percentage of the forces serving overseas, but under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, the National Guard is the only military force available to the governor of each state to defend against manmade or natural disaster, riot or other major catastrophes that occur here at home.

During my tenure, the New Mexico NG was activated to assist with major wildfires (including the infamous Cerro Grande fire in 2000 that almost destroyed the Los Alamos National Lab), floods, tornados, hurricanes (including Katrina), blizzards, severe hail storms, search and rescues, hazardous material response, water hauls to communities in need, and one particularly painful mission to find and recover a crashed State Police helicopter and its occupants, one of whom was Sgt. Andy Tingwell, well-known to many of us. The Guard has also aided in prison riots (including one of the most violent in American history at the State Penitentiary in Santa Fe).

But as mentioned previously, the National Guard also serves in a federal capacity in foreign wars and police actions. Many of the NMNG were survivors or victims of the notorious Bataan Death March of WWII.

Because of the ability to be mobilized at the local, state and national level, the National Guard is the most versatile of all our nation's military resources...and it's roots pre-date the birth of our nation.

If you look up the historical facts, you're likely to find a statement that the origins of the National Guard dates to December 13, 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony first organized three military regiments to defend against certain Native Americans groups.

Some historians in New Mexico dispute that claim, because the history of the organized militia here goes back even further. Early Spanish colonists formed a reserve in 1598--the Spanish Colonial Militia--that predates the Massachusetts Bay Colony by about 40 years. If you're a history buff, you can read a more detailed account in a document prepared by LTC Ezequiel L. Ortiz for the National Guard Convention hosted by New Mexico in 1995, Historic Highlights of the New Mexico Army National Guard.

So here's to all those we remember, to our brave veterans and our currently serving military members --and I'll add a special nod to those who served or are serving the National Guard both here at home and on foreign soil.

Another Fond Remembrance

For me, Memorial Day also brings back memories of old friends, like our old pal Silver, who we miss so much. Silver passed over the rainbow bridge in August 2015 at the grand old age of 31. We had owned him for 29 years, so yes, very much a part of our family. After he passed, it was heartbreaking to see his empty stall.

Silver (registered Silver N Straw; he was a grandson of famous Appaloosa sire Roman's Straw Man) had been bred by a prominent breeder in Oklahoma, but because he had no typical appaloosa pattern, he was registered via Certified Pedigree Option, or CPO. This is were his DNA was compared to that of his sire and dam to prove his parentage. After being approved and accepted into the Appaloosa registry, he received a freeze brand--a small line of white code--just under his mane as a form of identification.

Silver was a solid grulla--a dun factor color that looks like a grey buckskin--with a lot of chrome (white markings). You can see where he got it. This is a photo of Silver with his dam, Mighty Mission, though they look more like twins! That's Silver is on the right.



Silver became a multiple halter and reserve halter champion--and the #2 high point halter Appaloosa in the country--before being sold to an equine dealer in Iowa.



We just happened to be vacationing with David's sister in Iowa that year and happened on that particular sales barn, and yes, you guessed it--the souvenir we took home was a horse! :)

Silver went on to become a show horse under saddle (with several first and second place ribbons in both Western Pleasure and English Pleasure), my dressage horse, a ranch horse, a riding horse, an elk hunting mount, and served a stint as a junior hunter for a local girl.



After being retired back to our ranch, he lived out the rest of his days lounging and playing with the mares and babies in the pasture. We've lost a few other horses over the years, but he's the only soul who is buried on our property. We have big plans for a memorial for him.



In the meantime, I had Silver immortalized in a model portrait, and I was pretty thrilled with the end result. The artist was Sue Kern Thompson, who also did our mare and foal model portraits of Blazing Bartok and Blazing Away. (I posted their photos previously on this blog--click and scroll down.)

This one is particularly special, because the artist made changes to the angle of the head, re-sculpted the withers and added special detail to the tail--that makes this guy one-of-a-kind.

Here are a few detailed studio photographs of the finished product the artist gave me permission to share, right down to the freeze brand and blue eyes. His expression nearly made me cry--it's just so, so Silver. (You can see it clearly in the last photo.) Memorial Day seemed like an appropriate time to unveil this special memento.







If you celebrate, I hope you're enjoying your holiday weekend. Have a great rest of the week.





Teaser Tuesday: Troubled Waters #scifi #romance

I'm currently away enjoying a long overdue family holiday, so I thought I'd share an excerpt from one of the three novellas that I've been struggling with (and this one, with luck, is now off to my editor). It also gives me a chance to show off the gorgeous graphic Dani designed for me. This is taken from Reunion at Kasha-Asor, a novella that follows directly on from the events at the end of Keir.
The steep, rocky slopes to the water were tricky. Keir slithered more than walked as Quin followed him down, but the cool water eased the dry itch of salty skin. He sat on a ledge with water up to his neck as Quin swam and soaked her hair. Watched her float on her back with her eyes closed, a pale flower in a dark pool. Her hair spread out in the water in blood red tendrils.
“You are beautiful.”
She turned her face toward him with a smile and a look in her eyes that promised mischief. “Why don’t you come over here and say that to me?”
He hesitated. Quin floated in the deepest part of the pool, where his feet would not touch the sandy bottom. His poor swimming skills and weakened state made him doubt his ability to swim to her.
As if she had read his uncertainty, she rolled onto her stomach and glided to him with barely a ripple in the water. She made it look so effortless. Then she snaked her hands around the back of his neck and the heat of her lips pressed to his. Warm, soft flesh molded against him. “We need to check your wound.”
Keir broke the kiss. “Those are not the words I had hoped to hear.”
She chuckled. “I know. Business first.” She gave him another fleeting kiss then urged him into the shallows. Legs shaking, he sat on a rounded boulder and let Quin peel the dressing from his injured side.

Coming soon...?
Paradise isn't always what you expect it to be...

Once more back on the island of Kasha-Asor, Quin and Keir need to reconcile a question of trust: of secrets untold and their precarious situation on a planet where Quin has already been betrayed once. Can they find the idyll they seek, or will they be forced to run?

Friday, May 26, 2017

AN EXPANDED MESSAGE FOR MEMORIAL DAY



Like most of our national holidays here in the U.S., Memorial Day has been largely given over to retail sales hoopla, outdoor concerts, family picnics and the like. It can be difficult to remember the original meaning of the day, which is to commemorate the sacrifice of the men and women of our military who have given their lives in defense of their country.

The holiday began with “Decoration Day” after the Civil War, a way to honor Union soldiers who had died in that gruesome conflict. Much later, ceremonies to decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate dead were merged and expanded to include the dead of all our country’s wars. 

This year as we remember those in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice, I would ask that we also pause for a minute to think of those innocent civilians who have been caught in the widening jaws of war. From the gassed and broken children of Syria to the bombed and bloody young people of Manchester, too many blameless innocents have become victims of a war without boundaries or rules. Let us remember them, too. 

And, better yet, let us find a way to stop the conflicts that make them part of this kind of tragic remembrance.

In peace,
Donna


Thursday, May 25, 2017

I have a bad feeling about this



Star Wars VIII (The Last Jedi) is due in cinemas in December 2017. And yes, I'll see it (after the DVDs come out, I expect) but yeah… I have a bad feeling about this.

To get you up to speed here are all the Star Wars "I have a bad feeling about this."

I expect you're wondering why I have a bad feeling. The trailer doesn't look bad. And there will be Po, and Finn, and Rey. I suppose so. I've made no secret about my lack of love for SW VII The Force Awakens. But I managed to shrug and move on. Rogue One was good, maybe Disney will get its act together.

Except then I watched this. It's about 9.5 minutes, but I found it fascinating.


Some of the things he says are spot on. Hollywood isn't about making GOOD movies. It's about making movies that make money. Let's do some examples. Just about every half decent SF movie ever made has been dug up and resurrected in the last few years. The Day the Earth Stood Still, (1951 movie, redone in 2008), Planet of the Apes, now we're getting Blade Runner, they've jumped back onto the Alien franchise, another Star Trek movie is on the way, Superman and Batman have been done to death. I thought Pirates of the Caribbean IV was yawn-worthy. But we're getting another one, whether we like it or not. And so it goes.

Will it get bums on seats? Will it sell merchandise? Good to go!

I suppose we get some idea of where the franchise might be going with this with the character of Bendu, a force-sensitive creature which is neither a Jedi, nor a Sith, but sits in the middle: the balance in the Force. 


This explanation of the Bendu and the origins of the Jedi may or may not help. Either way, it's interesting back story, assuming it's correct.

Hey ho. Disney and Hollywood worship the Almighty Dollar. I suspect I'm going to be less than impressed with The Last Jedi. I hope I'm proved wrong. Either way, I'm waiting for the new Han Solo movie, out next year.

Poster used with attribution By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52959884 



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