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Friday, May 26, 2017 - 08:24

I made a few teensy exceptions to my rules that books for this promotion had to be November releases. One friend had a re-release, one November release was short fiction that I used to bump mention of the related book, and when I mentioned the project on the Bella Books facebook group, a couple of my fellow Bella authors with October releases asked it I could include them too--which I did when I found I had some space open at the end of the month. (Ordinarily, I try to avoid scope creep because it hits my anxiety buttons.) I'm re-arranging the planned schedule a bit to move those Bella books into the next few days because...Bella Books is having a weekend sale! 17% off all orders over $17.

Tempered Steele: Hard Edges by M. E. Logan is a follow-up to the post-apocalyptic dystopian  romantic adventure Tempered Steele: Stoking the Fire.

After a nearly apocalyptic earthquake engendered a societal breakdown, visionary Deborah Steele returned to her isolated family farm and turned it into a safe haven for women to escape from the increasingly misogynistic and dystopian world around them. Her fair and open system of contracting labor for food, shelter and security has bound them together and ensured their survival. So far… 

Outside the farm, however, others are using a contract system as a form of human trafficking. And Deborah’s attempts to protect her estranged love, Joanna Davis, will soon bring the women’s community unwanted visibility, putting them all in danger and forcing Deborah to choose between the sanctuary she has built and the woman she still loves. 

It doesn't take a dystopia for women to need to struggle against misogyny and a society that exploits their labor and denies them a full life. Challenging those forces will always put them in danger, whether of overt violence or the no less hazardous rejection of society. In Mother of Souls, Luzie Valorin faces the choice between acceding to those who think her musical skills are only suitable for domestic amusements--or to support a man's career--and reaching out to sieze the chance for greatness. Perhaps even to change the fate of Europe with her compositions!

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events. And at the moment, some of those books are on sale!

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Thursday, May 25, 2017 - 07:00

I confess to an occasional bewilderment at the sub-genre of "shifter" fantasy that seems to have sprung up almost overnight. (Ok, ok, I'm showing my age, right? But I swear, it wasn't there the last time I turned around.) Cathy Clamp's Illicit uses shapeshifter communities to explore motifs of social conflict and hidden identities.

When a border dispute between two bear clans destabilizes shapeshifter relations throughout Europe and threatens to reveal their existence to humans, the Sazi High Council orders both sides to the negotiation table. The peace talks take place in Luna Lake, the American community where all shifter species—wolf, cat, bird, bear, and more—live in harmony. Diplomats, their families, and security personnel stream into town, among them Dalvin Adway, a Wolven agent. Dalvin is startled to find Rachel Washington in Luna Lake. The last time he saw her, they were children in Detroit. Then she was kidnapped and, he thought, murdered. But Rachel became an owl-shifter as a result of the attack and has avoided family and old friends ever since, knowing they would not understand her. She’s stunned to see Dalvin and learn that he, too, is an owl-shifter. Their wary friendship is on the brink of becoming something more when conspiracy and betrayal cause the peace talks to break down. The fight between the bear clans will be settled through a form of traditional challenge—a risky tactic that might lead to full-blown war. Rachel is determined to prevent that, even if it means taking up the challenge herself!

I confess I've been having fun finding ways to tie each book in this series into some aspect of my own November 2016 release, Mother of Souls. I suppose I should take satisfaction in how many times I could manage it naturally! A pity that, in this case, I'm not promoting my (not yet scheduled for publication) Skinsinger collection which has a rather different take on shapeshifting. So you'll have settle for this not-a-connection connection to my book.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - 13:45

Except for the book release re-boot series, I haven't been blogging as regularly as I like to. May has been a bit crazy in terms of travel/conventions and work pressures (you know, the job that pays my bills). I've had enough LHMP posts in the can to carry my through (though I need to record a podcast tonight that I haven't finished writing yet! The Civil War diaries have been a dropped ball for the last couple weeks. But I keep plugging away at the first draft of Floodtide, day by day. I think the Scrivener file is up to around 80k words or so, but this draft is so messy that I have no idea how that's going to settle out. This morning's session brought me up to the moment in time when Mother of Souls ends: the Feast of Saint Mauriz when they perform the quadruple mystery and break the curse and...well, but that's the question isn't it? The question that Floodtide answers, in part.

I'm up to the point when Floodtide moves beyond the fields the readers know, and when our protagonist Rozild finds herself having to make choices not only about her own future, but that may in some small way affect everyone around her. It's exciting and it's daunting. Daunting, in part, because one of the major things to tackle in revisions is to make sure that we have enough through-lines of conflict and action and agency through all the previous chapters of the book that the climax doesn't explode in my face.

Roz has so many conflicts to negotiate and so little power to face them down. All of them need to be braided together into a smooth and even cord. A lot of her experiences are superficially about survival and alliance rather than about growth. She has to survive the unfortunate discovery by her employer of her sexual orientation. She has to find a middle path between repression and candor in securing her future. She has to come up with the courage to love again...and then find a way to recover both the friendship and the security that she came close to destroying by acting on it. She has to learn how to be kind to people whose lives she doesn't understand. And she is about to face the need to sacrifice her own future for the greater good, and then to find it again in a second act of self-sacrifice.

Because love isn't just about having someone to hold you close in the dark. Sometimes love really is like the fanciful stories that Iulien Fulpi writes in her notebooks: the ones where you pledge your life and your sacred honor for another's sake, simply because that person is worthy of the sacrifice.

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Writing Process
Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - 07:00

This book really needs to go on my To Be Read list! Gail Garriger has several intertwined paranormal/steampunky series. Romancing the Inventor tosses in a lesbian romance as well as a mad scientist. Oh, and vampires. Mustn't forget the vampires.

Imogene Hale is a lowly parlourmaid with a soul-crushing secret. Seeking solace, she takes work at a local hive, only to fall desperately in love with the amazing lady inventor the vampires are keeping in the potting shed. Genevieve Lefoux is heartsick, lonely, and French. With culture, class, and the lady herself set against the match, can Imogene and her duster overcome all odds and win Genevieve’s heart, or will the vampires suck both of them dry?

It can be hard to find mainstream SFF books with "incidental lesbians" -- lesbian characters in stories that aren't "about" sexuality. Books like Romancing the Inventor give me how that some day publishing will be a place where books like the Alpennia series could have found a home in mainstream SFF. In the mean time, if you love mainstream SFF but wish it had more queer women in it, check out Mother of Souls.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 11:51

The SFF podcast Skiffy and Fanty interviewed me for their "Signal Boost" series and the show is now live. Check it out! I talk about the Alpennia series as well as the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. This is a really fun podcast show and you should consider subscribing to it.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 07:00

I pulled the titles to include in this blog series from a variety of sources: SFF lists, lesfic lists, LGBTQ lists. I don't exactly remember where I turned up Cristina Sánchez-Andrade's The Winterlings. From the blurb, it could have been any of several. The description sounds as if it's being pitched as a "literary novel" (in the genre sense) but I most likely found it recommended in an SFF context.

Galicia, Spain’s northwest region, in the 1950s. After a childhood in exile, two sisters return to their grandfather’s cottage for the first time since his shocking murder during the civil war. “The Winterlings” try to keep their dark secrets buried and carve out a peaceful existence in Tierra de Chá, an idyllic village host to a cast of grotesque but charming characters: a powerful psychic, a madman who believes he is a bus, a woman who refuses to die and the obese priest who heaves up a steep hill each day to give her last rites, a cross-dressing dentist who plants the teeth of the deceased in his patients’ mouths. Tension mounts when the sisters, once united by their passion for Hollywood cinema, compete for the chance to stand in for Ava Gardner in the nearby filming of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Meanwhile, a mutual suspicion develops between the mysterious sisters and the eccentric villagers: Why have the women returned, and what are they hiding? What perverse business arrangement did the townspeople make with their grandfather, and why won’t they speak of his death? Enchanting as a spell, The Winterlings blends Spanish oral tradition, Latin American magic realism, and the American gothic fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson into an intoxicating story of romance, violent history, and the mysterious forces that move us.

Sometimes categorization of books can be confusing...or even feel misleading. Readers rarely approach a book without a "reading protocol" (to use Samuel Delany's term). Should The Winterlings be read through a fantasy lens? A magical realist lens? Or simply as a realistic story that may surprise you? The Alpennia novels have a tendency to confound expected reading protocols, whether the reader expects a romance novel, a lesfic novel, a swashbuckling fantasy, or a tale of magic. Mother of Souls breaks even the tenuous expectation of a romance plot that the previous books offered. If I could advise readers, I'd beg them to read Alpennia simply as stories of complex human beings, seeking purpose, connection, and community. If you find love, magic, and adventure, consider it a bonus.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Monday, May 22, 2017 - 15:00

OK, so I have to confess that the main reason I own a copy of this book was that I went to a book release party for it at a local bookstore and felt  embarrassed not to buy a copy. So my copy is personally inscribed!

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Full citation: 

Conner, Randy P., David Hatfield Sparks, & Mariya Sparks. 1997. Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Lore. Cassell, London. ISBN 0-304-33760-9

Publication summary: 

An encyclopedia of persons, vocabulary, and concepts relevant to queer spirituality.

The is intended to be an encyclopedic work of persons and concepts relating to the scope as stated in the title: “queer myth, symbol, and spirit[uality]”. It begins with a set of overview summaries of attitudes towards gender/sexuality from various religious and spiritual traditions. While the history of religion is not a specialty of mine, my sense of these overviews is that they are fairly simplistic and perhaps overly optimistic regarding positive attitudes towards variant gender and sexuality. There’s also a significant amount of lumping unlike things together in the same discussion (e.g., “Ancient Near Eastern and Western Antiquity” which pretty much combines all of pre-Christian Europe and the Near East in a single discussion). As the book is aimed at modern spiritual experiences, there is perhaps an understandable focus on fairly recent attitudes and philosophies. For example, the discussion of “goddess Reverence” is primarily concerned with later 20th century neo-paganism and related movements.

The bulk of the book is an alphabetic encyclopedia with entries of variable length on persons (both historic and mythic), concepts, and symbols with queer spiritual significance.

The scope of the work is enormous and ambitious, but is weakened somewhat by a lack of references and sources for most material. While this may be of small import for significant cultural figures and concepts, it makes further research and contextualization difficult or impossible for less familiar items. As a random example, there is an entry for “Alfhild (fl. tenth century CE), the daughter of a Gothic king who cross-dressed and participated in Viking raids and fought alongside her shieldmaiden and comrade-lover Groa.” The entry does not point the reader to the literary source (Saxo Grammaticus), is misleading in identifying the cultural context as “Viking,” and simply wrong in identifying the figure as 10th century. All of this together makes it harder to evaluate the context in which she is described as having a female “comrade-lover”. These sorts of flaws make it hard for me to have confidence in the accuracy of the entries for cultures I’m less familiar with. I’m also wary of the encyclopedia’s tendency to describe cultural concepts on non-temporal terms, creating an implication of timelessness rather than identifying a specific historic and cultural context in which they developed.

There is a general bibliography, but the sources listed don’t increase my confidence in the material. (It has long been a basic principle of mine that any piece of research that cites Barbara Walker’s The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets is not to be relied on for factual information.) One useful feature is a thematic index that groups entry names by cultural origins or motif (e.g., “African and African-Diasporic Traditions” or “Alchemy, Divination, Magic”).

Given that the purpose of this Project is to point to useful source material for authors who want historically accurate inspiration for fiction, I hesitate to endorse this work even as a source of inspiration and brainstorming, due to my concerns about the accuracy and lack of context, especially for marginalized cultures. If, for example, one wanted to write a queer story set in the 18th century involving Native American spirituality, I have little confidence that this book would be a good resource.

Monday, May 22, 2017 - 07:00

By delightful coincidence Claudie Arseneault's book Viral Airwaves is not only a November 2016 release (for the 2nd edition) but will be on sale this week. Check Claudie's blog for details.

Henry Schmitt wants nothing more than a quiet life and a daily ration of instant noodles. At least until he learns the terrible secret that drove his father away—the Plague that killed his mother and ravaged his country was created by those now in power. He has one chance to help expose the conspiracy: a ragtag band of rebels needs a pilot for their hot air balloon, where they can launch a broadcast revealing the truth. If Henry accepts, he can experience his dream of flight. But he would have to leave his safe, tranquil life behind … and bring the wrath of a corrupt government upon his head.

I'm always delighted when I have an opportunity to promote the work of writers who are also fans of the Alpennia books. Claudie featured the series several month ago in her occasional twitter series #indiemanche (it's a bilingual pun) that promotes the work of indie authors and creators. She has also created a database for science fiction and fantasy with characters on the asexual and aromantic spectrums.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that--like the third Alpennia novel, Mother of Souls--may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017 - 09:44

One of the awkward things about re-booting November books is that several of them have been clearly marketed for the December holiday season. I decided to slip this novella by Tansy Rayner Roberts in anyway and do a two-fer by also mentioning the novel it's linked to, Musketeer Space (even though that isn't a November release). Gender-swapped musketeers in space? If that sounds like your catnip, this was written for you.

It’s festival time on Paris Satellite: a seven day whirl of drunken bets, poor decision-making, religious contemplation and tinsel. But mostly, poor decision-making.

Porthos and Athos aren’t going to sleep together, no matter what Aramis says. Aramis isn’t going to marry her girlfriend, Minister Chevreuse, which probably means they’re breaking up. Athos is not prepared to be visited by the ghost of his dead husband. Oh, and the Duchess of Buckingham is totally not going to hook up with the Prince Consort thereby causing an interplanetary diplomatic disaster… right?

When a group of “festive terrorists” start inflicting traditions from a very different midwinter festival on the space station via nano-virus, the Musketeers and the Red Guard are expected to work together to protect Paris Satellite. This isn’t going to end well.

Joyeux is the prequel novella to Musketeer Space, an epic gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers.

And here's the blurb for Musketeer Space itself:

“I haven’t got a blade. I haven’t got a ship. I washed out of the Musketeers. If this is your idea of honour, put down the swords and I’ll take you on with my bare hands.” 

Dana D'Artagnan longs for a life of adventure as a Musketeer pilot in the Royal Fleet on Paris Satellite. When her dream crashes and burns, she gains a friendship she never expected, with three of the city's most infamous sword-fighting scoundrels: the Musketeers known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Even as a mecha grunt, Dana has a knack for getting into trouble. She pushes her way into a dangerous political conspiracy involving royal scandals, disguised spaceships, a tailor who keeps getting himself kidnapped, and a seductive spy with far too many secrets.

With the Solar System on the brink of war, Dana is given a chance to prove herself once and for all. But is it worth becoming a Musketeer if she has to sacrifice her friends along the way?

Adventures and duels and intrigues and the long, complex process of disparate personalities coming together to form a bond that goes beyond friendship! That was one of the atmospheres I wanted to evoke when I began writing the Alpennia series. My women lean more heavily toward intellectual duels and philosophical challenges, but there are still a scattering of swordfights, daring rescues, and breathless escapes. In Mother of Souls the stakes go beyond battles of honor to put the fate of Europe in play. And who would think that a composer's hidden mystical talents would prove the key?

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017 - 14:40

Every once in a while, I see a movie because I don't feel like sitting in traffic. I was feeling rather dragged out yesterday after work, and even after my gym workout the traffic app showed red most of the way home, so I pulled up a movie app to see what was showing in the Berkeley/Emeryville area. Not feeling the love for the latest SFF releases, but one of the local art-house type theaters had an intriguing listing for A Quiet Passion, about 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson and starring Cynthia Nixon (as Emily) and Jennifer Ehle (as her sister Lavinia). Well, that sounded like a winner, with the bonus of comfy chairs and a bar-cafe in addition to the usual popcorn stand. How could I lose? Well...

Now it is true that Dickinson's life was not exactly a story of fame, fortune, and glorious literary and personal triumph. She had chronic physical and psychological conditions that overshadowed her entire adult life, including bouts of depression triggered by the deaths of friends and mentors, something akin to agoraphobia, and chronic physical conditions that may have included epilepsy. Her mother was chronically ill for most of Emily's adult life. But this film seems to take delight in emphasizing the miseries and anti-social aspects of Dickinson's life and to downplay her intellectual achievements. We see only a couple glimpses of praise and interest in her poetry from the men (always men) whose respect she desires, and a great deal of minimizing and mean-spirited taunting about it, particularly from her brother Austin.

While the movie passively gives a good depiction of how gender-segregated the social life of an unmarried woman of that era was, it comes close to entirely erasing the elements of romantic friendship that thread through her correspondence and poetry. Her intense friendship with her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert, supported through a voluminous correspondence, is reduced to a quiet confession from Susan that her marriage is troubled by her aversion to sex, later followed by Emily's angry reaction to her brother's extra-marital affair. This version of Emily's story takes the version where her singlehood (in addition to being motivated by her quirks of personality) was due to unhappy attachments to various unavailable men, or to older mentor/father-figures, and to a preoccupation with what she considered to be her physical unattractiveness. (I am agnostic on the question of Dickinson's self-understanding of her affections, but the erasure of the close relationship with Susan Gilbert is not forgivable.)

As the movie progresses (and it runs for slightly over two hours and you feel every minute of that) a combination of moody music, gloomy candlelit settings, long scenes of illness and affliction, and constant bickering interactions with her siblings make you feel that Dickinson as well as the viewer must have been longing for the release of the closing credits.

Pros: Excerpts from Dickinson's poetry are used to good effect in communicating mood and setting. The costuming looks pretty solid, although there were a few outfits that looked badly fitted in the upper torso. Cynthia Nixon does an excellent job of inhabiting the role of Emily DIckinson as depicted in this script.

Cons: The movie makes you wonder why everyone in the 19th century didn't just take to their beds and embrace oblivion in order to get all this dreary business of existence out of the way and move on to salvation. This is the most depressing movie I've seen in a long time, and that includes Lost and Delirious which is so evil I think no one should ever watch it again.

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