I am delighted to announce the appearance of my new short story To Reach For The Stars in JEWELS OF DARKOVER, the latest anthology set in the Darkover universe. The anthology is now available for pre-order in both ebook. The trade paperback edition will become available on the release date, May 2, 2023.
Appearing in this anthology marks a new milestone in my writing career. Way back when I was in high school, I read BRISINGAMEN by Diana L. Paxson. “The gift of an ancient necklace, the legendary Brisingamen, gives Karen Ingold the extraordinary powers of the goddess Freyia and leads her into a perilous confrontation with the evil Loki.” I’d already been a big fan of sword & sorcery, so this blew my mind. This novel introduced me to the genre now known as urban fantasy. I wrote a fan letter to Diana Paxson. Much to my astonishment and joy, she replied with a kind and gracious note on stationery that featured a pen and ink drawing of Hildisvini, Frejya’s boar or “battle swine.”
Years later, after I’d begun to publish my own fantasy stories, I had the honor and the pleasure of appearing alongside Diana Paxson on panels at SF/F conventions.
Now, almost forty years after reading BRISINGAMEN, I’m proud to say my story To Reach For The Stars appears on the same Table of Contents with Fire Seed by Diana L. Paxson.
I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.
Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.
I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these adventures from my strange and busy life.
I want to thank everybody who has been kind enough to drop by, to leave a comment, to post a link that took me to some great blogs. I had to miss out on the Challenge for a couple of years. I am so glad to be back. The A to Z Blog Challenge rocks!
I write these posts late at night. Now I’m going to put on my fuzzy pajamas, curl up under the covers, and get some sleep.
The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Take love, for example. I don’t know much more about what love really is than I did when I was in elementary school. For me, love started out being this big exalted dream of perfect happiness, perfect harmony, and total devotion to each other. I think I got that from reading fairy tales. (Disney movies also have a lot to answer for.) Then I listened to what older girls said about their boyfriends. I got the impression that having a boyfriend was one of those Rules for Living that showed everybody else you knew what you were doing.
One night when I was nineteen years old, it was so bitterly cold my body heat wasn’t enough to warm up the sheets and blankets. I lay there alone, shivering and miserable, thinking if only I had boyfriend. If only I could find a boyfriend to keep me warm, inside and out. The intense desire to avoid another night like that one prompted me to do some pretty stupid things. As I look back at that cold night from the perspective of fifty-plus years, I can see that I could have saved myself all kinds of trouble if I’d just bought an electric blanket.
Ever since I met my first crush when I was in the grade, I thought the right guy was the solution to all my needs and problems. I don’t know how I got this idea. It must have been all those fairy tales, because I certainly didn’t learn it from my family. My grandparents got divorced twice and married three times. (It’s true. I have photos of two of the weddings.) My parents divorced when I was eleven. My older sister never has married. My brother had to divorce his first wife. Why on earth did I think attaching myself to some boy who probably had even less of a clue than I did would somehow result in that magical state called “true love”?
When I was on the debate team in college, the first rule was “Define your terms.” That way both the Affirmative and the Negative teams knew exactly what the Affirmative team meant by the resolution being debated. When it comes to the search for love, I think the same rule should apply. After all, the statement “I love you” can have several different meanings and those meanings often depend on context. Matchmakers, dating services, and our best friends all ask the same question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” This is where it starts to get really complicated. Does the resulting list of characteristics represent the idealized image of the person whom you want to fall in love with? Or does it represent the person whom you want to fall in love with you? Are you really looking for a healthy relationship based on mutual give and take, or are you looking for a human transitional object that will soothe your insecurities and pay for your evening entertainment?
At this point in my life, I can see that wanting this perfect person to fall in love with me meant more than just having a boyfriend so I could go out on dates. It meant proving to the world that I had achieved the ultimate validation, the concrete emotional evidence that I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t the last person chosen during schoolyard games. I wasn’t cold, alone, and miserable anymore. That’s what I hoped. Life hasn’t worked out that way.
Right now there’s all that Easter candy out there on the shelves. Most of it is chocolate. As adults, we know which brands are better than others. We know how to compare them and get the most value for our money. This skill comes from time, maturity, and a lot of taste-testing. Kids are different. When it comes to chocolate, kids don’t care. In the Dollar Tree you can find the phrase “chocolate-flavored” on many of the Easter items. There’s no actual cacao, just a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some people. In the quest for love, some of us who crave True Love, the Real Thing, can become so desperate they will settle for the off-brands that are cheap, flashy, and artificial. It’s so hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix that will silence those nagging cravings and insecurities. It took me a while to learn the importance of patience, of saving up for the quality chocolate and the quality people.
My mother had her opinions about my boyfriends. When I was in middle school and awash in all kinds of hormonal angst over whether or not I’d ever get a boyfriend, Mom said I was “boy crazy.” Accurate, if not all that flattering or sympathetic. Years later, after I’d graduated high school and had spent some adventurous years working the Renaissance Faires, Mom managed to sum up both the quality and the quantity of my efforts to find love: “Well, at least you won’t wonder what you might have missed out on.” Once again, neither flattering nor all that sympathetic. Thanks, Mom.
So now that I’m a woman of a certain age, do I really know any more about love than when I first started dating boys? I’ve been married for thirty-four years come July, but that’s less of a testament to romantic love than to maintaining a stable home life for my sons. In a world of uncertainties, I know three things for sure: I love my sons, I love my cats, and I love really good dark chocolate.
If you’re interested in experiencing the wonders of both ancient and modern Japan, then you must visit Kyoto. I live in California. It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get me from my home to the hotel in Kyoto. Does that sound exhausting? It was, but what I found in Kyoto made it all worthwhile.
It’s huge and beautiful. In addition to the train station, you’ll find a theater, two malls, a museum, a bus station, a 540-room hotel, and at least two dozen restaurants. Kyoto Station has its own zip code. No wonder! It’s a city unto itself.
There’s always someone ready to help, both official and everyday folks. At Kyoto Station they’re used to helping foreigners find their way around. Many of the taxi drivers are eager to practice their English language skills.
The clerk at my hotel (across the street) assured me I could find whatever I wanted inside Kyoto Station, and she was right. Isetan Department Store, free wifi, even a yen store, which is the equivalent of our Dollar Tree.
A train ride and a short hike brought us to the Imperial Gardens that are part of the Palace Grounds. We had made a reservation for one of the tours given in English. The Imperial Household Agency runs these tours. We were directed to arrive twenty minutes ahead of time at a specific outer gate. There we found something of a staging area in the form of a gift shop with tables outside and the usual array of vending machines offering a variety of drinks.
Toei Kyoto Studio Tour
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is not an amusement park in the sense we Americans understand it, i.e. a lot of carnival rides that will make you want to throw up. Instead, it’s living history much like the Renaissance Faire. The actors I spoke to knew their history and were more than happy to pose for photos. I consider this adventure to be one of the high points of my visit to Kyoto.
Toei Studios is behind quite a diverse selection of entertainment, including Battle Royale, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, the origin of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In the 1950s, samurai movies were hugely popular, as proven by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, just to name a few.
The park also features a Haunted House. I avoid haunted house attractions because they’re usually more gory than scary. When Pat suggested going through the Haunted House, I had to do it. After all, Japanese ghosts and monsters are very different from the frights we find in the West. First stop: the Haunted Forest. I knew there was a person in the trees off to my left. It must have been a woman, to judge from the creepy ululating cry. That distracted me just enough so I didn’t see the tree until it started to fall on me. Well, that got the adrenalin pumping. I’m just going to come right out and admit I was so scared I could hardly make myself keep moving forward. By the time I got to the room where all the dolls had bleeding eyes, I was ready to run for it.
In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true. I致e been a lot of places and I致e seen a lot of things, and I致e written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in the Later series of anthologies from Clockwork Alchemy, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.
The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.
Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in Donnie Darko a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.
I apologize for the delay in posting. Today I received my first cortisone shot in my right knee. It was a bit of an ordeal. Thank you for your patience.
FINAGLING THE FUTURE
I was raised Roman Catholic. When it came time for my Confirmation, I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Confirmation meant making a commitment to act as an adult according to the Church’s dogma and practices. I told my mother I did not believe what the Roman Catholic Church taught, mainly because I couldn’t reconcile the contradictions between this God of love and mercy I kept hearing about and the really scary people who served him. In my parish, we had several fire and brimstone Irish Catholic priests, the kind with silvery hair and brick red faces who never smiled. We had nuns, too, the old-fashioned kind in the proper habits with veils and their skirts worn below the knee. For some reason I never understood, those nuns were replaced by an order of nuns who wore what looked like ’50s twin sets in beige polyester with skirts to match and no head covering at all. One of these “modern nuns” taught my afterschool class (Sunday school on a weekday afternoon). She was more like a social worker than an actual nun. (She talked like a lawyer, which makes sense given how legalistic the Roman Catholic Church tends to be.) This drove me even farther away from the Church. I needed to find a source of spiritual growth that didn’t send so many mixed signals.
Mom let me off the hook for Confirmation, but she didn’t give me any ideas about filling the sudden void in my spiritual life. Chaucer said an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. He must must have known a few teenagers. I had an active mind, a strong curiosity, and a love of reading, so I started looking into subjects much better left alone. Back then I liked to watch horror movies, classics featuring Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. I wanted to know where the filmmakers got their ideas for the monsters, sorcery, and strange occult organizations. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Lucky for me, my Holy Guardian Angel kept a lifeline attached to my silly soul and hauled me out of danger more than once.
I mention all this to give you a context for what I was like when I plunged into the world of divination, or fortunetelling. A lot of those scary movies I’d been watching featured curses, omens, and ancient artifacts, even items that could help foretell the future. So I rushed right out and bought myself a Tarot deck. Even in this new hobby I was very much a traditionalist, because I bought the deck created by Arthur Edward Waite along with his book on interpretation. Waite was a member of at least one of the occult organizations very prominent at the turn of the century when spiritualism was all the rage among the intelligentsia. The enormous popularity of séances, table-tapping, and Ouija boards, prompted professional illusionists such as the great Houdini to debunk the frauds. I’ve met a lot of people who have really wanted to believe they were psychic. A lot of them just wanted their dreams to be real. The problem with that kind of thinking is, you can’t just have the good dreams be real. The nightmares are part of the deal too.
When I was in high school I worked in community theater as a stage or lighting technician. That meant I got to hang around backstage, be part of the magic of a live performance, and go to the cast parties. The show onstage was nothing compared to what I’d see at the cast party afterward. At one of these parties I brought along my Tarot deck and set myself up in a corner. This was not a smart idea. Trying to peer into the mysteries of the Infinite for people who are drunk and/or wasted on recreational drugs does not end well. Divination should not be treated like a party game, like one more neat thing to do after you have your face painted. But there I was, sixteen years old and so sure I knew what I was doing.
A few people came to have readings done. The only one I remember clearly is the one I hope I never forget. An older woman wanted to ask the cards a question about a problem involving her daughter. I don’t recall the problem. I worked my way through the cards I’d dealt, watching the woman for her reactions. Fool that I was, I let my eagerness to please color what I saw in the cards and how I expressed it. The woman went away quite pleased, with a smile that seemed a little too broad. I was bright enough to spot that, but totally blind to what caused it.
A man who’d been sitting nearby watching me do readings asked me if I understood what I’d just done. By his tone I could tell he thought I didn’t know. He pointed out to me the way the older woman asked the question indicated she’d already decided what her daughter should do. I worked so hard for her approval that I totally missed the trap. I’d given that woman the answer she wanted. Now she’d go to her daughter and tell her daughter what she should do. If the daughter had other ideas, the older woman could back up her own opinion with the authority of my Tarot reading. I had given the older woman power she perhaps should not have gained. By doing so I might have set in motion events that would lead to a place that the daughter did not want to go, creating friction and hidden resentments and who knows what other emotional and spiritual damage. The man who explained all this to me wanted me to understand that I had no clue how much responsibility went along with presenting myself as any kind of fortuneteller. He was right. Even now, forty years later, I still feel ashamed for being so arrogant and ignorant.
When I was in first grade, if I came near a body of water larger than a puddle, I would fall in. Kiddie pools. Duck ponds. A bucket of water beside a neighbor’s half-washed car.
This is one big reason I learned to swim quite early in life.
Fast forward to my senior year in high school. Anywhere I went, from a friend’s house to a public restaurant, if there was a vessel of water (vase, drinking glass, finger bowl)within ten feet of me, somebody would find a way to knock it over and I’d get soaked.
I never did the spilling. I did not touch the water until the water touched me. My family thought I was cursed. Seemed like a pretty feeble curse to me, but it just kept happening, too often to be mere coincidence.
Mind you, all of that had to do with fresh water. I had no trouble at all at the beach, aside from being convinced there was a monster way down deep in the dark water that was just waiting to grab me and drag me under.
The technical term for this is thalassaphobia. I built an entire story around this condition by giving it to the main character in Dark Water.
At one point I wanted to become a marine biologist. Few things made me happier than starting my school day down at the beach with my science teacher, measuring the waves or looking for specimens in the wetlands. Unfortunately, at some point in any career involving on biology, one must dissect a cat. For me, that would be unbearable.
Water plays an important role in a number of my stories:
For my birthday one year my mother paid an astrologer to cast my natal chart. Turns out my Moon is in Pisces. I don’t pay much attention to astrology except when I’m creating characters. I did find this particular piece of information interesting. It seems people who have their Moon in Pisces are often creative, artistic, and might also have an addictive personality. Makes me wonder to what extent this might be true, and whether or not it has affected my writing.
I am honored and delighted to announce that my story The Katana Matrix will appear in the upcoming Darkover anthology Citadels of Darkover due out in May. Many thanks to editor Deborah Ross.
In The Katana Matrix, Nakatomi Madoka discovers the Comyn lord who hired her to rescue his cousin from bandits is after something else.. If Madoka can’t stop the rogue Comyn and keep what he wants out of his hands, he could destroy Darkover.
The stories you can look forward to reading include:
By Evey Brett
By Steven Harper
By Marella Sands THE KATANA MATRIX By Lillian Csernica
By Diana L. Paxson
By Leslie Fish
By Jane M. H. Bigelow
THE DRAGON HUNTER
By Robin Rowland
FISH NOR FOWL
By Rebecca Fox
DARK AS DAWN
By Robin Wayne Bailey
CITADEL OF FEAR
By Barb Caffrey
THE JUDGMENT OF WIDOWS
By Shariann Lewitt
To appear on the same Table of Contents with Diana L. Paxson is a dream come true. When I was in high school, I read Diana’s novel Brisingamen, a contemporary fantasy novel centering around Freya’s magical necklace. I was blown away by the story, the historical detail, and the excellent prose. Back then we sent fan letters the old fashioned way by snail mail. Much to my surprise, Diana replied! Using a notecard with a drawing of Gullinbursti, Diana thanked me most graciously.
Right now I’m looking forward to the cover reveal for Citadels of Darkover. The cover art for the previous anthologies in the series has been great, so this one should be wonderful as well!
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.