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.
When I set out to write The Wheel of Misfortune (Best Indie Speculative Fiction, Volume One), I asked myself what if one of the spirits of Japanese folklore who punish the wicked came after Dr. Harrington? How could the hero of my Kyoto Steampunk series possibly be wicked? This was a great opportunity to explore the early days of Dr. Harrington’s career as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. A serious error in judgment comes back to haunt Dr. Harrington ten years later in the form of the wanyudo, the Soul Eater.
Some people think plotting your story before writing it takes all the spontaneity and adventure out of the process. I disagree. I need at least some idea of where I want to go, if only for that day’s writing. I need a target to focus my aim and build momentum. There’s still a whole lot of adventure to be had just getting from one end to the other in a single scene.
When I began writing fiction, the how-to book that gave me the best advice suggested completing a first draft, then literally cutting apart and pasting together chunks of text. That seems ridiculous now in the age of Scrivener and Evernote. I’m a hands-on kind of person. Crafting provides me with much-needed occupational therapy. This tendency has led me to rely on scene cards for building plots for my longer projects.
Time This can be the century, the year, the season, the hour, whatever you need.
Place Where does this scene occur? You can be as general as galaxy or as specific as a patch of sand on the beach.
Point Of View (POV) Which character’s head is the reader inside? Change of time and/or place requires a scene break. The same is true for a change of POV.
Goal What does the POV want to accomplish during this scene? This can also be whatever the POV wants to avoid doing.
Opposition What prevents the POV from achieving the scene goal? Another character? A natural disaster?
Inciting Incident This is also referred to as the Problem Situation, the change in the POV’s life that sets the story in motion.
Resolution How does the scene end? Is the goal achieved?
Disaster This is one word for the end of scene hook, the twist that raises the stakes and heightens tension and suspense. This is what will keep your reader turning pages.
I find using 4 x 6 notecards gives me the most flexibility when it comes to lining up scenes in different ways. Wondering where to put that exposition? Trying to figure out where a flashback won’t ruin your pace? Scene cards are your friend. Scrivener provides something similar, but I can tolerate only so much screen time. Notecards don’t put you at risk for the dangers of digital eyestrain.
It’s OK if you can’t fill in all the info on every card right away. Story ideas evolve. That’s part of the fun, and another big advantage of scene cards. You can create several variations on the same scene card. Play around with the possibilities. Be sure to keep the cards you don’t use. You never know when those ideas might come in handy!
“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com
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’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve 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 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, 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.
There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there. People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms. When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.
The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves. Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.
Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop. Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards. The Stage contains not a single nail. Wooden pegs were used instead.
In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos. The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time. Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire. Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!
This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction. I stood at the corner on the center left.
There are several shrines on the temple grounds. This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth. I love those fox figurines. Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.
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.
Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition. The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers. A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine. The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.
Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree. Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it. We didn’t understand that at the time. Now we do!
The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people. I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji. Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world. Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them. Still not sure what that was all about.
Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings. On the far right, wisdom. In the center, long life. On the left, success in scholarship. I meant to drink from the water of longevity. Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead. I suspect that’s probably what I really need!
Soon it was time to head back down the mountain. This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.
I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning. Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list. If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka. We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick. Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa. I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.
It’s taken me more time than usual to recover from the wonders of BayCon. This year’s amazing spectacle had so much going on I wanted to be in at least two different places in every time slot. Here are the highlights of one of the better con weekends I’ve enjoyed.
How diverse is diversity?
Gregg Castro (Salinan T’rowt’raahl) (M), Dr. yvonne white (Hayward High School), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Jean Battiato
I added another layer to the definition of diversity by speaking for those who have disabilities, whether physical or psychological. While some physical disabilities are obvious and others are not, most psychological problems are not immediately apparent. Thanks to the expanding realm of neurodiversity, more and more people are aware of the prevalence of autism, of clinical depression, of chronic pain, and other conditions that create daily challenges on several levels.
John wanted to attend this event. He’s been drawing for years and has taken at least two ceramics classes in school. Now he’s interested in learning how to tell a good story to go along with his illustrations and sculptures. Margaret did a wonderful job of explaining the techniques of oral storytelling. There was a young lady present as well. Margaret encouraged both John and this young lady to use their own original characters as part of practicing the techniques she discussed. I am delighted to say I learned quite a lot also! Margaret’s techniques came in very handy for the Spontaneous Storytelling panel on Sunday.
Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature.
Kevin Andrew Murphy (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen
I have written and published three stories with Kevin and one (so far) with Pat. We all have extensive libraries on folklore and shapeshifters, so we took the audience on a round-the-world tour of the beliefs and manifestations of the “werewolf” tradition.When we three are together, you will hear some of the weirdest facts and fancies you could imagine!
Panelists developing a story developed by multiple choice suggestions from audience members.
Jeff is brilliant. Get somebody who was in the audience for this panel to tell you about the illustrations he drew while the story evolved, most notably The Harmonicat. This critter has now entered into the annals of A Shot Rang Out folklore right up there with Darth Tetra. I found a way for our protagonist to speak Japanese to the cat. David Brin picked right up on that and easily blew my tourist doors off with his accent and much better grammar. Mark Gelineau caught some of the stranger audience suggestions and turned them to his advantage. A good time was had by all!
The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart
Dorothy Parker wrote “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” Being willing to do exactly that is what will bring the deepest meaning to our writing. How do we bring ourselves to be that honest and vulnerable in our stories?
Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), Ms. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Book View Café)
It’s not easy to talk about one’s creative process, but the three of us gave it a solid try. Jay described how the combination of his acting training and his directing skills help him render authentic emotion on the page. Maya gave us some very personal insights into how she transforms personal pain into dynamic action in her stories. Me? I keep digging deeper and deeper into the hearts of my characters to find the pain that drives them onward, that won’t let them sleep, that gives them strength in the face of crushing opposition. Pain is supposed to be Nature’s way of telling us to stop doing something. For writers, it’s what keeps us writing.
I am delighted to announce the release of Next Stop on the #13, the fourth steampunk anthology featuring stories by the authors of Clockwork Alchemy.
In The Badger Epidemic, Dr. Harrington is forced to ride a train bound for Osaka through a region afflicted by a cholera epidemic. The Japanese workers needed for building the railways and telegraph lines believe the cholera is spread by the new technology from the West. The British officials insist Dr. Harrington ride the train and prove the superstition is nonsense.
What awaits Dr. Harrington out in the darkness on those lonely train tracks is a danger even greater than the threat of cholera itself.
It’s time to clean up the NaNoWriMo novel. I have several intense scenes, some good action, and two or three potential plotlines. How do I clean this up? Where do I start?
First, I have to finish typing in all the handwritten material created during my coffeehouse marathons. That allows me a certain amount of editing, but mostly I just want to get all of the manuscript on disk. It’s comforting, really. I hadn’t realized just how much I did write and from so many different characters’ points of view.
Second, I need to figure out who the hero of my story is. Since this is meant to be a Kyoto Steampunk novel, the obvious choice would be Dr. William Harrington, main character of all but two of the seven short stories in the series. Who changes the most over the course of the story? Is it Dr. Harrington, or is it his daughter Madelaine?
(Yes, I did say seven. The latest Kyoto Steampunk short story, The Badger Epidemic, will appear in Next Stop on the #13, available at Clockwork Alchemy 2019!)
At the Night of Writing Dangerously, we all received tote bags which included a copy of Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody. This book is God’s gift to the novel writer, thanks to Ms. Brody’s skill at breaking down and explaining in detail the fifteen story beats that are essential to a strong, successful story. Given what Ms. Brody demonstrates, I know I face crucial questions in sifting through my roughdraft to find the moments that match some or all of those fifteen story beats.
Having done a bit of flailing around while I did my best to achieve my daily word quota, I’ve written a lot of material that could take the story in at least half a dozen directions. Lining up the scenes I’ve written in something approximating chronological order should point the way toward further complications and rising action. While I often work from plot outlines, this time I’ve been extrapolating from the events occurring in the Kyoto steampunk short stories. The consequences of some of those events are now catching up with Dr. Harrington, Madelaine, Constance, and Nurse Danforth.
The novel length has allowed me to introduce new characters, three human and three non-human. The humans are members of the British expatriate society in Kyoto, all of whom have some degree of power to affect the course of Dr. Harrington’s stay. Of the three non-human characters, two are earthly gods while the third is a monster of uncertain provenance. There are few things I enjoy more than squeezing poor Dr. Harrington between the pressures of Victorian social etiquette and the unfamiliar rules that govern the gods and monsters of Japan.
Third? I don’t know what will happen next. I’m just as excited to find out as I hope my readers will be!
Two of my stories have found new homes which are now available.
In The Power Behind The Throne, Ti Song, Celestial Lady, First Daughter of the Emperor, longs for more than tea, embroidery, and a secluded life. When she discovers the secret of her brother’s success in battle, she knows it’s the key to her freedom.
The Wheel of Misfortune has suddenly appeared on the streets of Kyoto, chasing Dr. William Harrington with lethal intent. With the help of the Abbot of Kiyomizudera, Dr. Harrington must go back to the early days of his career as a physician and right a wrong that has haunted him for ten long years.
This year I dedicated my A to Z posts to exploring the world of my Kyoto Steampunk series. I made some valuable discoveries as I worked my way through the alphabet, some creative, some more on the practical side.
Take a step sideways. A short story is by its nature limited in length. Every detail needs to be an essential detail. Once you get into a series of short stories, you have to keep developing those details, adding depth, bringing new information. Fujita-san is a regular character in the series, but the reader has so far never seen him outside of his function as Dr. Harrington’s translator. Devoting a post to Fujita-san’s background and qualifications made me think through aspects of his character that no story had yet required. That will greatly enrich Fujita-san’s next appearance.
Be sure to link your posts to other related posts. As the A to Z Challenge progressed, each additional blog post I wrote became an active link that expanded on references made in previous posts, and vice versa. It made for extra work, but it also gave me a wonderful sense of providing a more three dimensional experience. People who read the posts could chase the links back and forth, gathering lots of information and insights into how and why I’m writing the Kyoto Steampunk series.
Avoid the obvious, but keep in mind what’s popular. Some of the more difficult letters required brainstorming before I chose the topic I thought most useful and most entertaining. There were more Japanese words I might have used, but less is more in that regard. The Kyoto Steampunk series is about a British expatriate family living in Kyoto during Japan’s Industrial Revolution, facing difficulties both social and supernatural. I didn’t want to narrow the focus to Japan itself.
Reveal your process. This is where I really had the most fun. I’m always interested to learn how other creative people go about making their art. To be able to talk about how I made certain choices and why this or that story element is important to me gave me plenty of satisfaction. Just telling the story about how the character of Julie Rose came to be made a lot of people laugh!
Stay at least five days ahead. Absolutely essential. Some people manage to get all of their posts written before the challenge even starts. I stand in awe of such organization. Me, I need some pressure to do my best work. I also need breathing room. Staying five days ahead lets me stay relaxed while enjoying the daily challenge of each letter. It also means I have more time to go visit the people who visit me, along with roaming around chasing links to new blogs.
And now, my favorite blogs from the 2018 A to Z Challenge!
Sarah Zama is an amazing writer, author of Give In To The Feeling. Last year she wrote about noir films, one of my favorite subjects. This year her posts about the Weimar Republic opened my eyes to a cultural revolution that was just a name in the history books.
Bernie Violet is a hoot. Her posts are written like bullet lists, providing bare dialogue back and forth between Bernie and one of her family or friends. You can hear the lovely Irish lilt that is authentic, not just some writer trying to fabricate a dialect. What’s more, Bernie’s sense of humor never fails to make me laugh.
For variety, entertainment, enlightenment, and laughter, you can’t do better. The sense of community there is strong and supportive. Go and sample some of the delights of this smorgasbord. You’ll be glad you did!
A time travel story with each letter of the alphabet being an entry in the mission guidebook. This is an exciting adventure with a unique style and some splendid graphics. I’ll have to read it again, now that I’ve gotten a better grip on the story!
Every letter of the alphabet takes you to a new location. Every location is the setting for short piece of fiction that is rich and compelling. Some of the stories made me cry, partly from sorrow and partly from just how touching they were. Iain Kelly’s writing style is strong, admirable, and a pleasure to read.
Paula Bardell-Hedley is a reviewer from Wales who keeps up with an impressive amount of reading. I’m impressed by the organization of her blog and the sheer volume of information she provides. Stop by and discover a treasure house for book lovers!
Zaibatsu means “financial clique.” When the Tokugawa Shogunate was in its last days, a few far-sighted samurai families positioned themselves to take the best advantage of the changing political and financial landscape.
With the help of key Western advisors such as Thomas Blake Glover, “the Scotsman who built Japan,” these families were the leaders in Japan’s Industrial Revolution. That some of these family names are familiar right now in the 21st Century is a testament to the success of their business strategies.
The zaibatsu form the backdrop against which my Kyoto Steampunk series take place. Just as fairies don’t like cold iron, the yokai of Japan resent the presence of steel and concrete. So much of the natural splendor of Japan has been destroyed thanks to the greed of industrialists.
Thank you for joining me during the A to Z Blog Challenge for 2018. I hope you’ve found every letter both informative and entertaining. There is so much to know about Japan, yokai, and all the historical factors at work during the Meiji Restoration. I can’t wait to write the next story!
The baku, otherwise known as the ‘dream eater’, is a mythological being or spirit in Chinese and Japanese folklore which is said to devour nightmares. The baku cannot be summoned without caution, however, as ancient legends say that if the baku is not satisfied after consuming the nightmare, he may also devour one’s hopes and dreams.
This is the Kawataguruma, a tormented naked woman riding on the wheel of an ox cart that’s ablaze. If this reminds you of the wanyudo, you’re right. Apparently the Wheel Monk has a female counterpart who rolls around collecting impure souls and putting curses on people.
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.