Is it safe?

So in case you were wondering the consequences of not going to the dentist in over five years — apparently none at all. I’ll probably get cavities now that he sanded off that protective layer of plaque. I should have waited and made it an even decade


I’m nearly through the end of Season 1 of my La Femme Nikita re-watch. (The one with Peta Wilson, not the later incarnation.) It holds up ridiculously well and is even more bat-shit insane then I remembered.

A lot if had to do with their crappy budget. Except for the faked holographic screen in the nearly-meaningless briefings, they had no choice but to keep the forward-looking technology vague. The lack of cell phones is one of the only giveaways; that, and the diabolical incursions by crimped hair.

Watching it through again now – this is my third time – I’m paying more attention to the world and why it works so well for me. Last night it really struck me how brilliantly they took the concept of the unreliable narrator to dizzying, psychotic heights. You can’t trust anyone but Nikita. NO ONE. Not even poor tortured Michael.*

[Pointless spoiler alert for "MISSING"]
In last night’s episode, Operations shows up at Nikita’s apartment at 3:33 am (they showed the clock) in all his creepy, smirky glory, and tells Nikita that on the next mission her job is to keep one of the terrorists alive, and that she’s to tell no one. Of course Nikita, lethal fuzzy bunny that she still is, bless her, asks him why and actually expects an answer. Operations tells her that the guy is his son.

Now my daughter and I, who love to talk over this show, start wondering aloud if that’s really why Operations wants the guy alive? Because if it’s not – if there’s a less savory reason, like the guy is an “asset” – then that would be the perfect lie to tell Nikita. She’s shown time and time again that she responds to sentimentality more than anything else. What better way to manipulate her and then pull the rug out from under her later? So half an hour goes by and we’re still wondering what’s really going on, looking for little clues, developing theories. And then it turns out the guy really is his son.

That’s why this show was so effing brilliant. It’s impossible not to be instilled with the same sense of paranoia as Nikita herself. Even when the theory you’ve been nursing turns out to be wrong, you know you could just as easily have been right.

Another highlight of this episode is at the very end, when Nikita starts telling Operations about the secret recording she made of him and her plans to release it if he double-crossed her. Five words in and my daughter and I start yelling, “He’s going to pull the tape out and say, ‘You mean this tape?’” “Wait, it’s coming!” “He’s going to say it!” And then he did exactly that. Instead of groaning at the cliche we were delighted because it meant we had figured out something about the enigma that is Operations. It was intensely satisfying.

*I read or saw somewhere that Roy Dupuis’ choice to play the character as unrelentingly wooden appalled the director and the creators of the show but that he refused to do it any differently. It’s one of the boldest acting choices I have ever seen and goddammit if it doesn’t work brilliantly. Particularly delightful is when they cut to Michael for a “reaction” shot and he remains absolutely expressionless. Delicious.

About last night

Last night I drove out to New Jersey to spend the evening as the guest of the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County. I enjoyed myself tremendously: welcoming people, fantastic questions, thoughtful and interesting conversation.

Of all the topics that came up, the one that I find myself thinking about the most this morning revolved around a question that I was asked about my interests and experience in geekdom growing up and how that might have changed now that I’m a part of this community. The first part of the question kicked off such a lively discussion that we never even got to the second part.

My love of sf/f started with two nearly-simultaneous events: seeing Star Wars ep. IV and reading A Wrinkle in Time for what would be the first of many times. Everyone liked Star Wars; no problem there. The book was a class assignment, so nothing odd about that. But that’s about as far as acceptance went. As my interests grew and moved more towards the fringes, I learned to hide them if I didn’t want to be ridiculed, even by my own family.* I discovered Doctor Who by accident one Saturday afternoon on our local PBS station and watched it in secret from then on. It wasn’t until years later that I met other people who had even heard of the show. Likewise with Blake’s 7, Red Dwarf, the original Battlestar Galactic, Buck Rogers (practically unwatchable even then, but I managed it.) Children’s books from Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien (the Hobbit) were acceptable but books by Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper and Terry Brooks were “stupid.”

Around the beginning of high school I finally met some people who shared my interests but the climate was still very different than it is now. “Geek” and “nerd” were wholly derogatory; no one owned those words yet. We existed at the bottom of the social pecking order and as a girl, I felt on the edge even of my own group.

If you follow fandom on social media, you must be well aware of the women out there who are refusing to be excluded and marginalized and the very ugly places that can lead. As infuriating as it can be, there’s something wonderful about it, too. As a teen I couldn’t have imagined even knowing that so many women existed who loved what I loved and who had the courage to fight for inclusion. It would have profoundly changed the attitude with which I viewed my own gender, and meant I didn’t need to create a non-threatening version of myself to be accepted (or even tolerated) by geek boys.

So now, even when I see the behavior of idiots and misogynists out there on the interwebs, I see soldiers fighting on because they don’t know the war is already over. I see my geek/gamer girl and her little clique where gender is not an issue. Their passions have flooded into the mainstream. They’re not isolated. They’re not bullied, and consequently they don’t bully each other when they’re likes and dislikes don’t align. Max Rockatansky and Imperatur Furiousa defeated Immmortan Joe together, and Rey and Finn will save the galaxy in… 32 days.


Thanks to Phil De Parto and the entire group for an invigorating evening!

*I don’t believe there was anything malicious about it. Teasing was a big part of our family dynamic but this was something I loved and I was very sensitive about it.

My process

Here’s my process right now for STRIFE’S BANE:

1. Read description of chapter from outline.
2. Note all the ways the previous changes have made this useless and toss it out.
3. Work up new outline for chapter.
4. Write 50% of chapter.
5. Get stuck. Look at outline. Ask, “Why is this awesome?” Answer (invariably) “It’s not.”
6. Discover what’s not awesome about it.
7. Get new, totally awesome idea on how to fix it.
8. Take some time to calm down and resist urge to email editor so that genius can be recognized.
9. Rewrite first 50% while thinking, “Why did I spend four hours writing this shite?”
10. Take a break.
11. Write 45% of remaining 50%
12. Dither 1-2 hours on the best possible ending.
13. Decide to work on the ending later.
14. Repeat steps #1-14 a minimum of 45x.

I’m not quitting up my day job either

Lately a few brave authors have chosen to make their financial information public. Yesterday I read an excellent post from Kameron Hurley, which I invite you to read here:
What I get paid for my novels or why I’m not qutting my day job

I was lucky enough to start out without a lot of debt, but I might have got my writing career off to a quicker start if financial security hadn’t been such a high priority when I was younger. I don’t regret it now, although it took me some time to come to terms with the fact that I was that kind of person and not the free-spirited bohemian that a real writer is supposed to be. (Pro tip: That is total bull-crap.) As it turns out, I did myself a big favor by developing a legit career on the outside.

When I fell behind on the deadline for FORTUNE’S BLIGHT, I decided to take a month off from my day job to catch up. Because I’m technically a consultant now and working half-time, I can do things like that. It was a nightmare. First, I discovered that my brain can really only handle about four hours of writing at a time before it craps out, but I felt obliged to write for the full eight hours at least, and usually more. So every day included four+ hours of unproductive, frustrating, eye-straining and ultimately spirit-killing toil. By the end of the month I was a wreck and had no more to show for it than I would have if I had stayed the course. On top of that was the guilt that I had let my family down by not contributing to our income.

Another thing about full-time writing: it virtually sealed me off from the real world. Like many writers, my social life isn’t exactly a whirlwind and days would go by when I had no contact with anyone but my husband and daughter. I wasn’t receiving any outside stimulation or engaging with anything that might otherwise occupy my mind for a bit. I became obsessed with my WIP, very much to its detriment.

So, even if I could give up my day job, I’m not sure I would. It keeps me connected to the world and other people, and it provides me with little victories to boost me up when the WIP is kicking my ass – which is often. I may still dream about a little cabin in the woods where I can go for weeks at a time wearing the same flannel shirt and eating macaroni & cheese, but I know it wouldn’t end well, and not just because of all that lactose.


They’re predicting 20-30″ of snow for New York City over the next two days. The nice thing about being an urbanite is that snow days now are just as magical as they were when I was a kid. Everyone stays home in their pajamas; there are no cars to clean off, no driveways to shovel and no slippery roads to worry about.

But it’s the hush I like best. It’s a Narnian hush, full of the possibility of magic and the mystery of a world transformed. If you ever want to know what it feels like to be inside a snow globe, Manhattan after a blizzard has got to be the closest you can get.


Have you ever touched a bear?

Our daughter will be starting middle school next year, and because we live in New York City, we’re in the process of going to open houses, filling out applications, and having tours and interviews. It’s a tough decision to make. Elementary school has been great, and we want the transition to be as smooth as possible. We’ve had to take a hard look at our priorities in education, and we’ve decided on the only ranking method that makes sense to us: the quality of the brownies the school puts out at their open house.

School brownies will be judged on moistness, density, flavor, size (4 bites is optimal,) add-ins, and variety. As a service to other parents who are or will be going through the same process, we intend to publish our results in graph form. This may encourage some of the lower-ranking schools to step up their game. No need to thank us; we see it as our civic duty. Also, the presence of oatmeal raisin cookies on the same tray will negatively impact a school’s score, particularly if they are posing as chocolate chip.

Being interviewed can be very stressful for a fifth grader. The kids get a little coaching from their current school to help put them more at ease, and one of their suggestions was to have questions ready to ask the admissions director. When she couldn’t think of any, my husband Lou suggested she ask, “Have you ever touched a bear?”

Part of the evening at the school we visited last night included a mini English class. During the session, we reviewed William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This Is Just To Say.” At the end of the session, we were encouraged to write our own poems. Here is Lou’s poem in its entirety. Judge for yourself, but I consider it a masterpiece.

This Is Just To Say
by Louis Flees

This is just to Say
That I touched your bear
He was so soft and so furry
Please don’t be mad
I think he liked it.

This might be the pose you’re looking for

If you follow the SF/F blogs and so forth, you’re probably aware of the “discussion” being waged over the depiction of women on our covers. I use the quotes because what could be an important exchange of ideas usually goes to strident name-calling and wild accusations at warp speed. I’ve stopped reading the posts and the comments because they make me angry. I’m starting revisions for FORTUNE’S BLIGHT and I’m already angry enough at myself for a thousand points of sucking to tack anything else on.

It’s hard for me to jump into these forums and yell, “Here’s my cover! Someone’s getting it right!” without looking like a super-icky self-promoter, so I want to take a moment here to raise a cheer to Tor, art director Irene Gallo, editor Stacy Hill, and artist Kekai Kotaki for getting the cover of BLOOD’S PRIDE so very, very right. The depiction of the character is amazingly true to the text, right down to her wardrobe (not at all something to be taken for granted); she’s in a perfectly natural and quite powerful pose; she’s compelling, and I think pretty damned sexy without being objectified.

In fact, if you tried to objectify her, I’m pretty sure she’d cut you. With your own knife.

Of course not everyone likes this cover, which is ABSOLUTELY FINE. People like what they like. No biggee. Really. I know for a fact that there are people out there who have chosen not to read the book because the cover was such a turn-off to them. But if you’re looking for an example of another way to depict women on SF/F covers, I think this is an excellent one. So have at it.

Seriously, though – she will cut you.

Bam! That happened!

So, last Friday night was my first ever book signing, in the friendly confines of the Barnes & Noble on East 86th St. in Manhattan. In addition to these signs peppering the store, you could also witness my giant, disembodied head floating across an LCD screen against a red background. Apparently, several neighbors from the building where I’ve lived since 1998 learned my name from walking past it, which is nice in a weird, New York kind of way.

This is me signing a book. For reals. People bought them and everything.

We had a little party afterwards, and this was our amazing cake, provided by Glaser’s Bakery on 1st Avenue, a family run business since 1902. Pretty sweet, isn’t it? It was a two-layer vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. I was looking forward to leftovers. There weren’t any.

Writer Unplugged

This morning I came to the conclusion that the only way I’m going to get through the next few weeks is to stop looking for trouble. That means staying off Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, googling for book reviews, and otherwise going after information that’s not going to do me the slightest bit of good right now. It’s not just a question of negative reviews; the positive ones are just as bad, and more insidious.

I started off reading the reviews because after so many years writing in isolation, I was eager for the feedback; but another reason is that I grew up with theater people, and theater people love to pull things apart. After a show, whether you were in front of the footlights or behind, you went out to the bar and broke it down: what worked, what didn’t, what could have been better, what was a surprise. We drank beer, threw our opinions into the mix and collectively tried to learn something that we could take out on stage when it was our turn. Discussions were passionate, smart, contentious and a hell of a lot of fun. I miss them like crazy.

Book reviews can’t be like that. They’re one-sided. (I agree with the writers who say commenting on your own reviews is a spectacularly bad idea, and that sock puppets get their own circle in hell.) So to me, it’s like throwing down a conversation starter and then walking away. I want to ask questions, lots of questions. If someone’s really had a button pressed and has gone off on a rant, I want to understand where they’re coming from – it’s most likely a perspective I don’t have, and could learn a thing or two about. If someone’s interpretation of the text doesn’t make sense to me, I want to know their line of thinking. And if someone has just made stuff up or is behaving like a troll, I want to call them out for it. We probably wouldn’t end up agreeing, but that’s not really the goal: I’d have learned something, or made a case for my side. I’d have closure. What I end up doing now is constructing a dialogue in my own head with someone I don’t know and whose motivation I cannot possibly understand. It’s stressful, pointless, and with no hope of closure, these things rattle around in my mind as endless distractions.

As I said above, positive reviews are no less troublesome. They might put me in a happy bubble for little bit, but bubbles burst. If I gave in to the temptation to tie my self-worth to positive reviews, I’d be doomed. First of all, I’d need a constant supply, like an addict. Second, I’d be imbuing the reviews with a power they should not have. Either reviews have power over you, or they don’t. If a positive one can bump you up, then a negative one can push you down. You can’t have one without the other, unless your ego allows you to dismiss anyone who doesn’t like your work as a moron, but I’m afraid (or glad, really) that’s not me.

Another problem for me – now that I’m in the middle of a series – is when a positive review singles out a particular element for praise. Consciously or unconsciously, that raises the idea that the next book is going to disappoint if it doesn’t also have that element, and to the same degree. Again, that’s fatal. I need to be true to the characters above all – always, always, always the goal – and that means there is no way to shoe-horn elements in to the story to please imaginary critics without serious detriment to the work.

Until quite recently, I believed that I had the necessary detachment to sail through this. Discovering that I do not – at least, not right now – has been a major disappointment. I hope my skin will toughen over time, so that I can glean the grain and leave the chaff. In the meantime, it’s time for me to unplug, log off, and get the hell off Goodreads.