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Introducing Captain Kari Wang and Radko

A reader of our books recently contacted us, and in passing mentioned they named their chickens after characters in books they read.  Not only that, they have a chicken named Captain Kari Wang (aka Captain), and one named Radko.

We had to write back and ask for photos.

So here they are—and thank you McKenzie for allowing us to use them.

Captain Kari Wang (photo copyright McKenzie Cullen)

“Captain Kari Wang is a cream crested legbar and will lay blue eggs when she’s old enough (she’s only 3.5 months old).”

Radko (image copyright McKenzie Cullen)

“Radko is the grey one. She’s an Andalusian and will lay white eggs (she’s 3 months old).”

Now, I just want to know the names of all the other other chickens.

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Unconscious themes

Lockdown update

Sherylyn is on the engagement committee at her work. It’s a group that works to keep members of her team cohesive and engaged, no easy matter when you’re in a scheduled environment. Harder still when you’re in a scheduled environment and working from home.

Just before she started working from home, she bought a box of chocolates as a prize for one of the competitions they are running. It’s nothing fancy, just a nice, big, family-size box of Cadbury’s favourites. I’m trying to convince her we should eat these and buy another pack closer to the time she goes back to work. After all, we wouldn’t them to go stale, would we?

Some people are so hard to convince.

How is your lockdown going? Hope you’re keeping sane and safe.

The best thing about ours so far is not having to commute. The worst, the lack of exercise. Even without the chocolate I am noticeably stacking on the weight. Not writing much either, which is sad. The silly thing with writing is that come midnight I can sit down at my computer and start writing. Except … I have to get up in the morning and work, so I can’t write for long.

And I’m really starting to crave a visit to McDonalds. Just so I can sit there and drink coffee in the sun and relax.

Onto other things

I was reading today about June Almeida, who discovered coronaviruses back in the fifties or sixties, but got little recognition for it initially. Reviewers thought the images were just poor-quality pictures of influenza particles (Sydney Combs, She discovered coronaviruses decades ago—but got little recognition in NationalGeographic.com). It wasn’t until 1964 that a doctor who was researching the common cold sent Almeida samples in the hope that her microscope technique might help identify them. Almeida recognised the virus from her earlier work.

We don’t write novels with deliberate themes, but one unconscious theme we have, or a ‘big idea’ if you prefer, is how so many scientific breakthroughs are known about, and then forgotten.

The lines, in the Linesman series, for example.  When the books started, Gila Havortian knew a lot more about lines than anyone in Ean’s time, and humans didn’t know much about the lines anyway. Everything they learned was trial and error, and much of it was wrong. Imagine how different line training would be if, early on, instead of assuming that line ability started at one and continued on until you couldn’t manipulate the lines any more, someone chose to test line capability all the way to level ten every time. Maybe someone did put that forward, but they got ignored because of the theories of the time.

In Stars Uncharted Nika Rik Terri starts off thinking that Gino Giwari is a competent technician and nothing else, but by the end of the book she’s convinced he’s one of the greatest modders in known history.

History is full of people whose scientific genius has been ignored.

Gregor Mendell had his work on genetics criticised at the time he presented it in 1866. It was ignored afterwards and only cited three times in the next thirty-five years. It wasn’t until 1900 that Mendel’s work was rediscovered. (Mendel had died in 1884.)  He’s now considered the father of genetics.

What about Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that doctors washing their hands between patients reduced mortality, and whose theory was rejected, even though mortality rates where he worked dropped form around 20% to less than 2%.

Or Ludwig Boltzmann, who came up with a model that explained and predicted the properties of atoms. Unfortunately, this was against accepted scientific practise of the time, so his theory was disdained. (At least until Ernest Rutherford discovered the atom, thus proving Boltzmann’s theory.)

And this is not even talking about the female scientists, although they were just as likely to make momentous discoveries and have someone else take the credit for it. Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Who knows what else has been discovered and ignored?

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I skip the boring bits

How is your social distancing going?

If we ignore the big issues, like not being able to go anywhere, and the general craziness of what’s happening, so far the hardest thing about the enforced isolation for me is remembering when to put the bins out.

Bin night is Thursday night, which I’d normally remember because it’s the day before Friday (last workday of the week, hooray) but because we’re at home all day, every day, I’m losing track of the days. Not only that, our little two-person bin, which we normally don’t fill, gets full.  We’ve already forgotten one week, which meant that the following week the bin was almost overflowing.  Thank you, garbage collectors, for still working.

I’ve not set a reminder on my phone.

I read somewhere that people should write down how it is for them in this time of pandemic and send it to the archives.  Not sure which archives, but it would be an amazing thing for a scholar of the future. One thing that is so hard to glean from historical records is how normal people lived through times of crises because often the records are newspapers and reports and government records, rather than everyday life.

Anyway, on to other things.

I convinced Sherylyn to read T. Kingfisher’s Paladin’s Grace* the other day.  “It’s great,” I said. “Lots of repartee between the characters, emotional support, and other things. And you’ll love Bishop Beartongue.”

Partway through the book Sherylyn said, “You like this book. All they do is think about each other.” (It is a romance.)

“I’d forgotten those parts,” I said.  “I don’t read those bits.”

“But it’s half the book!”

“Ah, I skip those bits.”

Sherylyn did agree, that in between the parts where the two protagonists kept thinking about how much they like each other, the book is a lot of fun, and the characters are great. (Especially Bishop Beartongue.)  But it is only half the book.

I confess, I skip a lot of the romance in books.  Sex scenes, especially. You write a sex scene then I’m not your audience.  I’m there for the story and they get in the way, so I skim them at best.  That doesn’t mean to say I won’t read your book. I will.  I’ll just likely skip those particular scenes.  And I won’t even remember they’re in the book when I’ve finished reading it.

Having said that, I do like a good romance.  The romances I love are the unstated ones. Like Wei Wuxian and Lang Wangji in The Untamed. The tv show, not the original novel, where you knew how they felt about each other, but tv show never explicitly spelt it out for censorship reasons.  Where you know how people feel about each other in everything they say and do, even when it’s not romantic.

Those, to me, are the best romances.

Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay healthy.

* I do like this book, by the way, and recommend it if you like fantasy romance. It’s fun.

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In media res

We survived another week in isolation. How did you go?

Sherylyn and I both worked from home this week. At least Sherylyn ‘finishes’ work when she logs off. I finish when I’m done. I admit I am envious. I know I said last week I was going to take it easier this week. Unfortunately, this week was worse. I haven’t had a chance to look at our latest work-progress. Worse, I only went outside about two days. So far this week I’m already excelling in comparison. One day, one super-easy stretching from YouTube and one walk around the block.

I expect may writers will try their hand at pandemic books over the next couple of years. I’m not sure I could read them, it’s a little too close to the truth. Maybe I could read one about smugglers doing a run to get medical supplies to hospitals. Fighting against corrupt officials, gangs, even the army trying to come in and take it off them.

Maybe not. Roger Zelazny did this in Damnation Alley fifty years ago.

That’s how l like my dystopia. As science fiction.

Although, to be honest, it has been pointed out that through all ages, there has generally always been people somewhere in the world living in what we would consider dystopia.

On Friday night I went looking for books to read, and I hit a streak of them—three of them in a row—which all started the same. Books I had on the Kindle that we hadn’t looked at before, all by different authors.

Each one of them started with the protagonist supposedly in the middle of the action. One was in the middle of robbing a house, one waiting for an attack, the third in the middle of robbing a warehouse.

As an aside, thieves as protagonists are so common now the book has to work a lot harder to keep my interest in those first few pages. (Cate Glass’s An Illusion of Thieves, did work hard, and I loved it.)

The protagonists in all three books spent a lot of time thinking, describing themselves and their surroundings, and giving backstory. Believe me, if I’m in the middle of a stakeout, I’m not thinking about my long, chestnut tresses. Expect, perhaps, to think maybe I should cut it short because it keeps getting in the way. And to be honest, how many of you think about what colour your hair is (unless you’re worried about the grey and realise you need to go to the hairdresser)? Especially in the middle of a job.

Writing advice tells you to start the story in media res—in the middle of the story. And these authors started their story in the middle of something, kind of, but nothing happened. Not for pages. By that time I’d given up.

I decided to try out a variation of a combined slush pile/page 99 test on Sherylyn.

“Would you read on?” I asked and read out the first page of the novel.

No for the first, no for the second, no for the third. “Boring, all of them.”

After that I looked around to see what else we had.

I started with books we already have on Kindle.

Patricia Briggs’ Moon Called, the first Mercy Thompson book.

“Would you read on?” I asked.

The answer was a definite yes, although Sherylyn said the story sounded familiar. (It was. The only Mercy Thompson story she hasn’t read yet is the new one, but she’d read this a while ago.) We read on.

Next we tried a book I knew she hadn’t read.

T. Kingfisher’s Paladin’s Grace.

“Yes, I’d read on.”

Jackson Ford’s The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind.

“Yes. I’d read on.”

After that I looked around Amazon to see what I might choose and found an early Patricia Briggs. Dragon Bone. At first glance this story sounded a lot like those we’d rejected earlier. It started with some description, a bit of history, and a protagonist whose hair colour we know by the end of paragraph two.

“Read on,” Sherylyn says, and I did. I read all the way to the end of the extract, and then I bought the book. I stayed up that night reading it, and into the following day. When I’d finished, I bought the second.

It passed the read-on test.


Take care, everyone. Look after yourself.

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Talking about things

I should be cleaning my bookshelf

Messy desk and bookshelf

How are you coping in these surreal times?  I hope you’re doing okay. Hang in there.

I’m into the first full week of self-isolation and work-from-home, although I have, technically, worked from home for the last three weeks, sans two days.

It started with a cold. Just the normal. Sneezing, sore throat, runny nose. Like many colds it came on full on the weekend—a long weekend, mind, so the three days of feeling rotten were the holiday period. I took two more days off, to be sure I was over any bugs.  By then, COVID-19 sanctions had hit.  I couldn’t go back to work without a doctor clearing me of any issues

That took the rest of the two weeks, just to be sure I was cleared.  I must say, I have never been the only person in the doctor’s waiting room before. It’s usually packed.

I didn’t get a COVID-19 test. Both the doctor and I were fairly sure I didn’t have it—if you’re interested, she tested my temperature, listened for any liquid in my lungs, and went through my symptoms—but she was at pains to emphasise that even though she was clearing me for work, she couldn’t guarantee I didn’t have COVID-19, as I hadn’t taken the Coronavirus test, only that I did not have the symptoms that indicated it.

Anyway, I was cleared for work, went back for two days, just in time for the work-from-home edict.

I am grateful I still have a job for the moment—many people don’t.

I am grateful I can work from home.  I work for a company that has a good work-life balance and allows us to work from home one day a week.  Not that I had been able to do so for the last six months, due to the project I am on, but we can, when we’re not so busy, so it wasn’t even a stretch (or an expense) to set up.

I am grateful I have a boss who looks after her staff and makes a real effort to ensure we’re not isolated while we are working from home.

I am not sick.  I am healthy(ish), although horribly unfit.

I thought I’d get more writing done.  I have two extra writing hours a day because I don’t have to commute. That hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve worked longer hours. I can’t believe I’m doing this.  I start at nine and finish at nine, and when I’m finished I gobble a quick meal and go to bed.

This week I’m sticking to rigid office hours.

And I need to clean up the bookshelf behind my desk in preparation for work tomorrow.

That shelf is the one we put our junk onto, things we don’t anywhere else to put.  Especially electronic stuff, like cables and old keyboards. As you can imagine, it’s messy, and we’re doing lots of video conferences. Right now I take the laptop out to the kitchen to make the calls. I don’t want anyone to see to see mess behind me.  One day I’m going to forget and take the call at my desk.  I want it cleaned up before that.

Take care, everyone.

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Finally back on line

We’re finally back on line after some technical issues where the site kept bringing up an error and I couldn’t even log on from the back end to investigate the error. We ended up backing up everything, and reinstalling, then reinstating the whole site.

Which worked, kind of, except that we lost all the book data, we’re using the default styles, the contact form isn’t working yet, we don’t have a front page. We’ll fix these over the next couple of days.

It could have been worse. Bear with us in the interim please.

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Writing process

Gateway books

There has been a lot of talk in the Twitterverse lately about gateway books. These are the books, or book, that you read that makes you a fan of a genre.

Harry Potter is a gateway book. Many fantasy fans grew up reading Harry Potter and progressed to reading other fantasy. If we include film and television, Star Wars and Star Trek can be considered gateway stories as well.

Many people—particularly older people—will recommend the classics. “You’ve got to read Lord of the Rings.” (I read it in secondary school, and enjoyed it, but I have never read it since.) Or, “Robert Heinlen is the grand master of science fiction. You must read him. Stranger in a Strange Land.” (Never give someone a sixty-year-old book as a gateway book. Few last the tyranny of time.)

Not only that, different people have different gateway books. You can’t—and shouldn’t—recommend the same books to everyone.

Being a science fiction writer, people often ask me for recommendations. They also, sometimes, ask whether they would enjoy our books. My answers are the same for both the recommendations, and the should-I’s. I have a little mini-quiz I ask.

  • What do you read?
  • What television shows do you watch?
  • What movies do you like?
  • Not everyone reads books, but if they do, I ask about some of their favourite books.

After that, I’ll recommend some books if I can come up with any I think they’ll like.

I try to make them:

  • Published within the last twenty years, the last ten, if I can
  • Strongly character-based.

For most people, but not all, I also try for lighter stories rather than serious ones.  Few people are ready for heavy tomes as entrees into a genre. That often comes later, when they start to enjoy the genre.

Likewise, the classics come later, too. Sometimes they even come after someone has watched a television series. That’s what I did with Pride and Prejudice. Couldn’t get into it until I watched the BBC version (I’m sure I don’t need to say which one, it’s the classic). After which I finally read the book right through.

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Writing process

How did you go with last week’s quiz?

Last week I gave you twelve images from book covers to see if you could guess the cover.

How did you go?

Here are the covers, in order of image.

How many did you get?

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Writing process

Quiz: Science fiction and fantasy covers

Sherylyn is on the engagement committee at her workplace, and recently they had a competition they call ‘I Spy’. You take a photo of part of an object in the workplace (usually close-up) and the teams have to guess the object is. I’ve adapted their competition to create a quiz on book covers.

We’ll show you part of a book cover. You tell us, in the comments, which books these are from.

To make it easier we have restricted it to:

  • Novels that were published, or will be published, between 2018 and 2020. Some of these novels are coming, not yet available. Dates are from amazon.com, so North American publish date.
  • Science fiction and fantasy only.
  • The covers are available on Amazon.com. That is, US covers, rather than UK (or Australian or any other country).
  • Covers may be paperback, hardcover or Kindle.

There are twelve book covers below. Answers next week.

twelve book covers

(Sherylyn says the work prizes were a box of chocolates. We can’t send out chocolates, so we’ll eat the chocolates for you. Sounds fair? No?)

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Writing process

Interesting conversations only partially heard

The restaurant was crowded.

The woman at the large table across the room had one of those loud voices that older people often have when they’re going deaf. She raised her voice. Everyone in the restaurant could hear her, even above the crowd.

“Science fiction. You can buy it from Amazon.”

Naturally, I turned my head to see who was speaking. Wouldn’t you?

Her (adult) daughter was mortified. She deliberately avoided my eye and looked away from me, trying to shush her mother.

I wanted to go over and tell her not to worry. Let her mother talk. Sometimes the other people in the room hear what they have to say.

The daughter’s husband came in then, with birthday cake, so the conversation turned, but I really wanted to go over and tell the younger woman not to worry. Sometimes, when someone hears a loud voice, they just want to know what the loud-voiced person will say next.