Shoshone Station: episode overview (with covers!)

Shoshone Station, The Galactic Consortium Serial, Season Two

I thought I’d give you a quick peek at the entire storyline for Shoshone Station, season two of my serial about The Galactic Consortium. Here are the episode covers and blurbs. Please feel free to comment about what you like, or what needs work.

Episode One: Not a Good Day to Die

Less than a year ago, they arrived over earth’s sky. They call themselves the Galactic Consortium and they are human, or at least, simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They claim to have terraformed this planet centuries ago to serve as a base for their exploration of this galaxy. What happened to the settlers, why none of us remember this, remains a mystery.

For America the concerns are more immediate. Will the Consortium accept our independence?

Shoshone Station is the first joint enterprise, a solar power, space station parked in geostationary orbit over Denver, Colorado. Its been “gifted” to America, but as Sherman Lannister takes command he wonders just how much control the new American crew will really have. After all, what do they know about running a space station?

For Sophia, a homeless transgender youth from Denver, and many like her the station is a second chance at a new life. But what will she do living amongst the stars?


Episode Two: To Be or Not To Be

Several of Sophia’s friends join her on Shoshone Station. They are starting new lives in the Consortium, but what sort of lives will they be? A couple of her friends seem to want to party every night but she wants to make the most of this new opportunity, but how? She turns to Dhanvin for advice and support as she tries to figure out her new life.


Episode Three: The Egg

Sophia’s first day as liaison for the new medical wing is exciting, they have rescued a premature infant from the surface. But its new home, the medical egg, sparks conflict between the healer, Bankim and Zeta, the diplomat over the issue of mixed race people like Zeta.


Episode Four: Meteors

Dan Oleson has been chosen to serve as embassy security on Saras Station in the Consortium, but he will soon discover the dangers are of a different type than he’s expecting.

Rumors are swirling about an asteroid or some other large body colliding with the earth. Would the Consortium allow such a thing to happen? More importantly, it seems the rumor may have started on Shin Station, of all places. Can Dan find the answer to this riddle?


Episode Five: Adam

It’s Lannister’s first Christmas on the station. For once he has the room and time to play host to for the family Christmas celebration. His plans are complicated by the arrival of his runaway niece, now as an out trans man.

The arrival of a human woman with a squid child (part human, part C’thon) places Zeta is an awkward place. Her job demands she investigates, but how can she put another person through the same hell she grew up with? And what if she refuses?


Episode Six: Africa

The day after Christmas, Jake King fights with his mom. He knows how hard it is for her, raising four kids with no help. But it’s not like there are jobs in Caspar, Wyoming, Not for a young man like Jake, not that pay decent. What can he do? Two days later he finds himself in Bamako, Africa, part of the Consortium’s African Administration. Is this the new reality? Commuter jobs halfway around the world?

Fox planned a relaxing vacation with Nara Suun in Southern Africa. But the fates seem to have other plans, he runs into the last person he wants to see, Gerald Klempke. The man he helped put into a Consortium Penal Colony for rape. Klempke says he wants to talk, wants to turn over a new leaf. But Fox isn’t sure he trusts him, but what can he do?


Episode Seven: Homecoming

When Sophia’s sister Shaelynn arrives on Shoshone Station, Sophia finds herself being dragged back to a life she thought she’d left behind, the life of Zach. But what can she do, her mom is dying. Unless Sophia can help her.

Kleppie thought he would return to Texas a hero. He’d been part of the famous USS Cambridge crew. He’d been to space. But he quickly finds that doesn’t mean much to those left behind.


Episode Eight: The Sting

The ugly issue of prostitution, which is legal but highly regulated in the consortium, has reared its head on Shoshone Station. Truthfully its been there all along, a small number of well paid and discreet courtesans. But now someone wants to open a brothel. Whose rules apply? Americas? Or the Consortium?

For Fox the controversy is the perfect cover to do some real police work for a change, using the confusion to do a sting on sex traffickers. For Jack it threatens to expose his relationship with one of the courtesans.


Episode Nine: Asha-Tanga

Asha-Tanga, the soul purification, is a week long festival in the Consortium, unlike anything on earth. It commemorates the last Vatari wars and the beginning of the Consortium itself. It blends religion and history. But for many, it’s a party. A week of fruit juice fasting, psychedelic herbs and dancing. It’s Christmas, the Fourth of July and Carnival rolled together.

But this is not just any Asha-Tanga. This is the first Asha-Tanga in a new galaxy. And Saras is the place to be for it.

For Jake King, he didn’t think much about the partying when he accepted Chatura’s invitation to come, with his entire family. They haven’t had a real family vacation in years, but how will they deal with this?

For Zeta the new regulation on Medical Eggs has brought the whole squid issue bubbling to the surface. But she’s supposed to be speaking about US/Consortium relations, not this. Should she defying her boss yet again?


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Shoshone Station #1 Not a Good Day to Die

The first installment of Shoshone Station is out now!

Grab your copy here:

Amazon

Everywhere else

Blurb:

Less than a year ago, they arrived over earth’s sky. They call themselves the Galactic Consortium and they are human, or at least, simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They claim to have terraformed this planet centuries ago to serve as a base for their exploration of this galaxy. What happened to the settlers, why none of us remember this, remains a mystery.

For America the concerns are more immediate. Will the Consortium accept our independence?

Shoshone Station is the first joint enterprise, a solar power, space station parked in geostationary orbit over Denver, Colorado. Its been “gifted” to America, but as Sherman Lannister takes command he wonders just how much control the new American crew will really have. After all, what do they know about running a space station?

For Sophia, a homeless transgender youth from Denver, and many like her the station is a second chance at a new life. But what will she do living amongst the stars?

Like Audiobooks? Children of a New Earth is out in Audio!

Enjoy audiobooks? My post-apocalyptic novel Children of a New Earth is out on audible.com now.

Buy it here

Blurb:

For nearly 30 years, since the collapse of society, Freedom Ranch has been self-sufficient, hidden deep in the Rocky Mountains. Amy Beland has grown up hating the small valley settlement and the survivalists that run it. Now it will be up to her to save them all.

Journeying out of the mountains and into what is left of civilization, they discover that much of what they’ve been taught about the collapse is wrong. They don’t find the enemy they expect on the plains beneath their home, which is good because Amy suspects they may have brought a couple with them.

 

Trivia Time: Is Santa Claus White?

There has been some controversy lately over the Mall of America hiring a black Santa Claus.

I know, right? Santa is supposed to be white. Having a fictional character played by an actor of the wrong race is a travesty of epic proportion.

Unless it’s Hollywood and the actor is white. Then it’s pretty much mandatory. Every Hollywood producer and filmmaker will insist it’s not them, just the system. It seems to me that one of them could go to their financial backers and say something like, “hey, millions of fans are pissed because they want to see a few more Asian actors in Ghost in a Shell.” But what do I know, I’m just a writer.

Luckily for the purist, there are still mall Santas. They are all white, fat jolly men with white beards, right?

But according to George Takei the Santa in his Japanese internment camp was Asian.

Could it be that Santa isn’t white after all?

A short diversion about the Sami

Once upon a time there was a group of people known as Sami. They lived in Europe during the ice age and when the ice age retreated, they followed the cold north, settling in Northern Scandinavia. They still live there to this day.

They dress in bulky clothes, decorating them in the colors of the northern lights, blues and reds. They live in small villages and were best known for herding reindeer.

(Let me know when this starts ringing bells for you.)

In the winter the snow would pile up in front of their Lavvu, the teepee-like houses they use. By midwinter the snow would be so deep that you couldn’t get in and out of the doors, but instead visitors would often have to climb to the top and lower themselves down the smoke hole.

A Sami Lavvu

A Sami Lavvu

Come midwinter (yule) the village shaman would have to go check on his people. He would take a sack with him, dressing himself in warm red clothes against the cold. He would climb to the top of each Lavvu and let himself down. He would see how each family was doing. If a family was short on food, he’d give them some from his sack. If they had extra, he’d use it to restock the supplies in his sack, making sure each family had enough to survive the winter.

Because the winters in Sami lands was long and being stuck inside for days on end could slowly drive people mad, he would bring the children toys, things to keep them occupied and out of their parents hair.

The Origins of Santa Claus

There are many different and conflicting stories about where Santa Claus comes from. One story associates with him a monk from 280 AD, Saint Nicholas. Others associate him with the pagan god Odin. Or the Germanic legends of Sinterklaas, the Christmas man.

But whatever story you believe, one thing is clear. All across Northern Europe was this memory of a man in a red suit that looked down people’s chimneys in midwinter to check on them. So I am calling it, Santa Claus is a Sami Shaman.

The Sami people look like this:

This is what the historical Santa Claus probably looked like

This is what the historical Santa Claus probably looked like

You’re Welcome.

Are they white? Umm, sort of…

It’s actually a deeply contested debate, one that shows a lot about how slippery the whole concept of race really is. Sami are a genetically distinct indigenous group. They share a lot in common with other far north indigenous tribes, like Inuits and Siberian tribes like the Yakuts and Samoyeds.

They’ve also lived alongside Swedish and Norwegian people for generations and many are light skinned and blonde haired.

So it just depends on how you define white.

But that’s all missing the point. The village shaman isn’t a hereditary post. Shamans are called to the duty. They do it because they are called by the spirits to serve.

So I say this, if you feel called by the spirit of Christmas to be Santa Claus then you must be Santa Claus. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, gay, straight or whatever.

And as a bonus, one of my favorite Christmas songs, the Native American Classic about a fat white man stuck in the smoke hole of someone’s teepee. Enjoy.

Are Writers More Prone to Depression?

Are Writers More Prone to Depression?

A common, if somewhat poetic worldview, would have us believe that writers are depressed, alcoholic, drug abusing people slowly dying as they chase their muse. The image of suffering writer is everywhere.

ErnestHemingway

Writers like Ernest Hemingway, pictured above, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson epitomize how many people view writers in general, men with periods of brilliance and periods of depression and alcoholism. But how true is that?

Stereotypes aside I’ve heard many writers talking about depression in blogs and on panels at conventions. Is depression more common among writers and other artists? Or is that a myth?

For the record, yes, I have been through the ringer with depression on more than one occasion. But this post isn’t about my personal struggle or story. I might share some of that at some future time.

I think there are a couple of legitimate reasons why writers might be more prone to depression than non-creative types. But overall I think it’s a myth, and I think there is one really important reason that myth persists.

First let’s start with why writers might suffer depression.

The open eye gathers more dust

I read this in the book, The Heart of Yogi. It was meant to be about yoga practitioners and other spiritual types. But it applies equally to writers regardless of their spiritual bent.

Writers have open eyes. We see this world in ways that others don’t. For some writers this is really obvious. We read their works and we know they are spending a lot of time delving into the dark corners of the human mind. The horror writer that brings nightmares to life. The psychological thrillers that puts inside the mind of a serial killer.

Those writers have seen some shit, even if it was imaginary shit in their head.

But what about those escapist writers that claim their works hold nothing of reality? Science fiction and fantasy authors who build new worlds to escape this one. Romance writers who are committed to the happy ever after no matter what.

I would argue they see some shit too. It’s inescapable to the process.

How do you learn to describe people? By watching them. And sometimes you see some great things people watching, sometimes you see some less great things.

The other day at the grocery store I watched an middle aged woman and an elderly woman shopping together. They argued over vegetables and a whole story revealed itself, the middle aged woman put into the mother role with a mother she obviously adored, but was frustrated with. She never thought she’d be on this side of table, telling her mother that the doctor wanted her to eat her veggies. It was cute, endearing.

But an aisle over was a very different story. A man and a woman. A sharp glance, a barked word. And I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing a battered woman. Did her makeup cover bruises? If this is was how he acted in public, what was he like at home?

Observing people is great practice for writers, but a wearying exercise in humanity. There are people just like your worse villain, walking the same streets that you do. Following the news gives us so many new story ideas, but man it can be depressing some days.

Can that lead to major depression? There is a huge gap between feeling stressed and being depressed. Everyone’s threshold for depression is a little different. For some people, maybe this could trigger a deep depression. For most writers I suspect this is a factor, but not the sole cause of any struggles they have.

Our Society Does Not Like Those Who Don’t Conform

Writers are, almost by definition, non-conformers. Creativity in any form is seen as a sign of non-conformity.

Again you can look over the history of writers and find many stellar examples of non-conformity. Many of the literary greats lived unconventional lives. They spoke out against repressive societies and told stories that at the time were unheard of.

But that, too, contains a lot of stereotypes. For every Anas Nin and Virginia Woolf there were dozen of more conventional women writing in every genre. For every adventurer of Hemingway’s fame there were dozen of writers that lived mundane, pedestrian lives.

Even so, writing is an act of rebellion. As Robert Heinlein said, “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”

I doubt there is a writer alive who hasn’t had someone wonder, in a disparaging voice, when they will do something more practical with their time. And woe to those who aspire to make a living from writing.

So many people in our society have a love/hate relationship with writing and writers. Surveys show that upwards of ninety percent of the US population say they want to write a book someday. But they constantly disparage those who actually do so.

Some of it is just sour grapes, of course. Maintaining that it’s an impossible dream removes any responsibility to actually sit down and write their book.

The fact remains that our society puts pressure on anyone who is seen as breaking from cultural norms. The further you stray, the more pressure there is. Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals are murdered at a strikingly high rate in this country, and around the world. Some are shot on the street by people who don’t know them, have no reason to hate them except for their non-conformity.

The good news is that no one, to my knowledge, is killing writers. But that doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t there. It can come in the form of family members that don’t respect your writing time as important. Backhanded compliments from strangers when they discover you’ve written books.

Like the first point, I doubt the pressure on writers is severe enough to lead to depression by itself, but then again I don’t know your situation so I can’t say. Certainly many people have been forced into careers they hate because everyone told them their dream was impractical. But I am sure it’s a factor for many writers with depression.

So maybe there is something to the idea that writers are more likely to be depressed. But I think there is a much bigger factor that we haven’t talked about yet.

Writers talk about depression

Writers are storytellers first and foremost. And we dig in our own lives for stories worth telling. One of the most beloved writing quotes is “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”*

350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In one year alone, 6.7% of the US population had a depressive episode. And it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg. There is a huge stigma against mental health throughout many of the world’s culture.

Depression is often disparaged as a sign of weakness or something that isn’t serious enough to warrant treatment. Numerous myths abound about mental health treatment and depression treatment specifically, further discouraging people from seeking treatment.

Which makes depression an enormously important and untold story. Depression is a complicated thing. There isn’t one clear cut “cause” of depression and people get depressed for a lot of reasons. Some people are born with genes that make them prone to depression. Some develop depression for physical reasons, others due to traumas or stresses they’ve face.

The symptoms are individual. Some people sink into a numb, low energy state. Some are sad, many, surprisingly, are not. Instead they experience other negative emotions like anxiety, anger, irritability or heightened stress. Some feel chronically tired while others are filled with a restless energy that doesn’t seem to accomplish much.

Another often misquoted piece of writing advice is “write what you know.” The origins of this advice was never meant to limit the writer, but to help them process their own experience. It was Thoreau in Walden who laid it out, stating he “required of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life.”

We might write about alien worlds, fantasy realms or other people’s lives, but we are all really processing our own stuff with everything we write. The only way to escape this, to separate our writing from our experience, is to first come to terms with our own issues.

For a fair percentage of writers, that experience includes depression. So we do what writers do, write it out. We talk about our struggles in our blogs and in our stories.

And that, I think, is a great thing. It’s great for the individual that you can work out so much of your depression through writing about it. But it’s great for the reader, too. People who suffer depression feel alone, unsupported.

You are not alone. In fact you are in great company. A wiki page of famous people who have suffered depression is long and contains former presidents, film makers, writers and celebrities.

If you are currently struggling with depression, the way ahead may be dark. But it’s not without hope. There are many effective treatments, many others who have battled these demons and won. Take hope.

*This quote has been attributed to multiple writers. See here for a full discussion.

Resources:

Do you have depression?

Everyone is different but people with depression experience many of following symptoms:

  • Anhedonia: Literally lack of joy, things that used to make you happy don’t any more.
  • Persistent negative moods including; sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability, anger and/or numbness or an “empty” mood.
  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping/trouble waking up, feeling tired all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
  • Appetite or weight change, up or down
  • Aches and pains without physical explanation.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.

For a more complete list, see here.

What to do?

The most important thing to do about depression is to talk about it, admit that you are struggling. That can be hard, especially in our society, but know that there are supportive people. And depression can be treated.

If you are feeling suicidal, please talk to a professional right away. The suicide lifeline prevention website can be found here. They have a 1-800 number and a lot of resources. Please go check it out before attempting to harm yourself.

The National Institute of Mental Health has many online resources for depression. However, I suggest you talk to someone in person. Many employers have employee assistance programs that offer a few free counseling sessions, enough to find out if you have depression and to learn what resources are available locally or through your health plan. Your personal physician is another resource, if you have one. Young people should check with their school and/or college. Their is almost always some sort of student counseling services. If you don’t have benefits through a job, there are community mental health centers in many communities.

The reason I suggest talking to a professional in-person is that the internet is filled with “helpful” advice on how to deal with depression. I use suspicious quotes here because while many of suggestions are great self-care tips they are not comprehensive treatment and they shame people who need a different kind of treatment.

Depression is an individual disease and it needs individualizes treatment. The fact that one friend got out of their depression on their own by doing yoga doesn’t mean its wrong for you to take medicine. Just because you take medicine doesn’t mean that counseling isn’t a better option for someone else. Do what is best for you and don’t shame others for doing the same.

depression-meme

Does Bob Dylan Deserve a Nobel Prize for Literature?

The Nobel prize committee is no stranger to controversy. This year it was the literary community that they stirred up, by giving the prize for literature to folk singer Bob Dylan.

Dylan is without a doubt hugely influential in the music industry. Whether you love him or hate him, his career has spanned decades and reinvented the folk genre not once, but many times. His songs have a strong poetic feel to them.

But literature?

He’s never written a novel or book of poetry. While everyone recognizes his influence in music, many in the literary community aren’t happy to see him with a Noble prize.

What is my take on it?

Have you tried your hand at flash fiction? Flash fiction is a story in less than a thousand words. I’ve written a few and I think they are pretty good, or at least okay. But it’s hard.

That’s the point of flash. You have to condense your writing to the most sparse wording while hinting at the story. To get under a thousand words is work.

Bob Dylan did it in 130 words. I am referring to All Along the Watchtower. One hundred and thirty words that have been repeated thousands of times and lead to thousands of words trying to interpret them. I couldn’t do that. I doubt I will ever be that good.

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,

“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.

Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,

None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,

“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,

So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view

While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,

Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.*

Or look at the opening to the song It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child’s balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There is no sense in trying.

The line between poetic and poetry is razor thin. Does it hold up without the music? I say, yes.

I think it should be clear that I am okay with Dylan getting a Nobel prize. But then again, I’ve been a fan since I discovered his work in college.

*Source: Lyrics Freak

Trivia Time: The River Sarasvati

According to legend, the Rg Veda, India’s oldest spiritual manuscript, was composed by the sage Vyasa on the banks of the Sarasvati River. (Sometimes spelled Saraswati.) The Veda sings the praises of the fast flowing river many times over, saying it poured out milk and ghee (Clarified butter).


In case you want some.

Sarasvati became an important goddess in Vedic mythology and in modern Hindu faith. She is not just the Goddess of the River, but Goddess of knowledge, music, art and culture. She is prayed to for help with mental tasks of all kinds, ranging from mundane schooling to enlightenment. Her mantras include the Gayatri, prayed or chanted for thousands of years in the east and, far more recently, made famous in the West by Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love.

But where is the river Sarasvati? Check out google maps, you won’t find it.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Is it just a myth? A garden of Eden sort of place? For years many have believed so.

Western Archeology once declared the city of Troy, famous for the Greek sacking told about in the Iliad, as a myth. But the site of the city was later rediscovered by a handful of archeologist. (Credit for the rediscovery most often goes to Heinrich Schlieman, a german archeologist working in the late 1800’s. The current site and academic confirmation of the finding goes to Manfred Korfmann. But in truth there were many who kept alive the belief that Troy was real and led to its eventual discovery.)

The discovery of Troy is an important aside in the history of the River Sarasvati because it fueled many young would be archeologists working in the British Raj in India. Perhaps the mythic river of this land also had a basis in reality.

The evidence quickly mounted as survey after survey found dry river beds running through parts of the Tar desert on the border of what is now the Indian/Pakistan border. The course of this dry bed conforms closely to the mythical Sarasvati river.

They soon discovered signs that this river had been site of a civilization as ancient as Sumer or Egypt, among the earliest known anywhere in the world. It was dubbed Harappa, after the first site. Though others have renamed in after the largest city so far excavated, that at Mohen-daro. Yet others have proposed to call it Sarasvati valley civilization or to even expand the term Indus Valley civilization to Indus-Sarasvati Civilization, tying it more directly to later Indus valley cultures.

As surveys continued into this century and down through modern times, the scope of Harappa grew with it. Harappa once spanned from parts of Iran, near the border with the concurrent city states of Sumeria, to well into central India. The cities are large for the time period and remarkably uniform and organized. From the size of the bricks used in construction to the layout of the cities themselves, everything is uniform. So much so that it has been suggested that when new standards were introduced, whole new cities were built to conform to those standards and the old ones abandoned or razed to the ground! Harappan cities have sewer systems and bins for trash removal, something London wouldn’t get until late nineteenth century.

Two very remarkable facts hide within the sameness of Harappan cities. Sumerian cities of the time were extremely stratified. The rich lived in luxury while the majority lived in mud huts and abject poverty. In Harrappan cities the houses are uniform in size and relative grandeur as well. A rich Harappan merchant may have had a compound made of four normal sized dwellings, but there is nothing that compares to the palatial estates found elsewhere. While it is difficult to say much without more study, the evidence seems to point to there being little gap between the rich and the poor in Harappa.

The Dancing Girl of Harappa. Source: Wikipedia

The Dancing Girl of Harappa.
Source: Wikipedia

Harappan cities have walls and fortifications (we think, we often label buildings based on what we’ve found elsewhere and there is little to prove these labels true.) There are no murals depicting battles or conquests. The Harappan’s worked bronze and made elaborate toys, trinkets and jewelry, but their spearheads and arrows are less refined. Some archeologist suggest spears were ceremonial and the walls meant to keep out animals or the occasional raiding tribe, rather than for warfare.

All of which paints a picture of a civilization very different from the rest of the ancient world, or even the modern one for that matter. There is little to indicated a strong ruling or military class. And yet there is a great deal of organization.

It may be that these things existed, but weren’t recorded for some reason. It might be that Harappa did have masses of poor people, living outside the city proper in houses that have long degraded. It may be that the rich depictions of great rulers and military conquest have vanished somehow.

But it seems unlikely. Instead it seems more likely that Harappa challenges our western assumptions about human nature and power. That without autocratic rule people can learn to get along and live in relative peace and prosperity.

A partial explanation might lie in the land itself. The Sarasvati river was known to have a “deep earth channel” by Vedic writers. Modern geologist confirm this, much of the water spilling down into this region was underground. That meant that despite being a hot, mostly rainless region, wells could be dug and water found only a few feet down. Imagine a land lush with life, where agricultural wealth is easy to come by. It may have been a land of milk and ghee, as the Vedas suggest.

What happened to this beautiful land? Archeologist aren’t sure. The mostly likely explanation is an earthquake further up in the Himalayan mountains changed the course of the head waters that once fed the region. At any rate the waters of the Sarasvati began to flow elsewhere, into the Ganges river and the Yamuna River. The region grew increasingly arid and couldn’t support the population.

Those populations fled eastward, into the Indus Valley. This time was recorded in prehistory as the “forest period” when the Rig Veda and the Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were written.

I have always been intrigued by ancient history, and by Indian culture. The two come together for me in the story of the River Sarasvati. Unfortunately there is so much we don’t know about Harappa. We have yet to decipher their written language. The India-Pakistan divide left most of Harappa north of the new border, in Pakistan. Given the current politics, neither Indian or Western archeologist have had access to dig or survey sites since.

I am not sure yet exactly how this particular bit of research fits into my writing, but I thought it interesting enough to share. I do have a story tickling at the back of my brain that will be set in this ancient land. When I finish it, I will be sure to share.

Until then, If you want to know more about the River Sarasvati, I learned much from the book The Lost River: On the Trails of Saraswati by Michel Danino.

10 Great Books I Haven’t Read

I have a weakness for listopia and list challenges. I’ve always been a sucker for lists. I really love to see various people’s books-you-should-read sort of lists. I will admit that part of it is vanity. As a life-long bookworm, I have usually read a fair number of the “most important” books on any given list. The BBC believes the average reader has read only six of these books. I’ve read 38. I know, plenty of people have read more, but still I beat the average by a lot. When it comes to my favorite genres, like science fiction and fantasy, I’ve often read the majority. On Listopia I’ve read a solid fifty of the Best Science Fiction books of all time.

But I thought it might be interesting to approach this from the opposite angle. There are books that show up time and time again on “must read” lists that I haven’t read. Some I might get to in time, others probably not. So here is my top ten books I haven’t read and why.

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

For those that don’t know, Card is a homophobe. Not simply someone who disagrees with homosexuality, nor even some who is quietly uncomfortable with it. He’s an outspoken critic of pretty much any legislation or social movement that might give LGBT people equal protection under the law or say, a chance at life. He’s spent the money he’s made as a writer fighting long political battles against marriage equality. A short essay about his politics can be found here.

True fans will tell you that we should overlook his personal flaws because he is a great writer. Sorry, that’s not going to happen. Partly this is because he’s still alive and I don’t want to put money in his pocket, but there is more.

H. P. Lovecraft was a racist bigot. I’ve come to terms with this. I read his work with this in mind. I look at this with the same morbid fascination of a nurse looking at a pus filled wound. “Wow, that’s a personal flaw deeply revealed.” But I would never suggest a person of color set aside their personal feelings to read Lovecraft. And for the record I agree with The World Fantasy’s decision to drop Lovecraft as the image for their award.

Card might be an incredible writer. His works might have nothing to do with his personal views. But there are hundreds of incredible writers and most of them aren’t trying to squash my civil rights. Personally I prefer to avoid the whole nuanced “he’s a great writer but…” by simply not reading Card.

Note: I won’t attack anyone for being a fan of Card. In return I ask that fans not try to guilt me into overlooking my personal views of him, or “give him a try.” Thanks in advance.

2. Jayne Eyre by Emily Bronte

There are three reoccurring themes throughout this list. Political controversy, the reason I haven’t read Card, is one. The reason I haven’t Jayne Eyre is the second common theme, I’ve read other Bronte works. Or I should say I’ve choked down Wuthering Heights, because that’s how it felt to me. I know, lots of people love both books but there is something about her writing style that I can’t hack. Wuthering Heights left me with no desire to read more Bronte.

True fans will no doubt protest that I just haven’t read the right Bronte, or I didn’t understand it, or whatever. The list of reasons why I should like some great writer is long, but since I’m not a professor of literature I see no reason to agree. I don’t have to read anyone I don’t want.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Let’s jump straight into the third reoccurring theme, availability and/or the greed of publishers. In this case, it’s almost pure greed.

For a long time To Kill a Mockingbird has been on my I-should-get-to-this-someday list. I planned on reading it. Who knows, I still might.

Since the release of Go Set a Watchman and Lee’s passing, her estate has jacked up the price on To Kill a Mockingbird, even killing the mass-market edition to force schools to buy more expensive editions. This pisses me off. The whole agency pricing and traditional publishers jacking up ebook prices to save their print sales, pisses me off. I read a lot. I understand that there are costs to producing a print book and I will pay more for one. But more than ten books for an ebook? I don’t get it.

I know, it’s a dumb reason to not read a book. I know, libraries, used book stores, used books on Amazon, yada yada.

You know what else is dumb? Trying to prop up one sector of an industry at the expense of another. Expecting me to pay premium dollars for your book because it’s got some publisher’s stamp of approval on it when there are literally millions of other books I could easily read. I know so many struggling new writers who are selling ebooks at 2.99 or 3.99. Why should I be willing to give Lee’s attorney three times that to read her client? Screw that.

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

For the record, I do like literature. I just don’t like all literature and I refuse to like something because “everybody” insists someone is a great writer. Like Emily Bronte, I’ve read a smattering of Jane Austen, notably Sense and Sensibility. It was better than Wuthering Heights and that is faint praise indeed. She’s just not the writer for me.

5. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson is one of my favorite writers of all time. Snow Crash and the Cryptonomicon are two of my all time favorite books. He’s unfortunately fallen into the same trap that many established traditionally published authors have. 17.99 for an ebook? Outrageous.

(It looks like since writing this, the price has dropped to eleven bucks. Still higher than I like for an ebook, but I might pay it for Stephenson.)

6. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

No big controversy here. I haven’t heard terrible thing about Mr. Jordan. His books are mostly under ten dollars in ebook form. I haven’t read anything by him and I don’t have any bias for or against this series.

It’s just long and I’ve read so many long series that I am leery of starting yet another one. In my youth I read the lord of the ring, including the Similarillion. I read fourteen or fifteen of the Xanth books before out growing that series. I read each Harry Potter book as it came out. I’ve read almost every of the twenty some discworld books. I am a veteran of long series.

But it’s a huge commitment. I have limited reading time and I need choose wisely which series I want to start. I held off on the Songs of Fire and Ice for a long time for the same reason. I’ve read that and I may very well read the Wheel of Time eventually.

7. Virgin Suicides By Jeffrey Eugenides

I’ve read Middlesex, or as much of it as I could plow through. Eugenides is a great writer when he’s on. Which is about every other chapter as far as I can tell. The alternate chapters he’s long winded, vague and his editor is on break. Seriously I would read one scene and love it. The next scene I would read three times and still wasn’t sure what he was saying. Maybe his other works are better, but I’m not inclined to find out.

8. Anything by Nicholas Sparks

I read The Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller, otherwise his name might make this list as well. Jonathan Franzen is another name to put under this list. My issue with these writers has less to do with them then with society as a whole. When women write about romance it’s just that, a romance novel. It’s dismissed as a lesser genre. When men write romance, it’s serious literature. Jodi Picoult has weighed in on this better than I ever could.

I love a good romance now and then. I refuse to give into the conceit that puts these male authors above their female counterparts in the field. For the record I am not saying he isn’t a good writer in his own write, or that I would never read him. I just don’t see why I should put him on the “must read” list when there are so many good female romance writers I have yet to explore.

9. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity’s Rainbow gets a double whammy of haven’t read. On it’s own Gravity’s Rainbow gets kicked to the back of my to-be-read pile again because even it’s fans, the people who love the book, describe it with words like daunting, dense and a difficult read. I’ve been known to take a perverse pride in having read long, dense books. But as I grow older I see this more and more as pride rather than accomplishment. So you read Gravity’s Rainbow and got it. Bully for you. I read for enjoyment and you aren’t convincing me that I will enjoy the book.

The second whammy comes from the publisher, who are currently pricing it at 15.99 on Amazon. You want me to blow that much money on a book that even fans admit is a “love it or hate it” book that is hard to read. Got better things to do with my time and money, thank you very much.

10. The Anu-Naki wars by R. J. Eliason

Me,

Me, getting back to writing

The voices in my head say it’s a really cool book. But I haven’t written it yet, so I don’t know. Which is my quirky way of saying that blogging is fun but writing pays the bills, so I had better get back to writing.

A final note on the greed of publishers: When I first started reading ebooks one of my big problems was the time and technology gap. Older writers, whose works were in the public domain, were easy to find. Newer writers were mostly online and available.

But many of the great classics were not available. Publishers still held rights and they were slow to jump on the ebook bandwagon, especially for older books. I had more than a dozen books I wanted to read but I read almost exclusively on a device these days and certain books just weren’t available.

Recently they’ve started to come around and realize that their backlist is valuable. They’ve released ebooks for most of their backlist now. That’s the good news. They’ve mysteriously decided to publish older works at new, print book prices, often ten to twelve dollars. So you can add about a hundred books to the “I will read someday when I can find a good copy for less than ten bucks” list.

What about you? Are there books that you have been told are great and “must read” that you haven’t read and don’t plan to? Let me know in the comments.

How to be a Prolific Writer

I’m a prolific writer. With my 10th full-length novel coming out this month and another 10 shorter works on the market, that’s just a statement of fact. Other writers tend to have a love-hate relationship with prolific writers. In writing group some will express admiration or jealousy over how much I write. Others are far more disparaging, sure that writing a lot means writing poor quality stuff.

Zoey one

My tenth full length novel.

Too many writers think that prolific writers are just born that way, that we are somehow different from other, slower writers. In fact there are two simple secrets to being a prolific writer, and neither are secret at all.

Everybody writes at a certain pace. There are certain tricks to speeding up the pace but I found most of them don’t work. Some writers suggest doing high-intensity sprints of writing. For me, the sprints just wear me out and slow and steady racks up better word counts anyway. A lot of prolific writers use technology, programs like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I do, too. I do it to save my wrists. Honestly, it doesn’t speed up my work counts that much. It varies a little bit from genre to genre and piece to piece, but overall dictating has not sped up my writing is much as I thought it would.

So if we accept the idea that every writer has a certain pace of writing there are two simple ways to increase your word counts and become more prolific.

One. Write more.

Two. Make more of your “writing time” writing.

Writing more

One of my writing friends likes to joke that she uses the writing strategy of “butt in chair.” It really a great writing strategy that can help with many writing problems. And I guarantee you will increase your productivity. If you average 500 words per hour and you want to double your word count, write for two hours. The more time you spend in the chair writing, the more writing you get done.

Sadly the only guaranteed way to write more is to spend more time at the keyboard.

Sadly, the only guaranteed way to write more is to spend more time at the keyboard.

It’s really easy on paper, but much harder in real life. We all have many competing claims on our time; there are day jobs, families and we need to take care of ourselves as well. There are days when it seems like everybody wants something from us. If we are the kind of person that routinely says yes to requests, we quickly find our day filled up with everything but writing.

In ways, saying that I’m a prolific writer is simply putting a positive spin on the fact that I have no life. Okay I’m joking, or half joking. I made a conscious decision a few years ago that if you want to be a writer you must write. And if you hope to someday be a professional writer, someone who supports herself entirely with their writing, you need to write like a professional. I track my time and I shoot for somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a week, depending on what else is going on in my life.

Not everybody will be able to dedicate that much time to writing, nor am I always able to do that. The most important thing to draw from this is attitude. Nobody else is going to care about your dream as much as you do. And living your dream is going to take time. You will have to learn to make choices, set limits and carve out time to write.

Some of you will have supportive spouses who will actively help you make time to write. A few of you will have unsupportive spouses. But most of the time spouses and family members will be somewhere in between, they will acknowledge your writing dream but the extent to which they will honor your need to make time for it will vary from day-to-day. Very few will hold your feet to the fire and force you to make that time. You have to be the driving force.

Make more of your “writing time” writing

I’ve noticed over the years that prolific writers tend to be planners and researchers. This might seem counterintuitive but it’s not. To make the most of a limited amount of writing time you need to spend most of that time with your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Planning and researching can help this.

First let’s be clear about what I mean by planning. A lot of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers are dead set against any sort of planning. They also tend to associate planning with long complicated outlines and 50 page synopsis. Apparently that was how MFA programs taught or teach writing. I say apparently because I don’t know a single writer, MFA trained or self-taught, that actually plans this way.

There are literally dozens of different ways to plan out a novel. In my own writing I have tried storyboarding, the snowflake method, beat sheets and several more. My current writing process is a hodgepodge of several of these methods.

I now use Scrivener to plan my writing.

I now use Scrivener to plan my writing.

I’m not going to argue for one planning process over another, or insist that you have to plan a certain way to be prolific. I’m merely going to suggest this; if you have some sort of a plan then as soon as you finish one scene or chapter you can easily jump straight into the next one. Without a plan when you finish the part you know, you must stop and think up the next part. This kind of musing is critical to writing but doesn’t necessarily have to be done while you’re sitting at the keyboard writing.

And therein lies the advantage of planning for the prolific writer. Knowing even the broadest plot points that will occur at some point in your novel allows you to write from one point to the next. It allows you to spend all of your writing time doing the writing.

The same thing can be applied to research. Writers who do the research they need before they start writing will have those facts on hand as they write. Writers who don’t will waste large chunks of their writing time on Google.

Doing your planning and research together provides double benefits. By having a plan for your novel you know exactly what you need to research. So research takes less time. Having that research done and in hand makes the writing go faster and smoother.

And that’s all there is to it. If you want to be a prolific writer you need to spend more time writing and you need to make sure the time you spend writing is spent well. No tricks, just discipline.

The Girl in the Tank Omnibus Edition is out!

For those who want the entire first season of my serialized science fiction story, The Girl in the Tank, an omnibus edition is now available. You can get it in print, kindle or Kobo Ebooks.

Girl in the Tank Omnibus front

Less than five months ago, lights appeared in the sky. Days later the ships started to arrive. They call themselves the Consortium. They are human, or at least Simian, descending from the same genetic line as humans. They terraformed this planet centuries ago, sent settlers a mere forty thousand years ago. Now they are back, ready to begin the exploration of this galaxy.

For Cheyenne Walker, Chief Petty Officer aboard the Cambridge, a USS destroyer, the arrival of the Consortium is just one more obstacle to finishing her final tour of duty and getting home to her kids. The political upheaval forces the US into an uneasy alliance with the Consortium against China, and puts the Cambridge on the edge of a nuclear blast.

Cheyenne wakes to find herself aboard the Corelean, a Consortium Medical Evacuation ship. Floating in a medi-tank, she wonders if they really can repair the wreck of her body, whether these newcomers are friends or foes and most importantly, will she ever make it back to children?

Omnibus: Get all eight episodes in one volume.

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