If you are looking for an action to take, about Orlando, write a letter.

This is a small thing. You can write a letter.

It’s also a huge thing. You can write a letter.

See, our government representatives still respond more to letters than the do to emails, Facebook, or Twitter hashtags. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do those, too, but there’s this other thing you can do. You can write a letter.

Over at Month of Letters, I’ve put together a set of resources to make it easy for you to do this. There’s stationery, a template, a list of addresses… heck, I’ve even got a discount on postage for you. Just please… please write a letter.

Your thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. We have work to do. Can you write a letter?

My Favorite Bit: Shannon Page talks about THE USUAL PATH TO PUBLICATION

Favorite Bit iconShannon Page is joining us today with her book The Usual Path to Publication. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A collection of essays about the UNusual, amusing, heartbreaking, random, and quite perfectly crazy ways writers got their words out there.

Cherie Priest, “How I Skidded Sideways Into Publishing”
Alma Alexander, “Don’t Try This At Home”
Mark Teppo, “Mapping Uncharted Terrain”
Laura Anne Gilman, “Two Paths”
Jim C. Hines, “The Goblin’s Curse”
Katharine Kerr, “That Long Winding Road”
David D. Levine, “How to Sell a Novel in Only Fifteen Years”
K. Tempest Bradford, “It All Happened Because of Netscape Navigator”
Ada Palmer, “The Key to the Kingdom”
Ken Scholes, “My Path to Publication, and My Other Path to Publication”
Nancy Jane Moore, “The Meandering Path”
Jennifer Brozek, “No One True Way”
Rhiannon Held, “Timeline Key Points”
Jo Walton, “Not Deluded: How I Sold My First Novel”
Chris Dolley, “First Sale”
Brenda Cooper, “With a Little Help from a Poet”
Chaz Brenchley, “My First Book”
Tina Connolly, “Going from Short Stories to Novels in 60,000 Easy Words”
Randy Henderson, “My Finn Fancy Adventure in Publishing”
Elizabeth Bourne, “The Gypsy Curse”
John A. Pitts, “My Path to Publication”
Mindy Klasky, “April Is the Cruelest Month”
Amy Sterling Casil, “I Was Rejected, Then Sold the Same Story to the Same Editor!”
Deborah J. Ross, “The Magic Phone Call”
Phyllis Irene Radford, “My Road to Publishing, or, Tiptoeing Through Mine Fields”
Sara Stamey, “How I Became a ‘Real Author'”
Trisha Leigh/Lyla Payne, “Making It”
Afterword (Your Editor’s Story)

What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?

Usual Path to Publication cover


Now I understand what’s so hard about that “Who is your favorite child” question. I don’t have children, but I do have a couple of brothers, so I always thought the answer was obvious: me, naturally. (Sorry, bros.)

Being an editor is not at all like having children. Of course not. Except for the tender affection I feel for each and every one of my authors, for each and every one of their stories. And except for the fierce protectiveness I feel for my edited books. The desire to see them succeed out there in the world. The fear that they will be misunderstood, or ignored, or bullied on the playground. But other than that: nope, not at all.

Preparing to write this piece, I have just read through The Usual Path to Publication once again, looking for that one special, favorite quote, the one I can point to and say, “This, this! Here are the words that epitomize this little book. This is my favorite bit.”

I found one in every essay.

It would be cheating to say that my favorite bit about this book is the entire book. So I won’t say that. No, after much consideration, I’ve realized that my favorite bit about this book is the commonality it so wonderfully illustrates. Each author’s story is different in its particulars; yet every author in this book tells a tale of flexibility, of patience, of not giving up. There are moments of despair, frustrating reversals, much random accident. But every author believed that their words mattered. And so they kept at it. For as long as it took.

This, I think, is what binds all authors together—along with anyone else in this crazy industry we call publishing. Every time I opened my email last winter to find another submission for this book, I felt that touch of community, and took joy in it. Writing can feel like such a lonely endeavor. Who knows if your words are ever going to reach an audience, ever going to touch someone? Who knows if you are ever going to “succeed”—whatever you take that to mean?

Twenty-seven authors generously shared their stories of how they broke in—and, often, what happened next. These tales are filled with coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature; of those who helped along the way, lessons learned, mistakes to be avoided. And, most of all, a rugged persistence. A belief that they had words and thoughts and emotions to share with the world at large, despite the many barriers that world tosses in the path.

Because there is no “usual path to publication.” Every writer finds their own way. And then, so very often, those authors then turn back to shine a flashlight on their particular pathway—to light the way for others, to inspire them, or maybe just to amuse them.

Okay, I’ll admit it: my favorite bit about this book is that it exists at all. So sue me.






Book View Café

Barnes & Noble



Shannon Page is a Portland, Oregon-based author and editor. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static,, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication. She is a longtime yoga practitioner and an avid gardener, and has no tattoos. Visit her at

Surgery recovery continues well

Mary in an armchair with two cats on herRob took this photo.

a) I had no idea he was in the room.

b) I had no idea that both cats were on me.

I’m losing most of my saving throws against napping, and I’m fine with that. Smells are more vivid, which will be great when I’m cooking, but less exciting around the cats’ litter box.

That chair, by the way, is what I’ll be sleeping in for most of this week as I recover from surgery. I’m supposed to keep my head elevated. Pillows would do that but… the chair keeps me from accidentally rolling over during the night. When I’m just sitting around, there’s no pain at all. I’ve gone out with Rob for walks around the block, and my footfalls send up a dull ache.

One of the fascinating things about the walks is that at a certain point, I’ll have the urge to open my mouth, even though I can breathe adequately through my nose now. I guess that I had to do that for so long, that it’s become an automatic response to a certain heartrate. It’ll be interesting to see how much that changes when I acclimate to the restructured airway.

Laughing, smiling, and yawning are all no fun. I’ve also learned how often I wrinkle my nose in response to things.

Other than that, healing continues.

This isn’t funny — stop it.

I had surgery on Friday to correct a deviated septum, turbinate hypertrophy, and collapsed nasal valves. I’ve been posting pictures of myself in the recovery process, because I think medicine is neat.

But you — you decided that it would be funny to make a joke that I had black eyes because my husband hit me. Or the milder form, that people would think he’d hit me. This is more than one of you. Some of you know me. Some of you are strangers. I want you to stop and think about thatThe bump remains intact! Huzzah. Also, food had flavor! And I'm not weeping blood anymore! “joke.”

  • Why did you think it was funny?
  • Why did a picture of a woman with black eyes immediately make you think of domestic violence?
  • Why did you think domestic violence would be a good subject for a joke?
  • Because clearly my husband would never do it, so it’s obviously meant to be funny, right?
  • Why the hell did you think domestic violence was funny?
  • And why did I laugh the first time I heard it?

That’s the thing that really kills me. I was laughing because Rob would so obviously not hit me that the juxtaposition was funny. But… but, that juxtaposition exists because of how common domestic violence is that we all have the image in our head of the battered woman. I’ve internalized domestic violence as such a part of our culture, that it didn’t even occur to me that I was laughing at something horrible until I’d already done it.

I want you to think about that.

I want you to think about what context the picture of a woman with black eyes is linked to in our society.

It’s not funny.

Stop it.

Not just the jokes. We need to stop the context that sets the jokes up.

Home! I’m discharged from the hospital and have sorbet

I am home! There is grapefruit-peppercorn sorbet.

My surgeon pulled the nasal tampons out and that is so much more accurate a name that rocket. Like… wow. I could immediately breathe better than I could before I went in and that was while I still have swelling and a brief nosebleed. (Totally normal.)

Seriously. I really did not understand how much my airflow was restricted.

Meanwhile, on the audio front, I’ve recorded a Before, After Surgery, and Day After Surgery snippet using the same piece of text. I’m going to do one more in a week, after some of the swelling goes down, but my initial reaction is that I have more instrument to use.  Plus, I called Mom and Dad and they say I sound like me.

I will do more in-depth stuff about the recordings when I do that post.

The big thing to know though is that I’m home, I’m not in any pain, and I have sorbet.

Bi-lateral rhino-rockets — still not an SF story

Yesterday’s surgery seems to have gone well. I still have bi-lateral rhino-rockets in my nose and am really, really looking forward to having them removed. I’ve been told that they are called nose-tampons. Having googled, yes. Yes, that’s a really good description of them.

That is, in fact, exactly what they are.

And I’m really looking forward to having them out of my nose. That sensation you’re imagining right now? Yeah. That’s pretty much exactly what it’s like. And if you’re not able to imagine that, just take the world’s worst sinus infection, blow up a balloon inside your nose, and then eat ice cream too fast. Now… try not to cough or sneeze.

The staff here has been fantastic. They are all fascinated by the audiobook narrator thing, so I played a bit of Glamour in Glass for them, because I figure that the ENT nurses never hear the “before” voice. Indeed, one of them said, “I would never have guessed, listening to this that it was you.”

Because, hello, rockets in my nose.

BUT that’s not a permanent state, so I’m not too worried. Also! The bump on my nose is still present. This pleases me. Food had flavor yesterday, which means that, even with the rockets in my nose, my sense of taste is intact.

So right now, I’m just waiting for the doctors. Rob is on his way back, to be a second set of ears listening to instructions and to take me home.

AND…I actually wrote fiction while I was here. Only 300 words, but I’m still darn proud of that. Well… of the effort. We’ll see how coherent it is later.


Turbinate hypertrophy and other woes

It sounds like a rocket part. It’s actually a thing that’s happening in my nose. Nose rocketry! Well… no.

It’s like this. My husband noticed that I was getting out of breath when we were walking. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, but I was breathing through my mouth. The right side of my nose just felt permanently stuffed up.

So I finally went to the doctor and she said, “Hm… I can’t see to the back of your nose. You probably have a polyp. Here’s a specialist. It’s easy to snip out and he’ll probably do it while you wait.”

So I went to the specialist and he stuck a probe up my nose, with a tiny little camera on the end, which was gross and cool all at the same time. He said, “It’s not a polyp, but you appear to have a collapsed nasal valve. This is an easy thing to fix, and we can do it in the office. Let’s do a CT scan just to be sure.”

So the CT scan comes back, and he sits me down and says. “Well… it is a collapsed nasal valve. And a deviated septum, that doesn’t look bad from the outside, but inside, it’s narrowing the channel quite a bit.” Even to my eye, that was painfully clear on the CT scan. “And you also have turbinate hypertrophy.”

“That sounds like part of a rocket ship.”

He laughed, thank heavens. “You have structures in the nose called turbinates, which cause the air to hit different surfaces to help with allergies and smells. Yours are enlarged, so instead of causing the air to swirl around, they’re blocking things.”

“I’m sensing this is no longer out patient surgery.”

Technically, it is. But just for insurance reasons. You’ll be in the hospital for 23 hours.” And then he proceeded to detail what they were going to do to me. I’ll spare you that bit. “You can expect to need about a week of recovery time. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an audiobook narrator.”

“Ah–” He swiveled toward me, and I could tell that we’d just gone off script. “Then let’s talk about resonance.”

Tomorrow’s surgery will fix the breathing problems. I’m apparently down to about 40% airflow on the right side of my nose. It may also change the way I sound.

It may not. He can’t tell me definitely either way, only warn me that it might be a consequence. The only thing that he can assure me of is that I won’t sound more nasal.

This will be the first time I’ve had surgery (not counting wisdom teeth). Being a writer, I’m strangely excited about it, because there’s so much good material and it is a mostly elective surgery. I mean, I could continue on with mouth-breathing when I walk and things would be fine. So there’s no pressure or stress about that.

As a narrator, I’m a little terrified. Again, it’ll be fine, and I know that, but I am about to change my instrument. I’ve recorded a sample text of “before” and I’m going to record the same thing again in the “after” stage to see how much it changes. It might not be perceptible at all.

And then, as just me, I’m worried that when they straighten out the septum they’ll “fix” my nose and get rid of the bump. When I was a teen, I would have loooooooved that. But 47 year old me really likes my nose now. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it and it’s mine. I know it will look somewhat different, because, well, they are breaking it and moving things. But still… I don’t want to look like someone else. The doctor knows that.

All of which is to say that tomorrow will be fine, and yet I’m still a bundle of anxiety. So, if you have a funny story to share, or something adorable, tomorrow would be an excellent time.

My Favorite Bit: Adam Rakunas talks about LIKE A BOSS

My Favorite BitAdam Rakunas is joining us today with his novel Like A Boss. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this breathless and hilarious followup to Windswept, former labor organiser Padma Mehta’s worst nightmare comes true: she gets yanked out of early retirement.

After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.

Now Padma’s summoned by the Union president to help stop this strike from happening. The problem is, she’s out of practice. And, the more she digs, the more she realises this whole strike business is more complicated than the Union president let on…

What’s Adam’s favorite bit?

Like A Boss cover


I hate PowerPoint.

This is not a radical statement. Its user interface is opaque, its effects are cloying, and its prevalence as the go-to tool for making dull, bloodless presentations even more soul-deadening means it’s inescapable. If anything, you might be nodding your head right now and saying, “Yeah, I hate PowerPoint, too!”

Which is why my favorite bit in Like A Boss is a PowerPoint presentation.

Well, kinda. Padma Mehta, the two-fisted labor organizer and heroine of the Occupied Space books, is a former executive go-getter. Once upon a time, she lived and breathed presentations about budgets, corporate governance, and entertainment logistics (ie making sure there are enough straws and napkins for every football stadium in the world). She walked away from all that to join the Union and make people’s lives better. No more PowerPoint (or its futuristic equivalent) ever again.

Until she has to talk a planet-wide angry mob into stopping its strike and getting back to work. Normally, she’d just go on the Public, the vast network that’s beamed right into everyone’s eyeballs. But when that gets shut down, what does she do? She grabs a bunch of markers, finds the nearest wall, and gets to drawing. She lays out all the connections between her planet’s stalled economy, the Union’s corrupt leadership, and what everyone watching can do. If she can turn one crowd to her side, then people can copy what they saw and tell a new bunch of people what’s going on. It’s file sharing the old-fashioned way: writing on the wall from memory.

As she talks, the crowd talks back to her. Some of them aren’t buying her argument. A few kids have hijacked the markers and are adding their own embellishments. Getting a bunch of angry people to listen is hard. Getting them to change their minds and come over to your side? That’s a heroine’s task. Padma is tough and fair-minded enough to listen, to challenge, to change her tactics while maintaining her course. Plus, she knows everything is riding on her getting this right.

The fact that she’s giving a presentation with lots of pretty graphics and bullet points is not lost on her. Granted, she’s scribbling boxes and lines on the side of a market stall, but it’s still a bloody presentation. The difference, both for her as the heroine and me as the writer, is that this slow-motion slide show means something. If she can’t make her case to this crowd, the strike will continue, people will get hurt, and the bad guys will win. Engaging in (or writing about) a pitched battle in the streets may be fun, but making a compelling presentation that will get people’s attention and motivate them? That’s a challenge.

I’ve joked how this is the closest I will get to a John Galt speech. Ayn Rand’s infamous seventy-page-long rambler is one of those hallmarks of speculative fiction that anyone who writes about politics has to measure up to at some point. Its sheer cultural weight is massive, and the speech’s word count only adds to its gravitational density. I’m glad Rand wasn’t alive in the era of PowerPoint, because turning the whole thing into a presentation would have created a literary singularity that would have crushed anything that got near it. The whole of Atlas Shrugged leads up to that point, just as most of Like A Boss leads up to Padma writing on a wall. The difference that is that Padma’s trying to get people to work together so they can make their lives better, and Galt wants to justify why it’s perfectly to be such a selfish dick. I like to think Padma would kick little Johnny’s ass even on her worst day.

Padma’s case to her fellow Union members might as well be mine for How To Make A Fair And Just Society. She and her compatriots have gotten complacent and inattentive. Running a Fair And Just society takes work, and work can be a pain in the ass. However, the alternative — chaos and bloodshed and near starvation — are much worse. Better to attend a weekly meeting, pester representatives to do a better job, and do the occasional gruntwork. Oh, and sit through presentations.

Granted, Padma gets to loosen up her audience first with tacos and rum punch. Maybe we all need more of that.



Barnes & Noble


Mysterious Galaxy

Elliott Bay Book Company







Adam Rakunas is the author of the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated WINDSWEPT and the forthcoming LIKE A BOSS. His short fiction has appeared in and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has had a long and varied career as a video game engineer, a triathlon race director, a parking lot attendant, an IT consultant, and a theater usher. He splits his copious spare time between writing, political rabble-rousing, and being a stay-at-home dad. A former Southern Californian, he and his family now live in the Pacific Northwest. Find him online at

My Favorite Bit: Anna Kashina talks about ASSASSIN QUEEN

My Favorite BitAnna Kashina is joining us today with her novel Assassin Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Defeated by the Majat forces, Nimos and the other Kaddim Brothers retreat to their secret fortress in the southern mountains. Nimos knows that the Majat’s victory is only temporary: during the flight, he managed to place a mark on Kara, one of the top-ranked Diamond Majat. His mind magic would now allow him to use this mark to confer her fighting skill to the Kaddim warriors and turn her loyalties to their side.

The new Majat Guildmaster, Mai, is planning a march against the Kaddim. His key ally, Prince Kyth Dorn, is instrumental in these plans: Kyth’s magic gift can protect the Majat against the Kaddim mind control powers. But Mai and Kyth are having trouble getting over their rivalry for Kara’s affections–even after they realize that this rivalry is the least of their worries, at least for the moment. Something about Kara is not right…

What’s Anna’s favorite bit?

Assassin Queen cover


My favorite bit in writing “Assassin Queen” – and the whole “Majat Code” series — is the main character, Mai. It felt almost like a guilty pleasure to write about it. Is this even legitimate?

Mai is a Diamond-ranked warrior, so highly skilled that despite his young age he has become a legend in the Majat Guild. He first appeared in book 1 of the series, “Blades of the Old Empire”, where he was intended to appear only briefly, not that it ever worked out as planned. In that book, Kara, another Diamond-ranked Majat, violates her orders, triggering the Guild to send an assassin after her. Since up until that point Kara seems pretty much undefeatable, I needed this assassin to be dangerous enough to make the readers worry about the outcome. On the heels of that came the realization that this danger cannot be fully evoked unless this character is developed far beyond an ominous shadow figure wielding a blade. It took me a long time to come up with a person who would fit the bill.

Once I worked out the big picture, everything else started clicking into place, including his looks, personality – even his name. Opposite to the stereotypes, he looks slim and delicate, boyish. When he first appears, he is described as more fit to carry a lyre than a sword. Yet, he also emanates subtle threat, and the reason for it becomes obvious as soon as he starts fighting and we see both his competency and the brutal force he is capable of.

Mai is built through contrasts, and when all these contrasts formed in my head, his image popped out and immediately became dimensional. I could always see him in my mind, beyond the details I chose to describe. It became even more exciting when he started talking – and saying things I absolutely did not expect him to say. Any time a character wanted to have a conversation with Mai, all I needed to do was set up the situation and the topic and then let Mai do all the talking. Literally. By Book 2 in the series, “The Guild of Assassins” I began to think of writing as “watching” and I could not wait to get back to it. Now, having written the conclusion of the series, I think back on it with a mix of enjoyment and regret. I love the way the series turned out. And, I am sad I am not writing it any more.

In Book 1 Mai remained a secondary character, even if with a much bigger role in the story than I originally planned. By Book 2 he stepped decisively to the front – can you imagine my thrill when my publisher chose to feature him on the cover? Book 3 all revolves around him, and the choices he must make to save the world. I credit Mai with the way the story stayed so seamlessly together, integrating several major point of view characters into one fast-moving plot line. I also credit him for the fact book 2 won two Prism Awards last year, both the “Best in Fantasy” and the “Best of the Best” grand prize, both given for speculative fiction with elements of romance.

I found it curious that despite how focused on Mai I was, how much I was looking forward to seeing him every time I wrote the Majat Code series, I still found it unnatural to use his point of view. He is shown entirely through the eyes of others, who love and admire him–or on occasions hate him and find him annoying. This blend was fun too, reflecting all the contrasts and dimensions of his personality in a way that also makes perfect sense all around.

But the most rewarding of all was to see the same reaction to Mai in many of my readers and fans. Evoking this response, finding the like-minded people who enjoy the same things about my books that I do – this is really my favorite bit!



Barnes & Noble



Angry Robot





Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing.

Anna’s interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tonight, at Authors with Drinks, I’ll type a story for you. For charity.

Kids Need to Read is a great charity started by Nathan Fillion. Tonight, at Phoenix Comicon, I’m participating in a fundraiser for them. Other authors are raffling off ARCs and things like that. Me? I’ll write a story for you, on demand.

Tonight, at Drinks with Authors, I'll write a story for you.

A post shared by Mary Robinette Kowal (@maryrobinettekowal) on

Here’s how it works. You donate $40 to the charity, and then you get to pick three cards: Object, Character, Genre. I take those cards and on a vintage 1920s Royal typewriter, I will write a story for you in about fifteen minutes. I keep a carbon copy for myself — yes, using actual carbon paper — and you get to take the signed original, and the cards. The story even comes with a Creative Commons License.

If you really want to be generous, you can also add cards to your story. So, if you want a Science-Fiction/Mystery, you can buy an additional card for $5.

Even more generous? Throw down another $10 for a blank card, so you can write your own to seriously challenge me.


Are the cards unique?
The character and object cards are unique. The genre cards have some unique cards, like “erotica” but cards like “science-fiction” are duplicated. What this means is that once you chose a card, no one else can pick one.

Well… not until I reorder the cards, but that doesn’t happen often.

What if I want to publish your story?
Totally fair game. The Creative Commons License is a share-alike, so publish away.

Can I sell it?
You can’t publish it for money, but you could sell it to a collector. I’d like to suggest that, since this is for charity, if you’re paid more for it than you donated, it would be a classy move to donate at least part of that to the charity.

How long is the story?
One page. Every now and then, I’ll go over onto another page. That likelihood increases when cards get added.

What kind of typewriter are you using?
It’s an oxblood red 1920s Royal with the rare Royal Deco type.

What if I can’t make it to the event, but want a story?
You can ask a friend to pick for you, but this is something that I only do in person.

Will you do other events?
Yes. If you have a charity event, and I’m going to be nearby, feel free to ask if I’ll do this. I won’t promise I’ll say yes, because it has to be a charity I believe in, but yes.

My Favorite Bit: Micah Joel talks about BROKEN TABLET

Favorite Bit iconMicah Joel is joining us today to talk about his novel Broken Tablet. Here’s the publisher’s description:

What happens when a Silicon Valley engineer gets trapped in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur?

When a senior engineer at Ixion, Silicon Valley’s hottest company, gets frustrated with the gadget lifestyle, he gives it all up for a pastoral life. But when pulled 4,000 years back to the bronze age, his only choice is to re-invent technology and save the future.

If you liked Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or time travel classics like L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, join the adventure and read this exciting debut novel from Micah Joel.

What’s Micah’s favorite bit?

Broken Tablet cover


When it comes to time travel, there’s a huge problem. Actually there’s quite a few, but the one I’m thinking about is language. To keep a time travel tale from devolving into a boring (or terrifying, depending on your High School experience!) lesson in a forgotten language, a handful of tropes have become commonplace. Protagonists with deep expertise in dead languages are conveniently over-represented. Universal translators are often mentioned once before moving on. Sometimes the whole language barrier just gets kind of glossed over.

In my novel Broken Tablet, I wanted to dispense with the language problem before it got tedious, but in a way that connected with bigger themes. One thread running through the whole book is an examination of conflicting ways of thinking, so I let my inner linguist geek-out over the use of language. How much does your language affect the way you think? If you woke up one morning and found the voice in your head speaking Swahili, or Somali, or Sindhi, or even American Sign Language, how much would that affect your outlook on other things in your life?

It’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that in Broken Tablet, our modern-day protagonist, Shiloh, finds himself stuck in Bronze Age Sumer. After grappling with language for just long enough to realize how truly lost he is, he meets the priestess in charge of the city, who gives him a stone that lets him understand her language. Except this isn’t a throwaway Universal Translator. Hearing another language in his head affects how he thinks, and ends up influencing his perception of the world around him. After finishing the novel I found that this is a field of study called linguistic relativism; it falls under the umbrella of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in case you’d like something to google later.

An example: In the presence of the powerful priestess, Shiloh’s every attempt to use the word “I” comes out of his mouth as “your servant,” a reflection of the way both the language and the society viewed honorifics and relative status. It helps emphasize Shiloh’s powerlessness shortly after he’s plunged into an unfamiliar world.

Another example, which sadly didn’t make the novel’s final cut: The Sumerians were incredible astronomers, capable of making detailed measurements and predictions of the heavenly bodies. But their language didn’t have a word for astronomy distinct from astrology, whereas in our modern world, it’s common for people to draw a sharper line between scientific thought and unscientific horoscopes.

The Sumerians attributed nearly every imaginable circumstance to some kind of divine intervention, so for them there wasn’t any meaningful distinction between developing mathematics to predict the motion of Jupiter, and, say, performing a complex incantation to predict when they needed to make the next sacrifice at the temple. Shiloh tries to explain this difference, but his explanation (as he hears it) makes no sense: “I see that you’re talking about astrology, as in divination, but I’m talking about astrology, as in observing the heavens.”

As the story progresses, Shiloh gradually figures out the secrets behind the translation stone and asserts himself more forcefully, which causes more of the same effect, but this time in the other direction. He changes the Sumerians’ language and introduces new terms to them, like repeatable experimentation (“a devising”) and the forming of hypotheses (“a devising whose merit begs evaluation”).

Nudging their language in a new direction changes their outlook accordingly until finally… (the remainder of this sentence has been omitted citing spoiler etiquette).

For Shiloh, everything all comes back to Silicon Valley, a place that features both a distinctive corruption of language, and a distinctive culture to match. So if you get a chance to read Broken Tablet, I hope you’ll keep an eye out for the use of language, and think about how much or how little language affects how you see your world.




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Micah Joel’s books combine geeky characters with cutting-edge technology, whether modern or ancient. Micah works as a professional geek in Silicon Valley. If you use the internet, chances are, you’ve run some of the code Micah’s written. Micah graduated the Viable Paradise writing workshop; an intense week on Martha’s Vineyard, where he worked on a story that later became Broken Tablet, his debut novel.

Come see me at Phoenix Comicon this weekend!

where I’ll be:


My Favorite Bit: LJ Cohen talks about DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE

My Favorite BitLJ Cohen is joining us today with her novel Dreadnought and Shuttle. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When a reckless young computer programmer resurrects the damaged AI on a long dormant freighter, she and her accidental crew expose explosive secrets from a war they were taught ended decades ago.

Welcome to the universe of Halcyone Space.

Charged with protecting Ithaka and its covert rebellion from discovery, Ro and the members of Halcyone’s crew learn to lead double lives within the Commonwealth. Their plans to hide in plain sight disintegrate when Alain Maldonado — Ro’s father — returns seeking revenge and takes a hostage to ensure their cooperation. As the former shipmates track Maldonado down, each course they plot endangers the life of his hostage, threatens to reveal Ithaka, and uncovers conspiracies that could brand them all traitors.

DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE is book 3 of the Halcyone Space series of science fiction space opera adventures that began with DERELICT and continued with ITHAKA RISING.

What’s LJ’s favorite bit?

Dreadnought and Shuttle cover


My favorite bit in writing DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE was creating Dev. Devorah Martingale Morningstar, to be precise. The character and her name were a gift from the muses. Dev simply showed up in the first chapter of the novel and steadfastly refused to be a minor player.

When your subconscious is that stubborn, you’d be a fool not to listen.

The Halcyone Space books already had a large cast of main characters and I certainly didn’t plan on adding another point of view to my ensemble. Initially, Dev was just meant to be the college roommate of one of my main characters, Micah Rotherwood. In the middle of book 2 of the series, Micah finally gets what he wants – a place at University. Book 3 starts with him arriving there. Since he would be cut off from his former crewmates aboard Halcyone, I knew he’d need some characters to interact with. Hence, Dev.

She is everything Micah is not: brash where he is controlled, garrulous where he is reserved, open where he is secretive. And her upbringing in the rough-and-tumble settlements – permanent refugee cities that sprung up on Earth after the rising seas took most of the coastlines – stands in sharp contrast to his privileged life off planet as the son of a career diplomat.

It is her fierce will to survive and her creativity that I most love about Dev. Aside from her tough childhood in the settlement and the skills she has from it, she is a materials science student. Being trapped on a ship is her equivalent of a kid in a candy store and she totally takes advantage of what’s around her. There’s a reason why I describe her scenes as MacGuyver meets The Ransom of Red Chief.

Part of the fun of writing her scenes was in exploring the world of materials science and I completely lucked out in finding a large materials science community on G+. The people there enjoyed helping me come up with realistic scenarios of materials and what could be done with them. Materials science is utterly fascinating – the intersection of physics, chemistry, and engineering. I’m so glad I got to discover it through Dev.

Here’s a bit from her point of view:

She released the pressure on the tool and pulled it free. Her forehead beaded sweat. Her hands were trembling. Moving quietly, she repositioned to the opposite corner and tried again. Again, the screwdriver started to warp before there was any sense of movement from the plug. With deliberate care, Dev set it down and wiped her hands on the bottom of her shirt. Then she picked up the tool and went to the third corner.

In her mind, she was uncovering a precious relic, and this was a dig site, not a prison. Slowly, carefully, she could loosen the plugs. She had to.

It was just going to take time. Dev had plenty of that.

She lost track of how long she circled the small area of floor, applying minute amounts of pressure to each of the four plugs in turn, before one shifted. At first Dev thought she’d cracked the screwdriver, but when she looked down, the pattern of the flooring had been disrupted and the tiny disk was now ever so slightly raised up above the level of the tile.

“Fuck, yeah,” she whispered, before attacking the remaining three with a new energy.

While her captor believes she is trapped and helpless, locked in the ruined galley of a spaceship in the midst of a refit, she has spent her day making tools from the polymer water containers and finds a way to break into the access shafts below her. Yes, she’s afraid. Yes, she feels overwhelmed, but she is no one’s passive victim. Dev isn’t a kick-ass warrior or a computer hacker. It is her quiet strength, creative problem-solving skills, and determination that make Dev one of my favorite things about DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE.



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LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

Guest Post by Rachel Swirsky

Thank you! to Mary Robinette Kowal for letting me visit her blog. I’m Rachel Swirsky, and I wrote a short story called “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” which upset some folks enough that they’ve been kicking up a fuss for a few years now. I believe in the transformational power of humor so I’m running a Making Lemons Into Jokes fundraiser. To raise money for LGBTQ health care, I’m going to write a Chuck Tingle-esque parody of myself, called “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

If you were a butt, my butt

Fans of Mary’s might want to help us reach the $700 stretch goal. If we do, she will narrate the audio book version of “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” in her sexy tweet voice.

If you want the whole story behind the fundraiser, you can read it here–

I was sitting down to write something about the fundraiser when my brain turned this up. It’s sort of quasi-memoir, quasi-poetry, quasi-free association, and thematically related to the fundraiser, more than literally.  My mind went someplace dark, as might make sense, considering the reasons why stories like “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” resonate with people. These are the reasons why we stand together.


I remember the first time I learned that one of my friends had been raped. She didn’t know what to call it. There was just an older boy and a thing she was too frozen to speak up against.

I remember the first time I learned that one of my friends was trans. I didn’t understand. My framework of gender hadn’t been made for her. Why be a woman? What does woman mean? Be one if you like, I thought, but please don’t hurt yourself. She didn’t hurt herself.

What does woman mean? I still don’t know.

I remember being ten and sitting with a twenty-two year old man at a party I’d gone to with my parents. His name was Walter and he was kind and we played drawing games together. He died that year. Him, and so many other gay men who should have been entering the fullness of their lives when the clock rang 1990.

He should be 45. I’m older than he’ll ever be.

I remember being four or five, and watching the television and seeing a black man kiss a white woman on WKRP in Cincinnati, and telling my mom that was wrong because blacks and whites don’t kiss each other. My mom, who had been engaged to two black men in Georgia, only a sliver of time after interracial marriage was nationally recognized.

Where did I learn that? Everywhere.

On television, Bill Huxtable the obstetrician gave medical advice to interracial couples. I watched that, and I learned differently. But damn it, why did it have to be Bill Cosby.

I was very young, and I asked my parents who they’d let starve first, me or the cat, if they ran out of money. They said the cat. I was surprised.

I remember walking through museums and stores with my friend Dawna, me sixteen and her fourteen, her wearing baggy pants strung with chains, her hair bleached and cut to a fine half-inch, so that you could rub it back and forth, and it would prickle like cat’s fur. Security guards followed us. They thought she was a dyke; they thought she was a druggie.

They were right. She was both. Hard to know whether the untreatable depression wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t been the kind of girl people yelled “Queer!” at out of the window. She was, though.

I remember the boy I went to high school with, who never wore shoes when he could get away with it, who probably should have known better than to go to a play audition on acid, who wore knee-length shorts with flames on them. His parents kicked him out of the house for being gay.

I thought he had a fifty percent chance of dying. Maybe I was right. He lived, but Dawna was the other fifty percent.

I wrote a young adult book. Some of the characters are gay. They live in a world of battened doors, of sheltering against a relentless hail of hate.

But that was my childhood. The storms are still there, but they’re different now.

I remember being told in the lunch line that I was going to hell.

I remember saying I wasn’t a lesbian. I remember believing I wasn’t a lesbian. I remember telling myself that when I looked at women on magazine pages in swimsuits, it was because I wanted to be like them.

I remember my friend Anita’s brow piercing, and daring sexuality, and lithe strength as she danced ballet.

I remember being like so many other people—somehow investing in a binary, when the word “bisexual” should have been easy to find.

I remember there are things I’ve never known, and voices I’ve never heard, and experiences that will never be part of my skin the way childhood is.

I sat in the car with my mother. I asked, “Would you rather I was a lesbian or straight?” I don’t know how old I was. Maybe sixteen. She had her hands on the wheel. She said, “Straight, because being a lesbian is a hard life.”

That’s true.

I remember the man who hit my cousin when he was a child, and I have nothing to say to that man, and when he sends texts on Christmas, I delete them from my cousin’s phone, unread.

I remember sitting with my cousin on Christmas night. The texts weren’t on his phone anymore. We hadn’t discussed it. “I have so much trouble trusting people,” he said. Then: “I wonder what I would have been like.”

So do I.


My Favorite Bit: Alberto Bieri talks about THE DRAGON KING (CHRONICLES OF CALIBRAN)

My Favorite BitAlberto Bieri is joining us today with The Dragon King, the first episode of his epic fantasy The Chronicles of Calibran. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Marked from birth, King Hesleof Obella has sat on the Dragon Throne ruling the land of Calibran for over two decades. A meeting with Lyrroth, an ancient dragon, brings forth surprising news to the wise king.

Hesleof’s ultimate goal of uniting the varied races of Calibran is now altered to keeping the Realm safe from an upcoming threat, potentially more deadly than the dragons of old. Twisted creatures, racial tensions, a disgruntled race of Dragons wanting back the land stolen from them by the mortals, and the emergence of a never before seen power rising from the forbidden Chaos Lands are about to change the face of Calibran forever.

But Hesleof is not alone: the fierce minotaurs of Calibran as well as, Noble elves, Wood elves, Dark elves, Dwarves and even Orcs could be allies in dealing with these new threats.

Hesleof will look for answers: can the legendary Noble elf, Almorwen, provide answers to his doubts? Is the Realm really in danger? Does Hesleof needs to no longer just unite the races, but hold them together to survive?

Join Chronicles of Calibran epic fantasy series now! A brand new amazing fantasy world is waiting for you!

What’s Alberto’s favorite bit?

The Dragon King cover


There are plenty of epic battles and intimate struggles in The Chronicles of Calibran, but when thinking about a moment from The Dragon King that I really love, it’s actually a minor incident that comes to mind.

On his way to consult with Lyrroth the Benevolent, a wise dragon who carries a dire warning, King Hesleof comes across a murder. Two barbarians have killed a goblin, seemingly as part of a robbery, and are about to set upon more:

“Our business does not concern the throne,” growled one of the barbarians.

“Does it concern the goblins?” Hesleof motioned to the two cowering creatures. “For the goblins, like the barbarians, are under the protection of the throne.”

Ruric dismounted and took his place beside Hesleof. He began to unlash his battle axe, but stood back as the thalagring let out a screech, unsettled by the building tension. Ruric patted the creature’s shoulder before lifting his weapon free. The king still mounted, their heads were level, and Ruric said, “It appears that your protection might be in question for the one over there.” He pointed with his axe to the goblin corpse, then to the severed head. “…and there.”

“Barbarians do not answer to minotaurs,” said the barbarian holding the sword. Hesleof assumed he was the leader. “We talk to men, not beasts.”

“You will address my sergeant-at-arms when spoken to,” Hesleof said. “Now state your name and business, barbarian.”

The reader might assume that it’s about to be the worst day of the barbarians’ lives, but there’s actually no easy resolution. Both sides expect the king’s protection, and there’s the constant possibility of the situation tipping over into violence. Hesleof behaves wisely, preventing bloodshed, but the murderers go free. There’s little justice to be found, and no-one walks away happy – even Hesleof’s closest friend, the minotaur Ruric, asks if they’re now rewarding the murder of their citizens.

Perhaps it’s a stark moment, but it encapsulates so much about the world of The Dragon King, and about what that titular position entails. In Calibran, potential rulers are ‘Marked’ from birth by a unique symbol. The symbol is ancient magic, but it doesn’t ‘choose’ the next ruler. Instead, it merely marks those who might one day possess the necessary qualities.

In myth, legend, and even our own history, there’s always been this idea that rulers are chosen by divine providence – that they’re selected or supported by otherworldly forces. If you look at Arthurian legend, the bedrock on which a lot of fantasy writing is based, you have that pivotal image of the Lady of the Lake presenting Arthur with the sword Excalibur. In our world, you have the Egyptian Pharaohs, considered Gods on Earth, and even the concept of the ‘divine right of kings’ with relatively recent figures such as King Louis XIV and King James I. Clearly, it’s a concept that strikes a chord with us, and it’s something that The Dragon King, and The Chronicles of Calibran as a whole, is designed to play with.

King Hesleof is a good man and a fair ruler, he lived up to his potential, but that’s not the only way it can go. As the series unfolds, the reader encounters other Marked who are in a different position. Some aren’t ready yet, some don’t want the job, and some have been corrupted by a sense of entitlement.

When Hesleof encounters the barbarians and the goblins, the reader sees that this is a world where, even with the wisdom of Solomon, there’s often no perfect solution. Rulers are successful because being Marked sets them a challenge; it’s the first step in a baptism of fire that can have amazing results, but it is only that first step. It’s an intricate, impressive mechanism, but it’s not the finger of God pointing at one person.

This idea that nothing is guaranteed – that even those who are ‘chosen’ can stumble, fall, and fail – is everywhere in The Chronicles of Calibran. As the goblins lament their murdered brother and the barbarians escape with stolen gold and the king’s blessing, a seed is planted in the reader’s mind. This was a situation that was perfectly mediated by a good king, one who values the safety and happiness of his people, and yet there’s only tragedy. If that’s the case, then what happens when war and terror descend on the land, and that good king is forced to make hard decisions? What happens when ruthless contenders covet his throne and challenge his power? What happens when the very magic that binds the kingdom together threatens to burn it to ash? The Dragon King begins to answer those questions and, while there’s always hope, the minor scene I’ve chosen as my favorite suggests there may be some very dark days on the horizon.








Alberto, a fantasy enthusiast since childhood, is the driving force behind the Chronicles of Calibran. His is inspired by the Dragonlance novellas and Tolkien books. Alberto is a big fan of the creations of fantasy artists like Larry Elmore, Angus McBride and Boris Vallejo.

Together with his friends he still enjoys long sessions of RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, Middle Earth Role Playing and tabletop games.