Life in perpetual smoke

First of all…I am (at the moment) nowhere near any active big fires.

However, the Oregon wildfires have had some impacts on me–emotionally, as places I knew as a child and young adult either went up in flames or have been under threat. But I’ve had a lot of friends affected by the fires. Some have lost homes and vacation cabins. So far no deaths. The Holiday Farm fire near Eugene was very visceral, especially as my old high school was first an evacuation center, then was under assorted evacuation warnings. The small valley northeast of Eugene where I lived from ages 9-20 was evacuated and under threat. One of my favorite places in the Eugene-Springfield area, the McKenzie River corridor, was hard hit by the fires. And while I knew places up the Santiam, I just never have had the same connection to Detroit etc that I did to Blue River. Difference between childhood and adult lives, I guess.

There’s been a more tangible affect from the fires, though, and that’s been heavy smoke. Ever since the winds shifted back to a normal seasonal flow of sorts, my small town three hundred miles from those big Cascade fires has been buried in smoke. Not to the same degree as Portland, Seattle, Salem, and Eugene…but still hovering around 200 AOI for nearly a week.

One problem is that my sinuses (but fortunately not my lungs, apparently) are very reactive to smoke. Legacy of growing up with heavy cigarette smokers and then spending several weeks every summer experiencing smoke from grass seed field burning in the lower Willamette Valley. Back in the 60s and very early 70s there weren’t many regulations about field burning, and it was considered necessary to sterilize the field against weeds and other problems after harvest. I do remember the awful day (Black Tuesday? Friday?) when Eugene and Springfield got socked in with smoke so bad that the skies were a lot like we’re seeing in pictures of the Willamette Valley under 500+ AQIs.

After that, there were plans to only burn when the winds blew in a certain direction. But…that brought the smoke from the Willamette Valley into that little valley where I lived. It wasn’t at the same sustained level as the current wildfire smoke–that is, it would clear out from day to day. All the same, I had a lot of smoke exposure. When I became an adult, my reactive sinuses kept me from doing a lot of barhopping because…well, I’d get nailed by cigarette smoke. Going to a bar to hear a band–or just about any venue in that era–meant dealing with smokers and exposure issues.

When the wildfire smoke settled in here, in NE Oregon, at first I wasn’t too worried. We’ve dealt with heavy smoke before and I wasn’t reactive.

Not so this time. By the second day of heavy, choking smoke, my sinuses were shutting down and I was having problems. Oh, the pulse oximeter said I was all right, so it was just the sinuses flaring bad. I ended up grabbing one of the N95 dust masks with valves to wear inside to see if that helped, and started running a small essential oil diffuser with just water in it to see if that helped (note: I CAN’T DO OILS WHEN MY SINUSES ARE LIKE THIS. PLEASE DO NOT START RECOMMENDING THAT I USE OILS OR HERBS OR ANYTHING AROMATIC. THE SCENT MAKES THINGS WORSE IN A SINUS FLARE. I WILL YELL AT YOU IF YOU DO.). It did, and I didn’t need to take any decongestants–yay.

That was a week ago. I’m still wearing the mask during the daytime because my sinuses are much happier with me when I do.

Yesterday, I took advantage of diminished levels to ride my horse from one pasture to another. It knocked me out afterward because “diminished levels” still meant an AQI of 170 or so.

But progress is happening. The AQI is declining by ten points a day now. We have an air purifier on order, as well as a bigger humidifier/diffuser.

I can even go for short periods during the day without wearing the mask.

All the same, this is one thing from my childhood that I really am not thrilled about reexperiencing. Sigh.

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As the story twists….

I’m deep in the weeds with The Heritage of Michael Martiniere, and starting to realize that there may be at least one other book dealing with this character. When I first thought about Heritage, it was because I wanted to continue the story of a character who shows up toward the end of  The Martiniere Legacy Book Three: Realization. I’d pretty much concluded a trilogy arc in Realization, and Heritage was intended to focus on some issues that attracted me: namely, Michael coming to terms with being the clone of a toxic, manipulative, man (Philip Martiniere) with significant health issues that Michael was intended to help remedy. I also didn’t intend to write the story in a linear fashion but focus on specific issues and relationships that shape Michael’s progression.

Parts of the story are chugging along quite nicely. Mike has flaws. He’s significantly damaged, not just physically but mentally, by what happened to him before he was rescued by Ruby and Gabe, the protagonists of The Martiniere Legacy. Writing short pieces about how that damage gets addressed is coming along quite nicely, and not writing it linearly means I can pop from one self-contained section to another (Scrivener is proving to be quite useful for this purpose). There are some rather dark scenes that I can work on until I’ve maxed out, then jump over to something not quite as grim.

Well, for the most part I can do that.

But there’s one relationship that keeps evading me, and I realized yesterday what it is and why it is.

Lily. Biologically, she’s Mike’s great-granddaughter. She’s the daughter of Brandon, who as Gabe and Ruby’s son serves as a sort of mixture of big brother and father figure to Mike. Lily’s conception was not supposed to happen as her mother Kris was still under the influence of indentured hormonal and birth control tags. Such conceptions are known to happen in this world, but for the most part they tend to miscarry due to…not very nice distortions of the development process. What isn’t known until Lily is a pre-teen is the cognitive impact of those tags on psychosocial development. Everyone worried for a while that Mike would turn out to be like his progenitor Philip, who was…toxic, manipulative, etc, etc.

But it turns out that Lily is the one the family should have been worried about.

And that’s what I’m struggling with. The interactions of Lily and Mike. Mike is seven years older than Lily. He ends up having to confront her because Lily tries to revive the institution of indenture, and leads a cult venerating Philip.

I’ve had a hard time writing Lily and Mike. Yesterday I realized why. It’s a different book from Michael’s coming to terms with himself as Philip’s clone and his struggles with being a clone. In a lot of ways, realizing this is a huge relief. I’m not ready to write those confrontational scenes. Hell, to write Lily.

So I’m going to write a few notes to myself, and keep on working with the central issues of Heritage. While I’m not necessarily looking forward to what dealing with the structure of this book will be once I know it’s completed, moving the conflict with Lily out of the book except for side references in other self-contained units, makes my focus on Michael’s clone issues more central…which it is supposed to be.

That’s a relief.


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The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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Happy 15th Gotcha Day, Miss Mocha

Fifteen years ago, the American Quarter Horse Association registered the transfer of ownership of one five-year-old chestnut mare, Miss Olena Chic, from Gregg Shrake to me. I was preparing to start my second year of teaching, and my spouse had suggested that maybe it was time for me to become a horse owner again, instead of continuing to be a lesson rider and dealing with the frustrations of juggling special education teaching with the riding lessons that kept me sane. I’d been riding with Gregg for eight years by this point, and had learned just how one goes about finding a good horse that had a decent temperament and wasn’t a dangerous and poorly trained puke–i.e., enlist a trainer you trust. I showed Gregg several local prospects I’d found on Dreamhorse. Gregg waved them away.

“How about Mocha?” he suggested.

I boggled. I’d known Mocha from a baby. In utero, no less. She was the daughter of Gregg’s prized reining mare, Annie (Miss Lorena Wood) and a young stallion, Chocolate Chic Olena, who had been in training with Darren Stancik, a friend of Gregg’s. Mocha was intended to be Gregg’s personal horse, but he’d been having some health issues. I knew she was for sale. I’d handled her, brought her in from turnout, and even said to her at one point once I knew she was for sale about a year earlier, “I wonder whose horse you’re supposed to be?”

“Um, well…how much?” I asked. Honestly, I expected the price tag to be out of my budget.

Gregg named a figure within my budget. “Want to try her tomorrow?”


That night I hit the internet, pricing out five-year-old daughters of Chocolate Chic Olena. First of all, I found there weren’t many for sale. Second, I saw a lot higher price tags. But they were in Texas, and a couple were in foal. All the same, this was an opportunity for me to buy a nicely bred mare with a decent temperament.

The trial ride the next day confirmed the deal. I knew Mocha’s half-siblings, by Jac Daniels Neat. I’d lusted after Mocha’s older sister, a dun named Miss Neat Amerika (Erika, after a granddaughter). I’d ridden Mocha’s brother, Tyler. He and I didn’t click because he was the sort of gelding who occasionally needed a clue-by-four applied. Pushy and opinionated, and occasionally bucked. After the Sparkle mare of my youth, I didn’t worry about the possibility of being able to sit any buck, and Tyler’s bucking was nothing like Sparkle’s. But. There had been a day when I watched Tyler in turnout. He’d just come back from reining training. On his own, he went out about 30 feet from the barn wall, ran as hard as he could toward it, then stopped hard. Paused, then jogged back to his starting place and did it all over again. I think I watched him do this for about five minutes.

(What Tyler was doing was copying a reining training technique known as “fencing,” where the trainer uses a fence as visual reinforcement of the whoa cue to get a good, hard stop. He clearly enjoyed it. Over the years, I’ve seen Mocha do the same thing, although her preference is to run hard at the fence, stop hard, then roll back over her haunches and gallop off. When she was turned out to run in Gregg’s arena, she’d gallop around to get up a head of steam, then run on the diagonal as hard as she could to a corner, stop at the last minute, then roll back, sending dirt flying. Tyler loved the hard stop. Mocha loves the rollback.)

But when I got up on Mocha, I could tell the difference between her and Tyler. The first time I breathed a soft “whoa” and Mocha stopped, I was sold. I felt the difference between her stop and Tyler’s stop. Not that I had any money to go show a horse like Mocha, but the ability to own and ride a horse like her? It was everything I’d dreamed about in the eight years that I’d been a lesson rider both at Shrake’s and at Lake Oswego Hunt.

And so the saga began. Mocha was opinionated, like her mother and siblings. Training had its interesting moments. Not because she was mean, or a bucker. But Mocha had firm opinions about what patterns should be. She needed schooling under saddle to soften up a rough trot and canter. She needed to learn flying changes. She had the foundation to be a reiner, but needed more training.

Gregg and I spent the next few years putting that foundation on her. I didn’t have the time or money to show, much less travel to where I could find a reining competition in that era. Nonetheless, in lessons I learned how to make a reiner.

Eventually we showed in a few reining classes.

By the time of this picture, I’d learned not to wear my Western hat in reining competition. The first time we took off in a large fast circle, even though the tan felt was jammed down hard on my head, the brim was flapping as Mocha galloped harder than she ever had in her home arena. I flicked it off as we passed the gate, for ease in picking it up later. Gregg told me that when I did that, he knew I was going for it. We didn’t do all that well due to pilot error–I had problems remembering just how many spins we had done. But there was no question in my mind that Mocha liked those reining classes…along with trail classes as well.

We did show in other classes, but I learned quickly that unless it was a trail class, we were unlikely to place high. Oh, it happened, but it was not common. Classes on the rail favor a slower-moving horse. That’s not Mocha. But she enjoyed the puzzles that trail class presented, and her mental discipline meant that she could easily make the quick transitions of gaits that are part of an arena trail class. We got good enough at it that we ended up finishing second to a professional in a complicated timed trail class, and beat pros. All the same, Mocha was a real pleasure to show. At her first show (a huge one at Mt. Hood Equestrian Center), I parked her where she could watch the other horses. She found it interesting. I worked at making shows feel like fun to her, and she took to the show life–not that we did a lot of showing.

But things happen. One cold January day I showed up at the barn after work to find Mocha lame in her left fore and right hind. Gregg had to take her by the tail to help me guide her out of her stall. She was going to turn fourteen in March, and hubby and I were in the process of buying a retirement home in Wallowa County. I planned to take Mocha there. But what I saw that night left me in tears. I’d had her left unshod for four years. When I picked up her left fore, I saw a huge hole between the sole and the hoof wall.

White line disease. Never did figure out what was wrong with that right hind. She’d already been getting hock injections to ease the pain of joint fusion. But that damned white line disease. Kenny, her farrier at the time, was grim.

“This killed her mother,” he said flatly, before resecting her hoof, putting on a bar shoe, and issuing strict instructions to me about her care. Mocha was stallbound. She was not to leave that stall unless she was attached to a human. She could be ridden at a walk, bareback. No saddle. No excess weight.

That regime went on for six months. And after that, it was like playing whack-a-mole with that damned white line disease. I’d think we’d have it beat, then bam! Back it came again.

And then we moved her to Wallowa County and a drastic life change. From life in the barn she’d been in since birth, she went to living outdoors in a pen. Not just around other horses, including a breeding stallion, but PIGS. That first summer was rough and hard. Mocha lost weight to a scary degree. She was clearly in pain of some sort. She colicked. She developed monster abscesses in both forefeet–which led to x-rays, and the discovery that shoeing her according to her exterior angles (which is common) was not correct for her. She’d lost the tip of the coffin bone in both forefeet, and in her current shoeing angles, that tip was pointed straight down at the ground.

Fortunately, we had access to a good corrective farrier. It took a year, but the angle issue got fixed and in the drier climate of Wallowa County, the white line disease went away. All the same, to keep her sound and pain-free, she has to live in front shoes year-round.

But things got better. Mocha learned to be a road horse and a trail horse–both of which she enjoys. As she regained weight, I realized that she had indeed been underweight for some time, most likely due to the pain. She took to the life of a 24/7 pasture horse, objecting to being stalled (one time when the ranch owner called to suggest we stall her because she was slipping and sliding on the ice, she had other ideas. At Gregg’s, she’d stay politely in her stall even with the door open. Not so at the ranch. While hubby got hay, I got her grain. We left the gate unlatched. She pushed it open and was on her way back to the field. Did I say she had opinions? Oh yeah, she has Opinions).

Now she is twenty years old. She’s in good weight. She still has her quirks–one winter she adopted a yearling elk as her baby (when the ranch owner sent me the video, because it happened when we were doing business in Portland, I groaned because I knew it would be a problem. It was). When the cows are in the pasture with the herd, she’s one of the horses who will occasionally round them up (I heard that the first time the cows were in the field, Mocha rounded them up, then took them down the fence in fine reined cowhorse mode). We’ve had fifteen good years together, and I spoil the heck out of her in hopes that we’ll have many more.

Happy fifteenth Gotcha Day, Miss Olena Chic. Best damned horse I’ve ever owned.

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THE HERITAGE OF MICHAEL MARTINIERE…diving into the world of nonlinear writing

I took a big step today and figured out the basic structure of The Heritage of Michael Martiniere, which at this point is going to be a novella and the last work of any length in The Martiniere Legacy. One of the challenges I’m facing with this book is that I’m doing something new for me–writing in a non-linear fashion, i.e., writing in scenes/chapters that aren’t necessarily in order, then rearranging them later. Part of it is simply due to the nature of the book and the lengthy period it covers in Michael’s life (something like 40 years). I really don’t want to create this work as a straight-line story, simply because to do it justice might mean another trilogy in this world and I don’t think there’s a series-length arc within it. Plus it was one thing to live in Ruby and Gabe’s world. Michael’s is a lot tougher because of various issues around his origins and the long-term impact on his choices.

But the other piece is that these scenes are coming to mind as self-contained snippets. Some are multi-scene, but may get divided up. Additionally, the three major pieces come in and out of focus in Michael’s life, and…I don’t know. My gut just tells me that this is not particularly a linear story but a set of themes that roughly correspond to a linear arc, albeit not entirely. Rather than deal excessively with flashbacks and memory flashes, I think I’m going to deal with the themes in specific and connected vignettes. Think of it as spotlights on particular relationships and events in Michael’s life, sometimes seen with different perspectives as time passes.

I’m vaguebooking a bit because while Heritage is not explicitly part of the core Legacy trilogy, it picks up one character from Realization and goes from there.

Essentially, the themes are Identity (a particular issue for Michael), Advocate (how Michael applies the resolution from the Identity section), and Fulfillment (the resolution of the events put into play in Advocate). And yeah, they could be another trilogy. But there would need to be a lot more worldbuilding etc built in, and I just don’t think the base premises support that…while they would support about 10,000-15,000 words per section.

We shall see. I’m playing with process right now, as a break from the intensity of writing three books one right after the other.

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The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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Writing plagues and pandemics–and Covid-19

I started out 2020 feeling horribly sick.

No exaggeration. About a week after we got back from Portland in December, a few days after Christmas, I came down with an unusual gut bug that knocked me flat. It was annoying because I was working on this exciting new project that I planned to use as a what-the-hell, let’s see if something happens with tradpub big book. Most of these bugs knock me down for a couple of days, but this one kept me tired out for weeks and affected what I could and couldn’t eat for much longer than usual. My brain was fuzzy. I kept looking up norovirus and shaking my head because it wasn’t a match. But it was also clearly something I’d not had before, because my body wasn’t reacting in its typical manner to the usual gastroenteritis flare. New Year’s Eve featured a binge watch of Good Omens with my husband because I figured I needed something fun and positive to bring in 2020, and I was sick of reading books at that point.

At that point Covid-19 was just a whisper on the horizon. When I went back to working on the big project, I incorporated reading I’ve done for years about pandemics into the world I was building for this new book, then called The Ruby Project. The G9 virus was polio-like in that it often left survivors with serious side effect syndromes. I was thinking about polio when I created the G9, but also some accounts of Ebola survivors as well.

It’s not like thinking about pandemics is a new thing for me. I read The Hot Zone back when it came out; the same for Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague. Then, when my son was showing rabbits in 4H and I was a leader as well as a Fair Small Animals Division superintendent, a new-to-the-US virus popped up in rabbits. Calicivirus, otherwise known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (as well as some other names). While in a different class of hemorrhagic virus from Ebola (Ebola is a filovirus, RHD a calicivirus), the effect was essentially the same. Rapid onset illness and death. But while Ebola in humans is a body-fluid-borne illness, RHD in rabbits is airborne.

And at the time no one really knew how effectively RHD spread or how quickly it could mutate and jump species.

I looked into writing a pandemic novel based on the spread of a RHD-like virus. The insidiousness of RHD isn’t just that it’s airborne, it’s that it is persistent and, unlike Covid-19, soap and water doesn’t get rid of it. Calicivirus is a damnably persistent virus that does transmit via formites (i.e., particles on shoes, surfaces, etc) as well as being airborne. But I rapidly backed away from it because things were just too damn grim. I couldn’t live in that headspace to write.

Nonetheless, I started slipping plague and pandemic elements into the backstories of what I wrote. In my short story Slow Dancing in 3/4 Zombie Time, (available here), the story isn’t so much about zombies as it is about a post-pandemic, post-apocalyptic scenario where a father has to make choices about his family’s survival. If you look closely, the backstory of The Netwalk Sequence series includes plagues caused by war machines and alien artifacts. The backstory of the Goddess’s Honor series postulates that a magical curse created at an Empress’s funeral as part of a leadership battle between siblings ends up causing a virulent world-wide plague that decimates the population of one continent. When the losing sibling flees to that continent, the surviving peoples welcome their presence For Reasons, primarily to fill a political vacuum in one of the hardest-hit peoples. It almost happens again in a later generation when the feud is reawakened.

And then there’s The Martiniere Legacy, formerly known as The Ruby Project. My initial use of the plague/pandemic theme was not at all based on Covid-19, but on that regular reading I’ve done about pandemics. I knew that sooner or later we’d be hit by a Big Nasty, and that would cause hardships. Heck, when I look back to my earliest Netwalk Sequence notes, I was postulating that it would be happening (along with civil disorder) right about….now.

(I do wish I could find the notes I wrote in 1992 where I break things out based on the two possible outcomes of the general election. My vague recall of those projections was rather grim, no matter who got elected. Now I’m regretting that I didn’t find a means to become a more visible pundit, because based on what I was writing in the 90s, my projections ended up playing out in a reasonably accurate manner)

So I had a couple of mysterious plague/pandemic issues hit in the backstory.

And then, when I was close to finishing Inheritance and realizing that I was working on a trilogy, in late February and early March, Covid-19 exploded.

I got sick again, this time with something flu-like.

This time I wasn’t looking for comparisons to norovirus and gastroenteritis in my moments when I felt well enough to look things up online, but between Covid-19 (such as we knew then) and flu. At the time there was a minor mention that perhaps this bug had a gut component. But my late-December/early January illness didn’t fit what we knew then about the spread of Covid-19.

Unlike the earlier bug, this one behaved pretty much like what I would expect from flu. A nasty, godawful flu, but flu nonetheless. Except that it really hit me hard.

I kept writing. As Covid-19 exploded and we went into lockdown, I completed Ascendant. As resistance to lockdown soared and the Black Lives Matter protests happened, I completed Realization.

At this point, I’m in an editing phase with The Martiniere Legacy, all three books. I’ve considered incorporating more references to Covid-19 in the books. Eventually I decided that no, I wasn’t going to do that, for three reasons.

1.) The setting is 2055. We still don’t know what an accurate reflection of the impact of Covid-19 will be several years out on peoples’ behavior, but going by the responses to the 1918 flu and polio, there may not be much in the way of behavioral changes. Economic and political–oh hell yes, this is a major disruptor.

2.) I have to go back and create different mindsets for behavioral impacts related to disease transmission. To do it right means some pretty intensive rewrites, and writing projections. No. I’d much rather write that from scratch.

3.) I’m not a writer who does well trying to chase current trends in long form writing, and I’m hit or miss in short form. Some people are very good at coming up with these topical ideas quickly for both long form and short form work. I need more time to process the impact of these trends. Part of this is just due to the way I think when extrapolating from current events. I need time to read, think, scribble notes, and then start shaping characters and stories. If anthology calls appear that match something I’m already processing, I can jump on a trend in short form. More often than not, though, I just can’t do it. The work is superficial (to my reading), and I don’t work well that way.

My near-future science fiction work after this will include Covid-19 behavioral and societal impacts, because then I’ll be building stuff from the ground up and I can see trends better. But outside of a very few points in The Martiniere Legacy, Covid-19 is not the bad bug du jour. The unnamed flu that triggers Gabe’s panicked separation and divorce from Ruby–yes. The G9 that cripples Gabe–yes. And my two bugs that I experienced during the writing of the Legacy are mildly reflected in the work.

More than that–no. Not this go-round.

The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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A choice to write older characters…Gabe and Ruby in THE MARTINIERE LEGACY

One thing I decided to do with The Martiniere Legacy was to make my main protagonists, Ruby Barkley and Gabriel Martiniere Ramirez, specifically in their 50s/60s. In part this was due to the nature of the story. Ruby and Gabe needed to have an extensive past history that impacts their choices throughout the trilogy. Both Gabe and Ruby have reasons to win the Superhero that are tied to years of debt and struggle, and the hope that finally they can not only pay off their bills but also use that cash to launch projects that have been years in development. We don’t see much of Gabe’s Moondance Microbial projects because he eventually gets wrapped up in Martiniere family issues, but we do see a lot of Ruby’s RubyBot, a biobot that not only monitors field conditions down to nearly the plant level and reports back regularly, but can perform limited pest/weed control and water stress management in different forms (some of this is also due to author limitations because I can wrap my head around biobot development much more easily than the rapidly changing field of microbials–thanks in part to research for The Netwalk Sequence).

On a different level, another reason to write older protagonists was to hearken back to what was becoming an ongoing theme through the books–how people grow, change, and reunite. I doubt that I’ll write much in the way of side stories about Ruby and Gabe’s early years together, especially since that would require a deeper consideration of how Covid-19 eventually plays out in society. There’s just too much in flux (and I’ll write about my choices with regard to Covid-19 in another post). Another reason is that we see enough of that era through Ruby’s memories and the times that she and Gabe talk about the past while trying to figure out their future, and how they’ve been unknowingly manipulated by their enemies. Gabe and Ruby have to make conscious choices about how their past ways of handling relationship issues created problems, and how to fix them. We end up seeing a lot of this self-examination in Ascendant, where they actively start building a future together. To succeed they both have to reinvent not only themselves but a relationship that was abruptly terminated twenty-one years earlier.

I’ll admit representation plays a small piece in my choice. Ruby as the POV is the voice of a 50-something woman who has successes and failures in her life but who has not been defined by her relationship with a man for many years. We don’t see enough of that sort of thing except in (sorry for fans of these sort of stories) mundane literary works where an older woman, usually a recently divorced housewife, is struggling with issues in everyday life and her conflicts never rise above “how do I pay my bills?” “How can I fall in love after being dumped for a younger woman?” Why can’t an older woman be working with tech stakes, threats, AND personal issues? Why not an older woman with agency, determination, and a history of doing what is needed? After all, the personal issues do add an additional layer of conflict to the external stakes for Ruby and Gabe. And I do admit a certain degree of annoyance at stories that sideline older women to cottages and gardens and playing grandma, nothing more.

But another piece is that age also brings with it some tangible personal limitations. Gabe starts out the story crippled by a post-G9 virus syndrome. He wrestles with medication issues (and I probably understated those). Ruby is in better condition, but she has fatigue, aches, and pains. Neither have the strength to do what they could have done twenty-one years earlier. And that adds an additional layer of complication, especially in a profession that is as physically demanding as ranching and farming. The clock is ticking on both of them, even more than it would be for younger protagonists.

I’m hoping that readers like this perspective. But we shall see.

The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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No more short stories

In a lot of ways, this is a hard post to write. I’ve sold plenty of short stories. Earned placements in competitions including Writers of the Future (SemiFinalist, Honorable Mention x 2).

But I’m done with submitting unsolicited short stories to markets. Period. It is no longer worth the misery and the time it takes away from writing books.

I’m not writing this as a disgusted or frustrated amateur. I’ve been writing and selling short fiction off and on since 2008, plus a short stint of submitting shorts in the 90s before life complications pulled me away from writing fiction for a while. I know William Shunn’s submission format backwards and forwards. I have Ralan and the Submission Grinder bookmarked. I’ve had things published in anthologies, including ones that have placed in competition. I actually have a sale to a SFWA-qualifying market (and a couple of those anthologies paid SFWA rates).

What I haven’t done has been obsessively turning out short work and putting the effort in that is required to make the sales in this era. Look. At one time I had twenty stories out at a time for submission. Most of them have sold. For a while there I was trying to build up that number while writing novels, but then the short stories kind of fell by the wayside and I started focusing on novels and self-publishing, which means…writing a lot of novels and building a backlist. In the last year I’ve completed five novels in rough draft (two now published, the next three this fall as part of a quick-release trilogy). With that sort of focus my short story production and tracking kind of died. But now that the trilogy is progressing through edits, I have time to look around. I had thought about working on some shorts that I’d made notes for future composition.

And then I opened up my submissions record spreadsheet. The sense of dread that clutched my gut almost made me cry. Still, I carefully noted the stories I had recorded as out for submission, then searched through my email to see if I could account for all of them. Here’s what I found:

8 stories total

4 stories clearly rejected (2 within 48 hours with the good rejections…ie, not a fit but we like your work, please send more. Longer sub periods were similar. That’s my standard rejection these days)

2 stories at markets that died

2 stories that appeared to have fallen through cracks somewhere in the submission process (and yes, I had sub confirmation emails, one had been requested for a further hold)

I almost burst into tears at the thought of the several hours of work ahead. Clicking through open markets at Ralan and the Submission Grinder. Winnowing out the weird formatting requirements, the cut and paste in email only markets, the “if you don’t hear from us you’re rejected” markets, the weird subscription processes for submitting to some markets. And then the speedy rejects anywhere within 24-48 hours. If I were truly dedicated to writing short stories, I’d be writing and updating my submissions weekly. Write a new short story every week. Rejects back out within a week. That’s the sort of grind that short fiction success requires…and the markets are narrowing. Additionally, I have this suspicion that part of short fiction success may be visibility on social media, especially on Twitter. Networking through workshops. I’m not connected very well these days, certainly not as well as I was back when I was selling more short fiction. Plus I’m cis-het, white, female, and over sixty. Not exactly the burning demographic for a lot of short fiction markets.

Did I really need to keep flogging this dead horse of short fiction writing for traditional markets?

After all, I’ve republished some of my short stories as ebooks and chapbooks to sell at bazaars and in-person events as loss leaders. I’ve self-published short stories that are outtakes of events in my two series, The Netwalk Sequence and Goddess’s Honor. They do sell.

I looked back at those statistics. Half clearly rejected but with the sort of positive rejects that writers keep getting told “that means you’re getting close! Keep it up!”

Yeah. Tell that to someone else. Been doing this for a while.

But it’s the other four that pushed me over the edge. The dying markets. The work involved with submissions falling through the cracks. And then contemplating the work that needs to be done to send out the six whose fates I know. And at that point I just said enough. I’ve had it. Had it with quirky formatting requirements. Had it with weird submission portals. Hell, some of those portals make Kindle look simple. Had it with digging through market listings where when you click through, you can’t back away fast enough because of political considerations (some of these stories are horror and hoo boy, there’s some weird and toxic stuff out there).

I. Have. Just. Plain. Had. It.

So I’m dropping out of the commercial short fiction market. I’m going to make covers for my remaining stories as I have time, and they’re going up for sale. If and when I ever do in-person events again, I’ll make more chapbooks, or perhaps offer a chapbook collection through an online store or something. But now it’s goodbye to that damn submission sheet. Goodbye to formatting games. Goodbye to bizarre submission portals. Goodbye to trying to trace stories that fell through the cracks.

Nobody’s gonna miss me in that market anyway. But I can and will sell a few stories in ebook and chapbook, and they’ll get read. I know that one for sure.

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Lessons from writing a trilogy all at once–THE MARTINIERE LEGACY

Once I realized that the basic story of The Ruby Project had expanded into a trilogy arc, I decided that instead of writing one book, then releasing, etc etc over the course of a year or two, that I would just sit down and write all three books sequentially. One reason for doing this was utter frustration, based on my previous experience with writing series (The Netwalk Sequence, Goddess’s Honor).

When I wrote Choices of Honor and Judgment of Honor, I found myself needing to go back to previous books to maintain continuity in the Goddess’s Honor series (we won’t talk about the continuity messes in The Netwalk Sequence, which I plan to go back and fix in the ten-year-reissue in 2021). Yes, I’d been writing side stories to fill out the backstory of the series, but there were the niggling little details and things I would have done differently based on what I knew about the main characters by the end of Judgment. At that time, I swore that I would either have the full arc of the series in mind and create detailed bibles and synopses to make the damned thing work over the course of several years, or else I would write them all first and then release them. The Ruby Project-now-The Martiniere Legacy appeared to be the sort of series where writing them all first, then release, would be effective. I had several reasons for doing this.

First, I had a strong conception of the overall series arc as well as the individual book arcs. I knew where I was going to end up, and that goal became clear toward the end of Inheritance. The stories divide neatly into parts of Gabe and Ruby’s story in their progression toward that goal–and it is both their stories, from Ruby’s point of view. Both Ruby and Gabe grow and change within each book, as they meet each challenge thrown at them while focusing on the overall goal. This series was particularly easy in that respect. I don’t know if that reflects experience on my part or the nature of the story. Legacy does fall into nice, rational divisions. It might have been a more difficult endeavor to do this with the Netwalk books, but then again, that was my first series and I was still figuring things out.

Second, the overall word count of The Martiniere Legacy is around 280,000 words, similar to that of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I read Steinbeck’s Working Days (his diary of writing Grapes) while writing Ascendant, and noticed significant process similarities, particularly in daily word count and the concern about pacing myself too quickly toward the end. 280,000 words is doable in six months, which fits my typical drafting pace.

Third, instead of poring over 3-4 books while writing the last one, I could simply refer back to what I had written in the previous two. While writing Ascendant, I had Inheritance up on my desktop screen while composing on my laptop. While writing Realization, I had both books up on the desktop. This was a huge change from my previous process. Not only could I refer back to what I’d written in a previous book, but if I needed to change something to fit the turns that the other books took (I had waaaay too many consecutive conspiracies at one point and needed to prune them back as some were stronger in the end than others), I could tweak it. I didn’t realize how big a deal this could be until I was actually going through the process of laying down breadcrumbs to hint at future developments. While I tried to write each book so that it could be read alone, I really needed to have those links to get it done at the end.

There were other bits and pieces that came along with this process. I planned book and series arcs for each character, though some drastically changed (Justine, for one). There were still pieces that didn’t get explicitly fleshed out (Justine as the Rescue Angel, though there’s a lot of hints). I had a 5″ x 8″ notepad where I made a lot of these notes and I liked that process so well that I think I may buy a replacement pad when it’s gone. Not just the size but the weight of the paper as opposed to legal pads really was noticeable. A little thing, but it can make a difference when organizing and shuffling papers while working.

It also didn’t hurt that I was in Covid-19 lockdown while writing the Legacy. There have been days when I wanted to escape from this world into that of the Legacy. Even with all its problems it just was a cheerier place to be.

Will I do this again? Probably. Not so much with the next book–the probable sequel to Klone’s Stronghold, which will be Stronghold Defender. At this time I don’t know if I’ll have a followup book to Defender, or if Klone turns out to be a prequel for another trilogy. Still thinking about that. I need to rough out what Defender is going to look like. One drawback with this process, for me at least, is that I end up not being able to do a lot of other writing. Again, I don’t know if it’s reflective of circumstances in the world around me or if it is a comment on the nature of the Legacy.

I do plan to write another book in the world of the Legacy, however. It’s going to be short and probably stylistically different, perhaps nothing more than a novella. But a character that comes on board late in Realization has a story to tell, so I’m going to try to write it. I’m also going to be writing and releasing little sketches tied to pieces of the Legacy as well. We’ll see how it goes.

The Martiniere Legacy: Book One, Inheritance; Book Two, Ascendant; and Book Three, Realization will be released in Fall 2020, along with side stories and sketches. More specific information can be found in my newsletter which comes out toward the end of each month. Sign up for my newsletter at for release dates.

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Once upon a time little Joycie-poo thought she was going to write a Big Book. It was going to include future agricultural technology, horses, a feuding couple, a game show that provided funding for agricultural technology, more horses, and whatever else it was going to take to make it a Big Book. I was going to call it The Ruby Project. And if the one publisher I pitched it to based on a concept and a quick sketch decided to take a pass after I finished and submitted it, well then, I bought a membership to the World Fantasy Convention, with plans to pitch it there.

This was pre-Covid 19, of course.

Things change. First, The Ruby Project became a trilogy once it became clear that Covid was going to play havoc with my plans for WFC. One of my characters, the slimeball ex-husband, stood up and said “I wasn’t like that and I had my reasons for acting like I did.” As I dug further into Gabe’s motives, the story blew up. All righty then. It became The Ruby Project Book One: Origins, The Ruby Project Book Two: Ascendant, and The Ruby Project Book Three: Realization. Partway through  Ascendant, I started feeling uneasy about the titles. The overall trilogy arc covered more than just the RubyBot, the source of the name. And Origins really wasn’t about the origins of the trilogy arc.

I kept on writing. Toward the end of Realization, I realized that a.) The Martiniere Legacy summed up the trilogy arc much more effectively, and b.) I absolutely hated the title Origins. It didn’t hurt that I had named a reoccurring horse character Legacy and realized that hey, that resonates in a lot of ways with what I’m writing. So the overall series title was fixed, but what about that damned first book? I noodled around, but it wasn’t until the last few days of drafting Realization that I finally discovered the title for Book One. Inheritance.

Oh yeah. Inheritance summed it all up.

Well, I wrote the last words of Realization today. Tomorrow I’ll do the final edit pass. And then it’s off to edit Inheritance for both continuity and revision purposes before sending it off to edits.

One reason I sat down and wrote the entire trilogy over a period of six months was that I had promised myself at the end of Judgment of Honor that I would never, ever, ever write a series without either a.) creating the whole world and continuity for the entire series in advance or b.) writing it all at once and then editing. Goddess’s Honor was my second series, and I kinda blundered into it without thinking much about continuity. By the time I was done with it I was tired of paging back through the entire volume of work to make sure everything made sense.

It was…an interesting experience made increasingly weird by the first six months of 202o. There have been days when I looked at what I wrote in despair because Real Life was becoming even more weirder than what I was writing.

I plan to write a few blogs about this process because, well, I learned more than a few lessons from it.

But not tonight.

And oh yeah. I now have covers. So here they are:

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Thoughts on a life with horses

(Mocha in one of her occasional hitching rail test moods)

Some mindful Facebook posts this morning about horses, turnout, and training made me think about my horse life and just how I’ve learned and grown as a horsewoman. One thing in common with teaching and horse life is that the learning never stops. Even if you own the same horse over fifteen years (Mocha and I hit our fifteenth year together in August), you still learn more and more about how that horse works and thinks as the years go by. Especially if you do what I did with Mocha, and put the horse through a dramatic change in management in an attempt to break an injury/illness cycle (from 24/7 stall life in a wet climate to 24/7 pasture life in a herd in a dry climate). I went into her current circumstances well aware that it might not work, and if it didn’t…well, I don’t think she would have lasted more than another year or two of life in a stall. But pasture life agrees with her, even though she is horribly needy and forms tight bonds with pasture companions. She will leave her friends easily, but frets if they are taken away from her. She’s healthy and is in good condition, and we could conceivably have another five to eight active years together if managed correctly. The me of fifty-some years ago would be boggled by the thought of what I’m now doing with a 20-year-old mare. And that is a reflection of how things have changed in that period for horse management.

I’ve never particularly thought that doing everything like I did when I was a kid with horses was particularly a good idea. For one thing, horse management these days, even with rough pasture boarding, is entirely different from what I grew up with. Regular dental work, corrective farriery, deworming products, fly management products are very different from what I had access to in the late 60s-early 70s (not so much vaccination protocols. The biggest changes in vax from then have been the addition of rabies and West Nile to the vax regime. I was an early adopter of the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis vaccine when it first came out, in addition to the Eastern and Western variants as well as tetanus. Can’t remember if rhinovirus was also part of the mix then–but the point is, vax was something we just plain did and isn’t that different from today). The closest I came to corrective farriery was putting front shoes on a foundered horse to support her feet, and noticing that hey–the stumbling horse stopped stumbling (I suspect that she may have foundered after foaling before we bought her, therefore the stumbling. She grass foundered one spring with me years later and needed careful management after that). Dental work wasn’t in the cards, and deworming product (unless the vet came out and tubed the horse) was a powder added to grain that the Sparkle mare would manage to separate out and leave in a nice neat little pile in the middle of her grain box instead of a paste syringe. Horses were also considered old by their mid-teens in those days, especially for a non-showing, backyard owner. Grass founder was poorly understood in my area, and I dealt with it in a pony and a horse.

On the other hand, there were certain tips and tricks I learned then that I still use. Showmanship practice as a means to get the horse’s focus on me (shades of “playing horse show” with the green Shetland yearling under the supervision of my first horse mentor, plus learning that hey. The old Sparkle bitch mare started listening better to me when I practiced Showmanship with her in 4H). Ground driving/long-line work to condition and school without a rider at all three gaits in something other than a lunging circle. The use of the lunge as a schooling technique, not letting the horse careen wildly as a means to blow off energy. A habit of establishing a personal space bubble and enforcing it when working with horses in the stall or the field. How to assess a horse’s reliability to be ridden on a road, and how to safely train a reliable horse to be calm around cars and other vehicles. Asking a horse to respond to lighter and lighter cues while working in serpentines and circles. The well-trained muscle memory of how to stick on a horse blowing up under you, and the confidence to deal with challenging situations including knowing when and how to bail out safely. I’m an old, reasonably bold rider, but I have a lot of kid falls in my history that contributed to knowing my limits…mostly, in my sixties. But as I’ve discovered, I’m bolder than a lot of amateurs my age (well, excepting those who compete in jumping or eventing, but I don’t do those things).

All of these were sharpened by later experience with a well-regarded trainer, but the foundation was laid almost fifty years ago. 18 years with a professional supervising me who would also sit down and talk about training, showing, breeding, and the state of the horse industry put a polish on my understanding of work with horses. Those eighteen years with Gregg Shrake really challenged me, made me think about my process, and built on my early experiences. Before I bought Mocha, I spent a lot of time being one of the ammys who provided a reality check on a training horse’s progress as part of my lessons. I never was the first one up on a greenie, but several times I got in one of said greenie’s first 10 rides. I learned more about the nuances of show horse world, and played with it a little bit. Now I’m at a place where I’m learning about more sophisticated pasture and herd management techniques, as well as rodeo horse training and expectations, and mindful management of a small breeding operation focused on producing good-minded, good-tempered horses.

What I keep on learning with horses is that learning is always happening. And that even old horses and old women can learn how to do new things. My relationship with Mocha is not at all like the one I had with Sparkle–while with both mares we came to a position of mutual trust, Mocha is more standoffish and when we are done with working and attention, she is Done With People, while Sparkle was much more social. I’ve achieved more with Mocha than I ever did or could with Sparkle. Breeding and training counts, and Mocha has both. But both mares have taught me a lot, and the lessons are still coming.

Mocha makes sure of that.



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