Monthly Archives: June 2023

Writing Accountability Post #23

Well, halfway through the year with these posts. Are they working? Kinda sorta, though the promotional side is really lagging.

One of the things I identified early on in my organizing back in January was that I did not have any releases either in June or December. Well, December is understandable–holidays and all. But June?

I started thinking about this. Before retiring and even a couple of years after that when I was teaching PE and Health online, June was the end of the school year. The final push to get all the special education paperwork organized, any advance work for the next fall started, finals, and grades, of course. June during my teaching years was the month where I somewhat collapsed and caught up with myself from the previous mid-August on.

So a good reason not to be trying to release anything new during those years.

And after that?

Well, mid-May through June is the prime time for cutting firewood, before it gets too hot and before fire restrictions limit how much we can do. We generally haul anywhere from six to this year’s nine loads in the spring, and try to do one or two loads in the fall, weather and fire restrictions permitting. The picture above? Much more doable in spring than in fall. All that green foliage will be brown and dry in the fall. A fire hazard. The hot underside of the pickup could ignite the grasses, and…well, we don’t want that.

The flip side is that too early in the spring, and the restriction becomes snow and mud. The sweet spot is…well, mid-May through June, where the ground is still dampish but not so much that we’re going to bog down, or tear up the ground hauling a heavy load to the gravel road. 4-wheel drive somewhat helps reduce the likelihood of spinning out, but all the same…best to avoid the gumbo when woodcutting.

We go out woodcutting 2-3 times a week. Up until the last couple of years, I’ve been able to get some work done in the woods, then come back and do more work at the house. These days, however, age is starting to show. I want to vege out after cutting wood and rest. The next day is frequently a day of being tired as well.

Okay, so another logical reason for no June releases.

But that is done now.

This year, another factor was construction work on the Portland house which required our presence to move furniture and check on the work being done–as well as do deep cleaning at that house. We were hustling to get most of the woodcutting done before that job.

Overall, then, I guess it’s worth it to say that I had good reasons for the past month and a half to be a little bit off.

I am pleased about a few things, however. I finished up Federation Cowboy at the beginning of June and set it aside for a while. I compiled it and printed it out this week, and went through the MS with a red pen. Oh, there are lots of marks on it. Still, I identified two significant developmental issues in the story that needed fixing. I’m quietly happy about that. Second, I got a few words down on Dragons of the Raven Alliance and think I know where I need to go from there. Third, I worked out a major issue in The Cost of Power and I’m ready to start doing developmental work for the second book. And finally, I had some ideas about how to structure the Goddess’s Vision series.

Things are falling together. Now if I can just keep juggling everything appropriately…we shall see.

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Writing Accountability Post #22

Another late post, but this one is for a different reason. We went to the woods yesterday to cut firewood and look for morels. Well, we found some good lodgepole logs but alas, no morels.

This past week in writing was kinda meh. I wrote a post about a rejection which illustrated one of my current pet peeves, which is the equating of in media res with “must open with actual physical action scene.” Yes, opening with ten pages of backstory is a bad thing as well, but dumping characters into a complex fight scene without giving us a chance to get to know them? Equally problematic. I like to open my stories with a little introduction to the characters to make the reader care about them. Which does not mean elaborate description of the character or setting, but does mean getting to the main conflict that the character is going to be facing pretty quickly within the first few paragraphs. Or at least a main conflict, as well as showing the reader what the character is like.

The number of rejections I’ve received emphasizing that false conceptualization of in media res just sets my teeth on edge. It’s sloppy application of critique group cliches (one reason why I growl at the Turkey City Lexicon is that it is full of aphorisms that have now become cliches themselves–and look, I was in a critique group that absolutely raved about the Lexicon when Turkey City was new, folx, so I know what it’s about).


Between catching up with necessary household tasks after spending the week in Portland the previous week, and feeling blah and down because of various things, including the formation of claques and cliques on a new social media platform, I didn’t get a lot of words down. However. I did spend a bit of time thinking about The Cost of Power and where it’s going, which meant I went back in and added stuff. I’m throwing in a “mystical origin” history for the Martinieres loosely based on the legend of Melusine and the Lusignans, because why not? The Lusignans are ancestors of the Valois, and since the Martinieres are an illegitimate branch of the Valois, why not? I’ve also been thinking through some backstory notions involving Philip and Gerard, including the scene between them after the deaths of Saul and Angelica, and I’ll probably write that down today. The other piece is that the ultimate reason the Martinieres and the Brauns are feuding is that the Brauns are longtermists for whom posthumans are a goal…while the Martinieres embrace their humanity, and fixing things in the here and now. That’s the key to the multiverse struggle, at least in this series.

I also put together the loose final form of Fabulist and Fantastical Worlds in Scrivener that required me to track down appropriate versions of the stories I wanted to include in that collection, and I made a preliminary cover. A few weeks ago, when family was visiting, I took a rather cool picture of the East Moraine that my camera filters turned into something different. Since I’m now skittish about resorting to stock photos due to the AI stuff, I went digging through my old art shots to find something that might just work. This one was what popped up, and since so many of my stories are based on experiences out in the woods….

Here’s the first draft of the cover:

We’ll see how it plays.

And now it’s time to get to work.



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Analyzing a short story rejection

I haven’t been a big fan of editorial comments upon rejections. Some of that comes from the old paper submission days back in the ’90s, when I received several rejections from a Market That No Longer Exists And Will Not Be Named (but contained some Big Name Editors) where the comments were–well, I don’t know what planet they came from, but they certainly weren’t about the story I had sent to that market. At times I wondered if the editors just randomly grabbed a rejection rationale and slapped it onto the page. Other times, I scratched my head trying to figure out what they meant (wizard? What wizard??? I didn’t put a wizard in this story!!). Or I obsessively checked my widow/orphan settings, or margin settings, because dang it, I knew how to set them. Inevitably, my settings were in line with the market requirements.

Eventually, I just stopped submitting to that market, and started disregarding the editorial advice dispensed by the three editors because, going by the poor quality of the editorial comments I received, either the editors or their slush readers weren’t following their own recommendations. What was clear was that they wanted a certain tone, trope, character, and plot, and if you didn’t write in that strict formula, you weren’t going to sell to them. But since they were dedicated to commenting on each and every story, they had to come up with some rationale for the rejection. Even if it didn’t really fit. Honestly, the comment about the wizard was the point where I stopped submitting to this market. They had clearly mixed up manuscripts by that point, which was something I had wondered after the repeated formatting comments.

However, what I didn’t realize in my younger days was that rejection comments when done well not only reflect on issues with your story, but it also points out biases in the markets. That information can be useful because, despite all the comments about don’t pre-reject your story before submission, it helps save you time when sending out new work. If you are aware that a market isn’t going to be receptive to the type of story you’re writing, then why bother sending that story to them?

Hence, my reflections on this latest rejection, for a science fiction space opera story that integrated quilting as a major element of the tale.

First take: based on this and other rejections that fingered the “jargon,” the “technobabble”–I’ve not encountered this particular type of rejection in the past for using the same non-quilting technology in a story. Ergo, it’s the quilting terms that the editors are tripping over. Which is a revelation in itself. I’ve never encountered rejections before where the editors not only did not understand the terms but aggressively pushed back against their usage. Weird. I have theories, but that would be Joyce just blathering feminist conspiracies again. Though I have to wonder what would have happened if I had used knitting as the craft instead of quilting? Knowledge of knitting is more common within the genre.

Second take: this market in particular clearly prefers its in media res openings to not only be action (which we had action and engagement between the protagonists very early in the story) but active confrontation, or, in other words, pew-pew-pew rather than emotional conflict. Pretty telling, especially given the way that they write up their submission guidelines.

Third take: clearly this story isn’t working because the quilting parts are simply too alien for the market and I need to do something different to make the quilting more palatable if I want to publish this work traditionally. It happens. I have several trunked stories that I won’t even put into a collection because of flaws, or they aged poorly beyond the ability to rewrite them. Given that the use of quilting in a far-future setting is very novel, apparently I need to approach the story from a different angle. I won’t take the quilting piece out, but I need to contemplate just how I’ll use it in a manner that is apparently understandable to science fiction editors.

Eh, the story was an experiment, anyway. One of those failed attempts that needs to be put aside for a while. I still maintain that it’s possible to combine quilting with science fiction (originally a conversation in a quilting group brought up this story idea), but it’s clear that unlike the combination of quilting and mystery, there’s active resistance to the use of this particular craft in the speculative fiction genre. Which is a shame, because the quilters I know are heavy readers and would pick up a specfic story if it had quilting in it and wasn’t too heavy on the pew-pew-pew action elements.

Ah well, a learning experience.

(P.S. No, I won’t reveal the markets. Not even in private messages. Don’t ask.)

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Writing Accountability Post #21

Well, there wasn’t an accountability post last week and this one is late for a very simple reason.

Late on that Friday afternoon, right after we returned from woodcutting, we got a call from the contractor who was supposed to reroof the Portland house, where our son and a housemate live. He was pulling the schedule up by a week.

That meant instead of having nearly a week to prepare for this trip, we only had three days. And since the work involved removing old, first-generation skylights that were no longer a good thing (admitting heat, for one thing, leaking, and concern about replacing the glass), that required a lot of preparation on our part including a deep house clean afterwards. So, hurry-hurry, running around, packing and organizing and getting ready for a prolonged stay in a hotel because every bedroom in the darn place (except for the housemate’s) has a skylight. It wasn’t just an issue of replacing a skylight, however, it was also the need to seal up vaults for the skylights because…sigh…they went through an attic. Interior work needed to be done.

Furniture moving. Covering things. Preparing protective measures in case the contractors were of the careless type.

It all came together much better than we thought it would, but wow. I am so glad that I had made finishing up Federation Cowboy a priority because I wasn’t fretting about writing. However, as a result, a lot of June has already gone by.

Not that it hasn’t been a useful time, or all dedicated to construction prep and housecleaning. I blocked out the remaining elements in The Cost of Power, enough that my morning reading today opened everything up so that I know where I’m going with that particular subseries (hint: I realized I’ve been dancing around the implications of transhumanism/longtermism with the digital thought clones, and this series is going to deal with those pieces. Including the multiversal element).

I did some thinking about Dragons of the Raven Alliance and what it’s going to focus on–for one thing, I’m dropping Tales from the title.

And this morning, I was able to block out some requirements for promotion in June (oddly enough, June and December are the only months where I don’t have a major book release to talk about).

I’m cautiously excited about where I’m going with the work from now. There are lots of possibilities. We’ll see where they go.

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In the Shadow of Smoke

Picture: September 7, 2022, Wallowa County.

I became smoke and fire-aware at a very young age, living in Western Oregon. Besides the one view of a wildfire raging around a point above Lookout Point Reservoir while the family was on their way to our usual summer camping and fishing location in the Cascades, there was always an awareness in August that things were dry, unsupervised flame was bad, and that lightning could bring wildfire. There were little spur roads all around the campground we favored by Crane Prairie Reservoir that had little metal signs on white-painted wood that read “Fire Road” plus a number.

But my smoke awareness wasn’t just due to wildfires. Growing up in the southern Willamette Valley in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s meant being around a lot of grass seed cultivation. The preferred method for sterilizing the fields from pests and disease was open burning. Things got really bad at times. The worst was the infamous “Black Tuesday” of August 12, 1969. Of course, we don’t have AQI data from that era, but I remember the skies being dark with smoke (I was almost twelve years old at the time). A smoke management program which, basically, sent the smoke directly east into the small valley where I grew up, was enacted. It wasn’t until much later and a disastrous 23-vehicle pileup on Interstate 5 near Corvallis which killed seven people on August 3, 1988, that serious management came under consideration. Even then, it wasn’t until around 2009 that serious acre reduction was enacted. By that point I lived at the other end of the Willamette Valley, because between pollen and smoke, the Eugene area was just not feasible.

Years of exposure. Years where part of my summer centered around avoiding smoke as best as I could, thanks to reactive airway disorder and asthma, caused in part by those exposures as well as growing up in a household with multiple cigarette smokers.

Meanwhile, wildfire smoke became worse and worse. A summer visit to Northeastern Oregon where clouds of smoke covered everything in 1986. The 1988 Yellowstone fires that turned the sun orange during our Labor Day camp. Flying to Denver on a red-eye and looking down to see all those fires burning.

Reading Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire. Writing a moody review for an environmental literary journal that hit the streets just as the Storm King fire killed firefighters in almost the exact same scenario that Maclean wrote about.

But it has only been in the last ten years that I learned to dread smoke and fire even more.


2015 Fire smoke started in July, with a major fire along one of the corridors into the Wallowa Valley, followed by an August of smoke and fire. Looking at the bright orange sunset as the horse went into the vet clinic to treat colic. Seeing a horned owl hanging out on the lamppost across the street from the house on the smokiest of days. Attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, just as multiple fires broke out around the region. Needing to leave the convention early because of the possibility that I might need to evacuate my horse, and having to take a 200 mile detour because another fire cut off the shortest route.

2017 Beside smoke, a teenager playing with fireworks sets the Columbia River Gorge on fire, closing down the major east-west corridor of I-84 through the region. The flames come close enough that portions of the Portland east metropolitan area comes under evacuation orders.

2020 Smoke from Idaho fires, California fires, Southern Oregon fires, topped by smoke from the catastrophic wildfires on the west slope of the Cascades from Eugene to Portland. We end up buying air purifiers because the AQI ranged from 250-400 for several weeks.

2022 Late August/early September thunderstorms triggered three big fires surrounding our high mountain valley. While our town was never at risk, hard winds blew ash and cinders into town, some with chunks as big as two inches long. Again, weeks of mostly wildfire smoke with AQIs in the 100-250 range, occasionally with a day or two under 100 AQI. While I used to like thunderstorms and watching them, the sound of thunder now fills me with dread because where’s the next fire start going to be?

2023 Wildfire smoke drifting into the valley in April from Canadian wildfires. Out in the woods cutting firewood for the winter. Almost no mushrooms, including morels. Despite a heavy snow winter, the ground is scary dry. What will this summer bring? Is this the year that the north face of the Wallowas ends up burning?

I hope not, but one never knows.

Shocked reactions when the Canadian wildfire smoke drifts into the mid-Atlantic region and the Midwest. Jaded responses along with survival advice from those of us in the West who have lived with this reality for years.

And now what?


Forest management is one huge factor in how we got to this position in the first place, and that story is one that is far too long for someone like me to go into all of the twists and turns. Catastrophic wildfire is, unfortunately, not unusual in timber country. Big burns happened in Minnesota as an adjunct to logging. One of the biggest ones happened in the late nineteenth century and killed hundreds of people.

In my own corner of the woods, the multiple Tillamook Burns are an epic part of the state’s history, now second to the 2020 Cascade fires that happened under very similar conditions.

But the biggest, and most devastating due to long-term impact on forest policy was the Big Burn of 1910 in Idaho/Montana. Those fires led to a policy of fire suppression that has placed us in today’s untenable position, where decades of “no fire is good” has led to a buildup of dangerous underbrush and fuel in the forests, without understanding the role that fire has in the management of a healthy forest ecology.


Is there a solution? Well, it took us a century to get to this position with the ineffective tool of fire suppression. There’s also a colonialist/settler attitude that disregards the reality that indigenous peoples effectively managed forestlands in the Americas for centuries before the Europeans showed up. Fire was a management tool in indigenous hands, a means for controlling underbrush and dry grasses while promoting the growth of more fire-resistant plants.

But the sort of fire we’re talking about here isn’t the big, huge wildfires. Rather, the use of creeping fire, or quick burns such as used in grasslands.

Other solutions?

Precommercial thinning and thinning of thickets of short-lived succession species before they reach the end of their lifetime.

Shutting down powerlines during high-risk situations.

Educating forest users about safe fire behavior, including not shooting off firecrackers, not driving off-road even to turn around in tall, dry grass (catalytic converters and the hot underside of a vehicle can start a fire), and being aware of any activity that could ignite a fire during hot, dry periods.

Managing brush around houses.

Will that be enough?

Who knows?

Meanwhile, I’m preparing for a typical West Coast summer. I have plenty of masks for smoky days. The air purifiers for the house. Soon, I’ll start checking WildCad and the local Forest Service fire information site for news of potential fire starts. I’ll be making evacuation plans for us and for the horse.

Welcome to the reality of the 21st century, and life in the shadow of smoke.

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