Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Carrots, Tree Rings, And A Question

August 21, 2019

Kuroda and Black Nebula

I want to ask your opinion on something but, before I do so, there’s a horticultural experiment I forgot to report on last week.

This involves carrots.  The Black Nebula variety have proven magnificent.  They carry their dark purplish-black color right to the core.  Sometimes even the “greens” should be called “purple-blacks” instead.  The first time I noticed this, I was very startled.  For one worried moment, I thought we’d discovered a strange new virus.

Even when the Black Nebula greens stay green, they’re purple at the base, which definitely makes distinguishing which carrots are which a lot easier.   The guinea pigs fully approve of “purple-blacks,” which is a good thing, since we grow the carrots partly to share with them.

Our other new (to us) carrot was the Kuroda, which we tried because it’s supposed to be very good at handling heat.  So far, that’s proven true, and the carrot itself is quite tasty.  The greens (which are green) are more delicate than those of the Black Nebula.  Ziggy O’Piggy shows a slight preference for these, while Dandy likes those “purple-blacks.”

One thing I definitely learned this year is that what most catalogs mean when they say “handles heat well” is not the sort of heat we’ve been getting in New Mexico lately.  We’re still routinely hitting between 99 and 100 daily in our yard, dropping to 59 to 61 at night.  Forty degree temperatures shifts are confusing our plants to no end.

We tried four types of beans that were all supposed to be good with heat: Purple Queen (bush), Dragon Tongue (bush), Rattlesnake (pole), and Red Noodle (pole).  Only the Red Noodle, which are a liana variety, have thrived.  The rest have either refused to grow at all or have given up.  I think next year we’ll go with the Red Noodle or another liana variety, and skip bush beans entirely other than the tepparies.

This week we had to take down most of a catalpa tree I planted soon after I moved into the house.  Even with us watering it regularly, the stress of the increasing duration of hot days was too much for it.  It is trying to come back from the base, so we took it down in the hope that, without the rest of the trunk to support, it will make a comeback.  There are types of trees that do this and, as this is not a graft, we’d get the same variety, not the rootstock.

Although taking down a tree that we’d had for over twenty years was hard, doing so provided an interesting data point.  The tree rings showed conclusively the results of the hotter, dryer summers we’ve had lately.  Given that some of the inner rings (which are from further back in time) reflect before we were routinely watering the tree, this proves how much less useful rainfall we’ve experienced the last ten years or so.  By “useful,” I mean rain that the tree could draw upon.  Our soil is very sandy so, while a gully washer may give us a lot of moisture, much of it runs off or drains away before the plants can use it.

Catalpa Tree-Rings

Hmm…  I’ve gotten carried away here and nearly forgot to ask my question.  This week is Bubonicon, right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  My first item of programming is Friday at 5:00 p.m., and it’s my reading slot.  I was thinking about reading from Wolf’s Search.  It will have been out only about six weeks by then, and I’m hoping that those in the audience who have read it wouldn’t mind.

Does that seem like a good plan?  I have a few short stories I could read, but I’m so immersed in Firekeeper and her world right now, that I’m eager to share this novel.  Copies will be available at the convention, so you won’t be left hanging.

Bubonicon’s schedule is now available on the web.  I hope I’ll see many of you there!


Wolves, Gardens, And Cool Stuff!

August 14, 2019

Zinnias Uncaged!

This week, in addition to getting back into the storyline for Wolf’s Soul, the sequel to July’s new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search, I did some work on another project (which I will tell you more about when the contracts are signed), saw a new depiction of Firekeeper (sneak peek below!), and assessed my garden.

As you may recall, Jim and I did a variety of experiments in our garden this year.  Now that it’s August, I’m trying to decide what worked and what didn’t.  Complicating matters were the depredations of a baby rabbit we dubbed Frippery Wigglenose Scamperbutt.

For those of you who have been in suspense, we did save the zinnias out front, and they are now looking marvelous.  As I suspected, once the leaves were large enough to get coarse and prickly, Frippery lost interest.   A greater availability of the wild plants that are a more usual part of his diet doubtlessly helped.  We’ve seen both him and PF “weeding” our front area’s gravel for us.  Nice to have helpful wild bunnies.

We tried several new varieties of beans this year.  Most didn’t really do well.  I think when catalogs say “good in heat,” they don’t mean New Mexico heat, and especially my yard.  However, a new variety of liana did great and we’ll definitely repeat.  Not surprisingly, given that they were originally bred by the indigenous peoples of Arizona, all three varieties of teppary bean have done fine and are beginning to set pods.

Well, except for those Frippery got to.  Those are a bit behind, and part of one row never did recover.

Our eggplant is doing pretty well.  Our squash (mostly zucchini) is thriving, so we’re giving up on what “everyone” told us to do, and will go back to planting in the early spring and simply praying the squash bugs don’t bother us.  Our peppers have been very slow.  I blame cooler than usual nights early in the spring.  However, some are finally coming on.

Tomatoes are mixed.  We’ve lost quite a number to curly top virus, but have enough to begin to decorate our salads.  And give the guinea pigs.  Ziggy’s new favorite food is tomato.

I’ll replant chard and arugula when daytime temperatures settle in the mid-nineties, rather than spiking over a hundred.  That should be coming soon, and hopefully we’ll have autumn greens.  The herbs are doing very well.  I have made the cats happy with lots and lots of catnip.  Soon I’ll be clipping basil to freeze for later pesto.

Speaking of growing projects of another sort (how’s that for a clever transition?), my friends at DreamForge magazine have announced a really cool new contest.

The topic is whether the current wealth of data that surrounds us is a good thing or not.  You can find more details at the link, but I’ll tell you right off: there is a cash prize, and the winning story will be published in the on-line edition of DreamForge Magazine.  Don’t forget, this means it will be accompanied by a full-color illustration, something increasingly rare these days.

This is also a good time to remind you that the first ever Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” will appear in the new issue of DreamForge.  The story is set before Wolf’s Search, so there won’t be any spoilers, but if you read it, you’ll know something that only Firekeeper and Blind Seer know!  It’s illustrated by Elizabeth Leggett, who gives her own twist to how the now early twenties, slightly more civilized, Firekeeper might look…

Elizabeth Leggett’s Illustration in DreamForge 3

DreamForge is only available by subscription.  They offer a variety of options including their lush print version, a combined print/digital version (for those of you who can’t bear to get fingerprints on your beloved magazines), and a quite affordable digital version.  Details are available here.

Now I’m off to pull out my colored pens and continue working on the reverse outline for Wolf’s Soul.  I got a bit worried last week that I wasn’t speeding along fast enough.  Then I realized I was tinkering and tightening along the way.  I can’t wait to start writing the thrilling concluding chapters.  Tune in next week and I’ll tell you if I managed!

FAQ: Wolf’s Search

July 31, 2019

Blue Wolf With A Blue-Eyed Wolf

Wolf’s Search, the seventh novel in the Firekeeper Saga, has been an official release for two weeks now.  In those two weeks, I’ve been repeatedly asked several of the same questions.  Here are both Questions and Answers.

1) Will I be able to order a signed copy directly from you?

The answer to that one is “Yes,” but the details are complicated.  Read on!

At least for now, Wolf’s Search will not be on my website bookshop’s list of available titles.  I am considering revamping the form I’ve been using, because—as some of you already know—it has quirks.  Until I have the time and money to mess with the website form, this book needs to be ordered via e-mail from  (See below for more about this.)

Price will be $18.99.  This includes shipping via Media Mail, handling, and autographing, including personalization upon request.  (Hey, lots of fans pay extra for movie star autographs.  It’s worth thinking about.)

You can pay via personal check, but I will hold the order for two weeks from date of deposit to give time for the check to clear.  You can also use money orders, cashier’s checks, or PayPal.

If you use PayPal, any refunds will have PayPal fees deducted from the return.  Send PayPal payments to

As indicated above, my business e-mail is  Please note: My web host has been having difficulties, so your e-mail may not get to me.  If you don’t get a reply within a couple of days, e-mail again or Message me on Facebook or Twitter.

I will get your book in the mail as quickly as is feasible, but I usually reserve one day a week for trips to the post office.

2) Can I order other of your books directly from you?

Yes, you can.  Most of my books are available via my website bookshop.  When possible, I offer hard cover first edition, first printing.  However, not all of my books are available, nor are they all hard covers.  Check the details.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

As above, shipping is included in the price.  See above for other details.

3) What if I already have bought a copy?  Can I sent it to you to get signed?

Yes.  You can, but you need to include return postage.  Also, if you want to send a large order, be sure to let me know.  I am not equipped to handle massive boxes.  If you want me to sign your entire collection, consider attending a convention or bookstore event.

Package the book in reusable packaging (because I firmly believe in “reuse, recycle.”  Enclose the book with any instructions for signing (Ex. “Signature Only” or “To Jessie.”).  You can also include a note saying something like, “This is a birthday present for my spouse, Chris.  Can you say something special?”

Include an address label for the package addressed to you or whoever you want to have the book.

Remember to include return postage or your book will have found a new home with me.

4) Is Wolf’s Search available as a hard cover?

No.  However, I’ve been asked this often enough that at some point I may produce a limited edition hard cover version.  If so, I will probably do a Kickstarter to judge how serious interest is.

5) Is Wolf’s Search available as an audiobook?

No.  This is not because I am not interested.  As a devoted audiobook junkie, I most definitely am.  However, I have not been approached by any vendor who is interested in doing the work.  If you want a Firekeeper audiobook (or any of my works as audiobooks), I suggest you contact the vendor or vendors of your choice and alert them to your desire.  They actually listen to purchasers!

6) Is it true that there is going to be another Firekeeper book?

Yes.  The working title is Wolf’s Soul and it picks up close after Wolf’s Search.  I haven’t quite finished writing it, and then it will need to be polished and proofed and produced, but the nice thing about my using indie publishing is that as soon as it’s ready, I’ll put it in your hands.

7) Now that you’re writing sequels, are you going to write another Artemis book?  Or “Breaking the Wall” book?  Or athanor book?

Maybe.  I talked about plans for the future last week.

8) I’d love to have you do a signing near me.  Is that likely?

It’s more likely if the bookstore contacts me and offers to defray my expenses.  The same goes for conventions.  I don’t live where I can just hop in the car, drive a few hours, and come home again.

9) As of this moment, there is no Number Nine.  Feel free to ask, though, and I’ll answer either in the comments or next week!

Want More?

July 24, 2019

Keladry Lounges With Blind Seer

When I decided I was going write a new Firekeeper novel, I’ll admit, I was scared.  Not about writing the novel.  I was ready and eager to return to Firekeeper and her world.  What scared me was the investment in time and expense I was going to make in the hope that people would buy another Firekeeper novel.

When I shared my apprehensions with a variety of people, I was amazed at how many said something like “You should do a Kickstarter” or “Sign up for Patreon or Drip.  Everyone is doing it.”

I’ll admit it.  I balked, but not because I didn’t think I would finish the novel.  I’ve written many novels based on a proposal or even just a verbal pitch.  As long as I have an idea I’m enthusiastic about, I will write the story.

No.  I balked because I didn’t have any idea how long it would take me to write the novel. Asking people to fund me for an indefinite period of time didn’t seem fair.  I’m relatively new to indie pub, but the one thing I’ve learned is that, if you’re going to do a good job, the process takes time.  Indeed, as I revealed back in January, the writing of Wolf’s Search didn’t follow the path I thought it would.

So now Wolf’s Search is completed and is available for sale.   You can acquire the ebook at the following on-line retailers: Amazon; Barnes and Noble (Nook); Kobo; Google Play, and iTunes.  The trade paperback is also available at Amazon.  I talked more about the story itself last week, so I won’t repeat myself here.

What can you do if you want more original works by me?

Buy Wolf’s Search.  Don’t search around for a pirated copy.  Don’t pirate.  Let me know if you find someone who is selling or even just giving away a pirated version.  Pirates are only romantic and dashing in the movies.  In reality, they are just petty thieves.

Don’t buy one copy and share it with your five closest pals.  Sure, I appreciate the compliment, but I can’t make a living from shared copies or used copies.  This may be a shock to you, but libraries don’t pay me when you take my book out.  I only get paid for the one purchase – and institutions usually buy at a discount.

What else can you do?

Write on-line reviews and post them at the vendor of your choice.  Although many people think it is disgusting when writers request on-line reviews, while writing is an art, publishing (which enables writers to make a living) is a business.  Especially when a book has been independently published, the author doesn’t earn a single penny until you buy the book.

Still with me?

Tell your friends about Wolf’s Search.  Feature it in your book club. Word of mouth—or of electron—is still considered the best way for the word to get out about a book

Another thing you can do, if you haven’t already, is sign up for my mailing list.  That way you can be first to hear about special offers, contests, or get a sneak peek at the cover art for forthcoming works.  You can sign up from my website or by using the link on the left side of my Facebook page.  I never share my mailing list information, and I post only occasionally, so you don’t need to worry about weekly spam.

Let me be completely honest.  Whether or not I can afford to publish more novels, as well as how quickly those novels become available, is in your hands.  With your backing, I can afford to concentrate on writing, because I can hire help for the mundane business details.  Without your help, there’s only me acting as writer, editor, marketer, art director, and all the rest.

Not a fan of Firekeeper?  That’s okay.  Some of you have asked if I’ll be writing more novels in some of my other universes, such as that of the “Artemis Awakening” series, the “Breaking the Wall” series, or the athanor series.  I definitely have some exciting new sequel projects planned.

Even better, I also have some new, never before published, works in progress.

However, whether I can afford to pursue these projects, as well as how quickly they become available, depends on you and your support.  If you don’t want to buy a Firekeeper novel, then consider buying one of my other novels or my short story collection, Curiosities.  Have all of them?  Buy one of my books as a gift.

Don’t buy used.  My website bookstore offers many of my novels in hard cover first editions.  The bookstore page will be undergoing revision and expansion, but you can always e-mail me if you are wondering about the availability of a certain title.  Contact information is on my webpage.

Many of my older titles are also available as e-books.  More will become available as I have time and finances to produce them.

Thank you for your enthusiasm for the Firekeeper Saga and my other works.  I hope you’ll be part of making sure that my stories – both your old favorites and new material – remain available in the years to come.

Now, off to do some business stuff, but soon I hope to be running with Firekeeper and Blind Seer again soon.

Take Flight With Wolf’s Search

July 10, 2019

Back and Front Cover!

As you’ve probably guessed, the image accompanying this post is the official cover for Wolf’s Search.  The art is by Julie Bell, who gave her talents to the art for the first six books, and let me use her “Andre” for the cover of Wolf’s Search.

Many readers of Fantasy and SF are already familiar with Julie Bell’s art, but did you know that doing the covers for the Firekeeper books brought her to doing wildlife art as well?  You can read all about her journey—including the ups and downs along the way—here.

If you’re interested in seeing the original of “Andre,” here’s a link to the proper page on Julie Bell’s site.  You’ll see that her image is just a little different from the one on the cover, but it’s still magnificent.  Even more fascinating, Julie Bell’s painting actually perfectly fit something I’d planned for the book long before I started looking for art.  There is such a thing as serendipity.

Wondering what Wolf’s Search is about?  Let me spare you trying to read off the photo and give you the blurb here!

Transformative Journey

Blind Seer has run at Firekeeper’s side since the wolf-woman first crossed the Iron Mountains into human-held lands.  Now it’s her turn to run alongside the blue-eyed wolf as he sets out in search of someone who can teach him how to use his magical gift—on his own unique terms.

The pair’s search will take them to the far side of the world in the company of allies who include a young woman scarred by war, a falcon who believes himself a traitor, and an old friend… or possibly enemy.  Together they will fight battles from before they were born, climb mountains, cross badlands, eventually unveiling a threat that will reshape not only Blind Seer, but his belief in what he most desires.

As I write this, I’m waiting for the print proof for Wolf’s Search to arrive.  It’s scheduled to get here tomorrow.  Proofing that is the final Big Step before the book is ready for release.  Depending on whether any new errors cropped up in printing, Wolf’s Search could be available as both e-book and trade paperback within a few weeks.

I’ll announce when Wolf’s Search is available as a Wednesday Wandering.  If you can’t wait even a moment, sign up for my Mailing List, since I’ll post the information there as soon as it becomes available.  You can find a link to the mailing list at my website.  My mailing list is only used for important announcements, and I never share the list, so you don’t need to worry about being inundated except by the sort of news you want!

Now, off to see if the proof has arrived.  I know it’s a day early, but I’m very excited!

Storyteller, Not Only Writer

May 22, 2019

Past Adventures In The Court Of The Faceless Tyrant

People—especially other writers—often ask me why I run a roleplaying game (and have been for many years) when prep for the game takes up some of my writing time. Last Sunday’s game demonstrated one reason.  I’m still grinning at the memory as I type this.

Sunday night I sprang a plot twist on my players. It was terrific watching eyes widen as, one by one, people caught the implications of what was unfolding.

Dominique, the unwitting foil for my revelation, did a brilliant job of playing her part as Persephone who, daring to hope for a very special Midwinter gift from her long-time crush, instead realizes that he’s proposing to her – in the form of inviting her to join a conspiracy.

I had no idea what Dominique/Persephone would do or say.  Being ready to react appropriately was definitely an adrenaline high.  She gave me a lot to work with.  After everyone left, Jim said he half-expected Dominique to really burst into tears. It was improv theater at its best.

My fiction-writing self usually waits years to see how a novel will be received. Often, I never hear.  Worse, when I do hear, most responses are not about what I wrote, but about what I didn’t write.  By contrast, my game master self gets to see the response in real time.

Running my weekly game jazzes me for my daily writing, maybe because my players are such excellent collaborators.  Nonetheless, I have no desire to reveal a novel until it’s done. Why?  Different type of storytelling, I guess.

I often define myself as a storyteller, not a writer.  I realize that’s not precisely true.  I am a writer.  I love the process of finding the right words to portray a character or describe a setting.  I love refining these elements until they’re as close to perfect as I can get them.

My earliest stories were told aloud, mostly to my two younger sisters.  Later, I daydreamed elaborate plots with only me as an audience.  My current two favorite forms of storytelling are descendants of those early experiences.

Now I’m off to be my prose writer self, who has been busily scribbling all over the manuscript of Wolf’s Soul in a quest for the perfect words and cadence.  Nonetheless, my oral storyteller self is already anticipating next week’s game when…  Well, we’ll just need to see!

Forthcoming Firekeeper! Catnip Socks!

May 1, 2019

Persephone Demos Catnip Socks

This week I finalized a deal for the very first short story ever featuring Firekeeper and Blind Seer to appear in DreamForge Magazine! “A Question of Truth” will be in issue three, which is scheduled for late August 2019.

“A Question of Truth” is set after Wolf’s Blood, but before the forthcoming novels Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul.  It was inspired by my awareness that a certain event in Wolf’s Soul had a complete story that preceded it.  However, if I were to tell that story in the novel, it wouldn’t fit into the flow.  Since I needed to work those details out, I decided to do it in the form of a short story.

The opening sentence reads as follows: “Prompting from an insane jaguar is probably not the best reason to investigate a dark, dank hole in a hillside, but Firekeeper and Blind Seer had long ago learned not to ignore Truth.”  For the rest, you’ll need to read the story in DreamForge.  It will not be featured elsewhere for the foreseeable future.

You can subscribe to DreamForge here.  Both print and digital versions of the magazine are available.  We’re negotiating with Hugo award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett to do the illustration.  (In case you didn’t know, DreamForge is lushly illustrated.)

To anticipate a likely question: “When is Wolf’s Search coming out?”  At this point, we’re still on schedule for August 2019.  I’d love to have the novel available for Bubonicon.  I’ll keep you posted as we get closer.  If you don’t want to miss updates, sign up for my mailing list, which you can do on the homepage of my website.  If I can manage to do something other than writing and pre-publication production, I might even have some sort of contest or giveaway to celebrate.

If you’d like to know more about how I’m handling this project, you might want to look at my Wandering from a couple month’s back, “Wolf’s Search (And Other Projects) Update,” here.

Now Persephone, one of my cats, says I’m being too serious this week.  She suggests that if I’m going to tell you about things I’m doing, I should tell you something really, really important like How To Make Catnip Socks.

Many years ago, my cats informed me that catnip mice were simply too small.  Although cats like toys they can bat around, cats really appreciate toys they can wrestle, kick, lie on, and use as pillows.

Here’s how to make a Catnip Sock.  Cut a large quantity of fresh catnip.  Stuff into a spare sock, stems and all.  (Tube socks work really well.)  Tie a knot on at the open end.  Present to cat.

 As the catnip dries, the sock won’t be as tightly stuffed, but you can untie and add more.  Even if you don’t, the cat will continue to enjoy.  I’ve seen my cats happily napping on nearly flat catnip socks in the dead of winter when the catnip has lost its first pungency.

Side note: Catnip is a plant in the mint family and is very easy to grow.  In most climates, the difficulty is keeping it from spreading.  Cut it frequently to keep it from going to seed.  Both the plant and your cats will appreciate this.  Catmint may be substituted or used to augment catnip, but it is less pungent.

On that cheerful note, I’m off to write.  I’m into the final section of Wolf’s Soul, and am pretty jazzed about how events are shaping up!

Easter Bunnies and Beta Readers

April 17, 2019

PF As The Easter Bunny

First, a follow-up to last week’s WW about Skinny the Thrasher.  The day after I wrote about Skinny’s rivalry with PF the Cottontail Rabbit for access to the bird block, we spotted them both eating from the block at the same time.  If we see them again, we’ll try for a picture.  In the meantime, as we lead into Easter, here’s a picture of PF as the Easter Bunny!

As some of you already know, last week a short post on my FB and Twitter feeds accidentally triggered something I feel is only courteous to address in more than a few sentences.

When I posted a brief comment about how I’d just realized that I’d forgotten to put chapter breaks into the manuscript of Wolf’s Search that I’d sent to my secret beta readers, I expected to be teased about my forgetfulness.  What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of requests for information about how to become one of my beta readers.  Some requests were from people I recognized as long-time readers, but others were from people for whom this was the first time I remembered seeing a comment.

When these requests continued, even after I’d responded in the Comments, I decided I’d better explain.

Here’s the short answer.  You probably cannot become a beta reader for me.  Unlike some authors, I don’t solicit comments about my work from the general readership.  I never have.  I am not likely to change.  My first reader has always been my husband.  After Jim, I usually ask a few friends for feedback.  Who these are varies widely, according to the project.

(If you’re still interested in why I work this way, read on…)

For example, one of the people I asked to read the manuscript of Asphodel was Alan Robson, with whom I collaborated on the Thursday Tangents for close to seven years.  From our many discussions, public and not, I knew that Asphodel was the sort of book Alan didn’t usually read.  When he read it and liked it, my feeling that I had something special in Asphodel was reinforced.

For Wolf’s Search, you’d probably be surprised to learn that none of my secret beta readers were fanatical about the series.  One hadn’t even read the last several books.  This was because I wanted to make sure that Wolf’s Search could serve as a “gateway book” into the series.  (Admittedly one with some spoilers, but still more a stand-alone novel than otherwise.)

Yes.  I do know some authors regularly send out copies to beta readers who are strangers or rabid fans of the series.  For some authors, especially those writing long series with long, long books, this helps them to catch continuity errors so they can focus on the new material.  For others, I am sad to say (based on hearing them say this), soliciting beta readers is merely a marketing ploy – an attempt to make readers feel they have been part of the writing process, even if they have not.

Maybe my attitude toward showing a book before it is polished was influenced by my relationship early in my writing career with Roger Zelazny.  Roger generally didn’t share his completed manuscripts with anyone except his editor.  When he did, he usually had a specific reason, up to and including impulsiveness.  (Full disclosure: I read the manuscripts of his last several novels well before publication.)  Roger also didn’t belong to any writers groups.  Hard as it is to believe in these days when social media makes it seem as if every writer shares everything, including deleted scenes and false starts, there are many writers who want their readers to see only the finished story.

More likely my choice then and now to keep unfinished drafts to myself is simply one of the many ways that Roger and I were alike.  Writing for me is not a collaborative process.  I don’t belong to writers’ groups because comments on a work in progress would stall me, not encourage me.  Even Jim doesn’t hear much about a story until it has been completed.  And after the work is completed, a very few readers are all I need to assure me that I haven’t missed some really obvious error.

Writers are very different in what they need.  I am the type of writer I am.  I hope you will not be offended if I continue as I have for these twenty-five or so years that I have been offering you my stories and unveil my works only when they are complete.

Metamorphic Power

February 20, 2019

Transformation Moments?

What do my second grade teacher and DreamForge magazine have in common?  They both believe that there is power contained in stories.

Last week, I told you about Sister Stephanie, my first grade teacher.  My second grade teacher had just as great an impact, although it took a completely different form.  Physically, Miss Eileen O’Donnell was not at all like Sister Stephanie.  My long-ago memory recalls her as young and slim, with short, curling, brownish-black hair.  Compared to Sister Stephanie, Miss O’Donnell seemed very, very tall.

We first graders were already familiar with Miss O’Donnell because the first and second grade classrooms were next to each other and – I seem to recall – shared a connecting door.  That meant if Sister Stephanie had to step away for a moment, Miss O’Donnell would be the one who supervised us.  I don’t ever recall her having trouble, so her youth was no barrier to her being an authority figure.

Moving over into the Second Grade room seemed to me like a step on the road to adulthood.  Miss O’Donnell was very serious about reading, basic math, and any number of other subjects.  But it was in a subject that wasn’t even part of the curriculum where she had her greatest impact on me.

Although I’d only learned to read the year before, I rapidly read above my grade.  Miss O’Donnell made no effort to hold me back, even though I was less than perfect in spelling and phonics.  When I started outdistancing my classmates, she arranged for me to join an advanced reading group with the third graders.  This arrangement was probably made easier because her sister taught the third grade.  Once a day, I would walk downstairs to join Miss Patricia O’Donnell (who we referred to as Miss O’Donnell Third Grade)  and her advanced readers for exciting ventures into books with chapters.

But although this arrangement saved me from boredom, this wasn’t where Miss O’Donnell Second Grade had her biggest impact.  That, as with Sister Stephanie, took the shape of an unexpected gift: in this case a small burnt-orange hardcover book about ancient history.  It was a comfortable size for me to hold but, unlike most of the books for children my age, it had much more print than pictures.  I remember wondering if I could even read something so grown-up looking.  However, I was lured in both by Miss O’Donnell’s matter-of-fact confidence that I could and by the illustrations.

These were lush full-color paintings, not the simple line drawings or cartoons common in children’s books.   I don’t remember all the places and people that were featured in that book, but I do know that one of my favorites was the story of how the youth who would become Alexander the Great tamed his horse, Bucephalus.  Do you know the story?  The short version is that Alexander had the sense to notice that the horse no one could ride was afraid of his own shadow.  Alexander turned the horse toward the sun, so he could no longer see his shadow.  Then, shedding his own fluttering cloak, Alexander mounted and was able to ride the un-rideable steed.  The two were inseparable from that day forth.

At a time when horses in stories (and reality, for all I know) were still routinely “broken,” and relationships between animals and humans in the “real world” were characterized by domination, not understanding, this tale about trying to understand the “other” made a huge impact on me.

I think I also read about ancient Egypt for the first time in that book as well, so Miss O’Donnell is partly responsible for my novel The Buried Pyramid.  Most importantly, the little burnt-orange book taught me that history was about Story, not about dates and capital cities and the dry, abstract facts that so many classes focus on, probably to make testing easier.

Remembering how much that little burnt-orange book did for me is one of the reasons I signed on to be part of the team that’s putting together DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  Stories – fiction and non-fiction – have the power to change the individual.  The individual has the power to change the world, maybe not always on a grand scale, but maybe, sometimes, just one book, one story, at a time.

Thank you, Miss O’Donnell Second Grade and Third Grade both!

Escape Into the Dream

January 23, 2019

Rowan, Dominique, Jim, Melissa, Cale (me up front)

What do escape rooms and a new magazine have in common?  Keep reading and I’ll tell you!

Last Sunday, as our Christmas present, Jim and my gamers (Cale, Dominique, Melissa, and Rowan) took us to our very first escape room.  This one was called Nefertari’s Tomb, and it was both visually and intellectually very, very satisfying.

Escape rooms are basically complex puzzles built around a plotline.  For Nefertari’s Tomb, the story was that we had been hired by a definitely shady individual who claimed to have found access to a hidden tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses.  Our job was to blast our way in, solve the various puzzles, and get out with as much loot as possible.  We had one hour in which to do this.  The timer started running the second our introductory briefing had ended.

(In the interests of not providing spoilers for those who may want to enjoy Nefertari’s Tomb themselves, that’s all I’ll say about this particular escape room.)

Our group has been gaming together for something like six years now, so we’re very used to working as a team.  This was an advantage when two years ago we all went to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe and solved the imbedded puzzle.  It was even more of an advantage this time because, with the timer running, we had to split up and hit different puzzles simultaneously.

How did we do?  Well, our game master told us that if we didn’t have the highest score ever for the room, we were definitely in the top three.  He looked both pleased and a little awed when he said this.  We were rather pleased ourselves.

So, what does this have to do with a new magazine?  Last week, I talked about DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  The Kickstarter for this lushly illustrated magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy hit its base goal this Monday.  They’re now working toward the stretch goals.  DreamForge is the brainchild of Scot Noel, but the team working on it includes Scot’s wife, Jane, who is putting her artistic talents into layout, design, and illustration; artist, Mark Zingarelli, who is art director; Leah Segal on research and support, and Jamie D. Munro who is the Editorial  Assistant.  Oh, and me.  Scot calls me “Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant,” which basically means I believe in the value of this project enough to donate my time to helping out.

As with my gamers in the escape room, those of us on the DreamForge team are working toward our goal both separately and together.  It’s a very 21st Century team.  I’ve only met Scot and Jane.  As for now, Mark and Leah are sparkles in my e-mail or voices on the phone during conference calls.  Jaimie’s in Australia…  I mostly interact with him on Twitter.

The Kickstarter remains live for another sixteen days.  Some of the incentives are really great.  One that’s easy to overlook is the Founder’s Bonus.  This includes personal feedback on up to five story submissions.  Feedback of this type is the sort of thing writers dream about getting, instead of the form: “Thank you very much, but your story doesn’t suit our needs this time.”  Now you can assure personalized feedback for five stories – and get a cool magazine as well.

Aren’t a writer but know one?  Consider giving a Founder’s Bonus subscription.  Help your favorite writers achieve their dream.

Now, speaking of dreams, I have a couple of novels that I’m working on, and dream of someday actually finishing.   I’m off run with the wolves…