Time & Priorities

My daughter is going to be nine next month.  She’s gotten old enough to understand that Daddy tends to disappear when he’s on deadline.  The four-year-old is less patient, as evidenced by his comment yesterday evening:

“But Daddy, we haven’t roughhoused together in a while today.”

The “today” makes me smile, but this kind of comment is still a powerful gut punch.  Writing is my second job, and that means a lot less free time.  I’ve talked before about trying to balance writing and family and everything else.  It’s not a problem you ever solve.  You just do the best you can from day to day.

I’m trying.  My daughter and I are still doing karate together every week, and I swiped an idea from one of my readers and started taking her out to breakfast once a month, just her and Daddy.  (I’m a putz and can’t remember who mentioned this, but thank you!)

This weekend, after finishing the latest draft of Red Hood, I blew off final revisions so my son and I could play LEGOs together.  (I dug up the instructions and totally built this guy, who now watches over my son from atop his dresser.)


Off-topic, when did LEGO start using plastic fiber optic technology???

Anyway, the point is it’s an ongoing struggle to make time for everything that’s important.  Nothing gets as much time and attention as I’d like.  I’d love to spend every day playing with the kids and spending time with my wife.  I’d also love to have eight hours a day to work on the writing.  Then there’s the whole day job issue, not to mention sleep.  And don’t get me started on housework and yardwork.

Since I can’t give everything as much time as I want, the key has been to prioritize, and to make sure I keep trying to give time to the things that matter.  Right now, Red Hood’s Revenge has moved up on the priority list.

But in a few more days, I’m turning that sucker in.  I’ll have to start working on book four of course, not to mention thinking about a new book idea I’ve been playing with, but the urgency will have passed.  I’ll be able to adjust the priorities again, moving things like date night with my wife or roughhousing with the kids back up where they belong.

Diabetes Details 2: Bottles & Belly Shaving

Like the first Diabetes Details post, I have no idea how many people will be interested in this, but I’m writing it anyway.  A few of you will be happy to know this one has zero needle-related content.

I’ve been using an insulin pump for about six years now.  Basically, the pump is a pager-sized device that provides a constant baseline flow of insulin into a small catheter in my belly.  I can also program an extra dose of insulin when I eat, or if my blood sugar is too high.

The problem comes about because I have to change that catheter every two days.  It’s held in place by a very strong sticker about the size of a Canadian Loonie coin.

Strong adhesive plus belly hair is a bad thing.  I finally got tired of waxing a round spot on my stomach every time I changed the silly thing, and have taken to just shaving the belly.  This is … strange.  But far less painful.

The other interesting (to me) aspect of changing out the pump is brought to you courtesy of my four-year-old.  If he knows I’m going back to switch things out, he’ll follow me and climb up on the bed.  There he’ll wait not-so-patiently for me to finish drawing insulin into the new plastic bottle.

You see the plunger on the end?  That’s how you pull insulin into the plastic bottle.  Once it’s full, the plunger unscrews, and the bottle goes into the pump.  At this point, my job is to attach the plunger to the old, empty bottle, which now becomes the Best Toy in the World, for about 1.2 seconds.  That’s how long it takes to yank the plunger back, creating that wonderful popping sound as he pulls out the bottom of the bottle.

Changing the pump is still a pain in the ass, but the enthusiasm of a four-year-old makes everything less annoying.

Race in Red Hood

As a follow-up to the various discussions of race in SF/F, I wanted to talk about one of my own stumbling blocks as I was writing Red Hood’s Revenge.  This book takes place primarily in Talia’s home country of Arathea, described in earlier books as a desert culture with a vaguely middle-eastern flavor.  (Similar to the pseudo-European flavor of Lorindar.)

I wrote a scene in the first draft that I wasn’t happy with.  It involved the Arathean attitude toward homosexuality, which basically amounted to “Lesbian, outcast, unclean!”  I didn’t like the scene because it felt like I was getting preachy and building a big core conflict out of it.  While the characters’ sexualities are a part of who they are, it’s not the point of the book.

On the other hand, I wanted to keep it believable.  And here’s where my stereotypes screwed me over in my first draft, because we all know Arabs are hardline conservatives and terrorists who’ll stone you at the slightest sign of sexual “deviance.”


I’m pissed off that this crap was in my brain, and more pissed that it made its way onto the page.  It’s completely at odds with my own real-life experiences with people of middle eastern descent.  But it’s a message that gets reinforced every time I turn on the TV or catch up with news online.

So when it was time to rewrite, I took a step back.  True, some Arabs are extremists.  So are some Christians.  So are some Girl Scouts.  My job as the writer is to get past the cliches and the stereotypes and think about what’s right and true for these characters and this particular culture.

This is when I realized I was being an idiot.  Arathea is heavily influenced by fairy culture.  Read Sleeping Beauty — this is a land where fairies pop up at your kid’s birth to bestow blessings and curses alike.  I’ve established that fairies are all over the place in Arathea.  I’ve also hinted that fairies are … a bit more sexually liberal than most humans.

Put those two factors together, and Arathea is likely to be more open when it comes to sexuality.  Thanks to the fairy influence on Arathean culture, a woman who prefers other women is going to get about as much notice as a guy who prefers blondes to brunettes.

I’m not saying the book is now perfect.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to construct a logical, believable desert culture, building on what’s out there without simply stealing the “shiny bits” from other cultures.  But I’m still a product of my own culture, and I’m sure there are things I’ve missed, mistakes and assumptions that have survived into the current draft.

I just wanted to put this particular example out there as one instance of my own struggles while writing the book.

Recommended reading: Appropriate Cultural Appropriation, by Nisi Shawl

Truthseekers: Welcome to Blackriver, by Rob St. Martin

I started reading Rob St. Martin‘s Truthseekers: Welcome to Blackriver [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]  on the drive back from vacation.  I finished it fairly quickly, and immediately jumped back into revision madness, so it’s taken me almost a month to actually post a review.  Bad Jim.

This first Truthseekers volume is a collection of intertwined short stories centering around fifteen-year-old Ashley Bennett.  When Ashley’s parents are murdered, she has to leave Toronto and move to the small town of Blackriver to live with her older cousin Mark.  Over the course of the book, Ashley begins to uncover secrets about her parents, her cousin, and herself.

I joked with Rob that the book reminded me of Buffy, only without the angst of the last few seasons.  Imagine Sunnydale as a backwater Canadian town, and you’ll start to get a sense of the book’s vibe.  Blackriver is located on the junction of several ley lines, so naturally all sorts of supernatural trouble ensues.  Ashley and friends go up against vampires, witches, ghosts, secret societies, and cow tippers.  Evil cow tippers.  Not to mention the thing that killed her parents…

It’s a fun, easy read aimed at a YA audience.  (I enjoyed it too, but there are those who’ll argue whether I qualify as a grown-up.)  Ashley’s secret is a fascinating one.  I saw it coming, but that doesn’t matter; I still like the implications about what she is and what she can do.

I liked the format overall.  It was nice to be able to read in bite-sized chunks, advancing through the larger story one self-contained adventure at a time.  Though there were a few times I’d start in on the next story and think to myself, Wait, why aren’t you guys doing more about X from the last story?

I only had two complaints.  The first was that some of the stories started slowly.  There’s a pattern of following Ashley through some of the mundane aspects of her life before we get into the weirdness.  I can appreciate the contrast, but after a few stories, I found myself wanting to skip the first few pages and jump ahead.

The second issue was with the ending.  I didn’t expect the book to wrap up every single loose thread, but I find it ironic that while the individual stories are self-contained, the book as a whole leaves you hanging. Though perhaps that’s a good reason to mention that Truthseekers 2: Birthright [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is also available?

Every time I try to figure out how to wrap up this review, I keep coming back to the fact that it’s a fun read.  Likeable characters, a good balance between the serious and the not-so-much, and an overall arc that has me curious about book two.

Rob is also on LiveJournal as Talyesin, and has posted the first chapter of the book at http://talyesin.livejournal.com/501876.html  Check it out.

Open Book Thread

82000 words and counting.  23 chapters done, with 2 more to go.  I can do this….

But forget about me.  A few of my friends have books out this week.  Let’s talk about them.

Treason’s Shore [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is the fourth and final book in Sherwood Smith’s Inda series.  Check out her LiveJournal announcement for details about the book and the series, or just head over and congratulate her.

This week also marks the release of Vanished [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] by my JABberwocky buddy Kat Richardson.  (katatomic on LJ.)  Vanished is the fourth Greywalker novel, for the handful of you who don’t already know about the series.  Richardson has an excerpt of the novel posted on her web site.

Finally, we have C. F. Bentley’s novel Enigma [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  This is the sequel to Harmony.  Bentley describes the books as “a spiritual journey with a literary twist in a space opera landscape.”  Bentley is one of my fellow DAW authors, and you can find her at her web site or on LJ as ramblin_phyl.


I’ll also give a shout out to James Van Pelt’s story collection The Radio Magician and Other Stories [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy | B&N]. This one doesn’t come out until 9/1/09 (and I don’t think the Amazon or MG links work yet, but the B&N one does).  I’m only about 1/3 through, but … well, let me put it this way.  I was tempted to stop reading the thing, because I got through the first two stories and was embarrassed that I’d ever tried to write short fiction.  I’m behind on my reviewing, but I will be posting a review of this one later.  Van Pelt also posts some great writing-related stuff at jimvanpelt.

So what else is out that we should know about?  What have you been reading lately that you loved?  Let’s just make this an open book-chat thread, because I don’t think I’ve done that in a while.

Individual Pieces vs. the Larger Puzzle

kaiweilau posted photos of the Sedlec Ossuary in Prague.  From Wikipedia, “The ossuary contains approximately 40,000-70,000 human skeletons which have been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.”  This blows my mind on multiple levels.  Just … wow.


Yesterday’s discussion about the Mind-Blowing SF Manthology was interesting.  Some of the comments reminded me of things that were said about the Realms mermaid cover.  With Realms, a number of people said it was unfair to attack the magazine’s new staff on the basis of a single cover; wait and give them a year to see how things go.

With the anthology, the point was made that you can’t condemn the editor and his anthology without even reading the stories.  You can’t expect every anthology to have a perfectly PC balance of race and gender, and if these stories were chosen on merit, why bash them?

What struck me is that these are valid points.  In both cases, if you take the example in isolation, it’s not that big of a deal.  The Realms cover was much less annoying to me than others I’ve seen. A number of people really liked the artist’s style. By itself, I don’t think it’s a horrible cover.

Likewise, with the anthology, I imagine these are all good stories.  I’ve no doubt the editor believed every one of those stories were good, powerful, mind-blowing SF.  As such, why shouldn’t he be allowed to compile a collection of his favorites?  If those favorites happen to all be written by white* men, that might be unfortunate, but it’s still his choice as the editor, right?  He’s not evil, and he’s not trying to be sexist or oppress women and minorities or anything like that.  He’s just picking stories he likes.

Most of the frustration I’ve seen expressed over this sort of thing, my own included, comes from a very different place.  My sentiment about the anthology wasn’t so much “This editor is a horribly sexist oppressive Nazi” as much as it was “Here we go again.”  If you see this as an isolated incident, it might not feel like a big deal.  If you see it as yet another white-male-dominated project in a long history of such, then it becomes more frustrating.  As an isolated anthology it’s annoying; as a symptom of a larger and ongoing problem within the genre, it’s both discouraging and highly troubling.

Likewise with Realms.  If Fantasy Magazine had used that same cover, I’m betting it would have passed with much less notice.  But Realms of Fantasy has a history of cheesecake fantasy covers, and seeing the mermaid as the first cover of the “newly reincarnated” magazine meant it was seen in the context and history of those earlier covers.  Fair?  Maybe not.  But that history is there, and a lot of the people who have been troubled by it were waiting to see whether the new editor would steer the magazine in another direction.

It makes me think of road trips with my little brother when we were younger.  The first time I poked him in the arm or bumped his foot or jostled his book, it was no big deal.  Add them up, and you end up with a full-blown brawl in the back seat.  None of my individual actions were really worth fussing about.  Taken all together, I was a jerk in need of an ass-whooping.  (Sorry, Brian!)

As a straight white male, it’s easy for me to ignore a lot of these issues.  When I was younger, I did exactly that.  Not because I was an evil, horrible person, but because I just didn’t see it.  I’ve tried to change that.  I still have my blind spots.  But I’ve found that the more I become aware of this sort of thing, the more I see these individual incidents in a larger context.  It’s the difference between the first poke and the hundredth.

Are the new staff of Realms of Fantasy or the editor of the Mind Blowing Manthology responsible for all SF/F sexism that came before them?  Of course not.  But if we divorce them from the larger context, if we only look at these issues as isolated, individual events, we miss the larger pattern.  I believe these are patterns we really need to change … and we can’t change them if we don’t see them.

I hope this all makes sense.  I wrote it mostly to sort out my own thoughts, but as always, I’d love to hear what the rest of you think.

*As I said yesterday, I don’t know that the ToC is all white.  This is a guess based on the names I recognize, but I’m willing eager to be proven wrong.

Three Point Monday

The current plan is to finish this draft of Red Hood’s Revenge by the end of the week, then use next week to make final changes before turning it in.  This may or may not interfere with the blogging.  Today it does, so here’s your Monday quickie.

1. Thanks to everyone for your feedback and suggestions on the Red Hood teaser.  I sent that in this morning … only to learn there had been a miscommunication at the publisher and they actually needed it in mid-July.  D’oh!  But sometimes these things happen.  They’ll still be able to use the ad for other things, and they were very apologetic about the mistake.

2. What’s wrong with this ToC?  Take your time.  Here’s a hint: I was wearing my special PC Police Enforcer of Doom!* Underoos when I posted this.  (Thanks to squirrel_monkey for the pointer.)

3. Anyone who steals a Handicap parking spot but doesn’t need it should be caned.  But what are the rules about the handicap stall in the bathroom?

*Actually, that might make a fun T-shirt…

Red Hood Teaser Help

In the back of The Stepsister Scheme is a one page teaser ad I wrote for Mermaid’s Madness.  I asked the folks at DAW if I could do one for Red Hood to go into Mermaid, and they said sure.

I need to get this turned in tomorrow.  If anyone wants to take a peek and let me know what you think, I’m sticking the TIP (teaser in progress) behind the cut.  Any and all feedback is appreciated.


Book Winners

First off, thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Usually when I do these contests, I end up frustrated that I can’t give out more books.  I was hoping that by giving away four books this time, that might help.  But no.  There were still far too many fun entries, and I’m sorry I can’t just go on a book-giving spree and hand ’em out to everyone.

So with entries on LiveJournal, Facebook, and the Web site, I put together a big old list and used a random number generator to pick two winners: cebuscapucinus and Zachary A. Sheldon.

Actually choosing the other winners took a long time.  I finally settled on:

Adam English, who writes:

I will use my nefarious Microsoft connections to ensure that Windows 7 and/or Bing incorporates subtle subliminal messag…er…a desktop regarding The Stepsister Scheme! And if for some strange reason that doesn’t suffice (or uh, work out), here’s more:

1) After I win the free book, I’ll pass the copy to others with one catch: after reading, they must post a review of the book on Amazon by Oct 6th. Thus you’ll get more than just *my* review!

2) You want your books circulating through the pacific northwest. The caffeinated folks up here are passionate about discussing books and spreading the good word!

S. N. Arly, who writes:

1 – I adore fractured fairy tales and fairy tale re-tellings and really want to read this.
2 – Books that I like, by authors whose readership I want to help expand, get purchased for all gifting occasions.
3 – I’m buying fewer things for myself right now because I’m saving money for my 6 year old dog’s upcoming amputation.

And also jonxarn, who writes:

I should get a copy because your book resonates with me so deeply. You see, I too was the victim of a Stepsister Scheme. It’s difficult to talk about, but for you, Jim, I will tear open the scars.

My stepsister waylaid my true love and secreted her in a giant wicker hamster ball suspended from a golden rope spun from straw*. As soon as I found out, I knew what I had to do. To rescue her, I had to learn valuable lessons about love, life and others as well as the meaning of cheese**. On the way, I met new friends, learned new recipes and found a renewed interest in origami. It was magical***.

*(Though it turns out she had kicked her way free almost immediately****, slapped my stepsister, called my Mom to pick her up and arranged for my stepsister to get counseling. She was, in fact, Maid of Honor at my stepsister’s wedding. True story.)
**Deliciousness. The meaning of cheese is deliciousness.
***I did have to work 10 hour days for a couple of weeks to make up for the time I took off. But at least now I remember how to make an origami bull.
****Turns out wicker is not really known for its ability to resist kicking.

Yes, that’s five winners, not four.  It’s my contest, so I’m allowed.

Would the five winners please contact me with your mailing addresses, and letting me know how you’d like your books signed?  I’ll get those out in the mail next week.  And thanks in advance for the reviews 🙂  They don’t have to be positive, just honest.  (Though I obviously hope you’ll all enjoy it!)

Free Books Friday

I have another IBARW post planned, but haven’t had a chance to write it all out yet.  So instead, I figured I’d just give away some books.

Specifically, I’m giving away four autographed copies of The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]. All I ask in return is that you post a review of the book between now and October 6.

Yes, it’s a blatant attempt to get a few more reviews out there before the next book hits the shelves.  But it’s also free books for you, so I figure it’s a win-win.

If you’re interested, post a comment telling me why you should be one of the chosen.  Serious reasons are welcome, as are the not-so-serious.  (Ex: I have my own blimp, and will use this to advertise my review over the Super Bowl.  I invented Google, and will make sure the Google logo incorporates the cover art for Mermaid on 10/6/09.  I’m Chuck Norris!  And so on…)

Two of the books will go to my favorite comments, and the other two winners will be drawn completely at random.  I’ll pick the winners after 1:00 p.m. EST tomorrow , 8/1/09, so you’ve got 24 hours.

As always, thanks to everyone who’s shopped at Amazon through my affiliate links.  You’re the ones making it possible for me to keep giving away free books.

Jim C. Hines