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Fresh New Books

Right now it's hard to believe it's actually February. It's so sunny and warm, it feels more like April or May. Of course it's not going to last -- we're forecast to be back in the 40's by the end of the week. But it's nice to be able to give our heating system a break -- and what better way to enjoy this wonderful weather than to grab a good book to go outside and enjoy the warmth.



The Sun Never Sets by Joseph T. Major

A passionate defense of an exiled prince leads to changes that shake the course of European and world history, and lay the stage for a wider and wider yet monarchy.
In our world, the Electress Sophia of Hanover, sister of the gallant Prince Rupert of the Rhine, was made heir to the British throne, only to die just too soon, leaving the succession to her son. Once, though, she got a little too exercised about the poor exiled Pretender . . . and if she had been just a little more exercised, William of Orange might have changed his mind.
Such a change could put a strange and striking monarch in reach of the British throne. But the heirs of the Stuarts were not yet gone, and they could strike back. The result of this bold decision would mean wars across the world, involving people from lands spreading from Poland to Virginia, from Scotland to Naples. It would mean battles in the Cockpit of Europe, in the wilds of Saxony, and indeed on the green fields of England itself.
Not all is war. Literary figures such as Swift,Johnson, and Voltaire have strange and different meetings. The universal genius Benjamin Franklin, Printer, has an entirely new field of endeavor.
The opposed royal houses, and the other princes of Europe, face off in new and strange alliances in this novel.



The Atlantis Grail by Vera Nazarian

From Book 1: You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.

The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendants of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.

But there’s a catch.

They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.

Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.

Because there’s a loophole.

If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.

There is only one problem.

Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.

This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her school, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.

Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.

You Qualify or you die.



Rhondo Allegro by Sherwood Smith

In 1799, all of Europe is at war.

In Palermo, sixteen-year-old singer-in-training Anna Maria Ludovisi is married by her dying father to Captain Henry Duncannon, the Perennial Bachelor. Minutes after the wedding he sets sail.

The threat of French invasion causes Anna to flee to Paris. At the end of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte is transforming France; Anna must transform herself into a professional singer in order to survive.

in 1805, Anna's opera company is traveling through Spain when events bring the long-missing Captain Duncannon and his forgotten wife back together again, as the English, Spanish, and French fleets converge for battle off the Cape of Trafalgar.

For Henry Duncannon as well as Anna, everything changes: the demands of war, the obligation of family, the meaning of love, and the concept of home. Can they find a new life together?

A romantic Napoleonic-period historical from Sherwood Smith, author of DANSE DE LA FOLIE.



Lazarus Risen by Hayden Trenholm, editor

Dreams of immortality and eternal youth are almost as old as human culture itself. But what would the world look like if everyone could live and be young forever? What would it look like if only some of us had that privilege? Lazarus Risen presents sixteen stories from around the world that explore the economic, political, social and psychological consequences of life extension, human cloning, the hard upload and other forms of the biological singularity.

(Contains my short story "Phoenix Dreams." Also available in hardcopy from the Bundoran Press website).



Grandmaster's Gambit by Leigh Kimmel

The disastrous war of 1913 is over, and young journalist Isaak Babel has used his fame as a war correspondent to win a peacetime job covering an international chess tournament in New York City. However, trouble is aboard the airship Grossdeuschland, in the form of the notorious Bolshevik terrorist Koba and his henchmen. Men with a dark plan, and New York City will not welcome their visit



Next weekend I'll be on the road again, so there may be difficulties.
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Plotting and Pantsing

Do you carefully plot out your writing in advance, or do you write "by the seat of your pants," letting the story take you where it wants to go and discovering it along with your characters? Or do you use a mixture of the two methods?

I know that one of the most toxic writers' groups I ever belonged to was adamant that panting was wrong, that it was fit only for the perpetual amateur, and that if one wished to become a professional writer, one must plan everything from the top down. Not just learn how to do it, as a tool in your mental toolbox to be used when a project suited it. I'm talking The Only Right And Proper Way for a professional to write. And being told that I would thank them once they beat through my "defiant pride" and remade me in their mold.

Except for me, it killed the process dead, turned it into a hateful chore instead of a joy. If I hadn't finally wised up and left, it might have shut me down for good, something that even Adult Authority Figures forbidding me to write hadn't been able to do. And for years afterward, I struggled with those hostile voices still lingering in my mind, telling me I was Doin it Rong, that I was proving my unworthiness to ever enter the hallowed halls of Real Authors, to have my writing reach an audience, to be paid for my writing. Of course that was back in the days when your choices were traditional publishing and vanity publishing, where getting published meant either getting a permission slip from the gatekeepers or admitting that you were a loser by paying someone to publish it for you.

But even in these days when Amazon and Smashwords and other platforms have broken down the old barriers and made it possible for writers to put their work before an audience without getting a permission slip from the gatekeepers, I still struggle with that ugly inner voice telling me that I'm wrong to view writing as a process of discovery, that the only Proper way to write is to sit down and decide each story element in advance, so that the actual writing becomes a mechanical process.
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When It's Time to Move On

I think we've all seen the successful series that becomes a victim of its own success. The one that keeps on going after the writer has run out of ideas, until the stories become actively painful. Sometimes it's even clear that the author is trying to write finis on the series -- I saw that in several of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, as early as The White Dragon. And each time she came out with yet another Pern book after it, I had a strong feeling that her publisher said something along the lines of "No, you can't quit writing Pern books." Or even "We won't contract you for another book in a new universe unless you sign a contract for another Pern book first."

At least indie authors don't have that particular form of arm-twisting to deal with. But there can be other reasons that we keep writing in a given world after the ideas are no longer fresh. Maybe it's just the fondness for the familiar characters and setting, much like going back to an old favorite vacation spot in hopes of recapturing the happy days of yesteryear. Or just the knowledge that you have an established market for a book set in that world, and writing something completely new would mean taking a huge chance that your established readership won't like it, and you won't be able to develop a new audience that does.

But you also risk having your established audience dribble away if you drag out your series until it starts to read more and more like warmed-over leftovers rearranged on a new plate. Or you may discover that you just have to get away. You start to dread starting up your next book, or even the next day's writing session. You find that you're doing everything but writing.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to get completely away from what you've been doing. Maybe it's time to consider writing in an entirely new genre. Now you need to familiarize yourself with different conventions, which means lots of reading and research that will help clear your mind and get you excited about writing again.
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New Wrinkle on the Mirror Test

Have you ever seen your cat or dog attack its own reflection, perhaps in a mirror, or just a window at night? No matter how many times your pet sees its own reflection, it cannot connect the image with itself. Instead, it perceives its reflection as another animal, a rival intruding upon its territory, and reacts accordingly.

Yet a human child learns to use a mirror almost intuitively, about the same time as certain other key developmental milestones are reached. Our closest relatives, the common chimp and the bonobo, also pick up the idea of a mirror almost as soon as they are exposed to it, as do most other great apes. (The gorilla is unusual in this regard, but for cultural reasons rather than cognitive -- in gorilla society eye contact is always an aggressive act. Polite gorillas avert their eyes, and thus never have an opportunity to realize that the image in a mirror is themselves. However, captive gorillas who have been socialized to human customs regarding eye contact learn to use a mirror just as easily as any other great ape).

As a result, it is generally taken to mean that being able to recognize oneself in a mirror is an indicator of a sense of self as separate from the rest of the universe. Our closest evolutionary kin share this skill, but more distantly related primates such as Old World and New World monkeys, lack this ability. (Although it also appears to have evolved separately in several other clades, including dolphins, elephants and ravens).

Furthermore, it is generally assumed that mirror self-recognition is a binary thing. Either a species has it, or it doesn't.

But a recent experiment with rhesus macaques is upending those assumptions. A number of these monkeys were put through a series of training exercises involving a mirror on which the experimenters painted laser targeting dots. After learning several skills related to mirror use, they appear to be able to recognize themselves in a mirror -- which raises serious questions about just what is going on inside their brains, and how this training technique has changed it. Did it unlock a behavioral potential that was latent all along, but just never activated in the environment of normal rhesus macaque society? Or did the experimenters somehow cause something else to develop? And does either explanation indicate the presence or development of a sense of self comparable to a human's?
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The Literary Agent -- an Idea Whose Time Has Passed?

A decade ago, publishing houses were closing their slushpiles, citing the cost of handling unsolicited manuscripts. So the advice for an aspiring novelist was to get an agent -- which meant that in effect agents were becoming unpaid slush readers. It also meant that shady agents cropped up like toadstools after the rain, happy to cater to those who'd do anything, no matter how desperate, to realize their dreams.

Now the rise of indie publishing has upended the traditional publishing system, and there are serious questions about the validity of the old advice to get an agent. Even established authors are questioning the validity of the assumption that one needs an agent.
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DIY Promotion Post

I was going to get this done ahead of time, since I was on the road this weekend, but I'm having persistent problems generating the Amazon links. So I'm going to give everybody an opportunity to list books they'd like to promote.

I'm hoping that next week I'll have this problem resolved and be able to do a regular promotional post. I really don't know what the problem is.
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The Price of Compliance

One of the problems of having a large number of independent executive agencies drafting regulations that have the force of law, all without reference to each other, is the sheer amount of effort a business has to expend on staying in compliance with all of them. Unfortunately, economies of scale often make it easier for large corporations to keep track of all those acres and acres of regulations, while the burden of compliance can become crushing for a mom and pop operation.

Worse, big businesses can often find ways to game the regulatory system to their advantage, especially if they can get their own people (or their relatives) into the regulatory agencies. They can even treat fines as simply a cost of doing business, if they are big enough, especially if different agencies have written contradictory directives into regulatory law. Whereas a small local operation may be stuck hoping that they can fly under the regulatory agencies' radar, since there's no way to simultaneously do both A and not-A, and paying the fine would bankrupt them.
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Breaking Through the Block

Sarah Hoyt's continuing the series on writer's block with yet another guest post, this time by Peter Grant. He argues that the best solution to writer's block is forcing your way through. He compares his process to snaking out a clogged drain. If you can't resolve the blockage from one direction, take another approach, until you find one that gets the words flowing.

For instance, when he was blocked hard on the third volume in his space opera series, he just sat down one day and started writing stream of consciousness, letting the words pour out of him and not worrying about how well they did or didn't work. Several tens of thousands of words later, he had the makings of a military science fiction novel that became the first of another series. Another episode of blockage became the beginning of his new Western, playing in what is widely regarded as a moribund genre.

No one technique works for everyone. But as I used to tell students, every technique is a tool in your mental toolbox. The more you have available, the more likely you'll have one that works for your situation.
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What Happens When Intuition Fails?

Sarah Hoyt has another good post over at Mad Genius Club, this time Kate Paulk's guest post for those of us who "write by the seat of our pants," when we reach that point where we can't go on by intuition.

One of the things I do when I reach that point is write down everything I know about the situation, the characters, etc. Then write out questions about what needs to happen next. By phrasing them as questions, I avoid locking things down too early.

Then I go away and do something else. Almost always, the subconscious mind hands me the solution within an hour or two, and I'm able to move forward again.
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  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles