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Sunday 30 June 2013

Astrid gets an interview, and a Fur Thing snippet

Mia Darien, author of the Cameron's Law series, was very brave and had Astrid from the Blue Moon Detective's over for a character interview, and let her snark all over her blog. Check it out here:

Fur Thing is coming along nicely, and I've got a snippet to share with you today. Usual warning: edits may change things, and there may be typo's. Enjoy.


Jenny Lightfoot had spent a lot of time in this room. Her scent was everywhere, especially in the bedroom doorway. She leant against it now, frowning at the bed, and I knew why the hotel staff hadn't thrown me out on my ear. This death was bugging the hell out of her, and I was a possible source of information. Once Sam Prent's husk left the hotel, Lightfoot had no case left. No suspects to question, no answers to get. Along comes Billy, and a way back into the case.
I couldn't really complain, since it got me a lot further than I would've by myself.
"Why is this one getting under your skin so much?" I asked her. She was right about the vamp-in-ice scent. It had crawled into every part of the room, seeping into the carpet and curtains and especially the bed. It entwined with the dry, ancient fur smell of a very large cat, and I had to restrain the urge to arch my back and hiss.  That was not a friendly smell. That was a smell that said 'If you cross my path I will eat you.'
"Do you know what I did in the Corps?"
I shook my head. "I know you were at Captain's rank, and I know they blew the hell out of you and your team. That's about it."
She nodded. "We were MP's. The IED that hit us was set by one of our own guys. He'd shot three civilians and his C.O. and run."
"Did you get him?"
"Oh, yes." Her eyes went flat and cold. "He  died in the blast."
I looked at her face and considered how certain injuries could be consistent with bomb trauma. I'd seen that look before. Astrid had no compunction about killing when it was needed, and she did it with the same eyes.
"Before we ended up getting blown to hell in the desert, I was stationed in Prague for eighteen months. The only case I didn't close was a murder in a smart hotel. Twofer; a visiting colonel and his wife. The colonel was shredded; his wife looked a great deal like the girl I saw on this bed a week ago."
"Same scent?" Astrid wouldn't find that case on any law enforcement database. Military investigators don't tend to share with the civilian cops.
"Same scent."
"How, exactly, was the colonel shredded?"
Lightfoot looked at me. "Ever seen what a cat can do with its back claws?"
I thought back to the video, and the glint of claws in dim light. Those things had been long enough to give Freddie Kreuger an inferiority complex.
"Shredded," I nodded. "Gotcha."
I'd seen enough. If Samantha Prent's ghost was in the hotel, it wasn't interested in talking to me. Maybe Ruth would have more luck. Ghosts and cats can interact pretty well, but if the ghost doesn't want to play, I can't go looking for them on the ether. There's nothing that can play hide-and-seek like a dead girl.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Cool Shiny Stuff, and ye old Archeology course, and Chingford Plains stuff

For the past week I've been watching my fellow Allegories of the Tarot authors coo over their pendants on Facebook, and made little whimpering noises in the back of my throat. Then I got home from work on Thursday, and a sweet little package containing this was on the carpet:

So I promptly went on Facebook, and made my own cooing noises, because it's gorgeous!

This past week was a bit crazy. I'm doing a part-time archeology course through Coursera, which offers free courses run by different university lecturers. I'm having a blast, although there is a weekly quiz and a weekly assignment, which when you're as anal as I am about doing stuff right can be a tad time consuming. One of the Blue Moon books I have planned for the future features a dig, and I'd always wanted to learn about archeology, so the two things just combined really well.

This weeks course saw me heading to Chingford Plain to snap some photo's. It's easy to get to for me, since it's about seven minutes away from the train station (if you have short legs, like I do. I guess taller folks will make the trek faster). I spent a happy hour or so tramping around. I got shots of the Hunting lodge, the plain itself, and on the last couple of shots, heading back to the road, I tripped over these:

They look like some sort of flagstone, set into the ground. The edges are pretty well defined, and although I'm aware of the geological fracturing process that can make rocks appear to be shaped by humans into geometric shapes, I'd expect to find more than just these. I did a bit of tap dancing over the area (I'd just landed on my butt in the grass, I wasn't going to get stranger looks at that point) and there's a definite difference in sound in that location to other parts of the plain. I know this was a popular day-tripping spot up until the first world war, but I can't find a record of any building on this part of the plain. It's pretty close to the main road, so I expected to find something, but nope.

Then I took a wander back along the road and found these:

At first glance, it looked like some sort of worm party. A careful look showed that whatever this is wasn't moving, or doing much of anything except give the plant concerned the appearance of chicken-pox. The forest around the plain has a pretty unique ecological system, and I'm not a gardner, so I've no clue as to whether there is a fungus or something that is common, but the single leaf I found with one red whatever, a couple of feet away from the leaves swarming with red, suggests that it spreads. 

So I don't know if I'll ever solve the mystery of the Chingford Plain rocks/stones I tripped over, and I have no clue what is growing on the leaves - but the whole evening has given me a pretty funky story idea that I'm going to leave to brew for a bit. 

In the meantime, have a few more pics: Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, and a couple of views of the Plain itself.

Sunday 16 June 2013

I never knew books had testicles? A few thoughts on the gender brouhaha.

The SF and Fantasy world has been in an uproar this week, over this. (The latest unbelievable WTF moment comes courtesy Theodore Beale. Jim Hines has a pretty excellent post on this creature, but don't click on the links in that unless your idiot tolerance is higher than mine.)
There've been a lot of people screaming that the cries of sexism were unfair, and the authors themselves responded in a post that pretty much exacerbated the whole damn mess, to be honest. My view? If you have to pick physical attributes about writers, and you're being non-sexist, where are the comments about male authors stunning good looks and movie-star charisma? Their tight buns and manly chests, and comparisons to Ken dolls and He-Man? Why is there even a "lady-writer" and "lady-editor" distinction? I mean, I don't particularly care what an author looks like, or whether they're male, female, or both. I don't care which gender they identify with, and I don't care what their race, religion or sexual orientation is. I care about story.
Then the blog-spots came out. Female writers telling stories about being marginalised, insulted, and humiliated at Cons. And the hate mail that they got for speaking out; like Ann Aguire. And I was floored, because I never, ever, expected gender to be an issue with my writing. Never.
I've dealt with the misogyny BS my entire life in other areas; from my first job where the sales manager thought it was hysterically funny to grope me in his office, (right up until I punched him and got a warning for it) to the guys who would tell me, in all seriousness, that I should be at home making babies instead of selling ironmongery in a hardware store. One of the reasons I consider myself very, very lucky at my current job is that nobody on my team gives a damn about what I have in my pants. They care about me doing my job, and doing it well. There is no glass ceiling in that organisation that I can see; or if there is, it's been well camoflauged. Half of senior management is female, and we have every race, religion and colour you can think of working side-by-side. I love that about it.
I grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy by female and male writers. Ursula Leguin, Joan Aiken, Vonda M McIntyre, C J Cherryh are just a few of the names off the top of my head. It never occurred to me that they might have been considered lesser writers because they didn't posses a penis. As far as I know, even male writers use a keyboard, their brain and heart to write with. I'm fairly sure typing with testicles would be awkward, and possibly painful.
When I started publishing, and reached out to fellow writers and bloggers, I never had the gender issue thrown back at me. Then again, I publish using my initials, mainly because I wanted to keep the writing career separate to a small degree from my work life. (It's an open secret; pretty much everyone I work with knows I write. A couple of them have even read my books:)) The whole gender thing never occurred to me.
My twitter handle is the same, and I'd been on there a couple of months before I realised some people thought I was guy. (To be honest, I thought that was quite funny. Still do.) And when I pointed out that I was a girl, and yes, I had boobies, and yes, I still write the same books, I didn't have any issues. Nobody came back and called me the Downfall of Writing because of my ovaries. Which is good, because my ovaries don't write my books either; I think that would outweigh testicle typing in terms of inconvenience and pain.

I've never been to a con. I keep meaning to go, but the timing and finances have never co-operated. My friend and fellow writer, Anne-Mhairi-Simpson, regularly goes to the UK cons and has a blast. She hasn't mentioned anything about stalkers, harassment or the
general unpleasantness others have come across, so I don't know if that's even a thing here in the UK. I'd be surprised if it wasn't; it's a sad fact that most females will put up with a certain level of dickish behaviour because we've done it all our lives. (That doesn't make it right. It just means it happens so frequently and so often we no longer process it, like the fact that if you go out and it rains, your shoes get wet. Unpleasant, and unavoidable, but at a low level tolerable and forgettable.)  So I can't speak from personal experience regarding cons.

Apparently, judging from some of the comments I've seen, there's a good chance readers won't pick up my books because I'm female. I'd like to think the average reader is more intelligent than that, because thinking my writing is inferior because I'm female is not just insulting my girl parts, it's insulting your own intelligence. 

Books don't have testicles or ovaries. They don't frantically hump each other in the library after lights-out to make new books. That's left up to the writers. (Making new books, I mean. I pretty much don't care who my favourite authors are getting down with either, as long as they write in other moments.)

At the end of the day, story is what counts. Story is everything. Story has no gender, no race, no religion. It transposes those barriers; it brings a meeting of minds across distance and time and nationality. It takes us down the rabbit hole, and if your first concern is whether your rabbit is a boy or a girl, you have issues that no story will ever touch. 


Thursday 13 June 2013

Self Inflicted Pain (Pilates Diary, Part 1)

This week I decided to give Pilates a bash. I haven't actually exercised properly in years, and I like my food (when I remember to eat), so my four-pack has gone the way of the dodo. Eating in the UK doesn't help, to be honest; most of the stuff here has enough processed sugar and syrups added to give a small village either a diabetic coma or the mother of all sugar rushes. It's in EVERYTHING. Even worse, to eat healthily costs a bloody fortune. If the government is serious about addressing obesity, they should subsidise healthy foods, instead of quacking on about banning stuff, like overbearing nannies trying to get another headline.
I had a bit of spare money for once, so I bit the bullet and went for the good stuff. So I've been on fresh fruit and salads and home-cooked meals with no shop-bought sauces, and the energy levels are definitely up. However, there is still the matter of bouncing in ways that insult the law of gravity, and since I've got a family wedding coming up, I'd like to not channel my inner-pregnant hobbit look for the photo's. Healthy eating helps, but exercise is the only way to get the flabby bits to stop swaying in the summer breeze.

There are a few pretty good clips on you-tube, so I've come in from work each night, picked a ten minute session, and tried to go along with it. The results have been … erm. Well, this is me.  Overall, it hurts. It's also a lot of fun, and I'm enjoying it, so I'll keep at it and see how it goes. My comfortably round shape feels a little bit firmer, which is what I want, and the hobbit pouch is disappearing, which is what I really want - I've avoided pregnancy for years, so looking like I'm about to give birth is awkward. But today I didn't actually fall over, so I think I'm improving.

Monday resulted in one face-plant, one oh-bugger-there-goes-the-table, one bounce of the wall and a great deal of whimpering. When an exercise is introduced with "This will really test your balance," this is code for "For the love of Cthulhu, don't let Janet try this."

Tuesday we investigated how to become a human pretzel, and discovered the enchanting position of Screaming Beached Whale. The fact that I the Violent Femmes Blister in the Sun running through my head at this point really didn't help.

Wednesday my body was still sulking, and I had to do my assignment for the archeology mini-course I'm doing, so I took that as my rest day. My body said thank you, but I wasn't quite as bouncy today.

Thursday (tonight) we re-discovered the human pretzel, and why accidentally doing the splits is a Bad Thing, at which point Screaming Beached Whale appeared again. I may trade-mark it.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The writer and caffeine - a brief guide

If you have a writer in your life you already know this. If you have the rare writer that doesn't consume caffeine, you may be required to donate your writer to medical research. For those that don't, here's a quick guide.

The relationship between the writer and her caffeine can be both complex and simple. The simple part is usually that your writer is a caffeine addict, and removal of the substance  may result in trauma. (Said trauma may be inflicted on the hapless barista at the nearest coffee shop who tries to serve decaf, and gets head-butted by said caffeine-deprived writer. Should this happen, tip well and leave before the police get there. Or save a small portion of your monthly income for bail.) 

The complex part involves the relationship between the writers mind and body. This usually involves some sort of internal dialogue, as follows:

The Morning Dialogue:

BODY: Coffee. Need coffee.
MIND: Gah. Coffee. Need Coffee. No use big words yet.

The Afternoon Dialogue:

BODY: Coffee. Want coffee.
MIND: We can do that. The last cup was at least an hour ago. 

The Evening Dialogue:

BODY (sits up, after a few hours of typing): COFFEEE!!!
MIND: It's nearly eleven. You won't sleep.
BODY: Do you want to finish this chapter or not?
MIND: I don't really need sleep.
BODY: And make a decent cup this time. The last one was like sucking on tar.
MIND: You cheeky cow!
BODY: Do you want to write or not? GIVE ME MY CAFFEINE. 

It may be useful at this point to mention that having your writer bounce off the ceiling is not really a good thing, and pays havoc with your deposit.

Monday 3 June 2013

Bath Time Blues (Moment of Oops, part 3679)

Bath time is sacred. It's one of the few times in my life I can just chill, surrounded by warm water and soapy things and bubbles. It's been one of my favourite things since I can remember, and retreating into warm, chest deep water with a book and a beverage and an hour or two is my kind of heaven.

It is not the place I expect to be assaulted by my own bath mat.

One of the first things we discovered when we moved into this flat is that the bathtub is slippery as hell. Getting in and out of it for the first couple of days was the equivalent of strapping bacon rashers to your feet and trying to stroll out over a frying pan; somebody was going to get hurt.

So we toddled across the road to the little corner shop, which sells everything from carpet shampoo to little wire baskets, and got a bath mat. It's cute. It has little dolphins on it, and three shades of blue, and a whole bunch of suckers, to stick to the bottom of the bath.

Tonight's bath was no different to start with; I spent a happy forty minutes or so splashing around, giggling quietly over the story idea that hit me earlier tonight. The usual. Then I pulled the plug as the water was cooling rapidly, and stood up.

The bath mat came with me.

Remember those suckers? Those multiple, strategically placed, ultra-suction cups that are intended to stop people like me cracking their skulls in their own tub? Turns out that when you don't check to make sure the bath mat is the right way around, and spend nearly an hour sitting on the damn things, they attach just as efficiently to the human body. 

It also turns out that because of the way I'd managed to get the bloody thing stuck to me (there are parts of my anatomy that were never intended to have suction applied, dear readers. Tonight I found them all), I'd no sooner get one part loose than the next section would clamp down again.  Standing in the bath means I have a great view of the vanity mirror. There is something incredibly disconcerting about watching yourself frantically shimmy around the bathroom with a dolphin stuck to your pertinent bits.

I finally got the wretched thing off by lining up with the edge of the sink stand, and rubbing against it like a small, grumpy, hairless bear trying to scratch an itch against a tree. It puddled around my ankles in a heap of blue plasticy dolphins, leaving my rear end looking like I'd been groped by a very enthusiastic and amorous octopus. 

I took my red, throbbing behind to sulk in my room, and write my blog. I guarantee I'll check that mat tomorrow night, and at least for the foreseeable future.