Category Archives: Writing

Journey to Maars

 

Writing science fiction almost always involves world building. When an opportunity arose to actually see what real world building looks like, I jumped at the chance—and that’s how I found myself on a journey to maars.

To two of them, as a matter of fact.

A maar is a shallow, flat-bottomed volcanic crater, most commonly formed when hot magma close to the surface comes into contact with groundwater, triggering a steam explosion.  (There are other mechanisms:  in 1977 scientists got to watch an Aleutian maar form, over a period of a week and a half, caused by permafrost being melted, then flashed into steam, by magma.)

With water being one of the defining elements of maar formation, it isn’t surprising that maars commonly fill with water to become lakes, disguising their volcanic origins.  And so it was with the maars I saw.

A friend offered to fly me in a small airplane to view two maars near Fallon, Nevada.  I sat in the left seat and did most of the flying; although I’m rated in sailplanes, not airplanes, a wing is a wing is a wing, and I found the airplane easy to fly—if perhaps not quite as satisfying as a sailplane would have been. Speaking of flying, as we approached the maars we could clearly see the runways of Naval Air Station Fallon, better known as the home of the Navy’s famed Top Gun school.

The Fallon maars are known locally as the Soda Lakes and at one time were mined for alkaline minerals.  The region is still geologically  active:  there’s a geothermal power plant close by, and the United States Geological Survey lists the Soda Lakes as potential volanic threats, in part due to their young age:  they were formed no earlier than 6,000 years ago and possibly as recently as 1500 years ago . . . almost yesterday.

Soda Lakes are the only Nevada volcanoes listed in the annual threat assessment compiled by the USGS, but just over the state line there are many more.  It may surprise you to learn that the USGS estimates the odds of an eruption in California in the next 30 years is about one in six!  World building, indeed.

Military Connection – Guest Post by Veronica Scott

Soldiers at sunset

Once again this year I have the honor to be a part of the science fiction romance anthology Pets in Space.  Part of the first months sales, including preorders, will be donated to Hero Dogs, a charitable organization that provides service dogs at no cost to veterans of the U.S. military and first responders. In this guest post, fellow Pets in Space 4 author Veronica Scott talks about that. She also gives us a suspenseful excerpt from her story.


Back when Pauline B. Jones and I decided to create the first Pets In Space® anthology, we wanted to find a charity to support that had a strong connection to serving military veterans. We decided on Hero-Dogs, Inc., a small nonprofit doing great work providing service dogs to veterans (and first responders).  Over the four anthologies, including this year, we’ve had many authors with military ties in the family and at least one who was a veteran herself.

My father and my uncles served hitches in different branches of the military so I grew up with a great respect for the job soldiers do in support of our nation and our freedom. My late husband was on active duty in the USMC for three years and then rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Reserves at the time of his death (which was not related to his military service). I was a military wife in the early years of our marriage!

I also typically write at least one of my main characters in every book as a Special Forces soldier, either active duty or retired. Their strong ethos or character, rock solid belief in each other as a team, and lethal combat capabilities, combined with their ability to crack a joke at the worst moments, and to be tender and caring to their loved ones really appeal to me.  Respect must be earned in SOF circles and huge sacrifices are often made, by the service member and/or by their family.

So for all those reasons, I felt very strongly that our efforts with PISA needed to benefit the veteran community in some real fashion.

Pauline and I loved the idea of putting together a fun set of stories including pets and scifi romance but we very much wanted to have a higher purpose as our guiding principle for whywe were doing the anthology.

For my story in this fourth anthology, I have three military veterans involved – Third Officer Steve Aureli of the Nebula Zephyr (my interstellar luxury cruise ship), his Aunt Dian and her alien ‘dog’, Charrli. Of course Dian and Charrli have a lot of backstory and aren’t what they seem on the surface. They’re veterans of the Sectors Special Forces Z Corps, which means Charrli is very smart and telepathic with Dian. I liked the idea of making Charrli a darling little dog who could be carried around in a purse but who actually has all this ferocious military style training and abilities. He’s not afraid of anything, not even alien idols!

Usually I start with the concept of the pet for my Pets In Space® stories and develop the plot from what the animal ‘suggests’ to me but this time my jumping off place was legends about tourists having bad luck after removing rocks from national parks as souvenirs.

Of  course since I’m writing science fiction, I then took the entire topic a step further and gave my ‘rock’ some scary attributes, the ability to do real harm and a bit of carving to justify referring to an idol’s curse in the title.

It seemed to me the idea of tourists and souvenirs fit in very nicely with my interstellar luxury cruise ship Nebula Zephyr, and then since an entire deck of the ship is devoted to recreating a beach from the planet Tahumaroa Two, it was logical for the rock or ‘idol’ in question in my story to have come from that planet and need to go back there. This led me to ponder who in the crew would be likely to become involved with returning a rock and I decided it was time for the Cruise Director, Juli Shaeffer, to get her story.

The excerpt:

Who was going to believe her, without a vid from the Ship’s Artificial Intelligence monitors to prove she hadn’t suffered a hallucination? Charrli had obviously seen the rock too but even if he was a retired Z Corps asset, no one but Dian was likely to believe him. “We’re screwed,” Juli said to the dog, stroking his silky ears. “I’m glad you saw it too though or I’d doubt my sanity right now.”

A breeze ruffled her hair and then a gust of wind blew sand across the beach in a glittering spray. Juli stood and picked Charrli up. As she turned, she realized Dian and Steve were bearing down on her.

“We thought we’d better come check on you,” he said. “Are you sure you’re ok?”

Handing the unresisting dog to his owner, Juli said, “I—we— saw something odd and we came to investigate.”

Dian was staring into Charrli’s eyes. “I’m getting a mental picture.” Jaw dropping, she pivoted to gape at Juli as another wind gust blew her skirt around her knees. “He’s sending me a projection of what appears to be the rock you showed us in the groundcar when we gave you a ride. Did you bring it up here? Because Charrli is concerned about it.”

USA Today Best Selling Author Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything.

Blog: https://veronicascott.wordpress.com/

Grab your copy of Pets in Space® 4 today! For a limited time, Pets in Space® 4 brings together today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors to help Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that helps our service veterans and first responders. https://petsinspaceantho.com

 

How Service Dogs Help – Guest Post by E.D. Walker

Pets in Space is Back

Once again this year I have the honor to be a part of the science fiction romance anthology Pets in Space.  Part of the first months sales, including preorders, will be donated to Hero Dogs, and in this guest post, fellow Pets in Space 4 author E.D. Walker talks about why that’s important. She also gives us a suspenseful excerpt from her story.


One of the reasons I’m so proud to participate in the Pets in Space anthologies every year is because of the charitable contribution to Hero Dogs that has been a part of the Pets anthology ever since the very first one. Hero Dogs provides service dogs at no cost to veterans of the U.S. military and first responders with disabilities.

My family has some connection to the military: my grandfather and father both served in the armed forces. My grandfather in WWII, and my father as a marine reservist, although he was never deployed. Growing up, I was instilled with a deep sense of pride for their service, and a healthy respect for the sacrifices our armed forces and their families make.

It’s not just a personal connection to the military that makes me appreciate working with this charity, however. I also have several (non-military) friends who have service dogs, and I have seen what a huge difference it has made in their lives to have that kind of assistance available to them. One family friend is dealing with a degenerative illness, and they had lost the ability to walk across the room without their walker. With the help of a service dog they were able to do this and do it much faster and more safely than they could with a walker. Another friend has an emotional support animal that’s made a world of difference in helping them leave their house and interact with other people without suffering from crippling anxiety.

Because of their service animals, my friends have been able to get out of the house more, take public transportation when they never could before, and other things that make what were immense challenges in their lives so much more manageable.

Because I know how amazing the skills of a service dog can be, I am immeasurably proud to contribute in even some small way to helping Hero Dogs continue with their mission to place service dogs with veterans.

E.D. Walker is the author of The Fairy Tales of Lyond Series that begins with Enchanting the King. E.D. lives in sunny Southern California with her family and one of the neediest housecats on the planet.  Website: http://edwalkerauthor.com/

Story snippet:

Her kidnapper, Tatinas’s nostrils flared. “Perhaps it is time I show your father how much worse I can make things for you.”

Fear spiked in Liana’s blood, her heart racing. Her caliba Pym shifted, apparently still asleep although she knew better. She fanned her fingers over Pym’s silky feathers and, immediately, calm filled her chest. “It doesn’t matter what you do to me. My father won’t relent.” She might be signing her own death warrant, but if Tatinas planned to torture her so her father would comply then wasn’t it better if she die now?

Tatinas chortled, the sound making her shiver. “Who knows what might change a man’s mind? If you push him hard enough.” He pivoted toward the door, ready to leave.

“Am I to have my walk today?” The stale air of her room had started an itch under her skin, a worm of anxiety that was beginning to wind through her blood.

He hesitated, his head half turned toward her, then he scoffed and tossed a careless hand. “Why not? There’s nowhere to escape anyway. Is there?” He turned and held her gaze until she was squirming under his cold, reptilian stare. “Is there, princess.”

“No.” She swallowed. “There isn’t.”

Grab your copy of Pets in Space® 4 today! For a limited time, Pets in Space® 4 brings together today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors to help Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that helps our service veterans and first responders. https://petsinspaceantho.com

Thirteen More Pets in Space

Illustrations of all the Pets in Space

Once again this year I’m delighted to be in the Pets in Space anthology – which appears in less than a week. It can be preordered now!  There are thirteen stories by  NYT and USA Today bestselling authors who have concocted wonderful stories about space and starships, romance and adventure, and helpful, companionable, mysterious and/or surprising pets.

The story I wrote is Winter’s Prince and here’s an excerpt from it:

Now the translator was going up. Kev visualized where they were: inside an artificial mountain, inside an amusement park, inside the interstellar city-state called Wendis. And Wendis was having its Winterfair, a celebration of ancient history on Earth. Or rather a gaudy, gauzy, gutsy misremembering of said history. Kev knew how much history Winterfair got wrong, and it tended to set his teeth on edge. That was why he stuck with the fighting games in the Zone called Warway. He stayed out of the heart of Winterfair—the Zone called the Fair Country.

Which was where they were heading now.

The translator slid to a stop. The cave spun again. The door opened. They stepped out into a woodland of dark green trees dusted with snow. A thin thread of a brook tumbled downhill. Birds sang.

Jerad looked around with amazement on his face.

“This a completely different Zone, with different ecology, climate, and games.” Kev removed his helmet, folding it in half and putting it into the pocket under his belt. Fresh air felt good on his face. “If you want to stick to the desert war rule set, maybe we died and went to Heaven.”

“Heaven?”

“An afterlife in paradise.” The Crusaders on Earth would have thought exactly that if they’d somehow found a short-cut out of their hot, bloody desert back to a place so like their Europan homeland—and so very unlike it. The broad mountain they stood on curled around the spin axis of Wendis. On the other side of the world, the sky was made of concave sea.

Kev and Jerad followed a path beside the tiny brook to a clear pool in a grassy glade. Kev knelt, rinsing his painful knuckles in the pool.

Jerad held back from the water’s edge.

Kev said, “This Zone of the Park recreates Earth, not Faxe. The water doesn’t have shockthreads.”

Jerad crouched down and gingerly touched the water.

Then Kev heard the sounds of someone or something approaching. He looked up sharply—combat adrenaline wasn’t left behind in a brief translator ride.

A slender, blonde young woman walked into the glade beside a slender, silver animal. The animal regarded Kev with large dark eyes then dipped its head to drink. A fluted horn gleamed on its forehead.

The Winterfair was full of holograms and props, but this wasn’t one of them. It was a real unicorn—a genetically engineered animal. Kev had heard about unicorns higher up on this mountain where there was less spingravity. This one wore a silver harness that closely fit its silver hide. That harness might just function like equine spingravity braces.

Jerad-Jon had eyes only for the girl. “Hi. I’m Jerad-Jon.”

 “I’m Lin-Miri.” Her fingers were twined in the unicorn’s mane. She was another young upper-crust Faxen, Kev thought, probably a University student. She had flawless features and a gauzy lavender dress. She in turn saw a fair-haired and perfect-faced young knight. They looked at each other with equal amounts of amazement.

Jerad murmured to Kev, “You’re right about this being Heaven.”

The unicorn went alert. It lifted its head up with a sharp snort.

Grab your copy of Pets in Space® 4 today! For a limited time, Pets in Space® 4 brings together today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors to help Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that helps our service veterans and first responders. 

 

The Shallows and the Stars

This book’s provocative thesis is that our involvement with the Internet undermines the kind of critical, linear, deep thinking that is inculcated by reading, and replaces it with the reactive, scattered, shallow thinking that comes of skimming Web pages and following links in all directions.  Published in 2011, The Shallows is at least as relevant now, in 2019.  Recommended reading!

My new romantic SF series is set thousands of years from now in an an interstellar city-state and on colonized planets across the stars.  Writing SF like that, I’ve had to think hard about what digital technology and artificial intelligence may ultimately look like.  Well, I haven’t finished thinking. But Witherspin (December 2019) and Starmaze (2020) will explore those questions.

If digital technology ever reached an end point that was truly catastrophic for part of humanity, other human societies will have found another way….

BUILT

Here is a recent (2018) and wonderfully interesting book about structural engineering.  Yes, that topic is interesting – HIGHLY interesting when it come to skyscrapers!  The author, a structural engineer involved with notable projects including London’s towering new skyscraper, the Shard, shares her wonder at bricks and concrete, spider webbing and wind loading, bridges, and  the sorts of calculation that are crucial to the structures of civilization.  She takes the reader around the world to see notable buildings from ancient to modern times. And she looks into the American past to salute Emily Warren Roebling, the defacto chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Recommended!

Lenten Sacrifice

 

Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort. I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead. … I myself have written, “If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

–Kurt Vonnegut

A quarter century ago Peter Menzel published his remarkable book, Material World.  Subtitled A Global Family Portrait, it portrayed statistically average families representing thirty nations.  The most memorable feature of the book was a series of photographs of each family’s worldly goods:  they’d emptied their homes for the photographers and deposited all of their material possessions in front of the homes so that these fascinating collections, meager or extensive, could be photographed.

Think of all of the objects you have in your home.  Almost  every one of those items arrived with the promise that it would in some way make your life richer, fuller, better.

And almost without exception, every one of these items ended up with you taking care of it:  you have to wash it, wax it, renew its registration, dust it, change its oil or its batteries, update its software, or otherwise service it in some way.  Possessions we acquired to make our lives better now possess us instead.

It is the season of Lent when many liturgical Christians give something up.  I once worked with a woman who faithfully gave up chocolate for Lent every year.  A friend of mine – a Lutheran minister – gives up Facebook  for Lent.  Imagine that – more time to interact with flesh and blood friends and family in person!  (Wasn’t Facebook’s original premise that it would help us stay connected?)

It occurs to me that giving up whatever promised to make our lives better, but doesn’t serves us as intended, is worth doing. For example:  fear’s original purpose was to help us human beings survive in a dangerous world.  But some fears we may own now are, like snowmobiles and salad shooters, far more trouble than they’re worth. What if we gave up some of our fears for Lent?

Suppose we gave up our fear of being found out for who we really are?  The fear of being different,  unlovable, hopelessly inadequate, or too strange for anyone to like us? Jesus emphatically said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Meaning we are worth being loved by ourselves. And what if we gave up our fear of our neighbor? You know, the one whose skin color, foreign origins, socio-economic class, politics, or sexuality prompts useless, burdensome fear.

We might find that once Lent is over we don’t need to resume these fears. Or at least that they wouldn’t stick to us quite as stubbornly after Easter Sunday.

Today, April 11, is the twelfth anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut’s death.

THE WHOLE STORY OF CLIMATE

 

This is a remarkable book with lucid, approachable geological science. It’s written in a way that shows the author’s passion for geology and for teaching. She also folds in memorable vignettes about the lives of figures whose discoveries paved the way to what we know now about climate science. This is a very, very good read, and equally thought-provoking.   It methodically builds a case that the Earth’s climate is more unstable than we knew:  it can – and has, in historical eras  – drastically changed in less than a lifetime.  

Highly recommended.

SHAPESHIFTERS

Following the example of a professor who always finds really interesting nonfiction books in the Rice University library, and who checked this book back in, I just read Shapeshifters by Gavin Francis, MD. I’m glad I did. This book is an expertly guided tour of how the human body is fundamentally changeable through both natural development and different diseases. Dr. Francis tells these medical tales with fascination, compassion, and strong, clear, evocative writing. This is highly recommended reading for writers of science fiction, fantasy and mystery – there’s so much good material here!