Last year I adopted my 3 cats, Hector, Achilles, & Poe, from the Cat Adoption Team (C.A.T.).  Teenagers at the time, the lads have grown up to be very handsome adults, as you can see.

Hector 09-15-14OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto Dec 23, 4 13 50 AM

I was so impressed with the work C.A.T. was doing, and the good spirits with which they do it, that I started volunteering for the organization. This includes doing a shift or two each month at the adoption center, occasionally doing some errands, and fostering once in a while.

This weekend, 4 foster kittens rescued by C.A.T. moved in with me, and they’ll be here until they’re ready for adoption (which will be after they get spayed/neutered–probably when they 12-14 weeks old). They’re currently about 5 weeks old, too young even for vaccinations, so they’ll be here a while. Since they haven’t seen a doctor yet or been tested, they have to be kept isolated from my cats for several weeks. Hector, who is very gregarious and playful, is Not Pleased about this, as you can see. (However, health issues notwithstanding, he’s also too big to play with them until they’ve grown a little more.)

Photo Jun 29, 1 15 00 PM
These kittens have been living feral, and their mother (recently caught, vaccinated, and spayed) has clearly been taking good care for them. They seem healthy and lively, with good appetites and good temperaments. You can tell they’ve been living wild, since as soon as they hear an unfamiliar noise or feel at all threatened, they all instantly disappear into hiding places–and they’re good at hiding. They’re living in a walk-in closet for now, and I sometimes can’t find them! (I’ll expand their quarters to include my office in a few days, once they’re feeling more secure. For now, they’re more anxious than curious when I open that door, and they prefer remaining in the smaller space.) They were quite afraid of me yesterday, but are starting to relax more around me today. They’re young enough that I think they’ll soon adjust to being handled, and they have outgoing temperaments.

There are 3 girls and a boy. The boy has black paws, face, and ears, and then a gray-frosted coat over the rest of his black fur, like a silverback gorilla. He also has only a partial tail. One of his sisters has no tail at all. (This seems to be congenital in both cases; there are no signs of injury.) One of the females is a beautiful pewter gray, and the other two are black (one of these is the one with no tail). For whatever reason (maybe it’s the male’s frosted gray overcoat), they look to me like characters out of Chekov or Tolstoy or Pasternak, so I’ve given them all Russian names: Boris, Natasha, Katya, and Sonya.

If you’re interested in helping C.A.T. from afar, it’s a nonprofit charity which runs on donations (which are tax deductible), fundraising, and volunteer efforts. So please consider donating to C.A.T. or sponsoring a foster–C.A.T. was able to rescue these four kittens because a kind donor has sponsored them (sponsorship helps C.A.T. cover the medical cost of fostering; these kittens are currently taking meds for worms and diarrhea, and they will all be blood-tested, vaccinated, and spayed/neutered before being eligible for adoption).

If you’d like to follow C.A.T.’s activities, they’ve got an active Facebook page. And if you’re local to the Cincinnati area, they can always use more fosters and volunteers, if you’re interested–as well as “furever” families for their rescues, if you’re thinking of adopting!

And if you’re specifically interested in Boris, Natasha, Sonya, or Katya, let me or C.A.T. know, and fill out an adoption application. These kitties will probably be ready for adoption by late August! Meanwhile, here’s a first peak at these little rascals. (They’re dark kittens in a dark closet and constantly dashing around, so it may be a while before I post any good photos of them.)


Boris 1

 

NatashaSonya&Katya

 

June 4th update: This deal for 11 DRM-free ebooks ends at midnight tonight (EDS time)!

 

My book Rejections, Romance, & Royalties is in an 11-ebook bundle this week at StoryBundle, all DRM-free books on the craft & business of writing professionally.

Pay $5 and get a 6-book bundle, including my book; pay at least $15, and get the additional 5 bonus books and a 40%-off coupon for Jutoh ebooking software. You can also allocate part of your purchase price to foundations that encourage young people to read and write.

The bundle includes books by award-winners, bestsellers, and career writers, and there’s a lot of great information in these volumes.

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And here’s a sample chapter from Rejection, Romance, & Royalties:

Orphans of the Storm

Once upon a time (come on, who doesn’t love a story that begins that way?), I sold my first book, a romance novel, to Silhouette Books, a division of Harlequin Enterprises (a.k.a. The Evil Empire).

As first sales go, it was a fairly painless process. Several months after I sent them my manuscript, I received an encouraging letter from an editorial assistant saying she liked my book and was passing it higher up the food chain. A few months after that, I received another letter from her saying that the book was getting favorable readings, but acquiring a new author was a lengthy process at Silhouette, one which required patience and time. Then, about eleven months after I’d mailed in the manuscript, I received a FedEx letter from an editor at Silhouette; they’d been trying to reach me for several days, but there was no answer at the phone number I’d given them, and so they wanted me to call them.

(This was back in the spring of 1988. I didn’t have a computer, I had never heard of e-mail, and I didn’t own an answering machine.)

So I phoned them. The editor who’d signed the letter answered the phone, gushed nicely about my writing, and made me an offer for the book—an offer that was roughly the advance sum which, based on my research, I expected from them. The editor (whose name I’ve long since forgotten) praised my talent and said she would like to see everything else I had written. She explained that she’d be interested in buying several books per year from me.

I was, needless to say, thrilled!

The editor’s revision requests on that first book were neither arduous nor unreasonable. I completed them easily, turned in the final manuscript, and got paid. And, as requested, I sent her the rest of my work: two more complete manuscripts, and one partial.

The next time I heard from my editor was when I received a letter from her announcing she was leaving Silhouette and, indeed, leaving the publishing industry entirely (which is why I don’t even remember her name anymore). Her last day in the office, to answer questions or deal with her writers, was the day the letter was mailed and (obviously) several days before I received it. Her letter assured me I would soon be assigned to a new editor. She didn’t make any mention of the manuscripts that I had sent her at her request.

When I finally received another letter informing me who my new editor was, I phoned her so that we could get acquainted, talk about the book that I had in production there, and talk about the manuscripts which were now presumably sitting on her desk.

I only remember her first name, and only because it was so comically unsuited to her personality: Joy. She was a listless, sour person who told me that I’d been shoveled onto her already too-heavy workload along with a bunch of other writers whom, like me, she really didn’t want or have time for.

I asked when my first novel was scheduled for release. Joy didn’t know and was “too busy” to find out.

I asked about the three manuscripts which I had submitted at my previous editor’s request. Joy didn’t know and was too busy to find out. I reminded her of my option clause; Silhouette had sixty days, from submission, to give me an answer on those manuscripts. She coldly informed me she had no idea when she’d have time to read them.

A couple of months passed with no contact from Joy. So I phoned her. She never phoned back. I phoned her again. She still didn’t phone back. I phoned yet again—and caught her at her desk this time. She hadn’t looked at my manuscripts, had no idea where they were, was too busy to look for them, and didn’t really have time to waste talking to me. I reminded her that the option period had now expired, so an answer would be appropriate. She responded with irritable indifference and ended the conversation.

I had been (perhaps you’ve heard the term before) orphaned.

This is one of the many pitfalls of publishing that you don’t really think about (and perhaps don’t even hear about) when you’re trying to break into the business. While it doesn’t happen often, it’s nonetheless a typical enough experience that a writer should be aware of the possibility.

Being “orphaned” usually means that your editor leaves the publishing house, for one reason or another, and the editor who gets you in her place doesn’t particularly want you or care about your career. She didn’t discover you, didn’t acquire you—she’s merely inherited you, and she clearly wishes she hadn’t.

Some writers wind up leaving publishing houses (involuntarily) after being orphaned; because it’s not just the publisher who buys and believes in your work—it is very specifically and importantly the editor. Without an editor interested in your work and championing you within the house, you probably have no real future there.

Now, let’s clarify: Being orphaned does not necessarily lead to problems. There are numerous instances where your new editor is just as enthused about your writing as your old one was, perhaps even more so. There are many instances where you are just as compatible with your new editor as you were with her predecessor, perhaps even more so. There are editors who inherit you and automatically call you up to tell you how excited they are about working with you hereafter. There are editors who, before making that call, spend all weekend reading everything you’ve published with their house so they can chat intelligently with you about your work. So let’s not panic. Being orphaned is not always a disaster. It’s not even always an awkward or difficult thing.

In my case, however, it was a genuine career crisis. I knew no one at Silhouette Books, and none of them knew me. I was a brand new writer with one modest sale under my belt. It’s very common for writers to disappear after just one or two sales, so no one at Silhouette would have ever wondered why I had never survived beyond my first book with them. I was powerless and friendless, and I had been inherited by an editor who very clearly just wanted to get rid of me. An editor who wanted me to disappear, because I represented nothing to her except extra work that she didn’t want. An editor who, just by stalling me, rejecting me, and dodging my calls, had the ability to make me disappear.

This went on for five months. The closest Joy ever got to reading my work was to farm out one of my manuscripts to a free-lance reader who, she then told me, gave it an “unfavorable report.” Joy explained to me that, based on that reaction, she herself didn’t expect to like any of my work, and she doubted that I would make another sale to Silhouette.

Wow, can’t get much clearer than that, can she?

I panicked. I knew that in order to save my fledgling career, I had to do something to get past this (I use the word loosely) editor. She was a serious impediment to my professional survival. So I did something I almost never do: I sought the advice of my father, science fiction writer Mike Resnick.

At his suggestion, I wrote a carefully worded letter to Joy’s boss. I praised Joy effusively… and remarked on how terrible I felt about the way she was so overworked. I commented on her tremendous work ethic and personal charm… and mourned that she was so busy, she’d gone five months without having a chance to read any of my optioned manuscripts. I expressed tremendous admiration for Joy… while reflecting that it just seemed unfair that she was afflicted with so many writers she didn’t even have time to return my phone calls. And I nobly volunteered to be assigned to another editor—someone who, while perhaps lacking Joy’s warmth, brilliance, and efficiency, might actually have a chance to read my submissions.

In other words, I asked for a new editor and explained my reasons, while being careful not to openly criticize the one I was with. I also copied the letter to Joy herself, so that I wouldn’t appear to be going behind her back or trying to stir up trouble.

It worked. Joy’s boss phoned me personally for a long, friendly chat. She never criticized Joy in our conversation, but she clearly understood that it was a bad situation and I needed to be moved. Within a week or two, I was reassigned to another editor—one who spent the weekend reading the book I had under contract there and all of my new submissions, then phoned me, made me an offer, talked about how enthused she was about working with me hereafter, and did all the other things that a good editor does when she inherits a writer. She and I worked together for several years at Silhouette, and we have remained friendly ever since those days. So the story has a happy ending.

So, when your editorial relationship isn’t working out, you can ask for a new editor. A smart publisher knows that editors and writers work better when they’re teamed with the right individuals. (Unfortunately, not all publishers are smart; but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.)

However, if you’re going to do this, your editorial problems need to be real problems, not just a case of an editor who didn’t buy a book you wanted to sell her, or whose personality you’re not that crazy about. Also, remember that although most publishing houses will humor this request once, they’ll rarely do it twice; if you have problems with your subsequent editor there, then you are likely to be regarded as the problem. So before asking for a new editor, make sure that you’re positive that any change would be an improvement. (In my situation with Joy, I was quite positive.)

Asking for a new editor, while well within your rights as a writer, is a delicate political move. You may have many good reasons to hate the editor, but she is an employee (possibly even a favored and longtime one) of the house. So it’s best to be as tactful and non-accusatory as possible, while nonetheless making your needs known to your editor’s superior.

As for Joy… she left publishing forever only a few weeks after I got reassigned, so you’re in no danger of running into her. (A lot of editors you’ll meet along the way leave publishing forever. Really. It’s not just the ones who work with me.)

And remember the editorial assistant who kept sending me nice encouraging letters before my first sale? She later became my editor for a couple of years. She eventually left the business, but we’ve remained friends all these years. (And just to clarify: She did not leave the business because of me, okay?)

                                                                * * *    

You can purchase the bundle of books at Story Bundle for only a few more days, so grab it now.

For a limited time only, my nonfiction book on the working life of the average downtrodden professional novelist, Rejection, Romance, & Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer, is in a book bundle (a group of DRM-free ebooks sold as a set, a herd, a gaggle!) with a bunch of other cool books on the craft and business of writing, including:

  • The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer
  • Writing Into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith
  • Playing the Short Game by Douglas Smith
  • Making Tracks – A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks by J. Daniel Sawyer
  • Business For Breakfast – Vol 1: The Beginning Professional Writer by Leah Cutter

They’re available at: http://storybundle.com/writing

You can get that whole set of ebooks for as little as $5. But if you decide to pay at least $15, you also get this whole set of bonus ebooks:

  • Break Writer’s Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis
  • Writing Horses – The Fine Art of Getting It Right by Judith Tarr
  • The Write Attitude by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Pitfalls of Writing Fantasy by Vonda N. McIntyre
  • 30 Days in the Word Mines by Chuck Wendig

The bonus package additionally includes a 40% discount coupon for Jutoh, an ebook creation tool for all platforms.

The purchase price also allows you to donate a portion of the money to Girls Write Now and Mighty Writers, both of which causes help nurture future generations of writers.

StoryBundle offers a book-buying model that lets you decide what you want to pay and how you want your purchasing dollars to be allocated. Find out more when you visit http://storybundle.com/writing to purchase this great package of books on the craft and business of writing, written by bestsellers, award-winners, and career novelists.

All Covers Jutoh Large

I was Guest of Honor (GoH – pronounced “go”) at MillenniCon 29 this weekend, where a good time was had by all. And at the traditional GoH reception on Friday night, the convention unveiled a beautiful sheet cake which was the size of my car–and decorated with themes from my Esther Diamond fantasy series, which I found especially thoughtful. (Note the diamond, the comedy-tragedy dual-mask image that’s the traditional symbol of thespians like Esther, and the books. Also, the cake was yummy!)

Photo Mar 20, 7 57 36 PM

MillenniCon is a science fiction/fantasy fannish convention in the Cincinnati/Dayton/Ohio Valley area, so it’s local to me (I’m a longtime Cincinnatian and now live in Northern Kentucky–so close to Cincinnati than I can easily walk to downtown Cinti, across the Ohio River, and can see parts of it from my back yard.) They like to feature local sf/f writers, and past GoHs include fellow Cincinnatians Mike Resnick (my dad) and Stephen Leigh aka S.L. Farrell, as well as Midwestern residents John Scalzi, Jim Hines, Eric Flint, and Tobias Buckell. Over the years, they’ve also brought in guests from farther afield, including Robert Sawyer, Connie Willis, Catherine Asaro, David Brin, Larry Niven, Lois McMaster Bujold, Joe Haldeman, and so on. As you can imagine, I am honored to be in such company.

Before opening ceremonies (generally pretty unceremonial in the sf/f world, but always fun and friendly), my fearless GoH liaison Cheryl, responsible all weekend for making sure I didn’t disappear down a manhole or get lost in the laundry, took me and several others out for dinner, including former MillenniCon GoH and friend-of-con David Drake. Later on, after the GoH reception back at the hotel and some evening programming (during which I confessed to enjoying Elvis Presley movies), there was the usual round of parties. (As I have said before, the sf/f world is mostly about the parties, not the books.)

I was settling down to sleep around 2am that night when I realized I had forgotten a bunch of essential things at home–such as something to read to the audience at my reading in the morning–so I made a middle-of-the-night trek back to my house across the river to get forgotten items. Upon arriving home, I surprised the Infamous Hector in the middle of constructing a catapult in the cellar by using–it seemed–pieces of a Scrabble game he had  liberated from the top shelf (9 feet high) in an upstairs closet. So it was a rather long night.

Like many others at MillenniCon, I was jailed the next day. (This is a fundraiser whereby people pay a few dollars to arrest and imprison anyone of their choice for 5-15 minutes in a temporary jail that’s constructed in the lobby. The jailer is a well-armed Klingon, so I went quietly, officer.) That evening, writer Stephen Leigh aka SL Farrell, who has been publicly performing in rock bands for decades, did a great job of entertaining the audience during the intermission at the masquerade while we waited for the judges to deliberate and make their decisions. Afterwards, on my way to the parties, I saw a giant blue sea monster in the hallway, and everyone said I’d had enough to drink. But I saw it again the next day, too, after all the effects of wine and questionable company had worn off. Hah!

Sunday wrapped up with some more programming, during which time I realized that I probably shouldn’t spend so much time at parties when I have a heavy programming schedule, since I am not quite the spring flower that I used to be.

Overall, I believe that being a good GoH means being polite and accessible, available to committee and attendees during most waking hours during the con, well-prepared on programming, and courteous to everyone who has shown up in hopes of having a nice time. So I tried hard to follow that example, since that’s all much easier than, oh, writing a book, and certainly not a lot to ask of an author in exchange for making her the honored guest of a convention.

And concoms make it a very positive experience for the GoH by running a good con where everyone has a good time, as well as extending warm hospitality to the GoH. All of which was the case at MillenniCon, which was a happy experience for me and, as far as I could tell, for everyone else, too.

Next year is MillenniCon’s 30th anniversary, for which they’re planning big festivities, including inviting back some former GoHs, such as my dad and my friend Jim Hines–so I’ll certainly be in attendance!

I did a radio interview today on Cincinnati Edition, hosted by Mark Heyne on WVXU, in tandem with MillenniCon Chair, Christy Johnson. Here’s the recorded feed, which runs about 25 minutes:

http://wvxu.org/post/author-laura-resnick-will-be-special-guest-weekends-millenicon-29-cincinnati

 I’m GoH (guest of honor) at MillenniCon this weekend. Here’s a link to the con:
http://www.millennicon.org/


And here’s my schedule:

FRIDAY

 7pm:    Opening Ceremonies        (Harrison/Garfield)

 8pm:    GoH Reception        (Con Suite)

 10pm: Guilty Secrets           (Taft/Grant)
Things we’ve written that we didn’t tell anyone about; movies and books we love that we secretly love but keep a secret. What happens at this panel stays at this panel.
Resnick (m), C. Hartwell, C. Matthews, S. Rechtin

 

 SATURDAY

 11am: GoH Reading (Harrison/Garfield)

 12pm: GoH Autographs (Lobby)

 2pm:    Women and the Future (Taft/Grant)
Will women become the new men in the 21st century?” Women are attaining the majority of college degrees, and are the more numerous sex in our country. Women are often the head of the household and bread winner today. Single motherhood is almost a norm today. How will this affect society and relationships in 20, 40, 60 years?
Sax (M), D. Waltz, L. Resnick, C. Matthews, H. Davis, S. Rechtin

 4pm:    Make ‘Em Laugh (Taft/Grant)
Writing comedy and humor in SFF
Resnick (M), C. Stasheff, A. Matthews, C. Matthews

 

SUNDAY

 11am: Authors & Pets (Harrison/Garfield)
Pets are often incorporated into SFF writing. Come learn how some authors are challenged and inspired by their pets.
Waltz, L. Resnick, S. Leigh, M. Resnick

12pm: GoH Autographs (Lobby)

2pm:    GoH Q&Q      (Harrison/Garfield)

3pm:    Closing Ceremonies (Harisson/Garfield)

 

Years ago, I was a recovering romance writer looking for a new genre, and I wrote a proposal for an urban fantasy series that I felt was exactly what I should be writing: A comedy series set in New York City and featuring Esther Diamond, a struggling actress (I was also a recovering aspiring actress) who gets involved in supernatural misadventures via her career. The proposal included a brief description of the series, synopses for the first three books, and the first three chapters of book one, Disappearing Nightly.

As readers of the series already know, in Disappearing Nightly, Esther is performing in an off-Broadway flop called Sorcerer! when the leading lady really vanishes during the disappearing act. After several more performers around the city mysteriously disappear during their magic acts, Esther joins forces with Dr. Maximillian Zadok, an elderly mage who specializes in unraveling mystical mayhem. She also butts heads with Detective Connor Lopez, a skeptical NYPD cop who finds Esther attractive in green body paint—or anything else.

Max and Esther would become partners in paranormal crime-solving as the series continued, and Esther’s relationship with Lopez would become more serious and more conflicted. Structured like a mystery series, the books would mostly (though not always) be stand-alone stories, and the series would be open-ended. That is, the characters confront Evil as a day-to-day job that someone’s always got to do; there is no specific entity or master-enemy who can ultimately be defeated or destroyed to remove all Evil from the world (or from New York City).

However, neither urban fantasy nor comedy was popular in the fantasy genre when I wrote the Esther Diamond proposal. This meant that selling the series would take some persistence. But, alas, I was letting my work be represented by literary agents at the time, and too many agents (including all four of my former agents) approach selling books with all the enthusiasm and commitment that I bring to thinking about cleaning my oven. In a pattern that typifies my experiences with literary agents, my then-agent sent the Esther Diamond proposal to three editors, they all rejected it, and the agent promptly declared the series unsaleable, refused to send it out ever again, and thereafter bit my head off whenever I raised the subject.

 A few years later I fired the agent, and then I sent out Esther Diamond on my own. Within weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.

Unfortunately, though, that publisher did a poor job of publishing the first book, including a terrible cover, bad pricing decisions, and no marketing. This happens a lot. (And lest you think, “Ah! A literary agent would have known not to sell there!” Actually, the agent I’d recently fired placed other writers with that same publisher while refusing to send Esther Diamond anywhere.) As you’d expect, the book sank like a stone (which also happens a lot). Responding exactly the way most publishers usually respond to their own publishing mistakes, the publisher canceled my contract. So this series, which it had taken me years to get aloft, was shot down and lying dead in the water once again.

Meanwhile, in a fit of “conventional wisdom” idiocy, I had hired my new/fourth literary agent to “represent” me after I got that book deal on the table by myself. This was a very expensive mistake on my part. She collected 15% of that deal and never took the slightest interest in my career again. From then on, it became progressively harder to get my calls returned or my emails answered. And now that I had been dumped by the publisher and my career was in trouble, she made it clear that I was as welcome at that agency as a corpse at a vegan banquet.

Technically, I fired that agent; but that’s a lot like saying, “I filed for divorce after discovering my spouse had left me.” Then I (foolishly) queried some other agents. They were all negative about my plan to find a new publisher for Esther Diamond and even more negative about my writing. (If you were thinking that 20 book sales protects you from agents telling you that you can’t write–hah!–then think again.) Before long, I realized that it was well past time to give up on agents and concentrate on getting another publishing contract. So I once again researched the market and submitted Esther on my own… And, once again, within a few weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.

(Sidebar: Giving up on literary agents proved to be one of the very best business decisions I’ve ever made. I’ll talk about this more in future posts (and I’ve talked about it often in my Nink column and on other people’s blogs), but my career has improved so much since I quit working with agents that I regret not making the decision years before I did, and it’s difficult to think of a scenario in which I’d choose to go back to working with one.)

The editor who took a chance on this canceled series was the inimitable Betsy Wollheim, publisher of DAW Books—who won a well-deserved Hugo Award for Best Editor in sf/f in 2012. (Her co-publisher, Sheila Gilbert, got a long-overdue nomination for the same award in 2014.)  DAW Books, which is a small independently owned house (distributed by the Random Penguin empire), is very different from any other publishing house I’ve ever worked with, in that they treat me like a respected professional associate and treat my work as a valued asset. My experience with other publishers for many years was consistently that I was typically treated as something between a necessary nuisance and a crack whore, and my work was treated as anything from filler for holes in the schedule to street garbage. So, needless to say, I have been very happy at DAW Books and hope to keep writing for them for a long time.

I could tell I was finally at the right house with this book early on, when DAW (in an example of how differently they work than all my previous publishers) asked me what cover artists I was thinking of for this series–and it turned out we both had the same top pick: the brilliant Dan Dos Santos, who has done all but one of the the DAW Esther Diamond releases to date. (Dan was not available to do the reissue of Disappearing Nightly, which dropped into the schedule on short notice after I got the rights back. The DAW cover for DN was done by the talented David Palumbo, who was very professional and great to work with.) I also worked well together with DAW editorially and on production, and this is a better series as a result of being at that house instead of any other. So things have really worked out for the best, despite the long hard road that Esther Diamond traveled to get here.

The first book we did together was Doppelgangster, Esther #2, followed by Unsympathetic Magic and Vamparazzi. By then, I had rights back to Disappearing Nightly and the original, doomed edition was no longer in print; so I did a few minor revisions to the manuscript (it’s a luxury to be able to do some continuity fixes on book #1 of a series after you’ve written book #4). DAW repackaged it with the Palumbo cover and released this reissue the same year it released Esther #5, Polterheist, which was followed by The Misfortune Cookie a year later, and then Abracadaver in November 2014.

I’m now working on Esther Diamond #8, Goldzilla, set on Wall Street, and ED #9 & #10 are under contract with DAW. (That doesn’t mean the series ends with #10; it just means that’s how far we’re contracted at this time.)

Deep into writing this series now, after years of trying to get it off the ground, I still feel that this is exactly what I should be writing (though not the only thing that’s exactly what I should be writing), so I’m in this for the long haul. And I hope that readers will be, too!

Esther Diamond: Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Unsympathetic Magic by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Vamparazzi by Laura Resnick
Esther Diamond: Polterheist by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: The Misfortune Cookie by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Abracadaver by Laura Resnick

 

No, Snap is not a feline, but he falls within a general TGIF-and-animals theme, so here goes. This piece first appeared a year ago, in March 2014, in my monthly Nink column for Novelists, Inc., when Snap, my first foster puppy, was living here.

***

“You can never go wrong adding a dog to the story.”

 —Jim Butcher, White Knight

01 Snap's 1st day here

Snap, 4 months old, on his first day here.

 

Since I work at home and since this house has a (small) fenced yard, I recently decided to try something I’d been thinking about for a while—fostering a service puppy.

Snap is a golden retriever who moved in with me in the autumn, when he was four months old. He’ll return to the foundation that owns him, 4 Paws For Ability, sometime this spring, when he’s ready to start his adult training to become a service dog for a disabled child. (The specific type of work he’ll do will be determined when he’s evaluated at the start of his skills training.) If all goes as expected, he will graduate from the program after intensive training, be successfully paired with his permanent family, and spend the rest of his life as some lucky kid’s best friend and working partner.

The goal for Snap, while he lives with me, is for him to become a confident, courteous companion in the world where he’ll eventually accompany his permanent human partner 24/7. Therefore, in addition to learning to be a good house dog and attending obedience classes, Snap goes virtually everywhere with me: post office, library, supermarket, retail stores, the bank, coffee shops, my mechanic’s garage, waiting rooms, public lectures, and so on.

Snap at 6 months.

Snap at 6 months, invited to a friend’s holiday brunch with me.

This month, he’ll attend a local sf/f convention (Millennicon) with me, where he’ll be at my side the whole time I’m doing all the usual stuff I do at conferences. And I fervently hope that while I’m speaking to audiences, Snap won’t suddenly start gagging, hiccuping, or vomiting—all of which things he, like many puppies, tends to do when you least expect it.

When he’s invited (which is often), Snap also accompanies me to parties and dinners at my friends’ homes. (Actually, invitations these days tend to read, “We haven’t seen Snap in too long! … Oh, and of course, you’re welcome to come here with him.”) There’s also a checklist in my foster handbook of things I am asked to expose Snap to, so they’ll be familiar to him as an adult, such as: elevators, sliding doors, cars, public transportation, the zoo, museums, live music, etc.

So, obviously, there’s a lot I’m supposed to teach Snap in the months that he’s here. But I had not realized until after his arrival that Snap would also teach me a great deal.

For example, the standard best case scenario in my working life is that I write a book, the editor tells me it’s okay (or tells me a few things need to be fixed; or says nothing at all to me), the book then goes into production, and I start writing the next book. Apart from that, in my experience, writing is mostly a life of being rejected and reviled.

So I was skeptical about 4 Paws’ strict insistence on positive reinforcement training, wherein I reward Snap’s good behavior with praise and dog treats, and I ignore his unsatisfactory behavior (or, if it’s problematic behavior, like dirtying the carpet or eating a chair, I tell him “no” and show him the right thing to do—such as go outside or chew on a bone).

This made no sense to me. It would never work! Surely, I thought, when Snap wants to chase his squeaky-toy instead of doing his obedience drills, I should tell him that there are a thousand puppies lined up at his back, eager to take his place if he doesn’t do what I tell him to do—and those puppies will gladly train for half the treats he’s getting! That’s how I was taught to be a working writer, after all. Shouldn’t a working dog also be inspired by similar motivators?

But I was wrong. To my astonishment, this whole “praise and rewards” system is effective. As soon as Snap realizes he’ll get a bacon-flavored goody for sitting when I say “sit,” he’s eager to comply. When he’s off-leash at my local park, he makes a game of running 30 yards ahead of me, then waiting for me to say, “Come,” so he can get showered with praise when he returns to me. Around the house, he increasingly repeats behavior I tell him is good (such as playing with his own toys, lying on his bed, and staying out of my way when I’m cooking) and seldom repeats behavior that goes unrewarded (such as stealing used tissues from the waste bin, which I refuse to play with or let him shred).

Imagine if  editors praised us for writing a good story, delivering a clean manuscript, and conducting ourselves professionally. And now imagine if they did it every time we wrote, delivered, and conducted!

Wow. What a wonderful world it would be.

On the other hand, Snap has also taught me that good looks matter more than I want to admit. Snap is a beautiful dog—and this attracts people to him. I know, because everywhere I go, people comment on how beautiful he is—then ask if they can pet him, what his name is, how old he is, etc., etc.

Snap has a service vest he wears whenever we leave the house, which outfit enables him to accompany me everywhere, since there are very few places that service dogs aren’t allowed. The vest engenders a lot (a lot) of conversation with total strangers wherever we go. This amuses all my friends, since—brace yourself for a shock—I am not a people person, and I now typically find myself, as ambassador for my 4 Paws foster puppy, obliged to engage in friendly chat with strangers a dozen times a day. I’d honestly rather be subjected to a Vulcan mind probe, but whaddya gonna do?

30 Looking so grownup

Snap at 10 months, looking so grown up.

Once in a while, though, the service vest is in the laundry after getting muddy and we go for a walk without it. And I still get stopped constantly by people who exclaim on Snap’s beauty and want to interact with him. (In fact, whenever Snap is in the car with me, pedestrians wave and shout to me as we drive past, “What a beautiful dog!” On a day when the windows are open, people in other cars in traffic ask me questions about Snap.)

So, yeah, the reality is that looks make a difference. There’s a good reason that so many protagonists in commercial fiction are good-looking, and we shouldn’t feel we’re pandering or “selling out” when we write characters with enviable looks. People are attracted to another being’s beauty. I currently encounter empirical evidence of that every single day.

Nonetheless, Snap has also taught me that, while beauty may attract, character and personality are genuinely where it’s at. I have friends who get choked up at the thought of Snap leaving our lives this spring when he moves on to his next phase—not because he’s physically beautiful, but because Snap has a beautiful soul. And for all that total strangers are attracted by his beauty, it’s Snap’s sunny, gentle personality that makes busy people halt their day to spend five minutes petting a stranger’s dog at the supermarket or computer store. Like any good protagonist, Snap is someone you start caring about within moments of meeting him.

11 Xmas 2

Snap begging me not to make him wear his Xmas costume in public.

Snap’s effect on strangers is also always a good reminder that, even though I’m not a people person, there are valid reasons for pretending to be one when I’m in public. This is particularly true in my professional capacity, since I don’t ever want to become one of those writers of whom readers say, “I used to like her books. But then I met her.”

Above all, Snap has reminded me that every story focuses on its protagonist—and, in this case, that’s not me. The question I am most commonly asked is always some variation of, “But don’t you get attached? Won’t it be hard to give him up?”

Well, yes, and yes. But so what?

This story isn’t about me; it’s Snap tale. It’s also about the disabled child whose life Snap will enrich and enliven–and quite possibly save, as these dogs often do. I’m not a humble person, but it strikes me as self-evident that, in this narrative, Snap and his eventual partner are the spine of the story, and I’m just a secondary character who’ll feel bereft for a while after Snap returns to 4 Paws for his adult training.

Meanwhile, I’m teaching him how to live in the world—a skill we’re all a little shaky on, including me, yet we nonetheless manage to muddle through. Missing someone we love and who is no longer around is one of the things we all have to learn to do—and, after all, I think Snap will miss me, too.

This puppy has a challenging, rewarding, and important life ahead of him, and that’s what I focus on when I think about saying goodbye to him.

I also keep in mind that after he moves on, I will no longer be goosed out of a sound sleep or interrupted mid-paragraph by Snap vomiting on me.

***

Snap returned to 4 Paws about 3 months later and commenced his adult skills training. He was very successful, as I expected, and now works as a seizure-alert dog with a child who will be his constant companion that rest of his life.  Giving him up was indeed very hard, but it was made easier by seeing how much he is loved and valued by his permanent family–who I got to meet at his graduation (the children and their families go to 4 Paws to train together with the dog throughout the final 2 weeks of the course, during which time they become a team). I have asked 4 Paws about Snap several times since I last saw him, since they keep in touch with the families, and they tell me he is doing well and is cherished. (My mom correctly predicted that whoever Snap was placed with, he would promptly have them eating out of his paw.)

If you’d like to read more about 4 Paws For Ability, I first learned about them via this interesting article. If you’d like more information about fostering for them (they’re in Xenia, Ohio, and fosters need to live within 2-3 hours of there by car), you can find it here, including information about their university fostering program (students foster for a semester). Also worth reading even if you live in another region but would like to learn more about fostering service puppies, in general. You can also follow 4 Paws on Twitter or Facebook.

There’s an internet meme going around, Seven Things You Might Not Know About Me. So here goes.
 
1. I was baptized Catholic and then sent to Hebrew nursery school. (This wasn’t irrational whimsy. I was born to a Catholic-Jewish marriage.) Sticking with that theme, I subsequently attended a Jesuit university and then volunteered on a kibbutz in Israel.


2. Learning to read was hard for me. I’ve since learned that this was probably in part because I was about 6 months younger, on average, than my classmates, so they were a little ahead of me in terms of brain development. But it was also because rather than reading to me, my dad usually told me stories—in which I rescued Tarzan, I was Batman’s crime-fighting partner, I teamed up with John Carter of Mars, and so on. This, as you may imagine, made it very hard for me to get interested in reading lessons where the most exciting thing that happens is, “Sally sees Jane run.”


3. I never wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first few manuscripts in hopes of selling one and thereby paying off a bank overdraft, after which I had no intention of pursuing this as a career. After getting hooked on writing, then selling my first book (a romance novel called One Sultry Summer; Silhouette Books, 1989), then selling more books, I made at least two serious attempts to quit writing fiction, first in 1993 and again in 2003. It didn’t work either time, and by 2006, I resigned myself to my fate and have no serious plans to quit again.


4. I grew up at a kennel. After my parents bought their first house when I was about 5 years old, they started raising show collies, a pursuit they continued for about 15 years. As a little girl, I cleaned the kennels for $1/day. When I was 14, we left Illinois and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where my parents bought a large boarding kennel, and I worked there (for better pay) throughout my teenage years, and on-and-off in my twenties (whenever I was residing in Cincinnati).


5. I was horse-crazy as a girl and even had my own horse for a few years, when we lived out in the country on 5 acres. He was an orphaned pinto with an odd name, Beauhank, who–because he lived among all our collies–apparently thought he was a dog. He played with them, hung out with them, preferred to drink from their water buckets, and often tried to eat their food. When I later boarded him at a nearby stable, the staff asked me why he preferred dogs to other horses.


6. Places I’ve lived include: Palermo, Italy; London, England; Jerusalem, Israel; New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; and Washington, D.C.. I’ve also lived short-term (1-3 months) in southwestern France, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and on a kibbutz (Kfar Blum) in northern Israel. I’ve backpacked twice through Western Europe, and I spent most of 1993 crossing Africa, end-to-end.


7. My lesser-known vices include: books about the British royal family; Elvis Presley movies; taramasalata (a pink salty-oily dip made with cod roe, which I wouldn’t dream of trying to convince anyone else to eat); music from The Archies, The Monkees, and The Partridge Family; and fashion photos of barrister Amal Alamuddin (whose wardrobe has been photographed a lot ever since teaming up with actor George Clooney).

SF/F writer K. Tempest Bradford recently published an article challenging readers to go one year without reading straight white male authors. Here’s the article in question:

http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year

Everyone and their cousin seems to be talking about it this week. And since every noisy fray really needs yet one more voice, here’s my take on it. (Written mostly, I confess, because I’m stalling on attacking a mountain of 2014 bookkeeping and other unpleasant paperwork that currently covers my desk.)

I think a fair bit of this brouhaha is due to the nature of the sf/f genre and the social issues being debated (to put it mildly) in the sf/f community. After all, in the romance genre (which is where most of my writing friends work, and where I got my start as a novelist, lo, those many years ago), most of the writers and readers are women. So exhortations to read more women authors don’t arise in that community, since that’s what they’re already reading much/most of the time. (I’m not sure about other aspects of diversity in the romance genre, though.)

Anyhow, my reaction to being challenged to give up Straight White Male writers for a year goes like this.

I can’t think of any writers whose names indicate their sexual orientation. Can you? Is there any such thing as a gay/lesbian/transgender name? Or do authors routinely list their sexual orientation in their formal jacket bios? Such as:

“The author has published four previous novels, has won multiple awards, lives in a coastal village in Maine, and is gay.”

I can’t recall seeing that bio on a book jacket.

Nor does an author’s fiction give the reader a reliable indication of his or her sexual orientation. For example, the New York Times bestselling Lord John novels feature a gay protagonist; the author of his adventures is heterosexual (Diana Gabaldon). There are also gay authors who write straight protagonists. I can think of several current examples, but since I’m not sure how public they are about their sexual orientation, I’ll stick with naming the late E.M. Forster and the (very) late Oscar Wilde.

And even when an author’s photo clearly indicates their gender and racial/ethnic heritage, how often do photos reveal their sexual orientation? (Rarely, if ever, would be my guess.)

And what if there is no photo? (My last 8 books have all been published without an author photo.) Many (most?) writers also do not have names that reliably indicate their race or ethnicity. For example, among the names Sargeant, McLinn, Christopher, Delaney, Putney, Morrison, Day, Barnes, Gerristen, and Jenkins, which of those names “sound white” to you? Are some of those authors African-American? Or Asian or Hispanic, using married names, paternal-family names , or pseudonyms that don’t perfectly align with their ethnicity? (Hint: Most of those authors are not white.) Similarly, are you sure an author named Arroyo, Wu, or Offong is not white? Again, what if that’s a married name, paternal family name, adoptive family name, etc.?

And, again, a writer’s material doesn’t necessarily indicate their ethnicity, either. For example, the protagonist of the Kirinyaga stories is a Kikuyu mundumugu who holds fast to traditional tribal values and laws; the author of those award-winning stories is my dad, Mike Resnick, a white atheist from a Jewish background, who shares none of his African protagonist’s beliefs.

A percentage of writers also have names or pseudonyms that don’t reliably reveal their gender: N.K. Jemisin, Nevada Barr, J.K. Rowling, Paris Afton Bonds, C.L. Moore, P.D. James, Kim Stanley Robinson, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster, Georges Sand, George Eliot, e.e. cummings, Kameron Hurley, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and so on. Not to mention how many writers’ names originate in languages so unfamiliar to me (Thai, Turkish, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, etc.) that I’ve no idea what gender the name signals, even if it’s self-evident to people who know that language or culture. And when she started writing as Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling took pains to conceal that the author was not male. Similarly, Jennifer Wilde was a popular romance writer in the 1970s whose true gender and sexual orientation were concealed for years (the late Tom Huff, a gay man).

So in order to ensure that I am not reading straight white male authors, I’d have to do far more googling and research on writers than I am willing to do, since my interest is in their fiction rather than in the authors or their personal details. And even if I wanted to go to such effort, some of that information isn’t available without a bizarre intrusion into their privacy, since some writers choose not to discuss various aspects of their lives in interviews and social media.

Additionally, apart from having no interest in trying to research writers’ personal information before deciding whether to read their fiction, my reaction to Bradford’s article is that I would have found her argument more effective if phrased in a positive and constructive way, rather than phrased in the negative, counter-productive way she chose—by advising on authors (straight white male) not to read. What if some of my favorite writers are straight white males, after all? I’m certainly not going to deprive myself of the pleasure of reading their fiction for a year—precisely because, first and foremost, reading fiction should be a pleasure, in my opinion; not a duty, a chore, a project, or a social obligation. (The latter is particular to me. I know so many authors personally, I had to make a conscious choice years ago that knowing someone—even being close to them—doesn’t oblige me to read their books. Otherwise, I’d spend so much time reading for social obligation, I wouldn’t have any time left to read what I really want to read.)

I agree completely that reading a wide variety of authors and themes is a wonderful idea, one to be embraced. This practice has always been encouraged in my family, and it’s practiced by many of my friends, too. I also agree that reading about women, other societies, and other sexual orientations from the perspective of authors who are women, or who are from other societies than our own, or who have other sexual orientations other than “straight” is a suggestion to be embraced. But I don’t agree that limiting my reading in any way is a good idea. Not even if it’s the group—straight white male writers—whose voices have been heard the longest, loudest, and most consistently in our society’s reading culture…. Though not in usually my own reading, as it happens.

Years ago, some stranger at a party asked me what I read, as people often do with writers. I named a bunch of books I’d read lately, and named a bunch of writers that were among my favorites, and when I was done… The person asked, “Don’t you ever read any male authors?” I had named only women, and I hadn’t even noticed! Not until this person remarked on it.

Although I still tend to read more women than men, ever since that conversation made me realize I’d been limiting my reading, I make more of an effort to read male novelists. Your mileage may vary, but eliminating straight white male authors from my reading would probably set me back, in terms of the variety I read, since male authors (of any ethnicity or sexual orientation) used to be noticeably absent from my fiction reading.

 

The-Infamous-Hector

Hector in repose.

 

 

Not long after I adopted Hector last spring, he dismantled a screen on the second floor one night–and fell out, plummeting 20 feet.

I had been brushing my teeth in the bathroom, a few feet away from that window, and when I heard him climbing the screen, I thought, “That seems dangerous. I’ll go make him stop.” I went out into the hall to do so–and so I was within 2 feet of Hector when this happened and saw my new kitten clinging to the window screen as it buckled, peeled away from the window with a metallic moan, and fell. I live in a renovated old Victorian that dates back to (probably) the 1880s, and it’s a LONG way down to the ground from my second floor.

In my nightgown, my mouth foaming with toothpaste, I screamed, dropped my toothbrush on the carpet, and went flying down my steep, narrow steps to the first floor and out into the night, expecting to find feline pancake on the sidewalk outside the side door.

Instead, I found the wrecked screen (BIG, since my lovely windows are about 6 feet tall), but no Hector.

Had my eyes deceived me? Had he somehow saved himself from falling? Was he clinging to the window frame upstairs? Leaving the door wide open, I ran back upstairs and searched the area. No sign of Hector. I ran back downstairs and outside. Still no sign of Hector. I went inside and ran through the house, looking out the back and front door. In my panic, I left these open, too–so now all three doors to my house were standing wide open at 1:00 am. (I live on an urban street  with not-infrequent crime problems, and my house had been burgled only a few weeks earlier, so this wasn’t a harmless mistake.) I ran upstairs again, wondering again if I’d hallucinated seeing Hector fall to his death. I ran downstairs and outside again, still foaming toothpaste at the mouth, running around in my nighties. I finally heard him meow from the backyard, so I went back there to search for… a small black cat hiding in the dark. This took some time.

And this, it soon turned out, was to be typical of life with Hector, rather than a one-off incident. I swear that cat will give me a heart attack one of these days.

Hector 09-15-14

Hector plots his next cunningly evil plan.


(Oh, not to leave you in unkind suspense, I found him after a few minutes and brought him inside. Hector was scared by his fall but completely unharmed.  But now his brother, Achilles, was missing–and the house had been sitting with all three outside doors wide open while I ran around searching for Hector. So I had a few minutes of fearing that Achilles had run away. Fortunately, though, he was just unnerved by my suddenly running around screaming, so he was hiding under some furniture until things calmed down.)

In subsequent months, I would find Hector inside the washing machine–about 90 seconds after I started the wash cycle; sitting outside, waiting to come in (since I live in the city, my cats are not allowed out); in a tree (repeat: not allowed out); dangling by his head from a coat hanger in my closet; falling into a freshly-used toilet in the dark only a nanosecond after I had vacated the seat; tipping over large pieces of furniture on himself; attempting to escape via the duct system; stuck in an inaccessible crevice within the kitchen island; dismantling a screen on the ground floor and escaping outside yet again (not allowed out); and chewing through electrical wires while they were plugged in.

Needless to say, I now have the nearest 24-hour pet-ER clinic’s phone number, address, and driving directions pinned to my fridge; and Hector is required at all times to wear a collar with my phone number indelibly embroidered on it, since I can never be sure he hasn’t gotten out of the house yet again. (He’s microchipped, but I’d rather that someone can just easily phone me if they find him, since not many people will bother to take a stray cat for a scan.)

 

Hector 06-14-14

Evil can be exhausting.


Despite all that, I am very attached to Hector and will be grief-stricken if he drives himself into an early grave (as seems to be his intention). He’s extremely friendly, affectionate, social, bold, playful, and fun to have around (when not trying to give me a heart attack). His persistence can be annoying when he wants attention while I’m trying to work (or sleep, or eat, or take a bath), but he’s easy to care for on a day-to-day basis, since he has an excellent appetite, isn’t at all fussy, and can amuse himself for long stretches by playing with his toys.

He particularly likes toy mice stuffed with catnip, and he really likes to play fetch with them, like a dog. He and his brother, Achilles, survived for several months on their own before turning up at a rural kill shelter during the unusually harsh winter of 2013-2014, and it’s clear from the way he plays with his toys (and attacks insects that get into the house) that Hector was a good hunter–and could survive as a feral cat again, if he had to.

Hector 07-12-14 01

Hector is convinced that if he waits long enough, something interesting will happen in the 4-inch gap between the bookcase and the wall in my office.

I also think Hector probably fed Achilles (who isn’t as good a hunter) sometimes when they were living rough. Certainly the two of them are very attached to each other, and they share almost everything–though Hector is very bold and greedy about food and toys, and Achilles tends to let him have his way (as I do, too, when I’m tired enough–did I mention how persistent he can be?).

The upside of Hector’s too-rambunctious temperament is that almost nothing bothers him. He finds everything interesting, rather than scary or threatening. While this leads him into danger, it also means that he adjusts almost immediately when I bring home a foster puppy (as I did in August) or foster kittens (as I did in September) or another permanent cat to live with us (as I did also in August). Which means I know that any future animals I bring into the house will have at least one fast friend–the infamous Hector!

* * *

I adopted Hector, Achilles, and Poe from the Cat Adoption Team (C.A.T.), a local rescue group for which I have since started fostering and volunteering. They do great work, so if you live in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana tristate area and are interested in adopting (or fostering or volunteering), please visit their website or Facebook page. If you live elsewhere, you can still help C.A.T. by donating or sponsoring; all gifts to them are tax deductible. See their website for details.

For the complete rundown of the animals who’ve lived here Nov 2013 through Feb 2015, see this post.

Snap at 6 months. Poe1-9-16-14 Riona 2 Photo Nov 04, 1 18 58 PM