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

 

Esther-DiamondThe next Esther Diamond novel–in which Esther, Max, & friends confront Evil in its natural habitat, Wall Street–finally has a title: Goldzilla.

Quick refresher, the previous series titles are, in order: Disappearing Nightly; Doppelgangster; Unsympathetic Magic; Vamparazzi; Polterheist; The Misfortune Cookie; and Abracadaver.

And frankly, coming up with a fantasy pun for every Esther Diamond title is a bitch. There are times I could hit myself with a brick for having started this pattern in the first place. But by the time I realized around book #4, Vamparazzi (and I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to come up with that one), that this was going to be hard to sustain, it was too late. The pattern was already established, and my publisher-and-editor Elizabeth (Betsy) Wollheim of DAW Books was by then adamant and exacting about it.

I spent weeks (maybe months) flinging titles at Betsy for books #5 and #6, all of which she kept rejecting as not clever enough (and sometimes deplorably lacking in even the faintest glimmer of cleverness). At one point, frustrated by how long the work was getting stalled by this problem (because the ED plots arise from the premise implied in the titles), I blurted, “I can’t be clever all the time!” To which She Who Must Be Obeyed replied, “Yes, you can. We pay you to be clever all the time.”

(And, well, speaking from experience, that’s still easier than being paid to clean kennels, wait tables, clean houses, make cold calls, take orders from martinets, or deal with the public during the holidays.)

I finally thought up Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie during the World Fantasy Convention one year, which Betsy and co-publisher Sheila Gilbert were also attending. So I hunted them down, said each of these titles, and got the right reaction–a quick laugh. (And, finally–thanks be to Fortune!–got title approval.)

That’s how I know an Esther title works, or at least has potential to pass muster with La Wollheim: When I say it to someone, they laugh. (The real challenge, then, is to make my editor laugh.) If I get a puzzled frown or a politely wan smile from my test case, then I know I have to keep searching for a title.

That’s also how I know if someone is a potential Esther Diamond reader: When they ask the title of something I’ve written recently and I tell them, they laugh. That’s someone who might go look for the books now.

In contrast, there are people–including a few dear friends of mine, so this doesn’t mean they’re “bad” people or dumb or anything like that–who look puzzled and say, “What?” And I say, “Doppelgangster” or “Vamparazzi,”  or whatever. And they again say, “It’s… what?” And I repeat the title, and they say, “It’s what?” And when I explain (ex. “it’s the word doppelgänger combined with ‘gangster,’ so the story is about mobsters who are dying mysteriously soon after seeing their own perfect doubles–which is what a doppelgänger is”)… they look at me with pity and doubt. Experience has taught me that that’s someone who’s not likely to become an Esther Diamond reader. (Humor is very individualistic, and the author’s own notion of what’s funny isn’t ever going to hit everyone’s sweet spot–not even the sweet spot of every person she counts as a true friend.)

Anyhow, Abracadaver proved to be an even steeper hill for me. I spent weeks sending titles to Betsy, who never cracked a smile (phosphorically speaking). And after a few weeks, I kept hearing this title in my head, but I didn’t know what it meant, and it had nothing at all to do with the plot I’d been working on, so I ignored it and ignored it and ignored it… Until eventually, in weary desperation, I sent it to her–and got a prompt response indicating, That’s it! That’s your title!!

Which was great, except that… I had no plot idea for the phrase “Abracadaver,” and I had a plot started that didn’t go with it. Arrrggghh!!

However… the exact same thing had happened with The Misfortune Cookie, and I actually wound up with a much better story, as well as a better title, by going along with Betsy’s exhausting standards. Which is why she’s the editor and I listen to her. Every time she has insisted a title wasn’t good enough, then after we finally settle on a title… I look back and see that, yep, she was right, my previous suggestions weren’t very good, and this is the right result. I also don’t even really remember the story ideas I was working on for Misfortune Cookie and Abracadaver before getting final titles, so probably those story ideas weren’t that good, either.

But when it came to Esther Diamond #8, I was really stuck. Even I hated all the titles I was coming up with, most of which I never even showed to Betsy. Finally, since I had to get a move on, I started sending her a few titles, none of which worked. Aware of my ill-concealed desperation, she asked me for details about the story, in which Esther and Max get involved in a Wall Street caper and encounter greed, riches beyond the dreams of avarice, greed, bankers and traders and brokers, greed, corruption, greed, gold and loot and money, greed…

And it was Betsy, praise be upon her name, who came up with Goldzilla, which perfectly fit the still-vague vision I had for this book which is pretty much about (in case you didn’t catch it) rapacious greed–and where it leads. So this, too, is an example of why it’s good to have an editor who really gets what you’re doing. (Compared to some publishing houses I’ve dealt with, where I worked with editors who didn’t even know who I was or why I was bothering them when I tried to discuss my contracted projects with them.)

So that’s where we are–we have a title! And I’m working on the book. I hope that the brilliant Dan Dos Santos will again do the cover (he’s done all but one of the previous Esther covers), but I don’t have information about that yet. I also don’t have a firm release date yet–will post it when I do.

Meanwhile, in related news, I’m very happy to say that Abracadaver made SciFiChick’s Best of 2014 list! Sci-Fi Chick is a reviewer who reads an extraordinary number of books each year, in addition to interviewing authors and maintaining a cool website.

The 7th book in the Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver was released in November. I’m grateful to DAW Books for acquiring the series from me after it was dumped by its previous publisher after one badly-published book (DAW subsequently reissued Disappearing Nightly, the first Esther novel), believing in this series, and doing such a great job with it. And I’m so happy that readers enjoy the books–which I love writing!

So, my thanks to everyone who has been enthusiastic about Esther Diamond!

My newest short story, “Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger,” is currently available online for free, for a limited time, at Urban Fantasy Magazine!

Check out this month’s mag cover (based on the story).

UFMv1i4-smIn this story, a disenchanted law student leaves a bar late one night and realizes he may have had one too many drinks when he meets a talking opossum, a Valkslayer, and the Dread Grzilbeast!

You can also order this edition (epub or Mobi) for $2.99 or subscribe to the mag for a year.

I’ve got a short story in the February edition of Urban Fantasy Magazine. I love the mag cover, which is based on my story.

UFMv1i4-sm

 

In “Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger,” a disenchanted law student leaves a bar late one night and realizes he may have had one too many drinks when he meets a talking opossum, a Valkslayer, and the Dread Grzilbeast!

You can order this edition (epub or Mobi) for $2.99 to read the story now (or subscribe to the mag, if you like), or/and you can wait for them to post it in the online edition.

typewriterI started writing this in response to a post in a discussion on The Passive Voice, a blog I read regularly, in which a writer whom I respect noted that one of the drawbacks with indie writing (aka self-publishing) in sf/f is that the work so rarely gets noticed in awards venues, seldom getting nominated or appearing on awards ballots. But my response got so long, I thought to myself, you know, this is really a blog post. And now that I have a blog (!), I should post it there. So here goes.

In terms of whether it’s a disadvantage worth considering (when deciding whether to self-publish novels or submit them to publishers) that indie fiction in sf/f gets little/less attention in the awards process… I think sf/f awards ballots are probably both less important and more accessible than they’re usually given credit for being.

The last time I was nominated for an award in sf/f was 1993, when I won the Campbell (best new sf/f writer). So I have not appeared on an sf/f award ballot for nearly 22 years.

Yet since 1993 (when I had no intention of writing sf/f novels), I’ve released 11 fantasy novels from major houses, and currently have 5 more under contract; have released another 50-60 sf/f short stories, and currently have 5-6 more in production or owed to editors; and I was asked to write a column for the SFWA Bulletin (which I did, 2000-2003), though it was then already 7 years since I had last appeared on an awards ballot.

(I have also done other writing in the past 22 years—such as 2-3 more romance novels and several romance novellas, a nonfiction book, about 10 years of a monthly column for Nink—as well as attending graduate school full-time and then working briefly for a news bureau overseas, etc., etc.; but the above is what I’ve sold in sf/f since my last award nomination.)

Writing has been my full-time living most of the time since 1993 (and for several years before that). I’ve worked regularly/steadily as a writer most of that time, and I’ve been working constantly in sf/f ever since I got literary agents out of my career. (Contrary to the popular mythology surrounding them, my own repeated experience was that literary agents were a genuine impediment to getting book contracts and earning a living.) A key reason (apart from my general inertia and disorganization) that I don’t submit short fiction to magazines and still haven’t self-published any frontlist (though I always intend to do both things!) is that I’m always running to keep up with my sf/f book contracts and my obligations to sf/f editors who’ve commissioned short stories from me.

My work is usually well-reviewed, and I’ve had starred reviews and some of my books have made various Year’s Best lists. But my work never appears on awards ballots and, as far as I know, is never even discussed or considered when people are deciding whom/what to nominate. (I state this as a factual observation, not as a complaint, reproach, or plea for comfort and reassurance.)

Moreover, when I saw the promo materials (aimed at head buyers and distributors) for my first-ever fantasy novel, In Legend Born (Tor Books, 1998), it didn’t mention my Campbell Award, so I pointed this out as an obvious mistake that should be rectified. But the publisher told me, nope, they weren’t putting that anywhere in the promo material, because it was irrelevant and no one cared.

I’ve also learned over the years that I make more substantial book advances than some Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree, etc. winners—though less than others, of course. Because book advances are largely based on sales or anticipated sales, rather than on awards.

Betsy-Wollheim

My editor and DAW Books co-publisher Betsy Wollheim receiving a well-deserved Best Editor Hugo in 2012.

So whatever the challenges of publishing indie that ones takes into account… my own experiences ensure that I’m not at all convinced that getting awards and nominations matters that much in a novelist’s career. Not enough, at any rate, to be factored into weighing the decision of whether to self-publish or to submit to publishers.

Which is not to say that awards don’t matter at all. For one thing, who doesn’t enjoy getting such recognition and kudos? Who doesn’t enjoy having a fantastic trophy in their office, as well as a daily reminder, within easy view, that they have published at least one thing that a lot of awards voters thought was the best work of the year in its category? Who doesn’t like subtitling their own name with, “_____ Award winner”? Winning awards is very satisfying, and personal satisfaction rates high in my world view.

Also, in a professional sense, an award is a handy thing. It raises the profile of your name and your work for a while. (For example, I first started thinking in 1994 about writing a fantasy novel because, after I won the 1993 Campbell, people started asking when I was going to write a novel in sf/f. I’d won for my body-of-work of short fiction up until then, and I was writing short fiction in sf/f strictly as an enjoyable sideline, sort of a paying hobby, amidst my book contracts as romance writer Laura Leone, where my career focus had been prior to 1993. But once people started asking, “Now that you’ve won the Campbell, when are you going to write a novel in this genre?” it occurred to me—because nothing slips past me!—that I had a window of opportunity here and should pursue it.)

Dad & awards

My dad, sf/f writer Mike Resnick, whose name recognition grew due, in part, to appearing often on awards ballots (and sometimes winning).

Moreover, getting on ballots regularly raises the profile of your name, in general, which is very handy. Name recognition is a key thing the writer strives for, so that editors will read the work quickly and eagerly (rather than let it gather dust in some remote corner of the office for two years), and so that readers will buy the work—nay, pre-order it!

And having said that, the good news is that there’s no reason indie novelists in sf/f can’t successfully pursue name-recognition-through-awards without a traditional book publisher in their careers, since most award categories in sf/f aren’t actually for novels, after all.

For example, the talented Kameron Hurley, whose sf/f novels are currently published by Angry Robot, won two 2014 Hugos, one for Best Fan Writer and the other for Best Related Work; both of those awards are for material that originated on her blog (some of it subsequently republished elsewhere). My friend Jim C. Hines, a popular novelist published by DAW Books, won his 2012 Hugo for Best Fan Writer, based on material on his blog. If you look through the Hugos history, you’ll see various other such examples.

Nor do you need traditionally published novels to attract nominations for your “other” work. Ted Chiang’s name appears on the Hugo and/or Nebula ballots almost every time he writes something—and he has never written a novel. Ken Liu, whose first novel will be released in April 2015, has previously won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Awards with his short fiction. There are regularly nominees in the short story, novelette, and novella slots on all of those awards ballots who haven’t published novels, just as there are winners in the related works and fan writing categories every year in the Hugos. And a writer who gets on those ballots can just as easily put “Nebula finalist” or “Hugo nominee” (or winner) on her indie-published novels as a traditional publisher can.

Yes, award-winning short fiction in sf/f is still still usually published by traditional or semi-traditional venues (as per the above examples), rather self-published. If your goal with a story is to get awards attention, then submitting to sf/f fiction magazines is a strategy you should seriously consider. This is business, not ideology, so you should always match your strategy for a given project to your goals for it, rather than burying your goals in unthinking loyalty to The One True Way of releasing your work. Anyhow, the good news there is that the exclusive digital license with most sf/f markets for short fiction is reasonably brief, compared to the decades-long exclusive digital license that major book publishers still present as “non-negotiable” in their contracts.

(For people wondering where these short fiction markets are, check out my Writer’s Resources Page, which includes links to sites with market listings. Or review recent finalist ballots for the major sf/f awards and take note of which publications regularly have stories on those ballots.)

And, of course, if a work of short fiction doesn’t sell after being submitted to every viable market, you can (a) revisit the markets that have changed editors since you got your rejection, or (b) self-publish it, which is an option that didn’t exist in the Jurassic era when I won the Campbell. Whether you do that, or self-publish your short fiction from the get-go, indie release is not a graveyard-of-certain-obscurity anymore in terms of awards, though you’ll presumably have to campaign even harder than a traditionally published short fiction writer does (and let’s not be coy–many people do indeed campaign for nominations and awards in sf/f).

Also, while others may disagree, I feel that I see a significant (not predictable, overwhelming, or universal; but significant) corollary each year between writers who get on  sf/f awards ballots and writers who’ve made themselves very noticeable in the sf/f community through high-profile blogging, Tweeting, and social media, and/or many con appearances, and/or SFWA service.

So I think an indie writer who wanted to raise the profile of her books through awards/nominations would be sensible to employ a strategy of submitting regularly to the sf/f magazines whose contents appear often on the awards ballots while simultaneously writing a blog where she works shrewdly on attracting a large blog audience (note: this requires more than ranting at people to go read your blog), Tweeting effectively, writing a lot of “related works” and “fan writing” material, and perhaps serving in a prominent, visible SFWA volunteer role. It’s an exhausting prescription (which is why I haven’t tried it), but I really do think that if a person’s fiction is good, then her chances of appearing on sf/f awards ballots within 2-3 years, if she maintained that schedule, would be strong, due to having attracted some name recognition, through various means, among people engaged in the sf/f world and likely to participate in nominating works for awards—which is a small, targetable community, after all.

Finally, keep in mind that lots of people read sf/f who don’t attend sf/f cons, read no sf/f blogs or newsgroups, and pay little-or-no attention to sf/f awards. That’s why writers who’ve never been nominated for an sf/f award (or who, like me, haven’t been nominated for anything in over 20 years) can have decent writing careers.

A friend reminded me recently that I used to say that when I finally bought a home and settled down (I used to live a peripatetic existence), I would start filling my house with animals.

Well, I bought a home just over 2 years ago–and, lo, I have filled it with animals!

In May, I adopted two cats from the Cat Adoption Team (CAT), a small local volunteer group which rescues cats and kittens from kill shelters and from the streets, and then fosters them (including providing all necessary medical care, spaying/neutering them, and getting them microchipped) until they’re adopted. (For those who are interested, CAT is a registered 501(c)(3) charity which accepts tax deductible donations. They also always need fosters, volunteers, sponsors, and, of course, people interested in adopting a cat and giving it a permanent, safe, loving home.) You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or visit their website.

When researching adoption, I was shocked to read about the plight of black cats, who are much less likely to be adopted and much more likely to be abused, abandoned, and euthanized than other cats. (And most shelters will not adopt out a black cat during October, because there are people who use them in horrific ways to “celebrate” Halloween.)

So I adopted two black cats from CAT in May 2014. We assume they’re brothers. They had turned up together at a rural kill shelter months earlier, after surviving for a few months on their own during an unusually bitter winter here. They seemed like heroic little fellows to me, so I named them after two of the most immortal heroes of all time, Hector and Achilles from Homer’s Iliad. In the story, of course, Achilles kills Hector in combat; but in this household, Hector & Achilles are inseparably close, the best of pals, and do everything together. They’re also very friendly and social, as well as very food-motivated, so it’s a lot like having two tiny labradors in the house, but with less mud or drool.

H&A-05-21-14

Hector & Achilles, occupying my writing chair.

Right around the time I adopted them, I got very interested in a hard-luck case at CAT. Rescued from the streets as a youngster, he was an extremely shy black-and-white tuxedo cat named Poe (a name I kept, since it suits him perfectly). Because Poe was too fearful to come to adoption events and too feral even to be visited in his foster home (where he mostly lived in hiding), there seemed little hope of his being adopted. But I somehow felt that this super-shy fellow, named after a writer, belonged here, along with my two well-adjusted, gregarious young cats (Poe is terrified of people but very cat-oriented, so he needed an adoptive home with cats who would befriend him). It took his foster a while to catch him and get him into a carrier, but eventually, 2-3 months after I adopted the brothers, Poe moved in here and I adopted him, too. Since then his progress has been slow, and I think he’ll always be a shy, anxious cat who hides from most people, but he has been making strides and settling in well. He’s great pals with Hector & Achilles, he now hides under the bed only part of the day, and he plays with his toys and enjoys his meals. As you can see, he is also quite a handsome fellow.

Poe1-9-16-14

Poe

 

Well, by then, I was really interested in CAT and the work they were doing. This small, well-run group with a tight budget is placing over 200 cats per year in adoptive homes–which is a lot of feline lives for a few volunteers to save. They also vet adopters carefully to make sure the cats they’ve rescued really are going to safe, loving, permanent homes. So when a couple of tiny kittens turned up in a rural kill shelter which had little ability to care for them, at a time when CAT volunteer homes were full-up with recent fosters, I decided to foster these two for CAT. Although a bit of work at times, since the kittens were sick when they arrived and didn’t recover fully for about 6 weeks, it was a great experience–including the support I got from CAT, which provides the food, toys, medicine, and medical care, as well as plenty of constructive advice and moral support. The kittens were little charmers who fit in well here, and who were adopted by a wonderful family soon after getting fully healthy and being spayed. Saying goodbye was hard, but it’s great to see cats who were abandoned and destined for an early death instead go home with a loving family one fine day.

My foster kittens, on their first day here.

My foster kittens on their first day here.

The girls growing up in their forever home.

Now growing up in their forever home.

 

MEANWHILE…. a little over a year ago, before I ever brought any cats into the house, I started fostering puppies for a service dog organization, 4 Paws For Ability, which focuses primarily on providing service dogs to children with a variety of disabilities, including epilepsy, diabetes (seizures), hearing impairments, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, mobility issues, and more. Fostering a service puppy is a big commitment, and (people always ask this, so let’s cut to the case), yes, giving them up is hard. But it’s worth it when you see your puppy graduate from training as a confident, skilled adult dog, and you meet the child and family whose lives this dog is completely changing.

My first foster was Snap, a male golden retriever puppy who lived here for about six months. About a week before I adopted Hector & Achilles, Snap returned to 4 Paws for his adult training. Snap was trained as a seizure alert dog, and he partners a little girl in Florida. He did very well in his training and, at last report, is doing great with his family, who love him and value the independence and security he brings to their daughter’s life.

Snap at 6 months.

Snap at 6 months.

 

During the months after Snap left, I adopted Hector, Achilles, & Poe. Then I fostered my second service puppy, Riona, a female golden retriever–and Snap’s younger half-sister.

Riona 2

Riona at about 5 months.

 Riona recently also went back to 4 Paws. She’s currently doing some additional training, and I’ll check on her in a couple of weeks. At present, it sounds like she will go into the breeding program rather than into service. Dogs in the breeding program live as family pets, and they have 2-3 litters to provide 4 Paws with more service puppies, before being sprayed and living out the rest of their lives with their families. In fact, although Riona is a very gentle dog who loved training and was good with kids, I think this is a good choice for her future, since Riona will make an excellent mother. While she was living here, my foster kittens moved in with us for two months–and Riona adored them. She played with them, napped with them, hung out with them. Although she was more than 10 times their size, she was a terrific playmate for them, gentle and patient. She also came along to adoption events with us and did a great job of comforting and calming them, since being in a carrier in a public place surrounded by strangers is scary for kittens.

Motley-Crew

Riona hanging out with the kittens.

 

With the kittens adopted and Riona back at 4 Paws now, there are currently just three 4-legged beings in residence here–the permanent ones: Hector, Achilles, & Poe. But for a while there, I had 6 animals in my small 2-bedroom townhouse, all of them very young and active (the eldest, Poe, is estimated to be only about 18 months old as of this writing), and 3 of them sick and requiring medications, extra cleaning (vomit, diarrhea, and bladder problems), and extra care. (The kittens arrived with multiple infections, and Riona got very sick as a puppy and needed medication for a couple of months.) And, as a neighbor pointed out when discovering me in a frazzled, babbling state outside my home one day, I had gone from 0 to 6 pretty quickly, without much time to adjust.

So while I enjoyed it all, and it was worthwhile, I’m rather glad to have a break now, with just me and the 3 lads at home. I will foster again for CAT and for 4 Paws, but not immediately–and I think I will try to avoid fostering for them both again at the exact same time...

Photo Oct 09, 2 39 00 PM

Just back from ConFusion in Dearborn (Detroit), Michigan, where I had a very good time, visited with old friends,  made new friends, talked craft and business (two of my favorite subjects), and did not get enough sleep. Same old, same old. 

Came home to find that the interior illustrations are all completed for BLACKGUARDS, an anthology in which I’ve got a new short story set in Sileria. Here it is!

Friendship
This is for a story titled “Friendship,” set two or three years before In Legend Born (Book 1 of the Silerian Trilogy) takes place. In Valdani-occupied Sileria, two powerful waterlords in the outlawed Honored Society are competing for dominance in the lawless mountain regions where the empire’s Outlookers have only tenuous control of the volatile and perpetually feuding population. When someone offers Kiloran friendship–always a very loaded term in Sileria–in exchange for his help with a problem, the shrewd old waterlord sees a chance to outmaneuver his ambitious younger rival, Baran, and so he sends one of his most capable assassins on a dangerous and secretive mission…

This story was commissioned by Ragnarok Publications for their upcoming anthology, Blackguards (for which I don’t yet have a firm release date, but it’s apparently going to be this spring). Funded by Kickstarter, the project raised so much money that all the stretch goals got funded–including commissioning an artist to do an original illustration for every story in the book. You can view the whole set of drawings here.

It’s going to be a very cool anthology with a lot of great stories, and as soon as we have a firm release date, I’ll let you know!