So colorful!

Lately, I have been learning a little bit about Ghanaian fabrics and what the designs they feature mean. Here are a few. Hope you find them as interesting as I do.

Gramophone Mpaawa shows the shape of a record or a CD (a CD is apaawa in Twi; mpaawa is the plural form). This pattern would be appropriate for a musician to wear!
The akyekyedeɛ akyi pattern represents the back of a turtle. The shell is a good symbol of protection.
This pattern is called bonsu, or whale. If you wore this pattern, you might want to communicate that you are someone who can’t be pushed around!
This pattern is called ɔdehyeɛ ɛnsu, royals don’t cry. It means that, while you might cry in private, in public you are able to put your personal feelings aside and take care of business.

For advice on how to pronounce Twi, one of the most widely spoken languages in Ghana, check out LearnAkan.com!

2021 Playlists

I’m still making videos for my YouTube channel. You could be featured in one if you want! Here are the playlists I have right now:

Peering at Passion: The newest playlist. I was wondering how I could help support small businesses during the Time of Pandemic. It’s difficult to start up a new business in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. If you have a business you’re trying to keep afloat (no MLMs, please, just YOUR small business), contact me and let’s boost the signal, even if only a tiny bit. We’ll get through this pandemic by sticking together and supporting each other whenever we can. So let’s do this!

Infernal Intercourse: Pastor Brian and I discuss theology and the TV show Lucifer. Sometimes, we get a little far afield and discuss topics like, Where did the tradition of hell come from? How did the character of Satan develop? What is queer theology? If you’d like to discuss either the television show and/or a certain theological topic, contact me and let’s see if we can get the three of us in a Zoom call to discuss.

Getting Nosy With It: This playlist is for the topics that interest me and/or my audience. Do you have a hobby you just adore? Have you traveled to some exotic place? Have you learned something really cool? If you have an interest in discussing almost any topic, this is the playlist for you.

Writers Wroom: This is a place for me and/or others to discuss their own writing, or writing topics in general. If you have a book you’d like to push, here’s your playlist. Contact me and let’s chat about your release.

Spoilers With Friends: My friend Anne Willis and I discuss horror movies. Mostly we discuss the ones we liked and would recommend, although sometimes not. We rate the movies (and sometimes documentaries) on a scale of 1-5 creepy doll heads.

Nnimdeɛ Apata (Knowledge Store): This is the playlist for all things Akan-related. Here you’ll find puzzles to help you build you Twi vocabulary, stories read in both English and Twi by native speakers, interviews with Akans on Akan culture, and more.

Sounds of Sands: My work, read by people with better speaking voices than I have.

Phantom Force: My ghostbusting spoof webseries, which is progressing at a slower pace than I thought it would because getting out to film episodes isn’t happening. This play list also has a Phantom Force: BTS playlist where I discuss various topics relating to the paranormal.

Junque: This is for things, like updates on the channel, that don’t fit in anywhere else. Look here for information on me, the channel, or anything else I think needs to be out there, but is more an announcement than an episode of a playlist.

That’s it for now! If you have something interesting that you want to talk about, let me know! Ways to contact me are in the column to the right of the screen.

Have a happy, healthy, and wonderful 2021, and while you’re at it, stop by my YouTube channel! Let’s chat about something important to you, and also build that subscriber list. I’m grateful for every one of the 185 subscribers I have now, but let’s see if we can’t crank that number at least a little higher.

Thanks for your support!

Good-bye 2020!

We’re about to ring out the old year and ring in the new. And what a year it has been. I hardly think I need to reiterate anything about the pandemic. We’ve buried far too many people who didn’t have to die, and that sucks.

On a personal level, 2020 wasn’t so bad. I wanted to write 5 books, but got to 4 1/3. Perfection, With Sleepless Eye, and Past the Isle of Dogs are available on Amazon. Paradise has been turned in to Ring of Fire Press for a 2021 release. I am now 1/3 of the way through When We Had Feathers.

Once I finish that book, I’ve got the next Ring of Fire Press book, Promised Land, to get done. As well as the next Angels’ Share book, Feeding the Bird of Tondal, and an anthology, Bone Orchard. Then, if I manage that in 2021, in 2022 I hope to start up a new series for Ring of Fire Press. More details on that later!

Other things that happened in 2020:

One of my short stories, Featherfall, was one of the featured pieces in the St. Louis Fringe Fest. Thanks, Matt!

I had surgery on my right foot, which, so far, has not produced the improvement my podiatrist and I had hoped for, so surgery on the left foot is not currently in the works. I am seeing a physical therapist at the moment. Despite not having the positive results I had wanted, I would recommend Dr. McFarland, who seems to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of her own field as well as other topics. Also, she came to the surgery in a t-shirt that said, In my defense, it was a full moon and I was left unsupervised. Gotta love it.

Todd and I had just returned from our trip to visit his parents in Florida when COVID blew the world apart, so our trips to Nashville, El Paso, Miami, the Keys, and Kansas City all ended up being canceled. We are hoping to be able to travel this summer. Fingers crossed!

I started a YouTube channel, which is still tiny (185 subscribers as of this writing), but which has been a lot of fun to do. I would bore quickly only focusing on one thing, so I have multiple playlists that feature multiple subjects. That may be one thing that keeps subscriber numbers down, but it makes things seem fresh to me. I had hoped, back in January, that I might, might, be able to put up 4 videos per month, which would have resulted in 48 videos in a year. But YouTube currently tells me I have 113 videos up. One hundred and thirteen! How did that happen?

One thing that didn’t happen on my YouTube channel the way I’d hoped was that I thought I’d have far more episodes of Phantom Force filmed by now. But since travel and meeting in groups is out for now, I only have a couple of episodes completed.

As for skill sets, I learned to do water bath canning (thanks Debbie!) and pickling. I’ve gotten a lot more “fluent” in Zoom. I continue to work on learning Twi and even have an Akan-oriented playlist on my YouTube channel. I’ve even managed to read a few fiction books, which is something I have a hard time finding time for these days. I’d recommend Lovecraft Country if you haven’t read it. For 2021, I intend to watch the TV program, which I’ve heard good things about.

So, welcome 2021. Let’s hope it’s a far better year for everyone than 2020 was.

Collaborators by Deborah J. Ross

Deborah J. Ross. Click on pic to go to her blog.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Deborah about her latest book. Here are the results of that interview. (Now go buy the book!)

What prompted you to write this book?

I lived the better part of 1991 in Lyons, France, and I was repeatedly struck by how history permeated every aspect. Some buildings showed damage from cannon balls during the French Revolution. Plaques marked places where citizens were executed by the Nazis or Jewish families were deported. After visiting the tiny Musée de la Résistance, I became interested in how many varied ways the French responded to the German occupation. Some protested from the very beginning for religious or ethical reasons, but others went along, whether from fear or apathy or entrenched anti-Semitism, or simply because the war did not affect them personally. Yet others more sought to exploit the situation for personal power or financial gain. Some became active only when their own personal lives were affected.

I knew then that I had to tell this story. Because I’m not a writer of history or historical fiction, but of science fiction and fantasy, I would tell it in the genre I know. I would set my tale on an alien planet, in an alien city . . . but one that I love even as I had come to love Lyons.

How did you develop the motivations of the main characters?

The central inspiration for Collaborators – that individuals respond in a variety of complex and contradictory ways to a situation of occupation and resistance – immediately suggested many types of characters: the rebel, the idealist, the opportunist, the political player, the merchant willing to sell to anyone if the profit is high enough, sadist who exploits the powerlessness of others for his own gratification, the ambitious person who doesn’t care who his allies are, the negotiator, the peace-maker, the patriot.

One of the first characters to speak to me arose from an unexpected source. I never knew either of my paternal grandparents, for both had perished in the lawlessness and pogroms in the Ukraine shortly after the first World War. My father told me about  how his mother ran a bookstore that was the center of intellectual (and revolutionary!) thought in their village, how when that village was destroyed, she kept her two children alive as they wandered the countryside for two years, going from one cousin’s house to another but never staying very long. He spoke of her courage, her idealism, and her unfailing love. Some piece of her, or her-as-remembered, stayed with me, and I wondered if I could create a character with that strength and devotion to her children. I began to write about Hayke, who opens the book as he lies in a field with his two children, gazing up at the stars and wondering what these star-people might be like. Hayke had other ideas about what his life was like besides merely following in my grandmother’s footsteps, and everything changed once it became clear to me that the alien race – the Bandari – were gender-fluid. Hayke, like my grandmother, was a widow (using the term generically to include both sexes), and one of his children was born of his own body, but the other of his dead spouse’s, and he told me he felt an especial tenderness for the latter child.

Even though the ground action takes place in an area roughly the size of Western Europe and most of the characters live or come from Chacarre, I didn’t want all the national territories to be the same. I wanted differences in language, dress, attitudes toward authority, etc., between Chacarre and its rival, Erlind, and also within Chacarre itself. Every once in a while, a new character would surprise me, like Na-chee-nal with his “barbarian” vigor and his smelly woolen vest, or Lexis, the dangerously repressed academic poet.

The Terrans presented a different challenge because they were more homogeneous than the Bandari. They inhabit a single spacecraft and although there is a natural division between crew and scientific personnel, for the most part their goals are shared and their hierarchies are well-defined. Left unchecked, that’s a recipe for boring, so I added some friction, a few divergent motives, a highly stressed environment . . . and into this walked Dr. Vera Eisenstein, eccentric genius. Most of the inspiration for her character came from the women engineers and physicists I’d gotten to know (thank you, Society of Women Engineers!) with a touch of Dr. Richard Feynmann thrown in. She doesn’t play by anyone’s rules, she cares far more about science than diplomacy, she’s simply too good at what she does to disregard, and her mind never stays still. I had a ball cooping her up in the infirmary and watching what kind of trouble she’d get into, but I didn’t realize at first that she would become a pivotal character, one capable of acting for the greatest good despite the depth of her loss. I’d been thinking about her passion in terms of science, not in terms of her capacity for love nor in terms of her ruthless commitment to understanding everything she sees around her, whether it is a problem in laser spectroscopy or alien psychology or the nature of her own grief.

What is the best animal and why is it the cat?

The most amazing pet I’ve ever had was a retired seeing eye German Shepherd Dog. Tajji’s lineage had been bred (for 40+ years) for the kind of bonding, intelligence, and self-reliance necessary to do this difficult work. She’d served for 8 years, a long time for a guide dog, and her mental health had suffered.  When we communicated to her that she was now free to sniff and romp and play, things she was never allowed to do in harness, and that we could “read” her body language and respond to her emotional needs, her joy was boundless. We had her for only 2 ½ years, but every day with this super-smart, human-focused dog was a gift.

How does setting this story on another planet help or hinder you as a writer?

Collaborators is an occupation-and-resistance story, which at its heart is about the uses and abuses of power. In order to talk about power, I had to talk about gender. Rather than delve into 20th Century human gender politics (I wrote the book mostly in 1992-95) I chose to create a gender-fluid alien race to pit against the assumptions humans make. I wanted to create a resonance between the tensions arising from First Contact and those arising from gender expectations. What if the native race did not divide themselves into male and female? How would that work – biologically? romantically? socially? politically? How would it affect the division of labor? child-rearing? How many ways would Terrans misinterpret a race for whom every other age-appropriate person is a potential lover? Or, in a life-paired couple, each partner equally likely to engender or gestate a child? Maybe by the time we achieve interstellar space flight, we’ll have evolved beyond sexism. One can only hope.

At what point in writing a book do you feel like you want to pack it all in?

I don’t think that’s ever happened to me since I began writing novels on a pro level. Oh, back in the early ‘90s. I sell mostly on proposal now, so having to write a synopsis weeds out a lot of haring off after dead ends. I’ve learned to identify when I’ve gone astray (before having to revise a piece 5 or 12 times), which is the most likely source of frustration. Even with an outline, there is so much to discover. That uncovering of the deeper story is the source of so much delight. That’s more likely to happen as I get further into the story, and I always look forward to it.

Electric or gas stove? Why?

I used to think gas, but after having survived the 2020 California wildfires, I’m not a big fan of flames. The newer electric ranges are just fine, thank you, even if I don’t entirely trust the smooth-topped kind.

What’s the most important thing for people to understand about developing the skills needed to write a novel?

Be gentle with yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a feat of cognitive dexterity to hold 500 pages of plot, character, and theme in your head all at once, so find out whatever helps — a notebook, flow charts, diagrams, scene-by-scene outline (not a bad strategy for revision, by the way). If you write 5 pages or 5 words a day, be sure you write them well, and with heart.

What was your first sale and how did that change things for you?

I’d submitted Jaydium to DAW about a year and a half before I lived in France (see above). When I returned, after having written every day and not seen clients at all, I took a leap in deciding to officially switch careers. The economy was in a recession and it was a very scary thing to do. Three months later, DAW made me an offer. The universe was telling me I’d made the right choice. Since then I’ve found myself in the position of needing a full time day job but have never stopped writing.

Click on the cover image to go to the Amazon page to make your purchase.

Do Shirts Go in the Woods?

We all know the old saw about bears, but what about shirts? Turns out our shirts work well while you’re setting up camp, hiking in the wilderness, or packing all your things back to for the return to civilization. Shirt quantities are not limited, but you should still get yours today!

The Wraith Shirt
Ghost Mimi Shirt
Everybody’s on Team Kevin!

Shirts available on the teespring store.

Merch!

I have set up a teespring store. It’s in its initial stages, but I have a few things up already.

Get Phantom Force and Marella Sands merch today!

Featherfall Event

Tickets are now available for my event at the St. Louis Fringe Festival. The event will take place on August 18, 5:30 p.m.

FEATHERFALL – Get tickets here!

Perfection

The third book in the alternate history series is now available on Amazon!

Baton Rouge is the most alien place agent Delilah Thorn has ever been. Everything from the local cuisine to the alligators to the French-speaking populace works to keep her off-balance. Thorn is surrounded by potential enemies, a religion she does not understand, and deceit. Can she succeed in sorting through the conflicting information to understand why Louisiana has begun closing its death camps and has started to forge its own way independent of the rest of the Confederacy?Dane Rook has finally been cleared to go into the field full-time. Though it means time away from his personal life, he is excited to get back to what he does best, this time in a place he’s never before visited: Louisiana. He is to be back-up to his old partner, Delilah Thorn. But forces conspire to keep them apart and his mission appears to be over before it even begins.The bayous hold many secrets, and their waters are deep and dark. Can Rook find Thorn, and together, can they determine who is friend, who is foe, and do their part to support those trying to bring Louisiana out of the darkness?

St. Louis Fringe Festival

The St. Louis Fringe Festival, has moved online for 2020, its ninth year. One of my short stories, Featherfall, which is available in the anthology Restless Bones, will be featured during the festival.

More details to come as the time gets closer. What I can say for now is that the festival will run from August 16-23. A fundraiser will be held on July 25. Keep an eye open for more details!

Tarsal Tunnel

So I’ve been diagnosed with a couple of things this year I didn’t even know were things, such as fructose intolerance and tarsal tunnel syndrome.

Fructose intolerance is like lactose intolerance only it’s a different sugar your body doesn’t process correctly. On the good side, it means I can now eat ice cream again provided I make sure to buy the stuff that only has milk, cream, sugar, and eggs in it. But it means I’m to avoid anything high in fructose, which includes a few foods I like, such as orange juice, watermelons, and peas. And basically anything that says “corn syrup” on the label.

Testing for fructose intolerance means drinking a solution of fructose and water, then blowing into a test tube every 30 minutes for 3 hours. The amount of trace gases in your exhalations let the lab know whether or not you are digesting the fructose. I also got to do that for sucrose but that came back normal.

But then comes the tarsal tunnel diagnosis. I have been having lots of pain and numbness in my feet and have seen a couple other podiatrists, but the one I’m seeing now seems much more on the ball. She did some evaluation in our initial consult, then ordered things like x-rays and nerve conduction studies, and then told me I’d need surgery.

We did the right foot last Friday and will do the left one later in the summer. According to her, usually there’s just a little band she has to snip to release the nerve, but in my foot, there were adhesions “all the way up.” I take that to mean all the way to the ankle joint. She said the adhesions were very fibrous and thick and sounded like celery when she cut through them.

Here’s a couple of things about this doctor: when she showed up before surgery to speak to me, she was wearing a t-shirt that said, “In my defense, it was a full moon and I was left unsupervised.” Also, she apparently draws cartoons on her patients. Surgeons generally make a mark on whatever body part they’re going to operate on, but she goes a bit farther. After she’d drawn on my foot, I asked her if she’d signed it and she said yes. You can see the remains of the cartoon in this photo.

Incision looking good; the surgeon said she was happy to see it “wrinkly.” I assume she meant it wasn’t swollen. Two weeks to go, though, before I can put any weight on it.