Artist in Residence Quarantine Diaries Episode 14: No Rest for the Busy… and Reflections on Legacy

So I used the time I am spending inside my house – covid, and toxic air, and all like that – in order to try and earn some money. I am doing critique reports for manuscripts through an agency that provides this service.

Editing work, even if it is “just” a critique and not a full edit, is a study in the good, the bad, and the ugly. The manuscripts that get chanelled to me run the gamut. What they have in common is that they are usually by writers starting out, writers who are new or at least newISH to their craft, and who need the feedback of a professional crit. But that’s where all similarity ends and the manuscripts can be anything from “back to the drawingboard please” to “ohmigod where has this writer been all my life”. I’ve had to wrestle with basic writing – with literal sentences – which kept making me skid to a halt and re-read the thing four times and still remain unsure of what exactly the writer was trying to say there. I got the second book of a planned trilogy, one time, without ANY attempt at a synopsis of what went on before to help situate me, which predictably made me drown in the thing because there was literally no way to make sense of it without being very familiar with Book 1. I got a MS which clearly springs from utter love of the material but which has been through the editorial mill before and the writer dutifully rewrote the entire thing to someone’s fiat, but it is clearly not the story that he wanted to tell in the first place and thus the poor tale was left a little ill served by this (I had a lot to say on that one – which means two things – one, there was a lot there that I thought was problematic in some way and two, he made me CARE, hard enough to write a critique report that ran to over 10,000 words…) And then I got this gift, this gem, from a guy whose first fricking novel this is, and I hate him, because it is perfect. In fact, I have girded my loins and am prepared to use any personal connections I can muster to get this book seen by editors who need to see it because I honestly believe I am holding a future award-winner in my hands.

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BVC Announces The Long Frame by Steven Popkes

The Long Frame by Steven Popkes
The Long Frame
by Steven Popkes

The Invader’s ships didn’t conquer – they destroyed. Those caught at the Connaught Range fought to the last.

Connaught Range had a secret laboratory. When there was no hope, the soldiers, civilian researchers, and their families uploaded themselves into the protected Server Farm, fighting the monsters from their own minds to make a place of safety. Maybe the Invaders would find them. Maybe they would be rescued. Maybe not. There was no way to tell.

But no one came and over fifteen years of peace they made their own lives.

Now, that’s over. The Dragon is coming.

Buy The Long Frame at BVC Ebookstore

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State of the Farm, Fall 2020

As far as we are concerned, summer 2020 pretty much sucked.

We had a pretty severe drought. That was problem enough in the best of years. It put an enormous stress on our fruit trees as well as on the animals living in the surrounding forest. We’ve had a cherry tree on the corner of one of the espaliers since we built it. This year it bloomed and looked very nice and then promptly died in July. I haven’t had the heart to cut it out yet. I will, of course. And seal it so that it doesn’t crack. Then, maybe I’ll make something of it. But I’ll miss that tree. Continue reading


Avenging Plants

As a gardener I spend a lot of time with plants and dirt. While putzing around the garden beds, I interact with them in a way that one might call emotional, or even personal.

Take the Avengers—plants, that is. The Himalayan blackberry has developed, over centuries of careful plotting, an exquisitely painful method of defense. Unfortunately, this prickly monster—tough, impossible to kill, and relentlessly self-motivated—bears some of the best berries on earth. I regularly do battle with it, arming myself with gauntlets, long pants, boots and electric hedge trimmer. I never emerge from the fight unscathed. I know it’s reaching out to snag me when my back is briefly turned. I know it conceals its sharpest fangs under soft green serrated leaves, because these sink into my flesh through my leather grieves. It defies digging with solidly rooted fingers reaching deep into the ground, and if the ground is clay-like, as it is in this part of Oregon, any hopes of defeating it this way are fruitless—unlike the black, juicy, sweet food it tempts me with every summer.

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The Rambling Writer Returns to the Mountains, Take Two

Thor, Bear dog, and I celebrate our beautiful Mount Baker Wilderness, and send best wishes to the those fighting the terrible wild fires burning our U.S. West.

2020 continues its ravages on so many levels, but there is still so much beauty in the world to appreciate. Thor and I have had our share of challenges! Earlier this summer, in Take One of Return to the Mountains, we decided to test out our recoveries from leg/hip injuries, and enjoyed a mild hike in the foothills below Mt. Baker. Then came a surprise cancer diagnosis and major surgery. Just as I was getting my strength back for more walking, in the last couple of weeks, the devastating wild fires all over the West, especially California and Oregon, caught up to us even in our green corner of the Pacific Northwest. We were blanketed in officially Hazardous smoke for days, a bit scary after my lung surgery. I’ve never smoked, but our air was giving us all smoker’s hack. Continue reading


New Worlds: Social Punishment

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

In comparison with last week, the punishments we’re looking at this time around aren’t about hurting or controlling the body — at least, not as their primary function. Instead, they aim to operate on something less tangible: the mind, or the individual’s relationship to society.

It’s a fuzzy category, I’ll admit. For example, I include under “social punishments” one that’s extremely widespread today, which is the monetary penalty. Whether it’s a set fine assessed for certain transgressions (e.g. a parking ticket) or variable damages awarded by a judge, the aim here is to hit somebody in the wallet rather than the flesh. This can work pretty well for situations where the intended effect is restitution — making somebody whole for the inconvenience or loss they’ve suffered — but as a deterrent, it’s often lacking. How often have we heard of somebody being fined, and called it “a slap on the wrist?” Sufficiently wealthy individuals or companies may see a fine as just the cost of doing business, because they make more money from their transgression than they’ll be charged for it afterward.

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If you’ve read much historical fiction set in Great Britain, you may have run across the word Michaelmas—there’s Michaelmas term at Oxford and Cambridge (and Eton, for that matter), and Michaelmas fairs, and Michaelmas geese…so just what is Michaelmas?

Michaelmas, celebrated on September 29, is the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, Captain of the Heavenly Host, who in the New Testament was responsible for booting Lucifer out of Heaven. St. Michael is the patron saint of soldiers, for obvious reasons. Continue reading


All Beginnings Great and Small

I’m fascinated by beginnings. That is, the first words that fall into a reader’s brain when she opens up a book. Not all stories have evocative openings. I was bemused to find that some of my favorite novelists do not, in fact, write intriguing first paragraphs and yet I continue to read their work and love it.

But there is something about a good opening that drags us into the book and makes us want to know what the heck the writer meant.  We are caught on the first word and must read the first sentence. Smitten by the first sentence, we must read the first paragraph. Intrigued by the first paragraph, we must read the first page … and so on.

If the writer has done his or her job especially well, we keep that sense of breathless anticipation of what comes next all the way through to the last scene, the last paragraph, the last sentence, the last word, the last period.

“Ahhh!” we say. “Bliss.”

And we may wish we didn’t have to put the book down. Which is why successful series are so the rage. Can any Harry Dresden fan imagine what it would be like if Jim Butcher had written only Storm Front? Or if Seanan McGuire had only penned one Toby Daye novel? Imagine the world without The Two Towers and Return of the King, or how much joy we would have foregone if Laurie R. King had stopped after Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Unthinkable, I tell you. Continue reading


BVC Announces It’s Raining Angels and Demons by Jennifer Stevenson

It’s Raining Angels and DemonsIt's Raining Angels and Demons by Jennifer Stevenson
ASlacker Demons Novella
by Jennifer Stevenson

Heaven doesn’t remember them, Hell doesn’t want them, and horny women are after them. It’s raining angels and demons!

MAN DROUGHT ENDS! Angels and demons fall into the arms of love-deprived women in a sleepy Chicago neighborhood. Only two women get cheated. One angel and one demon find refuge with a team of sex demons…but they’re not safe yet. Those two women are hunting them. Continue reading


Lounging in France 14: Stone Roofs

  One of the most important considerations if you’re building a house is materials. In the past you’d almost always build out of local materials. It’s just too costly, to haul stones or logs or whatever very far. So if you had a cave, you live in a cave. If you have sticks and reeds, sure, it’s a stick or reed roof. And, if all you have is stones? Yes, you can make a stone roof!

Ths is a lauze roof, made out of pieces of stone. These are not fastened into place with anything but friction. Each piece is hand-shaped and laid into place without mortar or glue. The steepness is an essential feature, allowing the tremendous weight to be supported as much as possible by the walls. Here’s another image of a different one, where you can see the actual thickness of the layer of stone. These roofs weigh tons!

Compare to this little number. It is a capitelle, a dry stone shepherd’s hut in the highlands of southern France. The roof is the simplest possible stone construction, but the principles are similar. There are no rafters here, the dome is just worked slowly inwards until it can be capped at the center with a large flat stone. A capitelle can’t be much bigger than this. If you want a wider roof you need rafters to support the stones, as lauze roofs do.

Here’s the guy doing it. He told us he’s been doing this for forty years. You can see the horizontal pieces of wood, and the bigger stones wedged between them. Then little stones are inserted, carefully chipped into shape and canted so that they sheds water. There are inevitable gaps between the stones — they’re not Lego blocks. But this is a feature, not a big. A lauze roof is airy in summer and yet watertight without benefit of plastic film or weatherstripping.The big down side to them is the tremendous weight, and the difficulty of finding anyone who does this kind of work. They’re cruelly expensive, calling for finding the exact right local stone and then getting them all up to roof level. 

But have a look at this roof, on a chateau. Incredibly beautiful, and astoundingly precise. This is the work of a master. A roof like this will last for two hundred years. It is so difficult and costly, that the next step is the one I’ve already blogged about — making roof tiles. Clay or slate was the cheapest and best roof until modern asphalt shingle. But it’s all worth it, to stay dry!