War is Coming

I am going to war.

I have been diagnosed with a left kidney stone that will kill me. Literally. Another infection caused by this stone blocking my left ureter could be the infection that turns into sepsis and kills me. So the stone must go, and my urologist believes the only way to get rid of it is to remove the kidney. But the surgery could kill me. So I’m going to war.

I write fantasy. I read fantasy. Ah, hell, I watch Game of Thrones religiously. I view my world through a veil covered with medieval figures loving and warring, and as I contemplate what I’m facing, I realize it’s a war, and I will either fight to the death or fight to survive.

I must train for this war. Hence, I must exercise my obese body. I must eat well in preparation for this war, and so I must cut certain foods from my diet. And as I step onto the battlefield (the OR), I will gird my loins to fight the good fight.

I cannot know the outcome. Everything in life is random. I may fall. But if I prepare the best I can, the odds may turn in my favor. I will not return unscathed, and the war will continue as I struggle to regain my life.

But damn it, I’d really like to survive to April 14, 2019 (actually late May 2019 when the series ends) to see the final season of Game of Thrones. So I prepare for war.

Breaking Worlds Cover Reveal

Lisen sat in the study off her office, her legs stretched out, the hearth cold and dark before her. She’d earned the cold, deserved nothing better. Her life was over. Rinli was dead.

Thus, does Breaking Worlds, Book V in the Lisen of Solsta series, begin—with the slow dirge of the heart’s drumbeat and unrelenting grief over the loss of a child. Such a story must be accompanied by a very special cover, and Aidana WillowRaven, cover artist extraordinaire, did not fail in her assignment.

Breaking Worlds front cover - web

Aidana is a cover artist. There is a difference between a cover designer and an artist. A designer incorporates the work of others (photos mostly) to create original covers for their clients’ books. An artist, on the other hand, starts with a blank canvas, listens to the writer’s thoughts on the scene or object to be depicted, then takes the idea and creates her own vision of it.

I have to say Aidana created a masterpiece this time, and I am thrilled to share it here with all of you. Admittedly, I micromanaged a bit. (I always do.) But she put her heart and soul into the depiction of a moment which doesn’t actually appear in the book; it occurs between one scene and another. Hats off to you, my friend, my collaborator! And thank you for all your hard work.

(Breaking Worlds will be available soon on Amazon in print and Kindle.)

When Cross-Dressing Didn’t Have a Name


I would not have read Earth As It Is had I not been friends with Jan Maher since our days on an AOL message board together. I probably never would have heard of it. But I did hear of it and I did read it, and I’m here to say you should read it, too.

Earth As It Is presented me with one of the most complicated character studies I’ve ever encountered. Charlene Bader comes to Heaven, Indiana in 1945 and sets up a hair salon to which all the women in town quickly gravitate, and for many years they continue to come there—some weekly, some monthly, some only a couple of times a year. Charlene, initially an outsider in an insulated small town, becomes a part of Heaven’s tapestry. Like a mother confessor, she listens to these women’s secrets but shares them with no one, unless, of course, everyone already knows them. But Charlene herself has a secret, and we as readers learn it in the first chapter while the townspeople remain ignorant. Charlene is a man.

I won’t detail the hows and whys of Charlie Bader’s evolution into Charlene Bader. I leave it to the book to skillfully and gently take the reader there. I will say, however, that as reader who is also a writer, I found myself wanting to know how Ms. Maher had navigated her way through the dark spaces of a character who came of age in the 1920s, had married, then slowly evolved into the woman we come to know in Heaven. In those days (as if these days are all that different), one didn’t share such a horrible revelation with anyone for fear of being run out of town or worse. It was a secret tightly wound into the psyche.

This is a brilliant tale which could have easily slipped into the grotesque, but Maher handles every character, every situation, every nuanced detail with the simplicity and grace which a setting like Heaven, Indiana deserves. I came to love and admire Charlene Bader. A short way into the book, I looked to the end to see how many pages there were to read and came across the “Book Club Guide.” I read the first question. “What does the title Earth As It Is mean to you?” I pondered this question as I read, and when I finished, I realized that although my initial take on the title—that everything that happens in the story is earth as it is, life as it is—may have been in part on point, I had missed it. But never fear. Ms. Maher supplies the answer in the end.



So, here’s what I thought of The Last Jedi. I didn’t love it. I haven’t quite figured out why because I think it will end up #2 on my Star Wars favorite list, but there you have it. I started crying when Luke kissed Leia on the forehead and didn’t stop until after I got in my car. It still makes me cry because my Star Wars is over. If Carrie Fisher hadn’t died, she would have been left for episode IX, but we know they’re going to have to off General Organa somehow. Sigh.

Kudos to Rian Johnson for finally getting the whole balance-in-the-Force thing right. The prophecy of “The Chosen One” always bugged the crap out of me. “The Chosen One will destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force.” That’s like saying the Chosen One will kick the kid on the left side of the teeter-totter off and bring balance to the teeter-totter. Or let’s keep the sun shining 24 hours a day. We need the dark. We need to recognize the darkness deep within us if we are to remain whole. If the prophecy had said, “The Chosen One will destroy the Sith and save the universe,” I wouldn’t have an issue with it. But it says “balance,” and you can’t have balance on a scale when only one side carries any weight.

Adam Driver was brilliant. That first scene with Snoke (the scene without Rey) where Snoke smacks him around verbally and tells him he’s still a child and then the closeup on Driver’s face where he looks like a child with that pout—great. Daisy Ridley—doggedly carrying on the seeker’s role and doing it well. Carrie Fisher—I wish we’d had more. But Luke, beloved Luke, ripped apart and desiring nothing save dying on that island to put the Jedi to rest for good. I love the conflicted ones, and Mark Hamill played that conflict right up to its razor edge.

I want to see it again and again. There’s so much going on, I suspect it will take several viewings to catch it all.

To That Guy in High School


Dear Jack H,

You won’t remember me, and even if you do, you won’t remember what you did to me. This is how it is. Men don’t remember these things because they are of absolutely no consequence to them. But more than 50 years later, I do remember. I remember you and what you did. I even remember your full name without having to refer to our yearbook.

I was a sophomore, new to the school and the kids in the school. You were the football star and vice president of the student body. I was nothing and you were everything. We sat in French 3 together, you behind me for no logical reason except to do what you did—one of the things you did. I have forgotten all my French pretty much entirely, but I haven’t forgotten you.

You would sit behind me and pull one hair out of my head nearly every day that year. My hair was down to my waist, medium blond, and for a reason you couldn’t give me every time I would ask you, you’d yank a hair out. You thought it was cute, funny. I found it intrusive.

And then there was the other thing. I’d made this teal, corduroy, wrap-around jumper in Homemaking which tied in the front. I wore it often because it was comfortable and I was proud of my work on it. You would approach me, and I knew what was coming. You’d pull the bow and leave me with only the single knot holding the jumper together. That was more than intrusive; that was threatening. I asked you to stop, probably in that flirty way girls do because we don’t have the power to haul off and sock you in your pretty jaw. You never did.

You were a predator. There, I’ve said it. I don’t know how you turned out as a man, but as a senior in high school, you intimidated me with your power and your position in the student body and your good looks. Insignificant as all this may sound, I was an innocent child in many, many ways, and you preyed on me. I hope you rot in hell.


The girl who sat in front of you in French class in 1965

The Bitch

My mother was a bitch. As simple as that. She had no love in her at all. She didn’t understand the concept. It wasn’t a part of her tool kit. What she felt for my father was lust, not love. It ruined their marriage. They never divorced, but for my father it was loveless.

 I quickly learned as a child not to do anything to make her unhappy.  She downplayed my intelligence, my abilities, encouraged me not to look too far afield for satisfaction, to accept less than I wanted.  She taught me basically that I was worthless and had no business striving for anything worth anything. So I failed. I failed at life and I failed at hope. I failed at ambition and I failed at discipline. She took tasks from me that she thought were beyond my abilities to complete which left me believing I couldn’t complete anything.

I gave up somewhere in the ninth grade year of my life. I’d managed to remain hopeful until then, but at some point that year, with everything going for me, I turned away and surrendered to the meaningless, the pointless, the mundane.

Don’t tell me a certain generation of parents were like this. Don’t excuse her sad excuse for parenting as okay. It left me at 68 years old a failure at everything including the thing I would love for anything in the world to see succeed. I don’t promote the books I’ve written, the books I’ve slaved over to make shiny because telling people I’ve got something I made that they’d really want to enjoy is abhorrent to the child in me whose mother said I “just missed the boat on being a genius.” Leaving a child feeling boatless and not smart at all.

I’m glad she’s dead, and I will never apologize for that.



To most, “hypervigilance” is but another word amongst millions of words. Likely, it’s a word few people use in their daily life. But for those of us with an anxiety disorder, hypervigilance is the thing that paralyzes us with fear. Imagine.

I had the resonator in my car’s exhaust system replaced the beginning of February. The place that did it had great reviews on Yelp and came recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust. (No, this isn’t about the muffler shop, not really, but read on.) A month or so later, I noticed my car had a clicking noise when I shut it down. Immediately fight-or-flight kicked in.

What’s that noise? What does it mean? Lots of cars click. It’s the metal contracting, isn’t it? I have a new metal thing in my car, and this is the first time I’ve driven it in warmer weather. That’s got to be it, right? I can’t take a car back to a muffler shop and say my car is clicking. It’s a stupid reason. All cars click. This is the sort of inner dialogue I must always invoke when confronted with fearsome things. This is what hypervigilance leads me to.

So I decided it was likely a normal thing and let it be. Well, sort of. You see, once a thing is revealed under the influence of hypervigilance, it doesn’t simply “go away.” And letting it be? Well, forget that. The refrigerator turning on and turning off has been known to send me reeling. And that’s a set of noises I have carefully catalogued as “normal.”

I “ignored” the clicking for a little over a week. Then a few days ago, I had reason to get out of my car while it was running, and I heard (oh, those pesky, hypervigilant ears of mine) the same sound that had sent me to the muffler shop in the first place. (And in my defense, let me say that I hadn’t heard the sound initially—the guy at the smog check place had originally pointed it out to me.) I freaked. I’d had the new resonator for just over a month, and it already broke?

This led to an overnight anxiety attack. I decided I’d call the shop in the morning, get a feel for their response. That would allay some of my fear. The guy at the shop said he couldn’t tell me if continuing to drive the car would be safe unless he saw it. Okaaaaay…

So off to the shop I went yesterday. It turns out the clicking sound which others might have noticed or might not have noticed, but which I dismissed because my coping mechanism convinced me it was a dismissible thing turned out to be the very thing that caused the mechanic to decide to replace the original resonator. Not the sound I thought sounded like the sound that had triggered the comment from the smog-check guy. The click I’d dismissed!

This is what hypervigilance does to those of us disabled by anxiety. I see things and hear things and smell things that set every nerve in body off on tangents I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. So I share this because most people don’t “get” anxiety and tend to tell those of us who do to relax and that everything’s fine. “Don’t worry about it,” they advise condescendingly. Sorry, that’s not possible in my universe.



How do I explain to my child-self that it’s okay that Nancy’s kitties have a new home?  Their new home.  The new home they need because their mommy can’t take care of them anymore.  How do I tell Nancy?  She’ll put her good face on, but I know inside she can’t help but weep.  It should be good news, but damn it, it’s not good news.  It says Nancy is dying and is too sick to take care of them ever again.

Why does she listen to my advice and proclaim me the person in charge?  I’m not, you know.  Not yet.  Until she is declared “incapacitated” by two doctors, her word goes.  But she’s deferring to me, and that scares me.  Everything scares me, and everything about this scares me more than anything I’ve ever done before.  My parents?  They were easy compared to this.

What happens if I fuck it up royally?  I almost did, just this Monday.  The nursing home wanted to send her to her oncologist 12 miles away.  By transport.  A long trip for a woman who cannot sit up in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes.  I made some phone calls and determined this was for a followup for her to continue chemo.  We’ve discussed this and it was my understanding that she was done with the injection of poisons into her body.  (But my crazy mind wants to know—is she done with chemo because she’s done with chemo, or is she done with chemo because I’ve expressed the opinion that I suspect she’s done with chemo?)  I called the rehab facility and talked to her nurse, suggesting that she talk to Nancy about whether or not she wants to go back for more chemo.  I mean, why put her through a difficult trek if she doesn’t want it anymore?  And then I hung up, proud of my kindness and hard work on behalf of my friend.

Three hours later, I sit up, like a bolt, on the couch.  If Medicare can give her a 48-hour notice for refusing physical therapy or making no further progress on it, what’s to keep them from throwing her out for refusing treatment?  I freaked out.  Multiple phone calls to multiple friends, including Nancy encouraging her to tell them she’s not sure if she wants chemo or not and maybe they should remake the appointment.

Now, we are a little more than 48 hours out from beginning the push for emergency Medi-Cal, the thing that will keep her safe in the nursing home until it’s over, and another thought occurs to me.  Why does Medicare think everyone has a family at home to take care of them, a family who can put the time and the money into their loved one when so many single, childless boomers are reaching this stage in their lives?  Nancy has no family, and I’m her only friend left in the area—another matter, this one rejection by one of her friends that left me alone and sent me reeling last week.  It’s me and no one else.  I have to get her on Medi-Cal or I’ll either have to live with her or have her live in my house.  I’m already losing it the way it is; how well do you think that is going to work?

Tuesday morning I called the man who’s going to handle the urgent Medi-Cal filing and tell him the predicament I think I’ve gotten her in.  It turns out that physical therapy and treatment options are two different animals in the Medicare zoo, and a refusal to continue chemo should not elicit a Medicare eviction notice.  And, so far, it hasn’t.

This is the hardest situation I can ever remember endeavoring to survive.  My introversion is reacting with massive exhaustion as I spend too many days in a row out amongst people whose souls continue to suck the life out of me, and my anxiety disorder, quite simply, keeps begging me to ditch the bitch and run away.  It’s tempting, believe me, but how could I?  She’s my friend, and none of my struggles can compare on any scale anywhere to the state of her life now.

Soon, I hope, with the Medi-Cal issue settled, I’ll be able to give myself a little self-care—lunch out with a friend or two, a movie, maybe even a pedicure or that way-overdue visit to my own doctor.  Not to mention a few days off after every foray out into the world.  In the meantime, I will rely on friendly phone conversations spiced up with a joke or two and the kindness of not so much strangers as that of those who have traveled this rocky path before me.

Yes, indeed, #cancersucks.

Review – The Ruins on Stone Hill by F.P. Spirit

The Ruins on Stone Hill (Heroes of Ravenford Book 1) is about a bunch of guys getting together to have adventures. Using both physical weapons and magic, they fight off orcs, giants, golems and wicked wizards, usually destroying the bad creatures in the process. It’s a bit of a romp, and as such, it’s enjoyable. Unfortunately, I look for a bit more in a fantasy novel.

To me, fantasy novels offer the potential of placing a hero (male or female) on a quest that we as readers can identify with, allowing us to cheer those heroes on and celebrate when obstacles are overcome. The quest should involve something of moral or ethical value. A grail. The destruction of an object that could allow the baddest guy around to rule the world. Something worth fighting and dying for. In this book, the first quest to map a keep and potentially recover a scroll for a probably good wizard is taken on with a promise of payment in the end. To me, money doesn’t quite meet my criteria for a quest.

In addition, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot. Jumping from one adventure to the next, with little or no connection between them (save for the fact the two most important people in the town—the mayor and the wizard—are the ones sending them out) does not a plot make. Which leaves me thinking that the only plot in this is what it takes to pull this group together. And for a story about adventures, we sure skipped the third one fast. They started out, and then they were home again.

As a woman and a writer of fantasy myself, I found the stereotypes of the few female characters a bit too much to handle. Kailay, the barmaid at the local establishment, has doe-eyes for Lloyd, the big, strong, handsome human in the group.  She is “buxom” and referred to twice in three paragraphs as she is introduced as a “young girl.” That really got to me. She’s not a child (I hope). And then, when Kailay recognizes that Lloyd has eyes for another, she completely falls apart. Be still my feminist heart (and mouth). Three other women of minor prominence have equally boxed-in roles—all of them noble, beautiful, well-educated and practically perfect. And then there’s the half-human, half-orc warrior woman who shows up briefly, fights valiantly (a little Xena warrior princess there), but, being on the wrong side, cannot be allowed to survive. Now, she was interesting.

On the picky side, I found some of the language to be a little too modern. To me, a fantasy set in a typically semi-medieval world should watch the modern clichés and metaphors. I was jarred out of the story several times with phrases such as “picture perfect” (which to me implies a camera being involved somewhere).

Thank You for the Music (A Father’s Day Orchestration)

I’m sitting here tonight doing what I do nearly every night—listening to symphonic music on my Walkman while I write. And as I was writing and listening, I grew aware of my highly trained ear and its evolution. At the moment, it’s the soundtrack to the Sci-Fi* channel’s Children of Dune, the first cut, “Summon the Worms.” The piece begins softly with mournful strings and then begins to build until the strings and brass play point and counterpoint back and forth on the same theme. And then it bursts wide open with the tympani leading the rest of the orchestra into the billowing centerpiece. I play it over and over again because it, quite simply, makes my body tingle.

When I was in elementary school, my father would sometimes take me to his weekly orchestra rehearsals. He belonged to the local community orchestra which put on maybe three or four concerts a year. I would sit at the back of the rehearsal hall at the local high school with him and rejoice in the music that surrounded me. He played percussion. If it wasn’t brass, strings or woodwinds, he was your guy (except for piano and harp, of course).

The Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal  circa 1958

My very favorite instrument he played was the tympani—the big copper kettledrums. I loved, and still love, that deep-throated pounding sound, almost like the beating of a heart. You have to tune those, you know. There are usually two or more in the orchestra, and they’re tuned to different notes. Each time before my dad would perform, he’d spend many minutes with his ear within millimeters of the drumhead tapping it lightly with the padded tympani mallet, and as he did so, he would turn one tuning screw a skosh clockwise or counterclockwise to get the desired pitch. (The drums typically have a range of a perfect fifth, according to Wikipedia.) And then he’d repeat the process with the other one. He loved those drums, but they didn’t belong to him. The school district owned them.

The orchestra from my father’s point of view

Dad would also let me sit with him during performances. That’s when all the hard work week after week came together in a perfect whole. I would sit on a chair just like his chair—an angelic-looking little blond girl—and watch and listen as the orchestra gave life to black dots on paper. I learned to play the piano starting in first grade, moved on to accordion and then violin along the way, but I believe that the greatest music education I ever got was sitting in that orchestra absorbing the contribution of every instrument alone and then together. I can tear “Summon the Worms” apart and appreciate its soaring due to the time I spent sitting at the back of that orchestra.

My father, my younger sister and
myself in a publicity photo for the orchestra.

So, to my father who’s been gone for nearly six years now, I say thank you. Thank you, Daddy, for the music, all the music. My life would falter were it not for my love of music. And while rock-and-roll is great and I love it dearly, it’s the magic of an orchestra that never fails to take me places I’ve never been before.

*That’s what the SyFy network was called when the miniseries first aired.