Portugal wildfire (we’re okay)

Portugal fire 3

I’ve had quite a few emails from readers asking if we’re okay after learning of the horrific wildfire in central Portugal. So to start out: we are fine; we live a half-day’s drive from the area where this occurred. Nor do we know anyone who was injured or lost their homes. Thank you so much for thinking of us.

It was and continues to be a terrible tragedy. Portugal is currently in the midst of three days of national mourning. So far there are 64 confirmed deaths, and 40 villages in the area have been evacuated. Forty villages!

Portugal fire 1

The fire started from a “dry thunderstorm,” which means a thunderstorm in which the air is so hot that the rain evaporates before it can hit the ground. But the wind and the lightning strikes are still there.

This fire moved horrifically fast, due to the heat wave that has gripped Portugal (and much of Europe) for the last week or so. Many of the dead were caught on a highway, trying to evacuate when the fire jumped the road. They burned to death in their cars.

Portugal fire 2

But there was one story, printed in the BBC, that really captured my attention because it so beautifully illustrates who the Portuguese are.

We found ourselves stranded in a village called Mó Grande, just off of the IC8 motorway; ourselves and others were directed there by an officer from the IC8.

As we drove up the mountain road you could see the flames jumping across from one side of the valley to the other. The accompanying wind threw branches at the car but you couldn’t stop, you could feel the heat.

Eventually we reached the small village at a crossroads surrounded by fire. Locals and ourselves were crying, overwhelmed by the heat and speed of the fire. It was dark, so dark, among the flames.

A man shouted for us to come and take refuge in his home, along with his mother. Several of us did.

His mum had an annex flat downstairs, where it was cooler and out of the way of the fire. During the time there, more people were arriving, knocking on the door, people just congregated where there were signs of life.

The guy’s mum poured us wine, and it would have been pleasant if it wasn’t for the circumstances.

[…] As the power went off, the flames hit hard, a fiery red tornado passed the windows. We crouched on the floor for a good hour, trying to breathe, praying, crying. […] Eventually the fire passed and we emerged to see the smouldering remains of the village. Miraculously, our house and the one next door did not burn.

And that, in a nutshell, is the beautiful hospitality of the Portuguese people. Not just that they would invite strangers into their homes in an emergency — that kindness is not limited to the Portuguese — but that they would pour wine for their guests during the apocalypse! That story did not surprise me at all, but it did make me smile in recognition.

I love my adopted nation for many reasons. This is just one of them.


Now for a special note for readers of this blog. My Chronicles of Alsea website is being rebuilt, and I am not posting to this blog any longer. I am posting to my original Oregon Expat blog until the website is relaunched. At that point I will stop trying to maintain two separate blogs (which never worked well for me), and put all of my geekery onto the new blog, so that all of my work can be in one place.

Please save my Oregon Expat link in your bookmarks, or better yet: go there now and subscribe to the email list. That way, when I launch the new site, you’ll know about it right away and won’t be wondering why I never post on the old blog any longer.

See you over on Oregon Expat!

Raise your hand if you remember the modem dial-up tone

In this video from Wired, two sonic branding experts take us on a tour of the world’s most recognizable tones, chimes, and sound blends, and explain why they impact us the way they do. Sonic branding is designed to grab us in certain ways, and some of these sounds are very much embedded in our psyches.

They also date us. I remember the first time I heard the THX sound in a theater — it blew my eyebrows back and fried my brain. That sound was amazing. And then there’s the scratchy, awful, atonal, teeth-gritting sound of a modem dialup. Do you recall scrambling to turn down the volume so you wouldn’t wake up your parents/roommate/anyone else in the house with that infernal screeching? And yet it was a wonderful sound because it signified the opening of a gateway to a whole new world.

It occurred to me that my 16-year-old son has never heard that sound in real usage and won’t have any of the associations with it that I do. But then, he would probably recognize all of the gaming console sounds while I don’t know a single one of them.

Sounds are closely tied to memory and emotion. Sound embeds itself in our lives. The fact that some of these sounds make me smile or feel nostalgic is a testament to their power. It’s no wonder that Apple’s discard of the classic Mac start-up chime in the new MacBook Pros has left so many users feeling bereft. (But take heart: you can get it back with a simple Terminal command.)

And oh, that Law and Order dum dum. Who knew it was supposed to be the sound of a jail door closing?

(Edited to add: I’ve just learned that the embedded video is not viewable in the US. Try this site, which seems to have bypassed the regional restrictions.)

Rogue One review

Star wars rogue one

We have finally seen Rogue One. Our conclusions (with mild spoilers):

1. The first half of the movie gets a 4 out of 10. Too many jumps from point A to point B to point C, no character development, cheesy dialogue, and cinematography so dark that I wanted to reach out, pull up the Control Panel, and turn up the screen brightness.

2. However, the landscapes and spacescapes are spectacular. Really gorgeous special effects.

3. The second half of the movie almost redeems the first. It is edge-of-chair exciting, and takes a very daring step that I can’t ever recall seeing in a “heroic battle for good” movie. Also, the way in which a simple, low-tech solution is found to open a high-tech shield was brilliant and extremely fun to watch.

4. In the first half, the writers pull the tired old “character does incredibly stoopid act in order to further the plot.” Scene: good woman with gun confronts bad man with many armed guards. It has already been made clear that she expects to die and is willing to trade her life in order to kill the baddie. So does she pull the trigger? No! Instead she shouts, “You will never win!” and gives the baddie time to order his guards to mow her down, which they do. She never gets off a shot. This is such lazy writing. There are other ways to kill off a character and save the bad guy for later besides using the shortcut of “Oh! I know! Make her stoopid!”

5. There are apparently no women in the Empire. At all.

6. Though the Rebel Alliance has a female senator and one other female character with about six lines of dialogue, it is also extremely low on women. We did spot two female fighter pilots in the final battle. One of them actually had a line of dialogue. All other pilots, all other senators, all other generals/captains/soldiers were male. The hero of our story was female, but the entire remainder of the main cast, including every other member of her (quite large) raiding party, was male.

7. Judging by the swelling music, the cinematography, the copious-tears-mixed-with-torrential-rain, and the dialogue, we were supposed to be emotionally impacted by the death of a particular character. It had zero effect on me or my wife. Hint to writers: in order to engender emotion in the audience, you must first develop characters and their relationships.

8. However, we got a little sniffly over the death of a droid.

9. The best character in the whole movie was a droid.

How to make an author’s day

This message came in through my website a couple of weeks ago, from a reader in Seattle, Washington:

I stumbled across The Caphenon when putting lesbian science fiction books on hold at The Seattle Public Library. It seems I had read all the lesbian detective, police, mystery books in the system so I decided to strike out on the fantasy/science fiction genre.

I’m really glad I found this book, or I would have missed a very, very well written, ahead of its class, not only for lesbian readers, tome (I’ll have to look that word up). There aren’t that many well written quote lesbian unquote books compared to how many books are out there. Let me change that. Really well written books are not that common.

[…] Then I randomly selected, by their covers, more lesbian science fiction books. I read a bunch more, and luckily (thank Fahla) I was reading the second book in the Alsea series without realizing it until it mentioned Tal in the second chapter. It’s while I read The Producer’s Challenge that I realized what a talented writer you are.

I just finished the second book, and put the third one on hold at the library. I went to Amazon to see if there were more Alsea books and I see there are five. If you could tell me the title of the fourth book I will bother The Seattle Public Library to buy both it and Vellmar the Blade (Chronicles of Alsea Book 5). Are you going to write more Alsea books? :) All good things come to an end, but can’t we put it off a little longer?

The fourth novel is of course Catalyst, which was just released last week (and goes into general release on all bookseller platforms in three more days). The sixth book in the series, Outcaste, is taking excellent shape. And the second book, which this reader loved so much, is available for a free download today.

Without a Front The Producers Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey

It’s week four of Ylva’s exciting Advent Giveaway, where we’re gifting a free e-book every Sunday between now and Christmas, plus one on Christmas Eve.

Today’s book is Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey. This sci-fi fantasy, which is book two in the Chronicles of Alsea series, shows the aftermath of the Alsean war, and the pressures on its leader, Lancer Tal, to rebuild. There’s plenty of sizzle when she meets an obstinate, intriguing producer, who gives her a cocky challenge to work the fields.

Download a free copy all day today until midnight EST.

If you know someone who might enjoy the Chronicles of Alsea, this is the perfect way to try out one of the books. (Or as those old infomercials used to say: “Try without risk!”)

In the meantime, I’m still basking in the happiness that comes from 1) knowing my books are in the Seattle Public Library, and 2) hearing from a new reader who stumbled across those books and fell in love with them. This is what libraries are all about — not to mention one of the main reasons I write.

Happy holidays, and may good books find you during the gift-giving season.

This year for Christmas: CATALYST

Guess what’s coming to (an online) bookstore near you? Book 4 in the Chronicles of Alsea series: Catalyst.

This is a full-length novel which takes place immediately after Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge. In fact, Catalyst picks up the day after the previous book ends. If you’re curious about what happened to Captain Ekatya Serrado and Doctor Lhyn Rivers during the time they were absent from Alsea, this book has all the answers.

Catalyst cover

From the back cover:

After disobeying orders and saving the planet of Alsea from invasion, Captain Ekatya Serrado returns home a hero and renegade, alongside Dr. Lhyn Rivers, now the foremost authority on a culture that fascinates and terrifies. They share a secret: they are tyrees, linked by an Alsean empathic bond that should be biologically impossible for two Gaians. The secret could cost Ekatya her career, but when both women are drawn into a high stakes political game, their tyree bond may be all that stands between them and the dangerous enemies they have made.

In Catalyst, the fourth book of the Chronicles of Alsea, the bonds of love, friendship, and family are redefined. The intersection of the Alsean and Gaian cultures has profoundly changed both—and become a catalyst for miracles.

All of our favorite characters are there, including Andira Tal and Salomen Opah, though the bulk of the story belongs to Ekatya and Lhyn. Their decisions at Alsea have followed them home, and nothing can ever be the same.

The paperback version of Catalyst will be available on Amazon beginning December 7; at that time Amazon will be taking pre-orders for the e-books as well (they’ll be available on the 21st). If an e-book is what you want and you don’t wish to wait, you can go to Ylva Publishing and buy direct from there, starting on the 7th.

Vellmar the Blade free giveaway (Olympics edition)

The Olympics have ended, and many of us are feeling a little post-Olympic letdown. We saw people doing practically superhuman things, overcoming incredible odds, demonstrating heartwarming acts of kindness…these are the stories that keep us watching, and now we have to wait another two years (or four, if you’re summer sport oriented) before we can see them again.

Take heart! There’s a way to mitigate the letdown. You can read Vellmar the Blade, a novella in the Chronicles of Alsea series that follows the adventures of Lead Guard Vellmar when she competes against her mother in the Global Games — Alsea’s version of the Olympics.

It’s not your usual story with a predictable ending, because as the blurb says:

Vellmar became a legend not for winning a championship, but for losing it.

At 102 pages, Vellmar the Blade is a quick and easy entry into the Chronicles of Alsea. It’s not part of the main story arc, but it offers an absorbing glimpse into the Alsean culture and some of the characters who live there. If you or someone you know have been interested in this award-winning series, but are not quite sure about tackling such large books…here is your entry point.

VtB books

In celebration of our own Olympics (and the fact that a lovely box of paperbacks just arrived at my house), I am giving away two signed copies of Vellmar the Blade in a drawing. To qualify for the drawing, simply comment on this blog post and share two things: 1) the name of your favorite female athlete from the Rio Olympics, and 2) the reason why she became your favorite athlete.

I will run the contest for a week and draw names next Tuesday. The two winners will hear from me that day, and as soon as I have addresses, I’ll pop your autographed copies in the mail.

And now I will sit down and enjoy the contest entries, because they’re sure to be a wonderfully diverse bunch of names and reasons.

Vellmar the Blade is out!

Vellmar The Blade

It’s July 20, and that means the release of Vellmar the Blade. For the next two weeks, you can purchase the e-book exclusively at Ylva Publishing. Just $4.99 will net you the ePub, PDF, and Kindle versions.

On August 3, the book will go into wider release, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers. If you’re holding out for a paperback copy, this is the date you’ll want to mark on your calendar. Otherwise, head over to Ylva now and download a few hours of immersion into Blacksun at the time of the Global Games, where egos, families, and expectations collide.

When 5 comes before 4

You may have heard rumblings elsewhere, but here is the official announcement: the latest entry in the Chronicles of Alsea is coming out in one week! July 20 is the publication date for Vellmar the Blade, a novella focusing on Lead Guard Vellmar which takes place four moons after the end of Without A Front.

Vellmar The Blade

Here is the blurb:

An elite warrior. A split-second decision that launches a legend.

Lead Guard Fianna Vellmar is the daughter of a champion, raised from childhood to work hard and be the very best. When she is given the opportunity to compete at the highest level and earn her place among Alsea’s elite warriors, a stunning turn of events forces her to choose between life and glory, mercy and pride.

Vellmar became a legend not for winning a championship, but for losing it.

Now, here is the slightly complicated part. Vellmar the Blade is actually Book 5 in the series. Did you somehow miss Book 4? No, you did not — it will be published this winter.

We all thought long and hard about doing it this way, because there will naturally be some confusion for the few months between the two publication dates. But Book 4 is a full-length novel at 130,000 words, while Book 5 is a novella at 35,000 words. When we planned our publication schedule, I knew I’d need a year to produce Book 4, but we could get the novella out much more quickly. We decided that most of my readers would prefer to have a book in hand sooner, even if it’s chronologically out of order, than to wait a whole year for anything at all.

And Vellmar the Blade is not that much out of order. While it does take place after Book 4, it is not part of the main story arc of the series. It’s more of a light-hearted side trip. There is one plot point covering an event from Book 4 — that novel is called Catalyst — but you can rest assured that you’ll get to see the details when Catalyst is published.

Readers who enjoyed the original version of Vellmar the Blade, back when I posted it on my website as a fun little addition to the Alsea universe, will be delighted to know that I nearly doubled the length of the story while rewriting it. It has far more depth now, exploring Vellmar’s backstory and giving time to the other three members of her family: her younger brother and two mothers. In addition, Alsea itself is a much richer place after the publication of the first three books in the series, and that richness is reflected in this novella. You will be able to immerse yourself.

I really enjoyed writing Vellmar the Blade, because it was a relaxing break from the heavier themes and plot arcs of the main series. It’s fun to spend time with characters whose concerns are simpler, where intergalactic politics are not involved and planetary survival is not at stake. Vellmar herself is one step removed from the main players, and her worldview reflects that. She’s a bit closer to us.

If you’re looking forward to those intergalactic politics and more sweeping plot arcs, don’t worry: Catalyst is full of them. In the meantime, enjoy a romp through this interlude in the series, and hang out with Lead Guard Vellmar as she learns some valuable lessons, makes a life-changing decision, and starts her own legend.

Chronicles of Alsea series: all award finalists, all on sale

CoA covers

The Golden Crown Literary Society released its list of award finalists today, and both Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge and Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge are on it. In addition, The Caphenon is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

In celebration, Ylva Publishing currently has all three e-books of the series on sale for $4.99. If you’d like to give a gift to a friend, now is the time!

Ylva also has seven other Goldie finalists and one other Lambda Literary finalist, and those are on sale, too. It’s only for today — the sale ends Wednesday at 06:00 German time (which is tonight for the US).

In the meantime, I am furiously scribbling on the fourth book in the series…

Demanding more from our magic

Back in 2003, when I was married to a man and thus could not openly explore my growing suspicions about my sexuality, I went to Los Angeles on a work trip and took glorious advantage of being far from home. I rented a car on my own dime, just to drive to West Hollywood and its density of gay bookstores. It turned out that gay really did mean gay: lesbian fiction took up a few shelves in the back corner. (The same corner where video stores used to keep their pornography, but at least there was no red curtain.) This was disappointing, but those few shelves still represented a cornucopia compared to what I had available in my home town, i.e. zilch.


It was so exciting to be able to stand there, unafraid and unashamed, and read the back blurbs on actual paperback books telling stories about women who loved women. They were the first lesbian fiction books I had ever held in my hand.

After an hour of browsing—an impressive amount of time given the tiny selection—I returned to the car with several books in hand. But it was a long drive back to the hotel, and I could not wait to crack open a book. I pulled into the first tree-lined street along the way, parked in the shade, and spent two hours just sitting there reading. It was utterly magical.

I still have that first book. Recently I tried to read it again, and could not. It’s so very, very bad: a total Xena uber with two-dimensional secondary characters, cliches on every page, predictable plot, huge wads of internal dialogue in italics, and angst out the wazoo until the happy ending five pages before the end.

All of my lesbian friends have had this same experience. In the beginning, we read mediocre books and thought they were marvelous simply because they were the first thing we had ever read about us. Such a low bar to pass! As soon as the thrill of these books merely existing wore off, our expectations rose. We wanted better stories. Better editing. Writing that could be appreciated on its own merits, and not just because it happened to be about women loving women.

Our genre has grown so much since then. There are still a lot of thoroughly amateur books sloshing around, but there are also many good authors, a happy number of excellent ones, and a few who produce books so good that I would call them literature.

It was from a desire to join that push, to contribute what I could to women’s reading options, that I began writing. I started with Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction, partly because it seemed so bloody obvious to me that Kathryn Janeway had zero chemistry with the men on the show and tons of it with the women, and partly because I had no faith in my ability to create a fictional world of my own. I needed training wheels, so I borrowed another, ready-made world. Fan fiction is wonderful for that.

For five novels I lived in that world, honing my skills, creating new characters and redefining existing ones, dreaming up new planets, and learning how to “hear” my characters speak. When I was ready, I stepped out of the Trek universe and invented a new one of my own.

The Caphenon book cover

The Caphenon, now a Lambda Literary Award finalist!

The Chronicles of Alsea, now standing at three novels with a fourth (and a novella) in the works, is my shot at writing literature. They are not simple books, though they can be enjoyed as such. They are books that can be read multiple times, revealing new details and interpretations with each reading. They hold politics, intrigue, romance, action, consequences, and characters of such depth that they keep breathing even after the book is closed. And it seems they are being recognized for that. The first book in the series, The Caphenon, won second place in the Rainbow Awards and is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

I’m thrilled to have a tiny part in the process of changing our genre, pushing it upward and outward and making it better. It’s my hope that readers will continue to demand more quality from their authors and publishers (and stop giving four- and five-star reviews to books that are middling at best). But most of all, I have a dream…

I dream that somewhere, a woman who is just discovering her sexuality will find one of my books on a shelf, take it to a quiet place, and lose herself in it for hours. And when she is done, she will close the book and hold it to her chest with a smile, not because it was a book about women loving women, but because it was a good book about women who have adventures, take risks, live in rich imaginary worlds—and just happen to love women.