Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo


Book Promo

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com.  One book per author per week. Amazon links only.-SAH*




“The first thing you do, you kill the sheriff.” This is a bit of writers’ lore that generally works, and JD Bell displays it done well. SELAI hits the ground running and doesn’t slow down. It’s not really an urban fantasy because the setting is more varied and would better be described as modern fantasy. Bell establishes his characters quickly, and leaves puzzles like fishhooks in the story. This locks the reader in as one tries to make sense of novel and totally alien concepts. Bell escapes the trap of simply reheating or rehashing the common tropes in favor of striking out in new directions and draws the reader into a world where our quotidian world is only a small part of the universe. For an action-packed read in which the rules are not, at first, clearly perceived, this book is ground-breaking.

James K Burk, author of “Taking Hope” and “The Twelve.”

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

o what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: Order

So Reads The Fate


I’m perhaps unusual — and it’s perhaps part of the uniquely Portuguese upbringing — in that my earliest memories include story-songs.

Maybe not absolutely unique. A lot of European culture included folk ballads that told stories in song.  Fairytales, mostly, but also strange otherwordly happenings.

Mine were mostly fado. And it wasn’t just being sung to sleep with them (though that was part of it, my being a sickly premature baby who often had trouble breathing through the night, I spent a lot of time being held and sung to. And both parents have operatic-grade voices, well suited to the exercise.)  It was the fact that mom worked from home, and like many women who work at manual (okay, hers was mind too, but the execution was mostly hand) work, she amused herself by singing to herself (when she wasn’t listening to radio programs, mostly on history and mythology because apples, trees, etc.)

Fado, for those of you who don’t know it — go look it up on youtube. I’ll wait — is mostly mournful songs about doomed love.  So, Country, you guys say.  Eh.  Kind of.  If you overlay the left-over-Arab-colonization bullshit about fate.  Yeah.

It’s funny, and I must have been an unusually cynical three year old because my earliest memories of mom’s songs, I dismissed all the ones about a mother’s love as “mommyist propaganda.” But the other ones?

When you’re a kid, you’re sort of a sponge, and you look around everywhere for info about what the world is actually like. EVERYWHERE. I remember looking for clues in brother’s biology books, pamphlets he brought home, books he and my cousin read which were like spaghetti westerns written ten to the day or something, Disney comics, comments dropped by grandma…  And extrapolating. Grandma would say something about how chickens acted when broody, and I would apply it to pregnant women.  (Not even joking.)

Kids are WEIRD.

And I was constantly bombarded with the idea you were born with a “star” with “fate.”

So, how much of this made it into my writing?

I don’t know.

Obviously I use prophecy and foretelling in my fantasy.  Or at least in my historical fantasy.  And sometimes in my historicals, period, since people at the time believed in these things.

And obviously, my stories — at least short stories — often get their emotional punch from a sense of tragedy and trust me, guys, there’s nothing quite so tragic as fado stories,  but… How much does it seep in, really?

I don’t know.

I know I have that issue in my life. I keep realizing I’m planning for things as though there were a fate, and I have to either help or combat it.  Which is deranged, because even if there were predestination, free men and women are honor bound to disbelieve it, because it’s evil and counters free will.  I mean, even if it really were the way the world worked, we should fight it.

Only I don’t think it is.  Except sometimes my back brain defaults to that as an assumption.  Except…  I don’t know if that’s from fados or just normal human nonsense.  We really have trouble with the idea that the future is unwritten, at a fundamental back-bone level. As a species.

Then there are the other songs and stories. A lot of what got sung are medieval ballads, and somehow my crazy family preserved the original/close to versions.  Possibly because most of our women were literate, and either wrote them down or read them in compilations.

There is the one that starts with “It was midnight when the blind man came and knocked thrice on the middle door.”  It doesn’t end well. Or at least it doesn’t end well, if you go with older son’s interpretation.  Having caught me singing it while working, and understanding just enough to get the gist he said “Would you stop singing about death?”

But you wouldn’t know it from the 17th or 18th century version in which the blind man is a king and the girl becomes a queen or whatever.

Those I can trace more directly to my writing, because certain situations in them fascinate me.  One of them being the shepherdess who suddenly becomes a princess.  “Put rings on her fingers and silk on her back” is something that gives me chills for some reason.  Perhaps the sudden change in fortunes.

For the record I’m also fascinated by the “If you like pina coladas” situation in which two cheating spouses find out they are perfect for each other.  But I l like in all sorts of other situations, like two friends conspiring for opposite sides realize they are still friends, etc.  For some reason, the situation is very common to fado. Fado “corrido” which is usually tragicomic.

Other than that?

Most Portuguese literature has a slow and tragic feel.  At least most traditional Portuguese literature.  But not only.  I used to be able to identify Portuguese writers in anthologies, even when they were writing under English names, simply by the “feel” and tempo.

That I was aware of when I first started writing for publication.  That I’ve tried to counter.  At least, unless it’s a short story that calls for it, and I want to emphasize it.  Even then, the tempo is a problem, even when the tragedy isn’t.

So, if you’ve ever read one of my stories that left you sobbing and puddled on the floor? Thank a fado.

If you think I need to speed up my narration and add more action?  You’re not wrong. And I’m working on it. But you should probably curse a fado.

I’ll go into other bits and pieces that might have seeped in, Monday.

For now? I don’t know my influences, except for the slow tempo, are unique.  As I said, all old European-upbringing people would have them, and I find echoes in Pratchett and Christie.

Like most human beings, I came to writing with baggage. And if we look carefully it goes all the way to the Iliad.  At least. Maybe further back.

And all I can say is: And? Other than being human, what does that mean?
I don’t know.


Old Houses, Narrow Streets


In one of his more eloquent moments, my son referred to Portugal as an iceberg in time: whatever you see of the present is a tiny part, towed and moved by the massive weight of history.

He wasn’t wrong, of course. Part of the freight on Portuguese culture is the “way we do things” some of which go back to Rome, and it’s impossible to see how counterproductive they are, because they have become “the way we do things.”  In fact, they are largely invisible, just like water is to a fish.

Not that it hasn’t broken, at times, with traumas or — forgive me for using such a term — a paradigm shift, such as the discoveries. But — like art styles, which is what makes Portuguese monumental architecture so fascinating — it never really goes away, it just gets overlaid.

Europe has come the closest I’ve seen to changing the culture, and it’s not really, it’s just another layer.

How does this influence someone growing up in it?  Well, history is impossible to ignore, and you get a sense of how tightly packed it was.

It is comparable to the two Victorians we lived in for the last 30 years or so: you couldn’t turn around and change something, without becoming acutely aware of all the people who’d lived there the hundred years before you, and everything they’d done and changed.

The US, in contrast, is like living in the nice suburban home we have now.  Sure, it was hastily built and it shows in places, and the only couple who lived there before us never wasted an opportunity to do something in the most bass awkward and bizarre way possible, but overall, it’s just a nice relatively young house and much easier to change because you’re not dealing with a century of stranger’s (and strange) decisions and short cuts.

So how did growing up with that freight of the past affect my writing?

I don’t know.  I don’t know for the same reason you can’t be on the street and watch yourself walk by.  J. K. Rowling spent two or three years in the city next to the village I grew up in, i.e. the place I spent most of my time after elementary school.  People keep tracing to her work all sorts of peculiarities of the city.  Though I’m not sure they’re right about the cloaks and suits, because you know, Cambridge and other university towns int he UK preserve medieval attire too.  Honestly, though, I can see the platform whatever and a half coming from her experience with Portuguese railroads, because it often feels like your train is leaving from a secret platform. (And anyway I had all sorts of daydreams tied in to the Portuguese railroads and stations, mostly because they’re chaotic and never throw anything away: there’s carriages and abandoned trains in forgotten byways. But mostly for the same reason I had daydreams about roads.  “I wanna get out of this place.”)

I know that I grew up in a family — or at least with a dad — that cherishes history and historical accounts, as well as legends, and in a place so old that it’s thought to be the longest inhabited area of Portugal.

There were Roman mines in the woods near the train line. There were Roman and medieval inscriptions in the woods dad took me through. It’s impossible not to be aware of these people, that they lived there, and that they and their way of life are mostly gone.

Does it change anything?

I don’t know.  There is only so much deep history you can put in a story, or a future history, before your readers roll their eyes and go “oh, please, now.”

And you have to make the events right there more important, right? Or else, you get lost in grey goo. “Sure, there’s a barbarian invasion, and civilization might collapse.  There’s been many civilizations. Yawn.”

I think perhaps — at least son said this as we were trampling around Porto’s oldest part, (oldest house stills standing dating to the 9th century, before the country existed) — most games and books in the US lack that feel.  The feel of deep time, of things just getting overlaid and surviving wars and revolutions, etc, and still being used, more or less for the purpose they were built.

Maybe I can write more convincingly about stuff being really old and overlaid, and the feel people lived here a long time.  Maybe.

Because with writing the problem is always that you have to both be aware enough of it to write it and communicate it to the next person.  And mostly, what really comes through is the stories people tell themselves about the past, which tend to have a certain sameness to them, whether the past is actually there or not, if that makes sense.

Next up: songs of fate.





The Roots of it All


This series of reposts/posts started partly because someone in Sarah’s Diner, on FB asked me what was Portuguese about my writing.  Which set me thinking.

Years ago, I’d have said “my writing tends to be more poetic than average.”  Only I’m not sure that’s true anymore, or at least not in most circumstances. I have fought it pretty hard the last several years, mostly because unless it’s a certain type of writing (say, involving Shakespeare and fairies, for instance) it gets in the way of readers experiencing the story. If you stop and marvel at the words, you’re not following, much less living the action.

And yeah, the poetic thing is absolutely a Portuguese survival.  Not only because Portuguese as a language approaches meaning in spirals and therefore is more suited to poetry than to any other type of writing, but because Portuguese culture emphasizes and favors (makes heroes of) poets.

It is said that every Portuguese has a poetry book in his drawer (written by himself)and I used to doubt it but not anymore.

What’s truly amazing is reading history books written in Portuguese and seeing all the extra words added to a sentence to “make the rhythm work” even though the book is non fiction, factual, and the added words add nothing.  Heck, sometimes there are subsidiary phrases that make no sense, but are there to add the rhythm and the feel. Which to a now thoroughly accultured mind reads really odd, let me tell you.

Now, Charlie Martin, who occasionally edits me, says that my writing still has a Latin Rhythm (please, make it not be the Girl From Ipanema) and I can sort of buy that, at least when I’m writing off the cuff and letting myself go.  Perhaps like the accent in speaking it is something trained in so early that you cannot lose it, no matter how you try.

I know it’s given people very odd ideas of who I am and what my ambitions in the field are, probably from the beginning.  People have thought that I aspired to be Faulkner, when in fact I can’t even read Faulkner without getting impatient, and people — by which I mean NYC publishers and agents — have assumed I aspired to or was best suited to literary fantasy and then were horribly disappointed I wanted to write “Space Opera trash.”

Eh. Indie makes that not a big deal, though there must be something still remaining, considering I often get praised for “beautiful language” on something I wrote while sick or sleepy and which I only gave a cursory look to to kill typos after.

So, that’s possible. Something of a penumbra of Latin might remain on my word choice and rhythm, though I’d argue it’s grown much fainter or at least much more controllable over the last 20 years.

But that was not what the person asking wanted to know.  They wanted to know what ur-story, what trained in bit of thought came along for a ride in my plots and character creation, which would never have been there if I hadn’t spent my first 22 years in Portugal and hadn’t spoken Portuguese almost exclusively for the first 14 of those.

It’s a fair question, but one which, like almost everything in life, is far more complicated to answer than it might seem at first glance.

Because your early training in infancy is everything from legends to lullabies, from the environment you grew up in, to the the unspoken assumptions of your relatives.

Now, I am perhaps more conscious of those than most people, having had to deconstruct them as part of my attempt to acculturate.  But how far does the unraveling go? How far the root?

I don’t know if this is of any interest to anyone but myself — feel free to tell me to shut up — but if anyone else wants to follow along tomorrow we’ll look at “A sense of history” which is definitely different than if I’d grown up in the US and which arguably influences everything, including future history.



The Muses’s Darling


Recently I was reading a book by a sensible-sounding Christian author about the dangers of fiddling with the supernatural, and was lulled along, in a sense of “that makes sense” until I hit her condemnation of D & D and how it prepares people for deals with the devil.

To be fair, this might have been like when I was following along with the geologist describing Pangaea, and suddenly hit his conviction that dinosaurs are circling the Earth in a world-spaceship.  Because moments later this lady was going on about backward Satanic messages in Rock and Roll and moments later of fantasy books that talk of magic in general, both of which seem to be to put it mildly exaggerated dangers.

After all, it might be a danger to believe the devil doesn’t exist, but an equal danger is to attribute every little thing that annoys us to him, when it’s adequately explained by human folly, frailty and perverseness or when, like fantasy books in general (in particular some are pernicious, as are all kinds of books), there is nothing to explain beyond “people like to dream about harmless stuff that doesn’t hurt them.” Though I suppose it might be baffling to people who don’t like to indulge their imagination or who, like this lady, might be prone to more danger from their imagination than others.

But yesterday night, possibly because of Fever, The Return, I found myself thinking of D & D in particular. I’ve played it a total of one time, and what I noticed about it is that it “pulls” from the same place as writing.  Which is why I haven’t indulged since, because I save my work for paying work (in theory. Soon, I promise, there will be finished stuff. I hate my body.)

I should explain this lady, in the rest of her book, details some harrowing possibly dangerous supernatural experiences, before her conversion and invoking of protection of religious prayers and symbols.

This is something I can’t really explain to anyone who hasn’t/can’t experience it, but trust me, some of us can have this stuff happen to us; there is a frame of mind that invites it; and this woman seemed unusually prone to it, and also unable to tell good from bad at a fundamental level and I don’t mean just at the level all of us can be fooled, but having had no instruction at all on what can go wrong when messing with such things.  Maybe that’s fairly normal for the US? Maybe I’m lucky to have grown up in a place where old traditions and old dangers are remembered?

So perhaps she sees exaggerated dangers, because she is unusually prone to falling into trouble? Kind of like I’m terrified of driving in a six lane highway because I know my reflexes are slow? (It’s the other mugs I’m afraid of.)

Because of my job, I do a lot of reading on paranormal research/legends.  I’d recommend Hungry Ghosts and Signals in the Storm on the subject.

Most — like 98% — of paranormal phenomena and research are prone to the trickster effect.  Not just because the people involved are often tricksters (and worse, lie to themselves) but because there seem to be, for lack of a better term “trickster spirits” out there that will mess with anyone who undertakes research or experimentation in the area.  Or if you prefer, because our subconscious tricks us and plays bad jokes on us, when we put ourselves in a susceptible mood.

That said, I suspect this writer’s (and other’s) issues with D & D because D & D brought into the “susceptible mood” (or mode) people who are not writers, and therefore not used with the fact that your imagination/subconscious/whatever kicks up fully formed eideations that seem compellingly real.

There are two types of writers. Those who work in the limnear dark, the “muse led” or gateway writers (as Kate Paulk puts it) and those to whom writing is a process purely of the rational mind.

There are dangers to each side of it.  The purely rational people are often beguiled by how rational they are and how they must instruct all the rubes out there, resulting in just-so stories, stories that virtue signal, and stories that would put an insomniac to sleep.

I’m not going to say these are the sum total of such rational writers.  I know such writers who are very good and produce really good work.  And I’m not going to say the sum total of snoozers are produced by such writers, because there are muse-led writers whose muses are deeply perverse or perhaps filled with a sense of their moral superiority, who knows? (Maybe those really are Satanic? 😉 )

On the side of the muse-led writers, there are perhaps more dangers.  One of them is of course that you never actually finish anything, because the dang things really are tricksters and pull you from story to story, never finishing.  (In which case, you need to learn to train them, and exert discipline.)  Another is that you fall victim of the trickster effect and your work is at best incoherent and at worse evil. (I.e. it espouses or promotes objectively evil principles and ideas that even you, in the cool light of day, feel revolted by.)  The answer to the first is to know enough of story telling technique (I can’t recommend Dwight Swain enough) to fix it in post.  The answer to the second is of course to know good from evil and stop before you embark down that road, no matter how seductive (and it is always seductive.)

There is also the problem that your work schedule can get waylaid by a sudden, overpowering idea and that this thing is not totally under your control. I’ve been dealing with that as best I can for over thirty years. It hasn’t killed me. It’s also not wonderful for the career.

The big danger, though, it’s that you’ll come to believe your own writing.  I mean, that you’ll come to believe the thing is alive and has an important message for the world.

I know writers who’ve gone down that path, and it never ends well. Often it changes the person into… something else.*

It’s rather like the effect on people who go full hearted and unprotected to play with the supernatural. It leads the same way.

The problem, I’d say, like Terry Pratchett, is forgetting which voice is your own. Trusting the wisdom of what comes to you fully formed better than your own mind/beliefs.  If you believe in the supernatural, then the problem is trusting invisible things/ethereal beings more than flesh and blood ones, because they’re invisible or ethereal.

In that sense, I could see how D & D could be a problem. If you fell so enthralled with your own creation that you started trusting it.

I suspect the function of being wayled by “spirits” or “muses” is similar to being wayled by storytelling. It’s amazing how often in ancient cultures bards or storytellers had a ‘priestly’ function or else, the opposite of that.

Some of us of course have to work there, in that half-light of the shores of imagination. But perhaps we should never leave behind our mental faculties aided by our sense? Perhaps they’re only safe when we go into them, remembering who we are and why we’re there?

And perhaps in the end that is better than proscribing all activities that stimulate the imagination? And eventually storytelling itself?

There must be a space between fear of the dark and irresistible attraction to it.  And the same with the imagination.

Else, in either case, we make ourselves less than human.

*And perhaps when Shakespeare called Marlowe “The Muses Darling” he meant more than we assume.





Why I Write The Things I Do – A blast from the past from October 2007


*The point of two posts today is to write a post on Muses and other afflictions, tomorrow – SAH*

Why I Write The Things I Do – A blast from the past from October 2007

(You should read the post previous to this to know what the rant is all about.)

I’ve been accused — in fact, I’ve been accused recently and by someone who should know better — of writing to market.  This is not true, though it might not be immediately obvious.  What I choose to write — what I have to say in each short story or novel — I want to write.  Often desperately enough to do it — often — for the drawer.   And, hell, if I wrote to market, I’d write a lot more thrillers, romances and women in peril.

With one exception — my one write for hire book — I write a story when it chases me down, pins me to the desk and makes me type.  I write it because I must.

This doesn’t mean I’m writing Real Politik stories — all message no fun.  When I was a little kid I DESPISED the “goody-two-shoes” books that pushed the moral or religious POV.  There are no words for the level of bile and hatred I had for those so unsubtle as to have at the end something like — Moral: Good always wins and evil always loses.  Being who I am it immediately made me want to go out and write a story “proving” the opposite.

I feel exactly the same way about the politically correct pap the kids get assigned in school and half of what’s being cranked out by publishing houses, too.  It’s not, my friends, that I disagree with their contentions — I do indeed qualify a lot of them, like the whole men versus women thing, and others are so a-historical it’s not even funny, but in general — it’s that most of them are only repeating received wisdom and, furthermore, received wisdom that, disagree with it or not, no one will oppose.  Just like “Good always wins and evil always loses” is a load of patooey in real life.  BUT it is the way we all wish it were.  And at the same time it is a message repeated from all the churches and institutions catering to the young since there have been churches and institutions.

In the same way the tenthousandth Empowered Woman Defeats Evil Males saga might posibly contribute to the self-esteem of some severely battered woman who SOMEHOW managed to avoid all other identical tomes rolling off the presses for the last twenty years at least.  For me they are just a “oh, heck, yeah.  Go sisterrrr.  YAWN” as I toss the book aside.  (This should not be interpreted to mean that all empowered women characters are a bad thing.  Or that you can’t have evil males.  In my upcoming DarkShip Thieves I have both.  In spades.  I mean a black-and-white dichotomy of women-good-because-they’re-women/men-bad-because-they’re-men.  And don’t even get me started on the men-as-supervillain school of same.  That’s where men are amazing beings who have kept all women enslaved for six thousand years, change history, suppress thought AND in their spare time display amazing mind-control powers.  “It was date rape.  He TALKED me into having sex, officer.  What could a poor woman do against his male mind-rays.”  {again this can’t be taken to disparage all cases of date rape}  But that’s a rant for another time.)  Most of them, these days, don’t even get me mad enough to want to write the exact opposite.  It’s just all too much of a muchness.

So, no, my books don’t have an obvious message.  They have messages, of course.  Usually several.  All of which fits into an overarching view of the world.  Mine.  I’m not preaching at people — there are things I just have to say and that I think are more likely to make an impact if you absorb them subconsciously through fiction.  Things like “Yes, you’re oppressed.  That doesn’t give you an excuse not to TRY.”  Things like “You’ll be much happier if you love others as well as yourself.”  And I’m sure quite a few more, if you look carefully…

All that said, and granted I’ve written things “for the drawer” which will not see the light of day till I’m dead or the kids put me in a mental institution and get custody of my work, whichever comes first, writing is essentially communication.  You write to be read.  Otherwise you’re just murdering a bunch of innocent Pixels and — if you print it — dirtying paper on one side.

So when I write I try to maximize the chances that the books or stories will be accepted.  Much of this — at this point — takes place at a level I’m not even aware of.  Also — though it might not look like it — a lot of my writing planning is sub-conscious in the real sense.  Take Draw One In the Dark (advisable, really.  There will be a new cover for the paperback and that hard cover will be a collectible.  TRUST me.)  The characters — both main characters and Rafiel — came to me fully formed.  I have clue zero why Tom is short.  I just know I can’t change it.  I have no idea why Kyrie is KYRIE of all things.  (Not only does it mean Lord in Greek — apparently — but Kyrie Grace is the name of my friend Alyson’s daughter, which i did not want to steal.  The poor girl will grow up expecting to change into a panther.)  However, when I first vividly saw her in my mind I kept thinking that Kr was in there somewhere and and “i” sound too.  I tried Kris and Carissa and… you don’t want to know.  Finally it was borne upon me her name was Kyrie.  And from that moment on, I KNEW her.

Beyond characters, I often lack control over “voice.”  Each of my novels has a voice it wants to be told in.  Books in the same series have a slightly different voice.  Until I find the voice I can’t write the book.  This is responsible for 90% of my late deliveries.  (Health is responsible for the rest.)  I’ll find myself cleaning toilets, raking the yard and/or petting cats while I look for the voice.  Once it pops in my head — once the story starts speaking in its own voice, I’m home free, pretty much.

Given that, there are things I can control.  Above all, there are things I SHOULD control.  And those involve removing as many obstacles between story and reader as possible.

This is why I don’t write stories set in Portugal.  Without going into the other instances of it, let me point to you what “Portugal” conveys to the average American.

The first, and because of previous conditioning is “oppressed.”  If I’m not writing a story of someone (usually the US for these stories) oppressing Portugal, then I will have to consider very carefully whether to set it there.  (For those of you confused by this — every American has been conditioned by previous books to expect a book set in a small country to be a book of US oppression.  The editor who reads the book will expect it too.  If it’s not I’ll get a rejection telling me I dance around the point.  Or that they don’t understand what I’m getting at, or…)

Second, Latin country — and by this I mean that a lot of Americans — those not in the North East of the US at least — will assume Portugal is in South America.  Or that Portuguese speak Spanish.  Or that Portuguese are Hispanics.  This means that a book set in Portugal will NEED to be about Latin culture.  It will almost for sure have to feature a woman overcoming patriarchal society.  Or perhaps a book about the beauties of the Spanish language.  I simply haven’t felt like writing the type of book that would require this.  (Patriarchal society can be as well served by setting book in Victorian England.  And, oh, by the way, if I ever feel like writing a book about the beauties of the Spanish language, I’ll tell you. Don’t wait with sandwiches by the phone.)

[And here I pause to inform all those intending to deplore American ignorance to take a chill pill.  WHY should America know about Portugal?  Oh, the discoveries, you say?  yes, they should.  And the way the discoveries are taught in American schools is laughable, giving most of the credit to England.  That said, it’s still HOW it’s taught, and I can’t change it.  As for the rest, how much do my Portuguese readers know of small countries with which we haven’t had a war in forever?  If I say Outer Slovenia — without looking up in google, do you know if it exists?  And where would you place it mentally?  Requiring Americans to know geography impeccably is stupid.  It’s the corolary of men-as-super-villains.  As a proud American I’ll admit to many virtues.  But contrary to what you might expect, we’re not all assigned eidetic memories at birth or naturalization.]

Third, What do you mean, they’re not just like us? — The assumption in the US (and in the rest of the world, though Europeans travel more to other cultures by virtue of living in a geographical space where you can’t swing a cat* without hitting some poor peasant’s head in Outer Slovenia.  What Europeans don’t know about America and the American mind and way of life, otoh, could fill several books.)  Any book set in Portugal is immediately rowing against the current to get into an editor’s accept pile.  This is true of any book in an unusual location.  You can choose to beg exceptions in your characters lives to make them “almost American”, to stay “on the surface” so that the true differences don’t appear” (both of which negate the point of setting it in another country) or you’re going to have to explain every single thing, every step of the way.  And if you don’t, you risk giving the wrong impression of how you feel about some of these differences too.  One of my early stories set in Portugal got me a rejection accusing me of being a xenophobic American who’d never been out of the country.  This was based on one paragraph describing pastries kept not-under-refrigeration, but in glass domes on the counter top, in a deli in Portugal, which was normal in the early eighties.  (Though probably not now.)  It’s the small things, too.  I am sometimes still tripped up by this, as my own mind is still set for “what do you mean they’re not like us?” and my childhood and early adulthood was spent in Portugal.  At a workshop I almost came to cuffs with other writers over a scene in which someone makes a big bonfire with the photographs and letters of someone who just died.  “But why would anyone burn antique stuff,” was their thing.  And they couldn’t believe anyone did it without a special reason.  (The special reason is, of course, that in Portugal, if you don’t do that to the vast majority of such “inheritances” they’d be wading through old letters and papers, having had those since at least Roman colonization onwards.)

Because of all of those, if you set a novel in Portugal — PARTICULARLY if you grew up there and know the real country, not the image in people’s minds — you’re going to have a hard time selling it.  Unless you’re working on one of the themes above and intend to do the work necessary to heinlein in all the odd details without slowing the narrative down.

To me, what this means is that half of my Portuguese short stories never sell.  The other half take a long time to sell.  And most of them I have to distort in some way to make them ‘acceptable’.

The game is not worth the candle.  I can write the same story and set it in a time with the same characteristics and which American editors and readers are familiar with — the history of the English speaking world provides a lot of places and situations — and avoid the hassle.

This doesn’t mean I won’t ever write a novel set in Portugal, just that I have yet to find a compelling reason to do so.  And there are other reasons NOT to.  Those, I’ll deal with in the next few days.

And now, back to the real work.


*I am required here– by Miranda who is glaring at me — to say that the cat swung is entirely metaphorical and that anyone attempting to swing an actual animal will have to deal with Miranda aka cat princess of infinite power.  Cats should be carried, cuddled and petted.  Not swung.  Or she will pee on your books.

Why I don’t write fiction set in Portugal – A blast from the past – October 2007


*Okay, the cold is lingering but on its way out. However, yesterday I developed strong lower back pain, which I’m hoping really hard is not another fargin kidney infection, but just a side effect of many hours on plane. It’s better today than yesterday which would indicate that I hope. If it’s not gone by tomorrow, I’ll go see doctor, yes.
I hope to be well enough to resume instapundit duties tonight.  I also hope to get at least SOME fiction done today. Yes, there will be another Blast From The Past post later today.  This series is being revived because I want to go into “why people write” and the different results thereto and having this in mind first will help. So, bear with me – SAH*

Why I don’t write fiction set in Portugal – A blast from the past – October 2007

For those of you who have no idea why I’m answering this — there is a rather long (if polite) question in Portuguese a few entries back and because it is a polite question — for Portugal almost excruciatingly polite — it deserves an answer.

Considering I write historical fiction and that, if history were oil, Portugal would buy and sell the rest of the world, I imagine this looks odd to people from Portugal or of Portuguese descent.  Unfortunately I have many reasons not to write fiction set in Portugal — and this is not strictly true.  I sold a Portuguese History story to The Book Of Final Flesh and I sold a Henry the Navigator story to the Mammoth book of Historical Detectives (#3, I THINK.)  And one, very recently, to Universe.  And I’ve written several others.  I’ve just never published them.  But no, I haven’t tried to sell novels set in Portugal.  Unfortunately because, of course, if Portuguese History were oil, I’d have a fast track to becoming a multi-millionaire.

So, this post will set out, in generality, the reasons I don’t write fiction set in Portugal.  I will expand on this in other posts.  In fact, this post is little more than an outline.  There will be a post immediately after this expanding on point 1.

1 – Because no one will buy it.  And no, it’s not those racist Americans.  (First of all, get a grip on reality.  Which self-respecting racist sets out to hate whites belonging to the Mediterranean sub-race.  Gee.  Latin is a culture, not a race, something that gets obscured because once a group is bureaucratically set aside, it’s immediately considered racial. See for instance believers in Islam, who are also in many cases of the Mediterranean sub-race, btw. There are cogent reasons it doesn’t sell in the US, unless literary or small press and they would apply to practically any other country not Portugal.  Well, maybe Portugal too, but I doubt it.  You could knock me with a feather when I found out recently Portuguese are a protected minority.  To anyone out there intending to protect me, kindly stop it.  I have hands and feet and a nasty disposition.)

2- Because sources of reference for Portuguese history purely SUCK.  They’re better in the US than they are in Portugal as are most purely historical scholarly books — unless you’ve tried to buy in both countries, kindly shut up — but they still SUCK.

3 – I don’t write things set in Portugal in general because I know nothing of current day Portugal.  I’m fairly sure my parents think I abandoned the country.  I’d like to submit to them and you that the country left me behind.  I truly don’t recognize most of the places I grew up in — they’re paved and covered in stack-a-prole apartment buildings.  The only way for me to go home would be a time-traveling machine.  If anyone has one of those speak up.  I’d give ALL my current worth and a good part of my future for another hour with my grandmother.

4- I don’t generally write about past Portugal because I know nothing about past-Portugal.  I don’t mean historical.  One of the advantages of historical writing is that no one can pop up and say “I lived through the Spanish takeover, young lady, and the Spanish takeover was nothing like that.  We didn’t FEEL like that, and that’s not what it was like in Freixo de espada a cinta.”  They CAN do this for my lifetime — the last almost half-century.  And they would be right and I would be wrong.  Part of this is that i left Portugal very young — 22 — and never lived in it as a self sufficient adult.  Part of it is that, while still in Portugal, I bought Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land on the title alone as “Oh, Lord, that’s how I feel.”

Okay, part one after I shower and have coffee.  Part one I’m afraid will have to go into “What a writer has to do in terms of where you set up the story and themes for it to make cogent sense and sell.”  Or “Sarah’s little book of secrets about marketing to editors.”  Mind you, given my track record of marketing to the public, the well-informed will take it with a barrel of salt, but this has been my experience as a professional writer.  Your mileage may vary.

Above Our Own Dignity


For over ten years, I’ve had the following quote pinned above my working computer, because having found it gave me one of those moments of “Somebody gets it.”

“I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. they may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.”

— from The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham 1919

This visit to Portugal was easier than others in the past, partly because I realized — or rather felt, at a deep level — that I could never have stayed and lived there all these years.  I don’t know if this feeling is true, mind you.  I know I’d be a different person if I had. But the feeling is strong and unavoidable that I COULDN’T, that my odd corners would never fit in that round hole. This removes my feeling of guilt from having effectively abandoned the family on that end which, as mom and dad grow older, in turn makes it hard for me to render any help and assistance. (It would be different if I were a millionaire, but I’m not.)

It’s probably more so — the feeling I can’t fit in — in that it’s not a big difference. If I were a startlingly different appearance — say tentacles or pink polka dots — from the people there, or if I stuck out in some obvious, visible way, it would be easier, because I’d account for that and THEN fit in.

It’s more that my way of “being in the world” is too different in small, annoying ways.  People rub me wrong or judge me wrongly and I, assuredly, also do so.

Perhaps it is nothing more than the result of having grown up mostly inside my head and in books, though I think that was rather the consequence of feeling out of place than the origin.

That quote above came to my mind a lot while I was in Portugal this time.

And because of that, at odd times, I found myself thinking of ways I felt welcome or relieved in the US that never worked in Portugal.

One of them, which I’ve mentioned here before, is the respect for private property that allows us to have unfenced yards and outdoor decorations.  That was both weird and enthralling before I figured out the differences.

But another, superficially just as silly but in reality as important was this: my high school in the US was festooned with funny, self-mocking signs.  The hall with math, physics and computers, for instance, had a hand-lettered sign entitling it “Nerd Alley.”

In Portugal — at least at the time — such a thing would not only be unbelievable, it would be incomprehensible, frowned upon and fought.

You see, from about the time I was old enough to go out alone, Mom complained I didn’t “hold myself up in my own dignity.”  Since I was 12, this was incomprehensible, since I had NO dignity (and a twisty sense of humor.)

What mom meant was my inherited class, as a daughter of an educated middle-class family who was attending school beyond fourth grade, unlike the daughters of laborers, who had been sent into the mills at ten.

This was supposed to be a source of pride, which I upheld.  I was supposed to internalize a sort of “do you know who I am?” which communicated itself to people who met me the first time.

I never did, partly because of those fine accomplishments, most weren’t even mine, except by chance. Surely I didn’t choose who birthed me nor how educated my ancestors were.

I never managed it, either, even when the accomplishments — such as entering college — were my own.

Mom was right, btw, for that place, that culture.  Looking at it through an almost total stranger’s eyes, when I went back this time, I saw that if you don’t hold yourself up as being important, having a reason to be important, people there will walk all over you.  If you’re not the “daughter of something” you’re no one and to be exploited and ignored.  I just never got it, and was enough my own, solitary person, it didn’t seem to affect me much.

But I see now why the self-deprecating humor in high school; the lame jokes teachers and people in authority made about themselves were a relief.  It felt more natural than holding myself up in false pride like armor. Armor is heavy and unwieldy.

It also, in terms of culture, prevents advancement. Part of what we dealt with, in hell-journey through Spain was the fact that every single bureaucrat, janitor, information booth lady, even the security guards/police of which Spain has a lot in surplus to requirements, was “holding him/herself up in their dignity.”  Which meant not bending enough to try to understand what two people going through, who spoke no Spanish but only English and Portuguese might be asking or wanted.

It is also, I think, responsible for why Portugal remains largely stagnant while any Portuguese immigrant abroad seems to have a head start on excelling in their field (Yes, weirdly, I did too. The odds against even being published in the bad old days were overwhelming. And most literary careers last 3 books, not 30 something.  And I’m not done yet.  And in indie, maybe monetary success will come, too.)

You see in Portugal being seen to work excessively or at something dirty, or having enough humility to start again if a career goes bang would be demeaning. It would rob you of your dignity and leave you open to predation or at least social opprobrium. Some people still do it, but they’re rare and exceedingly strong-willed.  Meanwhile the country, as a whole, lurches about with no innovation, no enterprise worth the name.

And from my glimpses of Spain, it might be worse there.

I understand why people think these things are genetic, but seriously, culture is enough to explain it. It’s just that very few people go behind the gears of the culture and see the little things that sabotage it. Or how difficult it can be to change, because those evil little mines in the culture field also protect the individual in the way the culture is, right now.

To me, as an American, it’s simply a relief to be able to laugh at myself and refuse the assumed dignity that can’t be dented.

Which is a good thing, since I’m basically starting again.  Once more into the breach…

At least I’m doing it from home, and not a strange environment I don’t fully understand.

Americans are, in a way, above our own dignity. We don’t need to hold ourselves in false pride because as sovereigns of our land, we’re all as important as may be.

And the result is that we can work, get our hands dirty, and even laugh at ourselves, with no fear.

It’s a good (and fortuitous) thing.


Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo


Book Promo

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com.  One book per author per week. Amazon links only.-SAH*


FROM LARRY CORREIA AND KACEY EZELL (I have a story in this. It’s a prequel to the Space Magic novel that, yes, will be coming out soon.): Noir Fatale


NEW SCIENCE FICTION, URBAN FANTASY, AND MYSTERY STORIES WITH A NOIR THEME FROM BEST-SELLING AUTHORS LAURELL K. HAMILTON delivering an Anita Blake series story, LARRY CORREIA, penning a Grimnoir series adventure, an original Honor Harrington series tale from DAVID WEBER, AND MORE.

The silky note of a saxophone. The echoes of a woman’s high heels down a deserted asphalt street. Steam rising from city vents to cloud the street-lit air. A man with a gun. A dame with a problem . . .


From the pulpy pages of Black Mask Magazine in the 1920s and 30s, through the film noir era of the 1940s, to today, noir fiction has lured many a reader and movie-goer away from the light and into the dark underbelly of society. Names such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain; titles like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Postman Always Rings Twice . . . these have inhabited our collective consciousness for decades. Humanity, it seems, loves the dark. And within the dark, one figure stands out: that of the femme fatale.

Here then, Noir Fatale an anthology containing the full spectrum of noir fiction, each incorporating the compelling femme fatale character archetype. From straightforward hardboiled detective story to dark urban fantasy to the dirty secrets of futuristic science fiction—all with a hard, gritty feel.

As Raymond Chandler said, “Down these mean streets, a man must walk who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” Because, as these stories prove, doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily mean you get the big bucks or the girl. But you do the right thing anyway.

FROM BLAKE SMITH:  Lyddie Hartington: Galaxy Sleuth (Hartington Series Book 3)


Facing poverty after a childhood among the wealthy and powerful, Lyddie Hartington decamps to Ceres, a newly colonized planet on the edges of the galaxy. Armed only with a change of clothes, a letter of introduction to the directors of the Andromeda Company, and a blaster, she is determined to make her fortune.

But Ceres is nothing like Orion-14, and before she knows it, Lyddie is witness to a murder- a murder that goes to the heart of the Andromeda Company and puts her life in danger. With the help of her new friend, an entirely too handsome captain of the Galaxy Watch, she must discover the murderer and solve the mystery of her family’s downfall.

If she can survive long enough to do it.


FROM LEROY NICHOLS AND SUSAN YOUNG:  The Philadelphia Experiment: A Square Root of Time Novel.


A madman with a lust for power. Strange refugees from distant lands. Hackers. Collusion. Russian entanglements and divided loyalties. The multiverse may have shattered, but George Washington is discovering that America’s problems haven’t changed all that much—they’ve just gotten bigger.

It’s a bad time to be president. Something terrible happened to time and space; now, dreams and nightmares are as tangible as the ground beneath Washington’s feet, and the world is full of impossibilities made reality. Ordinary men like George can find themselves rubbing shoulders with someone out of legend, like Merlin, or watching as the super-powered hero known as Alien flies through the sky above the streets of Philadelphia. As Washington and his fellow Founders labor to create an America that can truly be a beacon of safety and liberty in this strange new world, dark undercurrents threaten to topple the young republic before it is fully formed. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of liberty for all, and some will stop at nothing to keep it from happening.

Before the Day of Lights and Music, Moonbeam was all too happy to live and let live; the trouble is, this new reality won’t cooperate. Between the strange new mental powers everyone has acquired, the herds of dinosaurs and other terrifying wildlife roaming the land, and random things popping into existence from time to time, staying alive isn’t as easy as it used to be. Desperate to reach civilization, he and his feisty traveling companion, Eren, seem to stumble from one strange and deadly situation to the next. And there’s no guarantee the city won’t prove to be just as deadly for the pair of accidental adventurers

FROM PETE BYER:  Executive Target


President James Whitcomb is in his third year in the White House. Whitcomb had been a Marine helicopter pilot who was shot down in Iraq. After leaving the service, he attended law school and joined a Wall Street law firm. He wrote two best seller books and then decided to run for president when President Trump unexpectedly announced that he would not seek a second term. Whitcomb threw his hat in the ring and won the Republican primary. He then defeated his Democratic opponent in the general election.

Denis Lenihan was Whitcomb’s chief of staff and best friend. He recently determined that Whitcomb should begin his reelection campaign by making a series of “road shows” across the country. Whitcomb would be able to escape the artificial bubble the media placed around him in Washington and speak directly to friendly crowds in the heartland, spreading the good news about the successes of the Whitcomb administration’s policies and programs.

Whitcomb seconded his chief of staff’s idea. His only condition was that Phoenix be one of the road show stops. Lenihan did not bother to argue.

Jake Rosen was making plans of his own. Through various sources at his disposal, he had obtained information about Whitcomb which, if true, would enable Rosen to control the occupant of the White House. Rosen saw this as an opportunity to remake America, to pull it out of the dark, bottomless pit into which it had fallen with the election of Donald Trump. Rosen put in place a “shadow” campaign, to follow Whitcomb across the country, waiting for that one slip up, that one misstep that Rosen could use to as a virtual chokehold on Whitcomb to lead him around, to control him, to make him do what Rosen and like-minded people knew what was best for America.

FROM NITAY ARBEL:  Operation Flash: Episode 1: Knight’s Gambit Accepted


On March 21, 1943, one man came within a hairbreadth of blowing up nearly the entire Nazi leadership.

In timeline DE1943RG, he succeeded.

Then the conspirators discovered that killing Hitler and his chief henchmen was the *easy* part.

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

o what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: crook.

Friends and Family

Years ago, when Eric Flint asked me to come down to Liberty con to meet him, in order to discuss a book, I told him I didn’t like cons (true) and that it was a strain (also true.)  He told me it was a very small con and billed itself as the world’s largest Southern family reunion.

I went.  And I met Uncle Timmy, the organizer and founder of Liberty con.

You can tell someone’s personality by what they build. It amuses me to visit old palaces in Portugal and see that they’re increasingly more ornate and labyrinthine, like madness set in stone, tile and paint.

Liberty con was neither ornate or labyrinthine.  It felt like coming home.  And Uncle Timmy was at the center of it.

I think he became family the first time I met him.  I could talk to him about my worries for the boys, or the screwed up mess my career was (and continues to be) and not feel any of the fears I felt when talking to anyone else — even fans — in the field.  He was sensible, he was kind, and above all he was trustworthy.

The next year, I brought Dan and the boys, and they felt the same way I did, and every year we looked forward to going back to our extended family at Liberty con. When uncle Timmy retired from running the con and handed it to his daughter, the spirit remained the same, and I always looked forward to getting hugs from him at the con, and to claiming a corner and a few minutes of his time to catch him up on how the boys were doing and what my hopes and worries were.  He was always a warm and reassuring “elder relative.”

This year, after a series of re-sets, I was invited to be guest of honor at Liberty Con, and part of what made that special for me is that he would be the fan guest of honor.  I figured we’d have time to hang out and talk.  Yes, I know, he wasn’t doing well, and even last year there was some doubt he’d live till the con.  But I had hopes.  Just one more time.

It didn’t work that way. Worse, he died while I was away from home, almost unable to access the net.  And since then I’ve not been awake enough to write about it.

So, now I am.

The last time I saw Jerry Pournelle, at Liberty con, we were standing outside the ChooChoo building and Jerry told me about the first Liberty con (at least I think it was the first) at which he was guest of honor and how uncle Timmy had made a go of it, even though the building had been a mess and the whole thing — like most beginning cons — of doubtful wisdom.  He told me that most importantly he’d had fun that first Liberty con.  And he figured the fans did too.  Which is why he — and they — kept coming back: to have fun and share our enthusiasm for the genre we all loved.

This simple truth might seem obvious. Why have cons — or why write in — a genre you don’t love.  But as we all know, the Missionaries of Prescribed Meaning have invaded our fun places and tried to make us wear pants and behave like good widgets. I will never cease regretting that they managed to inflict pain on Uncle Timmy over made up nonsense and despicable, unproven accusations.

Yes, they do it to all of us. But some people should be respected by the entire field.  And a man who gave a considerable portion of his life to fandom and to making fandom fun and healthy is one of those.

It doesn’t matter, though. All those troubles and nonsense will pass, as they all do.  The old “The dogs bark, but the caravan passes” applies.  These dogs are toothless and worn out, and their yapping is more patently meaningless every year.

I try, at least in my own way, to memorialize those of our people whom I knew and who pass.  Because we weirdos who like our strange little genre are tribe at a deep, ineradicable level.  And who should remember our own but us?

Uncle Timmy will be remembered in our tribe, his memory not dimming but shining clearer and sharper with the years, as someone who built, who created, and who gave refuge and shelter to lostlings like us, in a world that often relishes in kicking our teeth in.  He was father, uncle, friend, counselor, to many of us when we could find no other.

I have in recent years, as I lost more and more friends, revised all my ideas of heaven.  They used to be fairly conventional: a vast space where the deserving are happy in G-d’s presence forever.

As for deserving, I’m sure Himself understands that people are people and loves us.  Mostly because if I can love most people, then He certainly can.  No, I’m not one of those people who thinks every monster goes to heaven. But then most of us aren’t monsters. I’ve come to believe though that Himself doesn’t keep a tally: so many Sundays without worship and ate a rasher of bacon at the wrong time.  I could be wrong, of course. My mind can’t compass the eternal and ineffable. BUT I have trouble believing in the G-d of tallies, and I do believe in an Eternal and Wise Creator.

As for Heaven, I’ve no idea. It is, I suspect, like asking a two year old to imagine being sixty.  Even if I had the vocabulary, I’d lack the concepts. Even if I had a vision, I’d lack the details.

So I have to make do with imaginings.

In my imagining, Uncle Timmy and Jerry are standing in front of a celestial version of the Choo Choo, back when it was dilapidated and desperate for any business and going “What about it? Do you think we can do it.”

I know my imaginings are inadequate. But I’m sure good men don’t simply get destroyed.  I’m sure I’ll see Uncle Timmy again.

And perhaps in an infinite universe there’s a space for an infinite Liberty Con, for our people.  A home and a family to go back to.

I figure by the time I get there, the convention will be in full swing.