The Baltimore Science Fiction Society will hold Balticon 55 as a free virtual convention Memorial Day weekend, May 28-31, 2021. The guest of honor is Seanan MacGuire. Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot. To prepare for the con, I’m currently reading her novel MIDDLEGAME.
I’ve had the honor of participating in this convention for several years. This year I will be a moderator, a reader, and a panelist. I’m incredibly excited about my panel topics. Check out my schedule:
Friday, May 28th
2:30 PM Traditional Storytelling and Genre Fiction
Why am I a panelist: My Master’s Thesis was on the role of women in medieval Irish and Welsh texts. The myths began as oral stories and I’ve been trained to recognize techniques in the books that are a result of that origin
4:30 PM Reading: Sherri Cook Woosley
Should I read from an upcoming novel in my Misbegotten series or should I read from a short story?
Sunday, May 30th
11:30 AM Tell Me What to Read Next (Moderator)
Why am I a moderator? As part of the Charm City Spec reading series, I have a familiarity with contemporary speculative fiction. I hope everyone leaves our discussion with a huge To-Be-Read list!
2:30 PM The Motivations of Monsters
Why am I a panelist? I love the idea of discussing how monsters have evolved in fiction to represent fears of each generation. My background in world mythology and fairy tales will help to be specific about monsters from various time periods and various cultures.
7:00 PM Writing Compelling Villains
Why am I a panelist? This is a time ripe for writing anti-heroes and villains because of the rage against what is happening in our society. From Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince series to Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorn and Roses series to Baru Comorant, we have characters making devastating — and horrible — choices for the greater good. Does the end justify the means or is that just something that villains say?
Comment on this blog or sign up for my author newsletter here and you’ll be automatically entered into the drawing for a copy of THRILLING ADVENTURE YARNS 2.
BONUS: The first person to figure out the discrepancy between the release picture and my Western story will win a copy of Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021 AND a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Email taste of sherri @ gmail. com (no spaces) with answer. Ann Hanlin won this part of the contest. The story is a Western, but I had an ENGLISH saddle in the picture.
*The GIVEAWAY lasts until midnight (EST) Sunday, April 25th. US only.
I’m very excited to interview my friend Kelli Fitzpatrick! We roomed together at Taos Toolbox, a two-week writing workshop, in 2018 and have been friends ever since.
Sherri: So, we should have had a chance to catch up at Farpoint Convention this year, but unfortunately the con had to be virtual due to the pandemic. What have you been up to?
Kelli: My tie-in story for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just released in the Turning the Tied charity anthology from the International Association for Media Tie-In Writers. The Star Trek Adventures Shackleton Expanse sourcebook for which I was a contributing writer will be releasing this summer from Modiphius Entertainment.
Sherri: Nice! Let’s talk a little bit about your experience as an author for Star Trek. As a fan, who are some of your favorite characters and why?
Kelli: My favorite Star Trek character is Captain Janeway since I grew up watching her and was inspired by her leadership. I also love Voyager’s EMH for his quirky personality and the themes of personhood the show explores with his character. Other favorites include Jadzia Dax on DS9, and Discovery’s Jet Reno and Captain Pike.
Sherri: Captain Janeway was certainly an inspiration! As an author, how is writing for Star Trek different than, say, writing an original story?
Kelli: When writing tie-in fiction for a franchise like Star Trek, I must fit my story into existing canon, which means doing research and adhering to that universe’s established values, history, and laws of physics. Tie-in fiction also requires capturing each canon character’s unique voice. For example, I wanted the Doctor Crusher in my Strange New Worlds story to sound exactly like the Doctor Crusher fans know.
Sherri: That makes sense. What changes have you seen in the newer series? How is that a reflection of society?
Kelli: The new Star Trek series have given us solid representation of marginalized identities both on screen and in the writers’ room, resulting in a refreshing absence of male gaze and a distinct focus on the themes of justice and consequences. I think this updated perspective reflects our evolving society, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increasingly unavoidable fallout of unchecked capitalism and runaway climate change. Science fiction is a commentary of the moment in which it is written, and Star Trek continues to be a compelling example.
Sherri: You’re an author and an educator. How do you see these roles interconnecting?
Kelli: Teaching and writing are both about guiding people into strange new worlds. For teaching to be effective, teacher and student must cooperate to accomplish growth, and the same is true of author and reader: they create shared meaning together in a beautifully collaborative act. In both of my careers, I see a common thread of hope for the future—I write Star Trek stories because I believe a better world is possible. I teach the next generation to make that possibility into reality.
Sherri: What authors do you admire and why?
Kelli: I really admire the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Brooke Bolander, and Amal El-Mohtar. Their stories all engage with concepts of gender, justice, unorthodox love, and the best and worst of human nature, often from unexpected or subverted angles. Their prose is engaging and filled with striking imagery.
Sherri: If you were teaching a “Literature of Science Fiction” class, what novels and short stories would you use?
The Fifth Season (2015) by N. K. Jemison
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014) by Becky Chambers
A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) by Vernor Vinge
Dawn (1987) by Octavia Butler
The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin
This is How You Lose the Time War (2019) by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018)by Brooke Bolander
“Number Thirty-Nine Skink” (2017) by Suzanne Palmer
“How the Damned Live On” (2016) by James Sallis
The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953) collectionby Ray Bradbury
Serialized audio dramas:
The Sea in the Sky (2020) by Jackson Musker
Steal the Stars (2017) by Nat Cassidy
No lineup could encompass the full diversity of sci-fi literature, and there are certainly problematic elements in some of these works, but I think these texts would serve as useful conversation points for analyzing the myriad ways sci-fi stories function, whose voices are being represented, and how the genre of “what if?” has evolved and will continue to evolve over time. Hopefully I’ll get to teach this class someday!
Sherri: I’d love to teach that class, too!
Sherri: I’m also happy to share that both Kelli and I have stories in the newly released anthology THRILLING ADVENTURE YARNS 2021. TAY 2021 is an array of 27 stories in the classic pulp style, replete with action and adventure, chills and thrills, mystery, Westerns, and much more! It can be purchased here, or you can enter the GIVEAWAY. Kelli, what was your inspiration for your story?
Kelli: My sci-fi noir story is titled “The Shadow Lady of Docktown” and it follows the adventures of a mercenary spy and her flying robot sidekick who uncover a police conspiracy. The story is set in the shadow of a great bridge, and a good chunk of it takes place inside a cathedral. I wanted to create a setting that channels the high-contrast aesthetic of noir as well as a kick-ass female anti-hero readers could root for.
Sherri: Awesome! Where can people find your stories? Where can folks sign up for your author newsletter or find you on social media?
I happily returned to teaching yoga at the beginning of March. During the past year of the pandemic, I’ve learned to pivot by holding classes outside, teaching goat yoga, and teaching online classes. But there was a giddiness as “my” class came back together — in a large space where we could socially distance, wear masks, and practice safely. We all had so much to share with each other. Then we moved through our practice while the rain poured down outside, a reminder, perhaps, of our cozy position of watching from indoors and the future promise of colorful flowers. We finished with a reading about the Niyama of svadhyaya from Deborah Adele’s “The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice.”
In her book, Adele pictures each person in the world as a divine spark wrapped in boxes like a nesting doll. Each box represents things like how we identify ourselves, what we believe to be true, our preferences, country of origin, gender, town, ancestors, race, religion, and our personal experience. She writes, “Svadhyaya, or self-study, is about knowing our true identity as Divine and understanding the boxes we are wrapped in. The process of knowing ourselves, and the boxes that adorn us, creates a pathway to freedom.”
After class I was thinking about this in relation to a recent article from Yoga Journal, “Alabama House Votes to Overturn Ban on Yoga in Schools.” Turning over the ban seems like a good thing. There have been many articles about how yoga in schools helps students to concentrate, to ease anxiety, and to become more aware — why were some yoga teachers upset? And as I read, I started nodding my head in agreement. The article is worth reading, but the gist is that “allowing” a watered-down yoga into schools as a series of stretches that have animal names is wrong because it is erasing the history of yoga, erasing the culture that shares yoga, and erasing the language of yoga (Sanskrit).
Here’s a quote from the article: Anjali Kamath Rao also pointed out that teaching a “more digestible” form of asana and breathwork teaches kids to appropriate—instead of appreciate—Hindu culture. “We are also teaching these kids it’s ok to take what is helpful to them without any honest acknowledgment of the people that gifted them the practice. We are teaching their needs are more important than the feelings of the others in the room.”
I thought about my own yoga class. Yoga is, literally translated, a “yoking” of physical, mental, and spiritual, not just stretching with animal names. But I also need to acknowledge that I am a Christian, white woman teaching a discipline from another culture. To me, the spark of Divinity inside every person is what Genesis 1:26 references: “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness…”(NIV), but I am wrapped in other boxes and those boxes influence my understanding, and therefore my teaching.
I bring my Christianity to my teaching. ‘Aum’ is a mantra and a sacred sound that is traditionally repeated at the beginning and end of a yoga practice. It is a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘source’ or ‘supreme.’ To me, it sounds a lot like what we did in the church where I grew up after singing: A-oh-men-pause. The hand mudra of palms facing up is an ancient posture of receiving a blessing or spiritual enlightenment. Its also something we’ve begun doing at the end of service at my current church. My meditation is to bring me closer to God. On the mat with my eyes closed is a time to pray to Jesus so that I can then “let it go.” This is my experience – remember each person has their own boxes – so I’m not speaking for any other Christians or yogi than myself. And if you want to argue with me about why a person can’t be both, well, keep it to yourself.
There has, historically, been push back from some churches about having yoga classes on their property and some Christian colleges have refused to allow yoga clubs. These churches and universities wanted the watered-down stretching with animal names described in the article about Alabama schools. I have to agree with Anjali Kamath Rao’s quote above. That is appropriating, not appreciating.
I want to make sure that I am honoring the history, the culture, and the discipline of yoga, but each person’s practice is going to look a little different because we are each different. There is not one correct way to practice yoga. Imagine three people working through the same pose. They are accommodating their own flexibility, their own injuries, and their own sense of balance.
But there is always more to learn. How can I do better?
I missed my next in-person training (working towards 300-level) because of the pandemic. So, I’ve signed up for an online class to study The Gita, one of the main holy scriptures for Hinduism and a story about a prince and court intrigue, dated back to the second century BCE. It will be taught by Anusha Wijeyakumar, a South Asian teacher raised in the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma. Reading a Hindu text does not make me Hindu, but if I acknowledge that everyone is a child of God, maybe I can set my ego (my boxes) aside, and maybe I can learn something I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. And then I’ll share it with my classes.
Some decisions are easy, right? Like, for 2021 our family switched to glass straws and corn-starch dog poop bags in one more step to cut down on trash and waste in landfills and our oceans.
I have a hard time with other decisions, though. I’ve read advice about making pro-and-con lists, about talking decisions over with friends, about throwing a coin in the air and crying ‘head’ or ‘tails’ as a way to figure out what you really want, about meditating and “finding” the answer in your uncluttered mind. But, for me, it’s often about making myself let go. I don’t have faith that something better will come. I’d rather stick with what I know, no matter how flawed, than embrace the next thing. I’ve been practicing letting go this January.
Our mini-van. It’s from 2008 and we’ve kept it going with regular trips to the car mechanic. Unfortunately, our neighbor hit it the other night. No one was hurt and that’s the most important thing, but our son was the primary driver and I liked that he couldn’t go super fast without the whole frame shuddering as if it were about to fly apart. I liked that he could drive his friends around and they weren’t leaving fast food trash in my car. And, I liked that he could drive himself to sports or the gym and the smell wouldn’t cling to my vehicle.
I think we all know that the vehicle is totaled and I have to let it go.
A more difficult decision was to put my horse up for sale. I inherited Noche (Spanish for “night” because she’s a bay) from my daughter, who is a better rider than I am but is away at an out-of-state college. There are so many wonderful things about Noche that even after I fell off and had to recover from a severe concussion, I got back on and continued taking lessons on her. We had some really great rides. I improved, but then she threw me off again this December and the fall caused a cracked rib and a herniated disk. It wasn’t her fault — she was so good in so many other ways that I wouldn’t let her go because I didn’t know if I would bond with another (lower level) horse or if I had the time and money to buy a horse for myself. If I deserved to follow this childhood dream when the world is so chaotic and the pandemic seems like it won’t end. I still don’t know those last things, but I do know that Noche deserves a better rider and I deserve to not be afraid of what my next injury will be. So, I’m letting her go to a better forever home. (Please know that the owner of the stable and I are being very careful as we meet and interview prospective buyers! Noche will stay where she is until we find the perfect home. I just won’t be riding her).
And that brings me to another difficult decision this month. The good thing is I’m finished the next book in The Misbegotten Series. Yay! I’m proud of it and excited to share. It is currently out with beta readers — those are readers who give an author feedback for another round of revisions. My work-in-progress title has been Tamaki and the Fox, but the real title will be: ASHES OF REGRET. What do you think?
Walking Through Fire, Book 1
Ashes of Regret, Book 2
Flames of New Babylon, Book 3
Stars Crash and Burn, Book 4 (Tentative)
The decision is that I’ve been trusting other people to negotiate and get the rights back to Walking Through Fire for me and I need to do it myself (with Mike’s help!). Other people don’t care as much as I do and I’ve lost a lot of time waiting. So, why did I do it?
I have this feeling, often, that other people know better than I do. That they know the right way to do things and I don’t. That I’m somehow missing common sense that everyone has.
I wanted someone to hold my hand through the process. I like being a teamplayer.
I’m moving forward. Humans grow their competence by doing, not by worrying about doing. I’m going to make mistakes — everyone does — but this year I’m going to meet the difficult decisions and not try to sidestep or postpone.
Let me know what you think about the titles in the comments and I’d love to hear your New Year’s Resolutions!
Well, folks, it looks like Maryland is about to regress to Phase 1 during this Covid Pandemic. I’m going to take a moment to focus on some positives. We can’t choose how we feel, but we can choose our words and our message.
One cool thing that happened this fall was that I was able to modify my yoga teaching by offering GOAT YOGA CLASSES! (Use the white circle to ‘slide’ between photos)
In October my co-parent and I flew down to South Carolina to check on my oldest child and left feeling really impressed at how she was stepping up to the (modified!) college experience. She dropped one class that was too difficult between virtual learning and no opportunity for study groups, but was doing well in all the others. We rode bicycles in a nearby park and took her to Walmart to stock up and then took her out to eat.
I also attended Capclave, a writers’ convention near D.C.. virtually and it was nice to “see” (Zoom) so many familiar faces and talk about books and publishing and to be around other people like me. Major shoutout to the coordinators of Capclave because it ran so smoothly.
Some other positives are that I had a story accepted for DreamForge Magazine Issue #7 (available late 2020). My story, “Monsters Beautiful and Bright,” is a twisted fairy tale about Hansel and Gretel where the house is not made of candy, but has fruit trees when the rest of the world is being taken over by rot. It’s a steampunk Lorax with a “crafty” grandma. I’ve seen the illustration for my story and it is GORGEOUS. I love the details pulled from my words.
I have a story forthcoming (Feburary ’21) in the Crazy8 Press anthology, Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2. I wrote a Western (my first time!) about an angry cowgirl, a wild mustang named Woodrow, a feisty teacher, and mean horse thieves. This project is a Kickstarter. That means that money from preorders is raised BEFORE publishing and the amount of preorders determines how nice the project will be. For example, we’ve reached payment for the authors, but we need $1800 more in preorders to have enough money to include illustrations with each story. If you’re interested in supporting, click here.
I know this is a hard time. Believe me. I encourage you to practice gratitude by making a list like I just did. Cut yourself some slack. And read a good book. I’m currently enjoying Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. The cover blurb by Charles Stross reads, “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!”
Lately time has been difficult to pin down. I remember, clearly, teaching yoga the morning of Friday, March 13th and then our class being escorted out of the building and the sound of the lock behind us as the governor’s executive order tolled through Maryland. A shut-down as a new virus spiraled out of control.
And then time slows down and speeds up and people are baking all kinds of goodies and school is moving online and we have to wear masks to the grocery store. But there’s a sense that we’re doing this together. We’re going to flatten the curve.
And then times freezes as Ahmaud Arbery, an athletic young black man, is jogging in a neighborhood near his house and is hunted down. He is murdered, on video, by a father and son.
This hurt my heart so bad. My son is an athlete. He goes jogging. Sometimes outside of our neighborhood. Sometimes later at night than I would like — but that’s the teenager sleep pattern when there is no school, no sports practice, and nowhere to go. I couldn’t believe the video.
And then the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, an essential worker, a black woman murdered in her own home on accident. And then George Floyd. And riots. And peaceful protests.
And the news was pounding at us and we all wanted to do something and we felt so many things.
I believe and support police officers AND I acknowledge that a few have done horrible things. Does there need to be change? YES. Do we need to revile our friends and neighbors who are police officers? NO.
I don’t know who originally said this, but I believe it: NO ONE HATES A BAD COP MORE THAN THE GOOD COPS.
I believe black lives matter AND there are problems in our entire American system.
I understand why there are riots AND I mourn for the businesses that are destroyed.
I saw this mandala by Deonne Francewar and it’s a visual image of how I feel. Artists are so amazing, aren’t they?
I don’t think it’s black against white. I think, pray, and hope that it’s everyone against racists.
Also, today is my birthday. Normally I feel sad about not hitting goals or not being good enough or some other whatever.
Today, I’m thankful for all of the people who believe that we can be better, that we can do hard things, that we can wear masks to destroy this virus, that we can listen to Americans who have different experiences than us, that we can be brave enough to imagine a new, better way to evolve.
Author Readings (Attico/Woosley) – Saturday 2:00 PM – Salon E
Building A Better World – Sunday 11:00 AM – Hunt Ballroom
Author Readings (Povey/Woosley) – Sunday NOON – Salon E
Setting As Character – Sunday 2:00 PM – Salon C (MOD)
Some more good news: I was honored to be nominated as an author and to have WALKING THROUGH FIRE nominated as best book by local author for the Baltimore Sun’s Readers’ Poll 2020. This would be really nice to brag about when I’m looking for a new publisher later this year, so please go to the People & Media section and VOTE. You can vote each day until March 6th.
And, (drum roll) I’ve finished a draft of the first part of GATES. To celebrate, here’s a snippet:
The Hotheads came around the corner, moving in uncoordinated motions. Tattered clothing hung off their emaciated bodies. Shuffling forward without apparent purpose, no handler in sight. Used to be two men and a woman, based on clothing, although the bright red paint covered any distinguishing marks. They could be anyone. Or no one. Just let them go. Scout’s voice pleaded inside her mind. They aren’t hurting anything.
Tamaki shook her head. She knew more than Scout did about this. And she also knew this was a test from the Alchemists. Deliberate or not, Nguyen would be reporting back to Gavin whatever happened in the next five minutes. Having her future threatened made Tamaki realize that she not only wanted to be an important part of the Alchemist’s future school, she wanted to be their candidate for the Council of gods. Maybe that was too ambitious, but it was what she wanted. It would take away the pain of her grandmother’s refusal to teach her. It would show everyone, objectively, that she deserved a place in power.
Nguyen looked at her. “Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Her voice was steady. No, please no. Scout’s voice was frantic. Tamaki, remember what happened at Ekur Temple. Remember that this was your second chance.
It was her second chance. And she wasn’t going to screw it up.
Here’s my third and final book review of CHARM CITY SPEC authors and hopefully a helpful guide for your favorite book lovers during the 2019 holiday season. Did I choose these books because of the beautiful colors on the covers? If so, it was unconscious. I CONSCIOUSLY chose these two books because they have fantastic ideas, lyrical prose, and are so immersive that you will have a book hangover when you’re finished.
Such beautiful covers!
BLACKFISH CITY by Sam J. Miller
Genre: Speculative fiction, YA, dystopia
Premise: (back cover) When a strange new visitor arrives in a floating city in the Arctic – humanity’s last hope after the ravages of climate change – the city is entranced. She’s riding an orca and has a polar bear at her beck and call. She’s called “the orcamancer,” and she very subtly unites four desperate people to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together, they will learn shocking truths about themselves – and save their city before it crumples under the weight of its own decay.
Who would love it: Well, according to Miller’s Twitter account (@sentencebender), anyone who is “a fan of polar bears…or killer whales…or bad-ass lesbian grandmothers.” Me. I’m a fan of all three. But, that doesn’t touch on Qaanaaq, the actual floating city he’s built, or the story of both refugees and elite within that city, or mysterious broadcasts or nanobonding. People who are fans of those things will also love this book.
Favorite character: Too difficult! I’ll go with a favorite moment instead.
The polar bear opened his eyes and looked at Kaev.
In the instant of that eye contact, Kaev felt like he had broken free of his body. A happiness surged through him, warm as the sun, blissful as a thousand orgasms. The peace he’d felt while sitting there had been ten times greater than the joy of fighting, but this new sensation was ten times greater than that peace had been.
“Hello, Kaev,” Dao said. He and his soldiers had their backs to the grid edge; they could not see the polar bear. “You’ve been sitting here for a long time. I’ve got to presume that means you wanted us to find you.”
But Kaev could not hear him.
We are one, he thought, eyes locked with the animal’s.
Miller’s debut THE ART OF STARVING won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction. His newest book DESTROY ALL MONSTERS dropped on 7/2/19.
THE LESSON by Cadwell Turnbull
Genre: Science Fiction
Premise: An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.
A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.
Who would love it: Wilton Barnhardt says, “I came for the aliens and a war of the worlds. I stayed for the deadpan St. Thomas humor, the complicated, charming, sexy island folk, and Turnbull’s delicious prose.”
Favorite character: Most people know that I have a soft spot for the familial, for the moments that ground fantasy in a web of relationships. Here’s our intro to Derrick (who is much more respectful that MY teenaged son).
Fifteen days before
“Aren’t you going to close the door?” Patrice asked.
“Grams said I can’t close the door if I have a girl in my room.”
“We grew up together.”
“That’s the problem. You grown now. Can’t have you up in my room with the door shut.”
Patrice glared at him, communicating all she could.
“Her words,” Derrick said.
“Boy, don’t you close that door!” Grandma Reed yelled from the living room.
“I know, Grams.”
“Come here for a second!”
“Be right back,” Derrick said. He grabbed some home clothes as he left to change out of his school uniform.
Patrice sat on Derrick’s bed.
Final Thought: Now I have to look up Turnbull’s Asimov’s short story “When the Rains Come Back” (made the Barnes and Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy’s short fiction roundup in 2018) and Nightmare story “Loneliness is in Your Blood” (selected for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018.
Welcome new followers! Thank you to the readers who’ve stuck with me. We had some bumps — but we’re rolling now. So, I’m posting the first chapter of GATES OF NEW BABYLON, second book in The Misbegotten Series..AND NOW IT HAS BEEN TAKEN DOWN.