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Lifetimes pass quickly

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
Twenty five years ago, far away in a different country on a different continent, I fought for breath, inexplicably and without any cause, without knowing that back in my home town my grandmother was dying. When the phone rang, later that night, much later that night, even without the telltale fact that my breathing had suddenly returned to normal, I knew - I KNEW. I screamed. The worst of it was that for just a moment there the blackness around me was so profound and so absolute that I could not call to mind her face, the face of that gentle woman whom I loved more than anything in the world and who would have sold her soul into eternal damnation if it would help me take just one more breath. We were special, she and I. We shared a rare and glorious love. We belonged to one another.

Twenty five years ago today, exactly, they buried her.

I was not there. I was still in that different country, on a different continent, far, far away. But they sent us pictures, afterwards, of that funeral.

My grandmother married at 18, had her first child at 19, lost the second when that second daughter was barely two and she herself in her early twenties, had her third and final child a couple of years after that and bled out so badly, in the home delivery, that blood was dripping through the mattress of her bed and pooling on the floor below. They took everything out, after, and there were no more children - until my mom, that oldest daughter, produced me. And to me, she gave everything that she had left.

She had a limited education, as was not uncommon for girls in her era, but was fiercely intelligent for all that and read a lot and knew everything that was going on around her. She never worked for a day outside her home. But come the day of her funeral, CROWDS turned out to say goobye to her. Everyone who had brushed her life even just in passing, they all knew what she was, what we had all lost. I wept when I saw those throngs, standing quiet and respectful a few paces behind her casket at the service, before it was taken away for cremation. I wept because I knew why they were there. We would not see her like again.

She was seventy three years old. It now seems... so young.

She's been my guardian angel, a part of my soul, ever since. Her picture sits on my bedside table and from it she smiles at me, watches over me. The picture is signed to me on the back, in her careful schoolgirlish handwriting. It is something she gave me, she touched, she once held. I wear the worn gold band that was once her wedding ring on my own finger. I miss her, still, every day - every day of these past twenty five years, this quarter of a century that now separates our shared past from my today. I miss the softness of her voice, the warmth in her eyes, the sound of her laughter.

She left me a lifetime ago.

I will miss her always.

(This is one of my favourite photos of the two of us. She's not yet fifty in that picture. I might have been a year old, or just over.)
grandma and me

Your daily dose of spamfun...

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
From my spam filters today, in order of appearance:

"Hi, we want to give you $591!" - well, that's nice. I suppose you need my bank account details and my SSN for that. I'll get right on it.

"Keep an eye on things." - I am, thanks ever so. That's why this message was in the spam bin.

"Dear Alma, Laser Eye Surgery from $17.34 a month..." - that's to help me keep an eye on things...? (Oh, and I love teh PRECISION of it... beautiful... calculated that to the cent, did you...?)

"IF YOU DON'T READ THIS NOW YOU'LL HATE YOURSELF LATER" - you know, cookie, there's a logical fallacy to this one you might want to explore. If I don't "read this now" I don't know what is in it - and therefore there is little reason for any specific regrets in the aftermath. I may hate myself for spilling my coffee over my keyboard or forgetting to take the garbage out on garbage day but I sincerely doubt that those reasons will have had anything at all to do with my not having read your oh-so-important missive. Bzzzt. Try that again, why don't you?

"The DANGERS of too much exercise" - eh. knew that. 's why I'm sitting here with my butt in my chair. I don't want to put myself in danger, do I, now?

"IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED!" - agreed. Cheers.

I know. I am wasting precious time on these things. But am I the only one who sometimes finds spam utterly hysterical....?

...and then today.

some days...
I may have seen Jay Lake before this moment which I call "first", the moment in which he entered my consciousness directly, but my first real (official as it were) memory of him was... laughter. It was almost painful watching a panel with him and EllEN Klages on it, because they fed off each other, and by the time the panel ended most of us in the audience were doubled over and weeping with laughter. I told Jay, later, that there ought to be a law against him and Ellen on the same stage at the same time because it was dangerous to people's health. ANd again, there was laughter.

That began it. I was never a close friend, not a bosom buddy, but he and I were friends, over a number of years - friends and collegaues, sometimes sharing panels at cons we both attended as visiting pros, sharing meals, sharing conversations.

I remember a panel at the Japan Worldcon, where we both committed memorable things - I, because it was almost unbelievable that a globetrotter such as myself would completely space out on the International Date Line and arrive at the con a day later than I thought I would be, and Jay because he did the inconceivable thing of travelling across half the planet to be at that Worldcon for ONE DAY. We were on a shared panel, that day, and it turned out that it didn't have a registered moderator - whereupon I told Jay that tag he was it in both acknowledgment of and punishment for that amazing trip. He acceded, and then told the panelists to introduce themselves, as is traditional - and it was at that point that I realised something. WHen it came to my turn, I gave my introduction by saying that I was the odd one out at that panel because I was the only panelist who did not have a J in my name. Jay snorted his soda, caught by an unexpected giggle. I made Jay Lake laugh. My debt was paid. My work there was done.

I remember him sitting with Beth Meacham and myself when we were Guests of Honor at a past Radcon ( a thing which he later referred to as "watching Beth Meacham and Alma Alexander interview themselves") - and his reaction of utter delight, a grin lighting up his entire face, at one of my convent-girl tales that came up in conversation (and the name of the nun who had charge of me, a Sister Fausta, which he seemed to find inordinately entertaining).

I remember him acting as patient decoy for the Great Rabbit Gambit of a different Radcon, when he was the innocent party in the entire practical joke but was perfectly content to sit in the front row and keep Bob Brown's attention focused on himself (because of a past stellar record of practical joeks between the two of them) leaving those of us who were REALLY in on the joke to work unimpeded behind the scenes.

I remember the Jaycon I attended, when I asked if there was someone who would offer me a couch to surf on for the occasion... and Jay found me a berth with his own family.

I remember putting together my anthology, "River", my maiden voyage as anthology editor, and approaching a number of my friends and colleagues for contributions to the volume. Several of them reluctantly declined, citing pressure of other work. Jay, sitting at the top table of yet another shared panel when he was accosted by me about this project, merely said, "When would you need it by?" and graced my heart-child anthology with a story.

I remember the last time I saw him, at the Orycon Powell's great writers' gathering and book signing group event at the Beaverton store - he was sitting behind me, wearing white gloves because of side-effects of his chemo and a knitted hat, looking drawn and tired but never grumpy - I remember taking our leave of one another at the conclusion of the event, hugging as two friends do, both of us aware that it might be the last time.

And it was.

I read his accounts of his battle with his cancer, and was full of rage and of pity and of powerlessness. But he - he was never powerless. He would not let himself be powerless. He fought the beast with everything he had, with heart and mind and spirit and failing body, and right until the bitter end he would not yield.

...and then, today.

Today he lost that last battle.

I cannot begin to fully understand what his inner circle, his closest friends and his family, must be going through right now, and my heart goes out to them all. And I mourn the dreams left unfinished, the stories left untold.

There is a Jay-shaped hole in the universe.

Goodbye my friend. Thank you for your words, your spirit, your friendship. I will miss you.

(now with pictures, at my other blog

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Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
So I'm reproducing it in full. It is a gem. Make sure you aren't drinking anything while you are reading it. My comments in caps, interspersed.


FEDERAL MINISTRY OF FINANCE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
GARKI-ABUJA.
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.
[OFFICE OF THE ACCOUNTANT GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION]
FINANCIAL SECTOR SURVEILLANCE.
GARKI-ABUJA.

Attn: Beneficiary.


Sir/Madam,
[IT'S A SCHRODINGER"S LETTER. THEY DON"T EVEN KNOW IF I AM MALE OR FEMALE BUT IT IS A SAFE ASSUMPTION THAT I WILL BE EITHER A SIR OR A MADAM...]

Our Ref: Outstanding Payment. Your Ref: ..... Date: 27/05/2014.


As regards to the just concluded World Economic forum in Abuja mandating all outstanding payment owed to foreigners be settled/paid on or before the end of this 2nd quarter of the year 2014 to enable foreign investors entrance into the business scope of this country, we wish to state that your overdue Payment outstanding reflected in our Central Computer among the list of unpaid contract/inheritance claim and we have to update you through your email contact for your immediate confirmation response back to this office as your name appeared among the beneficiaries who will receive a part-payment of US$7.500,000 Million (Seven Million and Five Hundred Thousand United State Dollars) and it is now approved for payment by the Federal Ministry of Finance .

[THEY DON'T KNOW WHO OR WHAT I AM BUT THE FEDERAL MINISTRY APPROVED $7.5 MILLION TO ME? AMAZING, THIS. ALSO, YOU GOT TO LOVE THE CAPITALISED "CENTRAL COMPUTER"...]

However we received an email from one Mr.Morrison Law, who told us that he is your next of kin and that you died in a car accident four months ago . He has also submitted his account information to the office department for transfer of the fund payment credit to him as your inheritor of the fund stated herein .We are now verifying by contacting your email address as we have in our records before we can make the transfer into his account and for us to conclude confirmation if you are dead or still alive. Please confirm to this office if you are still alive. With your confirmation we will expedite action on your
payment immediately without further delay .


[OKAY THIS IS WHERE I CRACKED UP BIG-TIME. "PLEASE CONFIRM TO THID OFFICE IF YOU ARE STILL ALIVE"? HEY, SCHRODINGER. YOUR CAT IS CALLING. AND YOU GOTTA LOVE THE IMPLIED THREAT OF "GIVE US ALL YOUR DETAILS, AND I MEAN RIGHTNOW, OR ELSE THIS OTHER DUDE (WHO WE ABSOLUTELY KNOW HAS NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH YOU SO HOW FAIR IS THIS, DO YOU *WANT* TO GIVE HIM A FREE PASS TO ALL THIS MONEY THAT IS RIGHTFULLY YOURS?"]

Sir, we sincerely apologize for all your past inconvenience delayed in paying your fund to your account .


[WAIT, IN THE HEADER I WAS SIR/MADAM... NOW YOU DECIDE I AM A SIR AFTER ALL... WHAT TIPPED YOU OFF?]

Thanks.

[AAAAND WE END NICE AND FOLKSY, NO "SINCERELY YOURS", NO FORMAL SIGN OFF, JUST "THANKS"...]

Alhaji Mustapha Haruna.
Secretary to the Accountant General of the Federation.


[GOTTA LOVE THE TITLE. POMPOUS ENOUGH TO COMMAND ATTENTION, VAGUE ENOUGHT TO GO EH, WHUT? THIS THING IS A WORK OF ART...]

I'd stay and chat but I have this letter to write to a Secretary to the Accountant General of the Federation (may he live long and prosper) telling him the rumours of my death have been grossly exaggerated and can I have my millions now please...

Monster Movie Night!

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
So, Godzilla.

POSSIBLE spooilers ahead, but hey, it's a monster movie, yuu kind of know how this goes, don't you? Either way, you've been warned.

In so many ways, exactly what I expected but with CGI. But nonetheless, a hugely entertaining couple of hours.

Yeah, I was rooting for the monster. Hey, he had a bad deal of it all around, did poor old Godzilla (and you know, for something that's been around for so long and taken so much punishment, he looks rather good, actually...) First we woke him up. Then we tried to fry him with nukes. Then, with all of that, comes the cherry on top with the Momma and Poppa New Monster On The Block turning up to lay waste to our planet and - er - breed (was that a moment of AFFECTION there, in the middle of ruined San Francisco, when the pair rubbed noses...?) And the human response? Oh, the usual "let's throw nukes at it!" kneejerk reaction, or the philosophical Japanese "Let them fight..."

Let's face it, humans are idiots, okay? Always were. In every one of these movies. And the guiding rule seems to be that the more authority any given human has the more of an idiot he is and la la la la la we won't listen to anyone else who thinks that what you might be doing is a not so good idea. And the reasons it's not so good an idea this time? Hey, did you miss the part where these new monsters EAT RADIATION? They, you know, FEED on it? Yeah, no, let's just throw a nuclear bomb at them. Chock full of said radiaion. No way that could go wrong. Also, humans (who DON'T feed on radiation) are kind of at ground zero here. If in fact that flash in the movie was the nuke going off then they don't have to bother scraping together the survivors of the monster fight in downtodn SF - because they'll all be kind of dead of radiation poisoning in relatively short order. So will a large swathe of the American west, actually. But eh. You know. Throw a nuke at the problem. WHy not.

The new monsters? Despite the "rubbing noses" moment, it's really hard to see them as anything other than pure malevolence. First off, they look like a mish mash of a bat, a spider, an angry wasp, and the creature from "Alien" - what's to love...? (And thesight of those egg sacs - thousands of them - just waiting to hatch... shudder. yeah.) But who knew GOdzilla was our knight in shining armor, then? You were rooting for the poor idiot. First of all there were TWO of THEM (and one of them is a mean momma protecting her nest, no less...) and only one of poor Godzilla no matter how bad-ass he is. And then - well, admittedly he does wreck the Golden Gate Bridge (but that had to happen, didn't you know? It's a given. THe bridge dies in a West Coast mosnter movie; if we had been in New York Lady Liberty would have copped it. It's the price of being an American icon, let's face it) but still he's supposedly on OUR SIDE and he's trying to get rid of the bat/spider/angrywasp things, so WHY ARE WE STILL SHOOTING AT HIM?!? Poor sod. Well at least they knew enough to cheer him when he stomps off back into the ocean after it's all done, despite the wreck of downtown San Fran that he leaves behind. (and um what happened to the othe rmonsters? Did Godzillakins eat them? I don't know if I saw him chow down, I think I just saw him rip Momma Monster's head off at some point. I hope he ate them. I hope he at least got a good meal. there can't be much out there for that beast to EAT. Maybe that's why there are so few blue whales left.)

So. Spent a couple of hours in the cinema rooting for a CGI monster.

Sometimes a girl has to take her fun where she can find it.

Go Godzilla. I think I rather like you, all other things being equal. Is there a place behind your ugly-mug ears that you like being scratched...? Let me know, if I ever run into you. I'd love to oblige.

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Give us today our daily silly spam...

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
Two messages, in quick succession.

Subject line #1: "Life is short. Have an affair."

Subject line #2: "Is your next date a criminal?"

Uh. I think I'll pass on the affair.

Oh, the *RULES*. Why didn't you say so...

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
Seen these things before but they just cropped up again - Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing. And they are:

1) Never open a book with the weather.

2) Avoid prologues.

3) Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4) Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”

5) Keep your exclamation points under control!

6) Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7) Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8) Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9) Same for places and things.

10) Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

They're fine rules. Fine. *FOR HIM*.

My own rule, #11, is a simple one.

DON'T EVER OBEY ANY RULE THAT STARTS WITH "ALWAYS" OR "NEVER".

(yes, I know I jumped into my own mouth there. But you get my meaning.)

Let me clarify. The strengths of every writer are different, and should be allowed to shine. The weaknesses of every writer are different, and should be addressed. But telling EVERY writer not to describe a setting or not to use weather to begin a book or to eschew prologues on pain of death is just basically silly. So I"ll qualify those rules.

Opening a book with wather is JUST FINE. So olong as the weather actually has something to do with stuff. If you start with "It was a fine summer day" the rest of that sentence had better read "...when my cat was flattened by the sort of flying saucer we had learned to associate with the cool mornings of early fall." There are times that we actually remember the weather. I remember very well the weather when I was dumped by a guy who was breathlessly cruel and manipulative and who had led me on the sort of thin ice it was impossible to see until you were through it and into the dark icy water below. I remember the weather VIVIDLY because it was so utterly ludcirous that it was such a nice warm glorious day full of sunshine ON THE OUTSIDE while my heart was a block of black ice within. One could use the weather quite effectively in a story like that, dont'cha think? So there goes that rule.

Avoiding prologues is probably sound advice in certain genres. But other genres have trucked along quite happily with prologues without any harm being done whatsoever. Of course, you have to understand what prologues are FOR, and more importantly what theya re NOT for, but once you get that straight there is nothing wrong with one. As I recall, I have only ever done a prologue ONCE, in the "Changer of Days" books, and that was to set up - in as small a nutshell as I could and as a preamble to the events of the story itself - the thing that pushed my snowball-of-a-tale down its narrative hill, an event which my main character and protagonist could not possibly have been at but which was pivotal to shaping her part in this story. So yeah, thanks, I needed that prologue. And it doesn't do that book one iota of harm, sitting there. As with any rule,you have to know the reasons behind it - and once you are properly aware of what a prologue is supposed to accomplish please go ahead and write one. Especially if you don't happen to write in the same genre that Mr Leonard happens to write in - you do NOT have to be constrained by the same laws that he is.

Sometimes qualifying a particular "said" is perfectly fine, and even necessary. What you don't wand to do is qualify EVERY "said". Tell you what, take, oh, ten pages of you MS and highlight every "-ly" word you find after a dialogue attribution. If your page begins to glow in the dark, you've got a problem. But if there is a yellow bit here and there, you're. Just. Fine. As. You. Are. Yes, of course things could be improved. They can ALWAYS been improved. If you wrote "said loudly" consider "shouted", for instance - which gives the same sense but in a more active way. And yes, Mr Leonard, sometimes using a verb other than "said" is ALSO Just. Fine. Again, just don't overuse it. Use the RIGHT verb to convey the RIGHT thing and you should be doing ok with this. If you find yourself straining to find a new way of attributing dialogue you're overdoing it, period. And remember - sometimes, when you have two people talking to each other, it's perfectly fine not to have attribution behind EVERY line of dialogue. FOr pete's sake, trust your reader enough to realise that the two people in the conversation GENERALLY TAKE TURNS TO SPEAK. You can go a long way while not using ANY attribution a tall. Practise this. It may be a little harder than it looks 0 because you may have to start actually honing your writing skillls and using each character's individual voice to convey who is speaking rather than hammering your reader with "Jack said", "Jane responded", "Jack said angrily" after every line. (I do a dialogue writing class. Call me if you want to talk about it.)

Keeping exclamation points under control - that I actually agree with. They really are of limited use. If you find yourself fighting the urge to use them too frequently do yourself and your reader a favour and go and lie down until the urge goes away.

"Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” " - well, yeah. there's that. I'd agree that you probably should avoid using "all hell broke loose". But only because it's such a gosh-darned CLICHE. And it might be perfectly fine to use it in a dialogue situation where such usage would identify the voice of a particular character perfectly. JUst keep in mind that narrative and dialogue are two very different animals.

Using slang, dialect etc. sparingly is definitely a good idea - consider it to be like salt, a little leavens the dish but too much leaves it mouthshrivelling and inedible. I remember giving up on a book entirely once because one of the characters spoke with a Geordie (northern England) accent which I found so dense and incomprehensible as rendered on the page that I simply grew tired of straining to understand and surrendered. I put down the book. It was not worth the drama. Consider your reader. Please. And be kind.

Descriptions. Oh, Mr Leonard. Sure, don't describe the character if you are the character - readers tend to see through ruses like said character staring into the mirror. And often the only reason you have to describe a character is if they are somehow different from most people surrounding them. In "Secrets of Jin Shei" I only really described one character - and that was because she was the only one with red hair and pale skin and stood out like a beacon amongst the dark-haired, ivory-skinned people of her world. Perhaps one other one, because he was uncommonly fat, which was unusual enough in that society to merit comment. Everyone else... it was safe to leave to the reader's inner eye. And better for it. But places? Really? If you're writing "Dune" you don't get to describe Arrakis? How does that work?

"Leave out the parts readers tend to skip." Now you're just being difficult. This reminds me of a phone call to tech support that I made after my husband stopped receiving email on his account - and because I am technically better at dealing with people on the phone it was my happy task (hah.) to call tech over this. I was lucky enough to get a raw novice who couldn't for the life of him deviate from the script one iota, who COULD NOT GET PAS THE IDEA that we weren't using Microsoft Outlook for our mail client, and finally, desperately, said, "I'm going to need a list of the people you aren't getting email from."

I just blinked and said, "If I am not getting email from them how woudl I know?"

By the same token, er, if people are skipping bits, how would I know? And besides, different people are practically GUARANTEED to skip different bits, and if you left out all of them you're down a novel with six words half of which are "the" or "and". (and you bet people would skip that. So - what - just don't write the novel at all...?) The writer owes the reader a decent story. That is not to say that the writer owes EVERY reader the story that THAT PARTICULAR READER might think is perfect, because that is patently impossible. So the writer writes the best story that he or she knows how. And after it is done and out there in the world... well... one hopes that not too many readers will find too many bits of the thing skippable, but it's utterly beyond your control any more and you just have to trust the story to find an audience. That is all you can do. That is all anyone can expect you to do. And trust me, readers who start skipping your stories are sooner or later going to go out and find another writer whose work they find more sympatico - and there are A LOT OF WRITERS in the world, so it is almost certain that there is one more suited to their particular taste and sensibility than you might be. But leaving out bits of your story in the hope of enticing this kind of reader to stay with you... is a ridiculous attempt at bribery and blackmail. Trust your story and your reader to find one another on a level where both have something to give. But let the reader get there. Don't do your reader's rejecting for them.

A most basic rule of writing is simply, "There are no rules".

A good story is sometimes nothing short of a miracle.

Take it, and be grateful for it.

As for the rest... yeah, it's good to know what can be improved. But don't let yourself be so boxed in by other people's "rules" that you forget how to tell a story that you wanted to tell and instead find yourself churning out stuff that you desperately hope someone will read. Standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign saying "read my story... please" never got readers for anybody. The only thing that matters if whether - or how - any given story speaks to any given reader. And so long as you tell it - and please don't think that this means a blanket dispensation from good grammar and decent grasp of narrative structure - it will find its way.

I think that's a rule, actually.
Jin Shei Cover from sgreer
CUE FANFARE: okay. This is not the final cover art, as I understand
it, but "Random" is now available for pre-order on the publisher's
site. For those of you who wish to support an author, stake your claim now. For those of you who REALLY wish to support the author, order two - and give one to your local library, or preferably your local high school library (and tell your local high school to contact the author if they want her to talk to their kids about the book and the things that it is about.)

And tell your friends.

http://www.darkquestbooks.com/store/product-info.php?pid183.html

New Simon's Cat...

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

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