The Importance of Womance

“So many fictional heroines seem to lack a great support base in female best friends. I’ve read about the Tomboy, the Lone Wolf, the Only Girl in the Clubhouse, et al, but not much about the girl with the BFF to whom she’s pours her heart and soul …. Nothing makes me a little sadder than reading books with fantastic female characters…who can only carry conversations about the men in their lives.”JJ

That has always bothered me, too. I didn’t — consciously at least — set out to address that when I wrote my most popular novel, The Secrets of Jin-shei, but friendship among women, sisterhood if you will, is the foundation of the story, and its followup, Embers of Heaven.

On sisterhood

Super-Creepy Art Inside an Abandoned Mental Hospital


Nightmare inducing stuff.

Actually, Ellen Datlow, this one made me think of you. It’s the kind of place that one of your anthologies seems to have come to life in.

Creepy art

Hotels Add Libraries to Keep Guests Inside

Some hotels are giving the humble book another look, as they search for ways to persuade guests, particularly younger ones, to spend more time in their lobbies and bars. They are increasingly stocking books in a central location, designating book suites or playing host to author readings. While the trend began at boutique hotels like the Library Hotel in New York, the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., and the Study at Yale in New Haven, it is expanding to chain hotels.

Hotel libraries

Dolphins are people

Following the lead of Hungary, Costa Rica and Chile, the government of India has recognized dolphins as non-human persons. The decision means that India has officially banned the capture and importation of dolphins for commercial entertainment.

I concur. Wholeheartedly. I have been hugged by by one. But, ironically, I got that opportunity at a dolphin park, which will be banned in countries that agree to treat them as ‘non-human persons‘.


Dancing with my father one summer night

I have spent the last two months watching the life ebbing slowly and painfully out of my father. My own life and whatever creative juices there are have been put on temporary hiatus while I battle the day-to-day issues of his illness, provide what support I can to my mother (who is the sole caregiver), and deal with doctors and doctors’ bills and insurance.

May I offer you a memory of a life that is so nearly over? May I ask those of you who are reading this to remember my father’s brighter and better days, here, now? Perhaps he will know. Perhaps he will feel it. Perhaps the light of the shared memory will be enough to lift his darkness for just a little while. Right now, we cling to what little light there still is.

Here’ is something  I wrote, a few years ago about one of those happier times.

My father dances.

I learned to dance from him when I was very little, and this is how – he would play music on our record player, and then he would take me by the hands, balance my feet on his insteps, and, well, dance. So I learned how to dance by instinct – how to move, and how to accept a partner’s guidance. I learned without counting, without having to figure out steps, without having even to worry about what kind of dance it really was – and to this day my feet remember these lessons, and when I hear a rhythm – ONEtwothree or slow-slow-quick-quick-slow – my feet pick it up and start tapping. I hear a tune and my feet identify it is a polka, or a foxtrot, or a waltz, or a tango.

I’ve been dancing all my life.

I did a somewhat odd thing in my twenties when I was living in Cape Town – I attended a Debutante Ball, as the actual, you know, debutante – all you had to do was collect enough money in sponsorships and you got to be Cinderella and go to the ball. I didn’t even have a date, at that point, and went with a “blind date” guy who didn’t quite know what to make of me – but that’s a different story. Out of some dozen or fourteen of us, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty six, believe it or not only I knew how to do a Viennese waltz – and we, the debs, were supposed to open the ball with one on stage with our dates. So there were lessons. We all had to present ourselves – and our partners – at a dance studio where a long-suffering instructor was supposed to teach us how to be show dancers in a ridiculously short period of time. And I found it incredible how tin-eared these girls all were. Couldn’t they hear it? Couldn’t their feet sense it? Couldn’t their hearts soar at the first sweeping notes of the orchestra?

Apparently not. They had to start with the box – the ONEfront-TWOside-THREEbringtogether box, standing stiffly in their partners’ arms like wooden marionettes, as though they had never been held in a dance before – and they probably had not. Time and time again the instructor would stop the music, clutch his head, and grab me for a demonstration partner.

“No! No! Like THIS!!!”

We kind of did it on the night. I think I was the only one who actually enjoyed it.

Years later at an office party which was advertised as “From the Seventies” but which quickly began to backslide until the DJ was playing pure Sixties rock’n’roll I recall standing at the side of the dance floor at one point, tapping my feet and watching people dance. A complete stranger standing next to me noticed, glanced at me, half-smiled as our eyes met, and said, “Want to dance?”

“Sure,” I said.

He knew his stuff – he knew how to lead. I knew how to be led. We did such a professional number that we quickly became aware that we had had the floor cleared for us, and that everyone else was standing by the sides clapping in rhythm and howling encouragement. The song ended and my partner and I came to a smoothly polished stop, as though we had been dancing together for years.

“And what was your name, again?” he said to me, smiling.

Years after that, I found myself in a packed pub in Dublin on St Patrick’s day. The entertainment for the evening was a troupe of professional country dancers – doing jigs and reels and whatnot on a small stage up front. In between show numbers that the group would do by themselves, they would hop into the audience and drag giggling people on the stage with them to be part of the whole merriment – and I went up, twice, to dance a reel with them, making no errors and basically just following everyone else’s lead and falling into the pattern of the dance. Towards the end of the night, one of the professional ladies had to go, leaving the professional troupe one female dancer short. Without a second’s hesitation the leader locked eyes with me and dragged me onto the stage that one last time – where I stayed until everything was over, dancing as part of the professional group. By the end of the night I had blisters the size of pennies on the heels of both feet, and a heart full of music, and a mind full of memories that will never leave me.

All of that, as illustration, as background.

In between all of it, at New Year’s Eve parties, at friends’ homes, at family get-togethers, on cruise ships, at my birthdays, I danced with my father.

On a hot summer night in 2005, the two of us met again after several years of being apart, back in the town where I was born, Novi Sad, on the shores of the Danube. And somehow we found ourselves – with my husband, who emphatically doesn’t dance, and my aunt – at a café on the quay of the Danube. Part of the café itself was on the shore, and part was a pontoon floating on the water; usually this meant some riverside cool air, a breath of breeze, but this was a hot summer and even the river was still, the air heavy with humidity and unmoving. The fauna of the river whom I remembered well from my childhood – the Danube mosquitoes the size of small sparrows, with a proboscis that goes through T-shirt grade cotton without a pause, and made out of India rubber which means that when you swat at one on your arm it sits up and shakes its head and flies away – were out in force; there was a high-pitched whine to the riverside air from their multitudes, and I was going to pay for this night with welts and weals and wild scratching over the next few days – but it was home. I knew these guys. I could handle them.

The café had a small resident orchestra. Sitting at a corner table and nursing cool lemonades, we listened to their music for a little while, and then my father’s eyes wandered to mine, and our gazes locked. He held out his hand. I took it.

I don’t remember what they played. I don’t remember what we danced. But on a hot summer night on the banks of an ancient river, I danced with my father.

We both remember that night. We remember the sound of our steps on the floor. We remember the occasional glimpse of a smiling stranger’s face at another table as they watched us twirl by. I remember his guiding me into a bravura figure or two, and my following his lead.

It was his birthday the day before yesterday. A big one, a jubilee one. We celebrated by going out to lunch at a local restaurant – full of hurrying waiters, squeals of children, and piped music in the background. At one point they started playing something my feet recognised – slow-slow-quick-quick – and I looked up across the table, and my father was looking at me, and smiling.

“Do you remember the night on the river?” he said

We both remembered it.

And although neither of us rose to dance on this day, in this place… in our memory, there is that night on the river on a hot summer night. And the two of us are dancing there still.

Invented any words lately?

When I wrote the novel “Spellspam“, the second in my Worldweavers YA series, I was sure that the playful term which I invented – to describe spam which brought real working magic spells into your inbox with predictably chaotic results – would catch on. Alas, it didn’t do as well as I had thought it would.

But another concept from my books did a lot better than that.

jin-shei bao“, sister of the heart, was a term that i invented for my “Secrets of Jin shei” novel… and years after the book’s publication I saw it seamlessly used in a piece of “Firefly” fan fiction written by someone who was obviously a fan — and a complete stranger to me.

Words invented by SF writers

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means

For example:

1) Travesty
What you may think it means:  a tragedy, an unfortunate event
What it actually means:  a mockery; a parody.

10 Words That You’ve Probably Been Misusing    

Weird Books That Really Exist

strange books


For example, there’s this cat book.

And then there is: Liberace: Your Personal Fashion Consultant,  a practical guide for the style-challenged masses. Who wouldn’t want to mix sequins and fringe, stars and argyle, or knee socks and short-shorts like the world’s highest-paid entertainer? And don’t miss, Bodybuilders in Tutus, The New Radiation Recipe Book, the…..


Must reads


Does the middle justify the end?

Reading a poem backward is a distinctive experience, during which you’re typically asking not Where is this going?, but Can the poet justify the finish? In other words, Will the conclusion feel deserved?” — Brad Leithauser

Fascinating musing.

Reading Poems Backward


The world’s most beautiful miniature books

49032_minbks_ Ch01_Anne Boleyn.jpgAnne Boleyn purportedly handed this miniature book of psalms, which contain a portrait of Henry VIII, to one of her maids of honour when on the scaffold in 1536. This precious manuscript is owned by The British Library.

Anne Boleyn’s Gold Book


Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

“It’s a very salutary thing to realize that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is. I think it’s healthy that people should have this experience.”—Aldous Huxley

Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the preeminent intellectuals of his time, City Lights says.

“A humanist, pacifist, and satirist, he later became interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism and became well known for his use of psychedelic drugs. We pay homage to his legacy with some reading suggestions on the topic of psychedelics.”

Psychedelic Reads

The Strangest College Courses In America

At Georgetown University you can study The Philosopy of Star Trek.

“This course is basically an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek” the course listing says.

Or you can study ‘Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles’, ‘Joy of Garbage’, ‘Cyberporn and Society’, ‘Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles’, or ….

 Strange study

Motorbooks Debuts The MotorbooksMobile

The world’s leading transportation book publisher, Motorbooks, an imprint of the Quayside Publishing Group, is hitting the road in a renovated bookmobile  to bring books directly to their targeted readers at the places they gather to celebrate their passion.

“Transportation enthusiasts—whether they are hot rodders, motorcyclists, racers, sports car fans—are keenly aware and appreciative of sharp design, quality form and thoughtful presentation. A beautiful, printed book is all of those things,” says Zack Miller, Motorbooks’ publisher.

The MotorbooksMobile


They still read slush piles?

Donal Ryan’s debut novel was plucked out of the slush pile by an intern working at Lilliput Press in Dublin who raved about it to the publisher.

The novel, which had been rejected 47 times, made the Booker Prize longlist

On developing characters

I have never yet written about a character whom I have planned or created with a self-conscious ‘profile’ – they all come out of the woodwork, give me a distracted handshake by way of introduction, and then demand I take dictation.

I tend to find out “what happens next” in my stories the same way my readers do – by going “You did WHAT?” as my character performs some unspeakable thing on the screen.

There are those who have described it as a form of possession. This may be true.

From my latest interview


Logo Design Gone Wrong


After releasing this logo, the dental clinic has been referred to as a full-service practitioner.

Logos gone bad

How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love

“Why prestige is the enemy of passion, or how to master the balance of setting boundaries and making friends.”

LIke all words of wisdom, it’s easy to identify with a lot of this, with most of it. But LIVING it, there’s the rub. In today’s world, that is harder and harder.

Finding purpose


25 Signs You’re Addicted To Books


9) You’re incapable of going into a bookstore without buying something





‘Verbing weirds language’

Often the latest slang is rather ancient.

Calvin told Hobbes that “verbing weirds language” and I suspect he might be appalled at the use of ‘friend’ as a verb.

But would you believe that usage has around since the 1400s?

16 Words That Are Much Older Than They Seem

That Jane Austen quotation from Pride and Prejudice on the new £10 note is a bit of a blunder

The line in praise of reading — “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! — was uttered by a deceitful Austen character who had no genuine interest in reading at all.



The Problem With Summer Reading

You read for its own sake,” a high school Engish teacher says. “To learn, to travel, to be spooked or heartbroken or elated. When reading becomes something that you authentically value, you become a better reader and writer without even trying…You take emotional risks, understanding that good writing is honest.

Summer reading assignments are killing a love of reading.

Writer and publisher Maggie Bonham needs help.

“Six days ago I was thrown from Rocket, a rescue horse of mine. I spent four days in ER and a hospital stay. The injury included a broken neck vertebra, huge bruises down my left side, and a dislocated right shoulder and elbow. I was found at the bottom of a 30 foot ravine wrapped around some deadfall. My horse was found 30 foot away scraped up and in pain, covered with wounds.”

She has no insurance and the health costs are crippling. You can help her by donating here.

Or if you want to do something for Maggie as well as support the business she has thrown her heart and soul into in the past couple of years, you could also go to Sky Warrior Books and buy a book.

Good Writing vs. Talented Writing

I used to tell my students in a class I taught a while back that anyone can teach you how to write – the rules of it, the craft of it, where to put the verb and the noun and the (split) infinitive and the apostrophe. NOBODY can teach you to have something to say that is worth reading. You can write the most perfect prose in all the world and it can be as empty as a cloudless sky; if you pick a cloud to write about, THEN you have a story…

Or as Maria Popova says, “Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.”


As much fun as sex, almost

Remember, writing is almost as much fun as sex!

Ray Bradbury’s book inscription to Alec McCabe in 1989

Famous Authors’ Funniest Inscriptions in Their Books

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this,” Stephen King says. But…

“How can a writer extend an appealing invitation — one that’s difficult, even, to refuse?” King asks, and answers by discussing the opening sentence from James M. Cain’s ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.”  

“Suddenly, you’re right inside the story….But Cain pulls off so much more… This sentence tells you more than you think it tells you. Nobody’s riding on the hay truck because they bought a ticket. He’s a basically a drifter, someone on the outskirts, someone who’s going to steal and filch to get by. So you know a lot about him from the beginning, more than maybe registers in your conscious mind, and you start to get curious.”

What’s your favorite opening line?

21 Books That Will Teach You Something Important — like how to read, how to write, how to understand string theory…

Top 10 dynamic duos in fiction — Frodo and Sam, Calvin and Hobbes ….

Who would you most like to meet?

A recent study indicates that the ages at which we’re most satisfied are in fact 23 and 69, giving us not one but two stages of life to relish.

Enjoying life.