Join me for TusCon 41!

From October 31-November 2, I’ll be Author Guest of Honor at TusCon, one of Arizona’s longest standing science fiction and fantasy conventions! Here’s where to find me there.

Friday, October 31

7 pm: Mingle with The Guests
Ballroom (Copper Room)

9 pm: Doing What You Love – Professionally (solo talk / q&a)
Panel Room 2 (Garden)

Saturday, November 1

10 am: Is YA trapped with teenagers in a dystopia?
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Yvonne Navarro, Janni Lee Simner, Sharon Skinner, Jill Knowles

1 pm: Hour with Janni Lee Simner
Ballroom (Copper Room)
From coffee cans to Faerie Bones, get to know our Guest of Honor

5 pm: Mass Autograph Session
Ballroom (Copper Room)
Janni Lee Simner, Sarah Clemens, Ernie Reyes Jr., Geoffrey Notkin, and more

9 pm: Congratulations! You finished your book – Now the hard work begins
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Frankie Robertson, Janni Lee Simner, Catherine Wells, Bob Nelson

Sunday, November 2

9 am: Should adults be embarrassed to read YA?
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Cynthia Ward, Janni Lee Simner, Jim Doty

11 am: Don’t quit your day job – The struggles of making/creating a profession
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Eric Schumacher, David Lee Summers, Janni Lee Simner, Liz Danforth

3 pm: Character Conflict
Ballroom (Copper Room)
Anna Paradox, Thomas Watson, Catherine Wells, Frankie Robertson

See the complete TusCon schedule here!

And Arizona makes 30

When I got married, just a few years after moving to Arizona, I took doing so rather for granted. To say my spouse and I were happy to be together would be a vast understatement–we were overjoyed, giddy, beyond-words about being together–but the actual act of marriage, the filling out of paperwork to make official what we already knew, that we took rather lightly. We were going to be together forever, after all, whether or not we had a piece of paper saying so.

I don’t take that piece of paper for granted any longer. Not because anything above is any less true now than it was the day we got married, but because along with the rest of our country we’ve witnessing couples fighting for that piece of paper I once so easily dismissed. I know there are those who worry that marriage equality will lessen the sanctity of existing marriages, but to me it’s a reminder of how valuable and worth fighting for the right to marry is–something that makes marriage more precious, not less.

But before and ahead of any of that, marriage equality is a fundamental civil rights victory. And that’s why I’m thrilled that today, Arizona has lifted its ban on same-sex marriages, and that right now, downtown in my own city, marriage licenses are being issued.

“It shall be a year of complete rest for the land”

In Jewish tradition, not only is every seventh day a day of rest, but every seventh year is a year of rest–for the land, anyway, which is supposed to be allowed to lie fallow for that time. This year, it turns out, is a seventh year, a Shmita.

I only recently realized this, and I’ve been thinking about what it means, not only literally but also metaphorically. I do take Saturdays off from writing (though not from speaking or from many other things that are also considered work), and this has been a good decision for me on many levels. Yet I find I’m not willing–not brave enough, perhaps?–to take a year off from writing, even outside of the business concerns that brings up. Writing’s defined me and been a part of how I process this world and this life for so long, after all–though I can see how good things could likely arise out of stepping back for a time, too.

So instead I’ve been thinking about this: if I can’t let everything go, what are the things in my life that could be allowed to lie fallow this year, that could benefit from a rest, from some time away, from my giving myself permission to let them lie, without guilt and with deliberate intentions, for a time?

I don’t have any quick or easy answers to that. But it’s an interesting question to contemplate, and one worth, I think, keeping in my sights for a bit.

I do know this: it’s not only Jewish tradition that’s found that planting the same seeds in the same soil, year after year, isn’t good for the land or the harvest. Do the same thing over and over again and eventually, nothing will grow. If we can’t bring ourselves to give our work a complete rest, I still think it’s worth remembering to–and finding creative ways to–rotate our crops.

That’s something worth thinking about in the year ahead, too.

On why I won’t be doing much mommy blogging

There’s so much I want to tell you about our daughter. Small things, big things … for more than two decades I’ve been sharing and processing life experiences online. Doing so has become pretty instinctive for me, and becoming a family is pretty much as huge a life experience as there is.

I could probably do a pretty decent job blogging about this new journey. Writing is, after all, the thing I’ve spent the past couple decades living and breathing and learning. If I chose to tell our family’s and our daughter’s story online in the years ahead, I would do it well. A part of me wants to do just that.

But there’s one thing I can’t do well: tell that story in my daughter’s voice. This journey isn’t just my journey, after all. It’s hers.

There are parenting bloggers out there doing a good job, bloggers whom I’ve read and learned from, so I can’t quite take a hard and fast stand against all parent blogging. Many of these blogs work hard to maintain anonymity, too, which I think is the very least one must do when talking in any depth about children too young to give informed consent. I also know that there’s a difference between sharing trivial surface observations about things common to most children and sharing the intimate details of of a specific child’s specific life, and I’m not drawing so firm a line as to say I’ll never do the former.

It won’t be often though, and when I err, I hope to always err on the side of protecting my child, rather than of entertaining or bringing insight to readers. This post is, on one level, a simple reminder of that commitment. A young child can’t weigh in about what she does and doesn’t want shared, so it’s up to us to hold her experiences close and safe for her.

There’s also a larger issue here that’s more adoption specific: that adoption journeys are already too often framed in terms of the perspectives of adoptive parents instead of those of adopted children. I see this in adoption picture books that emphasize parental longing over the child’s emotional journey. I see when people tell adoptees they’re “lucky” to be in a family (as if complete strangers have the right to tell them how to feel or where their gratitude should be placed), or worse, that they’re “lucky” to be loved (as if adopted children don’t have the right to take love as much for granted as any other child, and also as if they didn’t receive and give love before they ever came to their final families). I see it, as I work to become a better and better listener, in the communities where adoptees are speaking up with increasing frequency about feeling like their own voices are far too often considered the least important voices in discussions of their own lives.

There are so many reasons to err on the side of protecting all our children and their stories until they can tell them for themselves, especially when speaking in public places–and a blog is just about as public as it gets. For more than two decades, I’ve been living a part of my life here and in other online places. Now, I’m reminded that there are parts of life that need to be lived offline, too.

So that’s what we’ll be doing.

While posts about writing, the Arizona desert, and any number of other things will, of course, continue as they always have.

“‘Cause you can’t jump the track / we’re like cars on a cable”

Dear Recently Promoted Secondary Character,

No, I’m sorry, but you can’t have All the Things.

Mad fighting skills: denied.

Mad healing skills: denied.

We’re going for interesting here, not unrealistic.

Seriously, most people would be content with the mad flying skills. I promise you’ll get to use them, by the end.


P.S. What? No. Promotion to protagonist denied with prejudice!

That moment you suspect the story’s just fine, after all

So a few weeks ago, I was truly hating this book I’m working on now, and wondering if I ought to just give up and work on something else. I did give up and work on something else–several something elses–and along the way got the opening of at least one future project just far enough along that I can now let it simmer in the subconscious for a while. But I’m back to my original new project this week, and today, I found myself writing this bit of dialogue:

“The universe is larger and more wondrous than we know, yadda yadda yadda.”

“You used to take this story more seriously,” I told her.

“Yeah, well, my personality is shifting,” she said. “We’re all still figuring out who we are. This is the first draft, after all. Anyway, where was I?”

And that is so utterly like what I would expect from the exploratory rough first draft of any of my books that, well, I’m beginning to think that this story–which I’m no longer hating at all–just might be exactly where it’s supposed to be at this stage of the process.

Dear Formerly Tertiary Character I Haven’t Seen in Fifty Pages or More,

I always thought you were more interesting than your minor role in the story had room for. I just didn’t know how interesting. Until now.

You’ll be getting a retroactive upgrade to Secondary Character, effective immediately.

Just don’t tell the other Tertiaries. They’re totally going to be giving up speaking lines to make room for you.

Welcome to the story,


Desert storms wake desert rivers

I remember, not long after moving to the desert, coming upon a broad, sandy dry gully that was labelled a “river.”

I believe, at the time, that I laughed.

After two decades of living in the desert, I don’t laugh anymore. The desert may save her rivers for special occasions, but when they come out (generally after a good hard rain), they come out in force, and don’t hold anything back.

So a couple nights ago, after a good soaking downpour, we walked down to one of the local washes to visit the river. We weren’t the only ones, because walking to the wash one of the things you do, after it rains.

(Best viewed in HD / high definition.)

The video didn’t catch the thick palm trunk, or the tree branch as tall as I was, that were both tossed downstream as if they were styrofoam-light. Or the tire that came rolling down the wash on its edge, as if it were surfing the river, until it was thrown back onto its side. Lots of flotsam and jetsam came floating by too, soda cups and water bottles and the like.

But always, it’s the water itself that most draws the eye and the ear, all that power roaring downstream.

By the next day, the wash was once again dry.

After the revolution, we’ll run more human interest pieces

CAPITOL CITY (PANEM) — Capitol University sophomore Jayden Sanderson studies a 3D simulation of a lush forest. He zooms in on a river that flows placidly through the trees. “There.” He points to a spot where the river’s bank broadens out. “It doesn’t look like much, but there’s just enough mud here for a Tribute to camouflage himself. The gamemakers didn’t count on that. The probabilities and projections always change once you add the human factor to a game. That’s the challenge.” The game design student smiles, making clear that as a hopeful future gamemaker, it’s a challenge he welcomes.

But as the Capitol gears up for the 100th annual Hunger Games, not all citizens share Sanderson’s enthusiasm. Many question whether, in this era of unprecedented prosperity for Panem, the games have outlived their usefulness.

“Sure, the Games held Panem together during a tumultuous period in our history,” says District 7 mayor Raymond Mason. “But I think it’s safe to say no one’s thinking of rebellion now.” He laughs as he gestures to the living room of his spacious townhouse, as if to prove his point. Such luxuries, a generation ago unthinkable for even the mayor of this once-impoverished lumber district, have become increasingly common among all District residents. “The Games have served their purpose. It’s time to move on.”

Hortensia Cooper, however, says Mason makes the mistake of assuming the Games’ benefits are purely political. “The economic benefits are undeniable,” insists Cooper, who serves as acting director of the Capitol Chamber of Commerce. “The prosperity we see today is a direct result of the Games, and stopping them now could propel us into a fiscal depression the likes of which we haven’t seen since the dark days of the rebellion.”

Quintillian Booth, chair of the nonprofit advocacy group Panem Remembers, counters that running the Games has a cost, too, one that can’t be measured purely in dollars and cents. “We must also consider the cost of 2,302 young lives lost since the Games began.” That’s 23 Tributes a year, plus an additional 24 for the 50th Quarter Quell. “And who can forget the 74th Games, which didn’t have a winner?” Booth asks.

It was after the 74th Games—the same Games Sanderson now studies in his classes—that this debate began. That was the year District 12 Tributes Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark shocked viewers by taking their own lives and leaving the Games without a victor. “Yeah,” Sanderson admits with an uneasy laugh. “The gamemakers didn’t count on those poison berries, either.”

“If you weren’t alive then, it’s hard to understand the horror of that moment,” says Madge Undersee, mayor of the coal-mining district Everdeen and Mellark hailed from. “When we realized what Katniss and Peeta had done, well, it changed the way we thought about the Games forever.”

Graecina Sand agrees the way we think about the Games has changed. “We’ve taken the lessons of the 74th Games very much to heart,” says this year’s Head Gamemaker, “and we’ve made quite a few changes since then. Those changes include relying solely on trained volunteer Tributes, nanobots that see to it the slain die instantly and without pain, and a ban on poisonous plant life. “We’ve moved well beyond the barbarism of our ancestors,” Sand says. “The Games today are quite humane, and taking part is a choice and a privilege, as anyone who watches the Tribute interviews can attest.” That watching those interviews is now optional is another, more recent, reform.

Yet Cooper insists, “Today’s Tributes have less choice than we’d like to believe. The sums paid to the families of those who enter the Tribute training pools is quite substantial. For young people whose families are struggling to put food on the table, there often isn’t any other choice. In the old days the process was at least somewhat democratic, but today’s Games target the Districts’ most vulnerable residents.”

Still, with recent Games budget increases and new scholarships focused on mentoring promising game design students from outside the Capitol, the Games don’t seem set to end any time soon. Recent legislation seeks to open participation to immigrants from beyond Panem’s borders as well.

“The Hunger Games are a defining part of who we are as a nation,” says President Coriolanus Snow, who like Undersee personally remembers the 74th Games. “They have a long and storied history that I see no need to apologize for. Indeed, it is an honor to be a part of it.”

Written after coming upon a fanvid with its own take on the 100th Hunger Games.

Kate Gilmore on Perseverance and Writing at Midlife (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Kate Gilmore had already had careers in theatre and as a legal secretary before she came to writing fiction in her fifties. She joins the long haul series today to talk about her winding path that led her to a professional writing career—and the ways in which that path has continued to wind since then.

Although I spent much of my time in college writing plays and vaguely planning a life in the theatre, it was not until my 52nd year that I saw myself as a professional writer for the long haul. The idea arrived suddenly and took root in what most people would regard as poor soil.

My husband, Jack, was taking a vacation from tedious, annoying work as a high level programming consultant and writing a book about the early days of computers. I was sort of supporting the family as a legal secretary. This was a specialty I had acquired during a previous hiatus in the family fortunes—the time when I finally decided I would have to do something to make money. I was a terrific typist who could spell and construct a grammatical sentence, so temp work led to law offices and more substantial jobs. Thus at 52 I stood on the threshold of an actual career. There was still a lot of drudgery and much to learn, but I found the law interesting, and my final group of lawyers loved me.

So what happened to derail this attractive scenario? Well, I was in Central Park and, I think, contemplating a poem, when I realized that all I wanted to do was write and write and write, whether paid and admired or ignored and periodically impoverished. I have no idea why this happened but suppose it must have been bubbling along in my subconscious for some time. Obviously, I would have to give up my job, a major (and exciting) decision.

On an impulse, I asked an old friend to help me make up my mind. “Sally,” I said, “Jack has accepted a new and very well paid consulting job, and I am longing to stop working and write. What do you think?”

This query had a predictable outcome. Sally, who had known us for some years, pointed out that the consulting job would not last forever and said I should stick with my new career. “Think benefits,” she said, “and perhaps even some modest old age security.” I thanked her warmly and the next day gave notice to my three well-loved lawyers, one of whom actually shed a few tears. I was off to write for the long haul.

Did I ever regret this decision? Not for a minute that I can recall. Jack and I continued our chicken-feathers existence (chicken one day, feathers the next), and I began a novel that I intended to publish. I wrote, pretty much through thick and thin, using temp jobs to stuff in the cracks.

My first book was a teenage caper inspired by our fourteen year old son, who was leading a colorful and, to us, alarming life as a graffiti artist in the New York subway system. It told of a small group of middle class kids whose ambition was to paint the word PEACE in glowing, graffiti style letters on an international jet plane. Of Griffins and Graffiti was great fun to write, but I failed to take into account what was then, in the 80s, a rabid hatred of all things graffiti, the art as well as the trash, the people who produced it, and, of course, my jolly little book. This loathing was felt throughout the entire publishing world so far as I could see during a year of sending it around, but eventually it occurred to me that the Brits might not feel the same, and Penguin, at that time entirely British, snapped it up.

I don’t think that manuscript acceptance or rejection is any faster now in the electronic age than it was when my early books were making their stately way through the mail, over the transoms and into the slush piles where they awaited the attentions of a “first reader”. Houghton Mifflin mislaid my second book during this process, but eventually it was found and appreciated by a senior editor, Matilda Welter, who promptly called me. I shall always remember the sound of her voice, which was somehow both silvery and warm, when she told me that Remembrance of the Sun was beautiful, and she would love to publish it. There was only one problem, and I was to do as I thought best. In those days HM had a rule that young adult novels should not be more than 200 pages long. That left me 200 to cut. I gulped and agreed.

I learned a lot from Matilda Welter, not only a lot of clever ways to cut so a manuscript would appear shorter than it really was, but many ways to get rid of stuff that even I, after the initial pain, would never miss. We waged small wars, most of which I won, over what she sometimes felt was my too literate English, and we had increasingly luxurious lunches together as management came to admire my writing and Matilda published three more of my books.
It was a halcyon period for someone who was rapidly becoming addicted to writing. The books were extremely various. Even the research was fun, and I still have all the books I acquired for the ones I didn’t know much about. Two others were rooted in my life experiences—not memoirs but also not from the entirely invented world of the novel.

Remembrance of the Sun was the fictional story of the love affair between an American teenage girl and an only slightly older Iranian boy on the verge of the revolution that overthrew the Shah. I was there at that time with my family; and I had as well an intense, if strictly imaginary, emotional involvement with an Iranian man.

Then, after the admittedly splendid Enter Three Witches was written and published, came Jason and the Bard, drawn on my summers with Shakespeare Under the Stars and, like the Iran book, researched only in my head. This one was fun for me but not popular, having been judged “elitist” because the young actors and stage techs spouted Shakespeare (as I happened to know they would).

The Exchange Student, about a young traveler from a planet that had lost its animals, took me five years to finish what with delightful research at various zoos and the study of many books. Nevertheless, my still faithful publisher gave me a contract and waited patiently.

Matilda, for health reasons I had not understood, retired after the publication of The Exchange Student. The disastrous effect of losing one’s editor is an old story I have since heard a number of times and can confirm. The editor I inherited did not want my next book about an American girl stranded in Venice, so I published it on Nook and, typically, did nothing to sell it.

Then came the recession and a wretchedly new Houghton Mifflin where the idea of two sequels to The Exchange Student was entertained and then dropped. In this climate it was folly to even contemplate writing two unwanted books, but once I had the idea I plunged like a retriever into a duck pond and wrote steadily for another five years.

And now, at last, I have arrived at the theme of this blog. I have had trouble getting my trilogy published and expect to have more, but what a joy it was to write those sequels! Others have said it, and I will add my two cents worth: When I am working on a novel I feel a kind of deep contentment, a self-confirmation. Writing is, I think for most of us, extremely hard work. Yet I am glad to get up in the morning and go to my computer and begin again to do what somehow I feel I am meant to do. Yes, even if there is a problem, a block, a part that doesn’t work, I tell myself that it will resolve. The story will flow on, and the pleasure will still be there.

Kate Gilmore lost her heart to the theatre as a student at Antioch in the 1950s, where she participated in at least 80 theatre productions and took on nearly every theatrical task, from writing to directing to prompting. Along the way her verse play, Dark Wind Light Wind, was performed as the senior project of her friend Niela Miller. After college she went on to write more plays until meeting her husband, mathematician and computer game designer John Gilmore. She spent the years that followed living in New York, Italy, London, Iran, and rural New Hampshire while raising their two children.

She sold her first novel, Of Griffins and Graffiti, at the age of 50-something and has gone on to publish five more books since then, including Remembrance of the Sun and Enter Three Witches. She’s also written a series of science articles for teens for Earthwatch expeditions focused on subjects ranging from Australian frogs and Madagascan lemurs to cocoa farming in Ghana and medicinal plants of antiquity.

Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

- Kelly Bennett on Quitting Writing
- Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
- Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
- Steve Miller on building a writing life
- Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
- Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
- Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
- Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
- Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
- Sharon Shinn on managing time
- Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
- Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
- Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
- Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
- Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
- Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
- Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
- Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
- Kathi Appelt on the power of story
- Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity