To Unimagined Shores launches December 6th

I’m just going to quote the Press Release here (which I did NOT write, by the way, because it would have been much briefer and more modest had I done so. That’s why one of my editors/publishers wrote it. :) )


Third Person Press announces the release of its third book, “To Unimagined Shores,” a collection of speculative fiction stories by Northside native, Sherry D. Ramsey.

Sixteen stories were previously chosen for publication in an impressive array of international magazines, collections and anthologies including On Spec, Simulacrum, Fantasy Magazine, The Day the Men Went to Town (Breton Books), Michael Stackpole’s The Chain Story Project, Gateway S-F, Neo-opsis and others. The seventeenth is a bonus story, never before published.

The collection is divided into three parts. Part One, Science Fictional Shores, includes seven stories about such intriguing topics as a road trip with a hitch-hiking alien, stolen embryos on a colonized planet, and inter-planetary intrigue involving a savvy Spaceport detective. The second section, Fantastic Shores, contains six fantasy-based stories on such deliciously intriguing subjects as a Victorian time machine, climate change in Hell, and a daughter’s redemption with the help of an unconventional angel. The last section, Magical Shores, boasts four stories which revolve around one main character: a young female apprentice to a crotchety but wise old wizard. The stories are by turns funny, tragic, light-hearted, serious but are always adventurous and unusual. Mark Rayner, author of The Amadeus Net and Marvellous Hairy, writes: “Sherry D. Ramsey’s short stories are filled with vibrant characters, good writing, and thrum with humanity, even when there aren’t many actual humans in the story.”

Ramsey, a former lawyer, is a full-time writer whose unpublished novel, “One’s Aspect to the Sun,” won second place in the 28th Annual Atlantic Writing Competition’s novel category, the H.R. (Bill) Percy Prize. She participates in the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia Writers-in-the-Schools program, and serves on the boards of The Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, SF Canada and the Northside Victoria CBDC. She has been editor-in-chief and publisher of the award-winning online writer’s resource, The Scriptorium, for a over dozen years and is one of three founders of Third Person Press, local publishers of speculative fiction.

A book launch will be held Tuesday, December 6, 2011 from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Wilfred Oram Centennial Library, Commercial Street, North Sydney. Refreshments will be served, and the author will read from the collection and be available to sign books. The book can be purchased at the launch or anytime from Third Person Press at www.thirdpersonpress.com in both print or e-book formats, as well as through other online book sellers.
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So, what more can I say? I’m very excited and pleased about this volume, which is a pretty good representation of my short fiction published over the past fifteen years. Come to the launch if you can! I’d love to see you there. :)

How Writing is Like Packing School Lunches

Writing, and packing school lunches. I realize the connection might not be immediately obvious. It wasn’t to me, either, until this morning, when I was going about the weekday business of–you guessed it–packing school lunches.

And I suddenly realized that this job (although I don’t consider it one of my more enjoyable tasks) is no longer the huge, pain-in-the-butt undertaking that I once considered it. It takes less time now, and the results are better.

To put it in context, it’s only the past few years that I’ve been packing lunches for both my kids every morning. For the first years of school they came home to lunch every day, but as schools and lunch hours changed, we eventually got around to the point where it made more sense for them both to take lunch with them. And I had to learn the necessary skills for making that happen.

I didn’t take to it very well at first. If you’ve ever packed school lunches, you might understand some of the variables that must be considered. Such as, what can I expect this child to eat (likes and dislikes)? The answers generate a list of possibilities, long or sadly short if your child is a so-called “picky” eater. Scratch off this list any foods verboten at School X, such as peanut butter, eggs, etc. The list is shorter. Scratch off foods that don’t meet microwaving criteria like times or days at School X. Shorter again. Eventually you will probably scratch off foods that the child has grown tired of. With the current brevity of the list, everything might fall into that category at some point. And if you have more than one child, it’s quite unlikely that their final lists are going to contain anything in common. Sigh, and hie yourself off to the grocery store.

So I remember a blur of many, many mornings of repeatedly opening and closing the refrigerator and cupboards, hoping to notice something that I’d missed when I looked ten seconds ago, trying to cobble together lunches while supervising wake-up calls, wardrobe calamities, homework emergencies, and any number of other morning trials.

The epiphany I had this morning was simple: it’s not like that anymore (most mornings, anyway). I’ve somehow become better at packing lunches. And I realize that this is not due as much to broadening palettes or relaxed school restrictions as it is to the plain fact of practice. I’m better at many of the elements of lunch-packing. I prepare better, making sure I have enough lunch supplies on hand at the beginning of the week. I monitor likes and dislikes better. I’m more organized in simply gathering everything up and doling it out. I’ve grown better at dealing with or pre-emptively avoiding morning emergencies.

And finally, here’s where I tie this whole strange musing into writing. Writing, too, is all about the practice, and getting better at all the myriad, interrelated skills one needs to become a better writer. Better planning, whether it’s outlining or cogitating or whatever method you use to work out the story idea rattling around in your head. Better time management, both in making time to write and juggling planning, research, and actual writing. Better execution, because the mere act of writing more words over and over improves the end result. Better troubleshooting, in noticing plot or character problems early and dealing with them before they run your whole story off the rails. And finally, better editing and revising, yielding a more polished, professional final draft.

So just as there’s more to packing school lunches than just sticking things in a lunch bag, there’s more to writing than just putting words on paper. Both tasks require several interrelated skills, and becoming proficient in all of them leads to both an easier process and a better end result. Like just about everything else, practice makes…if not perfect, than an enormous improvement.

And now I’m off to make myself a sandwich, feeling thankful that in my job, I don’t have to pack it…

Photo credit: anissat

Site Maintenance Mondays

Not nearly as interesting nor exciting as Submission Mondays, I’ve designated every other Monday (the ones on which I am not reviewing submissions) as Site Maintenance Mondays.

With luck, that will mean only a quick jog around this site, The Scriptorium, my LJ blog, Third Person Press, and SF Canada to make sure that everything is operating within normal parameters. If so, then I will devote some of this block of time to upgrades, improvements, etc. Of course, anything acute will still have to be dealt with as it arises, but I thought by designating a particular day for maintenance, some problems might, in the long run, be avoided, and all the sites will look and function better for it.

Interestingly, in the course of a weekend workshop, a friend characterized me as an organized type of person. I do strive for that. Maybe–just maybe–I’m getting closer.

Summer Reading Wrap-Up

I suppose, since the first day of fall is imminent, it’s a good time to revisit my summer reading list and see how it fared. No need to actually click back to the link, I’ll reproduce the updated version here:

Murderous Magick by Michael A. Stackpole
Remake by Connie Willis
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland… by Catherynne M. Valente
Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris
Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear (a book club book, if we get our book club active again–it’s next on our list, IIRC)
Steam and Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape
Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler
The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross
Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong
Barrington Street Blues by Anne Emory
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.)

Wow, so the planned list did not take much of a beating. I did start several more from this list, but they fell to the allure of other titles.

However, this doesn’t mean it was not a good summer for reading. Far from it. I believe I mentioned in the initial post that I am very much swayed by things that come to my attention, and I have no trouble shooting something straight to the top of by TBR pile if I’m in the mood for it. So in addition to the two titles crossed off above, I also read (or in some cases listed to the audio book of):

V and A Shipping by J.R. Murdock
The Secret World Chronicle: World Divided by Mercedes Lackey et als.
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
The President’s Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud
Tithe by Holly Black
Blackout by Connie Willis
All Clear by Connie Willis

I enjoyed all of these books to varying degrees, but the standouts for me were the two Connie Willis titles. However, they were all worth the read/listen, and definitely come recommended by me.

I also met my reading goal for the year, set back in January on Goodreads, so everything I read for the rest of the year is gravy. :)

The Butterbeer Project

I know I have a lot of catch-up blogging to do, so things are going to be out of chronological order for a while, but hey–that’s summer for you.

One of the items on our Big Summer Fun List was “make Butterbeer.” We enjoyed this very tasty treat at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando this past spring, and of course at the time tried to figure out what ingredients went into it. We determined to try to recreate it at home.

A quick Googling of “Harry Potter Butterbeer” turns up many, many recipes purporting to duplicate it. Glancing over them, I quickly concluded that many of these recipes were NOT going to come close to what we’d sampled. I also discarded the alcoholic versions. There were still quite a few to choose from, but for our first attempt I thought this one looked like it might come close. I set out to collect up the necessary ingredients, and promptly ran into a couple of snags.

I couldn’t find any toffee-flavoured dessert topping, however I did find this caramel one, which seemed like it might be a decent substitute since it proclaimed itself to be “rich, creamy, buttery.” Next problem: you can’t just buy butterscotch-flavoured Dream Whip, nor could I find butterscotch flavouring, even at the Bulk Barn, which carries all manner of such things. So we were on to experimentation from the outset.

I did buy Coca-Cola, as called for in the recipe, but I also picked up a bottle of root beer, since we’d all thought in Florida that root beer must be on the ingredient list. Ginger beer was no problem to find at the grocery store.

So first we whipped up the Dream Whip. I followed the package directions, but reduced the vanilla to 1/4 tsp. and added a teaspoon of the caramel sauce. It whipped up nicely, but the topping that forms the “head” of the butterbeer was quite runny when we had it in Florida, and this was still fluffy. I added another teaspoon of the sauce and whipped that in, which helped some, but I think you would have to add a LOT of sauce to really get it to the right consistency. This turned out to be the most difficult part of the project, and one which we haven’t really solved yet. The taste was very close, but the consistency was not right. Anyway, we were ready to experiment. I still wasn’t feeling very certain about the Coke, so we did a small test glass and decided that no, it wasn’t right. So we switched to the root beer.

I did roughly follow the directions in the recipe. We added a tablespoon of the caramel sauce to the bottom of each tankard, then filled the glass about halfway with root beer. I used a small whisk to stir in the sauce, which caused quite a head of foam to appear! We added about half as much ginger beer as we’d had root beer, then a dollop of Dream Whip. Which of course, since it was fluffy instead of runny, just sort of plopped into the foam and floated. More research is needed in this department! I suppose one could skim off the root beer foam and then try to spread the Dream Whip on more smoothly, but the kids thought that the foam was delicious and would strongly oppose removing it. Hmmm…I wonder if we could skim the foam and mix it into the Dream Whip? (scribbles a note for next time)

Anyway, the finished Butterbeers, reposing in the mugs brought from Florida:

They were downed with great gusto and proclaimed a huge success. Indeed, they did taste remarkably as we remembered them. My husband opined that they were “fizzier” than the originals, so perhaps letting the root beer go partially flat might improve them. And the topping consistency still needs work. However, if you’d like an idea of what Butterbeer tastes like (without the expense of going to Florida), give it a try! Great on a hot day (although those are harder to find in Cape Breton this summer than the Room of Requirement).

Our modified recipe:

2 L. root beer
2 small bottles Ginger Beer
1 Pkg. Dream Whip
1 bottle Sensations Creamy Caramel dessert topping (although I expect any caramel or butterscotch-type sauce would yield much the same result)

Mix Dream Whip according to package directions, BUT reduce vanilla to 1/4 tsp. and add 2 tsp. of the caramel sauce (or more, if you’d like to try and make it runnier and increase the butterscotch flavour).

Add 1 tbsp. caramel sauce to the bottom of tankard. Fill about halfway with root beer. Whisk or stir gently to mix in the sauce. Add about half as much ginger beer as you had root beer. Add a dollop of Dream Whip. Enjoy!

Social Media Thoughts for Writers (or anyone, really)

I was reading an excellent post the other day titled “Which Social Media Websites Work Best For Writers?“, by Conor P. Dempsey. (He forgot Goodreads, but overall it was a good list.) However, I don’t want to rehash his thoughts here. I mention his post because I like the assumption inherent in his title: writers need social media sites, it’s just a matter of choosing what’s the best use of one’s time.

I know that not all writers (particularly, but not limited to, non-genre writers) see any point in using social media at all. It is often largely described by these writers as a waste of time and a waste of brain power. “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have anything to say”, and “I don’t care about the silly things people talk about on social media sites” are the three main complaints I hear, so Conor’s article got me thinking about them. (Note, too, that these complaints come not just from writers, but from others who are hesitant or downright intolerant of social media.)

Whether or not you believe in the “ebook revolution,” it’s been clear for a number of years that traditional publishing is a) walking a financial tightrope and b) choosing very carefully where to spend advertising and promotional dollars. Mid-list authors have lamented being left out in the cold, new authors have lamented being dropped after one book fails to make the sales grade. This predates the real take-off of ebooks, so it’s not entirely tied into those sea changes, although I think its impact has probably been accelerated.

What writers who don’t “do” social media seem to overlook is that even before the e-valanche of ebooks, there was one thing needed to sell books–readers have to find them. Books have to be accessible, available, find-able. You have to let readers know they’re out there, unless you’re going to depend on the odd reader here or there who finds your book by accident among the myriad covers stacked on bookstore shelves. Publishers used to look after that for you, so you could get on with writing your next book. Except in the case of that handful of authors who don’t even really need it, publishers’ efforts in this case have been severely curtailed. There’s no sense in blaming the publishers–they are making business decisions.

But the upshot is–you’d better do everything you can on your own, to promote your book. To do that, you have to let people know it’s out there.

Now, I live in the back of beyond as far as the book-buying public is concerned, but even if you live smack-dab in the middle of NYC, your personal circle of book-buying readers is limited in scope. If publishers are not going to be out there hawking your book or footing the bill for you to go gallivanting around hawking your book, how are you going to let people know about it?

Social media is a great answer. No ifs, ands, or buts. Unless and until the Internet collapses under the weight of its own information overload, it’s the best tool you have for connecting with your readers.

Does it take time? Yes, it takes some. It needn’t be great gobs of your time, sucked into the black hole of your monitor while you struggle to stay at the edge of the event horizon. But look, you’re a writer. You can’t write a 500-word blog post a few times a week? You can’t share the interesting things you find on that selfsame Internet, or a few random thoughts and updates through Twitter? I think you can. I think you just don’t believe you have to.

Don’t have anything to say? I hardly think so. You’re continually writing stories about fascinating characters (or trying to) and yet in your own life you do nothing of interest? No hobbies, no interests, no travelling, no reading, no movies? You never find anything of interest on the Internet? You never want to talk a bit about your writing process, the story you’re working on right now, or the way your cat/dog/kid/gerbil/spouse did that really cool thing the other day? No? Then I have no idea where you’re getting your stories.

And finally, you can’t be bothered listening to/reading about other people and the silly, pointless things they’re doing or talking about? Well, in the first place, you don’t have to. You only need to learn to control the way you use social media (which sounds like a topic for a future blog post). If you are going to let it control you then, yes, maybe that’s a problem. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Social media has all sorts of tools and tricks you can use to make sure that your incoming stream is not full of garbage. Sure, you might annoy a few followers if you shut them out, but if you’re connecting with hundreds, if not thousands, of potential readers, that’s not a worry.

In the second place, people talking about the silly, pointless things they’re doing can offer great insight into characters and the way they think. It can be like a whole laboratory full of specimens for you to study at will. (insert evil laugh here)

And third, people talk about a lot of things via social media that are neither silly nor pointless. Social media can highlight the most important issue of the day. It can show you how others feel about it. It can point you to information about it. It can inform you how you can act to be a part of it. If you think social media is filled with people talking only about how drunk they were last night or the flavour of chips they’ve just eaten, think again. That’s out there, sure. But there’s a whole lot more that’s important, current, and relevant. And you can have a voice in it.

Readers tend to like that.

The Writing Room

Yesterday I happened upon this video, wherein writer Laurie Halse Anderson chronicles the building of her writing cottage. Wow, it’s beautiful. And she quotes Viriginia Woolf, who said:

“…a woman must have…a room of her own to write fiction.”

Note that I don’t think it’s only women who need a dedicated writing space. I think all writers deserve that spot where they can go and feel that they are in “writing mode”. It needn’t be a room, if space constraints don’t allow it–but it should be a place where you can get away from distractions and know that it’s time to write. (If you Google “writing room” and choose images you’ll find some lovely inspirational rooms to look at.)

I’m lucky enough to have had a “writing room” since we moved into our house fifteen years ago…it was a different room at first than it is now, but I’ve always had the space. I’m grateful for that.

But as I look around it now, I’m not sure that I’m being the best caretaker of that space. It’s pretty cluttered and messy and probably dirtier in the nooks and crannies than I would like to think about. So I’ve decided to overhaul it, clean it up and make some changes that I’ve wanted to make for a while.

Now, this decision makes me nervous, because I know my brain. I have a lot of writing and writing-related projects on the go, and my brain often chooses these times to cunningly push me into some big project that isn’t writing, because it doesn’t want to work that hard. So rest assured, I am not going to drop everything and start my office overhaul. I’m going to use it as a reward motivator instead. For every hour spent on writing, I will spend half an hour on the office. It will take longer to get it done, but I think it’s the only smart way to do it.

So now I’m going to go and take some pictures of it in its current pathetic state. These “before” pictures will not be revealed until I have the “after” pictures to go with them. By that time, you’ll all have forgotten about this project, I’m sure. But don’t worry, I’ll remind you.

Who Do You Remember?

On the regional CBC noontime program today, they were asking listeners to call in and answer the question, “On this Remembrance Day, who do you remember?” I didn’t call in, but if I had, I would have talked about my great-uncle, John Hay, and his and my grandfather’s cousin, Alec.

My great-uncle John was a member of the Cape Breton Highlanders, who fought in the Second World War and came home with scars mental and physical and a drinking problem that eventually ended his life. In those days there was little help for those who came home broken and unable to adjust to what they had been a part of. He died when I was still a child, and I don’t remember much about him, to my regret. The only “war story” of his that I recall was of the time when, on the front lines, he knelt down to tie a bootlace that had come undone, and heard the bullet whistle over his head exactly where he had just been standing.

My grandfather’s cousin Alec went off to the First World War and sadly did not come home at all. We have a postcard that he (then around 18) sent to my grandfather, who was then 9 or 10 years old and worried about him. It’s very poignant to hold it and read it, and his assurances to his young cousin that he would be fine, and know that he would die shortly after writing it.

I didn’t get to the local service today, but I did listen to the services from Halifax and Ottawa on the radio, and was moved as usual by the strains of the Last Post and Piper’s Lament. I also made sure to listen to Terry Kelly’s moving song, “A Pittance of Time,” which you can find here.

So, if you are a Canadian observing Remembrance Day or anyone observing Poppy Day, Armistice Day, Veterans Day, or related days of remembrance, who do you remember?