Welcome Post

Hello, and welcome.  You've reached my irregularly updated Livejournal.  A sampling of reasons why it is irregular:

1) I write fiction: you can find some of it online at Strange Horizons and Drabblecast--and on this journal, where I reprinted a story from Analog for Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.  My most recent stories, The Litany of Earth and Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land and The Deepest Rift, are available at Winter Tide, a novel following Aphra Marsh's story after "Litany of Earth," will be out from Macmillan's imprint on April 4, 2017.

2) I write non-fiction: you can find some of it at Green Minds, my old blog on the psychology of sustainability.  With Anne M. Pillsworth, I co-write a series on rereading Lovecraft.

3) I have a large, complicated family.  They're hard to count because they move so quickly, but I'm fairly certain there are at least 3 children, at least some of the time.  I definitely have a wife, who is wonderful and the main reason I ever have time for all this other stuff.

Arisia Schedule, at the last minute

Posting this quickly in the service of sleep before my first panel (of eight!).

Saturday 1/19 10AM - Embracing the Alien: Writing Believable ETs

Although a classic element of SF stories, many speculative works contain depictions of non-human intelligences. What registers to the human mind as "alien" without trailing into incomprehensibility? What are some common pitfalls and crutches that writers should avoid in creating an alien species? Sifting through the vast body of work on famous aliens, panelists will offer suggestions for creating truly alien perspectives in fiction without resorting to tired tropes and cliches.

Saturday 1/19 7PM - Dungeons, Dragons, and Writers

Using the most recent edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a select group of writers will delve into a classic dungeon for the audience's delight and amusement. Panelists/Role-players will draw from a variety of backgrounds, genres, and familiarity with role-playing games. Come for the monster-slaying, stay for the table banter between writers who also game.

(This is going to be either terrible or awesome--I'm extremely nervous and can't wait. James Cambias is GMing.)

Sunday 1/20 2:30PM - Jewish SFF

It can be hard to find Jewish stories that don't focus on the Holocaust. Luckily, there are many works relating to Judaism in science fiction and fantasy. Naomi Novik and NS Dolkart are two Jewish authors who include Jewish characters and themes in their works. Marie Brennan based the world religion of her Natural History of Dragons series on Judaism. Let's celebrate Jewish authors, worlds, and characters!

Sunday 1/20 4PM - All Words Are Made Up

From Klingon, High Valerian, and Elvish to the lexicons of your next favorite fantasy series, panelists will discuss the art and craft of Conlanging: constructing fictional languages for use in fiction and real life. Is the time-consuming process of creating the words, grammar, and written language for a fictional culture worth it? Panelists will discuss their experiences crafting made-up languages, their successes and failures.

Sunday 1/20 8:30PM - Our Political Landscape, But Make It Futuristic

Futuristic literature has always asked the question, "What happens next?" Is it, in essence, a thought experiment that can serve as warning? Recent works, such as Malka Older's Centenal Cycle and Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, have reimagined our political system in the near and far future. The panelists discuss works that talk allegorically about present events and the difficulties of projecting the future.

Monday 1/21 10AM - Fantasy Reading

With Donald Crankshaw and Sarah Smith

Monday 1/21 1PM - Intentional Communities: Found Family

Family often means more than what we are born into. For those of us who live in ways outside of the “norm,” creating our own systems of support is key to our survival. How do we find family when the traditional notion of “family” has let us down? Why may it be important to build a chosen family, even when our families of origin continue to love and support us? Our panelists will explore ways to build intentional and found families.

Monday 1/21 2:30PM - Effective Advocacy For Geeks

Many of us care passionately about social and political causes, but don't know how to act on our passions. Some of us have little money, constrained time, or physical limitations. How can we act effectively on causes we care about? What are good organizations that we should look into for donating our time and money? How do we know what kind of commitment will be required for social or political action (e.g., a march or protest) and whether that fits within our limitations?
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Chessiecon Schedule

I'll be at Chessiecon in Timonium MD this weekend. Here's my schedule--which includes a couple of non-standard panel topics which I should probably, um, think about while wrestling the turkey:

05:30 PM - 06:30 PM      Unforgivable Villains with Understandable Motives
People are complex. The most interesting characters sometimes do terrible things. How do you write a sympathetic character who is an understandable human despite horrific acts? How do readers respond to characters they can't put in the "good guy" or "bad guy" box or to those who belong firmly in both? How does this translate to how people respond to imperfect people in the real world?
Ruthanna Emrys,  Heather Rose Jones,  Karen Osborne,  Don Sakers (M),  Martin Wilsey
09:15 PM - 10:15 PM      The Effect of Catastrophic Events on Literature
There are many examples of stories influenced by (or existing because of) real world events, from a catastrophic flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh, to Japan's post-World War II imagery in animation, to rock musicals about the AIDS epidemic. How do major events shape the stories we tell for years to come?
Linda Adams,  Ruthanna Emrys,  Sarah Pinsker,  Don Sakers (M),  Jo Walton

05:30 PM - 06:30 PM      Rules of Writing, and When to Break Them
Show, don't tell. Active rather than passive. Use energetic verbs instead of adverbs. These, among many others, are rules of writing that get beaten into us from day one. But are they immutable? Are they being used as intended or have they been misunderstood? When should we resist the temptation to bend the rules, and when should we modify them or even toss them out the window?
Harrison Demchick,  Ruthanna Emrys,  Steve Kozeniewski (M),  Sarah Pinsker,  Jo Walton
10:30 AM - 11:00 AM      Reading: Ruthanna Emrys This post originally appeared at Comments are welcome both here and at There are comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.


 Remember a few months ago when I was dithering about whether to start a Patreon? I've finally finished dithering, and launched the thing! If you head over you can pledge for access to deleted scenes, unpublished snippets, poetry, recipes, and Q&A. I've also added a few slots at which you can receive care packages from my characters--whether your preference is holiday treats from Aphra or ominous artifacts from the Yith.

Please spread the word! This post originally appeared at Comments are welcome both here and at There are comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.

Say Something Saturday (but actually Sunday because I just learned about this)

 1. Something interesting that you learned this week

DC's rivers may be swimmable in the next few years, helped along by the sorts of citizen monitoring that play a prominent role in my work-in-progress.

2. Something you did or accomplished this week

Finally outlined my way through a plot knot. Got kids through their first week of school. Cleaned the porch in preparation for 1) the likely hurricane later this week, and 2) our town's festival of mini concerts-on-porches that will hopefully not be forestalled by the hurricane.

3. An interesting piece of media / link / song / etc that you discovered or enjoyed this week

I've been listening to A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden, which played regularly in my house when I was growing up and is still one of my favorite Klesmer albums.

Also in music that I've loved since I was old enough to recognize individual songs, last Saturday was my new synagogue's Labor on the Bimah service, which closed out with a rousing rendition of "Union Maid" which absolutely nobody actually needed the lyric sheet for. We've now been to this temple a couple of times and it seems like a really good fit--not only a big emphasis on tikkun olum and social action, but the tunes and prayers are close enough to what I had growing up to "feel right." And unlike our last congregation, this one is actually kid-friendly in practice as well as theory. (How on earth did I find a non-kid-friendly synagogue, you ask. It was the QUILTBAG synagogue in Dupont Circle, a wonderful congregation that's about 90% older gay couples who got together long before adoption was legal. Which is totally reasonable, but also somewhat daunting with my rambunctious toddlers as the only kids in the room, even if the rabbi assures me they're welcome.)

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 I'm out of town this weekend, glad to be with family, wishing I were in DC to help my family there defend the place from its enemies. And I stayed up late worrying and wrote a story about Obed Yringl'phtagn Marsh dealing with the anniversary of the Innsmouth raid and the start of World War II.

This is messy and new and only lightly edited, and offered as a gift to everyone on the front lines today:


This wasn’t the reasonable place to be. In the crystalline corridors of Y’ha-nthlei, in vast chambers at the hearts of R’lyeh and Chorzh-athern and Vrai-kad’vlek, councils were convening, warriors and archpriests and scholars and bards of every battle where human blood ever added salt to the sea. Yringl’phtagn was not quite any of these things, but he should have been there offering his half-welcome advice.

Instead, he stood on a dark beach with ruins at his back, gazing at the water. The tide was just turning toward ebb. Only the ghostly edges of the waves reflected the new moon starlight. They whispered across the sandbar, heart’s rhythm of a thousand rituals.

“It’s been a while,” said Khr’jhelkh’ng. He’d joined the crew of Kraken’s Journal shortly before Yringl’phtagn went into the water, shipped on the Arkansas in 1917 as a seasoned sailor, and was listed as lost overboard in early ’18 though his fellows knew more. He’d returned from Vrai-kad’vlek’s patrol only a week ago, asking for his old place amid Yringl’phtagn’s crew.

Jhathl came back from the dunes, claws scuffing sand. She held a scrap of driftwood, weathered and gray in the starlight. A rusted nail protruded; it had been part of a food stall once, or a newspaper stand. Part of Innsmouth. “We should have known months ago,” she said. “Even if the war hasn’t touched this continent, our young would have heard, and told us.”  

For Yringl’phtagn that would have been Keziah or Josias or Tacita, if any of them were still on land, their children otherwise. Cheerful Aphra with her sky-deep eyes, studious little Caleb, the baby that Josias and his mate would have named two days after the attack. He imagined Keziah brandishing a copy of the Free Press: Europe’s broken out into war again. What are we doing about it?

“They wouldn’t have told us everything the patrol found,” said Khr’jelkh’ng. “They wouldn’t know.”

“We have only the universe made visible to us,” said Yringl’phtagn. He tried to shake it off, that sense that the other world of “if we had” and “if they’d known” lay just out of reach, over those dunes. Only the jagged board insisted on the reality of a fallen town, dead and empty.

But that was why so few came up from Y’ha-nthlei these days. It was too easy to believe, every time you broke through the waves, that you’d see the beach crowded as it once was. That they’d be waiting. Eleven years now, almost to the day, too short a time for memory to change its habits.

He forced himself to more practical matters. “Khr’jelkh’ng, the patrol’s report would feel incomplete, even if you hadn’t come racing back to the Kraken’s crew as soon as they made it. It’s not your way to leave work unfinished. Tell us: what are they hiding?”

Khr’jelkh’ng pulled himself straight, a hint of airborn soldier’s training, but bared teeth belied the mask, and webbed fingers ground tight around his trident. “They don’t think they’re hiding anything. Everything that matters, we shared.”

“You were working with one of the old bands, weren’t you?” asked Jhathl. Even now there was a trace of envy in her voice, mixed with her usual disdain for the ancient hierarchies.

“Youngest of the lot by a good five thousand years.” An ambitious wave surged over their feet, and Khr’jelkh’ng glared. “Half of what drives airborn politics these days, they’ve no concept of.”

“And the other half the things that don’t change, no matter how the species changes,” said Yringl’phtagn. “What do you think they missed?”

Khr’jelkh’ng hissed, shuffled, and at last sat in the firm wet sand. The others followed suit; Yringl’phtagn grimaced as a shell tried to wedge itself amid his scales.

 “You know we went after U-boats on the Arkansas, though we never saw one up close for sure. The air folk had almost a superstition of the subs; they’d never put it that way, but anything that can hide so long below the surface seemed unnatural to them.” Jhathl snickered, and Khr’jelkh’ng went on. “We did meet Germans in person after the Armistice, getting their fleet locked up in Scapa Flow. I was under the boat by then, but I listened enough, came up sometimes in a slicker when the weather got bad. They seemed like decent fellows for all they’d been on the wrong side of things.

“Our patrol found one of the things sunk, just as you heard, and recently. They’re ghostly things broken, like the last of a whale fall. It had a hole blown in its side. The bodies were nearly down to skeletons, but they had records kept waterproof, enough to hunt down their living cousins.”

“And you found one,” said Yringl’phtagn impatiently. “That much we heard.”

Jhathl cuffed him lightly. “If you want to hear the story they didn’t tell, don’t keep telling us the story we already heard.”

A trace of humor crept into Khr’jelkh’ng’s expression. “If I couldn’t tell the captain a story while he was trying to get ahead of me, I’d never have given him so much as the watch change.”

Yringl’phtagn sighed. “I shall be as silent as the Sleeping God.”

“Whose dreams drive men to frenzies of art and rebellion?” Khr’jelkh’ng turned serious again. “It might be no bad thing. Indeed, we found a living U-boat, by their own expedient of stalking one of the great merchant fleets above. The subs swam together in a pack, but we drew one away simply by letting the crew catch glimpses of us. They gave chase, and we led them to the surface and pulled them from their shell.”

And suffered wounds in the process—Yringl’phtagn had seen that much in the puckered scales of some of the other band members, still healing. He’d dodged gunfire himself, both in scraps with pirates aboard Kraken’s Journal, and the ambush when they’d tried to track Innsmouth’s lost children. The band had been lucky.

“They weren’t like the fellows we met in Scotland, beyond the way men are calmed by surrender or fired by a hunt. They understood that we were—” He grimaced. “—that we were things that could talk. But that meant nothing to them. Men of the air often see us as monsters. These did too, but it seemed… a common experience for them. They compared us to every airborn enemy they hated: we were in league with Jews, with communists, with weak-minded men who thought like women and… don’t look at me like that, Jhathl, I promise someone cut his throat for you. It seemed clear to me that their world was full of monsters, with a scant tribe of true men deserving life at all. It wasn’t one of those crews shaped by a tyrant captain, either; he was no better or worse than the rest, if more in command of his tongue.”

The band’s reports had been full of the war itself; from this interrogation they’d shared only numbers and ambitions. It had seemed complete enough, to most of those listening. “The rest of the band didn’t think that unusual.”

“Not shocking, at least. Perhaps when we fought with stone knives, and scrapped over watering holes—but no, I don’t think that sort of talk was more common, then. It was something making them so dismissive. I don’t think they grasped the scale—what it means to hate that way, in a world that men can circle in a few weeks. These people can fly over Europe, and see all the cities below, and more men in each than existed when some of our patrol went into the water—and still hate them to their faces. All things must fall, but they were eager for it. As if burning most of mankind would lift them up.”

Jhathl spit, and tossed her driftwood into the retreating waters. “Show men of the air a glimpse of infinity, and they’ll retreat into destruction. It’s what happened here.”

Yringl’phtagn considered. “That’s near enough what they’re saying below: We’ve always fought in the wars of the air, until they destroyed our spawning grounds. We’ve no stake in their fights now; dive deep and let them burn.”

Khr’jelkh’ng laid his trident down on the sand. His gaze shifted between dune and wave, lingered at last on his comrades. “Maybe it’s that I’ve already fought those wars, but I still see something to choose between. I have to think there’s still something worth saving up here.”

“Even if there’s a difference between the sides,” asked Jhathl, “is it enough? You didn’t pull anyone off the British ships, to test the flavor of their fear. How do you know they don’t embrace extinction as well?”

Yringl’phtagn thought of Keziah—delusion to think she might merely be imprisoned somewhere, that some airborn soldier hadn’t painted himself in his daughter’s blood. But she would have asked, would have assumed: What are we doing about it?

“If we dive deep,” he said, “we’ll never know. If we tear open a few more shells, well, we might get the chance to learn more of the other side. If they haven’t earned our aid, at least it will be recorded in the Archives that we fought.”

Jhathl snorted. “Only if someone tells them. Are you about to dive back down to Y’ha-nthlei and say that whatever they decide, the Kraken’s crew is heading east to hunt submarines?”

Yringl’phtagn bared sharp teeth. “It depends whether they ask where we’re going.”

Khr’jelkh’ng laughed and showed his own teeth. “I do remember how this works. I’ve missed it.”

Jhathl sighed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever care for the surface after this, but yes. For the sake of having fought.” And her own fangs glinted in starlight.

They retrieved their weapons, and ran, and dove. Then Innsmouth’s beach lay empty, silent save for the ancient whisper of the waves.

*** This post originally appeared at Comments are welcome both here and at There are comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.

Happy Bookday to Me

Deep Roots is out today!

You can find previews and giveaways on

Places you can find me, real and virtual:
  • Hanging out at Readercon in Boston
  • At Pandemonium Books, also in Boston, July 17 at 7PM
  • At the Hoover Library Science Fiction Festival in Hoover AL, July 27-29
  • At the OutWrite queer literature festival in Washington DC, August 4
  • 6-book interview at Nerds of a Feather
  • Interview on Paul Semel's site
  • Spark of Life column on Marie Brennan's site
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Balticon schedule

I'll be at Balticon over Memorial Day Weekend. Here's my schedule:

Contemporary Near-Future SF That's Not Dystopian - Saturday 10AM
     Ray Ridenor (moderator), Sarah Pinsker, Ruthanna Emrys

Current trends in speculative fiction show a preponderance of dystopian futures. Let’s look at the stories that don't fall into that mold.

Readings - Saturday 9PM
     Michael M. Jones, Ruthanna Emrys, Jean Marie Ward

How to Use Speculative Fiction to Change the World - Monday 10AM
     D.H. Aire (moderator), Ruthanna Emrys, Ted Weber, Ada Palmer

With the unique ability to image the world as it isn't (but could be), it's no surprise that science fiction and fantasy works have long been associated with movements for change. But how do we go from idea to action? And how can portrayal of a future to avoid be just as rousing as one we'd like to build?

Who else is going to be there?

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Plagues and Dayenus

So this is what I posted on Twitter this morning:

Plagues so far: car shopping, insurance idiocy, broken oven, dog pee, chronic illness flare-ups. Dayenus: amazing householdmates, amazing landlord, & the realization that most of what we needed the oven for can be done on the grill if necessary. 

It continued to be a very concretely illustrative day--Passover prep is normally pretty intense, and having a non-functional oven when we were supposed to be feasting 16 people at sunset did not reduce the intensity. Our amazing landlord showed up around 2 with a new oven (because he's amazing), whereupon we had neither oven nor stovetop nor access to most ingredients for an hour or so while he got the thing installed. 

But he did get it installed and we did then have a working kitchen, and people's meds had mostly kicked in and Best Kitchen Housemate came back from the Kosher grocery (an hour away) with our last missing ingredients, and we got the eggs boiled and the matzoh made and the lamb in the oven and the quinoa in the rice cooker--and for all the stress, it was so good to be embedded in a community of people pitching in and making everything happen.

All of which is background to the seder itself, and one part of it in particular. Our household follows a tradition in which, after describing the 10 plagues visited on the Egyptians in Exodus, we list out modern plagues--for each one, dipping fingers in wine and leaving drops, bloodlike, along the rims of our plates. Then we sing "Dayenu," which lists the things G-d did for the Israelites, for each adding "it would have been enough." And we then list things we're grateful for now, saying after each one, "Dayenu."

Usually the two lists are about balanced--maybe 2-3 minutes going around the table and naming the world's ills, and then the comforts of family and community. Tonight, though, no one wanted to leave the Dayenus. We must have spent ten minutes naming things we were grateful for, responding with fervent Dayenus and thoughtful silences. Family and friends and community, but also resistance and protest, memory and foresight, and horrors pulled out the darkness where they've festered in safety. And specific glories: Librarians. Music. Electricity. 

Last year, newly launched into the work of resistance, we spent much of our seder on explicit discussion of that work, girding ourselves for the months and years to come. This year, it felt like we were more confident in that work--and hungrier for reminders of the things worth saving in the world. That place of focused gratitude was not something I expected to find tonight, but I hope to carry it with me into the coming year.


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Deep Roots ARC winner

Thanks to the random number generator, the Deep Roots ARC goes to [personal profile] catsittingstill, assuming it can reach her in favorite city Tai-Tastigon. Thanks to everyone who entered--I'm now feeling homesick for even more cities and desirous of visiting even more! This post originally appeared at Comments are welcome both here and at There are comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.