For the entire month of July, my book Song of All Songs is on a blog tour. There will be reviews and interviews and guest blog posts on at least a dozen different websites–you can see the itinerary here. Look forward to insights into both the book and the author! You can also see a lovely atmospheric trailer for the book on YouTube.
I know you’ve heard over and over that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a way of telling us not to judge people or situations on appearance. But with respect to actual books, people judge them by their covers every single day! The cover is how an author begins to tell their story, instantly setting up the reader to expect romance, thriller, cozy mystery, science fiction, fantasy, etc. The cover is a promise to the reader.
I reached the painful conclusion that the original cover for Song of All Songspromised too much “fantasy” and not enough “science fiction.” So I’ve changed it—commissioned a new cover that more faithfully promises what the story can fulfill.
Sometimes an author doesn’t fully understand what genre they’re writing until they’ve finished the story. This is especially problematic for anything within the category often termed “SFF”—science fiction/fantasy. When the author is an anthropologist, it gets even more fraught!
In many nonwestern cultures, there is neither “science” nor “magic,” and neither of those terms is especially relevant to the cultures I write in my EarthCycles books. There’s only what is. What works. When you write a story set in such a world, what genre does it belong to?
As I delved more deeply into the question of genres and sub-genres, I realized that all of my favorite books and writers can be encompassed within one (or both) of the sub-genres called “soft science fiction” or “science fantasy”—1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, almost everything Ursula LeGuin wrote, and my latest favorite—Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon.
I’m hopeful that my new cover—and in fact the entire set of covers for the EarthCycles trilogy—will more faithfully communicate to readers what kind of story they can expect to find inside.
It’s not pure fantasy (as the original cover may have signaled), although it checks many of the boxes of what constitutes fantasy literature. The story’s setting in Earth’s far, far future is a critical departure from most fantasy tales, which tend to take place in the distant past. Most importantly—there’s no magic! There’s more than a touch of mysticism, but those who engage in it don’t call it magic. Of course…all of this depends on how you define magic.
The story is also not classic science fiction—there are no spaceships or extraterrestrials, no super-duper technology. The story is firmly grounded on a post-apocalyptic planet Earth, where much of our familiar 21st-century technology has been lost. The fact that some of the operational principles aren’t what purists might classify as science makes no difference—within the context of the story, these things are facts of life. Reality. Not magic. The focus on social evolution and social relations places the story in the sub-genre of “soft science fiction,” so called because of its reliance on the “soft sciences” such as psychology, sociology, political science…and anthropology? Well, there’s another conundrum: Anthropology studies culture, society, political systems, language, religion, but also genetics and evolution and technology. You did know I have a PhD in anthropology, right?
I hope you love the new covers as much as I do. If you want a sneak peek at the cover for book two—Book of All Time—click HERE. It’s coming in August!
And just in case you haven’t read Song of All Songsyet (what are you waiting for??) watch Goodreads for a special giveaway, going on the entire month of June!
It was such a delightful surprise this week to receive the email informing me that my latest book—Song of All Songs—had won an award! There are some exciting perquisites that Self-Publishing Review offers with this award—including reviews and an interview—and I’ll be posting about those soon enough. For now, I’m just reveling in a sense of accomplishment that’s been rather illusory over the strange year we’ve just been through. I’m energized and eager to move ahead with finishing book two of the EarthCycles Trilogy (Book of All Time) and launching it via some kind of in-person (okay, probably hybrid) event.
Easter Sunday 2021 turns out to be the publication anniversary of Shadow of the Hare, the second book in my Recall Chronicles series. I’m celebrating by making the book FREE for a limited period. (Click here.)
The series is set in a world where (almost) nobody gets old anymore, and personal memories are conveniently managed by a bizarre collaboration of the pharmaceutical monopoly and the social media giants. But there’s a movement dedicated to bringing down these corporations, a movement known as Recall.
Book one begins with Jenda Swain’s chance encounter with an old woman in a sketchy side-street café, an event that sets Jenda off on a tangled adventure of self-discovery and unanticipated social activism.
The old woman was Malia Poole (the exception to that “nobody gets old” thing) and book two—Shadow of the Hare—is Malia’s story.
Unlike Jenda, Malia is a lifelong dissident, an author and bibliophile in a world where books no longer matter and barely exist. Fearful for her own life, Malia escapes to a sufficiency community called Walden 27, somewhere near Marfa, Texas. But Malia can’t escape herself, and after fifty years of self-exile, she returns to Dallas to pursue the questions that still torment her: What happened during that teenage year that’s totally missing from her memories? Is Lio still alive? What is it that Montagne doesn’t want to tell her? Malia’s quest eventually takes her to India (in the company of Jenda’s daughter-in-law), where the pandemic and the collapse of the world-net catch up with her, and where she finally comes face-to-face with answering the only question that really matters.
Yes, you can read this book without having read book one—but if you HAVE read book one, you’ll enjoy it even more, since many of the characters are the same.
For FIVE DAYS ONLY the Kindle version is FREE! Download it now and celebrate Malia’s pigheaded passion for life and books!
It’s nearly Christmas and, because of the pandemic, they’re urging us to stay home. This is when you need a good book to keep you company! So I’m offering you an eBook for free!
Meet Jenda Swain: She’s 111 years old, but–thanks to the miracle drug Chulel–she looks and feels 22.
Meet Luis-Martín Zenobia: Smart, sexy Luis tells Jenda that she’s not who she thinks she is.
Now Jenda has doubts about those corporate-sponsored spa days with memory “restoration.” Join Jenda as she travels from Dallas, Texas, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and eventually to a small town in Costa Rica, searching for the woman she used to be. Who will she decide to become once she knows?
A persistent trope among readers and writers on social media is the debate between those who prefer digital reading devices and those who prefer “real” books. In the last few years, devotees of audio books have also waded into the fray. It amuses me how partisans of each type seem convinced that their preferred format really is the best as they seek to convert or disparage the rest.
The question came up in my novel, Shadow of the Hare. The main character, Malia, is a dissident in the Recall movement and adamant in her devotion to the physically printed word. Her preference emerged in childhood:
“I spent hours not only reading but arranging and rearranging my books on the shelves in my bedroom, finding sensual pleasure in the feel and smell and weight of them, the hard squaredness of their corners, the colors and images on their covers, the textures of their papers. The occasional, inevitable paper cut was a blood bond.”
She and other partisans of Recall became fearful of how digital media could be too easily revised and manipulated to suit the politics of the moment. In her world, printed books had become a resource hoarded by dissidents.
They may be onto something there.
Nevertheless, I understand that digital books are much more convenient for travelers and may also have some appeal to those advocating for the trees. You don’t have to cut down any trees to produce and access books on Kindle or Apple. People of a certain age also point out the convenience of being able to create their own LARGE PRINT VERSION of whatever book they like.
My latest book, Song of All Songs, features a main character who can’t read. She belongs to a future version of humanity, people who process the world in such a way that strings of figures printed on pages resist translation into anything meaningful. (They have other remarkable capabilities that far outweigh this seeming disability.) There are people in our own time and place who share this characteristic to some extent, of course. Books read aloud definitely appeal to such individuals. Audio books also appeal to people who want to read on the fly, on the run, on the commute, or while they’re doing other things like cooking dinner or cleaning the house.
All three formats have their place. The question of what constitutes a “real” book disappears when we focus on the stories themselves. Real stories can be written down and printed on paper. They can be composed digitally and accessed through cyberspace. They can be told aloud and listened to. Stories can also be acted out in plays and movies. The stories are what matter. However you choose to produce them and consume them is up to you. Just keep enjoying the stories!
NOTE: Song of All Songs is currently available as either a paperback or digital book. The process of producing the audio version begins next week!
“When anthropologist Donna Dechen Birdwell turns her keen sense of how societies evolved in the past toward imagining a post-apocalyptic future, the result is a thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent thriller.” — Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of The Oppenheimer Alternative
“Song of All Songs is a beautifully written and richly realized vision of the future, informed by a deep understanding of humanity.” — Christopher Brown, Campbell and World Fantasy Award-nominated author of Tropic of Kansas and Failed State
“Song of All Songs is a lovely book. It is sad and hopeful both, and I thought about it long after I read the last page.” –Patrice Sarath, author of The Sisters Mederos and The Unexpected Miss Bennet
Long after the apocalypse, Earth has repeopled itself. Twice.
Despised by her mother’s people and demeaned by her absent father’s legacy, Meridia has one friend—Damon, an eccentric photologist. When Damon shows Meridia a stone he discovered in an old photo bag purchased from a vagrant peddler, she is transfixed. There’s a woman, she says, a dancing woman. And a song. Can a rock hold a song? Can a song contain worlds? Oblivious of mounting political turmoil, the two set out to find the old peddler, to find out what he knows about the stone, the woman, and the song. But marauding zealots attack and take Damon captive, leaving Meridia alone. Desolate. Terrified. Yet determined to carry on, to pursue the stone’s extraordinary song, even as it lures her into a journey that will transform her world.
I struggle most days, in the midst of this pandemic, to edit my next book, to prepare it for publication, to write the next story after this one. I rarely turn out more than a few hundred words a day and sometimes none at all. I have to ask myself: Why am I doing this? Why does it matter that I write? Why does it matter that I write this particular story?
For one thing…if I should die of this damn coronavirus thing, I don’t want to leave behind an unfinished manuscript.
But that’s not enough. Why is this story something I want to finish?
What is it about?
It’s about humanity. About all the things that may or may not be “human nature.” About our diversity and how diversity is the bedrock of survival.
It’s about a woman who thinks, because she is biracial, that she is nothing. And then discovers that she is everything.
It’s about people who hate and distrust and misunderstand one another and then end up needing one another to survive.
It’s about us.
I’m ready to launch Song of All Songson August 28. I’m ready to tell you a story I believe in.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about the pandemic that I wrote about in my Recall Chronicles series. I think about how my different characters reacted to it.
One of them denied their symptoms right up until the diagnosis came back. It was just stress, they said. Or the altitude. That was all.
Other characters contemplated the relevance of political action under dire circumstances.
Montagne stared out the window and said nothing, his fists shoved deep into his pockets. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with sadness. “I know,” he said. “It seems like a lot of people are going to die of this disease no matter what else happens. Except maybe for the plutocrats who are rich enough to isolate themselves.”
But what if the plutocrats are a bigger problem than any disease?
Another character finds herself thankfully immune to the virus. And that became another whole set of issues. She and her friend decide to volunteer at the hospital, offering comfort to patients:
There were only a handful of [immune] people who could work without the encumbering suits and hoods and we were issued badges indicating our approved status. Most of the other badge-wearers came from the ranks of lower-level workers who tended to sweeping, cleaning and trash removal. My heart sank, realizing that in another week or so they’d also be removing bodies. My task was bedside care. I gave people water and helped them with their meals and their palliative medications—analgesics, anti-nausea pills, sleep aids. I held their hands and looked into their faces. They seemed grateful to be able to see mine.
And then there’s the opening to book three (Flight of the Owl), which came from someone trapped in the misery of the ongoing pandemic (you’ve been warned).
September 11, 2126—She takes another deliberate breath and stares at the rigid form, dismayed at how inexorably her friend’s life had leaked out, bit by bit, thinking about how it will feel when the same thing happens to her. And it will happen. If not tomorrow, then the day after.
She struggles against encroaching tears. Breathing is already hard enough. She fills her lungs with the oxygen her broken blood cells refuse to carry. Not moving around helps, not robbing oxygen from failing organs.
She considers opening the door and running away, running until she drops. Out there nothing works anymore. Everything’s broken. Out there smoke hangs in the air, smoke from the fires. Not funeral fires. There were no funerals. She doesn’t open the door. She lies still, next to her dead roommate while her own life leaks out, bit by bit.
The last time she looked in the mirror, she saw how her youthful face had gone pale and gaunt. The calendar tells her she’s 107 and she searches for 107 years’ worth of memories. She finds a few. In her mind she writes letters to friends and family, the dead and dying.
Dear Maggie – I just want to say how sorry I am that I stole your favorite eyeliner pencil. She hasn’t heard from Maggie in years.
Dear Uncle Bart – Thank you for making me memorize poems. Thank you for Dylan Thomas and ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ I have no rage left.
Dear Jonathan – How I wish you were here to hold my hand. I’ve wished that before but I never told you. I’m remembering a poem I wrote in college, one where I longed for a revolution. Everyone called it anachronistic nostalgia but you said it was good. I think about what’s happened and I think it had to be deliberate. I think this is our 22nd-century revolution. I didn’t think it would be like this. Is this victory? If so, whose?
Wow. My last blog post was in October of last year!
I really shouldn’t let myself get “too busy” to blog. But apparently that is what has happened to me over the past four months. What have I been busy doing? Writing, editing, synopsizing… and for the past two months looking after my precious baby granddaughter every weekday.
My next book, tentatively titled Song of All Songs, is finally feeling ready to query. I’ve incorporated advice from a professional editor and three specialized (and very helpful) beta readers. (Thank you Teresa, Claire, and Cheryl!) I’ve also rejiggered a few things in the story after realizing that it is really book one in a series that I’m calling the Earthcycles Trilogy. I’ve already written about a third of book two and settled on a primary plot arc for book three. I’d tell you more, but I’d rather not until I see where this might go in the traditional publishing world.
Then there’s been the baby-tending, which is both exhausting and exhilarating. Physically exhausting because she’s not quite 16 months old. But exhilarating because this is such an intriguing time of discovery for her. How tiny humans learn language (verbal and gestural) and figure out how to coordinate bodies that don’t come pre-programmed as other mammalians’ bodies do is amazing! Of course, this particular little human goes about it in her own way that is different from the way her big brother did it, which also differs from the path taken by her dad (my son) or aunt (my daughter). I’d show you pictures of her, but her parents have decided that until she is old enough to consent (or object), her image will not be shared on social media. And I respect their respect for their children. So the image I selected to accompany this post shows the gifts the little girl gave me one day when we went walking…
In March, baby girl will be starting preschool. (I’ll miss her hugs!) And I will be back to full-throttle writing and blogging!