Saturday, August 8, 2015

What is an Author?

I tried to share a Facebook post by my brother, Keith Ewing​, where he thoughtfully included a link to my book, What is a Hero? (Damson Dragon Diary 1) but Facebook apparently thought I just wanted to share the link. No, THIS is what my brother said, and that I wanted to share:

So, it’s after bedtime for my oldest. I go into his room and his light is still on. I fake indignation as he really is a monster when he’s short of sleep. But his also a READER, which makes me happy. I don’t know any reader that didn’t spend time in childhood reading when he/she should have been sleeping. So, I go in to turn off the light and I see what he is reading. It’s the book that my sister wrote. My son is reading the book that my sister wrote. For fun. Is that cool or what?

That is so beyond cool, that cool does not even begin to touch it. That is downright frosty. I have accomplished many small goals on my way to my eventual bigger goal of becoming a professional author. (I am already a professional writer, but it's not quite the same thing.) When I sold my first story, I was a very happy woman. When my first book was published, that was an amazing time. When a bunch of other skilled writers and artists wrote stories for The Protectors, a world I invented, that really felt like author territory. But none of it made me feel like I had accomplished the goal like this.

My 11 year old nephew is sneaking time to read my novel. Today, I really am an author.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Watch out. I'm back.

So, long time no post. Yeah.

After my back surgery, and actually, before that when I spent most of a year recovering from a hamstring injury, I sort of went into a bit of a depression spiral. So, sorry about the pretty much 2 year hiatus from public writing. Silly to let a few injuries get me down, but I'd been feeling so good about dropping pounds and building muscle and having more energy than I'd had in years when I was boxing. Then suddenly, I couldn't do anything without pain, gained back all the weight and then some, couldn't sleep, couldn't walk, stand, or sit very long without intense pain, just generally felt old and fat and useless and hurting.

Not that I haven't been writing at all during all this. I'm not sure I know how to not write. I just haven't been doing things like working on The All-American Alliance, the long promised sequel to the Protectors, which a couple of folks have already sent me stories for, or finishing book 2 of the Damson Dragon Diary. Anything that felt like something I "should" do just felt like more than I could manage. I held it together for my day job, mostly, but as soon as I came home I became a hermit. I vegged, binge watched TV, buried myself in books and stories, hid from the world, didn't want to talk to anyone, and didn't have any energy to do anything I didn't have to do.

Depression sucks.

And, on top of that, my technology decided to make my life more difficult. First a hard drive crash, then a mother board crash hit me each time I tried to dig myself out of the depression hole, and started trying to do my normal stuff again. I got websites started for and and then crash, lost all the software, passwords, graphics, etc. I got a plot bunny frenzy and feverishly wrote in a couple weeks more than a dozen chapters for a new novel with a werewolf and a navy captain in Alaska. Crash. Gone. Bleah.

Stuff like that is just irritating normally. When you're already depressed, it feels like even your computer hates you. And what's the point in trying, anyway?

So, it took me a while, but I'm honestly starting to feel mostly like myself again. Most days, anyway. I was writing random fluffy stuff during all that time to keep myself from going completely nuts. And, I came up with an urban fantasy series about a quirky spider-kin girl with 8 eyes who sees the future, the past, and the insides of people's minds, among other things. Time not entirely wasted, then. I'm working on polishing up the first book on that right now. Got rough draft of second book done and half of third, and a plot bunny for the fourth in my head. So, this spider girl has me caught in her web.

I will write the end of Damson Dragon 2, though. I promise. It's in my head. The trouble is, it's depressing. And trying to write a depressing chapter when you're already depressed is not an easy matter. that's why it's taking so long. So, I'll probably write it as Damson getting past her depression and moving on with her life. And I'll write it when I can finally get past my depression and move on with my life. Life, art. Art, life.

Damson Dragon book 3 plot is in my head, too. I'm not planning on abandoning my favorite dragon EMT at the end of book 2. I've been learning some new colored pencil techniques and I'm looking forward to doing some more D Dragon art, too.

I'm headed for Comicpalooza in Houston in May to speak on the panels there, and will launch into submissions for the AAA book around then. After multiple computer crashes, the biggest challenge is going to be finding everyone's email addresses again. My first Liliana book should be polished enough to be ready for prime time by then. A couple of agents asked for pages when I described the concept. Then I went home to get the pages ready, and realized my pages totally weren't ready for agents to see them yet. Hopefully, they will be by May, so I can send those pages and get on with other projects.

Keep your eyes out for "A Spider, a Red Wolf, and a Fairy with a Machine Gun" probably coming to a bookshelf near you in a few years.

And in the meantime, look out world, I'm baaaack.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Armadillocon Snuck Up On Me!

ArmadilloCon Convention is tomorrow! I totally lost track of time. If my friend, Beth Loubet, hadn't said something to me yesterday. I might have missed it. Yikes! But this tragedy has been averted. I'll be on panels about the lamest superhero powers ever and Elric of Melnibone and women in science fields among others. I love the Armadillocon mix. And looking forward to seeing lots of friends. And don't miss my reading at 11 AM on Sat! I will bring food, because seriously, that's lunch time. And be sure to make it to the lame superpowers panel, as there will be prizes.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What Has the US Government Done For You Lately?

I just attended a Big Data in Defense and Government Summit in Washington, DC. I blogged about some more technical takeaways that I learned, mostly about the big challenges government agencies face, over on the Actian blog. But one of the most valuable takeaways for me personally wasn’t technical. It was about the power of big data analytics when put to good use, and what my government has done for me, and a whole lot of other folks like me. In particular, the presentation by Xavier Hughes, the Chief Innovation Officer for the Department of Labor really touched me.

He did a very brief presentation, then opened up for questions from the audience. The first question someone asked was, what does a Chief Innovation Officer do? Among other things, Mr. Hughes’ job seems to entail a lot of work toward getting different teams across the government, and the private sector, to work together to accomplish new things. He called it “friendly and productive collaboration.” He put a big emphasis on creating a data-driven culture in every agency he interacted with, working toward making our government procedures more evidence-based, rather than simply continuing to do things the way we’ve been doing them in the past. Some of the things he said should resonate with anyone working to get an innovative new big data analytics project implemented.

“Do not walk in the door and expect people to know what big data means, and what it can do for them. Do not expect technology to solve all your problems. You first have to create a culture that is data-driven and evidence-based.” – Xavier Hughes, CIO, Dept. of Labor

As far as what purpose that new data-driven approach was put to, he talked a lot about finding new ways of helping veterans transition into the civilian workforce, including integrating new data feeds such as Monster and LinkedIN into the current system, and finding new ways to present veterans’ skills so they match up to what businesses are looking for. He also talked about making veterans benefits and such more accessible by giving them one place on the web to start, rather than 25 different portals. All of that sounded very impressive to me.
When it was my turn to ask a question, I asked him what he had done in his tenure that he was most proud of. He said he couldn’t name just one thing, but he could name two.

First, he talked about the executive order from the president to improve customer service and streamline service delivery. He worked with the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), started a pilot program with several other agencies, and piloted a 36 month project to improve customer service across the board in all of those agencies. After a careful study of the current state, he had a CRM solution procured and implemented for capturing customer feedback and consolidating knowledge in a single location. Before, answers to questions were often coming from individual knowledge bases within each individual department or agency. Fifty different knowledge bases was not an effective model. Now, instead of getting confusing mixed messages, the new channel agnostic approach means that, no matter what channel you use to contact the various agencies, you get the same answer to the same questions.

Second, he talked about the equal pay for equal work project. This project pulled in data from outside sources, such as, as well as sources inside the government. Craig Newmark (famous for CraigsList) helped on that project. The end result of this project is that when a woman enters the workplace, she’s not discriminated against in pay rates right from the beginning.


He mentioned being particularly proud of that second one as the child of a single mom. Being, myself, both the child of a single mom and a woman supporting her family in a male dominated field, that one really hit home for me.

I’ve got to say, if you’re a veteran, if any of your family or friends are veterans, if you are a working woman or if any of your family or friends are working women, you owe this man, and all the many folks in the government who have helped his projects happen, a really big “Thank you.”

Like any citizen, there are some times when I don’t agree with or like what my government does. Folks feel free to criticize and to hold our government accountable when that happens very loudly and persistently, and that’s all to the good. But sometimes, we should also take a little time to applaud the things our government has done right.
I made a point to shake Mr. Hughes hand before I left and say, “Thank you for what you’ve done.” And I’d just like to do that again here. Thank you, not just Mr. Hughes who led the charge, but everyone who got on board and pitched in to make his ideas a reality. I know it wasn’t easy, and I’m sure it’s far from perfect, but those are some genuine and much appreciated steps forward.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Planning my invasion of Mars

So, I want to write a story set on Mars. First, I had to essentially, plan how I would colonize Mars. So here are my rambling Mars colonization notes in case anyone is interested.

Let’s say that the Mars One mission was successful for the first couple of crew missions. I’d say they chose the Terby Crater on the northern edge of the Hellas Planitia Basin, but tech has moved forward since then. In particular genetic engineering takes a few leaps forward with the new gene mapping, data crunching and bio technology available. So, we have a new strategy, a new mission, with a different sort of goal. Long term survival of Earth life on Mars. 

Yes, that was the same goal of Mars One, but I have a different version of long term. Not just the lifetime of the colonists and their children restricted to little habitats and occasional careful trips outside in pressure suits, but actual life adapted to live on Mars as if it belonged there. Even if they lose touch with Earth forever, after a few years to get established, the people on Mars should be able to continue on their own, and thrive, and their children and grandchildren.

First, cyanobacteria are dropped into the Martian atmosphere, in huge quantities by probes, in an effort to do a partial, long term terraforming, just to convert C02 to O2, in order to improve the oxygen content of the air slowly over time. The existing probes should register as the oxygen level rises incrementally, indicating marginal success, and letting us know to go ahead with the next step. 

Cyanobacteria and slightly genetically modified lichens (just to make them grow faster) would be used for oxygen, and food. Habitats built using 3D printing style technology and little AI driven rock tunnelers and general worker bots, with a sort of hive mind. They build like an ant colony, only occasionally needing instruction from the “queen” on earth at mission control. They could all land in a single transport, like a large rover, but they'd be multiple and semi-autonomous, and possibly self-replicating if they can find the materials on Mars to do that, with pre-programmed missions, and the ability to give them new instructions whenever needed, either from Earth, or the colonists themselves.

Maybe a large rock eating machine, or a fair number of them could be created by a combo of 3D printing and parts from earth and worker ants. The machine would crush rock, extract essential minerals, release useful gases, to work on improving warmth and air pressure over time, and provide raw materials for building. That might be a good idea, but I'm not sure how feasible that would be.

The worker ant machines land near the Baetis Mensa in the Ophir Chasma, the northernmost canyon of the Valles Marineras Canyon System, in the lowest spot right near the equator of Mars. The air density in the bottom of the canyon is twice what it is at 0 level, and it actually gets up to a pleasant 70 degrees Farenheit in that part of Mars in the summer, and only down to the equivalent of a cold day in Point Barrow in winter. The bots capture and concentrate solar radiation and solar power to smelt the hematite ore that's all over that valley into steel, and heat the sulfite rocks to release water, and use the sulfur and other native materials to make batteries. The worker ants would create a honeycomb of naturally radiation resistant, airtight caves, with one goal being to seek underground water sources and the other to create living and growing spaces for people and plants. More than just the lichen and bacteria could grow inside the shelters, but only the hardiest high altitude edible plants would make sense. A steel reinforced concrete large scale habitat would be built merging into the side of the cliff, and extending out from it with 3D printing tech and local materials. 

The moment a decent supply of underground water, a major goal of the little ant bots, is located, much of the water is split into O2 and H2 for backup fuel and oxygen.  Most tech is solar powered, with long battery backups, lithium/sulfur batteries made from local materials can be built as needed in large quantities. Supply the lithium from Earth to build a few hundred of those suckers, and hope to find a lithium source by the time you run out. If not, have to have Earth send more with the next mission. Eventually, you gotta find a local source, or modify the way you store power.

Water extracted is stored in multiple redundant areas, as is oxygen and hydrogen separately. The worker ants plant, tend and encourage lichen growth wherever they go. Large sealed tanks of cyanobacteria generate most of the oxygen. Light is brought in for them through a series of reflectors and clear panes.
Caves are completely lined and filled with lichen on any unused surface providing natural oxygen, and food supply. All lighting systems simulate sunlight for the plants, or reflect sunlight in through clear panels, or both. Entire large sections of the caves are specifically for sheltered concentrated growth of the oxygen producing life forms, to produce enough for high altitude adapted humans to live in the habitats.

Entire Valles Marineras would eventually be seeded by the little bots with edible lichen and cyanobacteria, which can absorb water in the early mornings when the ice condenses. A thin roof of solar sheeting stretched across small portions of the valley by the human habitat help concentrate the oxygen and atmosphere as well as collect power. They are designed to stretch, move, flap, and give with the wind, but not tear, and channel dust and debris to hollow iron and concrete poles, which transfer the power down to batteries. Dust storms just make the shelter stronger. Over time, more and more of the valley will get a bit of a blanket roof. Solar sheeting is made from local materials, with only essential rare minerals supplied from earth (not sure how to make this, challenging, but important and doable, I think.) Little worker ant probes or the big rock and dirt eater continually search for Martian sources for all minerals needed.

This is all relatively standard Mars settling kind of strategy. The twist in this is genetically engineered people. There are massive ethical and practical questions that would undoubtedly be part of accomplishing that, but I'm totally going to bypass those (coward, I know,) and assume they got slugged out over the next two decades. First mission in 2033, second in 2035, third in 2037. Six pregnant women and two men on every mission.The people are all chosen for genetic diversity and high altitude adaptability, as well as the usual expertise and physical health criteria. The children are genetically modified embyos. By the time the third mission lands, the six first mission children would be school age.

The genetic fathers of the children were sperm donors from Peru, Tibet, Nepal, and other high, cold places of earth, the Andes Mountains, the Kunlun, the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, the Tian Shan, the Karakoram, the Pamir, the Saint Elias, and the Caucasus. The men who travel with them are of the same high altitude, cold and thin air tolerant genetic stock. The transport ships and Mars habitats themselves have atmospheric pressure roughly equivalent to 3 miles high on earth, like a Peruvian or Tibetan village. The men are there to help when all the women are very pregnant or nursing tiny infants, and on the assumption that more children will follow after they land, through natural means and slight modifications of the embryos conceived so that they match the new Martian children. At least one gifted genetic engineer would travel with each mission.

The children would be modified as little as possible, but the minor modifications produce huge differences in physiology. Their lung capacity, already the best humanity has to offer, would be expanded to four times any earth human’s, and production of hemoglobin proportionately accelerated to allow maximum absorption of available oxygen from thin atmospheres, along with extensive capillary systems, and rapid respiration rates, a high tolerance for carbon dioxide, and blood pressure that is far below dangerous levels for a human, low enough to balance against a far lower air pressure externally. 

Their skin would be the only obvious external difference; hair follicles modified to produce scales which provide double the protection from exposure to radiation, help with the low air pressure, plus they would seal in water to minimize dehydration. A layer of fat just under the skin insulates them from the cold (about double the thickness of the average Eskimo) and also makes them less susceptible to radiation. One last important modification would be a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes from the thin, cold atmosphere, dehydration and dust.

Special community nursery rooms for the babies would have been built on the outer edges of the colony habitat. The lichen grow in them and oxygen is supplemented, but the rooms are not pressurized. Mothers must put on pressurized suits and pass through airlocks to tend to their littles. The babies have to be born in specially prepared rooms. One or two moms stay with the kids awake at all times in case the kids need anything, since it would take too long to get to them through the airlock in an emergency. All the moms take turns.

Similarly genetically modified pregnant Peruvian chinchillas travel with them. Their babies thrive on a diet of lichen and require very little air. Their flesh provides much needed protein and their skins and fur provide warmly insulated clothing for the growing children.

The chinchillas and the children alike need only a bit of extra oxygen to survive comfortably in Martian air at the bottom of a chasma. Large outdoor structures are built that hold in some of the extra oxygen the lichen and algae provide, concentrating it on the valley floor, so, after a few years, the children and critters can roam around outside a bit. They should bring oxygen with them, just in case.

As the bacteria seeded in the atmosphere continues to build the oxygen levels globally, the children will need less and less supplemental oxygen and be able to roam further from the habitats safely. They won't be able to climb the walls of the chasm, though, because the air at the top is half the air pressure of what's on the bottom. Fortunately, that chasma is hundreds of miles long, giving them lots of room to expand over time. The earth humans will always be confined to the habitats or pressurized suits, but their descendants will be adapted to large sections of their new world. With a pressurized transport vehicle, they could travel to the other large depressions on the Mars surface several generations down the road when they feel the need for more space.

Now, a lot of folks, who are into this sort of thing, are probably wondering why I didn't think of heating the polar ice caps, particularly the southern one. Currently, we could heat the southern polar ice caps of Mars with reflective mirrors and produce a thicker atmosphere that would warm the planet and increase the water content of the air. However, we cannot currently simulate the magnetic field of a planet that holds that air in. Heating the solar ice caps to terraform Mars would only accelerate the loss of the last remaining free C02 and water on that planet, leaving our new race of people stuck on a dying planet.

When we gain the knowledge needed to give Mars a magnetic field, or learn some other way to hold the air in all over the planet, the children of Mars, who were otherwise restricted to just the deep valleys where the air pressure is twice that of the neutral surface, will be delighted to have the highlands opened up to them, vastly expanding the area of the planet that they can comfortably live in, and the earth humans can move into the valleys and lowlands where the air will be dense and oxygen rich enough for the most high altitude adaptable of them.

Instead of forcing Mars to adapt to become completely Earth-like, we would adapt the planet a little, and adapt ourselves a little, and meet in the middle.

That's how I would do it anyway,


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blacksad in French and Having Kevin Grevioux's Babies

I mentioned the mind meld over on SFSignal where several talented folks and I picked our favorite graphic novels to take to a deserted island. (I just did a quick scan of mine, btw, and discovered at least once that I wrote "dessert" island, which wouldn't be very lonely probably, but would be HELL on my waistline.) Sarah Arnold recommended "Blacksad" and I remembered how much I adored the art in the issue I had glimpsed years before. The story was as gritty and dark as anything written by Dashiell Hammett, and I didn't need to be able to read Italian to tell that. The art, complete with a hyper-realistic world filled with talking animals, and dusky, muted colors that enhance the emotional impact of every panel, flat blew me away.

I have been, in my copious free time (that's extreme sarcasm for anyone who doesn't know me personally), learning French, with a combination of Rosetta Stone and reading French fiction, with the aid of Google Translate to help me through the difficult parts. I got a book of French dialogue for Christmas that was greatly appreciated. I pretty much suck at holding a conversation, but I'm getting pretty good at reading comprehension in French. Add illustrations or a contextual story I'm really familiar with, and I'm golden. The difficulty has been mainly finding fiction in French that I actually want to read.

So, I bought "Blacksad" the Kindle edition, to save a little money, and splurged on a difficult-to-find used copy of vol 1 in French. The Kindle edition arrived immediately, but wouldn't run on my Kindle Fire, which I have to say was very disappointing. The main reason I bought a Kindle Fire was to read comics. Fortunately, I have an IPAD for work, and the graphic novel reading app works fine there.

They just delivered my French vol 1 of Blacksad!! It is just as gorgeous as I remembered. The Kindle version is great, but there's nothing like holding the book and seeing the art full size. It's as moving and solid as a kick to the gut.

Don't get me wrong. Kindles are nice, and have performed a bit of a miracle for me. I haven't bought episodic comics in years because I would read them in like 5 minutes flat, and they cost almost as much as a novel. I just couldn't justify the expense. I grew up poor as dirt. That still affects my buying patterns significantly, regardless of my current income bracket. Now, I'm reading "Anathema" (which is a dark horror comic I'm loving, even if it is a bit preachy) and waiting eagerly for the next issue. I've also started snagging issues of Dr Who comics and whatever else grabs my eye on Comixology. At $1.99, I'm far less hesitant to splurge, and I can take a big chunk of my comics collection with me on planes and such now.

On the subject of brilliant graphic novels, not the price of them, I went and saw the movie "I, Frankenstein" last night. Wow. Just visually extraordinary. And unlike a fair number of visually stunning movies I've seen lately, this one had emotional impact and great acting, and just wow. It was a bit short on sophisticated plot, but hey, demon prince wants to take over the world, order of holy do-gooders want to stop him, and hapless anti-hero is caught in the middle - it works for me. Add stunning visuals of winged battles between light and fire, and I'm all over that. And Kevin Grevioux wrote it.

It took 2 words off camera for me to recognize Kevin Grevioux's voice, and I knew I was in for a ride. I LOVED Underworld, the first one at least. It leapt a few sharks by the end of the franchise, but had a great starting point. I'd never heard of the "I, Frankenstein" graphic novel, but as I was sitting there, thinking wow a lot at the end of the movie, I remarked to my husband, "This movie looks like it would make one hell of a graphic novel. It looks like it was MEANT to be a graphic novel." At which point, the credits helpfully popped up "Based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux" and I said, "Well, there ya go."

Kevin Grevioux. What is with this guy? Did he win the genetics lottery or something? He's huge, powerful, has a voice like a dragon in a well, AND he's insane levels of intelligent and creative, so he apparently hogged all the good genes for an entire small town. Genetics like that need to be spread throughout the human population. Someone should have his babies. Lots of them.

Not that I'm volunteering or anything. Much. But someone should.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SFSignal and on a Deserted Island with Drugs

Three wonderful things happened to me today that I am selfishly delighted about:

1. SfSignal and Rick Klaw published my list of graphic novels I'd have to take to a deserted island:   (Paul Benjamin and Alan J. Porter also put in their lists. Interestingly enough, my list included one of Paul's books, and Alan's list included my number one pick "Strangers in Paradise" plus "Kingdom Come" which I would have added, but wasn't sure if it was kosher under the rules.)

2. Having my personal author website link on said article provided the kick in the pants needed for me to complete at least a first shot at my personal author website Finally! Next, I will tackle that hideous monstrosity I foisted onto Soon, it too, will look like a normal web page. I promise.

3. I had my 6 week post-op checkup for my herniated disk surgery, and the doc took me off most of the mind and body affecting chemicals. I am very much delighted to have most of my brain chemistry be provided by mother nature again, not a collection of pill bottles.

It's a good day for team Paige.