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Thinking and Follow-up #AtoZChallenge

Don't confuse your path with your destination. Just because it's stormy now doesn't mean that you aren't headed for sunshine.I delayed a long time this year before finally committing to the challenge–mostly because now I’m in school, and I’m having a hard enough time finding time to write fiction, I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge of daily blogging.

Somehow, I managed.

I think it had to do with guilt: I wasn’t doing the whole, huge guest post, blog hop promotion thing for the latest installment of the Red Slaves series, and I had liked the attention that effort had earned me last year. There were a few letters I would have preferred to have skipped, but I did get to share some of the research I had done in a context where I didn’t have to worry about how or whether it might bog down my story. In particular, I enjoyed blogging about Ghilen, the Dashka Stone, and Kazakhstan. There were a few others, too, that covered unorthodox or unusual topics. I’m enough of a pedant that doing something different that way makes me happy.


Of course, I promptly took almost two weeks off of blogging. But I’ll be returning to at least weekly blogging this week with a Sunday ROW80 report. And I have reviews and author interviews coming up this month too. So maybe now I will have returned to a blogging happy medium. And I’ll probably return again next year for more A-to-Z challenge blogging fun.

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ Z is for Shr Zen

universal-eyeI’ve made it to the end of another A-Z challenge–despite crazy MBA classes and four weekends’ worth of overtime at work. It’s shocking me a little, to be honest… so I thought I’d share the shock Anne experienced the first time she saw her new ghilen friend Shr-Zen hover on the verge of shifting back to her natural form.

Something about an all-black eye has freaked me out since I first saw the effect in an X-Files episode some 20 years ago.

This version captures the broader impact of having a mythical beast with millennia of experience stare you down–you feel smaller and more defenseless than just the regular version of eyes could ever make you feel.

The funny thing to me is that when I created the name for this particular character, I knew she would be based on Chinese mythology, so wanted something both meaningful and vaguely accessible. I knew from my couple of semesters of Mandarin that “shr” (with the proper intonation) means “to be”. I thought it would be interesting to make her name be something on the order of “I am Zen” since she’s trying to teach the young dragons how to reach that appropriate mindset. What surprised me in the character’s evolution was that she ended up being anything but.

That brings us to the end of this year’s installment of A-Z posts about the Red Slaves series and Blood to Fire more particularly. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of characters, places, and concepts (with a few language lessons thrown in), and look forward to hearing whether any of you have been enticed into reading based on these teases.


#AtoZChallenge โ€“ Y is for Yi Ding

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. -Stephen HawkingSince book two of Red Slaves brings in the Chinese angle on dragons, I thought it would be appropriate to comment on a Chinese word: Yi Ding means “certain” in the sense of “fixed, given, particular, or necessarily.” It’s the trap Anne falls into: She considers herself well-educated and firmly grounded in reality. So when she’s forced to face the fact that there IS another perspective on the world her first response is to retreat into herself. And become rather a bother to the people around her.

She becomes annoying for exactly the reason Stephen Hawking’s quote is genius: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

It’s one of those cautionary tales about how certain we can be about being right–while we are, in fact, wrong. One of my favorite TED talks is by “wrongologist” Kathryn Schulz, who asks a question about what it feels like to be wrong. Her audience falls into her trap, describing the embarrassment and pain we’ve all felt at one point or another. Schulz points out… really… that’s the feeling of realizing we’ve been wrong. We were wrong before we discovered we were wrong, and it felt an awful lot like… being right.

So while Anne faces her wrongness with little grace, my invitation to my readers is follow Schulz’s invitation to look out at the universe’s vastness with the eyes of wonder that allow us to say, from time to time, “I don’t know.”

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ X is for Expatriate

a-to-z-letters-xThis was another tough letter, until I realized one of the things Anne resents the most in Blood to Fire is her forced expat status. The book opens, in fact, with the revelation that she’s all but sequestered herself in a passive-aggressive rebellion against what she views as her entrapment in the Russian Federation. She almost comes across as a xenophobe–despite her love of research and learning.

This is the way she is most different from me. I still count as close friends people I met when I (or we) were not in our home countries. Something about exploring new things together is an uncommon bond, and makes friendships established in those circumstances last beyond what many Americans expect.

In fact, I recently read an insightful blog post about what it means to be an expat, and, even though my experiences as one were primarily from a child’s perspective, I still found myself nodding at the strange dislocation returning “home” can bring. I am a third-culture kid, with the perpetual outsider’s view on the communities I inhabit, which is in many ways a freeing perspective, and also, I suspect is part of why I have the romantic sense of “home” being where those I love are, rather than any geographic location.

It’s a lesson Anne will continue to learn as the Red Slaves trilogy comes to a close.

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ W is for Winners

BLOOD TO FIRE TourCarla and I have counted, coordinated, and confirmed, and we have an official list of winners from the Rafflecopter that went along with my recent virtual book tour.


$25 Amazon Gift Card

Beth Gallinger


5 Sets Autographed Paperbacks

Amber Hall

Beth Haney

Mary Preston

Tes Halim

Tina Connor Myers


10 Sets eBooks

Arely ZPerez

Bonnie (Book Lady)

Christy Harrelson

Elizabeth L

Katrina Whittaker

Kristen Heyl

Natalie Cleary

Sandy Lion

Shadow Kohler

Shannon G*

*Not yet confirmed


Congratulations to everyone who won and thanks to everyone who participated–I felt well-loved with the huge participation the give-away garnered.

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ V is for Visit

BtF_coveridea_01a_600As we’re getting to the end of the alphabet, I find it interesting that chapter 1 of Blood to Fire is titled “Visit”… So you get an excerpt today–the first few paragraphs of book two of the Red Slaves trilogy:

Thereโ€™s an annoying twinge intruding on my consciousness; Iโ€™m happy, tucked away in my stone niche, reading. Someone is looking for me again. I know who it is, but I donโ€™t want him to find me. At least not yet. I didnโ€™t want to be mated, yet I amโ€”to Ivan, the prototypical leader of the pack. Not only that, but I have an entourage. Ivan, Vasily, and Fyodor are nice men. Good men. Good-looking men. But Iโ€™m used to being on my own, and the past couple of months have shown me more action than I ever expected to face based on my preference for sedentary pursuits. Life would be perfect in this library-like nook if I just had something to nibble.

Maybe if I sit still and focus harder on the words, the voice will go away.

The words blur together and my vision is overlaid with images of food on our dining room table. I reconsider. I am hungry after all.

Even as I uncurl myself from the velvet-covered bolster that had made the chaise such a comfortable retreat, I mutter about room-mates. โ€œI havenโ€™t had room-mates since I lived at home and had to share with my sister. Why doesnโ€™t anyone understand I need alone time?โ€

โ€œYouโ€™re talking to yourself again.โ€

I whirl around and find Olga smiling at me. โ€œYou! Youโ€™re back?โ€ I run toward her, but stop myself from a full-on bear-hug attack. She hugs me instead. โ€œWill you stay longer this time? Save me from an overdose of men?โ€

She laughs. She really is beautiful, and marriage seems to suit her. Iโ€™m thankful my research-partner-in-crime has returned to me. I know sheโ€™s been busy setting up a branch office to satisfy my erstwhile boss, Sam Stone, so the latest ancillary to his empire will run efficiently. Not that the stress is apparent in her face. The complexion that had glowed previously is now truly radiant, and the twinkle in her eye is ever-present. โ€œWeโ€™re here for two weeks this time, in honor of what our boss likes to call Holiday Shut-down. Andrei is settling our bags into the guest suite. Ivan said you had hidden again but maybe you would come if I asked nicely?โ€

Intrigued? It’s available in both eBook and paperback formats from Amazon.

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ U is for Unwanted

uloved-unwantedI really struggled coming up with another U for this year’s Red Slaves theme… then I thought about all the things Anne does not want. Prime among them was the relationship and transformation she ended up with–but there was a deeper meaning to the unwanted theme, too.

And… I won’t share it for its spoiler-tude.


In the meantime, I found a vendor selling this t-shirt, and am left shaking my head. A few comments on the product page pointed it toward a Downton Abbey meme, though I haven’t watched the show, and a small bit of digging didn’t reveal anything to the point. So I’m wondering if this is just an extreme example of irony… because I feel like I’m missing the joke.

As a society we have such a hard time appreciating our true value as individuals, and already have such poisonous soundtracks running through our brains regarding our stupidity, lack of beauty, and other perceived deficiencies, it’s difficult to see how adding a real label of this kind would help us move toward inner loving-kindness. What do you think?

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ T is for Travel

20130423-010405.jpgI wasn’t really sure what I wanted to write about for T, but then figured the dislocation of travel was enough of a theme in my Red Slaves series to warrant comment.

The superficial dislocation we feel when faced with a new location is but the most obvious of the changes we face. When, as with Anne, you have to adapt to a new culture over a longer term, there is the opportunity to really explore who you are and grow into a new person, defined by an understanding of yourself gained through a new context.

One of the reasons I’ve always felt comfortable traveling is because the opportunity to see who you are when juxtaposed with something wholly unexpected offers one of the clearest paths for growth that I know.

In Anne’s case, I suspect she holds on to her past so tightly because she is not confident of who she is at a core level–and she doesn’t like herself when it comes right down to it. Which makes it surprising to everyone when she is able to establish such fast friendships.

I’m not sure what it is about travel, either that contributes to the swiftness of accepting new buddies, but I’ve both seen it happen and experienced it enough times that even that element is true to life in this story.

What about you? Do you like to travel?

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ S is for Solzhenitsyn

Alexander_Solzhenitsyn_in_Moscow,_December_1998I’ve made several references to Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn in talking about my Red Slaves series, so it seemed only fair to dedicate a post to this man. He was a dissident born in December 1918 and was the first to expose the western world to the Soviet system of gulags, or forced labor camps, through his writing–which was based largely on his personal experience of that system.

His prosecution under Article 58 for anti-Soviet propaganda operated as an object lesson for Igor in Dust to Blood, and remains a symbol of how repressive the Soviet regime was for free-thinking individuals.

I appreciate him for some of his well-known quotes:

Literature transmits incontrovertible condensed experience… from generation to generation. In this way literature becomes the living memory of a nation.

And the one that could be the cautionary tale for those who would again imprison dragons:

You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, and the autobiographical essay he penned on that occasion is worth reading for yet another perspective on what repression and secrecy can inflict on an individual. He died in 2008 in Moscow at the age of 89.

#AtoZChallenge โ€“ R is for Rescue

rc_adopt1Although there is a significant rescue scene in Blood to Fire, and there are thematic elements about rescuing abused individuals throughout the Red Slaves series, they all constitute spoilers. So I’m going to talk about a different kind of rescue near and dear to my heart: Animal rescue.

We rescued our second and third Siberian Huskies. We knew Kyra (the first one we’d gotten) needed her Husky-buddies, after we moved away from the two playmates she’d had in Charlottesville, and I joked from early on that she was a therapy dog for dogs, but that was never more clear than when we saw the listing in the Arizona Husky Rescue for a neglected girl they’d named Chloe. We were supposed to meet her and her foster mom in Tuscon, but ended up driving all the way to Phoenix to see her. She was underweight and her nose was all lumpy in the way that dogs that survive attacks get. She bonded immediately with my husband, and then we had the almost-5-hour drive to get back home.

rescue-dogShe thrived in her new home, but needed a name that fit her “enforcer” personality. With the help of an animal communicator, she let us know she’d answer to Wolfee. Even though she was larger than Kyra, and Kyra is not the classic dominant dog, she was happy to be Kyra’s second-in-command.

Then we saw an ad in the monthly Silver City free newspaper from the local humane society listing the animals running out of time. My husband said we couldn’t let them euthanize a beautiful Husky girl, so even though she was the same age and sex as the two we already had (and had been returned to the shelter once already for having killed the cat in her prospective home), we took a visit to the High Desert Humane Society. We took a trial walk with all three, and on the way back, Sasha hopped into the back of our car as if to say “OF COURSE I’m coming home with you.”

While Sasha would have preferred to have been an only dog, and did what she could to get the other two in trouble, she was also so sweet, she won us over despite the trouble.

We had our group of three until the dark year of 2010, when first Wolfee (in March) and then Sasha (in September) crossed the rainbow bridge. Kyra, the oldest of the three, mourned as hard as we did, missing her friends and sisters. We debated getting another rescue, but had learned through both earlier experiences that the adjustment period can be physically rough. Since Kyra had lost weight she could ill afford to lose as part of her mourning, and she was already 12, we decided to get another puppy. But we continue to support rescue organizations, including the one whose graphic graces this post: Best Friends Animal Society out in Kanab, Utah, where their aim is for no more homeless pets–and certainly nothing as barbarian as euthanizing the older, harder-to-home kinds of dogs who enriched our lives so significantly.

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