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On simple-minded science

originally posted at

Here's a video of me on my personal connection between literature and science: both are simple-minded, monastic, and willing to dig deep. Simple-mindedness is a virtue to me. Want to know why? Here:

I'm addressing the Knowledge Integration Students at the University of Waterloo: students who decided to integrate a number of different passions instead of narrowing themselves to one. They are an impressive and exciting group and I was honoured to get to talk to them. The book I mention researching is *Sorrow's Knot.*

This is up online thanks to the good folks at The New Quarterly (hi, Melissa!) who edited this down from an hour. The edit is so good it makes me wonder what else I said. Over at their QuArc issue (a joint issue with Arc celebrating the intersection between science and literature) you can see more video from this talk, and read my essay on the history of the names of quarks.
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Swan Riders grows feathers

(originally posted at

 I am pleased to report that my fledging novel is flapping along.

This is the second book of Children of Peace, which for now I'm calling *The Swan RIders*. I've added a few thousand words this week. Specifically I wrote the opening chapter, and the climax for the first act. Unfortunately, while I know the beginning and end of the first act, I don't know the middle, don't know my way from A to B. (I do know they go by horse and existential crisis, but that's about it. Speaking of: shoot, I think I'm going to have to take a riding lesson or two. At least it will add some variety to the rather gruesome research I've been doing into sucking chest wounds.)

It's possible when I do take that A to B journey that makes up the middle it won't end up where I think it's going to and I'll have to scrap the chapter. But oh well. The important thing for now is that I like it. I have one character who's a hoot to write for. I am always trapping myself with emotionally closed characters who are interested in things like order and restraint (Greta Stuart, I'm looking at you) so when I get over the top characters it's delicious change of weather. This one is prone to replying to little questions like "Are you all right" with: "A list of the various ways in which I am not all right, Greta, would top the Oxford English Dictionary. The unabridged one. With the little magnifying glass."

Anyway, I write ever spare second and think of the book when I'm not wiritng. When you start daydreaming about your own stuff, you're onto something.

I'm setting a #wipmadness goal for July of 15,000 words total. I'm at 7,000 now.
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Gee. Is that a bulldozer you parked in my driveway, WSJ, or are you just happy to see me?

 Me, and just about every other YA author I know, am grumbling about this WSJ article/opinion piece.  In the piece, the reviwer today's "brutal" and "violent" Young Adult fiction as "book industry's ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young." All hope is not lost, though, because "No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives."

Ummmm.  Okay.

Listen, WSJ, I know my book, Plain Kate, isn't a light read. It takes place in a world where being a bit different can get you run out of town at best, burned as a witch at worst. (You may be familiar with this world: high school students seem to be.) Among other things it is about friendship and its limits, family and its loss, the strength of community versus the horror of the mob. It is a book about grief and courage. Writing it cost me quite a bit of both.

If the internet quotation collections are anything to judge by, if any sentence from Plain Kate will be remembered, it will be this one: "Hope will break the heart better than any sorrow."  Sometimes I think I wrote a whole book just to say that. And whatever else you think of the resulting book, that's not a coarse theme, and it's not a miserable one. It's a dandelion seed, not a bulldozer.

But you have to watch out for dandelions. You flatten a whole genre and lay down a nice sticky layer of disapproval, and the next day the unruly little flowers are cracking on through.
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I now help with query letters

The other day my fledgling editing service (with its affordable introductory prices: check it out) got a request:  could I help with a query where I hadn't read the book?  I wasn't sure I could, but I gave it a go ...   Writing one's own query is like doing one's own dentistry, but doing someone else's is actually fun.  And my client sent me this testimonial, which made me smile even more!

 "Erin worked with me to craft a killer query letter. She made a real effort to get to know my book and its characters so she could help the letter strike the right tone and voice. She was generous with her time, her thoughts and her amazing creativity. I could not be more pleased by the result: a clever, concise query letter that encapsulates my heroine, hits the high notes and leaves the reader wanting to know more. This is one query I'm proud to send out the door.

Erin's services went well beyond my expectations. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend working with her or to work with her again myself. In fact, I'm almost hoping for a full manuscript rejection, so I can have her look at my whole book!"
- Gilly S.

I'm going to add a stand-alone query service to my suite of services.  I'd love to do this again.  
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Interview at Beth Hull's site!

In keeping with my new "I don't blog, but can manage guest posts" philosophy, here's a link to an interview I did at Beth Hull's site.  

I have to post this particular excerpt, because I did a lunch at Our Lady Of Lourdes high school in Guelph, and I promised that if they googled me they'd see pictures of my (scandalous!) writing studio on my blog.  I had a great time at Lourdes: they treated me so well, and they  made me want to go back to high school and start a book club.  Obviously, we needed a book club: how did I miss that!  I salute the librarian there for seeing the need, and the kids for joining.  And for being smart and interesting and great hosts.  

Without further ado...  Beth asked me what my writing space looked like, and got more than she bargained for.  On  the other hand, her writing studio is in the "Love Shack," so maybe this was just what she was expecting.

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Goat Sex in Action!

Since I've been tweeting about the fun of researching goat sex, I thought this week's teaser for Children of Peace could be about, well, goat sex.  Here we have Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax, Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, and blood hostage to Precepture Four, discussing the matter.   (If you want to know why the children of kings are raising goats in the first place, the first chapter is over here.)  

So, then: August. It is perhaps a strange thing that the children of kings and presidents should concern themselves with the sex lives of a herd of milch goats, but come the end of August, it was time to do just that.

The Precepture strives to be self-sufficient, a model of environmental rationalism. To that end we grow our own food, and keep chickens and goats. In the Precepture barns, many a young prince has learned the facts of life, such as: there’s no need for more than one rooster. Or one billy goat. They are (respectively) noisy and smelly, and left to their own devices, they fight for dominance. So, like Talis himself, we kill off the trouble makers.

In their season the male offspring of the flock and the herd provide the Precepture with welcome doses of meat, for those who choose to partake. Most of us do. We are the children of realpolitik, not sentimentalists. Our herds give us meat, and we eat it.

But the fly in the amber of this ancient system is inbreeding. Go more than two generations with only one billy goat, and you will regret it. It’s only a handful of newly come Children who balk at eating (as one young Jainist rajan told me earnestly) food with a face, but all of us dislike it when our food is born with two faces. Therefore, in earliest September, we inject some fresh blood — or, rather, other vital fluids — into the system, through the services of a billy goat from a different herd.

Someone, generations back, decided that this grand event should be known as the Royal Visit. (While waiting to be executed, we Children take our humor where we can.)

Fall is the breeding season for goats in any case, but to bring all the nannies into estrus at the right day, we hedge our bets. Ampoules of goat drugs come in our yearly supply shuttle, with our clothing and our salt and our medicine and the handful of other things we cannot make for ourselves. They are in two kinds.  The first is pheromones: we snap open the thin glass tubes of Essence of Billy Goat and apply it to a buck rag, which can be simply rubbed around the face of the nannies. This is a smelly job, and can be a dangerous one. I have seen many a nanny driven mad by lust: they bleat as if you were killing them and some of them bite or even ram like billies. Last year mild-mannered Dipsy had pinned Han against a fence and broken three of his ribs, provoking a diplomatic incident of a scale our Precepture hadn't seen since Bihn killed herself with a pitchfork when we were all ten.   

Anyway, the buck rag is the better half of the job. The other half, a synthetic hormone, must be applied, shall we say, internally. From the other end.  Briefly I will say: this is not the highlight of our year.

So. There came a day when Elián had a goat named Bug Breath in a headlock, and I was applying the hormonal cream, wrist deep in something I imagine princesses of old got to miss. ....

I actually haven't finished researching goat sex yet, so please do not rely on this section for goat breeding advice.  And if you are a vegetarian, please be offended by Greta, not me.  
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Dear Twitter: "It's for a book"

Yesterday on my twitter stream

erinbowbooks to twitter:
You know how you can ask twitter anything? "I need to block wireless transmissions across a 100 km radius. It's for a book." Well...

erinbowbooks to twitter:
Now I need to know about goat pheromones. Are there any goat breeders on my list?

libertysyarn to erinbowbooks
I probably have some:  what do you need to know?

erinbowbooks to LibertysYarn
Need to know how you might use synthentic goat pheromones. Can you encourage nannies to breed out of season, for instance?

erinbowbooks to LibertysYarn
Actually I really need a source. I have lots of goat sex and general goat questions. (It's for a book. I SWEAR.)

The next day

erinbowbooks to twitter
I can still taste the sour adrenaline I generated killing someone yesterday. Also my neck hurts. Writing: who says its not physical?

erinbowbooks to twitter
And by "someone" I mean a CHARACTER. Murder: it's for a BOOK. I SWEAR.

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teaser for Children of Peace

A teeny teeny teaser for my novel in progress, Children of Peace. I just added the blurb for this book to my works-in-progress page -- about time, since the first draft is about two-thirds done. In this scene, something bad has just happened to my character, Greta, and she's recovering.

Darkness fell, and stars beyond the shattered roof. The Abbot lit one of the golden lamps. He was silent, crouched at my side.  “You should sleep,” he said, finally.

I closed my eyes for a moment, but terror loomed up in me. I opened them. “You should shelve the books.”

“Ah,” he said. “That I could do.” He unbent his hexapod suport  and leaned forward, his hands on the upper joints, wheezing like an old man. He paused there a moment. And then he turned to the books and lifted one delicately.

I watched him work in the lamplight, and he did not seem like a machine. He lifted the tumbled volumes as if they were flowers. He tucked them to sleep on their shelves.

“Would the whole world were so easy to order,” he said. “So easy to repair.”

“Would that it were,” I said, and closed my eyes.

Would that it were, indeed.  By the way, do check out my re-vamped website, complete with brand-new descriptions of my editing service and school visits.  The spackle is still a little wet, but it's looking better all the time.