I’m writing for LEGEND OF THE FIVE RINGS!

I’ve been sitting on this news for nearly a year, waiting for my first piece to go live so I can tell you all about it.

So there’s this game called Legend of the Five Rings. It was a collectible card game and RPG; I got involved with the RPG, doing some freelance work for the later parts of fourth edition, because it had sucked me in overnight. The setting, Rokugan, is inspired by Japanese history and culture, and it’s got the kind of rich worldbuilding that makes the place come to life for me. So when the parent company sold L5R off to Fantasy Flight Games, I was, shall we say, rather determined to stay involved.

And I am. But not writing for the RPG this time: instead I’m one of their fiction writers. You see, one of the defining characteristics for L5R has always been the ongoing narrative of the game, influenced by the winners of various tournaments, and expressed through official canon stories.

My first story is here!

I think it should be a decent introduction to the setting for those who aren’t familiar with it. (In fact, that’s one of the goals for this first set of stories: give newcomers an overview of Rokugan, clan by clan.) If you like what I wrote, you might find L5R overall interesting, and you can check out the other fictions here (those provide links to the pdfs if you want to see the pretty formatted versions).

Yeah . . . I’m pretty excited. 😀 The setting has been rebooted back to the Clan War, so there’s an opportunity to do all kinds of cool new things, and this story provided a really great chance to showcase that, with the Dragon facing two entirely fresh conflicts that don’t come with easy answers attached. And I’m working on more stuff as we speak, so my involvement will be ongoing. *\o/*

New Worlds and Dice Tales!

The most recent New Worlds post is on sumptuary laws, i.e. the ways in which societies try to regulate the outward signifiers of class and rank.

Looking back at my previous blog series of BVC — Dice Tales is now set to be an ebook! You can currently pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, and Kobo; or you can wait for the on-sale date of July 18th and get it from DriveThruRPG or direct from the publisher, Book View Cafe. This is edited and expanded from the original blog series, with more than half a dozen new essays.

And — as a teaser — while it is my first foray into game-related publishing, it may not be my last . . .

that whole “tikkun olam” thing

I’ve been making these tikkun olam posts for about half a year now, and responses to them have been slowing down, which I suspect is in part a sign of fatigue. It’s hard to keep on working to repair the world when so many people seem determined to break it, and when it’s hard to see any result for your effort.

But sometimes you can make a very real difference to a very specific person. Chaz Brenchley has put out a call raising funds to treat his wife’s multiple sclerosis. If we lived in a country where this was covered by insurance, they wouldn’t have to worry; instead we live in a country where Republicans are trying to take away even the insurance we already have. Karen is the primary earner in their family, and she doesn’t know how soon she’ll be able to return to work. Helping out, either by donating directly, or by subscribing to Chaz’s Patreon, can make all the difference in the world to these two people, and to their friends and family.

And while you’re at it, call your senators and beg them to oppose Trumpcare. Because I’d like to live in a world where things ranging from anxiety to surviving sexual assault don’t count as “pre-existing conditions,” and where health insurance companies are required to cover things like doctor’s visits.

The Little Cherry Tree That Could

When we bought our house last year, the property included one Meyer lemon tree, two apple trees (producing four kinds of apple between them, because grafts), and something we dubbed the Charlie Brown Cherry Tree.

Remember the Christmas tree in the Charlie Brown holiday special? Yeah. It was like that. Shorter than I am, spindly, rather lacking in leaves, and though we can’t remember how many cherries it produced, the number was small enough to be counted on one hand. I don’t have any pictures of it, but you get the idea.

This past winter, we finally got an abundance of rain. Also, our neighbors trimmed back a tree on their property that had been overshadowing the cherry.

Oh. my. god.

Here’s one branch of the tree. Note how there are more cherries on this single branch than the entire tree produced last year.

a small cluster of cherries on a tree

Here’s a shot of the most abundant section when it was really starting to gather steam:

a downward shot of cherries on a small tree

And here’s the near-final tally; there are still a few more cherries ripening on the tree that I haven’t picked yet.

a plastic container full of cherries

About half of those were harvested yesterday. Reader, I tell you: I got BORED picking cherries. Pick, pick, pick, for god’s sake why are there still more cherries to pick; I’ve been out here forever. They’re frozen because the tree is still shorter than I am, and even with its present abundance, we have to save up to get a useful amount. (They’re sour cherries, so less the kind of thing you just snack on than what we buy at the farmers’ market.) But we have enough to do . . . man, there are too many possibilities. My husband has been making jam out of various fruits, so maybe that. Or a pie? Is this enough for a pie? Maybe some little tarts or something? I don’t know.

I only know that it’s no longer the Charlie Brown Cherry Tree. Ladies and gentlemen, this is The Little Cherry Tree That Could.

Spark of Life: WILDERS by Brenda Cooper

Not to be confused with my own series! Brenda Cooper’s novel Wilders takes place in a world on the other side of an ecological collapse. Here’s what the cover copy has to say:

cover for Wilders by Brenda Cooper

Coryn Williams grew up in the megacity of Seacouver, where every need is provided for—except satisfaction with life. After her parents’ suicides, her sister, Lou, fled the city to work on a rewilding crew, restoring lands once driven to the brink of ecological disaster to a more natural state. Finally of age, Coryn leaves the city with her companion robot to look for her sister.

But the outside world is not what she expects—it is rougher and more dangerous. While some people help her, some resent the city, and still others covet her most precious resource: her companion robot. As Coryn struggles toward Lou, she uncovers a group of people with a sinister agenda that may endanger Seacouver.

When Coryn does find her sister, Lou has secrets she won’t share. Can Coryn and Lou learn to trust each other in order to discover the truth hidden beneath the surface and save both Seacouver and the rewilded lands?

What was the spark that brought Coryn to life?

*

Wilders is the beginning of a new series for me. Although I’ve written a number of near-future stories set on Earth, Wilders is the first novel-length science fiction I’ve set on my home planet. Everything else has been set some indeterminate time in the future in a different solar system, in space, or once, in the far past. Setting things in brand new made-up worlds is easy. I love world-building.

But I wanted to write more directly about us. So I plunged in a book about two broad topics I care about: the environment and technology. Wilders is about a time fifty years in our future, with fabulous and powerful cities full of technology, entertainment, and safety. The land between cities has been ravaged by climate change. In order to explore the technology thread, I needed a naïve protagonist who readers wouldn’t fault for being way-too-dependent on her robot companion. Even though my viewpoint character, Coryn, would learn enough to be compelling through the story, I struggled to bring her to life early on. Some very bad things happen to her. These give her great pain, so she is sympathetic, but still, frankly, a little boring in the first few chapters. Coryn also doesn’t know enough at the beginning of the book to tell the story of the world to the reader in any detail.

So I needed help, but I didn’t know what kind.

Coryn is a runner. This is how she dumps her pain, and her loneliness. Running. Her robot, Paula, is her only friend. Paula trains her, and together they run through the city, deeply immersed in augmented reality worlds. Then one day a much older woman, Julianna, runs right past Coryn, and makes it look easy. Intrigued, Coryn follows her.

Now, I had never seen Julianna before. She wasn’t in my rough outline. She wasn’t on my list of characters. I didn’t know who she was or what she looked like other than the gray ponytail from the back. But Julianna’s existence opened entire avenues of exploration into the hidden secrets of my future city, and she became a main character in Wilders and in the sequel (tentatively named Keepers). Her backstory is the backstory of the city, her wealth is the key to resources I need later, and her deep distrust of robotic companions makes Coryn question her own blind trust of Paula. In fact, the first moment this happens is on the first run, where Julianna make Coryn leave Paula outside of the restaurant with her own security robots. Here is when that happens:

At the landing, the still-nameless woman leaned over to her. “Leave your companion outside.”

That surprised Coryn. “She usually sits with me.”

A slightly perturbed look crossed the woman’s face. “Well, I’m going to eat with you. She doesn’t need food. She can stay out with my guards.”

Coryn blinked. Paula’s job was to keep her safe.

So that’s the spark that helped bring Wilders to life. Its name is Julianna. She sprang to existence exactly when I needed her.

*

* Reserve an autographed copy from University Bookstore in Seattle
* Amazon Kindle Version
* Amazon paperback link
* Indiebound

*

Brenda Cooper is the winner of the 2007 and 2016 Endeavor Awards for “a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors.” Her work has also been nominated for the Phillip K. Dick and Canopus awards.
Brenda lives in Woodinville, Washington with her family and three dogs. A technology professional, Brenda is the Chief Information Officer for the City of Kirkland, which is a Seattle suburb.
Brenda was educated at California State University, Fullerton, where she earned a BA in Management Information Systems. She is also pursuing an MFA at StoneCoast, a program of the University of Southern Maine. Learn more or sign up for her newsletter at her website: http://www.brenda-cooper.com.

New Worlds and Denver Comic-Con

The latest posts from my New Worlds Patreon are:

Also, I’m going to be at Denver Comic-Con! Just got my schedule today:

  • Friday, 1-1:50 p.m. — Avadakedavra! Magic in Literature
  • Friday, 2-2:50 p.m. — Kicking Butt in Corsets
  • Friday, 5:30-6:20 p.m. — The Past Is Here: Writing Romantic Fiction with an Historical Backdrop
  • Sunday, 11-11:50 a.m. — But Is It Epic Enough?
  • signing 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday

If I can scrounge up the time and brain cells, I also want to post about Wonder Woman. Short form: go see it! Longer form will have to wait, though.

messenger bag/backpack recs?

My beloved Timbuk2 messenger bag is kind of dying. The bag itself is still pretty solid, but the waterproof lining on the cover has at this point cracked in enough places that just sticking electrical tape over the splits is no longer going to cut it.

The problem is, Timbuk2 doesn’t seem to make this bag anymore. It’s their convertible messenger bag/backpack — I don’t remember the product name anymore, but I don’t see anything like that on their site. (If I’m just overlooking it, do point me in the right direction!) Who else makes a good, solid product in that vein? My three requirements are 1) waterproof, 2) with a protected laptop compartment, and 3) convertible.

Mind you, there is an argument to be made that I’m better off with an actual backpack and an actual messenger bag as separate things, because this was never ideal as a backpack. But it was dead useful when I did my research trips for the Onyx Court books, because I could put it on my back while hiking ten or fifteen miles around London, and then switch it to a messenger bag to look more professional when I met with people. I’m not doing that type of trip these days, so the need is less pressing than it used to be. But still, I’ve gotten used to it, and don’t want to give up without at least a bit of a fight.

In it for the long haul

One of the hardest things about our current political situation is that it isn’t going to be over any time soon. Getting involved for a day? That’s easy. Staying engaged for a month? That’s manageable. But keeping it up for years . . . that’s hard. It’s like the whole concept of dieting: the best thing to do is not to restrict your eating habits for a limited time, but to change them indefinitely, in a way you can sustain long past the point when that initial surge of energy has burned out.

Tikkun olam doesn’t work very well as a binge. It’s a way of thinking, a way of living. So another month, another repetition of the question: how have you been thinking and living? What things have you done to repair the world, in your own life or someone else’s? Donations, volunteer work, efforts to build a better future or to mitigate harm you see coming. Any good is good, no matter how small.

Lemon substitute?

My husband is allergic to citrus — not badly so, not to the level of “get him to a hospital” or “break out an epi pen,” but he should try to avoid it when possible.

. . . there are a lot of recipes that call for small amounts of lemon juice.

Is there anything that would make a good substitute for this? Something mildly acidic, I presume — maybe some kind of vinegar? White wine strikes me as the most “neutral,” but then again, I know little enough about this that I may have just typed utter nonsense. Recommendations appreciated.

Safe Haven

Over the past few months I worked my way through the five seasons of the TV show Haven. In its core structure, it’s basically Yet Another Procedural: each week there’s a mystery, the heroes investigate, the mystery is solved by the end of the episode. But the premise of this one is speculative — an FBI agent discovers weird things going on in a small Maine town — and spec-fic shows usually pair their procedural-ness with at least some degree of metaplot, which I find myself really craving these days. So I figured I would give it a shot.

And for the most part, the structure is indeed conventional. Weird Thing Happens. Audrey Parker (the FBI agent) and Nathan Wuornos (the local cop) investigate. The problem is inevitably being caused by the Troubles, a set of supernatural afflictions that plague many residents of Haven. Our heroes find the Troubled person responsible —

— and then they help that person.

I mean, every so often they do have to arrest somebody or it even ends in death. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on solving the Troubles, not punishing them. In many cases, the person responsible doesn’t realize they’re the source of that week’s weird thing; when they do know, they’re often terrified and unable to stop their Trouble from hurting people. These supernatural abilities trigger because of emotional stimuli, so week after week, you watch Audrey untangle the threads of someone’s psychology until she figures out that they need to accept the fact that a loved one is gone or reconcile with an estranged friend or admit the secret that’s eating away at them, and when they do, their Trouble lets go.

It is amazingly refreshing, after all the procedural shows I’ve seen that involve people with guns using those guns to solve their problems. (There’s a key moment late in the series when the entire Haven PD gets sent out to manage a big outburst of Troubles, and they literally get a speech from the police chief about how the people causing problems aren’t the enemy and need to be helped, not beaten down.) In fact, it’s so refreshing that I was willing to forgive the show’s other flaws. The scripts are often no better than okay, and for the first four seasons the characters are remarkably incurious about the metaplot: they accept that the Troubles show up every twenty-seven years, Audrey is somehow connected to them, etc, but it takes them forever to get around to asking why, much less making a serious effort to find the answers. (In the fifth season the show dives headfirst into the metaplot, and the results are less than satisfying.) Furthermore, if you’re looking for characters of color, you basically won’t find them here. Haven does a pretty poor job in general with secondary characters, often getting rid of them after one season; I can only think of two people who get added to the cast after the first episode that stick around instead of getting booted out of the plot.

But the character dynamics are pretty engaging, some of the episodes have a pretty clever premise . . . and it’s a show about helping people. About resolving problems through addressing their underlying causes. About how, if somebody has a Trouble but they’ve figured out ways to manage it without hurting anybody, you clap them on the back and move on to someone who’s having more difficulty. There’s a good-hearted quality to the show’s basic concept that kept me interested even when I could have been watching something with better dialogue but less compassion.

More compassion, please. We need it.