Happy New Year and All That Jazz

Happy New Year, Everyone – Good riddance 2016! I can’t say that I’m all that hopeful that 2017 will be a great year, but January always provides an arbitrary shiny new slate and it’s here.

One of my goals for this year is to organize myself and create a time-management plan that I’ll stick to. The plan is in place, and I think I have a good chance of working within it. Unfortunately, I’m already a bit behind. Yes, I know it’s only the 6th!

My husband and I decided to have some long-overdue house maintenance performed, which aside from stress and some sore muscles from two weeks of moving furniture and loads of stuff hither and yon and yon and hither resulted in a “may you live in interesting times” moment two days ago when my house threatened to explode in a ball of flame, not the type of fireworks I want to see for the New Year.

The fix the electrician thought would hold our outside electrical box until the part he needed to order could come in didn’t see eye to eye with some high winds and driving rain that came through our area. While some folks may find it fun to listen to whoomphing sounds coming from your walls, even with the inside electricity turned off, and to smell burning char with zero idea how to stop it, I am afraid I’m not made of such stern stuff.

A panicked call to our electrician resulted in his arrival and installation of the part that had come in far faster than we all hoped. So my house is still standing and if my office is not yet ready for work in the New Year because I’m missing a desk that the supplier seems to be having great difficulty selling and getting to me, at least I’m not missing the house to wrap around it.

My goal this year is to post at least once a week on my personal blog, preferably more, now that the group blog I participate in – The Million Words – is up and running. If any of my writer friends or scientist friends want to guest post about what they’re working on, drop me a line.

The desk is supposed to arrive today. Wish me luck.

The Holidays are Coming – Everyone Hide

turkey-1299176__480I am a guest this week on Lillian Archer’s blog. “Down the Rabbit Hole” delves into historical accuracy in speculative fiction, detailing a few of the bumps in the road I’ve run into, over, or been derailed by.

Janet Walden-West obviously has the Holidays on her mind and is apparently a bit grumpy about pie in her most recent post Pie Isn’t Worth It.

In “A Journey of a Million Words,” Ken Schrader plays with asterisks and makes his introductory post at The Million Words.

Finally, a reminder to check out the posts on mental health of the Hold Onto The Light Campaign. The Holidays are here and depression runs rampant across the land.

“Seventy-One Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity”


A few years ago, a group of multidisciplinary marine conservationists, including myself, met together and hashed out what we thought were the most important problems facing the field of marine conservation that were not being addressed. Our conclusions were published in “Seventy-One Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity”  in Conservation Biology. The questions comprise a broad array of disciplines, including fisheries, climate change, ecosystems, policy, marine citizenship, societal and cultural considerations, scientific enterprise, and other anthropogenic effects and will take years to address. Check out our methodology and conclusions at Parsons, E.C.M., Favaro, B., Aguirre, A.  et al. 2014. Seventy-one important questions for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Conservation Biology 28: 5, 1206–1214.

In Memoriam: Melanie Otto

Three years ago give or take, a good friend of mine wrote a blog post describing a writer’s group she had helped form and the weeklong retreat that ensued.

Struggling to learn how to write, the next time I saw Margaret I begged her to let me join the group. I learned later she took my name to the others in the group and convinced them to let me join.

As an introvert, I began to reconsider what I’d asked for as the weeklong retreat approached. Spending a week with ten other people only one of whom I really knew was a bit daunting, but I went, learned a ton, got myself going in the right direction on my writing, and realized I had fallen in with a fantastic group.

All my fellow Roaring Writers were strong writers but more important to me they were kind, funny, caring people, each and every one willing to help answer any writing questions I threw their way.

We wrote. We talked about writing and about life. And we laughed. We laughed a great deal.

The next year, I was comfortable with everyone and the same thing happened. We wrote and we laughed and laughed and laughed.

We’re not laughing this week.

One of us is gone forever.

Melanie Otto
Photo by Judy Bienvenu

Melanie Otto was a fellow Roaring Writer with a heart of sunshine. She laughed and smiled. She encouraged me. Discussed my writing. We both loved cats and spent some time giggling over our furry pets, the way you do when you meet someone you know you can be silly with.

Melanie was recovering from a bad cold or flu that first year and had to miss some of our writing workshops, which upset her, but she still smiled and laughed her way through the week. She had an infectious enthusiasm that I envied.

A list of interests is always so much less than the sum of the person, but sometimes it’s what we have. An avid photographer, Melanie taught classes and always seemed to have a camera nearby. I met her through our mutual love of writing, and she was an excellent storyteller. She loved anime and cats, but most of all she loved Judy, her partner of twenty years.

This past Friday, Melanie succumbed to a brain hemorrhage that occurred the previous week. At dawn on Friday, she passed away, as Judy noted, “always a photographer, she went to chase the light.”

The Roaring Writers have lost a spark, a woman who was calm and happy and above all enthusiastic about life. We will miss her. I will miss her. Rest in peace, Melanie.

Melanie had an AVM, a congenital condition, that made it impossible to get affordable life insurance and which resulted in the brain hemorrhage. Donations to help Judy and Melanie’s brother, Craig, defray funeral expenses can be made at the Melanie Otto Memorial Fund by Craig Otto.

New Writer’s Blog – The Million Words

I am a member of a writer’s group with some amazing people. We are all at different points in our careers, with a few having published books and short stories, and others still striving for that first acceptance.

The publishing industry is in a state of complete flux, with authors scrambling to publish and make a living in a crowded industry, with overworked agents and editors, low pay, and vanishing brick and mortar bookstores.

My colleagues and I have been lucky. The science fiction/fantasy convention circuit has a number of authors willing to act as mentors to aspiring authors, and we have been privileged to learn from them. Many of those established authors have spent significant portions of their time helping other writers.

In that spirit of sharing knowledge, we decided to start a group blog to share our experiences with other authors and anyone else interested in the vagaries of the current publishing world. Our blog will discuss our personal journeys as we strive to get published and share some of the advice that we have received.

Check out The Million Words and the first post, “The Promise,” by my colleague, Alexander Gideon.

Driving Through Panic: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post


I drove around the curve of a two-lane road only to find a car crossing the centerline, headed straight at me. Panicked, I swerved the few feet I could on a road that had no shoulder, a small dirt bank, and a stone wall to my right. The other car returned to its lane and drove on, but not before my panic blossomed into a full-scale meltdown.

I gasped for breath on the verge of hyperventilating. Tears in my eyes, I couldn’t see. I faced a half-hour commute home in DC rush hour traffic, and I was a mess.

I stopped in a parking lot to pull myself back together. No damage to my car, and I was unhurt. A few months before, I’d hydroplaned a 360 on Rock Creek Parkway driving too fast on rain and wet leaves. No such emotional distress then. I struggled to explain why I had such an over the top reaction to that small incident.

That was the start of a period of time where I would freak for no reason, with no warning. Walking into a grocery store. Going to work. Sitting at home, doing absolutely nothing.

I finally mentioned what was happening to my Mom, who without missing a beat informed me that my panic attacks had begun. Women in my family are prone to panic attacks that appear in our twenties, gradually waning as we get older. Mom didn’t warn me earlier, because she didn’t want me to talk myself into having them.

When I was invited to join the #Hold the Light campaign and write a post on mental health issues, I didn’t know what to write.  I considered describing my sporadic depressive fits where I stare at the walls for a day before I pull myself out of the funk and move on, but compared with the deep depression others live with that seemed trivial. I ran through the list of other mental health issues, deciding that while I could write on some of them, I could always think of someone who had a worse experience. Mine were so mild in comparison. Finally, it hit me that I was thinking of mental issues as a contest. Who had the worst PTSD? Who had been hurt worst by a suicide? Whose depression was deepest?

So I shook off my misgivings about whether my experiences had value. I happened to run into someone recently having a panic attack and that decided me on talking about mine.

As an introvert, one of the most difficult things for me to do is the “first” of anything. The first meeting, the first day of a job, the first time I visit someone’s home. To a certain degree it doesn’t matter how much  I think I will enjoy myself. What matters is the newness, the unknown. When a depressive fit slams me, doing something for the first time is daunting.

The cynic in me wondered how much good this campaign will do because one of the things we repeatedly call for is for people, who are struggling to reach out, to contact their friends, to contact help centers, to know they are not alone.

I know when I am depressed that reaching out is difficult.  Calling a stranger on a help line would seem comically impossible.

But maybe if people become more aware of how common mental health issues are, they will seek help coping before they are overwhelmed. Perhaps introverts will not face the double struggle of coping with the newness of a problem and the requirement to dial a telephone and ask a stranger for help, if they’ve seen others discussing the same issue. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but we should at least try.

A great deal of time has passed since my twenties, and I had to search my memory to remember the fear and the emotional whiplash of those days. In the end the panic attacks disappeared, just a freak of biochemistry that played havoc with my life for a short time period and then faded away.


#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on our new Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

The Kraken in the Aquarium

The Kraken has been released! A new paper I am co-author on looks at questions that need to be addressed that are  being ignored for any number of reasons and that will require shifts in current thinking to solve. This article stemmed from a series of workshops where a diverse group of marine conservationists met to determine important questions in marine conservation that we thought were being inadequately addressed. “Seventy-Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity” by Parsons et al. discusses the more straightforward questions. “The Kraken in the Aquarium: Questions that Urgently Need to be Addressed in Order to Advance Marine Conservation” tackles some of the more daunting questions such as research funding cycles not being aligned with ecological cycles and entrenched special interests. Check it out!


Cigliano, J. A., A. Bauer, M. M. Draheim, M. M. Foley, C. J. Lundquist, J. B. McCarthy, K.W. Patterson, A. J. Wright, and E. C. M. Parsons (2016). The Kraken in the Aquarium: Questions that Urgently Need to be Addressed in Order to Advance Marine Conservation. Frontiers in Marine Science. 3: 174. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00174

Parsons, E. C. M., B. Favaro, M. Draheim, J. B. McCarthy, A. Aguirre, A. L. Bauer et. al. (2014).  Seventy-one important questions for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Conservation Biology 28, 1206-1214. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12303.

ConCarolinas 2016

I have just returned from Charlotte where I attended ConCarolinas, a multimedia convention  focused on speculative fiction – fantasy, horror, and science fiction. This year’s guests of honor were  Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Nana Visitor, Ursula Vernon, This Way to the EGRESS, and Rich Sigfrit. The convention organizers  seem to have a deep commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for the attendees.

This is one of my favorite conventions, because of the quality and variety of their offerings: writing and publishing panels; a film festival; paranormal panels;  gaming room; costume contest and cosplay panels; author tables, signing, and readings; Dealer’s and Art rooms; Charity Auction; SCA people;  and more.  I immerse myself in the writing/publishing tracts, and my husband finds plenty to occupy himself. I’m still hearing about the hour of conversation he enjoyed with Michael Hogan in the hotel bar last year while I was at a panel!

The variety of offerings could be overwhelming, but the convention organizers have taken steps to mitigate the potential chaos. The panels are clustered by subject, so for example, the writing and publishing panels are usually in two rooms and the book tables of the authors and editors who sit on the the panels for those tracts are set up close to those rooms, minimizing the running around for the panelists and allowing the panels to run right up to the hour. Those interested in writing and publishing quickly learn where to hang out.

The experience wasn’t perfect. A few glitches occurred in the schedule, leading to a little confusion but given the clustering of the panel rooms it didn’t seem to cause too much trouble. The hotel air conditioning gave out, and Saturday got more than a bit hot in some of the event rooms and hotel rooms, but convention organizers can only do so much where hotel problems are concerned.

I was impressed this year by the quality of panels I attended. I can’t speak for them all – I mostly attended writing/publishing panels,  but the ones I saw  were  on topic with the panelists offering quality insights. The moderators this year seemed particularly well prepared. They had questions or structure in mind before the panels began  and took pains to include all of the panelists in the discussions. One of my pet peeves involves one panelist speaking so much they dominate the panel preventing me from hearing  a variety of views, but that didn’t happen on any of the panels I saw.  So kudos to the panelists, moderators, and organizers!


Myke Cole: Military and Magic

Myke Cole is rather infuriating but I mean that with all admiration. Each book I’ve read of his was better than the last, and the first was excellent. He is the creator of the Shadow Ops universe (first trilogy: Control PointFortress Frontier, and Breach Zone) and the second, which is set previous to the events in his first (Gemini Cell and Javelin Rain). Mr. Cole draws on his experience as a military officer, security contractor, and cyber warfare specialist to imbue his books with a gritty military realism that is reminiscent of Griffin’s Brotherhood of War series and Bunch and Cole’s Sten series, the difference being that one was realism and the other science fiction. The Shadow Ops universe is military and magic.

What happens when humans in the world as we currently know it discover how to use magic? How would our government and military react? How would people, both collectively and individually, react to a sudden influx of magical power? The military aspect of the books interacts with a creative magical system to form a compelling backdrop, but the soul of these two series is how people cope when everything they thought they were changes and everything they thought they had is gone, often with no warning. The books in the Shadow Ops universe are entertaining and thought provoking, and I highly recommend them. For more information, check out Myke Cole’s website.