y1: new synopsis and my 3 favorite excerpts

I’m talking a close look at my older blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my earlier novels well. I’ve added my latest book synopsis and placed a few of my favorite excerpts on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would post these improvements as a blog post as well. Enjoy!

y1 is the second novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. This page contains a short description of the book y1 followed by three of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase y1 at at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble

Zane swore as a child to protect all the odd people of the world, studying chameleons and muscle groups to teach himself to alter his own appearance. No longer a young boy too smart and too different to fit in, Zane starts his first job at a pharmaceutical company where he uncovers layers of corporate secrets that hide surprisingly vile plans. Once he is sent on a sales trip to the South Pacific, it becomes clear that there are those who would kill to protect the mysteries that the company has worked so hard to keep hidden.

Charged with murder and hunted by an unsavory boot camp manager, he finds himself sailing to remote islands with a shadowy group known as y1. As a young gay man sometimes forced to hide his true nature at home, Zane discovers love with a young man of the Pacific whose past and whose talents are every bit as unusual.

Fantasy, reality and speculative science come together as Zane must find a way to use all of his unique abilities to resist turning from a murder suspect into a murder victim. He still plans to keep his childhood promise, if he can only live long enough to do so.

Excerpt 1:

At the end of February, the television kept talking about a bomb which had gone off in the parking garage of some giant building in New York, killing five people. The man on the TV said the bomb had ended the belief that Americans were safe from attack.

His mom had taken him and Ariel to see Aladdin for a second time at the dollar theater because they had both liked it so much. The movie’s hit song, “A Whole New World,” had just made its way into the number one spot on the charts. Zane sang the title to himself. “A whole new world …” He didn’t sing very well, but Zane had liked the movie. He liked all stories about creatures with special powers, and he thought that the genie was really funny.

Zane was glad that no one else was upstairs with him that day as he sang because after Balthazar gave Zane one of his one-eyed knowing looks, his reptilian skin made its first transition from subtle greens and browns to a spectacular bright orange. Zane grinned. He didn’t know what orange meant with other chameleons, but Zane felt sure that it meant that Balthazar was very happy.

Then Zane took a deep breath. Forcing back his fear, he made himself remember that time last summer. That time he had been so scared. Every so often Zane’s dad made him go outside and play with whoever was around, and he had been playing hide and seek with neighbor boys he didn’t really like because they did more mean things than most. On this day, Zane had taken great pains to conceal himself particularly well because he especially did not like to be “it” with these guys.

As the one boy came close to the bushes in which Zane was so carefully hidden, Zane had noticed his bare foot was still sticking out onto the orange-brown soil. He dare not move it now. So he had thought hard about his foot muscles and did his best to flatten the foot tight against the ground, and to hold it very still. While he did this thing, the skin on his foot had started to burn and itch too. Zane looked at it, alarmed at first, and saw that his foot was blushing. At least, it had turned a shade of red orange brown that mimicked the dirt. And that had been his first inkling that he could do more than make his body’s shape twist and warp a little more than most people could. Zane had watched his orange brown foot in fascination while the neighbor boy ran on by.

Afterwards, Zane worried that he had imagined it. But then every so often after that, Zane’s skin would surprise him, just like his muscles had already sometimes surprised him with what they could do. After awhile, he could feel a color change coming, this kind of burning feeling, and he knew what to expect. So he finally figured that he needed a teacher. A wise teacher. Like Balthazar.

Zane watched the chameleon’s orange skin with fascination.

“Can I learn to do that when I want to, wise one?” he asked.

He tried hard to make the feeling inside that he felt when his skin did this all by itself. He concentrated hard on his arm. At first nothing happened. Then, yes. He felt the feeling. He made the feeling. His skin on his arm went from its normal light tan to a tan orange.

“You and I are going to be great friends,” Zane told the chameleon quietly. “You are going to help teach me ways to fight the bullies in this world. And you are the only one who is going to get to know just how really strange I am.”

Zane could have sworn that Balthazar turned even brighter in delight.

Excerpt 2:

Toby was considering whether he should buy more pineapples. Samoan pineapples were consistently tasty and he loved them, but he didn’t want to buy more than he could eat before they spoiled. He was also concerned he had bought more fish than he could eat, but it was too late to remedy that.

He looked behind him and saw a young man with unusually straight jet-black hair and a Polynesian’s round face that held East Asian eyes. A genetic blend of the Pacific Rim, the young man was wandering along the dock near the back of his boat. He was thin and wiry for a local, and looked harmless as he took off his shirt and shoes as though he were thinking of jumping into the water. Toby glanced away, giving himself one last minute to enjoy the sight of the pretty harbor with the older wooden houses and shops framed by the fast-rising hills and dense trees.

He smiled at Aggie Grey’s famous hotel, where yesterday he had been pleased to enjoy essentially the same hamburger as those that the legendary lady had served to America’s servicemen in World War II. You had to appreciate a tourist place that served such good food and had such a fine story to tell. And you had to appreciate a harbor town that in today’s world had maintained a feeling of existing somewhere between the 1800s and the 1950s.

As he nodded to the stately twin spires of the Roman Catholic Cathedral that had guided him in safely between Apia Harbor’s two reefs at least a dozen times over the last few years, he heard a splash that he assumed had been made by the young man going for his swim. He turned and focused on getting the rest of his gear aboard and heading out.

He was just starting his engine, always preferring to use it to get easily in and out of a harbor, when he noticed three stout Samoan men wearing the traditional wrap around lava-lavas marching out towards his boat as though they had just made a decision.

The oldest of the three waved at him and shouted. “Stop your engines. We need to check your boat for a missing boy. We saw him heading out onto this dock.”

“Oh, sure, I saw him,” Toby yelled back as he waved a hand agreeably, pointing towards a shirt lying on the wooden pier. “He jumped in the water here. A little odd, but no harm done. He didn’t bother me.”

“We’d like to make sure he’s not on your boat,” the Samoan persisted as the three men approached the craft. Toby shrugged. “Look for yourself.”

Toby thought, I wonder what happened to the boy’s shoes?

There wasn’t that much looking to do on his vessel. There was seating for up to six above deck, and a cabin with a head and separate shower, a compact galley area and sleeping arrangements for up to five, depending on what was raised or lowered and how. The men boarded without further courtesy, which irked Toby a little. He was sensitive to people walking into his home. One man methodically began opening each of his storage areas above deck, while another descended below and opened the door to the head to reveal a small toilet seat with no one on it.

“I’ve been right here. I promise you he is not onboard,” Toby added with growing irritation, not so anxious to have this bunch of strangers pawing through all his possessions, legal though they were. “Please gentleman, I would like to be on my way.”

The man who had opened the door to the head ignored him, opening the larger storage areas located below deck, starting with those beneath his sleeping and sitting areas. One was filled with kitchen supplies, another held clothes and toiletries, yet another lifejackets. He shrugged to his cohorts.

“We guess he jumped in the water then. Let us know if you see him. He could be dangerous.”

Toby’s dark brown eyes widened. “What’s he done?”

“We don’t know details. He’s one of the young men being kept at one of those special schools for troubled teens here on the island. We have a few of them. These kids are lavished with good care and opportunities to grow into decent adults, but sometimes they don’t realize what they’ve been given, and they try to escape so that they can return to their old and troubled ways. We help the school by returning the misguided ones. He’s better off at this school, believe me. So if he does turn up, do him a favor and let us know.”

“I will. Thanks for telling me.”

Well that was a new one, Toby thought. Maybe these men had a point. He didn’t even realize that there were schools for, what, misguided youth on Samoa? Go figure.

He had just gotten safely past both reefs and was tacking slightly under a nice slow breeze, heading northwest on a course for Funafuti, when he decided to go below and grab some water. A movement caught his eye. The lid to one of the smaller storage areas tucked around in the back of the cabin was opening slowly. Surely a person could not have fit into that space? Toby felt a surge of fear, and looked around for something that might do as a weapon.

He grabbed a knife as the stowaway tumbled to the floor in a mess of ropes. The small young man in the briefest of underwear rose slowly, shook himself as he stood, then turned around, with apology in his eyes, to face Toby.

“I am so sorry about this. And I am so sorry about no clothes. Please do not hurt me. Please.”

Toby took a deep breath and decided to hear the other side to the story.

Excerpt 3:

It was hard not to like Peter Hulson when one actually talked to him in person. In spite of his age he had a liveliness about him, and his still sharp, bright blue eyes were probing but not unfriendly. He shook Zane’s hand warmly, gestured him onto a soft green velvet-covered settee and offered Zane water or coffee. Zane passed, although he wasn’t sure if it was more rude to accept or to decline. He allowed himself an appreciative peek at the surprisingly unobstructed view of Lake Michigan that the top floor provided.

“I’ll get right to the point, young man,” Peter began, drawing his attention back. “It’s well known that I am always seeking bright new young people here, and that I like to mentor them myself. I get a fair amount of grief from my VPs about it being beneath my pay grade, but the fact is that I want my company to not just exist but to thrive for a very long time. The way I see it, that only happens if I can hand the reins over to not one but at least two more generations of focused, brilliant, committed successors.”

A swirl of sorrow came and went from his face so quickly that Zane thought that he might have imagined it. The older man kept talking.

“I’m finding that these brilliant, committed successors are a bit in short supply. But, you’ve landed on our doorstep with excellent grades from an excellent school—did you know that Penthes sponsors a neuroscience scholarship at your alma mater?—and managed to get yourself in a position reporting directly to my director of sales and marketing. Word is that she thinks that you have excellent potential.”

Zane tried to smile appreciatively.

“Excellent potential.” Peter repeated the words for emphasis. “I don’t think there are two finer words in the English language, young man, than ‘excellent potential.’ So I’d like to personally do what I can to, well, encourage you.”

Zane tried to make the smile even more appreciative because he just didn’t know what to say.

“Would you consider a trip to Fiji to be encouragement?”

Okay, he could answer this one.

“Yes. I think most people would.”

The older man chuckled. “Good, good. Brenda and Gil are in the process of putting together a very important conference for us. I have told them to spare no expense. Raju has assured me that we are near approval for our latest R&D endeavor, a specific cocktail of some of our older drugs, designed in such a way as to particularly target the problems of anger and rebellion sometimes found in older children and younger teenagers. We believe that we could save untold numbers of families huge amounts of grief if instead of hostility and even illegal behavior in this age group we could provide a treatment which would result in more mature and acceptable choices being made by these young people. Mind you, the drugs aren’t new, but the combination and the approach are. And this conference in Fiji is designed to introduce our new product in the most favorable light possible. The success of this conference is important to the future of this company.

“So, I’ve okayed sending Brenda to Fiji late this month to do a recon. In spite of you being new, I want you to go with her. Help her with travel and logistics, but also keep your eyes open and your brain on and to help us to find ways to make this little symposium a huge success. Have ideas for us, Zane. Think for us. Will you do that?”

Of course Zane said yes. He said it sincerely and shook the man’s hand and thanked him. Because Zane wasn’t an idiot.

But on the ride back down on the elevator, Zane kept seeing his fourteen-year-old sister Teddie’s face. She had anger. She had issues. More than he had at that age, for sure. But she also had a huge heart and a creative streak a mile wide and Zane really wondered if both Teddie and the world would be better off if some doctor was totally convinced that she should be medicated.

A highly sanctimonious marriage

wedding2Next week I will have been married to the same man for 34 years.  That’s a pretty significant chunk of time. Much of it has gone well, some of it has not. Am I glad I married him? Absolutely. But today, I am thinking about what has made the worst times happen.

Things that have made my marriage occasionally suck:

  1. Getting in stupid fights over things that don’t matter. (We spent a whole evening arguing over a math theorem once)
  2. Losing my temper. (I’m a curser and door slammer. He’s a sulker.)
  3. Somebody not saying “I’m sorry” soon enough (him and me both) and meaning it
  4. Somebody not responding with “it’s okay” soon enough (him and me both) and meaning it

That’s pretty much it. If we could have gotten those down a little better, it would have been an easier 34 years.

Things that have NOT made my marriage worse:

  1. The amount of money we did or did not have
  2. Who else in the world got married, didn’t get married, or wanted to get married
  3. Any government policy regarding marriage, or in fact any government policy at all
  4. How other married people behaved or didn’t behave
  5. Actually …. what anyone else in the whole world did or did not do

That’s it.

Why is that so hard for those trying to protect the sanctity of my marriage to understand?

Back to reality?

The last time I paid ongoing attention to the news was in the spring, before a cross country move and the subsequent chaos in my personal life. I was vaguely aware of various GOP politicians announcing their candidacy for president, of several more horrific shootings and deaths, and of a supreme court ruling on gay marriage that pleasantly surprised me. It was sort of a blur of happy, sad and comic, to be honest.

trumpAbout a week ago, something in my brain re-engaged.  I’ve always been a news junkie. It began with high school speaking competitions, and was strengthened as I got a journalism degree in college. I usually care about what is happening in the world, and when you follow it every day you don’t realize that your own mind fails to question the logic of what is going on. The problem with stepping away from it all for awhile is that at least some of it is hard to believe when you come back.

Donald Trump is the leading GOP candidate in the polls? Really? Followed by a distant Ben Carson? Nobody is making this up? What happened to all those other guys who seemed kind of rational?

boyI read that thousands of refuges from Syria and Iraq are desperate to get asylum in Germany but for some reason they are are stuck in Hungary because of red tape. The sad image of the washed up body of a small boy has finally inspired outrage at the situation, and has also inspired this moving sand sculpture by Indian artist Sudarsan Pattnaik.

Meanwhile the hungry, thirsty and exhausted families have banded together in a massive march to the Austrian border. Hungarian police seem to be helpless to either aid them or stop them, and so are advising them to at least wear clothing easily visible at night. It sounds surreal. Surely this story isn’t true. What went so horribly wrong here? And why to do I have to turn to the BBC for more information on this subject?

BL CoreyOh yes. The USA is busy being transfixed  by a clerk in Kentucky who has decided that her personal religious convictions allow her to refuse to do her job.  Apparently resigning isn’t an option for her, and neither is the time honored method of delegating tasks she does not believe in to her sub-ordinates. (Her deputies in Rowan County will obey the law of the land and issue marriage licenses to any two humans who want them, but this particular clerk is having none of that either).

Twitter was LIAO thanks to the witty twits of a fictitious clerk in the same Kentucky office, and while the humor flared on one end with internet memes, George4it erupted with outrage on the other as the U.S. supreme court refused to get involved and a U.S. District Judge sent the sanctimonious clerk on to jail, where she may refuse to issue marriage licenses that offend her for as long as she likes.

What is wrong with us?

I don’t ask that question when I watch the news most nights. It all seems normal then. I think perhaps I should take a break like this more often.

Am I a shape shifter now?

I never expected to be able to reshape my body the way my characters Zane and Nell do. I’m not planning on sneaking into executive offices after morphing myself into an indistinguishable cleaning lady and I’m even more unlikely to stop a killer his in tracks by taking on the appearance of his latest victim.

shutterstock_33520513However, I’m discovering a mental sort of shape shifting and it has its uses. As I see my extended limbs become glowing rivers of light that stretch for miles out into space, the kinks in my back evaporate with the image. I have an excellent yoga studio to thank for this. I relax my muscles, my brain and even my soul as I become a happy baby or a resting child. I can be a tree, a cobra or a pigeon as I improve my balance and my flexibility.

I might not take to all this so easily if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find an excellent qigong instructor a couple of years ago. He has a knack for taking a secretive and sometimes indistinct discipline and making it come alive to twenty-first century Americans. My whole sense of balance changed when he shared the concept of “bottom heavy, top light”. My brain now sees my rooted foot or feet as made of iron, or as being a strong plant with roots that twine deeply into the earth. My reaching arms become gossamer wings, lighter than air as they stretch into the heavens.

Psychedelic 15You might think this is just a mental game, until you watch me change a light bulb. I mean a real light bulb, in my real living room. Or watch me paint the top of the wall next to the molding. “Wow,” my husband remarked. “Has your sense of balance improved. How did you reach that?”

Do you have any idea how much easier it is to do yard work when you can lower into an easy squat and stay there till the task is done? I’m not doing yard work, of course. I’m a Hungarian archer riding a wild horse, thanks to the qigong exercise called “riding a wild horse”.  I admit that the shape-shifting is entirely in my mind. The resulting physical prowess is entirely real.

Have I turned into a shape-shifter? Or should I keep trying?

(For more about my recent adventures, metaphysical and otherwise, see my posts Wise and Quiet, If You’re Going to be an Old Car and Greener Grass.)


Please see Cindy Knoke’s beautiful blog post for some of the most stupendous sunset-over-the-ocean photos ever seen.     Sunset Progression Mid-Atlantic~.

Thank you Cindy!

The kinky of the future

I don’t know a better way to develop an open mind than to read science fiction. The very nature of creating alternate worlds has a way of making us question the assumptions of our own society. If done well, a speculative story leaves us with empathy for characters whose behavior causes no harm and yet would be offensive here and now. In short, we’re forced to question the rules we live by.

That’s not to say there is no wrong in science fiction. Villains continue to be mean, sadistic, greedy souls, and heroes still struggle to let the love in their hearts win the day. In world after world, the key points on a moral compass transcend time and space, even as authors acknowledge all the grey area in between. But as to the rest of those rules? In no arena is the arbitrariness of acceptable and perverted more apparent than in the world of science fiction sexuality.

good sign 4Creatures come in three genders in Isaac Asimov‘s 1972 Nebula award winning The God’s Themselves and regularly change gender in Ursula Le Guin‘s The Left Hand of Darkness from 1969. Hero Rydra Wong is part of a three way marriage in Samual Delany’s Babel-17, written in 1966. Decades before the LGBT movement reached the hearts of the average straight person, science fiction writers were pushing readers to question their heteronormative assumptions.

Other questions they posed still make me uncomfortable. I don’t member the name of the short story about a world in which normal healthy parents were expected to introduce their children to loving sex, but I remember how the very idea made me cringe. The story about a world which kept the strongest babies born each year and ate the rest still makes me nauseous when I think of it, but the writer’s description of the inhabitants horror at discovering that we ate animal flesh hit a nerve. I got it. I don’t have to change my own behavior or preferences, but it is worth knowing that my normal could be someone else’s disgusting.

Many clever writer’s have used the flip side of this to make their world more vivid. Once something becomes socially unacceptable, it has the ingredients for kinky sex. Of course, the more ridiculous the rule, the sillier the kinkiness becomes. The hero in Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale lives in a world where women are not allowed to read. The man who essentially owns her takes her to a secret place to do something depraved. Her worst fears are groundless. The man wants to play scrabble with her.

I’m now about a third of the way into Frederick Pohl and CM Kornbluth’s 1952 satire The Space Merchants, and I’m enjoying it very much. I just finished a scene in which a most likable character disgusts our hero with his perverse behavior. It should be said that the hero is a work in progress, an advertising executive slowly learning the ramifications of his work. The perverse act we witness? His friend likes to read alone in a library that is filled with countless books with no advertisements at all. So much space with no attempt to sell anything is considered obscene in this dystopia.

“I’m not a prude about solitary pleasures when they serve a useful purpose. But my tolerance has limits,” our hero says. Point well made.

(For more about why I think The Space Merchants is a clever and under-appreciated story, see my posts I Know Sexism When I See It?, Predicting the Future or Shaping It? and Through the Eyes of Another.)


What the hell happened in 1968? (The How to Get a Standing Ovation Edition)

“[The] American Independent Party candidate for president … urged Veterans of Foreign Wars Thursday not to be misled by what he called ‘liberal left-wingers, guideline writers and newspaper editors.” The first line of the Associate Press story states the news in faded shades of cream and grey.

wallaceI consider whether to find this opening funny or disconcerting. “What were they thinking in 1968?” I ask, as I take a closer look at the faded old newspaper, crumbled decades ago around the dishes that I am unpacking. It turns out to be an article about George Wallace, a former Alabama Governor most known for his zealous support of racial segregation, not for his failed run for the presidency in 1968. As I read on, forty-seven years melt away and I am Sherri Roth, thirteen-year-old news freak and hopeful Lois Lane-style journalist, skimming the news as I search for answers to the burning questions about life that keep me awake at night as I try to understand the universe.

“George C. Wallace” I read “devoted much of his speech … to attacks on communism.” I have to smile. Attacks on communism seem quaint and harmless today, although thirteen-year-old Sherri Roth was under the firm impression that both Lenin and Marx specifically advocated tyranny, massacres, and cruelty. It will be a few more years before she is surprised to learn that Communism is merely an economic philosophy and not a mandate to do evil.

panty girdlesIn his speech, captured in a copy of The Wichita Eagle from a Friday August 23 of long ago, Wallace took potshots at newspapers for being soft on Fidel Castro. He also decried anarchists, saying both they and communists “imperil this country internally and externally.” Young Sherri Roth isn’t sure exactly what an anarchist is, but the older Sherrie Cronin is pretty sure that Wallace was referring to hippies. The VFW of 1968 was not particularly fond of this group, and her suspicions are strengthened when she reads that “He was interrupted 25 times by applause, [and] given a standing ovation as he finished.”

Okay. This is starting to sound more like the news of today. Except for those poor guideline writers, that is. Even Rush Limbaugh doesn’t rail against guideline writers, at least as far as I know. What did they do back then to piss off George Wallace?

infinite times1“Guideline writers in Washington are trying to … cover every aspect of life, even to the point of telling a person when he should get up and when he should go to bed,” Wallace complained. Oh. Some government study must have recommended getting eight hours of sleep each night. Looks like that constituted government overreach in Wallace’s opinion.

I sigh as I remember some of the Tea Party complaints that have made the news recently. In 1968 you might have been able to buy a men’s pullover for $2.66 and a woman’s panty girdle for only a dollar, but other things haven’t changed all that much in forty seven years. Would George Wallace have a shot at the presidency today? You have to wonder.

For more notes from 47 years ago, where 13 year old Sherri Roth reports the news from the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle, see my other blogs posts for the Vietnam Edition, the Women’s Edition, the Won’t You Please Come to Chicago Edition, and the Race Relations Edition.

[From page 15A of the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle from the Associated Press News Service]