Shieldmaidens – the controversy continues…


A couple of things flew by me in the ether this week, reminding me that we haven’t discussed women and war for a while.

The first thing was a paper from the archaeologists at the centre of the debate about the formerly assigned male, now definitively identified as female, warrior grave remains from Birka.

The other was the ridiculous assertion by the author Andrew Klavan: that women – ALL women, apparently – were incapable of using swords. The reaction from the Twitterverse was pretty predictable, and funny, starting with (although certainly not limited to) pictures of the USA women’s Olympic fencing team.

Now, the Birka osteological study and discussion is erudite and conclusive, neatly demolishing the arguments against its critics. It securely and pretty conclusively shows that the provenance of the remains as beyond reasonable doubt, and equally conclusively shows that the biological sex of the remains is no longer in question, although I suspect that many will continue to fight a rearguard action against the results of the findings.

The Klavan stuff, on the face of it, is just an ignorant, angry old white man, screaming because he might have to change his mind about his own inherent superiority over the rest of the world. One could simply dismiss him as part of the dinosaur class, soon to be dead and forgotten.

But in truth, both Klavan and the scientists arguing from these increasingly fragile positions are part of the same group. Just because one of them makes unfounded, unsupported general statements devoid of known facts, and the other couches their disdain in endless requests for more and more impossible “proofs” not required of similar findings that don’t disturb their worldview, doesn’t mean they aren’t part and parcel of the desperate need of some people to not have to alter their thinking.

But don’t take my word for it.

You can access the finding about Bj. 581 here

and view, if you haven’t already, Klavan’s spittle-laced outrage, it’s here

If we can just survive till these guys all die off, we just might change the world.

Flash Fiction Friday!

I went to see a fortune teller, once, down along the twisted alleys and crowded lanes in what had once been a temporary hanger for the first colonists’ ships to Atilion, right out on the edge of the known galaxy.

She peered at my palm, spat in a bowl twice, and then laid out some dilapidated star cards on her table.

“You’re lucky,” she said.

I pointed out that I was unemployed and broke, marooned on a fifth rate planet with no way of ever getting off it, and betrayed by every friend and relation I had.

“See?” she said. “Lucky.”

Free to starve


It’s the advice everyone gives to self-published authors.

“Giving books away for free will get you sales.”

Oh, they smile (metaphorically, of course, because all this is on-line advice) and pat your little digital hand, and reassure you: “Oh, we know, honey. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works!”

And in a way it does. You get a little bit of buzz going – people tweet and retweet about you for maybe ten minutes. If you have more than one book, you’ll get some sales on the one that isn’t free, and then you can, a week or two later, turn it around, and get a few sales on the other book.

And all your friends and relations are way impressed, and they like and share you all over Facebook, and everything is grand.

Sooner or later, though, you hit the slump. Everyone you know that was willing to download for free has done it. But the gurus, the marketing pros, the old self-publishing hands, they just send out another digital grin and tell you to do a big social media splash and offer Everything and More for FREEFREEFREE again.

“Watch,” they say. “Sales will boom!”

And sometimes, they do, for a little while.

The trouble with having everything for free is that people come to expect it. The trouble with successively putting your work out for anyone to download without paying for it is that people who might otherwise shell out those laughable pittances that are keeping the wolf from your door – they come to realize that they don’t have to. All they have to do is wait until the next desperate move from the author comes around.

Every author hits a sales slump. Sometimes it can be measured in days or weeks. Sometimes it paces down through literal years.

But this is the advantage of self-publishing.

With a traditional publisher, if your books don’t sell, they let them go out of print. If you were really smart and lucky, you might get some of the rights back, but for most first-time authors, well, they usually get to keep those rights for decades, and even if fans are clamoring for a re-release, they probably won’t do it, because they’ve already lost money on you, and they aren’t about to risk any more.

As an indie, though, time really stays on your side. Your book can remain technically available forever, on Amazon, on Smashwords, and through whichever Print On Demand service you went with.

The upshot? Giving books away for free is a short-term mechanism that ceases, over time, to give anything back to you. Giving books away for free actually trains your readers to expect free content.

The bloody opposite of what you meant to do.


It’s time to stop.

Flash Fiction Friday!

There is no “up” in space.

Still, the capsule was painted with its name and registration numbers as if there were, and as I crawled along the rim and tested each sensor, trying to find the one that was malfunctioning, I did it in relation to those markings, as if gravity still prevailed.

I had tried not to. I considered it each time I went hull-side, because everyone whose ranking excepted them from ever having to do rim maintenance and repair work laughed at you when they found out you did, but it was no use: the moment you turned yourself over, your brain and body revolted against it.

Throwing up in a vac-suit is not an option you should choose.

On Friendship


They say that it’s hard to make friends after a certain point in your life.

Somewhere in your twenties, apparently, you have the friends you have and…everything grinds to a halt.

Even with social media. According to Elle Magazine    at age 25, even your peak mobile phone usage slows down, and you – stagnate, I guess.

But on an anecdotal basis, I cannot agree.

Social media has been a godsend for me, and I now have friends all over the planet. At 64, I’ve found my tribe, and their ages range from late-teens to 70-year-olds. They come in all sizes and shapes, and in every conceivable gender definition available.

We bare our souls in DMs when we’re depressed or anxious.

We send out virtual hugs, we wrestle with the problems of the world, we make each other laugh, and we hold each other up when things look bleak.

We introduce our friends to each other, and expand the circles.

Maybe we don’t always get to meet each other in the flesh, but they are there.

If I wake up at 3 am in a state of existential panic, I can log on and somewhere, no matter the time zone I’m in, there’s someone awake who is there to cheer me up or reassure me that things are not quite as bleak as I believe.

When I share good news (“Hey! I sold a book to a stranger!”) they are there to type “WOOT” into the comments.

I’ve sent money to people going through a time of trouble, and they’ve come to my rescue when I’ve been in need, too.

For the record, I think that many of the pundits and dinosaurs don’t really understand friendship.

It’s not about getting drunk together in a bar.

It’s not about singular experiences shared in real time.

It’s about honesty and trust and being one’s true self when the chips are down.

And if it is hard to form new bonds after you’ve left adolescence behind, it might be because you (personally or generally, I’m not pointing any fingers here) listened when society told you that you are not supposed to care about people outside your immediate circle, and that “wisdom” is what makes you afraid to open up to a stranger, makes you unable to widen your horizons – forces you to concentrate on getting through your working day as if that were the only thing that mattered.

If you are here, you are at least a potential friend.

If you are here, you have something to offer me: a new perspective, a different vision, an interesting solution, or maybe, just a moment of strength when I need it – and I will offer the same to you.

So let’s build this together.

Flash Fiction is back!

They met every Tuesday.

It was a familiar sight to the young mothers coming in to the library for the half-hour respite that the “Tales and Tots” reading circle gave them, and to the job hunters accessing the computers at the tables beside the check-out counter, and even the transient homeless coming in for shelter on bitter winter mornings always smiled their hellos as the women passed by.

They would sit in the vinyl-covered easy chairs clumped together at the very back of the reference section, each with their knitting on their laps. Just three very old women who spent Tuesday mornings helping, with their knobby, arthritic hands, to wind off balls of brightly coloured wool, to knit crazily-patterned scarves and sweaters, or soft pastel baby booties, or dark, masculine winter hats, all the while talking softly to each other in a language that no one else in town recognized, but that the head librarian, who had once been to New York City for a conference, said she thought might be Croatian or something like that.

Every so often, one of the women, in response to an inquiring tone from another woman, would pick up the large, black-handled scissors from the low table in front of them and snip off the trailing edge of yarn.

And outside somewhere, for someone, down the block or a thousand miles away, the pain of living was ended.

The problem with Rudolph or Not the Nicest post-Christmas thoughts



Every year, we all have that discussion, online and in person.

About Rudolph. About the way it’s a metaphor for how people only are nice to someone else when they want something, how most of society engages in making sure that those who are different are socially punished, and how adults in authority enable bullying, or at least turn a blind eye to it.


And nothing seems to change. For all the rhetoric and workplace/school training. We haven’t gotten the real message.

Time and time again, the people who are bullied are made out to be the problem.


In schools and workplaces all over the world, the bullied child/adult is disbelieved and considered the instigator, and/or the responsibility for managing the situation is laid on them:

“Just walk away!”

“Stand up for yourself!”

“Try to make friends with them!”

“Tell an adult!”

That last one? That’s the kicker, because the instant response of almost every adult authority is simply “What did you do to make them mad at you?”

The bullied child in the schoolyard or adult in the workplace is NEVER believed when they do tell. Double that statement if the bullied person is female.

Until something happens – something that cannot be ignored.

Something dire.

If that something is that the person being bullied does finally retaliate in kind, they are the ones who are punished.

If that something is self-harm or suicide, the handwringing, the pearl-clutching, and the victim-blaming begins.

“Why didn’t they TELL someone?”

I do not believe, having watched so many children and adults go through this, that anything has changed at all, except cosmetically. We’ve altered the narrative so that watching a video or attending a seminar means the problem is solved.

Back-pats and self-justifications all round.

And that’s why, despite all those videos and workshops and training seminars, we still sit down and weep sentimentally as a big fat guy in charge of a large organization steadfastly ignores the isolation and shaming and bullying of a slightly-different reindeer, until they all need those unique differences to perform their own roles in life – as if it showed what great, magnanimous folks we all are.

That’s why the Rudolph story is still acceptable.

And that’s why, for many people, Christmas kind of sucks.