Well, shucks…

It’s one thing when a publisher circles the drain, and nearly everyone has known or suspected it would happen for months or years.

It’s another, when a *good* small press fails. One that was, by most accounts, doing everything right: lasting for longer than two years, choosing great books and authors, designing excellent covers, marketing professionally, and offering gorgeous, award-winning books.

Jolly Fish Press is closing at the end of October 2016. This was very sudden and traumatic for them, their authors, and the agents who worked with them. Even doing everything *right*, they still didn’t make enough to continue. They’re reverting rights before the end of the month, so their authors won’t have to go through the extortion hell of, say, Ellora’s Cave.

I had been considering JFP for a fantasy novel submission early next year. I’ll mourn what never had a chance to be. I’m deeply sorry for the folks who did get snarled up in this, and I’m heartened by the outpouring of condolences and second-chance gambits.

There’s still a couple of weeks in which readers can buy JFP books in the wild…go for it, if you can, and celebrate one of the better experiments in small-press publishing. While they lasted, they burned bright!


All this leaves me with that nervous butterfly-stomach feeling, about some of my planned projects.

I’ve stopped looking for agent representation for Singer until I can get it rewritten to my satisfaction. There’s no point in looking for rep for the Moro books, since the first is now a reprint and the others are sequels/spinoffs of a reprint. (No legitimate agent will touch that, if my name isn’t attached to a Hugo or a Nebula.) I’m left with self-pub. Or one small press that is lovely, but could follow Jolly Fish at any time. I can hope they’d revert rights as sanely as JFP seems to have done, but that’s a huge risk to take for something that would have to be self-pub anyway, in the end.

It may come down to flipping a coin.

This is the part of the writing life that new writers are stunned and depressed to discover: that the butterflies and the despair don’t end when you finish the damn manuscript. They’re just starting.

Christmas in October: Ebony and Horn

My quest to create miniature books around jewelry platforms…continues!

After contemplating my woodworking tools (and how much work went into a single mammoth ivory needle), I decided to outsource the jewelry forms. Find people who make stunning pieces from the start, and build on those beginnings.

The latest experiments start here, with five exquisite buffalo-horn rings and one ebony bangle bracelet, from the workshop of talented designer Que.


It took many Google searches and several weeks to find her.

The 2-tone horn ring tops are roughly 1″ square, and perfect foundations for more mini-books. I’m casting around now for page/theme ideas.

The bangle is going to be a 4-in-1 book, with textblocks bound on each flat rectangular face. I’m thinking a ‘Four Winds, Four Directions’ theme.

Check out Que’s shops and drool over images of her stunning horn, bone, and wood necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings, and combs. (Those combs!) Horn is relatively soft (just keratin), but it has its quirks, and is sometimes not easy to work. You’ll looking at the products of masters, from Que and her shop artisans.

Votive Bone Rings

I recently wrote about the materials and inspiration for a series of Dia de los Muertos-themed rings.

I decided to do only an edition of three books in this group, because I have different ideas for the next three.crane-book-dia-book-detail

To recap: Dia de los Muertos votive bone rings. On a platform of carved bone rings, I’ve stacked miniature linen pages embroidered with rainbow ribbons. Bone and leather pin closure, Coptic-bound spine, glass and bone-accented red tassels. Edition of 3, each slightly different.

Here they are closed.crane-books-dia-books-closed

And here they are open.crane-books-dia-books-open

Material: carved water buffalo bone, leather, rainbow-embroidered tan linen, poly-cotton ribbon, glass, waxed red polyester cord.

Ring sizes: variable.

Dimensions: approximately 1″ x 6″ x 1.5″.


Jewelry Maker’s PSA: Split Rings


Sooner or later, nearly every jewelry maker runs across this problem: how to join loops or links with a sturdy, practical, design-compatible connector.

Closed jump rings are difficult to design around. Open jump rings may pull apart at the worst possible time. Wire-wrapped jump rings and connectors can be strong and beautiful, but time-consuming to make and calibrate.

For durable, beautiful, precise, and secure connections in your jewelry designs, invest in split rings.


Shaped like tiny round key rings, jewelry split rings are half-hard tempered metal wire coiled into stacked, double rings.

How do you use them?

The round or triangular wire ends can be gently pried apart to fit inside a closed jump ring, chain link, pendant or charm bail, or crimped beading wire loop.

If you have strong thumbnails and you are not doing many connections, you can wedge your thumbnail between the split wires, and open them just enough to slip your loop, link, charm, etc onto the ring. (Hint: don’t do this if you are aiming to use several dozen or more split rings in a short time-span. Your thumbnails will thank you!)

You can also use specific tools called split ring pliers, split ring tweezers, or even a narrow, flat piece of metal like a small flathead screwdriver. Push your to-be-attached object all the way around the ring, until it can slide freely over both of the split wires.

The split ring re-closes once the new loop has been threaded completely around the double coil. Tension holds the ring together much more securely than a standard open jump ring (even the ‘Twist-Lock’ style), while the split ring design allows you to change out pendants or dangles with relative ease.

Split rings come in a variety of sizes from delicate (I’ve seen 4-5mm) to ginormous (real key-ring size 30mm across!), so you’ll usually be able to find one to complement your design and metal color.

Many beginning jewelry makers avoid split rings because of the slightly higher price (good manufacturing does cost), but professional designers know these tiny marvels are time and cost-savers in the long run. Try some today, and take your jewelry designs to the next level.

Where I buy mine.

Ellora’s Cave update

(Updated October 5, 2016.) I have just made the saddest $25 win that I ever bet.

(2nd update October 7,2016.) I’ll keep that $25 safely unspent in case I need to return it.*

Because a couple of years ago I privately bet a group of other authors that the embattled erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave was going out of business by the end of 2016. My friends thought the place would hang on longer.

Tina Engler and her mother Patty Marks will be shutting down EC by the end of the year, according to letters sent to the authors still on their contact list. Authors are required to send in a form by early November, or risk having their publishing rights ‘in limbo’. The kicker is that, in order to reclaim publishing rights, EC authors must forfeit any outstanding royalties.

The second kicker is the suspicion that any authors who do NOT accept this ‘deal’ may find their rights in bankruptcy limbo, sold off to EC creditors, or re-claimed by Engler & Marks should they reform Ellora’s Cave (note some funky stuff with Samhain closing then not closing last year.)

Given EC’s creative accounting and reporting procedures, it’s almost impossible to know how much or how little an EC author is giving up. For some authors, it probably amounts to a pizza or two. For others, it could run into thousands of dollars. What is almost certain is that no money will be forthcoming anyway, and getting the rights back may be more lucrative than trying to force a class action lawsuit.

Here’s an overview by another onlooker. Actual screenshots of the ‘We’re closing!’ FB post are a little scarce, probably because EC authors got understandably cold feet about exposing themselves to Engler’s ire.

Virginia Nelson steps up to the plate with her candid account of her time and dealings with Ellora’s Cave.

It’s important to remember that in its early days, Ellora’s Cave was a powerhouse. Stacia Kane has a great post here about her time with EC.

I read a lot of EC books over the years, and enjoyed many of them. One of the big, recurring problems I had was EC’s ‘house style’ of pushing as many sex scenes as possible into the mms, and its preference for ‘dirty talk’ whether or not characters would express themselves that way. It was a logical over-reaction in the early 2000s, to romance publishers who insisted on fade to black or truncated sexual content. But I came to erotic romance from the SFF world, not contemporary romance, so the constant over-the-top EC sex scenes seemed unnecessary. It’s also a problem faced by many small erotic romance publishers, even now.

I’ve been taken to task here and in other online forums for my somewhat jaundiced and cynical take on Ellora’s Cave and other failing/flailing publishers. That comes across as lofty and snide, to the poor authors who did fall for those schemes. Fair enough. I’ve also picked publishers and galleries, early on, that seemed great at first, and then lost some luster. It happens. It’s happened enough times to me that I’m cynical now. I risk what I can afford to risk, and take my chances.

I maintain that the clues about EC and Tina Engler were vividly apparent as far back as the summer of 2012 (and way earlier, if you read the comment below and know any EC history at all). Anyone signing with Ellora’s Cave since 2012, did not perform their due diligence…or took an educated gamble. I’m sorry for the ones who realize they’ve been had. I shake my head at the authors, especially the newer ones, who signed since the EC/Dear Author settlement a year ago, and who are still proudly and shrilly in Engler’s court. Remember, they’re siding with this woman, who threatened bloggers, authors, and the Romance Writers of America for pointing out ‘Hey, we haven’t been paid and your royalty statements are a joke.’

Tina Engler FU

Those authors? They are idiots, and have only themselves to blame.

I hope all the EC authors can do better on republishing the many great works that did come out of Ellora’s Cave in its better days.

* Some folks who are much wiser about publishing have noted that the Engler/Marks letter doesn’t actually say Ellora’s Cave is closing. It offers authors an extremely exploitative route to rights reversion, at the expense of accrued royalties. And a threat that authors who ignore this deal may regret it.

Is EC closing? Is it being sold to a competitor or to creditors? Will Marks and Engler rise afresh with a new business, through the miracle of bankruptcy? Or will they skitter off overseas, to enjoy whatever is left of EC’s once-bountiful earnings?

Stay tuned!

Agents, offers, assumptions, and bad behavior

This was going to be just a section in Filigree’s Rule, but I thought it deserved its own post. (Added info, as of 10/4/2016.)

I have begged literary agents before: please clarify your stance on negotiating publishing offers for querying authors.

We authors need to know beforehand, if you never do this and would rather we not contact you with offers, or if it is something you’ll consider doing on a case by case basis. Please put this in your goddamn guidelines, blog posts, Tumblr, whatever. We’ll be grateful and not bother you.

Otherwise, things like this are going to happen, leaving agents furious, authors confused and angry, and publishers in limbo.

Today we’re going to talk about AgentFails, offers of publication, offers of representation, and the assumption of offers.

I have a writer friend who has a great mms. It’s hard to pin down in genre, but it has good bones and a good editor will turn it into a dazzler. Friend has been trying to get this book in front of agents for a while, through queries, twitter pitch contests, etc. Friend finally gave up on those, and subbed directly to some interesting small-press publishers.

Some of which I liked and some I didn’t, but it’s not my book at stake. Friend got enthusiastic responses from three publishers, and was left with The Choice: 1. A newish press with very little to recommend it yet. 2. A stellar independent press with new capital investment and serious editorial and marketing power. 3. A quiet, niche-focused, but fairly professional press with the same core passions as Friend, and some decent plans for the future.

Friend wrote all three and asked for time. They granted it. At the same time, Friend emailed one of the agents who had asked for a query letter during a recent Twitter-pitch event. Agent agreed to look at mms.

It was then I started shaking my head and mouthing the words ‘Make no sudden moves and back away slowly’ to Friend. Because I have seen some of the online and behind-the-scenes meltdowns Agent has allegedly caused or enabled, going back to the agency where Agent learned to do these things. But again, not my circus, not my monkeys.

Agent…made a tentative offer on just a chapter or so. This is not unheard of, but it’s really strange for a new writer’s first book. Most agents want the full, so they can see where the story goes.

Friend sent off mms, and reminded Agent there were offers on table. Friend asked for a value-added statement from Agent, as in ‘What can you do for me that I can’t, in these current markets?’

No further word from Agent. Faced with offers and ticking clocks, Friend finally stepped back from agent-hunting and took offer #3 from the Nice Little Place. Sent a polite email to Agent, to thank for the time and consideration spent.

Only Agent had just cross-posted, apparently anticipating Friend’s acceptance, and sent an editorial letter with suggested changes and some other markets. A few minutes later, Friend got a terse email generally concerned with the wasting of time, the bypassing of protocol, and unprofessional behavior.

Bear in mind, the Agent made no formal offer of rep, set no timetables, did not contact Friend at all after the first gushing comments on the first chapter read. There’s even some worry on Friend’s part that Agent was planning on collecting an easy 15% for ‘negotiating’ the already-issued offer from the Nice Little Place.

And then Agent tweeted about it in public, in terms both snide and histrionic.

I can actually see Agent’s POV, and the assumption that Agent did a favor and was rebuffed. I know a few weeks to a month is probably not a good time limit on deciding whether to rep a book or not, let alone an author.

But this is WHY professionals trained by professionals FIRST make formal offers with specific timetables, expectations, and concessions…so nobody jumps the gun and writes what they think of as a ‘wasted’ editorial letter. Or assumes that they are the One, the Only, and the Perfect Choice.

And now Friend knows their incredible, uncanny luck, at avoiding having to work with this particular Agent.

I’m really looking forward to seeing that book.


The Force Awakens

Way back when, I graduated from high school in the same month I saw ‘Return of the Jedi’. Yes, that is how old I am, ha ha. From 1977 to 1983, I was a ‘Star Wars’ nerd. During the following years, I lost interest in the ‘Star Wars’ universe as expanded in dozens of books. It was too much to follow. I was beginning to build my own fictional written universe. But to this day, buried in the DNA of my Lonhra Sequence stories, are equal threads of Middle Earth and Star Wars.

We won’t talk about the ‘Star Wars’ prequels. Ugh, no.

But I have to cautiously admit that Disney and J.J. Abrams have done well by that universe recently. I like the television properties being run right now. After nearly a year of stalling, I finally saw The Force Awakens tonight.

It was actually quite good.

I can see why my friends think Rey, Finn, and Poe are adorable, and why they think Kylo Ren is a whiny puppy. I can even see the story reasons for some of the plot choices made. I’m looking forward to the next movie.

I can feel the sparks of my second-oldest fandom stirring. Just what I need: more plot bunnies!


That first debate

Like a few hundred million other people last night, I watched the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

I thought Trump had a good initial ten minutes in which he attacked Clinton roundly on her support of previous disastrous trade deals (I agree with him in part.)

Then…he lost it. Other people will document his numerous gaffes and lurches. I’m going to focus on a few things that really stood out.

He was proud to be unprepared for this debate. He rambled incoherently and gave few specific answers.

He’s profoundly ignorant about a lot of things…and worse, proud of his ignorance.

He really hates fat people. He mentioned them three times: the mythical chubby coder, the beauty queen, and Rosie.

He is too easily provoked and unfocused to be solid Presidential material.

He lied numerous times.

He ‘mansplained’ and tried to talk over both Clinton and the moderator. (By several accounts, he did this at least 51 times.)

He’s so racist he can’t even see how racist he is.

He tried to claim the higher ground by hinting he wasn’t going to hit Clinton on her husband’s infidelity. Why should Bill’s stupidity two decades ago have any bearing on Hillary’s fitness for office now? She wasn’t the one cheating.

Here’s why: to Donald Trump’s mindset, a frumpy wife is excuse and reason for a cheating husband. After all, *Donald’s* been guilty of this many times.

I noticed that faced with accusations about his business acumen, Trump is proud that he paid no taxes, that he stiffed contractors and creditors, that he settled lawsuits with no admission of wrongdoing, that he used legally available bankruptcy tools to save his companies. That’s just ‘business’, he claimed.

Business skills, even legitimate ones, don’t always translate into politics. His record is somewhere between unsettling and shameful.

I noticed at the end of the debate, when Clinton’s entourage got down into the audience to mingle, Trump’s stayed high up on stage and quickly exited.

Was that another reveal, of how Trump really views most of the Americans not as fortunate as he was?

First look: votive bone ring

Remember those carved bone rings I showed off a few days ago? The first ring-book is now complete.

dia-votive-ring-1I’ve decided the edition of 6 will have a Dia de los Muertos theme because 1) I live in the Southwest, 2) I’ve adored ‘Dia’ celebrations since I was a kid in New Mexico, and 3) It’s getting to be Halloween time, folks!

Colors and materials inspired by Moroccan and Latin-American textiles. Gray-tan linen pages are accented with red cotton edgings and rainbow ribbon applique (in a quiet homage to the Pulse nightclub attack, and in solidarity with my LGBTQ friends).

dia-votive-ring-1-openEach book will have a slightly different closure mechanism of shell, bone, and leather. Each book will be Coptic-bound in red waxed polyester cord, with carved bone and glass-accented tassels.

‘Dia del los Muertos Votive Rings’. Edition of 6. Dimensions: approx. 5″x1.5″x1.75″. Materials: carved bone, leather, shell, glass, cotton, waxed polyester cord.

Dear Hillary

I’m a registered Independent voter. I’ve been watching your political career since 1992. Your good points are also your bad points: you are a career politician and you show many signs of being a paid corporate shill. Okay. At the worst, that means you know that politics and business are nuanced affairs.

You are also the only adult in the room, when it comes to this American Presidential election. So don’t make Barack Obama’s mistake, of pandering to the sensibilities of racist, homophobic, anti-science, isolationist ‘bitter clingers’ who would rather give blowjobs to a Communist dictator than truly make America Great.

Don’t apologize. Don’t back down. You were right in mentioning that half of Trump’s supporters were well-meaning but desperate people who feel the world has let them down and left them behind.

They aren’t the ones in the basket of deplorables.

Six Bone Rings…

…On their way to being art.

Fire Mountain Gems had a closeout sale recently, during which I got some great  items that will all make incredible book or jewelry art. Eventually.

The first such transformation will be these six carved bone rings, originally from China & dyed with dark brown bands and peace symbols. For around $1 each, I thought they’d make perfect mini-platforms for altered art. They vary in ring size, and the raised (peace symbol) portion is no more than .75″ across. I did a preliminary clean on the one on the far left.


The brown dye was so fugitive it rubbed off on my hands! That had to go, via about an hour with a tub of water, a cordless Dremel, and some graduating grades of sandpaper. While I hated taking away another artisan’s hard work, I have to admit that the cleaned rings look so much better.


Then I made some ‘pages’ from strips of machine-embroidered linen and cotton bias tape. Drilled some holes in one of the newly-cleaned rings. Cut, embossed, and painted some leather strips. Carved out two more bone shapes, to go with the ring. I have to find or order boxes to fit them, because they’ll need some kind of storage/presentation case.

With luck, I’ll be showing off the first of six bone mini-book rings in a week or so. My target wholesale price will be around $85 to $100 each. I’m reasonably sure the edition will sell out within a year of delivery to my art agent.

Not a bad investment in art supplies and a little time.

First look: Moro’s Price revisions

I’m having too much fun completely re-writing this book. Should revisions be fun?

Leopard of Saba


Slightly different names, timelines, inciting incidents, backstory. Still a big, messy space opera romance. Still familiar to the 1500 – 2000 of you who read the first one, but hopefully much better.

The new first line of the new Chapter 1 (subject to change, of course):

Fourteen hundred spectators watched Jason Kee-DaSilva, the Leopard of Saba, ruin his career two minutes after his comeback victory.


(Digital sketch after this article on Muay Thai.)

First look: ‘Breathe’ fiber art book

Breathe flat for blog‘Breathe’ has been on my to-make list for a couple of years, ever since I stumbled on the quartet of Latin mottos that inspired it.

Is it based in soaring social feelings and a genuine wish to see good in the world? Yes. Especially in this sordid election season and social turmoil.

But there’s a more basic truth at play here, as well. As a book artist, I am always looking for very small quotes, poems, etc. They are easier to carve, paint, sew, and print! That very constraint sparks invention.

And for twenty years a line from ‘The Mystic’s Dream’, one of Loreena McKennit’s songs, has pushed at me, wanting to be acknowledged in art form:

“A painting hangs on an ivy wall
Nestled in the emerald moss…”

Projected materials: 1″x.25″ white mother-of-pearl beads painted with illuminated script. Mother-of-pearl accent beads. Commercially-printed cotton. Polyester heavyweight felt. Waxed polyester cord. Poplar and basswood. Glass beads. Acrylic paint. Probably more stuff I throw at it, along the way.

Projected size: 2.75″ x 1.75″ x 3.75″. Page count: 12.

Should be fun…whenever I get it finished!

Breathe text in progress blog

Linen Pearl Scarf – Done!

Linen grid scarf drapeA month or so ago I posted a progress report on a scarf project. It’s finally finished. I may or may not sell it, but I’d like to wear-test it first.linen grid scarf long

Materials: natural gray-tan linen, bias-cut cotton, cotton-polyester thread, rectangular mother of pearl beads.

It not only came out close to my initial sketch, it’s even better. I’m usually ready to sell pieces the moment I finish and document them, but I might hold onto this one for a while.

Plus, I’m not sure I *can* sell it, not for the $200 minimum I’d need to recoup materials and labor. I certainly can’t sell it locally, and I’ll rant for a bit on the reason why:

The $200 scarf and the neighborhood boutique.

A decade ago I could have placed this scarf in at least four galleries/boutiques in Arizona. And probably would have sold versions of it for between $300 to $360, at the rate of three or four a month. Possibly more.Linen grid scarf close

Vendors like that still exist in the Southwest, but not many, and getting into them is as much or more of a challenge than snagging a literary agent’s eye.

I love my local clothing and accessory boutiques, but I can’t afford to buy from them often. The internet, the economy, and public buying habits are killing many of the local retailers of fine & funky clothing.

‘Fast fashion’ is affordable and easy to get online or at local malls (even if a lot of it is based on stolen designs and poor quality construction). Outlet stores undercut even the fast fashion outlets. Cheap knockoffs from Asia drive the pulse of the ever-changing market.

The phrase “I spent 25 hours on this scarf” is met not with approval but disbelief, as if why would I waste time on such a thing. Couldn’t I just have bought it from China? (By the time this post is a week old, I probably can.)

I made it because I wanted to see if I could make it. If I sell it, I want at least a pittance to compensate for replacing the raw materials…and I’m even going easy on my labor.

I can’t afford to ‘buy local’ on lots of new clothing and accessories (I’m a thriftstore adventurer, not a Barneys or Macy’s full-price labelhound.) So I can’t afford to sell locally, either. I’m pulling back from local retail markets, and not even trying to place work in higher-end regional or national galleries. That would require ramping up to wholesale production levels, a workload I simply can’t do right now.

carnelian nest necklace 8-10-2014Last year I placed some of these stone and cord convertible necklaces in a local boutique food & drink purveyor, because the owner wanted to offer accessories that fit her store’s vibe. This store is in an established and fairly busy open-air shopping mall, in one of the highest-rent areas of Phoenix. Neighboring stores include trendy, very upscale brands and medium to expensive restaurants. I see the cars in the parking lot, and can estimate the net worth of their drivers.

First problem: the store owner needed me to come down on the first necklace prices. $150 wholesale was too much, she couldn’t sell them for $250 -300 retail. I pulled back the expensive twelve-strand necklaces and brought out some four-strand pieces with lesser stones. I said: “I have more affordable designs. What’s your wholesale price point?”

No more than $80 or $90 retail, she estimated, which left me earning a consignment of $40 to $50. I let her keep two necklaces for show, along with this neckform that I ornamented from a friend’s plaster casting.White Henna neckform

Three months later there were no nibbles on the necklace, or even the neckform. “People liked them, they just don’t want to pay much right now,” the boutique owner explained.

I can’t blame her: she knows her customers. I know her customers. They’ll spend $$$ on her products, because those are worth every penny. But my jewelry looks simple, and isn’t loaded down with gold or faceted gems. So the assumption is ‘Costume jewelry=cheap=probably plastic=I can buy that at the mall or on Etsy.’

Which is why I’m moving most of my sales platforms online, where I’ll be paying lower consignment fees and have a hope of getting paid.

The importance of proofreading

Nobody’s perfect.

That we all make mistakes is no excuse for not trying to prevent them, or fixing them afterward. It’s certainly not a reason to go on the offensive and try to deny there was ever a mistake in the first place.

Own up, early and completely: most sane people will probably forgive you, because nobody’s perfect.

Hell, I regularly find errors in this blog, two or three years after publishing a post. And let’s not forget my debut novel, which I am now revising after getting the rights back last month. This thing was published four years ago and sold a couple thousand copies, and the gaffes I’m only spotting now have been seen by all those people.

That said, when you are offering any kind of public face, proofreading is a vital step that many people and businesses seem to miss.

They may not know any better. They may be cynically counting on a population’s advancing illiteracy and lackluster reasoning skills to conceal the problem. They may even excuse the error, with the idea that it makes them seem more approachable, down-to-earth, one of the masses…

Gene Wilder Blazing Saddles Quotes

But there are enough sharp eyeballs out there, that businesses need to be vigilant about their public facade. The best they face is a private personal correction…the worst is public mockery.

Take this restaurant sign.

ProofreadingThe business owners wrote up the ad copy, and none of them spotted a problem. They paid to have it made by a print shop, either local or online. Nobody there saw a problem, either.

Do you see the problem?

The food might be excellent. I’m going to try it out, to see. This is just a common typo, after all.

But a business or businessperson who misses or deliberately fudges some non-vital stages in their operations, may be missing more critical issues, too.

Today, it’s a turkey panini. Tomorrow, it may be nuclear launch codes or climate change responses.

A new needle

After looking at my old 1st attempt at a fossil mammoth-ivory needle, I decided to re-create the second needle I made back in the mid-80s. Ergo, the new needle is here:bone turquoise needle1 blog

This is a fossil mammoth ivory needle 62 x 4 x 3mm, hole 4 x 1.5mm.  Inlaid plug of stabilized turquoise. Anchored with DevCon high-strength epoxy tinted by NuPastel chalk. Polished with 300-grit garnet paper, 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper, and white oxide.

Working time approximately 4.5 hours.

I’m really happy about this piece. It’s better than the one I sold.

But if I’m getting back into nalbinding, I’m going to need a larger needle…

Added 8-26-2016: I redrilled the old needle and chopped it down to around 55mm. A bit of repolishing, and it’s a great companion to the turquoise inlaid needle.

Ivory needles

I’m holding off making or buying the larger bone needles I want, because that would mean new distractions in nalbinding (Honey, I made you VIKING SOCKS) and expensive trips to every yarn store I know. And remembering how much I stupidly love carding fine wool and plant fiber.

I need to win a lottery just to handle my creative obsessions.

Valier, digital pastel, 8-26-2016

So, since I didn’t get Singer In Rhunshan into PitchWars (and knew it would be a longshot), I’m back to the revisions on Moro’s Price.

For those of you who didn’t know, the latter is a big space opera-ish M/M erotic romance set against a futuristic but by no means scientific background. When wrote it in 2011, I deliberately placed it into the far future of the Lonhra Sequence. Bits of ‘Firefly’, ‘Dune’, ‘Bablyon ‘5, and the Vorkosigan saga inspired it; since then, I’ve been watching ‘Killjoys’, ‘The Expanse’, and ‘Dark Matter’ intently for more inspiration.

I get to do crazy wonderful things to this book, now that I have it back from the original publisher. Fun things. Like substantially change the opening chapters, condense some of the dragging middle, and weave it better into Moro’s Shield, the sequel, and The Leopard of Saba, a spinoff novella set before and during Price.

It helps to know what people look like, while I write them. This round of revisions, I changed Valier Antonin, with slightly stronger facial features and curlier hair. Makes sense: his mother has major curls, and she’s the stronger genetic donor in the mix of people who made Val.

This isn’t the teenage Val I had been sketching, but the man in his mid twenties, when Moro meets him.

Val 2016 for blog

The oldest known bone needle

I thought I’d step back from dire politics, horrendous wars, and unimaginable natural disasters for a look at an amazing artifact just announced to the world.

This bone needle.


Of probable Denisovan origin, it dates to around 50,000 years old, and was found at a very information-rich cave site in Siberia.

What’s so cool about this piece?

It’s a sign and symbol of human* ingenuity.

It’s a tool of creation.

A needle is a long, tapered sliver of something relatively hard, with a point at one end and a hole or a single or double split prong at the other. The point goes through leather, basketry coils, or woven or knitted cloth…or even flesh, if you’re stitching a wound. The hole carries a doubled thread or cord; the split prongs do the same thing for a single cord, helped along by tension and/or some thin cord wrapping.

Needles help human beings make things and alter their environment. These are sophisticated tools requiring good spacial skills and predictive reasoning to even imagine.

Some of the easiest (and probably earliest) needles were porcupine quills, which have a wicked natural point on them and can carry a thread of plant fiber or animal sinew. This Etsy shop has pre-drilled quills, in case anyone wants to sew old-school.

We still have the basic form today, in steel or bronze two-prong needles for leather lacing. Here’s an example from Tandy Leather, Inc.2-prong-lacing-needle-1190-00-250_250The leather gets pushed between the two prongs, and possibly secured with some thin thread in those two holes you see inside the top prong.

Split-backed or two-prong needles in bone, ivory, stone, or hardened wood are very prone to break or give way, usually just when you are dragging the needle through a tough piece of leather that you forgot to pre-punch with a slightly larger hole. Or you made the hole too small. Or any number of reasons that don’t salve your frustration factor.

The smart thing (other than being very finicky about pre-punched holes!) is to forget about the prongs, and put a hole in the back end of the needle. You still have to be careful about breaking that fragile end, but it makes sewing so much easier.

I made a fossilized mammoth-ivory needle in a paleontology class years ago. It took a couple of hours, even with steel tools and modern sandpaper.

This is my first 2.5″ long needle. I’m amazed I still have it after all these years.ivory needle

It earned about a B- if I recall. The hole is drilled off-center, with a risk of snapping on that side. The back grooves meant to carry the thread below the level of the needle (less snagging!) are also off-center. I made another, slightly larger one in that class, and it turned out so well the teacher encouraged me to ornament it below the hole with an inlaid turquoise disk. That needle sold for $30 to an SCA historical re-enactor a few years later. (I’m looking at this one, plotting to chop it down and re-drill the back. Hey, another metaphor for trunked works and revision!)

For a paleolithic artisan, a holed needle would have been an even bigger investment in time and material…and a valuable trade good, once finished.

The really cool thing about this Siberian needle?

*It wasn’t technically made by humans, but by our long-extinct older cousins. Denisovans are a recently-discovered hominid species or subspecies who existed well before modern-type Homo Sapiens, and appeared to range around what is now northeast Asia and Siberia. At least 125,000 years back, maybe more. They were an arty bunch, too, showing evidence of some startlingly modern-looking and well-designed jewelry.

So bully for proto-humanity, making needles in southern Siberia that long ago!