Honeymoon (We’re back, cont’d)

So, honeymoon! What did we do? Where did we go? What did we eat? All important questions, obviously. For this post I’ll tell you some cool overview stuff and for later posts I’ll come back and dig into some of the experiences I think will be useful from a world-building/fact-finding perspective, just because there was some really cool stuff I learned at some different museums and I think you will enjoy it.

We were gone for two whole weeks, and we stopped a lot of places, but most of our time was split between the city of Montreal, Canada, and the lovely state of Vermont. So I’ll start with Montreal and see how far we get. We’ll be moving back into writing stuff soon, for sure, and if I have any good news I will share in real time, of course. But you only get one honeymoon, hopefully. This is the first long vacation I have taken since my career shift two years ago, so we definitely lived it up.

The wedding, as mentioned, was amazing. It happened Saturday. We took all of our things home Sunday and tried to recuperate, and then Monday about noon (much later than intended) we headed up the interstate. This was a roadtrip, you see, which is an awesome thing if you’ve never gone on one with just a couple of close people. You need to get the balance right – enough stuff brought with you that you aren’t upset when you need something and don’t have it, but not so much that you can’t all sleep in the car if you need to. A fine balance, roadtrips. We hit ours pretty perfectly – our trunk was full, and a good portion of the back seat, but not so much we couldn’t lay our seats back if we needed to. That first day, we made it all the way up to Syracuse, NY, about a nine hour drive from our little corner in Virginia, listening to audiobooks and napping and generally doing as you do.

The next day, we continued our journey to Canada by way of northwestern New York. We found a little city called Oswego for lunch. The food wasn’t exceptional, but we got to see the borders of Lake Ontario.

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Next, we crossed into Canada through the Thousand Islands. The border crossing was quick and relatively painless, actually, in some ways more painless than flying. It was my first time crossing a border via land. The only disappointment was that they didn’t stamp our passports. I love having stamps in my passport.

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Right across the border, we stopped at a tower from which you could admire the landscape. You can see the border crossing, and the bridge we came over, and all of the many islands that dot the largely aquatic landscape. I’d love to visit this place again – they have river cruises and haunted castle explorations. I was sad we were only passing through.

Next, we arrived in Montreal!

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The S.O. was severely disappointed in the coffee situation but this is coffee at my speed. I’m not a regular coffee drinker, unless it’s cold brew. Unfortunately, part of the reason I’m not a coffee drinker is also the caffeine intake, which he desperately need but I am not dependent on. That was a hard transition for him, all that espresso.

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We went to the Musee des Beaux Arts and saw a plethora of amazing artwork. Most of the art you were allowed to take pictures of, and this lovely really struck me. It’s from the floor of the museum that focuses on Inuit Art. This one was called Transformation, which seems to be a fairly common theme in the art we saw on that floor. It’s lovely. We also saw an amazing piece called Sea Change there, which I posted about on Twitter that day, if you were following that. The Musee des Beaux Arts has several buildings, each having several floors, and like many buildings in Montreal they are connected via underground passageways.

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After visiting the daytime exhibits of the museum, we climbed the nearby Mont-Royal. This is where Montreal gets its name, and is the highest point in the city. No building can be built higher than its peak. There is a lovely observation deck from which you can look out on the city below.

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That wasn’t the end of our experience at the Musee des Beaux-Arts, however. We also saw a lovely Chagall exhibit while we were there, which was super immersive. I’m always a fan of special exhibits like that if they are well-executed, which this one was.

Later, we went on to visit the Botanical Gardens and the Biodome. The Biodome was phenomenal, and you should definitely go, even though it is a bit expensive. Both of these attractions are located near the Olympic Stadium, which is pretty far away from the downtown, so we had to take the metro.

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I really, really enjoyed the Botanical Gardens, and I’m going to do a whole separate post on one of their exhibits for world-building purposes, but in the interim look at those peonies!

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We also saw this 275 year old bonsai on loan from Japan. That tree has lived about ten times as long as I have, which is baffling to think about.

Of course, all of these things exist outside of the most famous part of Montreal, which is Old Montreal. Those winding cobbled streets are where you will find the most tourists. And the crown of that experience is the Notre-Dame Basilica. We went, and it was gorgeous. The most stunning part, however, was the chapel that is in the back of the basilica, where no photos are allowed. No photos do the whole thing justice, honestly, but I’ve tried to capture the grandeur of the main section of the building here.

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Alright, that’s it! Tune in next week for my Vermont adventures!

And we’re back! (Wedding edition)

Friends, Romans, countrymen….we are back in the USA, and back at home! Which means I have so many things to tell you about, because I was gone for two weeks which is literally forever.

Coming back this week has been crazy hard, what with getting back into the swing of things, and the next few weeks I’ll probably mostly be posting about my trip experiences. Trust me, there is some awesome world-building fodder and other such in there, but if you are reading for reviews, etc, I am staying away from those until I settle down a bit and could get some reading done. I have to be honest, I did next to no reading on the honeymoon – with a couple of notable exceptions, mostly in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence – so the only thing I would have to write about otherwise is Wonder Woman and I’m not ready for that yet.

Anyway, digressions aside, I’m married!

It was a super hot day, and we thought we were going to get thunderstorms. Everything took twice as long as expected setting up. I should have been absolutely stressed, possibly hysterical, but I felt distantly calm. All that stress had been burnt out in the weeks before, and I was ready for whatever was going to happen to happen. So at 2pm, after managing set-up for four hours, I left and took a shower. There were spiders in the shower – we were out in the woods, and spiders are to be expected – but the water pressure was good. I washed my hair, blow-dried it for the first time in ages, put on my dress. Stuck the S.O.’s ring in my dress pocket along with the vows I had written but still hadn’t memorized. Ten minutes before pictures my friend finally finished pinning flowers into my hair.

Then the S.O. and I descended from our cabin out into the whirl of family. Everyone had arrived early, and it was hard to wrestle people aside for pictures. The set up was gorgeous, it was hot and the rain never fell, and everyone we loved was there. Someone rounded them up to settle them into their seats, and we said our vows. My dad cried. I cried. The S.O. cried. He was so dapper and lovely.

We had homegrown flowers, and home-baked pies, and stuffed peppers and goat cheese raviolis. We had beer and wine and good fiddle music. The band made me sing – an old ballad of love unto dying, which seemed appropriate considering. We had secret Scotch, which I drank far too much of, and lots of dancing and laughing and crying and goodness.

It was absolutely perfect. I have zero pictures to speak of, and a cup full to bursting still, two weeks later. There will never be another night like it, and that is as it should be.

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Feminist YA SFF by Melissa Eastlake

Greetings! By the time you read this, I will probably be in Canada enjoying some maple-syrup-covered delights. That’s what people eat in Canada, right? In all seriousness, I’m told the bagels use maple syrup somehow and it makes them extra delicious.

This week, we have a lovely post by Melissa on her favorite feminist speculative fiction young adult books. A mouthful, but totally worth a read. Her bio is at the end, so please check her out!


When I was a young reader, YA fantasy felt more real to me than the world I lived in. The books I loved were fun or beautiful, but they also explained power and politics in an evocative way that history class couldn’t—or wouldn’t—analyze. I’ve been a devoted YA reader and writer ever since. With a sharp, discerning audience and fast pace, YA is on the leading edge of realistic representation. Since I know Amanda’s readers are interested in feminist fantasy, I’m here to share a few of my favorite feminist stories in YA SFF.

Ash by Malinda Lo

This queer retelling of Cinderella is a contemporary classic, and one of the books that expanded my ideas about YA, fairy tales, and stories themselves could be. Love triangles in YA catch a lot of flack, but in deft hands they turn romances into stories about choice and agency. Fairy tale characters can lack agency as allegorical worlds or authorits pull them toward allegorical fates. Ash flips that convention, telling a story about a girl finding her decisiveness and voice. She chooses not only between lovers but between worlds.

“Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton, from The Anatomy of Curiosity

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a writing book, pairing novellas with essays and marginalia that explore different elements of craft. “Desert Canticle” is a master class in inventive, meaningful worldbuilding. Characters from two conflicting cultures working together to defuse magical bombs in a war-ravaged desert world. The magical system is just gorgeous, and the matriarchal society and character arcs explore how gender conventions are created—and create us. Writer or not, you’ll think in new ways about how worlds are built.

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

Island of Exiles explores gender and sexuality in its worldbuilding, as well: there are three genders, asexuality is named and accepted, and bisexuality is normalized. These conventions are woven into a unique and fascinating desert world, revealed along with complex relationships and a vivid magical system. Khya, the main character, is forced to question stories she’s always accepted, and she finds the process as eye-opening—and devastating—as many of us right here on earth do.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

For worldbuilding that explores power and identity in a way that’s accessible to younger readers without ever talking down to them, this lower YA/middle grade novel is perfect. You’ve got beloved fantasy tropes, with a young girl learning to use her magical powers and fighting a big bad with a team of friends, as well as a deep exploration of Nigerian mythology and a cast of characters who are funny, relatable, and diverse across many intersections.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

My personal favorite is contemporary fantasy that puts a magical or supernatural twist on the world we live in. Paper Valentine is set in a normal town, combining a wonderfully strange, tender ghost story with the threat of a serial killer. Without preaching, it reflects on the power structures between and around girls.


Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and dog. Find her on Twitter @melissa_e.

The Mabinogi: A guest post by Rachel Fletcher

Hey, friends! As you are reading this, I am engaging in nuptial activities. Hooray! Today I leave you with Rachel, who’s going to tell us a little bit about a formative text that has inspired her work. Check out her bio at the end if you’d like to know more about her!


For some time popular fiction has brought us retellings of well-known fairy tales, legends, and even classic literary stories told through a feminist lens, or at least through the point of view of the women characters of the stories. From the raw reimaginings of Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber, 1979) to the punk fairyland of Francesca Lia Block (The Rose and the Beast, 2000) to Virginia Hamilton’s reclaiming of African American folk tales for all ages (Her Stories, 1995), these retoolings imagine an archetypal realm where women and even nonbinary individuals reclaim the myths that underpin psyches and social hierarchies.

Reworking well-known tales was not foreign to me, growing up in a family steeped in the Appalachian storytelling tradition. Myths, especially Celtic myths, captivated me in grade school. My research led me to a medieval Welsh cycle of tales called The Mabinogi. This cycle is a treasure trove of fantastical, visceral, and rather fragmentary stories in which sorceresses and queens possess frightening powers and are thought to get away with everything from infanticide to adultery.

The Mabinogi has its roots in the ancient Welsh oral tradition. The original stories speak to ancient gods and goddesses, but the extant versions are courtesy of medieval priests. The stories were seemingly lost to the ages until Lady Charlotte Guest found them and translated them into English in 1849. Lady Guest presented them as children’s stories, and indeed the violence and ruthlessness in them is not unlike that presented in more well-known fairy tales. The Mabinogi fell back into relative obscurity outside academia until further translations and some retellings (most notably Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain series) occurred in the mid-twentieth century.

Some of the later translators laid not-so-subtle criticism at Lady Guest’s door for her “juvenile” and “sanitized” translation of The Mabinogi. Certainly Lady Guest was constrained by the Victorian values of her time, and much of her censoring of the texts speaks to this. It would be difficult for any reader not to be a little taken aback by the actions of the characters, regardless of gender, in these wild medieval tales. Lady Guest, however, should be recognized for her achievements as a woman and also as a pioneering scholar in bringing to the world stage a collection of unparalleled stories. I believe these stories have only begun to make an impact on scholarship and literature.

During the fall semester of my third year at Hollins University, I studied in Cork, Ireland. I enrolled in a course solely dedicated to The Mabinogi, thinking it would be a calm, steady review of what I already knew about that body of literature. It was instead an exhilarating experience. We spent the next three months conducting a deep study of the history, sociology, religion, oral literary traditions, and even the much-maligned notion of “Celtic shamanism” of the period of time that was the genesis of The Mabinogi as well as of the time when the stories were transcribed. Each class period was a revelation. Fortunately, my roommate and best friend was also enrolled in the class and equally as fascinated as I was, for I could talk and think of little else.

By the time I returned home in December, I had produced the first draft of a novella based on the Fourth Branch (story) of The Mabinogi. It is the tale of Arianrhod, her brother Gwydion, her daughter Blodeuwedd, and Blodeuwedd’s arranged marriage to one of the heroes of Welsh legend Lleu Llaw Gyffes. It is a story of assault upon the sovereign rights of royal women, adultery, and shapeshifting. It is one that I had tried, to limited success, to reweave in creative writing and even screenwriting workshops at Hollins. It took being in the Celtic Isles, and being the grateful recipient of the scholarship and passionate thinking of those who had lived with these stories for far longer than I had, to inspire me to create what is becoming a trilogy of novels based on the Four Branches of The Mabinogi.

Such work continues to this day. This trilogy, some of which has been written and rewritten over the course of almost fifteen years, and some of which has yet to be written, continues to happily consume me, even in the face of full-time work, family obligations, and the myriad distractions of daily life. It will be done, but the timeline is as ever unpredictable.

My trilogy is absolutely a feminist revision. I am a feminist, a scholar of gender, and an activist at my core, and my creative life is irrevocably intertwined with this. However you happen to come to the stories of The Mabinogi, I hope that you are captivated by a fresh body of literature, no matter how ancient, that has somehow remained relatively uncovered throughout the centuries. It is one that I anticipate being retold and rediscovered for centuries yet. I envy you the very first time that you sit down to read these wild, unfettered tales. If you are at all inclined to be a writer, I hope you will retell and reclaim them for yourself.

Further reading:

The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales, Patrick K. Ford.

The MabinogionJeffrey Gantz.

The Mabinogion. Lady Charlotte E. Guest.

The Mabinogion. Thomas Jones and Gwyn Jones.

The Mabinogi: A book of essays. C.W. Sullivan, III.

Welsh Celtic Myth in Modern Fantasy. C.W. Sullivan, III.


Rachel C. Fletcher is fantasy writer working on a trilogy based on the medieval Welsh body of literature The Mabinogi. She has also published short stories and poems in online and university journals and researches and writes on the subject of astrology and mysticism (astrologydiaries.com). Rachel lives in Roanoke, Virginia and is a nonprofit fundraiser and event planner by day.

Upcoming movies and some guest posts

We are so close to Wedding Day! And given that, my general ability to think thoughts is pretty depleted. Please instead enjoy this pulpy post.

But first, some housekeeping for all you lovely readers. I’m featuring a few guest bloggers over the next few weeks while I’m away getting married and traveling and such. I’m super excited to introduce you to these lovely ladies, who are going to be talking about a wide range of fantasy/science fiction topics. Please check in over the next three weeks and check them out!

Now, on to the matter at hand. What movies am I looking forward to in 2017?

Annihilation – Released ???

For those who haven’t read Jeff VanderMeer’s book by the same name, you probably should. An eerie, atmospheric tale where the horror is mostly in the mind, but not entirely, this story tells the tale of a scientist (unnamed) who goes into Area X, equal parts Area 51 and alternate dimension, to search for answers regarding her husband’s disappearance and death. They’ve kept the release date and any set pictures mostly under wraps, though there have been some very restricted showings of a teaser trailer or other footage.

The director is the same guy who did Ex Machina. That actually gives me some pause. His aesthetics are solid, but VanderMeer’s book has zero men in it for the vast majority of the text, and I’ve seen the casting list. It is not lacking in men. I’m assuming they are expanding on the timeline prior to the scientist entering Area X, which could be good or bad, depending on whether it swamps her character. I’m a little worried about the adaptation for that reason. Check out the IMDB link for more information about the project.

Wonder Woman – Released June 2nd

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So who hasn’t been waiting for Wonder Woman? This movie has been running trailers and promotional material for a while now, and you can tell that DC pulled out a lot of stops for it. They should. Wonder Woman is arguably their most iconic character after Superman and Batman, and before for many. In contrast to Marvel’s line-up, she is also a singularly iconic woman. This will be the first superhero movie to focus entirely on a female character, and DC beat Marvel to the punch (no surprise, since Marvel seems set on making mistake after mistake in this regard). Check out the IMDB link for more information.

I’ve been planning to rush the theater for this one, and I doubt I will be alone.

Atomic Blonde – Released July 28th

Holy shit, this move. Here’s the IMDB link if you haven’t heard of it. Take a minute to watch the trailer. I’ll wait.

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Really, what is there not to love about this? It’s all of the action packed, grungy goodness of a hardcore spy movie, with the kickass feminine lead from Fury Road. You have my money, sirs and madames.

The Dark Tower – Released August 4th

So I honestly didn’t realize that this was coming so soon until this lovely trailer came out. Holy mess, it looks good. The Dark Tower series is a sort of hit-or-miss thing for me, actually – I thought it ended up getting wrapped around itself somehow, if that makes sense, and ending was not my favorite. But The Gunslinger was an amazing book, and I’m excited to see what they will do with the story, as it looks…very different from the one I remember.

Hitman’s Bodyguard – Released August 18th

I have to admit that this movie is not my usual cup of tea. I wasn’t a huge fan of Deadpool, actually. I thought it was fun, and the graphics were obviously spot on, but it just didn’t quite click with me. That said, Ryan Reynolds is a fun actor, and he definitely brought life to Deadpool’s character with some trademark witticism that seems evident in this move. Plus there are lots of guns. If the trailer doesn’t make you laugh, well, we have different senses of humor, probably. IMDB link on the click-through.

Blade Runner 2049 – Released October 6th

Holy shit, guys, there is a new Blade Runner movie and the trailer is out! Harrison Ford is always a good bet for these kinds of movies, but Ryan Gosling joins him, which I am way into. The director is also the guy who did Arrival which is one of my favorite movies cinematically of the past year.

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Basically if you are a fan of cerebral science fiction, this is the movie you are looking forward to this year (well, in addition to Annihilation, but it’s hard to look forward to something we don’t even have a trailer for, yet). Check out the IMDB page here for more info.

Thor: Ragnarok – Released November 3rd

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So Thor. Thor is the hottest Avenger, probably. And his hair is part of that for me. Now they have chopped all of his hair off. I find myself…not dismayed? He is still really sexy? Alright, then.

Other positives to this movie: Hulk cameo, gladiator fights, and CATE BLANCHETT. She is my favorite. IMDB link and video link for those who live in a hole and haven’t seen the trailer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Released December 15th

You had to know this movie would be on the list. I am solidly in the Star Wars fandom, and I am so, absolutely ready for this movie. Rogue One was a great appetizer, of course. I had some problems with the Leia cameo, which was goofy and too on the nose. But overall, it was lovely. I hope that they will bring some of that creative energy into this new film.

I also have to pause here and note that The Last Jedi was Carrie Fisher’s last movie. I desperately want it to be good and tie up her character well. There are a lot of hopes riding on this film for me, and it almost feels scary leading up to it, but the teaser trailer looks pretty good so far.

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That’s all for me! Let me know what movies you’re looking forward to. Next time I post, I’ll be married and talking all about marriage things!

 

A few recent reads

I’ve been reading a lot lately, because I’ve been super stressed, which means that I read every spare minute. Don’t ask me why this is. I can’t tell you. You would think that, being stressed, I would engage directly with my stressors and then take my time to enjoy books, but not. I’ve just been spamming everything and screaming internally.

The upside of this is that I have read a lot of good stuff recently. Most of my recent reads have been novellas, but I’ve also devoured some novel-length pieces (always more satisfying for me). So what have I been reading? So glad you asked.

Final Girls – I actually went on a binge of Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) around the first of the month and read a bunch of stuff, including some of her free and Patreon-supported short stories in the Toby universe. That was after I read this novella, which was good in the way all ghost stories and haunted houses are good. I highly recommend.

Binti – I’m not sure what I was expecting from this novella, but it wasn’t exactly what I got. That’s not a bad thing. I can definitely see why it won so many awards, and I’m excited for the next one, though it’s not on my immediate to-read list. That said, I think that I will need to read the actual book next time, instead of listening to the audiobook. I love Robin Miles, but audiobook of a novella is a little too brief for me, I think. It was perfect for my drive back from a conference, though!

She Wolf and Cub – I’ve read a lot of Lilith Saintcrow, and I enjoy her stuff. Her worldbuilding is solid, as always, and her system of magic (or in this case, science) is inventive. Sandworms, dystopias, nanobots, and one really made lady – sign me up! I enjoyed this book, though it’s one of the more pulpy ones on this list.

One Fell Sweep – Speaking of pulpy, this is a new book by Ilona Andrews, who always fits that bill. Space vampires and lots of explosions lie within. Check it out if you need something light, but beware – it’s the third in a series.

A Closed and Common Orbit – Reading A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is not a prerequisite for this book in my opinion. That said, it does spoil a small part of the ending of the Hugo-nominee, so if you were planning to read that to see what the fuss was about you might want to get on it before you read this book. I liked this one loads better than Small, Angry Planet, which I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of, mostly because the pacing didn’t quite work for me. A solid book, with two powerfully complex and interesting characters narrating.

All Systems Red – This is a novella, and it is by Martha Wells, and if you know anything about my reading habits, you know I love Martha Wells. Admittedly, you may not realize because she puts out new stuff a little less frequently than, say, McGuire. Anyway, read her stuff, all of it is phenomenal and this novella is no exception. Hands down, Wells remains one of my favorite writers.

On my to read list for my honeymoon and the strenuous two weeks leading up to it, I have: