Heroes and Dreamsnake

We’ve lost a lot of people in the past few years.

Perhaps it just feels that way because there are so many other bad things, and so the losses hit harder. Perhaps it is just part of growing up. I’ve just recently entered my third decade. It’s probably about that time. But you’re never ready to let go of your heroes.

Carrie Fisher was a hard one for me. So was Mary Oliver. This week, we lost Vonda McIntyre.

If you’ve been reading science fiction for a while, you’ve probably heard of Vonda McIntyre. Her book, Dreamsnake, is one of those canonical works that become their own entity, irrespective of author, almost separate from the author. Though no work could or should be separated from the one who made it, Dreamsnake has its own weight within the world of science fiction.

I first read this book in middle school, where I found it in the school library. I’m not sure who made the decision to stock that book in the middle school library of a small town in Southwest Virginia. It was shelved alongside Redwall and Jane Yolen, and I picked it up all unsuspecting. I have not read it since. I remember it so clearly, nonetheless. The desert landscape where the book begins, the craters from a long ago war, the idea that there were some things that could not be healed and that, sometimes, the only peace that could be given was sweet dreams. The found family Snake accrues in her travels, and the joy of discovery, the hope that remains a core of the story despite all of the darkness that inevitably fills a post-apocalyptic world. The book showed me what fiction could be. In some ways I have always been aspiring to do to others what that book did to me at twelve.

If we are lucky, we lose our heroes to death. Not to controversy, or an unkind word when we needed or wanted their kindness, not to villainy, but to death, which takes us all eventually. So though each of these losses makes the world feel smaller, I am grateful.

Look, if we’re lucky, we’ll leave some small mark in the hearts of those we meet. If we’re very lucky, it will be a mark like Dreamsnake left on my heart.


In less somber news, you can catch me this weekend at Roanoke Author Invasion from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday. Stop by and tell me about your heroes.

Loss and telling you story

October is, in the traditions I was handed down, a month of joyful harvest. It is also a month of reaping. This is the month that fields die. It is the month where the veil grows thin, and the dead come to visit.

The first book I ever finished I finished in the wake of loss. In 2008, my grandmother passed away. For over a year I had been noodling on yet another project that no doubt would have ended up shelved, but watching her die catalyzed something in me. It made me want to finish the work.

Since that time, I have written many stories that my grandmother appeared in. I don’t know if this is healthy or not – I only know that she is alive in me and my stories. That when I feel the press of infinity, I write. When I feel alone, I write, and I write too when I hear her whisper. I write so as not to be dead, as the great author Bradbury said. But I also write to know death. To understand this world we live in and the ways we must move through it.

Earlier this month, we lost a relative in our extended family. The death was gentle as deaths go, expected and yet quick as a butterfly’s fluttering. I didn’t get to say goodbye, not really. When I got the call, I sat down and wrote for hours. When I finally forced myself to stop, I still felt the need for pen and paper. No doubt she will end up in a story, too.

I don’t have any point to this post, per se. I could talk about how writing is a kind of self-cannibalization, chewing all of your emotions and experiences up and spitting them out on paper. I could talk about how writing has helped me process griefs I did not think I would ever process, to digest them at last and make them part of me, no longer a foreign object lodged behind my breastbone.

But I think I want to sit in silence for a moment, and just be grateful for this life. It is so short, and there are so many beautiful people in it.


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Doubt, desires, futures

This week, I’ve been reminding myself that you can look back, but you can’t go back.

I’m a self-published author, and when I started this gig I had no idea what I was doing. It is possible that I still don’t. Periodically, I will remember this. Writing could, easily, be a full-time gig. There are always more words to put to paper, and once something is drafted, more editing, more submissions, more research. This is very hard without a team to support you, and self-publishing means that the team you have is one you pay. No one should have to work for free. It’s a direct contrast to the traditional publishing mantra of “money always flows to the writer.” I have heard self-publishing described best as a business, with a large initial investment and a hope of payback.

Of course, when I started this gig, I didn’t understand any of that really. I was certainly not where I needed to be as a writer and marketer and business person to make things work. I’m still learning. All of life is a learning process, but the learning curve in this business is steep. Even with the insulation of traditional publishing, the pitfalls outnumber those in most careers. I can guarantee this, as I’ve bounced through several. For the most part, if you show up with halfway decent skills and a desire to work and learn, you can at least scrape by. It may not be pretty but it’s enough to get you to the next week.

Writing often doesn’t feel like that for me. Perhaps it’s because I have never paid into it as deeply as some; perhaps it is because I don’t have a great head for business, or at least didn’t six years ago. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of hours in the day – I’ve given a lot more hours, most likely, to developing my career at the dayjob just by dent of having a degree in it, no matter that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. But despite my natural propensity, writing as a job feels like climbing uphill in a snowstorm. I have to give 100% or there is no momentum. I’ll stand there and freeze.

I’ve thought a lot about what my goals are for the future and how best to get there. There’s no one path in this business, at least that’s what everyone says, but there are more well-trodden ones. At this point, I’m in a place of introspection. I don’t need my writing to live. I would like to be in a place, someday, where I didn’t have to juggle it with a whole other career, but I don’t hate my dayjob – the opposite, most days. In my dreams, I write full-time. All the stories that are inside me make it to paper before I inevitably return to the soil. Writing full-time isn’t about making money, necessarily, but birthing those stories. It’s about having the leeway to do that, to get the words down on paper, without sacrificing all of the other good things in my life – the time with family, the mental and physical health, things that can give a little now if you’re willing to pay for it later. And you will pay for it later.

Anyway, I keep thinking about where things go next. I keep thinking about the best use of my time. I keep thinking about all these worlds jostling about in my head, how they slosh over sometimes without me telling them to. I haven’t figured anything out yet for sure, except that, while I can change what I’ve already given the world, I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time right now. I can’t go back.

I need to move forward, to become.


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The only way out is through

This past weekend was Labor Day, and therefore I got a long weekend. The S.O. and some friends had planned to go on a hike sometime in late summer or fall, and they invited me along. I was slightly skeptical, but I went. I’m glad I did. But that was a humdinger of a hike, friends.

For those unfamiliar with hiking, there’s a couple of different breeds. You have your dayhikers, which I usually count myself among, casual hikers who go for a particular destination and take their time doing it. They rarely sleep outdoors and often take little in the way of gear, hiking in tennis shoes and leggings, secure in the knowledge that a hot meal and shower is waiting at the end of the day.

Then there are thru-hikers, the hardcore hiking aficionados, sometimes soul-searching, sometimes just walking for the fun of it. If you live off of a major trail like the Appalachian Trail of the Pacific Crest Trail, you have met them, or at least seen them on the side of the road. These are the guys and gals with huge packs the size of their torso, infamous appetites, and a general sun-burned and bug-bitten appearance.

In between these two extremes, you get overnighters.

There’s obviously a lot of variability between going on a hike for a day with a bottle of water and some snacks or your packed lunch and hiking a trail for three months, but a common overnight lives up to its name – one to three nights on the trail. At first glance, a backpacker on an overnight may look a bit like a thru-hiker. The packs are large, for example, and there’s a lot of sweating involved. However, an overnighter is better fed and cleaner, as a rule. That’s not saying a lot at the end of summer, with mud everywhere and sweat pouring from every inch of your skin, but it’s saying something.

This weekend, I spent three nights and three days on the trail. By the end I had over twenty bugbites on my exposed arms, ankles, and throat. I had sweated all the way through my clothes, continually, for three days, and the smell could have literally knocked someone over. My feet were blistered, my joints were aching. When I stood up I had to lean on a stick and waddle until the pain could work its way out enough that I could take a step again. There was a point on that trail where I seriously contemplated lying down and not getting back up. That was about 20 miles in. We went 45 miles, all told, over three days.

I didn’t lie down. I didn’t give up. I did this because there was no other choice. I was 20+ miles by foot from any quick or easy fix. There were no ways out except to hitch up the pack on my back and keep moving. The only way out was through.

When I got home, I got a rejection on a story. There are rejections, and there are rejections – I’m sure, if you write, that you know what I mean. Writing means rejection, and some of them are almost expected. There comes a point when, despite all the work you’ve put in, you know you’re just tossing darts blind. Spinning the wheel of fate. Whatever metaphor you want to use, there’s no control there.

Sometimes, however, you get your hopes up. You’re so damn sure that this story, this one, it’s meant to be with this market. They will love this. This will be your sale, guaranteed. And it isn’t. And they don’t love it. And the form letter comes in the mail. The trail is still stretching on forever. You have not reached the shelter. You have not found a summit. There’s only forward, forward, forward, up the mountain.

I do have a choice about giving up on submissions. In some ways, that makes it harder than being on the trail. But I don’t think I can ever stop writing, whether I want to or not. So perhaps it’s not so different in the end.

Hitch up the pack. Keep moving.


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And now we return to your regularly scheduled programming

Friends, I am so glad to be home! Metaphorically, I mean. I missed my blog a lot.

Housekeeping! If you missed my blog tour, here are all the stops along the way. Take a moment to get caught up, if you care to. My favorite stop was the last one, which involved a playlist! Plus a really long, in depth interview that answers all of your Creation Saga questions.

And of course, you can now buy the first two volumes of the Creation Saga. I’ll be diving into the third and last volume soon, but I’m taking a break to explore other projects. It’s outlined, so the roadmap is there. But I realized once I finished Daughter of Madness and got it out in the world that I was burnt like crispy toast. I needed a break to regroup. So minus the blog tour and edits to APM, I haven’t been writing much for the months of June and July except when I get inspiration. Got to let the well fill back up, as it were.

Speaking of APM, that goes on submission in the next couple of weeks. Traditionally published processes are a little less transparent for various reasons, so I probably won’t mention it on here again for a while, but it is something taking up some of my brain space.

So yeah, break is a relative word that just means I slowed down for the summer, as we all like to do. What have I been doing instead? Well, I managed some river time recently, I have accrued my fair share of mosquito bites (15 at last count), I actually cooked dinner once, and I’ve been gardening a lot. Also continuing aerial silks and gym classes. So I’m staying busy with hobbies that help me relax and replenish for the first time in….oh, I guess a year. It has been a really rough year for me in a lot of ways which I won’t go into on this blog, and this is the first time I have felt like I could breathe for a long time. There are still things I would like to fix and change, and still projects to be working on, but I’m taking some time to be still.

That also means I get time to read! Just the past few weeks I’ve finished TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, IRON AND MAGIC, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, and some other fun reads. I also slammed through VIOLET EVERGARDEN on Netflix, to my tear ducts’ dismay. I have not sobbed so hard and so consistently for a while. It was like YOUR LIE IN APRIL with guns, and the animation was excellent.

With that, I hope you enjoy a lovely river picture. Until next week!


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A lifetime of juggling

My motivation has been super terrible in the month of February, probably because January kicked my butt. The dayjob got wild those last two weeks, there was some general drama, and I finished APM, the novella I had been working on, which rang in at a little under 26k. Which, by the way, you can see a sample of on my Patreon at the $1/month tier.

We also did the math on our finances (finally) and realized we’re really going to have to cut back on some of our discretionary spending, what with being house owners and such. The bills have been much higher than expected this winter – though I am hopeful they will go back down once the weather breaks and that will take some of the stress off. That means that writing lunches are a lot harder to swing. (Since my office doesn’t have a break room or anything, I was going out to get lunch in order to have privacy to do non-dayjob work, but that’s not going to fly now.) Add to all that the fact that the S.O. has gone to dayshift and it’s been a weirdly off-kilter couple of weeks, though not bad. I’ve enjoyed being in the kitchen more despite the obligation, and not going out as much gives the S.O. and I more time together usually.

All of this is to say that I rolled into February feeling exhausted, mostly, and really hoping for a snow day or three, and six days in that has not let up. But, being as it’s February, I’m technically behind on some of my deadlines with DoM (I built a cushion, but I didn’t want to use it this early). I am, however, back into editing as of this weekend. This round of edits is the good kind – tweaking word choice, adding detail, and making sure character dialogue and general descriptions are consistent with the prior book. It’s weird to realize how much I have evolved as a writer, honestly, comparing the two texts. I hope that I am successfully keeping the tone and voice of the prior work in a way that makes reading between one and the other fluid. I have 426 pages to get through and I think I’m on page 30, so it’s going to be a long month.

Jumping back to writing has been really difficult this time around, probably because I have been doing so much of it for so long without really feeling like I’ve hit any milestones. Impostor syndrome is a writer’s bread and butter, but I do feel that there’s a need for some positive feedback occasionally on this long road, and it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve had any of that. World Fantasy Convention was awesome, of course, and it was great to meet new friends and rekindle connections with old ones. I am really happy to have done that. But it was expensive. Futurescapes will be as well. Though I am excited, doing these things means using up my limited vacation time and using up money that we probably need for home repairs and other such fun adult things. And it’s time that I can’t rest. Lately, I feel sorely in need of rest. Preferably rest involving a mountain cabin with no internet, snow, and a hot tub, but I could handle an island instead, just a tent and the sand and quiet there, too. You need rest to regain your chutzpah, and the quality of that rest is important. Self-imposed isolation seems like the way to go.

So after Futurescapes, I’m going to take a break from appearances and workshops until next winter and focus on some other, non-writing projects for a few months. The goal is to push through April, get Daughter of Madness out, make it to MystiCon, RAI, and Futurescapes, and then take a break. During my break I’ll be creating for fun and mostly focusing on some of the things I need to wrap up at home and at the dayjob. Plus it will be summer, and maybe I can at least get some time on the riverbank, or maybe a long weekend adventure in.

That’s technically three months from now, but it’s something to work towards. Until then, it’s back to juggling.

Life updates and gratitude

You may remember that we bought a house recently, which was pretty awesome and all, and now I have a house and I must mow the lawn. Mowing the lawn is actually pretty nice because it’s an achievable goal that you finish, for better or worse, within about an hour usually. It’s also a great workout for your back. Pushing a mower is hard, especially when it is grumpy about making turns.

I feel like half my blog posts this year have been about life updates, which is not really surprising because there have been so many of them. This past month was the Equinox, and as a good pagan girl I was supposed to light candles and say thanks and contemplate the things that I’ve been gifted with this year, the labor and the fruits of it, the balance of one to the other. I didn’t really do that – instead I went out for drinks with friends and took a long walk under the stars. I can’t say that I was particularly introspective, but I blew off some steam, which was a good start.

So now here we are, a few weeks late, almost to Samhain, and here I am, thinking about gratitude.

I’ve let a lot of things go fallow this year. Each accomplished thing is counterbalanced by things that are not accomplished, the tradeoff of forward motion. There is a lot I feel that I have not accomplished this year, and it’s easy to get caught up in that and feel it eat away at you. I could count the things that I have lost, but I don’t know that that would be productive for a post that is supposed to be about gratitude. Suffice to say that the desire to be more and do more is a steady pressure in my chest that I’m learning to accommodate and live with instead of try to push away. I’d like to accept it for what it is – a drive and a passion that keeps me alive and innovative and always reaching. I want to be grateful for that pressure, to build on it and turn it into bedrock that I can plant my feet on.

One of the ways to do that is to recognize my accomplishments. This year, I have organized a wedding, and I’ve got to recognize that was a monumental thing that people actually get paid to do as a full-time job. I have seen places and things I’ve never experienced before, been exposed to new ideas. I bought a house, which is not even something I ever really thought I’d be able to do this early in my life, and which took a lot of coordination and concerted pressure on my part. I’ve reached what feels like a new level of ability in my writing, and gained the courage to take rejection without pain (most of the time!) And I get to fulfill one of my dreams by moderating a panel at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio this year, The Role of the City in Fantasy Settings.

I couldn’t have done any of those things without supportive networks, and I’ve done my best to learn to maintain those networks more thoughtfully and with greater compassion. I’ve tried to learn to forgive people for their foibles, and to forgive myself for mine. That’s been really hard, honestly, and it’s something I’m still working on. And I’ve survived the nonstop bombardment of everything going on in our nation and our world, giving myself permission to take a step away from the things I cannot change and to throw my shoulder in to move the things I can.

It’s been a long and glorious year, and a challenging one, and it’s not done yet. We have two more months of 2017, two writing events coming up, holidays to get through – there’s a lot going on. But I’m ready for it, the good and the bad. I’m ready to keep chipping away at my career, and enjoying this thing we call life.

 

The last Book of the Raksura

It is a bittersweet season, because into this season has come the last of the Books of the Raksura.*

I discovered these books several years ago, and they remain one of my favorites of all time. Shapeshifting? Check. Sweet aerial lizard-people battles? Check. Awesome emotional tension? Check. Gender-bending? Hells yes. Basically it’s everything I’d expect from a Martha Wells story and more.

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I first read a story by Martha Wells when I was a preteen/teen (not sure exactly) exploring the local library.** Our little library actually had a pretty eclectic collection of books, including such obscure and slightly disturbing texts as Richard Adam’s Maia as well as classics like Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar series. In the corner, near the end of the adult fantasy section (I had already consumed the vast majority of the YA and children’s books that would catch my fancy) was a narrow, hardcover book. It was called The Wheel of the Infinite, and I recognized the mandala on the cover from my father’s own nonfiction treatises on the subject. I brought it home.

And then I consumed it, ravenously. Even at the time, I recognized that I was reading something groundbreaking, something I could love forever.

The library had a few more books from Martha Wells’ long career, and I flew through them quickly. Then, being a girl and unaware of my ability to order more books that they may or may not have had, I moved on to other sections. As the years passed, I mostly forgot about Wells and her work, buried under other books – Kushiel’s Legacy series was a great favorite, as were the Dresden Files and A Song of Ice and Fire. I scribbled more and more stories, hoping to emulate those I admired, but nothing that ever amounted to anything until 2009, when the death of my grandmother gave me determination. In 2010, I took that determination with me to the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

At a panel, on what I no longer remember, I saw a thin, dark-haired woman with a name that sounded vaguely familiar. Wells talked about her books, as authors do on panels, and something lit up inside my head. I remembered the books I had loved years ago, and walked up to thank her for writing them. I think she was vaguely nonplussed that it had been so long since I had read any of them and I was still trying to talk to her, but I’m not sure I would have known what to do in that situation either. It can’t be easy to have an aspiring writer walk up and pounce on you post-panel.

In any case, I promptly went home and downloaded all of her books. And that is how I found the Tales of the Raksura, and Moon and Stone and Jade. Malachite, one of my favorites, came much later. I have been reading these books for seven years, and re-reading them when I need a pick-me-up and the world seems heavy. They feel like a hug and a warm blanket. They feel like a happily ever after, every time. Now, I have finished the last novel, at least foreseeably, that will be set in this world. Moon is home with Jade, and hopefully they will have many little baby Moons to fill up their mountain tree. I couldn’t be happier for them.

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And honestly, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

This year, I am going back to World Fantasy Convention, this time in San Antonio. I’m going because I have projects to pitch. I’m going because it’s in the city where my brother lives and I’ll get to visit him. But mostly I’m going because Martha Wells is Toastmaster, and I hope that I will get to see her and say thank you with a little more specificity this time.

 

*That is, unless you follow Martha Wells’ Patreon, where tiny snippets may be birthed in perpetuity. I hold out for a novella about Moon’s little babies and the Sky Copper clutch as they hit adolescence.

**I’m happy to say that my book Mother of Creation now sits on the shelves alongside the many happy tomes that I read as a child.

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!

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