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.

 

Advertisements

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.

jpraksura

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.

moonjade

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.

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.

IMG_2579

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.

IMG_2595

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!

IMG_2611

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.

IMG_2614

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.

IMG_2634

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.

IMG_2644

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.

IMG_2757

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!

IMG_2767

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.

IMG_2800

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.

IMG_2559.JPG

 

 

Roanoke Author Invasion 2017

What a weekend.

So I want to start off with some background, here, before I talk about selling books and such. I came into this weekend a bit like a jetplane making an emergency aquatic landing. That is to say, I belly-flopped right into RAI because I was straight up out of fuel and had been for two weeks. This is in large part because I over-committed myself this spring. What did I over-commit to? You guessed it. The wedding.

Who’s idea was it to get married again? Why didn’t we elope in September like civilized millenials do? I don’t know the answers to this, exactly. I suspect they were “mine” and “because I said so” but….I really can’t face that right now. So we’ll treat those questions as rhetorical.

In any case, mistakes were made, caterers were contracted, and mothers were roused, so now we’re having a wedding. It’s at the end of May, for those keeping track. If you’ve ever planned a wedding, much less planned one while holding down a full-time job with increasingly more robust deadlines, you may be aware of the state of pure dismay that has come to live in my brainpan. There is far too much to do, and not enough focus to do it all. Thus, when I rolled up on Roanoke Author Invasion, I rolled up with a tongue raw from licking envelopes and a brain that was oozing out of my ears. At least the weather is nice around here this time of year and I didn’t have far to travel – just down the road, in fact. Small favors.

I showed up to RAI with two boxes of books, several handfuls of postcards, business cards, and some sweet buttons. As you’ll see from the pictures, I was not so prepared as my fellow sellers, who had great banners and signs with which to wave and attract customers. Goals for next year. However, considering, I think it went okay. I sold a few books, doubled my mailing list, and gave away a bunch of promotional material. My only real goal here was to get my books in front of some new people, and I accomplished that. Of such minor successes are upstart authors made.

IMG_2112
Do I look tired? I feel tired. Luckily I survived.
IMG_2114
My table from above! I love all of my pretty markers. You can see that people had cleaned out a lot of my stuff by this point.
IMG_2106 (1)
A wide view of the room. Look at all those authors!

 

I am happy to say I got a hike in this weekend, once everything was over. I needed that hike. With the stress of the past few weeks, I have gotten about zero exercise in. So this hike, needless to say, kicked my butt. But honestly, it’s the best feeling, once it’s all over. You feel strong in ways you can’t usually feel strong during the week.

I was the slowest member of my group, and I lost them right before the summit. They weren’t where I thought they would be, and I spent some time sitting on the trail down, staring down the valley and contemplating things. It was time I needed. There’s a bit of a war going on in my mind most days, as I’m sure is true for many people. On the mountain everything gets quiet. It seems possible.

When my friends caught up with me, we headed back down and started the long drive home. There was dinner waiting for us at a friend’s house. I loaded some major calories and drank five types of home-brewed beer, and generally had a good time. No pictures of that, but here are some from the mountain.

IMG_2121
This is the tiniest dog. My friend Greg brought it, and its brother. They lasted a mile, I think?
hiking 1
My red face and a tiny dog in my backpack. They were really a bit too small for boulder hopping.
IMG_2130
I was so far behind everyone for pretty much the whole trip. But I got cool pictures.
IMG_2123
A panorama of the valley and some of the boulders we climbed.

Well, that’s it! I’ll catch you next week with some regular content, but until then I hope you get some outdoor time in!

Pushing boundaries

Recently, a friend and I were discussing trends in storytelling. We were talking about how, for a while, zombies were the “it” thing to write or make shows and movies about. She argued that now, the “it” thing was exemplified by shows like Westworld. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched Westworld yet, but I’ll take her word for it that the core question of this show is about what it means to be human. She argued that that was the new hot thing to question and interrogate in story, especially in stories in science fiction/fantasy or SFF.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write SFF in the past few days, and about what makes a good story in this grab-bag of a genre. I think that my friend has hit on something here. To me, a good SFF story does one thing especially: it pushes boundaries. It stretches our understanding of the world. One could argue that this is what makes a good story in general, actually, but as I am a reader and writer predominantly of speculative fiction in all of its stripes, this is where I feel safest offering an opinion.

Arguably, this pushing boundaries is easiest in SFF, or at least in the science fiction half of the equation, because the genre requires you to think inventively. Take, for example, the prospect of life on new worlds – an eternal question among those who look to the stars. People will be looking for life in the cosmos until they find it or they cease to exist. You can argue we have been looking forever – angels and demons are certainly otherworldly beings, and some creatures from the heavens appear in most major mythologies across the globe in some fashion or another. Yet, the questions that arise when life is found are the most interesting, and can only be asked through speculative fiction. What will it look like? How will we respond to that life? Will we be kind?

The answers to these questions are not just important because they satisfy our curiosity. They tell us something deeply important about ourselves as human beings. The answers to these questions reveal the heart of our nature.

They are most certainly answers that we are already being provided, every day, through our interactions with other beings on our earth, including with one another. And yet, they are not always satisfying either in story or in life. Perhaps this is the other half of what draws me to SFF, that it may be possible to imagine a world that is brighter than ours on the days when it feels dark. If senselessness might make sense, if we could rise beyond ourselves and the bounds of random chance – that world is the world of story, and sometimes the world of life. Those are the stories I most like to read.

You see this clarity, this neatness to life reflected most often in the fantasy side of the SFF genre. There are dangers in the ease of those narratives, but at the same time there are comforts. These narratives offer an answer to our questions of our own nature and worth in a way that is positive, and I think that positive answer can be very important as a way to move forward as individuals and as a society.

The reason I write speculative fiction in all of its stripes is to explore human nature, the essence of what it is to be human in all of its forms. It is my greatest joy to do so. I hope that you, reader, enjoy it, too.

Some exciting news coming next week! Raffle opportunities, general good things…Tune in to check it out.

Some upcoming dates

Early post this week to update you on some upcoming events! And while we’re here, some discussion of what’s been going on in my life! You’ll get a regular post on Friday about some fun Daughter of Madness inspiration, but stop in with me for a moment to get up to date.

This weekend I will be at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, networking with other local writers. Maybe I’ll come out of it with a new critique group, or a lead on one! MystiCon is also coming up at the end of February, and I’m very excited to be on several panels for that con. I’ll remind you again closer to time. As always, all of my upcoming events are on my events page. Really, this reminder is the reasons for this post! I’ll likely have some books for signing, so if you see me, snag them while I have them!

In other news, things have been busy at the start of the new year, which is perhaps unsurprising. These separations are mostly artificial, after all. I’m happy to say that the house hunting is on the back-burner, for now, leaving me juggling Daughter of Madness (nearly done with a first draft, more on that soon) and wedding stuff mostly, in addition to the day job. This is a welcome state of affairs.

On the wedding front, in fact, we are making great progress. I’ll be getting married end of May in a rather informal affair, but we needed to check some basic boxes for sanity’s sake. A venue for people to gather in, since there wasn’t one big enough in the family that anyone felt up to volunteering, and a caterer to feed folks. Those, happily, are pretty much firmed up. There’s more to do – decorations are a huge thing, rings to order, and just generally coordinating an event like this is a big deal. So there is a lot more to do, but I finally feel like I’m moving instead of just standing still waiting for the train to hit me.

We also had snow at the beginning of the month! Followed by MLK day, it means that I’ve had a lot of time off recently to cook and hang out with folks. It’s been great for my writing productivity, honestly. These are the things that help me make words, after all. Good food, good time with friends, tea and beer and time outside. I even went for a run a few days ago, which was monumental!

 

A picture from one of my snow hikes.

 

In other news, I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot. I devoured Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire this month, chewed through Earth Logic, sequel to Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks, and have also enjoyed The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. I’ve also been chipping away at Upside Downa collection of short stories put out by Apex Books. I promised them a review when I’m finished, but I forgot how slowly I read short story collections. I’ll have to keep that in mind for ARCs I snag in the future, since it’s not nice to keep folks waiting. It’s just hard for me to digest a story and move on to the next one – I can only read about three short stories in a day at most. The completion is the best part, after all.

Other story consumption has included watching Mushi-Shi with the S.O. He has really enjoyed it. The animation style is very clean, and the stories are eerie and whimsical and sometimes tragic. Some of it has unfortunately gotten stuck in my head – I’ve had a couple of Mushi-Shi inspired nightmares, actually. That said, it’s solid storytelling, and refreshingly original – or, at least, based so thoroughly in another culture that it feels original, which is just as good for a devourer of stories like me. We’ve also been watching Cowboy Bebop still, which is a very different anime of course.

For Christmas I got The Cat Returns, which is one of the few Studio Ghibli films I haven’t seen yet, so that is on our to-watch list. We’ve also got Grave of the Fireflies now, though that’s going to have to wait for the right time to watch since I know we’re both going to cry through it. That movie is so gut-wrenching, but it’s definitely worth watching. It gives great context to the effect of WWII on the Japanese, and it is beautifully done. So those are in the pipeline on the anime front. I’m excited to see what the S.O. thinks of them.

I’m also hoping to read March soon, since I got it for the S.O. for Christmas as well. He says its really good so far.

What have you been reading lately?