Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Evil is a Matter of Perspective Anthology is sooo close to funding (which will mean a Lizaveta story!)

I just spent an incredible week sailing & snorkeling Australia's Whitsunday Islands--lots of pics to come when I get a chance. (I posted a few teaser shots on Facebook; oh goodness the area is gorgeous and we had so much fun.) While I was off sailing, the Kickstarter for Grimdark Magazine's "Evil is a Matter of Perspective" anthology went live. This is a nifty project where a bunch of authors (including me, woo!) will write stories from the perspective of one of our antagonists. In my case, the antagonist will be Lizaveta, since I've already promised a Ruslan story through Labyrinth of Flame's kickstarter. (The Ruslan story is outlined and next on the block once I finish revising the Cara novella.) I've got Lizaveta's story plotted out and my fingers crossed that the anthology will fund--it's getting quite close now, so if you haven't already, please consider backing!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Australia week 1: Blue Mountains, Galaxy Books, Epic & Grimdark Friends, and the Vivid City

We've been in Australia a whole week now and I'm finally over my jetlag. Or at least, I'm no longer drooping and exhausted at only 8pm! This is why we always visit for at least 3 weeks, so we can have a proper set of adventures after we've adjusted to the time zone. But jetlag hasn't stopped us from having plenty of fun with family and friends this past week. After an initial two days of intense rain and wind--which was amazing to see, as this type of weather never happens in Boulder!--we enjoyed a lovely day in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney:

The iconic Three Sisters. Rock climbing is no longer allowed on them, but years ago before the ban, my husband and I climbed the Second Sister. These days we have to be content with just admiring them from the various trails around them, but that's still pretty cool.

Blue Mountains vista
Katoomba Falls in fine flow after the recent winter rains
Next we headed into the city for a real treat: meeting New Zealand fantasy author Helen Lowe in person for the first time! I love Helen's Wall of Night series, which is grand-scale epic fantasy with a really neat sf-nal twist to the backstory. I just finished the 3rd novel, Daughter of Blood, and am already counting down the days until she publishes the fourth and final book. Helen and I have been "internet friends" for a while now, so I was delighted that she was able to fly over to Sydney for a brief visit during our stay here.

Helen and I after a lovely lunch beside the Opera House in Sydney
Two epic fantasy authors and an epic fantasy tree...couldn't you see this tree in Lord of the Rings? 
Then Helen and I headed over to the excellent Galaxy Bookshop--oh Sydney-siders, you are so lucky to have a bookstore like this in your city! Immense SFF selection combined with friendly and knowledgeable staff...it is reader heaven. Helen and I signed Galaxy's stock of our books, and I provided them with two precious print copies of The Labyrinth of Flame, so now Galaxy is the only bookstore in all of Australia (or probably even the entire eastern hemisphere) that has two full signed Shattered Sigil trilogy sets.

Helen and I with Craig and Allison, the awesome Galaxy Books staff
That night, Helen and I met up with local (and awesome!) epic fantasy author Ben Peek, Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine, and reviewer/writer Durand Welsh at the infamous Spooning Goats bar. That was really fun too, as Ben, Adrian, and Durand are all fascinating people and it was great talking with them about books and publishing and all kinds of other adventures. Adrian is gearing up for running his Kickstarter for the Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology (which I have a story in, yay!)--the launch is June 15, so stay tuned.

Me, Ben Peek, Adrian Collins, Durand Welsh, Helen Lowe
And after spending a fun-packed day taking the kiddo to the Maritime Museum (he LOVES going on the WWII-era ships there) and the Darling Quarter playground, we saw some of Sydney's Vivid festival. This is a 2-week night-time extravaganza in Sydney's central business district where all kinds of light shows and light-based art installations are available for free viewing. The projection shows on the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Opera House were particularly stunning:

For the full effect, you'd need a video...the flow of "paint" on the building is constantly changing
The projections on the Opera House "sails" constantly change, too...it's really beautiful
The Harbor Bridge, alight
Overall a terrific week, and this weekend we head off to the Whitsundays for snorkeling and a 3-day sailing adventure on a tallship. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

An excellent SFF adventure: a day with Janny Wurts and Don Maitz

I didn't want to leave for Australia without sharing pics from another recent adventure. These last months I've been enjoying the hell out of Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow series, which is a masterwork of epic fantasy--one of the best combinations of grand scope and tight plotting I've ever read. Plus, the Empire trilogy Janny co-wrote with Raymond Feist is my husband's favorite SFF series of all time! So I was beyond delighted when Janny invited me to visit her home in Florida after I finished a business trip last week in Orlando.

Hanging out with one of my heroes: veteran author Janny Wurts
Not only is Janny an amazing writer, she's also an immensely talented artist, as is her husband Don Maitz. They've been doing cover art for the big SFF publishers for decades, along with their own personal paintings, and every wall of their home is covered in absolutely stunning examples of their work. It was like being in a museum of fine art--I tell you, I could have spent hours admiring all the paintings on display. Just look at this:

Some of Janny's gorgeous art for her Wars of Light and Shadow series
Don Maitz in his & Janny's studio
Janny in her art workspace
Don with some of his recent work
What you can see in the above pics is only the smallest sampling! Check out the art catalog on their website for a whole lot more.

Janny and Don were wonderful hosts, and after their decades working in art and publishing, they have a wealth of fascinating (and sometimes heartwrenching) stories to share. I knew about the changes in the publishing industry that have been squeezing out the midlist, but I had not realized a similar sea-change happened in the art world, as publishers turned to photoshop/stock-art covers and stopped commissioning many original paintings. It's a hard thing to see income streams vanish and have to reinvent yourself at a time when you should be enjoying the fruits of a long career. But Janny and Don are not the sort to bemoan changes they can't reverse; instead they are seeking out new ways to reach readers and art patrons alike, and continue doing the creative work they love.

Janny with her Paravia sketchbook, full of beautifully realized scenes from the Wars of Light and Shadow. Seeing this was a huge treat for a fan of the series like me!
Janny's also a horsewoman, a skilled bagpiper, a search-and-rescue volunteer, and she's passionate about conservation and wildlife. She and I spent a lovely few hours hiking together in Myakka River State Park, one of her favorite local haunts. The Florida forest is quite a different experience from anything we have in Colorado! I got to see alligators, black vultures, blue herons, egrets, and some beautiful spring flowers. I only wish I'd remembered to bring my real camera! I had to make do with my cell phone, but I still got a few decent shots:

Oaks adorned with spanish moss
Black vultures sunning themselves

Hiking through native forest
We don't get green like this in Colorado!
Janny at Clay Gully: watch out for the alligators!

Janny with her favorite tree, a truly massive oak
Myakka Park has a "canopy walk" that was pretty neat: a swinging bridge high in the forest canopy that leads to an observation tower with a 360-degree view of Florida forest (and building thunderstorms!).

Enjoying the view from the tower
They just need to add a Faraday cage to the tower and it'd be the best place ever for thunderstorm viewing
Looking down at a forest clearing
After hiking, the fun was just starting. Janny's husband Don loves all things piratical and has participated in quite a few pirate re-enactments. I got to see a real flintlock pistol and fire off a (small) black powder cannon, a.k.a. swivel gun.

Don's swivel gun; Janny had a wonderfully funny story about how she got him the cannon as a present, and how hard she had to work to keep the gift a surprise
Don getting ready to fire. (Note he's wearing earplugs. The cannon is seriously loud. The first time we fired it, Janny's horses spooked and ran. But the 2nd time, the horses were all, "Oh yeah, that's just the crazy humans doing their crazy things again. We're over it.")
We finished off the day with a quick trip to Siesta Key to watch the sunset. The beach has really interesting sand--it's 99% pure quartz, crushed very fine, so it's blindingly white and has the consistency of powdered sugar. The sky was overcast so we thought we might miss seeing the sun actually set into the water, but just at the last minute, the sun peeked out beneath the cloud layer in a blaze of pink.

A perfect ending to a perfect day
Can't thank Janny and Don enough for opening their home and lives to me. The best part of publishing has been the amazing people I've met that I might never have otherwise. If you're not familiar with Janny and Don's art and novels, you really, really should check them out. As for me, it's time to get back to packing for Australia...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Another Shattered Sigil short story may be coming your way!

I know I've been dead silent here on the blog recently, but behind the scenes there's been a lot going on! Remember how I promised Shattered Sigil short stories through the Labyrinth of Flame Kickstarter? The stories have been turning into novellas, which is why it's taking me so long to write them. I'm currently putting the Cara novella (tentatively titled The White Serpent) through my critique group; once all the revision's done, it'll go out to Kickstarter backers. I'm still working on the Ruslan story, along with two other stories I promised to individual backers who got the Ultimate Fan Reward.

But now I have even more exciting news! I'll be writing yet another Shattered Sigil short story, this one for the Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology that's being put together by Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine. It's being funded through Kickstarter, and the campaign will go live June 15. Here's the official announcement, and check out this awesome cover with art by Tommy Arnold:

My story will be from Lizaveta's perspective, which will be a hell of a lot of fun to write, since in many ways she's more ruthless than her mage-brother Ruslan. Plus we didn't get to see as much of her as Ruslan in the series, so it'll be neat to explore her character a bit more.

I'm also really hoping the Kickstarter funds so I can read everyone else's stories, since I've read and enjoyed many of their series! I'll put up a reminder here when the Kickstarter goes live (or a few days after, anyway, since we're about to head out to Australia and I'll be on a tallship in the Whitsunday Islands on the actual launch date.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

March 2016 Reading Roundup

Yes, I know it is mid-April and yet here I am posting about March, but hey. Better late than never, right? After experimenting for a while with posting monthly reading round-ups over on my tumblr, I decided to start posting them directly here instead. I hate tumblr's search function and I want to be able to look back more easily at what I've read. 

Anyway! I read a bunch of good books last month:

The Second Death (Teresa Frohock)--dark fantasy

This third and final installment of the Los Nefilim novellas provides an excellent climax and satisfying conclusion to the story arc, but oh goodness, I hate to say farewell to Frohock’s world of angels and daimons locked in complex intrigues!  Not only is the setting rich with possibility, but I adore her characters. Half-angel, half-daimon Diago, struggling to overcome a painful past and accept friendship and trust; his lover Miquel, gentle yet fiercely competent; Rafael, the young son Diago wants so desperately to protect…Frohock does such a wonderful job portraying their deepening bonds, and each character’s individual growth and change as they face new threats and agonizingly difficult decisions, that I could happily read many more novellas (or novels!) following their story. Also, for those wanting to read more stories featuring positive portrayals of LGBT relationships that do not end in tragedy or death, take note: this series is for you! Los Nefilim may be dark fantasy, but that darkness is complemented by a glorious blaze of tenderness and hope.  Honestly, I cannot recommend these novellas highly enough. Tightly plotted, beautifully crafted, deeply affecting—this is fantasy at its best.

Fugitive Prince (Janny Wurts)--Epic fantasy with a capital E

Fourth book in Wurts's epic Wars of Light and Shadow, and the start of a new story arc. One of my favorite things about this series continues to be the incremental, accumulating reveals of the world’s backstory and the motives of the various magical players. The character work in Fugitive Prince is excellent just as in previous books; I was particularly impressed by Jieret and Mearn, who are my new favorite characters. (Oh, how I am praying that neither of them die horribly. The series isn't grimdark, but Wurts also does not pull her punches. I've already mourned a few characters I really liked.) The machinations of the Koriathain Order and the Fellowship Sorcerers are getting quite interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing where all the plotlines set up so carefully in this book will lead in future installments. Anyway, an excellent if dense and challenging read. (These aren't the sorts of books that are good to relax with when you’re braindead after a long day at work. Wurts requires a reader’s full attention.) Onward to Grand Conspiracy (#5) I go.

The Keeper of the Mist (Rachel Neumeier)--YA fantasy

Ever since I read and loved House of Shadows, Rachel Neumeier has been on my “insta-buy” list. I snapped this up the moment it released, and devoured it nearly as quickly! Neumeier writes both adult and YA novels; this is one of her YA offerings, a standalone. (Or at least, it can be read as one; I don’t know if Neumeier intends any sequels). Keri, the illegitimate daughter of the Lord of Nimmira, is shocked when the country’s ancient magic decrees that she will take his place as the protector/ruler of the country, instead of his three legitimate sons. Keri, a baker, has no training or knowledge of how to run a country—her predicament reminds me of Maia’s in Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, and anyone who loved that book should definitely try this one. Like Maia, Keri remains resolutely goodhearted in the face of treachery and political maneuvering, and it’s her practicality and her ability to see the best in people that are her greatest assets. As always with Neumeier’s novels, I loved the magic, which is wonderfully unique and lyrically described, particularly in some of the climactic scenes. While I don’t think this one has beaten out my favorites of Neumeier’s work, I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy full of hope and likable characters.

Demon Drums (Carol Severance)--sword and sorcery

It always makes me a little sad when I think about how many talented fantasy authors (especially female authors) from past decades have vanished off the radar, their works seemingly forgotten by all but a few. I had thought I was fairly well-read in 90s fantasy, but somehow I never heard of Carol Severance, who won a Compton Crook Award for her first SFF novel Reefsong (1991), and followed that up with her Island Warrior series, of which Demon Drums is the first installment. It was only when I did a search on fantasy novels with Pacific Islander/Polynesian settings that her name came up. Severance drew on her experiences living in Micronesia and Hawaii to inform the environments and cultures of her novels—a nice change from the more common pseudo-European settings common to so many fantasies. Not only does Demon Drums feature coral atolls and island jungles instead of forests and castles, it has a not-so-usual protagonist: a middle-aged, jaded female warrior suffering from a type of PTSD after she abandons fighting in a neverending war. The portrayal of Iuti’s reluctance to make connnections is skillfully handled, as is her slow-developing bond with a young woman she’s trying to protect. The main plot, a struggle against an evil sorceress, is solidly written as well, and the magic both interesting and entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series, and I hope more people discover it.

Spirit Caller (Krista D. Ball)--rural contemporary fantasy

Short, sweet contemporary fantasy set in Newfoundland. This edition is a compilation of the first three novellas in the series. I’m glad I read it as a compilation, because otherwise I think the individual entries would have felt too slight and the endings too abrupt. (But perhaps that is my bias showing as a lover of epic fantasy, which is usually anything but short!) Reading all three novellas together provides a decent arc of plot and characters.  My favorite part was protagonist Rachel’s neighbor, the smart-mouthed, elderly Ms. Saunders—every time she was on the page and part of the action, I was smiling wide. I also enjoyed the various supernatural shenanigans, which start off relatively tame but soon get more threatening. I wasn’t quite as fond of the romantic arc—Rachel is in love with her best friend, Jeremy, whom she believes doesn’t love her back, and she spends a LOT of page time agonizing (and crying) over this.  Just not my particular cup of tea, even if it's realistic. (Dithering drives me crazy, both in books and real life.) But the rest of it was a fun read—if you enjoy lighthearted rural fantasy, I’d recommend giving it a try.

The Chomolungma Diaries (Mark Horrell)--mountaineering

Interesting account of a successful guided Everest expedition from the point of view of a client. It’s fashionable among the climbing community to sneer at the “yak routes” on Everest and bemoan the commercialization of the peak, especially after Krakauer’s Into Thin Air provided such a harsh critique of the inexperience of some clients on guided trips. “If you haven’t the skill to climb the mountain on your own, you shouldn’t be there,” is a sentiment I’ve heard many times at a crag. Talk got even more heated after the 2014 avalanche in the icefall that killed so many Sherpas. I read many a rant about uncaring westerners exploiting and endangering their hired Sherpas, all so a bunch of rich wanna-bes can brag about ticking off an item on their bucket list. 

Horrell provides a view from the other side. He’s not some rich surgeon or CEO, he’s just a regular guy who started off trekking and hiking and grew to love climbing big mountains. He’s oriented his life around going on expeditions; working to save up money (not too hard with good computer skills and no family to care for), then heading out on his next trip. He didn’t just leap onto Everest, he climbed a bunch of lesser peaks first (all on guided expeditions), gaining skill and confidence until he felt ready to tackle Everest. The Chomolungma Diaries is his account of his climb from the north (Tibetan) side of the peak. It’s a good read; Horrell has a dry, self-deprecating humor that makes him quite likable as a narrator. He details quite thoroughly his thoughts and fears, without succumbing to the temptation to overdramatize or glorify his experiences. Looking at the book as a travel narrative, the one flaw is that he’s not quite as good at conveying the character of his fellow climbers. They feel like thumbnail sketches rather than real people, perhaps because Horrell didn’t want to offend anyone by being too vivid in his portrayals.

Looking at the book as a defense of guided Everest climbing...I am not sure it quite succeeds, though Horrell spends a fair bit of time discussing the issue in a thoughtful manner. But what it succeeds excellently at is providing a “regular guy’s” view of what a commercial expedition is really like. I enjoyed the read enough that I went on to buy and read Horrell’s more extensive account of his experience with trekking and climbing, Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest. Besides, as of this writing, The Chomolungma Diaries is certainly a good value: it’s free on Amazon. I’d recommend it for anyone with an interest in mountaineering.

Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest (Mark Horrell)--mountaineering

I read this after enjoying Horrell’s The Chomolungma Diaries—the latter covers only his guided ascent of Everest, and I was curious to read about his experiences on other guided ascents leading up to the Everest climb. The book certainly delivers on that score, and I continued to enjoy Horrell’s self-deprecating humor and “regular guy” narration. (The flaws of the narration also remain the same: Horrell does well at portraying his own character and thoughts, not so well at memorable portraits of his fellow climbers.) Like The Chomolungma Diaries, I’d recommend the read to anyone with an interest in trekking and mountaineering.

The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2 (Rick Ridgway)--mountaineering

A brutally honest account of the 1978 American expedition to K2. Ah, mountaineering! Lots of egos, lots of drama, lots of interpersonal conflict in which hardly anyone comes off in a good light. (It’s particularly interesting to read this one after Jennifer Jordan’s Savage Summit, which looks at the first five women to climb K2, and discusses the misogyny and difficulties they faced from fellow mountaineers. I’d be quite curious to hear expedition member Cherie Bech’s side of the story Ridgway tells.) The struggle to reach the summit makes for a gripping read, and it’s a fascinating window into a lost era of mountaineering, when siege-style rather than alpine-style climbing was the norm, and climbers had to carry loads and fix ropes without help from trained locals. (For a look at modern climbing on K2—in which the egos and drama remain, just with a different focus—try Freddie Wilkinson’s One Mountain Thousand Summits, or Zuckerman and Padoan’s Buried in the Sky.)

The Duchess War (Courtney Milan)--romance

A lot of discussion has been happening recently about biases that many SFF readers have against romance, which has challenged me to examine my own attitude toward the romance genre.  I’ll admit upfront: I’ve never been much of a romance reader. A lot of the common tropes either do nothing for me or actively bother me. That said, I would never write off the entire genre as somehow lesser than SFF; rather, it’s a genre aimed at readers with different tastes than mine. But I don’t like to keep making that assumption, either. I know how broad and diverse the fantasy genre is, and how frustrating it is when people make assumptions based on a limited selection of the big-name popular novels (which often tend to a same-ness). I’m sure romance is no different, and I’m always willing to try new things. So when I saw Courtney Milan’s novels recommended in the online discussions as examples of romances that don’t have “alphahole” male characters (a character type that I personally detest), I decided to give her work a go. And, well…once again, we come back to taste. The Duchess War is well written. It indeed has a mostly-likable (not alphahole) male lead. Its female lead is both likable and clever. It does have one of my un-favorite romance tropes (insta-lust), but there’s also an exploration of worker’s rights and women’s rights and a plot that has to do with the same. I can certainly see why so many readers enjoy Milan’s work…yet I never got beyond mildly interested. But! That just means Milan isn’t an author I love, not that she somehow represents the entire genre. I will keep trying romance novels I think might work better for me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Want a recap of the prior 2 books before diving into Labyrinth of Flame? You're in luck...

So I had this grand plan before The Labyrinth of Flame came out that I was going to put up synopses of The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City on my web page, for readers that wanted a recap to refresh their memory before diving into book 3. I see people requesting these types of summaries for series books all the time on various fantasy forums, and I sympathize; when there's a long wait between books, details fade, and if you're not a fast reader, the thought of re-reading can be daunting. 

No problem, I thought. I've got synopses already! One for Whitefire Crossing that I used back when I was first querying the book, and one for Tainted City that I wrote for the cover artist. 

Yeah. Thing is, I forgot just how much the books had changed since I wrote those synopses. (For example, in the version of Whitefire that I first queried, Pello the spy didn't even exist. And in Tainted City's case, I wrote that original synopsis when I was only 1/3 of the way through a serious draft of the book. It's actually quite amusing to look at what I wrote then and compare it to the final product. Broad strokes of the plot are the same, but wow are the details different, including pretty much everything about the ending.)

Anyway, when I realized how much work was needed to update the synopses, right when I was in the throes of book production--I admit it, I chickened out. After all, I reasoned, I'd already done my best to write Labyrinth of Flame such that the reader is reminded of important events/characters when they become relevant (mostly through Dev or Kiran's personal take on the situation). That'd be good enough, right?

For most readers, it has been, or so people have told me. But when I saw someone post on r/Fantasy asking for a summary of Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City, well, I figured it was time to stop cringing from the task. (I find synopsis writing really hard. So hard that back when I'd finished my big revision of Whitefire Crossing and one agent asked for an exclusive, yet I had another agent interested, the tipping point in my decision to grant the exclusive was that agent #2 wanted a revised synopsis. I reasoned that if agent #1 read the revised manuscript & rejected it, THEN I'd go through all the pain of revising the synopsis. But then agent #1 loved it & offered representation, so I was spared! Until now.) 

But synopsis writing is an important skill for an author, and I do feel a tad more comfortable with it now than I did back then. So, behold:
Hope this helps out anyone who needs a refresher! At the very least, it was good practice for me. These are a bit longer than I would do if I was writing for an editor/agent and not readers (Tainted City's in particular covers more details than would be necessary in that case), which made the writing a bit easier. (Condensing is the hard part of synopsis writing.) But I admit I am awfully glad to return to plain old story writing--after a synopsis, even first-drafting seems easy and fun!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Arrival of the Stabby Award

Look what came in the mail today! 

The Labyrinth of Flame's lovely, pointy "Stabby" award for winning r/Fantasy's Best Independent/Self-Published Novel of 2015
Seriously, how awesome does that engraved dagger look? God knows my 7yo can't keep his hands off it. I have to be very stern that this is MY dagger to play with, not his. In any case, both he and I agree that r/Fantasy has the best awards.

You know, sometimes the whole publishing process (whether trad or indie) can make an author feel like you’re slogging up a sledding hill through thigh-deep snow in a blizzard…

My intrepid kiddo on his way up our local sledding hill during our recent massive snowstorm
Then you reach the top at last (finish the book, get the deal, whatever), and you’re anticipating this thrilling ride, but then you find your sled won’t even move because the snow is too thick and wet and deep…

"Arrrrrggghh!!! Mommy, my sled WON'T GO!"
And you just want to collapse in the snow and give up the whole idea.

Maybe you think about taking a different publishing path, but that can feel as intimidating and difficult as considering a drop into Corbet’s Couloir on a day when the snow is hardpacked ice…

"So...who wants to drop in first?"
But if you take that risk, if you keep pushing onward, the reward is moments like this—whether an award, or a lovely detailed thoughtful review, or a reader email saying how much your book means to them—that are proof you’re not just shouting into the void. That you’ve attained your goal of giving people joy through your writing.  And all at once, you’re no longer stuck in the snow, but blazing down the slope, yelling “WOO HOO!”   
Having the best day ever! 
So thanks again, to r/Fantasy and all the readers out there who’ve enjoyed the Shattered Sigil trilogy. When times are hard, it’s your encouragement that gives me the strength to keep writing, and I’m forever grateful for it.