Thursday, July 13, 2017

10 Things I Learned in my First 10 Days in New Zealand

We made it! All the way to Lake Hawea, New Zealand. Every bit of effort and stress and bureaucratic hoops involved in getting here feels 100% worth it looking at views like this:

View from our rental house. I've got my eye on the peak to the left--looks like quite an interesting climb.
The Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, means "Land of the Long White Cloud." I'd say that's accurate!
Lake Wanaka, which is another huge lake about 15 min drive away. The town of Wanaka is the main hub of the immediate region, and has all the shops (and tourists).
We didn't head to Hawea right away upon arriving in NZ. First we spent a little over a week in Christchurch, during which we opened bank accounts, bought a used car, switched over cell phones, and tried to handle all the minutiae of setting up a temporary new life in another country. This process wasn't always easy, so I thought I'd share some of the lessons we learned:

1. Friends are worth more than gold

Okay, likely you know this already. Yet I can't emphasize enough what a difference it made to have a friend hosting us during our "landing week" in Christchurch. My eternal gratitude goes to New Zealand author Helen Lowe, who opened her home to the three of us, patiently drove us around town and provided all manner of helpful advice, plus organized a fun get-together with local SFF writers and fed us many wonderful home-cooked meals. (Helen is not only an excellent writer but a terrific cook. Speaking of her writing, if you like epic fantasy and you haven't read her Wall of Night series, you really, really should. I've talked before here about why I love the books, and the series remains one of my favorite currently-running sagas. While we were staying with Helen, I felt tremendously glad for her help and yet regretful that we were taking her away from working on the next installment. I'm so eager to read what happens that I'd hate to be the cause for even the smallest of delays!)

Helen and I enjoying a wintry beach walk in Christchurch
2. Changing a Verizon phone over is NOT as easy as swapping a sim card

I must have read a hundred times in travel articles that switching your phone over to a local provider is as easy as putting in a new sim card.

HA HA HA no. Or at least, not with a Verizon phone. I dutifully made sure before leaving the US that my Samsung S5 was not "locked" by Verizon (i.e. that the phone would accept a new sim card). So when we got to Christchurch, we compared plans from NZ providers, selected one, and bought new sim cards. My husband also got a new phone, since his was pretty old and he'd never liked it anyway. His setup went fine. Mine did not.

Turns out you not only have to swap the sim, you have to dig deep into your phone's settings and change the preferred network type and enter a bunch of new APN info and make all kinds of other adjustments, all of which I had to figure out myself with the help of a lot of google searching. Even after all that, my phone still spits out constant warnings that I'm not using a Verizon sim card and keeps trying to reset back to its old settings. It's so annoying that I'm teetering on the edge of breaking down and buying a new phone.

3. Food in New Zealand is expensive, but the treats are very tasty.

I'd braced for the high food costs before arriving, but still, it's a bit of a sticker shock when lunch in a mall food court costs $50 NZD for 2 adults and a kid. (Burgers + fries + drinks + one ice cream.) We'll be cutting way, waaaaaaay back on eating out, and budgeting our grocery shopping very carefully. This is pretty darn hard when so many tasty treats are on offer. Everything from butter chicken pies to cheese scones to tuna-salad-and-cucumber sushi rolls (why can't you find tuna salad sushi in US stores?). Don't get me started on the actual desserts. As a fan of caramel and white chocolate, the shelves hold far too many temptations like this:

4. New Zealanders are a laid-back crew, but bureaucracy is taken seriously

Individually speaking, New Zealanders seem pretty laissez-faire when it comes to matters of payment. When I arranged to rent a house in the town of Lake Hawea, I was startled when I asked how much the owner would need for a deposit, and she told me there was no need for a deposit or signed paperwork, we'd just work out payment once we moved in. We've had similar experiences with other services (like firewood delivery). "Oh, just send me the money when you have a chance." (Payments here are made by bank account transfer, not checks.) People seem a lot more trusting of each other, which is a refreshing change.

Yet when you encounter bureaucracy, it can be quite rigid. For instance, when we went to open our bank account, the bank required proof of an address (either in the US or here), and the proof had to be a bank statement or utility bill. I dutifully handed over a copy of our joint account statement showing our names and Colorado address. But in Colorado we do all our banking at a credit union, and apparently credit union statements aren't accepted, only BANK statements. What about a mortgage statement? Nope. 401K? Nope. Our utility bills are almost all in my name with my husband as a secondary, which means his name often doesn't show on the statement. I was beginning to panic over how in the world I could provide proof, until I managed to dig up a City of Boulder water bill that showed both of our names along with our address. Whew!

5. The playgrounds are as awesome as the scenery

Even tiny towns can have some pretty nifty play structures. My husband theorizes this is because NZ, much like his home country of Australia, doesn't have a lot of personal injury lawyers. Our son's favorite playground so far is the Margaret Mahy playground in Christchurch (first suggested to us by the ever-awesome Helen Lowe). The park features trampolines, rope structures, massive slides and seesaws, a zipline, and an extensive "water engineering" play area.

Now that's a slide
In the US, water features are often turned off in winter. Not so here. (I suppose because it doesn't get cold enough for the pipes to freeze solid?) In the dead of winter, with temps hovering not far above freezing, kids were still happily playing with water features. Many of the kids wore shorts. Some of them were barefoot. I thought as a Coloradan used to blizzards and freezing windchills that I was tough, but clearly I have a ways to go to match a Kiwi.

6. Buying a car: timing is everything

When buying a used car, negotiate first on price before you get an inspection done. (We did this the wrong way around. Oops.) Also, don't expect to get anything car-related done on a weekend. Dealerships may be open, but registration offices, mechanics, and parts stores are usually not. We finally finished negotiating to buy a car on a Friday. We'd planned to leave Christchurch the next day. But we couldn't leave, because the car was an import and had to be registered, which couldn't happen until Monday. Thankfully Helen and her partner Andrew were kind enough to let us extend our stay with them at the last minute (this, after already imposing on them for a whole week).

7. Snow chains aren't just a quaint memory from the past

When I first moved to Colorado, I remember marching into a tire store and asking to buy chains. The guy at the counter looked at me like I was crazy. "Chains? You don't need those. We don't even sell them. If a road gets so bad you'd need chains on a passenger car, the state closes it."

He was right. In twenty two years of driving mountain roads in Colorado in winter, I never used or needed chains, even in near-blizzard conditions. Colorado's famously dry & fluffy powder packs down into a surface that provides decent traction; ice, especially black ice, is relatively rare. Plus, an army of snowplows crawls over the highways 24/7, plowing and sanding and dumping antifreeze. All you need is a decent amount of tread on your tires, and you're set, especially if you have a Subaru.

Not so in NZ! Driving the passes in winter, you're required to carry chains, even if your car is an Outback or even some huge honking 4WD off-road monster. And you may well have to use the chains. NZ snow tends toward the icy variety, and their plows may only work the road once a day (often first thing in the morning).

Ice on the road. No problem on flat ground like this, not so fun on a steep windy pass
Also, some of the ski field roads (such as the road to Treble Cone) are crazy steep with no asphalt, no guardrails, no room to pass, and a hell of a long drop off the edge.

Road to Treble Cone ski area. We are riding the bus because then I can enjoy the scenery instead of keeping white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel
So for the first time in my life, I own a set of chains. Haven't had to use them yet, but at least we're ready.

8. There's an art to tending a woodburning stove (we're still learning it!)

Most NZ houses don't have central gas-furnace-based heating. You keep warm in winter the old-school way, by burning wood in a cast-iron stove. In Christchurch, Helen instructed us in the art of lighting a fire in the woodburner (use newspaper, paraffin fire starter, and kindling) as well as other tips and tricks (you can clean the glass of the door by spitting on a paper towel, getting some ash on it, and scrubbing). The part we're still learning is how to manage wood and damper (the sliding control on the vent to the outside) such that we stay warm without burning through our entire firewood supply too quickly.

Time for another log for the fire
 I admit I'm a little ambivalent about the woodburning thing. It's kinda nice to have a fire on chilly winter nights. Yet the smoke haze from whole neighborhoods of houses burning wood is quite noticeable already in mountain valleys. As NZ's population grows ever larger, I have to wonder if the pollution will get to smog-awful levels. (Helen told us that Christchurch has quite strict rules about types of stoves and how to use them, in an effort to combat the pollution issue. Out here in the Wanaka area, I don't think they have such regulations yet, but looks to me like they'll need them soon.)

9. Even not-so-scenic NZ routes are still pretty damn scenic 

When we drove from Christchurch to Lake Hawea, we had a choice of routes. The shortest goes through Tekapo near Mt. Cook (NZ's highest peak), and over Lindis Pass, and is said to be gorgeously scenic. However, wintry weather was forecast for our traveling days, and we didn't want to risk the pass and roads being closed, which happens often in snowy weather.

So instead, we took the "Pig Root", driving down the coast to Palmerston and then heading inland toward Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Reading up on this route before leaving, I found many discussions online that disparaged the scenery compared to the Tekapo/Lindis Pass route. I felt kind of downhearted that we apparently would miss out on all the good views.

I shouldn't have worried. I'm not sure NZ has any non-scenic routes.

Yeah, not scenic at all
These mountains aren't scenic either. That's why I couldn't take my eyes off them.

This section of the drive actually reminded me quite a bit of northern Colorado

Somewhere near Cromwell
Heading toward Wanaka and Lake Hawea

10. Don't be in a hurry to get anywhere

Because you might get stuck behind an entire house being trucked along the road.

House-truck inching over a bridge. My favorite part is the car with the "House Ahead" sign on it. In case you didn't notice the GIANT HOUSE. The pic is a bit deceiving--there is no room to pass on the other side of the road. The house took up the entire road. Cars coming the opposite way had to pull off into ditches and wait. 
Creeping along behind this house added an extra hour to our drive between Oamaru and Lake Hawea. It was actually kind of fascinating to watch the truck driver negotiate the windy road. (The truckbed had hydraulic stabilizers to keep the house flat as the truck inched around banked curves.) But man, I was glad we'd allowed plenty of time for the drive.

Besides, you need time to enjoy all that scenery.

Lake Wanaka
Anyway, there you have it! The first ten lessons we've learned, out of what will doubtless be many more. Next I might do a post on some of the differences between NZ and CO skiing...but I'll get in a few more days on the slopes first. Gotta make sure I know what I'm talking about, right?

Skiing at Treble Cone

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The slow route to New Zealand

I left Boulder way back on June 4, but I'm still not quiiiiiiite to New Zealand. (Almost there! We leave Sydney for Christchurch tomorrow.) Instead of charging straight for our new digs, we've been taking the slow but beautiful route, stopping over in Hawaii and then visiting my in-laws in Australia.

The Hawaii stopover was for two reasons. The first was jetlag mitigation: Hawaii is exactly halfway in effective time difference between Colorado and Australia, and I have learned from years of Australia visits that spending even one night at a halfway time zone is tremendously helpful in dealing with brutal jetlag. Especially if you're traveling with a kid. (Last time we returned straight from Sydney to Boulder, it took my son weeks to stop waking up from 2-4am every night, despite my best efforts to wear him out & reset his sleep schedule. WEEKS.)

The second reason: it's Hawaii! My son is very into volcanoes at the moment, so he was particularly excited for the chance to see Kilauea in action. Therefore we chose to stop for a week on the Big Island and visit Volcanoes National Park, plus enjoy some excellent snorkeling. (One day I plan to visit Kauai--I would love to hike the Na Pali coast--but that can wait until the kiddo is a bit older.)

We've had a lovely time, both in Hawaii and in Sydney. It's a strange sensation, having wonderful experiences even as I check the news and struggle with an avalanche of helplessness and outrage and sadness. ("Don't check the news," some might say, but I feel informed action is so vital these days that I cannot simply turn my back.) The beauty I see in reefs and bushland strikes all the more keenly to my heart, knowing that such ecosystems may not survive much longer. Yet I take heart in seeing my son ask how we can save and protect them.

So on that note, here's some of what we've seen and enjoyed on our journey toward New Zealand:

Sunset from Keauhou, Hawaii
Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay
Pod of spinner dolphins at Kealakekua Bay
Giant manta ray behind our snorkeling boat--we did the famous night snorkeling with rays trip, and wow, it was worth every penny. When we were in the water, the rays would come within inches of us as they fed on the plankton drawn to the boat's lights. It was amazing to watch these gentle giants swooping in lazy flips and balletic turns at such close range. 
Southeast coast of the Big Island, windswept and wild
Punalu'u black sand beach, home to numerous sea turtles
Sea turtle entering the waves at Punalu'u
Lava in Kilauea's main crater. The pic doesn't do it justice--it was fountaining in constant motion, very cool to watch.

Lava at the Pu'u O'o vent, as seen from the air. We splurged for a helicopter ride. It was cool to get the aerial view, but I'm not entirely convinced the cost was worth it, given that the flight time is so short (about 45 min). Next time I might be more inclined to try the hike/bike ride out to view the lava entering the ocean at night. (Didn't do that this time because it was quite a long distance and I wasn't sure the kiddo would enjoy such a long hike given there's little to see until you reach the viewpoint.)

Aerial view of lava entering the ocean
Waves at Laupahoehoe park, which was one of my favorite spots on the Big Island's eastern side

Another view of Laupahoehoe

Waimea Bay on Oahu--we spent a lovely afternoon here with fellow author Kate Elliott, before flying onward to Sydney

Hanging out with Kate beside a tasty taco truck. (The finger is my son's; he needs a little more practice taking pictures)

Darling Harbor in Sydney

Morning in the Blue Mountains. I love hearing the kookaburras chortle their maniacal laughter. (I'm serious. It's really cool.)
First waterfall of the day while hiking the National Pass/Valley of the Waters loop

Cliff view 

One of the many waterfalls we passed

Another enticing waterfall

Last light on the Ruined Castle rock formation (right at center of photo)

Winter light on the Three Sisters

We got to meet up with photographer & SFF reviewer Paul Weimer, who was on his very first trip to Australia and New Zealand courtesy of the Down Under Fan Fund
And now, onward to new adventures...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Shattered Sigil short story "A Game of Mages" now available

Only six more days until I leave Boulder for 9 months in New Zealand, and holy hell do I still have a mountain of tasks to accomplish! Yet I just had to take a break to share some cool writing-related news. You might remember I wrote a Lizaveta story for Grimdark Magazine's Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology, which was funded through Kickstarter last year. I'm delighted to say the anthology is complete! Backers already have their ebooks, and print editions are in the process of shipping. If you missed out on the kickstarter, the ebook is currently available to buy on Amazon, and you can preorder the beautiful illustrated print edition, which releases to the public on June 16. This book contains the first new fiction of mine to come out since Labyrinth of Flame, so I'm pretty excited!

I just read the ebook last week, so I can confirm the anthology has some great stories. Not only did I enjoy the insight into antagonists from series familiar to me (Teresa Frohock's Los Nefilim, Mazarkis Williams's Tower and Knife, Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow, Jeff Salyards's Bloodsounder's Arc, Bradley Beaulieu's Song of the Shattered Sands), I found some new-to-me authors whose work intrigued me, which is always lovely. (Especially when I'm about to do some marathon plane flights. Time to load up that Kindle!)

Anyway, to celebrate the anthology's release, I thought I'd share a little excerpt from my story, "A Game of Mages". This snippet is from a scene partway through the story, and takes place about ten years before The Whitefire Crossing. You'll see a familiar face...

Lizaveta stood beside the warded window of her study, gripping the jeweled silver band of a message charm. Outside, the sun slowly sank behind the serrated ridgeline of the Whitefire Mountains. Ninavel’s soaring white stone towers stood out sharp against a sky ablaze with crimson and orange.

The sunset’s beauty did little to assuage Lizaveta’s frustration.

Three years. Three long years, and no spell she and Ruslan cast revealed the least trace of Simon. That surely meant Simon remained in Alathia, concealed by the border wards, but the spies she sent to search Alathian cities and countryside had no better luck.

Ruslan was content to lie in wait and train his akhelyshen. Lizaveta was not.

She frowned at the message charm. She detested the need to depend on nathahlen spies, who were irritatingly limited and fallible. Before ciphered missives could be charm-sent to Ninavel, they had to be couriered across the border, a laborious process subject to all manner of delays. The message she expected today was already late. Perhaps it would only be another litany of failure, but she had particular hopes for this spy, more determined and methodical than most. His last message had said he intended to hunt deep into Alathia’s rugged northern wildlands, after discovering in some crude little village that two of the area’s most experienced trappers had never returned from a scouting trip. Lizaveta knew the trappers’ disappearance was probably the result of the wild’s many natural perils, rather than murder by a fugitive akheli intent on remaining hidden, yet she could not help but hope...

A tentative young voice spoke. “Khanum Liza?”

Kiran stood in the study’s arched doorway. His small face and hands were scrubbed to alabaster perfection, though chalk smudges and magefire burns still marred his clothes.

“What is it, little one?” She had to admit that so far he’d proved a better akhelysh to Ruslan than she imagined. That was in no small part thanks to Ruslan’s scrupulous adherence to Lizaveta’s advice in preparing Kiran’s relationship with Mikail. Once introduced, the boys had quickly settled into the ideal pattern to mold Kiran’s character: Mikail fiercely protective of his younger mage-brother, and Kiran idolizing him in return, doing his utmost to follow Mikail’s lead in their training.

Kiran bowed low. “I did well with my spell designs today, so Ruslan said I might ask you for a story.”

At first, she had been a touch exasperated that Ruslan kept finding excuses for the children to interact with her. Yet his desire for them to win her love had been so evident, she had not the heart to deny him. Besides, she found the boys more entertaining than expected. Kiran, shyly adoring and endlessly curious, listened rapt to tales of her travels and shared her appreciation for nature’s myriad wonders. Even stiff, serious Mikail begged her to share stories of legendary mage-battles and cuddled up to her with kittenish eagerness when she offered affection. The boys worshiped and feared Ruslan in equal measure, as they should. But since Lizaveta had no need to worry over their training or mete out punishments for their mistakes, her, they simply loved.

“Not tonight,” she said gently to Kiran, and showed him the message charm. “I am waiting for news of some importance. Tomorrow, perhaps.”

“If you’re too busy for a story, might I at least read the star book again?” Kiran peered up at her, his blue eyes wide and winsome.

She relented. “You may come in and read, so long as you are quiet.”

“I’ll be so quiet you won’t even notice me,” he promised, tiptoeing for the shelves lining the study’s marble walls. As he passed her, he paused and said in a rush, “I hope the news you wait for is good. So you won’t have to worry anymore.”

His sensitivity to her mood was a sign of the empathy she still feared would cause trouble in years to come. Akheli needed steel in their souls, not kindness. But that was Ruslan’s problem and not hers.

Unlike Simon. Lizaveta ran a finger over the jeweled band, willing her spy to hurry up and send his report. “My worries are not yours, little one. Read if you wish, but no more talking.”

Kiran made straight for the “star book”—a treatise she had written on the movements and nature of celestial objects. The treatise had been born of his eager questions when she first showed him the patterns of the stars. What is the sky made of? Are the stars magelights? Can you cast to bring one down for me to see? 

She did not need polished lenses such as the scholars of the great cities of eastern Arkennland used to magnify and study the sky. She cast with all the power of the confluence to scry the distant stars, and discovered to her wonder their immense size and the improbable distances between them. Nor were those distances wholly empty. Globes of rock and gas circled the stars, though none she had yet scried were rich with magic and life like the world beneath her feet. Countless smaller chunks of sky-stone hurtled through the silent darkness like shrapnel from some immense concussion.

She wrote the treatise to record her findings for her own future use—and because Kiran was still too young and untrained to cast spells that would let him experience such wonders directly. But oh, how he loved to read of them. Already, he had settled into a cushioned chair, clutching the slender leather-bound volume like he held the most precious of treasures.

 The glory of the sunset outside faded. Magelights glimmered and sparkled like a rainbow of gemstones in Ninavel’s twilit towers. Finally, finally, the message charm warmed in her hand, signaling the spy’s missive had come.

Lizaveta sent an eager spark of her ikilhia into the charm to trigger the waiting message. A vision of hastily scrawled words appeared in her mind’s eye: The man you seek is living amid ruins in the Greenward Hills. I know not what he does in the ruins. I did not dare get close enough for him to discover me. He has been there long enough to build a cabin, and he shows no sign of leaving. I believe no other shadow man has yet located him.

Lizaveta sucked in a sharp, delighted breath. Kiran looked up from the star treatise, the azure blaze of his ikilhia flaring with curiosity, but she ignored his unspoken questions.

Simon found, at last!


Those of you who backed my Labyrinth of Flame kickstarter might be wondering, "Hey, what about the short stories for us?" Fear not, friends! One short story is complete and will be available to all in the near future. The Cara novella The White Serpent still needs a bit more work, but once I get to New Zealand, I should have the time I need to finish not only the novella but the Ruslan story and Lena story I have in progress.

Now back to packing (and panicking over packing)...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A New Adventure

I see it's been 4 months since my last post, which must be a new record for silence on this blog. Part of that is me pulling back from the internet--or trying to, anyway. I've found that reading a constant deluge of terrible news pushes me toward despair and gets in the way of my motivation to act. (As Matt Ford said on Twitter, "It's less of a news cycle these days and more of that BSG episode where the Cylons attack every 33 minutes.") I still want to stay informed, but I find it helps tremendously to limit my time online, fact-check all sources, and focus more on what I can do rather than stewing over what I can't (the 5calls website has been great for this).

But that's not my only reason for silence, and my other reasons are much more positive. Not only have I been doing a lot more writing, but I've been prepping for a big new adventure: in June, we're moving to New Zealand for 9 months.

Yep, New Zealand, and no, it's not all because of Trump. My husband is Australian; he moved to Colorado for my sake in 1998, about a year after we'd first met and fallen in love. For nearly twenty years, he's been far from his family, and he's missed them terribly. Yet we both love the mountains and all the skiing and climbing and wilderness fun Colorado has to offer, not to mention (in my case) the excellent jobs in the space industry. So here we stayed.

Yet we always had the thought of, "Well, maybe one day we'll move closer to Sydney." Especially after we spent a glorious but all too short few days tramping and caving and kayaking in New Zealand back in 2006. When my husband told me that Australia and New Zealand have reciprocal residency, so that Australian citizens can work and live in New Zealand without need for a visa, I told my husband half-jokingly that I'd move to the South Island any time he asked. I mean, just look at these mountains:

Stunning view from the Routeburn Track
Robert and I near Harris Saddle
Oh yes, I'd like to climb that one
View from the road to Milford Sound
Not to mention the kayaking and canyoning:

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park
Abseiling (rappelling) down a waterfall in Sleeping God Canyon
On our short trip in 2006 we saw only the tiniest fraction of all New Zealand has to offer. I knew I wanted to return some day and spend a lot more time exploring all that incredible scenic beauty. But I filed away a nice long stay as a "bucket list" item: something I hoped to do sometime in my life, but who knew when. After our son was born and grew old enough that traveling with him wasn't a nightmare, we talked about maybe spending a year in Australia or New Zealand, but for a long time the idea of heading overseas stayed more a fantasy than a serious plan. The logistics seemed so daunting.

But then last summer my husband got a remote-working job. And then came November's election, and January's inauguration. Suddenly the world seemed in a much more fragile state. Maybe there wouldn't be a someday waiting in the future. Rather than putting off our dreams, we should act on them now.

So that's what we've done. I asked my company for permission to switch down to as-needed part time status and do incidental remote work for 9 months. Because my company is awesome, they've not only granted me permission but been tremendously supportive. (Perhaps because everyone there is hoping to visit us!) Our plan is to move to the Wanaka area on the South Island of New Zealand for that sabbatical period.

Wanaka is a town next to the Southern Alps, right on a beautiful lake and close to Mt. Aspiring National Park and New Zealand's steepest ski resort (Treble Cone). The Queenstown airport is only about an hour's drive away, so we can easily fly over to Sydney on school holidays to spend time with my husband's family. (Our son will be going to school in NZ while we're there. He's particularly looking forward to the local school's ski program.)

I can't even tell you how excited I am about this. Exploring new mountains and canyons, skiing new slopes, going on family adventures, spending more time with our Aussie relatives...hooray!!! Plus I'll get to write a lot more since I'll be working a lot less: win all around. (Even for you, reader! Once we're in NZ, I promise to share many beautiful pictures.)

But just because I'll be enjoying myself overseas doesn't mean I'll bail on what's going on back home. I'm hoping my time in NZ will give me fresh energy to fight for a better future. I'll certainly still be donating money and voting and writing emails. The more I see of the world's beauty, the more determined I am to help preserve it and ensure we all survive to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ConFusion Schedule

My one convention of the year so far (and likely my only con this year) is coming up this weekend. I'm heading out to Detroit, Michigan for ConFusion. This will be my first time attending, so I'm excited to see what it's like. I chose to give ConFusion a try because a lot of my author-friends have gushed over how much fun they've had in past years, so fingers crossed I'll have an equally wonderful time! I'm on the following panels:

Self-Publishing for Fun & Profit (Friday Jan 20th at 7pm), with Michael Underwood, Elise Kova, and Dira Lewis. We'll be looking at the current state of self-pub in all its myriad forms, and pondering where it might go in the next 10 years. I'll be happy to share some of the lessons learned from my Kickstarter experience.

Pimp Your Mars Rover (Saturday Jan 21st at 5pm), with Karen Burnham, Martin L. Shoemaker, and Bill Higgins. "What would a vehicle need to traverse the unforgiving surface of Mars? A perfect panel for those interested in engineering the next buggy." I may be a signal and image processing engineer rather than a mechanical engineer, but back when I was working at JPL in my undergrad days, I did design some hardware for a Mars lander (which sadly never made it to planetfall, as the rocket failed on launch). In any case, it's always fun to geek out about engineering and science, so I look forward to this one.

Pantsers Rule! Or So They Tell Me (Sunday Jan 22nd at 10am), with Diana Rowland, Michael Ceislak, Andrea Phillips, John Klima. In which we will discuss the joys and horrors of writing by the seat of your pants, and other alternatives to outlining. (I'm actually somewhere in the middle between a pantser and an outliner.)

Aside from the panels, I'll be hanging out at the bar. I don't actually drink, as I hate the taste of alcohol--although my God, on Friday I will likely be wishing that wasn't so. But my favorite part of a con is always the bar conversations. Well, and I also plan to spend a nice solid chunk of time each morning holed up in my room taking advantage of blissful solitude to make progress on those infamous Shattered Sigil short stories. In any case, if you'll be at the con, I'll see you there!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Auctions and awards

Remember the fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders that I mentioned in my last post? Their final auction is going on right now, and a signed copy of The Whitefire Crossing is included in this pack of 20 awesome books on the block:

Heck, I'll even doodle a special drawing on the inside of Whitefire Crossing if the winner prefers extra decoration (no promises about my art skills, though). Highest bid by 9pm on Jan 13 wins all 20 books, and all money goes to Doctors Without Borders. So if you've some extra cash you'd like to go for a good cause, head on over to Ben Galley's website and bid. If you don't have cash, no worries, it's also great if you can help spread the word.

In other news (far more fun news than what's coming out of Washington DC), r/Fantasy announced this year's Stabby Award Winners. Lots of excellent books and stories are among the winners and runners-up, and to my surprise, I won two Stabbies, one for "Best Comment" and one for "Best Review." (The comment in question is an essay-length response I wrote to some questions about women authors in fantasy, and the best review was one I wrote for Janny Wurts's excellent Wars of Light and Shadow series.) Added to my Stabby win last year for Best Self-Published/Independent novel, I now have quite the arsenal! I'm not sure if the real meaning of this is that I've been spending way too much time on reddit, but more seriously, I'm honored that people have found my contributions to r/Fantasy worthwhile.

One final note, for those of you in the US. If you, like me, are deeply dismayed at the thought of loved ones and friends with pre-existing conditions losing access to healthcare with the repeal of the ACA, please don't give in to despair and assume it's too late for anything to be done. Call your representatives. Make your voice heard.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 in review

Well, it was a hell of a year. But right now I don't want to focus on the dark parts of 2016, whether personal or global. I've spent more than enough time thinking about those. I want to remember the bright spots, so I can go into 2017 with some joy in my heart. As Edward Abbey once said, "Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless."

And really, I had many wonderful moments in 2016. It's funny how hard it can be to remember the good things, sometimes. Thank goodness for pictures (and friends and loved ones) to remind us. So what'd I find, looking back through the year?

Writing-wise, not only did I finish all the mailing for The Labyrinth of Flame's Kickstarter, and work out a deal with the printing company to make the illustrated edition available to the general public, but the book won an award! The denizens of r/Fantasy voted Labyrinth of Flame the Best Self-Published/Independent novel of 2015, and I got this very cool dagger as a result:

Oh, how I wish I could say I'd finished the Shattered Sigil short stories as well. Yet here it is, 2017, and I'm still only 20,000 words and 2/3 of the way into the Cara novella The White Serpent, 1/3 of the way through the story of Dev escaping an assassin on his first convoy trip (this one's for one of the Ultimate Fan backers), and I have the Ruslan story and a Lena story plotted out but not yet written.

I did complete and turn in a 8,000-word Lizaveta story called A Game of Mages for the forthcoming Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology--and boy was that completion a struggle, as the story required three rewrites. On the non-fiction side, I wrote three pieces for Lady Business's Readers of the Lost Arc feature, covering under-read books of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (that last post is turned in but not yet up on the blog). Still, I'm terribly ashamed to admit A Game of Mages is the only piece of fiction I finished all year.

The simple truth is that I didn't make writing a priority in 2016 the way I did in previous years. Some of that was by design: I wanted to put my husband and son first for a while, and reduce stress by enjoying more of the activities I'd put on hold while trying to finish The Labyrinth of Flame and run the kickstarter. But I think I let the pendulum swing a little too far over to the non-writing side.

For 2017 I'm resolving to adjust yet again and find a better balance: one that lets me finish all the Shattered Sigil short stories and finally start work on the new fantasy novel I'd like to write. (Still untitled, but this is the one with deadly sea magic, tropical islands and coral reefs, freediving, and a team of spies.) My ultimate goal would be to finish all the stories by summer and complete a rough draft of the new book by the end of the year. That may be too ambitious for a slow writer like me. We'll see.

So what did I do in 2016 instead of writing? Apart from the usual day jobbing...

1) I skied many excellent runs with my kiddo, who just this year got skilled enough to handle black diamonds and trees (woo hoo!):

Powder day at Winter Park

The snow's always best in the trees

Winter wonderland at Steamboat
2) I spent more glorious days hiking in Colorado's mountains. In the words of John Muir, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."

Lovely day at Andrews Tarn in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain panorama

Nothing like climbing a nice cold glacier on a hot summer day

Indian Peaks wilderness

Pointing the way toward 14,309-ft Uncompahgre Peak, highest in the San Juans

On top of Uncompahgre--my first new 14er in many years!

3) We returned to our favorite haunts around Moab and the San Rafael Swell and explored some new-to-us areas, like Behind the Rocks, Medieval Chamber and Morning Glory Arch, the Goblin's Lair, and some off-the-beaten-ranger-path parts of the Fiery Furnace. One thing I love about canyon country is how you can visit the same areas again and again and discover new amazing things every time. (As Mary Hunter Austin said, "This is the sense of the desert hills, that there is room enough and time enough.")

"Behind the Rocks" wilderness area
Desert flowers

The kiddo tackles his first major rappel (into Medieval Chamber)

On rappel beside Morning Glory Arch (technically a natural bridge rather than an arch, but hey)
Exploring the hoodoo canyons of Goblin Valley
At the entrance to the Goblin's Lair (a.k.a. the Chamber of the Basilisk)

Inside the Goblin's Lair

The Fiery Furnace: so many enticing routes to explore

4) I smile every time I think of our June trip to visit family in Australia. We had plenty of fun in and around Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and enjoyed a 3-day sailing adventure in the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands (our first time there, but hopefully not our last!).

The Vivid festival lived up to its name: constantly changing projections of color decorated the Opera House and many other buildings near Sydney Harbour
Avast me hearties, yo ho! The Schafers sail the Whitsundays
Catseye Beach on Hamilton Island
Hiking in the Blue Mountains
Rainbow view from the Ruined Castle

4) I didn't go to many cons this year apart from WorldCon in Kansas City, which was awesome. Yet I was lucky enough to spend time with some wonderful authors and SFF folk:

In May I got to hang out with Janny Wurts for a few days: definitely a highlight of my year!
Another highlight was getting to meet New Zealand author Helen Lowe while I was in Sydney

And having a lovely lunch with Pellinor author Alison Croggon while in Melbourne

Yet another was a summer hike with blogger/reviewer/all-around awesome guy Paul Weimer and author Alex Acks in the Indian Peaks
5) I read a lot of excellent books. I had plans to do a whole big long "reading review" post with cover pics and mini-reviews, but in all honesty I prefer to focus on short-story writing right now. So instead I'll do a quick list of the reads that stood out most to me this year:

  • Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow series--I just recently finished book 8, Stormed Fortress, and I continue to be hugely impressed with the careful plotting and layered reveals
  • Helen Lowe's Daughter of Blood--book 3 in her excellent Wall of Night epic fantasy series. Her world is rich and fascinating, and I love what she's doing with the story and characters.
  • Mark Lawrence's Wheel of Osheim--final book of his Red Queen's War trilogy. Mark really knows how to stick a landing. Tons of great action, character work, and sly humor.
  • Teresa Frohock's Los Nefilim--her three excellent dark fantasy novellas featuring half-daimon, half-angel Diago, all collected into one volume. My God, these are good. Terrific characters and atmosphere.
  • Jeff Salyards's Chains of the Heretic--another great trilogy-ender. If you love military fantasy, you've got to read this series.
  • Kate Elliott's Poisoned Blade--2nd in her YA Court of Fives series. I'd liked the first one well enough, but this one I thought took the series to a whole new level.
  • Laura Ruby's Bone Gap--magical realism done right. Powerful and beautiful.
  • Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree and Cuckoo Song--I'd seen lots of people raving about Hardinge but the first book I tried by her (A Face Like Glass) didn't entirely work for me. These two did, big time, and I'm now a convert. Her imagination is amazing.
  • Megan O'Keefe's Steal the Sky and Break the Chains--oh, how I loved these, because they pushed a lot of my personal buttons as a reader. Addictive yet dangerous psychic-power-style magic, strong bonds of friendship, scoundrels with hidden depths...yes, please. 
  • Alison Croggon's The Bone Queen--a haunting, lovely prequel to her epic Pellinor series. Tied for my favorite Pellinor book with the 3rd of the main series, The Crow.
  • Ben Peek's The Godless and Leviathan's blood--beautifully written literary epic fantasy, thoughtful and weird and unique in all the best ways
  • Scott Hawkins's The Library at Mount Char--dark and imaginative and compelling. 

So, yeah. 2016 definitely wasn't all suck, by a long shot. I hope 2017 will likewise have some victories and joys, not just for me, but for everyone who fears the path the world is taking. Hope and kindness and courage and compassion still matter, now more than ever, and it's not all darkness out there. So many people are trying in whatever ways they can to make the world just that little bit better. For one small example, check out this currently running charity fundraiser from, where 100 SFF authors (including me) donated signed books for a prize lottery; all money raised through ticket sales will be given to Doctors Without Borders.

Sometimes everything we do, whether donating or writing letters or volunteering or simply offering kindness to a stranger, feels negligible in impact. But as Mark Helprin wrote in his sublime fantasy Winter's Tale, "No one ever said that you would live to see the repercussions of everything you do, or that you have guarantees, or that you are not obliged to wander in the dark, or that everything will be proved to you and neatly verified like something in science. Nothing is: at least nothing that is worthwhile."

In 2017, my biggest goal is to focus on what's worthwhile, no matter how unimportant my actions may feel.