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 Booknest.eu 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 Booknest.eu, 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.