Saturday, January 28, 2012

Authorial Update

While I've been slaving away on The Tainted City, some nifty things have been going on for The Whitefire Crossing, and I've been a bit remiss about spreading the news.

1) The Whitefire Crossing was nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar award (for best fantasy debut in 2011)!  Voting is open through March 31st, and it's super easy: just click here and select your favorite novel on the list (whether that's Whitefire or one of the other excellent books nominated).

2) I'll be doing a group book signing at Who Else Books in Denver on February 11 at 3pm, along with Rob Ziegler, Robin Owens, and Alastair Mayer.  It's gonna be super fun, so if you're in Denver, come on by!

3) Whitefire's also gotten some very nice reviews this month from Nethspace, Fantasy Book Cafe, and I Will Read Books, as well as making #5 on Mihir Wanchoo of Fantasy Book Critic's Best Debuts of 2011 list.  Woo hoo!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Mt. Bierstadt in Winter

I'm so buried in writing The Tainted City that I haven't been able to get into the mountains this winter nearly as much as I'd like.  But I'm an addict, I confess it: if I go too long without a mountain fix, I turn into this mopey, cranky, snarly, horribly negative person.  So to preserve my own sanity (and that of everyone else around me), this past weekend I ditched the computer for a day and headed into the high country for an attempt on Mt. Bierstadt with a few friends.

Snowshoeing toward Mt. Bierstadt from the trailhead at Guanella Pass
Mt. Bierstadt is a 14,060 foot peak that stands beside Guanella Pass, about an hour's drive from Boulder.  It's one of the easiest 14ers to climb; only 3 miles one way to the summit from the summer trailhead, along a nice wide well-constructed trail.  Summer weekends, the trail is pretty much one continuous line of hikers, the peak is so popular.  But winter is a different story, especially now the road to the Guanella Pass trailhead is no longer plowed all the way.  (Used to be they plowed the road all the way and Bierstadt was by far the easiest winter 14er climb, but these days the road is closed 1.8 miles short of the pass).  Go in winter, and you can have the peak nearly to yourself.
High on the wind-scoured west slope of Mt. Bierstadt 
As winter climbs go, Mt. Bierstadt is about as easy as it gets: due to the high winds that scour Guanella Pass, the avalanche danger is pretty much nonexistent (snow simply doesn't build up enough), and the route is straightforward and not at all technical.  But the aforementioned high winds mean you must bring enough clothes to cover every inch of skin, or risk frostbite in moments; not to mention the difficulty of hiking in wind strong enough to knock a person flat.  (To give you an idea what's needed to combat the windchill factor, here's what I wore on our trip: capilene long underwear, heavy fleece pants + top, waterproof snow pants, gore-tex jacket, wool hat, snow gaiters, facemask, ski goggles, gauntlet-style waterproof mittens.  And I needed every scrap of it when the wind was blowing full force!)

Snowshoeing along the closed road

I've summited Mt. Bierstadt five times before, twice in winter and three times in summer, and it's the winter hikes that are my favorites.  Last weekend's trip was similarly fun, even though we didn't make the summit this time.  (A storm the day before had left enough fresh snow to make snowshoeing up to the pass and then through the willows to the mountain's west slopes a time-consuming chore; and higher on the mountain, the winds made for slow travel.  We turned around at about 13K, worried we might run out of daylight.  Always better to be safe than sorry on a winter trip!)

Me and Molly Tanzer, in the willow fields of Guanella Pass 
The trip did its job: I came back refreshed and ready to dive back into The Tainted City, no longer feeling overwhelmed by juggling day job, parenthood, and writing deadlines.  Thank God for the mountains!  I'm pretty sure I'd go mad if I lived in a flat state.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Rec: The Wood Wife (Terri Windling)

This week's recommendation is for one of my all-time favorite urban fantasy novels: Terri Windling's The Wood Wife.  These days when you say urban fantasy people think of ass-kicking tattooed chicks and  noir detectives, but The Wood Wife is old-school urban fantasy: a beautifully written, mythic novel in the vein of Charles De Lint and Emma Bull.  It's set in Tucson, and Windling does a superb job of bringing the Sonoran Desert to life, to the point the landscape is as much a character as the people in the novel.  She uses southwestern myths to wonderful effect; her nonhuman characters feel both wholly real and convincingly alien, giving the story a lovely sense of awe and mystery.  The human characters are great, too - flawed, passionate, and interesting; the sort of people you'd love to meet in real life.

Windling is far better known for her work as an editor, particularly of short stories (I'm not much of a short story reader, but even I used to devour the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies that Windling edited with Ellen Datlow).  But since first reading The Wood Wife, I feel it's almost a crime she hasn't written more novels.  (Okay, okay, I wouldn't force anyone to write, but still...The Wood Wife is so good, I can't help but want more.)  As it is, I cling to my copy, and re-read it at least once a year.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary fantasy - and especially, to anyone weary of the current emphasis on paranormal romance in urban fantasy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Chasm Lake (Colorado)

I haven't been around the internets much recently, and that's not likely to change in the next weeks - I am writing, writing, writing on The Tainted City, wholly immersed in the story to the point where the "real" world feels a lot less real than the one in my head.  (This is good for the story, bad for, um, everything else in life...)  Anyway, for today's adventure I'll just share a couple pics taken on a hike to one of my favorite mountain spots close to Boulder: Chasm Lake, beneath the towering east face of 14,259 ft. Longs Peak (the east face is known in climbing circles as the Diamond, and is the site of many excellent alpine rock routes).

Chasm Lake

But you don't need anything more than a sturdy pair of hiking boots to visit Chasm Lake - though in the early season when snowfields still cover the trail, a trekking pole or ice axe can be quite handy!

Early season on the Chasm Lake trail

The lake is lovely; my camera totally doesn't do it justice.  It's actually one of the spots I was thinking of when writing the lakeside confrontation between Kiran and Pello in The Whitefire Crossing.  Perhaps I'll go back this spring and get a few shots of the fascinating ice formations that happen as the winter ice sheet melts.  I know I've got some pics of that already somewhere, but I failed at finding them.  Instead, have a marmot picture, taken in the boulders beside Chasm Lake:

Marmot chilling out beside the lake

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Rec: Howl's Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)

This week's rec is for one of my perennial favorites: Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones.  HMC is one of those comfort books I read when I'm miserable and feverish and sick, because I find the story so charming it can't fail to lift my mood.  (And miserably sick certainly described me this last week, sigh.  I still have this horrible lingering cough that won't let me sleep, despite Robitussin, humidifier, and more.)

I would rhapsodize about Jones's ability to mix the ordinary and the extraordinary to produce a story that feels utterly grounded in the midst of wild flights of imagination, but I don't think I'm coherent enough.  Instead I'll say: how can you resist a book with a chapter entitled "In Which Sophie Expresses Her Feelings With Weedkiller"?  Not to mention this passage, which - going with the sick theme here - so perfectly encapsulates the sort of person who insists they're dying when they've got the common cold:

"Meanwhile a certain amount of moaning and groaning was coming from upstairs.  Sophie kept muttering to the dog and ignored it.  A loud, hollow coughing followed, dying away into more moaning.  Sophie ignored that too.  Crashing sneezes followed the coughing, each one rattling the window and all the doors.  Sophie found those harder to ignore, but she managed.  Pooot-pooooooot! went a blown nose, like a bassoon in a tunnel. The coughing started again, mingled with moans.  Sneezes mixed with the moans and the coughs, and the sounds rose to a crescendo in which Howl seemed to be managing to cough, groan, sneeze, blow his nose, and wail gently all at the same time."

If you haven't read Howl's Moving Castle: do.  Don't think that seeing the Miyazaki movie counts.  The movie was beautiful and entrancing as all Miyazaki movies are, but it's not at all the same story as the book.  And the book's story is genuinely wonderful.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Mt. of the Holy Cross

With the week o' sickness we're having here at Casa Schafer (flu for me, pinkeye for my son, and now my husband's throat is sore...), it's nice to think of healthier, happier times tromping the mountains.  So for this Thursday's adventure, I offer up Mt. of the Holy Cross:
Mt. of the Holy Cross (Sawatch Range, Colorado)
One of Colorado's 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, Holy Cross is in the Sawatch range of central Colorado, not too far away from the town of Vail.  I climbed it a few years back via the Halo Ridge route, which circles the Bowl of Tears basin beneath the peak and gives an excellent view of the Cross Couloir that gives the peak its name.  (The standard route up Holy Cross approaches from a different side and so you never get to see the couloir.)  Halo Ridge isn't technically difficult - it's just a lot of class 2 talus walking - but it's a hefty day trip, since you climb over three different unnamed 13K peaks along the way, and there's no easy retreat in the event of a summer thunderstorm. If you ascend via Halo Ridge and descend via the standard route as we did, the hike is 15 miles with 5,400 feet of elevation gain along the way.

Me on the summit of Holy Cross
Beautiful as the hike was, I also cringe a little when I recall it, since my Holy Cross trip also included my Most Embarassing Trailhead Moment.  Knowing the length of the route and the inevitability of afternoon thunderstorms in Colorado, my hiking partner and I wanted to start right at dawn.  Not wanting to get up at 3am to do the drive, we drove down the night before and slept at the trailhead. The Holy Cross trailhead doesn't have much in the way of official camping, so I slept in the back of my Subaru Outback, and my friend climbed the steep, forested slope above the road and found a spot for his bivy sack.  Now, we were far from the only people snoozing at the trailhead.  Hiking 14ers is a hugely popular activity in Colorado, so there were about 30 other Subarus and SUVs parked along the road with mine, all with folks sleeping in them.

Having spent my formative years in cities like D.C. and L.A., I dutifully locked my car doors before settling down inside to sleep.  At about 2am, I woke up, drowsily thinking I'd like to crack a window and get more fresh air in the car.  Since the Subaru has power windows, that meant turning on the car.  Too bad I forgot that locking the doors arms the car's security system.  The moment I stuck my key in the ignition, the car alarm went off: blaring siren, flashing lights, and all.  And the shock left me so discombobulated I couldn't remember how to turn the damn thing off.  I think I actually dug out the manual from the glove compartment; meanwhile, I could see annoyed, shadowed figures sitting bolt upright in all the other cars.

Finally, I got the alarm shut off.  Sadly, my hiking partner and I had agreed to meet at the car at first light, which meant I couldn't creep away so early none of the other trailhead campers would see me.  When I slunk out of the car at 5am, my friend stomped out of the forest and announced, "God, I hate trailhead camping.  Did you hear that racket last night?  Some utter moron set off their car alarm!"  I cringed deeper into my goretex and muttered, "Yeah...what a loser," and prayed none of the other car-campers stuffing gear into their packs would point and give me away.

Thankfully, nobody did.  And embarassment soon faded in the beauty of the day and the determination needed to scramble over acres of ass-kicking talus.  But I confess I've never slept in my car at a trailhead again (I find nearby spots where a tent can be pitched, instead).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Rec: The Emperor's Knife (Mazarkis Williams)

After reading several good reviews for Mazarkis Williams's The Emperor's Knife (e.g. at Staffer's Musings and Bibliotropic), not to mention the Halloween guest post Mazarkis did for us at the Night Bazaar, I was really looking forward to giving Emperor's Knife a try.  So much so, in fact, that I decided to use it as my reward for reaching the 100K mark on my draft of The Tainted City.

So last night, with 100K reached, and an evening's break needed before plunging into a 3-week writing marathon, I settled down with The Emperor's Knife and found it to be a very nice reward indeed.  Epic fantasy just the way I like it, with plenty of intrigue, characters in shades of gray, and interesting magic and cultures.  In classic epic fantasy fashion, the novel features multiple viewpoint characters:  an aging assassin, a vizier seeking glory for himself and his empire, a mad, imprisoned prince, and a windreader girl from the steppes who is meant to be the prince's bride.  Each of these felt fully developed as characters, with flaws, passions, and interesting parts to play in the overall story.  I particularly liked the fever-dream feel of some of Sarmin (the imprisoned prince)'s sections - the prose had me wholly convinced I was in the head of someone whose lifelong captivity had driven him more than half-mad.  I also appreciated that Mazarkis refrains from infodumping or spoonfeeding the reader, both for worldbuilding and for secondary character motivations.  (I much prefer novels that slowly reveal the world as the story progresses, and require me to engage my brain a bit.)  And of course, it's always nice to read something set outside the traditional quasi-western-european setting so common in fantasy - I loved the desert descriptions, which were spare but lovely in their economy.

If you like classic epic fantasy combined with more modern shades of gray, then by all means, run go read The Emperor's Knife.  For those leery of unfinished trilogies, I found that The Emperor's Knife came to a satisfying conclusion on its own, so you needn't fear some nail-biting cliffhanger.  But I'm very much looking forward to the second book in the trilogy, Knife-Sworn - I can't wait to see where Mazarkis goes with the world and characters.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thursday Adventure: LeConte Canyon, Sierra Nevada

Anyone who knows me won't be surprised if I start off my "Thursday Adventure" series with a pic from my very favorite mountain range: the Sierra Nevada of California.  The Sierra are beautiful, rugged, blessed with extremely mild summer weather, and contain a nearly 200-mile swath of wilderness without a single road (dirt or otherwise).  If you're willing to venture off the big popular trails and do a little trail-less scrambling, it's easy to spend an entire week wandering forbidding cirques and sparkling lakes without seeing another soul.

The geology and topography of the Whitefire Mountains in my novel The Whitefire Crossing are loosely based on the Sierra Nevada (I made them a bit higher and even more rugged, just for fun).  Sometimes I even worked off my memories of specific locations in the Sierra.  For instance, the canyon that my two protagonists struggle to reach when they abandon their trade convoy (Garnet Canyon, in the book), is based on LeConte Canyon, a deep, beautiful canyon in the middle of the Sierra.  My husband and I visited LeConte while on our Sierra High Route trip back in 2003:

Standing at the edge of LeConte Canyon

I still remember standing at LeConte's edge going, "Oh jeez, we have to scramble all the way down there and lose all our hard-won elevation?"  But the aching thigh muscles were worth it: the canyon bottom was a lovely paradise of pine forest and stream-laced meadows under towering cliffs.  We actually didn't climb straight out the other side, as Dev and Kiran do in The Whitefire Crossing - we cheated and used a trail to access Muir Pass to the north.  But one day I want to go back and do a little more off-trail exploring in the area!)

View on the descent into LeConte

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Rec: The Exordium Series (Sherwood Smith & Dave Trowbridge)

What's better than reading a book you love?  Sharing it with other people so they can enjoy it too.  I thought I'd start a little series here highlighting books both old and new that I've particularly liked.  Seems like these days I've become more and more reliant on recommendations for my reading (alas, I no longer have scads of free time to haunt the SFF shelves of bookstores and libraries picking up every book that catches my eye), and so I'd like to give a little love to my own favorite reads in return.

This week's rec: the Exordium series, by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge.  Five volumes of rip roaring yet intelligent space opera (The Phoenix in Flight, The Ruler of Naught, A Prison Unsought, The Rifter's Covenant, The Thrones of Kronos), originally published by Tor in the 90s.  I myself didn't stumble across the series until long after the books were out of print.  I was poking around the archives of a Dorothy Dunnett discussion group (having just finished and been blown away by her Lymond Chronicles), and found people talking about characters in other novels that reminded them of her protagonist Lymond.  Brandon vlith-Arkad from Exordium was mentioned as being "Lymond in space."  Well, since I'd adored Lymond, and loved SF, I thought: what could be better?  I promptly hunted down all five volumes of the series via Alibris - and found myself delighted by the read.

Brandon indeed bears a certain resemblance to Lymond (frighteningly intelligent yet wounded character skilled at getting people to underestimate him).  Some aspects of the narrative style are also reminiscent of Dunnett, like the use of viewpoint characters who intensely dislike the protagonist & misinterpret his motives.  But Exordium is all its own creation: jam-packed with nifty SF technologies, great space battles, fascinating alien races (it reminded me a bit of Brin's Uplift books in that regard), and a hefty dose of humor to leaven out the characters' angst.  The characters are terrific, by the way - Smith & Trowbridge do a great job balancing viewpoints and including a pretty hefty cast of folks while making them all feel real and distinct, no easy task.   Maybe the best thing about the series, though, is that the ending felt truly satisfying.  I find that pretty rare among series longer than trilogies: kudos to Smith & Trowbridge for pulling it off.  

Used to be that I'd recommend the series to friends and then hedge with, "But you'll need to find them in used bookstores...", all because I was so loath to part with my precious paperback copies.  What if someone lost one?  Or dumped coffee on it?  The horror!  But joy of joys, Smith & Trowbridge are re-publishing the entire series in e-book form.  I can't tell you how excited I am about that: the books deserve to be better known, and I'm certainly hoping they reach a whole new set of fans.  So hey, if you've been hankering for an exuberant, sweeping space opera complete with great action and characters - give Exordium #1 (Phoenix in Flight) a try. It's only 99 cents right now at Book View Cafe - a steal.  You can even read a free excerpt.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

As 2011 came to a close, it was pretty cool to see that The Whitefire Crossing made it onto a few "Best of 2011" lists:

Along with a mention as a notable debut in Barnes & Noble's Best Fantasy Releases of 2011, an honorable mention in Staffer's Musings' Best SFF Debut of the Year, and a recommendation in Adventures Fantastic's Four Publishers You Should Be Reading.

So yeah, a great year for Whitefire!  My writing goal for 2012 is simple: make Whitefire's sequel The Tainted City as awesome as I possibly can, in hopes readers who enjoyed Whitefire have just as much fun (if not more!) reading the continuation of Dev and Kiran's story.

Of course, I've got other goals, too:

  • Climb a new 14K peak in Colorado (I've already climbed all the 14ers within a day's drive of Boulder about 5 times over, so I'll need to roam a bit further afield this summer to manage it!)
  • Ski the fall line of the Spiral Staircase mogul run at Telluride top to bottom without wussing out or stopping.  (My husband and I have plans in the works for a ski trip with friends to Telluride sometime in Feb.  It's my favorite place to ski in Colorado - and best of all, they have childcare at the base, so perhaps my husband and I can ski together for the first time since our son was born.)  
  • Return to competition in figure skating, with an eye toward Adult Nationals in 2013.  I've been in maintenance mode for the last 2.5 years, and I miss serious training!  But first I'll have to finish The Tainted City.