Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Countdown to WorldCon

Three days until I leave for WorldCon in Chicago...and a mountainous pile of things to get done before then, both at day job and at home.  But since I don't want to entirely neglect my little blog this week, here are a few quick bits of news, a fun link, and a picture...

- The Audible narrator for The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City emailed me again: he's finished recording The Tainted City.  He said, and I quote (and yes, there were really that many question marks), "Now when do I get to start on book three????????"  Alas, I am not a fast writer!  But at least it shouldn't be long now before the first two books are available on Audible's site.

- Got a lovely review for The Whitefire Crossing from Anne Lyle (author of The Alchemist of Souls and the forthcoming The Merchant of Dreams) on her blog.  I'm especially delighted she liked the book since I thought Alchemist of Souls was such a great read.  Always a thrill to get a good review from someone whose writing you've enjoyed!

- Only a few days left to enter my giveaway for The Tainted City over at Goodreads - don't miss out.

- Today at the Night Bazaar, I share my thoughts on "science vs. magic". (Hint: I like both.)

- Coming to WorldCon?  Don't forget to visit the Night Bazaar party on Fri night (see the above flyer, designed by the ever-awesome Teresa Frohock).  And if you see me at a panel (here's my schedule) or walking the halls, don't hesitate to say hi! 

- My favorite link of the day: Nathan Bransford explains the publishing process (so hilarious and so true.  I am currently in the phase represented by the unsuspecting guy walking down the hallway with a reviewer about to drop on his head.)

- Last but not least, I'll leave you with a picture of one of my favorite places: Mt Whitney, in the Sierra Nevada.  Pic is from a trip I did with my husband back in 1999: we climbed the Mountaineer's Route, spent the night on the summit (stargazing is spectacular at 14,395 feet!), and descended the regular trail.  The pic is of morning alpenglow on the needles of Whitney's south ridge, as seen from our camp at Iceberg Lake  - and yes, the rock and clouds really were that intense a gold in color.

Alpenglow on the Needles of Mt. Whitney's south ridge

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Big Sur, California

I grew up in the suburbs of northern Virginia, not far from Washington D.C.  It's a manicured land of planned communities and carefully tended lawns and sedate bike paths - about as far from wilderness as you can get.   More, my parents weren't at all interested in venturing away from the comforts of air conditioning and iced drinks.  (This is somewhat understandable.  Virginia in the summer is muggy, hot, and crawling with gnats, chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, etc.)  I didn't see my first real mountain until my senior year of high school, when I first set my eyes on the San Gabriels looming over Los Angeles.  (At which point I silently vowed I'd never live in the east again, if I could help it - a vow I've kept, from the day I started college at Caltech.)

But we did spend many a family vacation at the beach.  And oh, how I loved the ocean!  It was the tame, gentle Atlantic of the southeastern seaboard, the water more grey than blue, the waves small enough for the youngest of kids to enjoy.  But it doesn't matter how many sunbathers are crowded on the sand, you can't look at the expanse of the sea and not feel it as an alien, wild realm. A place we can visit and explore, but never fully know, or belong in.

One week a year, that's all I got to see the ocean as a kid - but that was enough to plant in me a lifelong love of the world's wild places.  I spent my childhood certain I would be a marine biologist, or perhaps an oceanographer...and of *course* I would live near the sea.  Yet here I am, in landlocked Colorado - an outcome I don't regret, because my goals changed once I saw real mountains. Yet even so, I still miss the sea. My Australian husband misses it too - so every now and then, we make a pilgrimage to the ocean.  Preferably to the gloriously beautiful beaches of Australia, but sometimes to spots closer to home.  Like Big Sur in California, where waves pound a craggy coastline that holds countless coves begging to be explored.  (Just watch out for the poison oak growing all over the top of the cliffs.)  So for today's adventure post, here's a few pics from a trip my husband and I did to Big Sur a few years back:

Big Sur coastline near Carmel, California.  Beautiful views, and lots of fun rock scrambling!
Waterfall in McWay Cove, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park.  Visitors aren't allowed to go down on the beach, more's the pity, but there are many lovely overlooks.
Kelp swirling in the current. When I lived in California, scuba diving in kelp forests was one of my favorite activities.  Underwater, the massive kelp stalks are like redwood trees, and navigating through them you really feel the freedom of 3-dimensional movement; it's the closest I've come to flying.  

Hiking on a rocky beach. The nice part is, most tourists stick to the road high above, and don't bother scrambling along the coastline.  So despite the popularity of the area, you often get plenty of solitude with a little effort.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Congrats to Giveaway Winners!

You may remember that at the end of July I participated in an awesome online event over at Justin Landon's Staffer's Book Review blog: Debut Authorpalooza, in which I joined ten up-and-coming SFF authors in talking about writing the infamous second novel and providing an excerpt (as well as ganging up for a really fun "Ask Me Anything" over at Reddit!).  We all held individual giveaways as well as contributing items to a seriously awesome grand prize - and now, the winners are announced!  Congrats to the three lucky folks who won signed copies of The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City in my individual giveaway; and wow, you've gotta check out the incredible haul that one lucky lady scored as the grand prize winner (my contribution was a signed ARC of The Tainted City).  

And hey, if you're a blogger/reviewer with access to NetGalley, the wait for The Tainted City is over: the e-ARC is now available for download. (And yep, this e-ARC is the final, fully corrected version.)  That means the countdown to the first review has begun...excuse me while I chomp my nails to the quick and jump out of my chair every time a google alert pings into my inbox! 

No reading round-up this week since I'm busy getting ready for WorldCon - but tomorrow there'll be another Thursday Adventure.  This time to a place that's neither a mountain nor a canyon...believe it or not, mountains weren't my first love as a kid eager to experience wilderness.  Come back tomorrow to see what was...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Read the second chapter of The Tainted City

Only 1.5 months to go until The Tainted City hits the shelves!  I've posted the second chapter at my website (you can read the first chapter there too).  You'll also see on my website's main page my "working title" for book 3 - I haven't officially launched into the first draft yet, but I'm starting to do some thinking and planning.  (I like to know the beginning, the end, and a couple signposts along the way before I ever sit down to type.) 

In other cool news, the Audible narrator for my books emailed me the other night - he'd just finished recording The Whitefire Crossing and was about to launch straight into The Tainted City (saying he was relieved he didn't have to suffer the quasi-cliffhanger ending any longer than it took him to finish the email, haha).  So hopefully Whitefire will be up on Audible's site quite soon! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Night Bazaar Monday, and a Reading Round-Up

Today at the Night Bazaar I talk about what hooks me into a book - an appropriate topic, since I've been reading a heck of a lot of good books lately.  How'd I find these books?  Mostly by word of mouth on blogger review sites, or continuation of series whose first book I liked, or even by meeting the author (in person or on twitter) and deciding to check their books out.

Sadly, while I read with a speed my friends consider inhuman, I write at the pace of a sedated snail...so there's no way I can write individual book rec posts for them all.  (Especially when I've got an idea itching at my brain for a short story set in the Shattered Sigil world!)  So instead of Monday book rec posts, I'm thinking I'll do "Reading Round-up" posts for the near future, in which I list books I've read recently that I've liked and give short descriptions of why. Even then, I've read too many good books in recent weeks to fit them all in one post, so today I'm gonna focus on awesome sequels:

King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence: sequel to his impressive debut Prince of Thorns (I reviewed that one on Goodreads here.) Just finished King of Thorns last night, and damn, it was good. It's got a more complex structure and is more introspective in nature than its predecessor, which only made me like it more.  Jorg remains a compelling character, and Lawrence sidesteps the challenge of secret-keeping in 1st person POV by quite the neat little authorial trick that worked beautifully in the context of the character and story.  But heck with that, y'all...the book has mountain climbing!  Turns out Jorg is quite the free soloist (and believably so). Plus there are volcanoes. And clever use of high alpine terrain in battle, and all sorts of things to please my little climber heart.  Also, there's a new female character who I liked very, very much (even while suspicious of her motives, which made her scenes all the more fun).  Win all around!

Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake: sequel to last year's YA horror/dark fantasy Anna Dressed In Blood.  I thought Anna Dressed in Blood was pretty darn awesome - I adored the ghost-hunting protagonist, Cas - and the sequel did not disappoint.  Much like King of Thorns, it's a quieter, more gently paced novel than its predecessor, but that worked perfectly well for me, and the ending was lovely in its bittersweet closure. (Heh, but gently paced doesn't mean some scenes weren't intense.  One was so intense in fact it froze my Kindle.  Seriously.  There I was, reading along while Cas & friends face quite the nasty situation, and right in the middle of the scene, bam!  Kindle screen freezes & refuses to respond, or even turn off.  Thank goodness, a hasty internet search produced the solution: hold slider button on for a full 30 seconds to reset/reboot the device. And then don't get freaked out when at first all your books appear to be gone - they'll show up again in a few moments.)

The Coldest War, by Ian Tregillis: sequel to his 2010 debut Bitter Seeds, an alternate-history World War II novel featuring Nazi X-men vs. British magicians.  That would be cool enough, but Tregillis really hits it out of the park with the character of Gretel, a deliciously creepy precognitive who's manipulating pretty much everything and everyone for a goal that we don't discover until late in The Coldest War.  I'd recommend reading both books back to back - that way you can truly appreciate how beautifully Tregilis's plot comes together.  (Also, after you read the books, go check out the original cover art for The Coldest War, at Ian's blog. He's had kind of a wacky ride on the publishing rollercoaster, and the tale of the "cover art that never was" only goes to prove it!)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Leprechaun Canyon (North Wash, Utah)

Since last week's adventure was among the heights, this week I thought I'd plunge into the depths...of a slot canyon, that is.  My husband and I love canyoneering, because it combines climbing, hiking, orienteering, adventure, and problem-solving in a way few other sports do. Plus, you get to visit some seriously remote areas - it's pretty neat to stand looking out over a vast panorama of slickrock desert and see not a single sign of human habitation (no trails, nada).  And yes, I'm happy to report there are still plenty of places in the US with zero cell phone coverage, where it is impossible for even the smartest of phones to check email or access the internet.  (Even satellite phones don't work in deep canyons!)

Leprechaun Canyon (the slot is so skinny and deep you can't actually see it in the photo, only the more gently sloped upper walls of the canyon)
Of course, that means when we go canyoneering, we are never, ever blase about safety.  Neither of us ever attempts a canyon alone - in fact, we prefer a team of 4 or more people; that way if someone gets injured, one person can stay with injured party while others go for help.  (4+ people also means you can use "human pyramid" techniques to escape particularly nasty potholes or other obstacles in the canyon.)  We carry a bolt kit (only for use in emergencies, since we agree with the "no bolt" ethic favored by most U.S. canyoneers), and we always arrange a "drop dead" time with a friend back home - if we don't contact the friend by this time, they call the local search and rescue.  (Much as I admire Aron Ralston for his guts in sawing his own arm off, the whole ordeal would never have been necessary if he'd taken any of the basic precautions most canyoneers do.  For a story of how experienced canyoneers get out of a sticky situation, check out this tale from an attempted descent of Sandthrax, an extremely dangerous/difficult canyon not far from Leprechaun.) 

Leprechaun Canyon is a relatively short but strenuous little slot adventure in the remote North Wash area of southeastern Utah.  You drive out to the middle of nowhere and car-camp in a sandy wash:

Car-camping near Leprechaun. (We had 5 people on this trip: myself, my husband Robert, and our friends Khurrum, Catherine, and Jason)
Then you hike across trail-less slickrock up to the canyon's head:

Robert and Khurrum navigating across slickrock to Leprechaun's head
Once at the head, you scramble down into the canyon.  Sometimes by rappelling, sometimes via simple "stemming" - a climbing technique where you brace opposite feet & hands against the canyons walls, as shown in the picture below:

Khurrum shows off his stemming skills near Leprechaun's head
From there you squeeze and wriggle and squirm through the canyon:

Khurrum and Catherine squeezing through the slot
And occasionally rappel drops that can't be downclimbed:

Catherine rappeling a drop
(The rappeling is where the problem-solving part most often comes in: you need to figure out a way to anchor the rope safely without using bolts (which don't hold well in soft sandstone anyway). Looping the rope around chockstones, rock protrusions, etc, works best; or in a pinch, you can even bury a pack deep in the sand to use as an anchor, or use body-anchor techniques).

And as a reward, you get to see cool stuff like this:
Sculpted narrows in lower Leprechaun

Standing in Leprechaun's "subway" section: Catherine, Khurrum, Robert, me
And to top it off, once back at camp you get to see sunsets like this:

Sunset after a long day canyoneering
I tell you, I can't wait for our son to be old enough to travel technical canyons with us.  (He's already old enough for us to hike through non-technical canyons...we're hoping to do a family trip out to Little Wild Horse canyon in the San Rafael Swell this fall.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

WorldCon Schedule, and Talking About Pseudonyms at the Night Bazaar

(Edited to add new panel info!)

I am so excited about rover Curiosity's safe landing on Mars!  (For more squee over that, plus the less exciting but still potentially interesting explanation of why I thought I wanted a pseudonym as an author but changed my mind, head on over to my post today at the Night Bazaar.) 

I'm nearly as excited about WorldCon, which is coming up at the end of this month.  (I'm anticipating the con with even more enthusiasm this time around, since I can relax and enjoy myself without feeling guilty about not using every toddler-free moment for writing!)  I got my panel assignments last week, and they all look great.  Here's my draft schedule:

Fri Aug 31:

9am "Acquiring an Agent"  (Room: Columbus CD)
Aspiring authors talk about landing an agent for their manuscript.

10:30am "The Basics of Character Building" (Room: Gold Coast).  I'm moderating this one - my very first time as moderator, eeek!
We often talk about world-building, but what does it take to create a character from scratch? How do you choose a name? How do you choose personality traits -- both strengths and flaws? Do you create the character first and then the world, or vice versa? How does the character affect the unfolding of the plot?

7pm until very, very late: Night Bazaar Sequel Party!  (Suite 2576 in the Hyatt Regency).  Free books, free food, free booze, and excellent company - cannot wait.

Sat Sep 1:

9am "Writing Groups: Good, Bad, or Inefficient" (Room: Field) I admit to groaning at seeing the time for this one, coming right after our Night Bazaar party.  Good thing I don't drink!
Some writers crave the company of other writers, seeking not only feedback on their work, but also support and/or commiseration. Others prefer to work in solitude or only seek input once a work is finished. And yet others fall somewhere in the middle. What are some of the benefits and pitfalls of being in a writer\'s group? Is face-to-face better than on-line, or vice versa? How do you handle personal or professional issues within the group and still keep it functioning? Are there any \'best practices\' for forming or nurturing a group?

12pm "World Building" (Room: Crystal C)
How does a writer 'build' a world for a story? Physical geography, economics and politics of a society, religions, conflicts.

3pm "Develop Your Story Idea" (Room: Haymarket) This one will be interesting. I've never been (or attended) a panel quite like it - could be fun!
We will take an idea or two from the audience and work on how we would turn it into a story.

And after that I am free to have fun and attend interesting panels and hang out with friends both old and new!  It's gonna be so awesome.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Torreys Peak (14,267 ft) via Kelso Ridge

The return of the Thursday Adventure posts! Hopefully I'll be a bit more regular with these now that I'm no longer in frantic writing/editing mode.  This week's adventure features a peak climb I did back in June, when I found I desperately needed a break from the keyboard. I talked my hiking partner into doing his very first third class ridge route: Kelso Ridge up Torreys Peak.

On the trail leading toward Grays (left) and Torreys (right) Peaks. Kelso Ridge is the righthand skyline leading up to Torreys peak.  (Dead Dog couloir, visible on the right of Torreys' summit, is a popular snow climb.)
Torreys is a 14,267 ft. peak quite close to Denver (only about an hour's drive away).  By the standard trail, both Torreys and its close neighbor Grays Peak are an excellent, easy introduction to 14er hiking. (You can hike both peaks in a couple hours.)  Scrambling up Kelso Ridge instead of tromping up the "yak route" standard trail makes the ascent a little more exciting.  Kelso is designated 3rd class, which means it requires no rope or technical climbing gear to ascend, but several sections are comparable to climbing a high ladder: handholds and footholds are plentiful, but you really don't want to fall.

Dustin climbing the first 3rd class section of Kelso Ridge
Ascending another third class section
Me, partway up Kelso Ridge
Kelso even has a nice little "knife edge" section with a 1000-foot drop on each side; most climbers choose to straddle the knife edge and scoot  across.  (Ironically, the knife-edge is probably one of the safest parts of the ridge, since the rock is so solid.)

Me scooting along Kelso's knife edge section
I'd done Kelso once many years ago with my husband as part of a Colorado Mountain Club day trip.  It was a new experience for my hiking partner, who had done quite a few 14ers but as hikes, not scrambles.  Heh, he found the knife edge...quite exhilarating.  When he staggered up to the summit after negotiating the knife edge, the first words out of his mouth were, "F***!  F***!  I'm never doing that again!"  Yet 5 minutes later when his hands & knees stopped shaking, he was all, "That was AWESOME!"  Ah, adrenaline.  It's a wonderful thing.
Dustin ascending the final section of Kelso Ridge to Torreys' summit. (Knife edge section is the white rock visible just below him.)

Me on Torreys' summit, enjoying the terrific views
One of the nice things about Kelso Ridge as an introduction to 3rd class climbing is that you don't have to descend the interesting bits - you can take the ordinary trail back down.  (Dustin was quite relieved we didn't have to retrace our route!)  Turned out to be an extra good thing on this particular day, as a thunderstorm rolled into the valley when we were only halfway back to the car.  (Afternoon thunderstorms are endemic in the CO mountains in July/August, but this one came a bit earlier than normal - it was still before noon.)

Heading down the "yak route" (look at all those people! One reason I prefer 3rd class ascents...) with a storm on the way
We jogged back to the car with thunder booming in our ears...and as always, I was floored by the number of people on popular trails like this who ignore the lightning risk and keep right on going up.  (Once on South Arapaho Peak with a nasty storm moving in fast, I tentatively said to one lone climber who was still ascending, "Er...didn't you hear the thunder?"  He said, "It's all right, I've made my peace with God."  Well, kind of hard to argue with that...but in my case, I'd prefer not to die on a day hike.) 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A few thoughts on ARCs

Look what came in the mail yesterday!  Three ARCs of The Tainted City, all pretty and shiny:

In case anyone reading this doesn't know what an ARC is, it's an "Advance Reader's Copy" - a not-quite-final version of the book meant as a promotional tool, sent to reviewers, librarians, newspapers, etc, and often bound using cheaper paper and cover stock.  (The last bit is definitely true here - I'm always startled by how thin Night Shade ARCs are compared to final copies, thanks to the use of inexpensive paper for ARC printing.) Night Shade only prints around 30 ARCs and sends them primarily to major review outlets that don't accept electronic copies.  I asked for three, and each one is already earmarked for a giveaway: one for the grand prize giveaway at Staffer's Book Review, one for my current Goodreads giveaway, and the final one I'll probably bring to WorldCon and raffle off at the Night Bazaar party.     

Usually (and ideally), ARCs are printed after editorial revisions are complete but before copyedits, so that the only differences between ARC and final text are minor matters of typos and grammar.  That was true for The Whitefire Crossing.  In the case of The Tainted City, due to a time crunch the ARCs had to be printed before I'd finished my final revision pass - which means there are, er, rather more differences between the ARC and the final book.  To be exact, since I still remember all too well how many sticky-note comments I had to add into the laid-out PDF file of the book: 606 minor sentence-level changes, and a 7-page Word document's worth of paragraph-level replacements and insertions. (Pity my poor editor who had to enter all 600+ changes!)  So if you're lucky enough to win one of these ARCs in the giveaways above, you'll get to see a peek behind the curtain, as it were: what does one of my manuscripts look like before my last editorial pass?   

Recently there's been a bit of discussion about ARCs, specifically about what reviewers should (or shouldn't) do with them after reading.  At Staffer's Book Review, Justin Landon talked about the case of someone who's been selling a multitude of ARCs for profit on ebay.  To me that seems...sleazy, for lack of a better word.  Yeah, it might be technically legal, but it feels like an abuse of the system.  Especially when it leads to piracy...it's pretty distressing as an author to see some pirated copy of your book pop up on the 'net long before release day. 

(As for piracy after release day...my reaction is more on the "aggrieved, exasperated sigh" end of the scale than "frothing rage." Mostly because I think the sorts of people who pirate books are extremely unlikely to buy them even if somehow piracy was made impossible.  I do believe book piracy is stealing, and I boggle at how many people don't seem to get that.  But life's too short to waste mental energy on something that's so far beyond my control.) 

But what about reviewers who donate their ARCs to libraries, or hand them over to used bookstores?  I've read posts from authors who wish their ARCs all spontaneously imploded come release day, because they hate the thought of imperfect copies of their book floating around the world (especially in cases where differences go beyond mere typos). As a perfectionist, boy howdy can I sympathize with that. I cringed just knowing my ARCs were going out to actual reviewers (who at least understand that an ARC isn't final, as opposed to J. Random Reader who might pick up a donated ARC in a library).  Yet I also flinch at the idea of pulping ARCs; it seems like such a waste.  And when I think about it, I'd rather that a reader stumbled over a flawed copy of my book than that they never saw a copy at all. 

So for anyone who gets one of my ARCs, I say: do what you like with it (though I'd prefer you not sell it on ebay before release day!). Give it away, donate it to charity, burn it, let your toddler use it as a coloring book, even sell it if you like (though again, preferably after release day!)...it's yours to decide.  As for me, I've decided to go the giveaway route with other authors' printed ARCs (of which I have a few, mostly from places like World Fantasy where they're included in the free book bags).  If I like the ARC, I'll make sure to read the final copy (whether in e-version or in print); and whether or not I like the ARC, I'll hand it off to interested friends who might not discover the author otherwise.