Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Cirque of the Unclimbables (Northwest Territory, Canada)

I've had a few readers ask me if the main mountain location featured in The Tainted City, the Cirque of the Knives - a high alpine basin encircled by formidable jagged peaks - was based on any real-life mountain valleys.  The answer is yes!  And I didn't just have one spot in mind, but three, all in different real-world mountain ranges.  One valley I've visited; the other two, I haven't yet, though they are high on my climbing/backpacking wishlist.  I thought I'd do one Thursday Adventure post for each of these three inspirational places, so I can share them with you.

First up is one of the locations I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing in person, though I've drooled over many a photo: the Cirque of the Unclimbables, in the Ragged Range near the border of Canada's Northwest and Yukon territories.  Check it out:

Cirque of the Unclimbables, with major peaks marked.  (Photo courtesy of
Just the name is enough to spark a climber's imagination!  Though of course the peaks aren't unclimbable, at least with modern techniques.  Ever since Lotus Flower Tower was featured in Steck and Roper's "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America," climbers have been flocking to the cirque to pit themselves against sheer granite walls, despite the difficulty of access.  (Reaching the cirque requires either chartering a float plane, or spending several weeks paddling rivers and hiking strenuous canyons.)  Access isn't the only problem; the weather is notoriously horrendous, even in high summer.  I read one trip report in which torrential freezing rains made climbing impossible for all but 2 of the 25 (25!!!) days the climbers spent in the cirque.  That's a hell of a long time to be stuck in your tent!  But if the trade-off is views like this, it's probably worth it:

Lotus Flower Tower (in background) and the Cirque of the Unclimbables (photo courtesy of
A few more links to trip reports, pics and pages, for anyone interested:

And lest you think the Cirque is remote...some 15 miles NW of the Cirque of the Unclimbables lie the Vampire Spires.  They are so difficult to reach, hardly anyone has climbed them.  When climbers summit, it makes the news: check out this report from last month of a brand new 5.11 route on Mount Dracula, put up by an expedition funded by the Copp-Dash Inspire Award.  Even pics of the Vampire Peaks are scarce.  But just look at this one:

Vampire Spire (photo from
How awesome is that?  And as a fan of fantasy & horror, how can you resist the allure of a climb named "Lair of the White Worm" on the Vampire Spire?  Of course, I'd have to get a hell of a lot better at climbing before I could tackle a 5.11 A.2+ big wall route...but hey, I can dream.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

MileHiCon and more

MileHiCon was a ton of fun, as always.  My favorite part (as at any con!) was hanging out with fellow SFF enthusiasts and writer-friends, but I had a few authorial highlights.  I survived my reading without choking up from nerves, I had a couple total strangers actually show up at the autograph table wanting me to sign books for them (likely only another newbie author will understand the combination of glee and surprise this provoked), and hey, an audience member even called me "Dr. Schafer" at the particle physics panel, which I am choosing to take as a sign I didn't sound like an utter moron.  (I don't have a doctorate, only a masters.  To quote Big Bang Theory...
Sheldon: This would go a lot faster if you put your trade school diploma to work.  
Howard: I have a Masters degree from M.I.T. 
Sheldon: Yeah, but you've got a can-do attitude and that's what's important.

But now I am buried once again in day jobbery, so today's post is another quickie link round-up:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Winter is get your skis on

I'm buried in day job tasks while trying to get ready for MileHiCon this weekend, so no full-on Thursday Adventure post today.  Instead, I'll first give you links to two guest posts I did this week:

  • Broaden Your Horizons, in which I share six of my favorite fantasy novels set in non-European locales (they are all awesome books and you should read them!).

  • Building Fantasy Worlds One Name at a Time, in which I talk about how I chose names for characters and places in The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City.  This is part of a whole series on names in fantasy that Abhinav Jain is running at his blog - make sure and check out the other posts in the series, as some really great authors have weighed in over the past weeks.
And then I'll leave you with a few pictures from my favorite winter activity: skiing.  Every year when that first storm kisses the high peaks with white, I start to dream of deep powder.  (Powder skiing is practically a religion in the west, and for good reason.  Skis float in deep snow, letting you turn and bank like an airplane.  Between the speed of descent and the sheer freedom of movement, it's the closest most people ever get to flying.  The rush is incredible.)  Right now as I drive to work, I eye the newly white peaks and salivate...soon, soon my husband and I will spend more days like this:

Me enjoying a powder day at Alta, Utah.  (They really do have the greatest snow on Earth.  Every skier should make a pilgrimage to Alta at least once in their lifetime.)

Or if we're really lucky, like this...

Our friend Jim needs a snorkel 
If it's been a few days since a storm, we can still amuse ourselves by cornice jumping:

Robert jumps a cornice at Aspen
Or if we're really brave, couloir skiing:

Who's got enough guts to take the leap?  Our friends Jeanne, Khurrum, and Gary scope out the infamous Corbet's Couloir at Jackson Hole.   
No matter what, I'll have a grin this big on my face:

Skiing rules.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

News Round-up

Today's just going to be a quick news round-up and not any book recs, mostly because I spent all my blog-writing time this weekend working on a guest post sharing a bunch of my favorite books for the Stumptown Book Blog series on "Non-European Fantasy by Women."  The post should go live soon over at Stumptown Books - I'll link when it does, because the books I talk about are all awesome and everyone should read them. :) In the meantime, here's what I've been doing online this last week:

  • Want to know which significant character wasn't at all in the original draft of The Whitefire Crossing, and how I took the book from just okay to publishable quality?  Head on over to the Night Bazaar, where I talk about the most valuable feedback I ever received.  

  • A transcript of the SF Writers' Chat I did on Twitter is available here, in which I answer questions about my novels, my writing process, and talk about plans for the future.

  • All three parts of my interview at Stumptown Books are now live: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3.  Here I talk about everything from narrative choices for the Shattered Sigil series to my favorite climbs, and even give a sneak peak of what readers can expect from The Labyrinth of Flame.

  • Paul Weimer reviewed The Tainted City over at SF Signal, saying: "I truly enjoyed The Whitefire Crossing, and I approached sequel with that peculiar mix of anticipation and dread that I often have when returning to a new author whose first book I enjoyed. Will this second book meet my expectations and response to the first? Has the author grown and developed since their initial effort? Is the magic still there? Happily, for me, The Tainted City lived up to my expectations..."


Friday, October 12, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineers Route (Sierra Nevada, CA)

I've made no secret of the fact that the Whitefire Mountains in the Shattered Sigil books are based on California's Sierra Nevada. The eastern Sierra are the mountains of my heart: rugged, starkly beautiful, challenging for the climber yet blessed with inordinately good weather during the summer months. Today I'll share pictures from one of my favorite trips in the Sierra: an ascent I did of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route with my husband-to-be, way back in 1999.

Mt. Whitney from the Owens Valley (picture courtesy of
At 14,505 ft. Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous US, looming high over the sagebrush desert of the 3,000-ft Owens Valley.  The standard route climbs a steep, long, but carefully maintained trail that's so popular the Forest Service allots permits for both dayhikers and backpackers by lottery.  (50 backpacking permits per day, 150 dayhiking permits per day.)  But for the more adventurous hiker, there's a different, better way to reach the summit: the Mountaineers Route.  This ascends a different, more direct canyon to a basin just beneath Whitney's sheer east face.  From there, you scramble up a class 2 couloir to a notch on Whitney's north ridge (see picture below), then either climb class 3 rock straight up to the summit or traverse across alternating snowfields and talus on Whitney's west slope to reach the broad summit plateau.

Annoted picture courtesy of  The Mountaineers Route travels the canyon visible at the picture's far right, up past the Ebersbacher ledges to Upper Boy Scout Lake.  The Notch at the top of the Mountaineer's Route couloir is marked on the right side of the peak.
For extra fun, Robert and I ascended the route and then spent a night camped right on Whitney's summit, so we could stargaze and enjoy the incredible sights of sunset and sunrise from such a high elevation.  (It truly is spectacular.  The shadow of the mountain extends for what appears to be a hundred miles; and the rainbow of colors in the sky, from deepest crimson to indigo, is breathtaking.  Not to mention the stars after sunset - they really do look close enough to touch, and you've never seen so many.)

Years ago I wrote an extremely detailed trip report (non-climbers will find it too much so, no doubt!), so I won't repeat that here.  The trip was also in my pre-digital-camera days, so my pictures don't do it justice...but here are the few that turned out reasonably well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Upcoming appearances: SFF Writer Chat and MileHiCon

Got a question about The Whitefire Crossing or The Tainted City - or heck, climbing or figure skating or canyoneering?  On the evening of Wed Oct 10, I'll be the featured guest on Bryan Thomas Schmidt's SFF Writer Chat on Twitter - hashtag is #sffwrtcht, the chat starts at 9pm ET (7pm MT), and I'll be answering any and all questions for the next hour.  So please, come on by!   (My own twitter handle is @cischafer, and even if you miss the chat, I always love talking with people there.  I'm way more active on twitter than Facebook, since it's far easier for me to fire off a 140-char tweet as I'm chasing my toddler past the computer than type in a longer update!)

The second part of my interview at Stumptown Books is now live - in this bit I talk about narrative choices, setting, influences, and the magic of the Shattered Sigil world.

This week at the Night Bazaar, I talked about the art of writing 1st person POV (and shared my recommendations for books that make terrific use of 1st person).

I'll be attending MileHiCon in Denver on Oct 20 and 21, doing two panels, a reading, and a signing.  Here's my official schedule:

Saturday, Oct 20:

1pm: Signing at the autograph table

3pm: Higgs-Boson and Faster Than Light Neutrinos. (Yeah, I'm gonna have to ask my physicist friends for a little help to prepare for this panel.  Thank God I did my undergrad at Caltech.)

7pm-9pm: Fantasy, Magic Realism, Fable & Mythos: Assorted Readings.  (I love doing group readings with other authors. Makes it so much less intimidating, and I love hearing everyone else's work!)

Sunday, Oct 21:

11am: How SF Changed Over The Past 50 Years. (Should be an interesting panel, especially since my co-panelists are luminaries like Paolo Bacigalupi and Ed Bryant.)

Other than that, I'll be enjoying myself hanging out at the con, so if you're there, say hi!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A bunch of news, links, and book recs

Happy Monday, everyone! My weekend was a bit less fun than I was hoping, thanks to coming down with a nasty cold - but on the other hand, while feverish and unable to sleep I read quite a few good books.  More shall be said of those later, but first off, I've got some various bits of news to share:

  • The Tainted City is now available as an audiobook! (Looking forward to giving it a listen myself, since I'll be doing a reading at MileHiCon weekend after next and I'd like to listen to how the scene I choose is narrated so I can crib a few tips.)
  • The first part of the interview I did for Stumptown Books is now live - in this bit I talk about the reception for Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City, the cover art for the books, and give a spoiler-free look at what readers can expect from book 3 (The Labyrinth of Flame).  (Two more interview sections will be posted later on this week, covering everything from whether I considered changing narrators in the Shattered Sigil books to my favorite peak climb.)  
  • Liz Bourke reviews The Tainted City at  My favorite bit of the review is where she says "And yes, I'll admit it: the tension was such that I checked the final pages in advance, to spare my stomach some clenching." As someone whose first drafts always inspire moans of "But *where* is the tension?" from my critique group, I call that a total victory. 
And lest you think I only ever read about myself on the internet, here's a few links to posts I read over the last week that I found interesting and/or thought-provoking:
Last but not least, I've a couple book recs to share from my recent sleepless nights:

The Spirit War (Rachel Aaron)

This is the fourth novel in Aaron's Eli Monpress series. I read the first three books in omnibus form (The Legend of Eli Monpress) a week or two ago, and enjoyed them as light, breezy, fun caper fantasy.  (Eli is a terrific character if you're into charming rogues.)  But The Spirit War, I loved.  It's a little darker and a little more serious (even while indulging in some spectacular magical battles), and fulfills a lot of things that were only hinted at in the earlier books.  And yeah, there's one plotline that pretty much pushes all of my buttons (in a good way!) as a reader - I can't wait to see how it plays out in Spirit's End, the final book in the series, forthcoming in November.

Unspoken (Sarah Rees Brennan)

I was quite fond of both Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy and her co-authored novel with Justine Larbalestier, Team Human (which was a hilarious send-up of vampire dramas even while telling a surprisingly serious story), so I was delighted to find that this first novel in her new Lynburn Legacy series is another great read.  Funny and dark by turns, featuring a female teen protagonist who's strong and determined without needing to be some kind of super ninja girl, and more of the difficult family relationships that Brennan excels at exploring - this is the kind of YA I love.

Wonders of the Invisible World (Patricia McKillip)

I don't read many short stories, but for some authors I instantly make an exception - like Patricia McKillip.  I can't think of another author who matches McKillip for sheer beauty and economy of prose; and she's one of the few who can pull off the numinous in fantasy, making the Otherworld feel truly Other.  I'll admit I love her novels even more than her short stories, but I still devoured this collection.  "Bittersweet, bewitching, and deeply intoxicating," says the book description - and I totally agree.  If you like short stories at all, go forth and read.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Grizzly Peak, Colorado

It's funny how people get so excited over arbitrary numbers. Here in Colorado, every outdoor enthusiast is obsessed with the Fourteeners: the state's 54 peaks with summits over 14,000 ft in elevation.  Seriously, one of the most common questions asked in casual conversation (right after "Which are you, skier or snowboarder?") is "How many 14ers have you done?" Climb a 14er near Denver on a weekend, and you'll share the trail with hundreds of people.  Whereas if you instead climb one of the 700+ Colorado peaks with summits between 13,000 and 14,000 ft, you can enjoy near total solitude.  

So for this week's adventure, I'll share a few pics from a hike I did up a 13er only an hour's drive from Boulder: 13,427 ft. Grizzly Peak.  Grizzly sits right on the Continental Divide, not far from Loveland Pass.  There's no actual trail; you just drive up to the top of Loveland Pass, park, and start trekking along the ridge over several unnamed smaller peaks until you reach Grizzly's summit.  First you travel flowering tundra:

The alpine flowers are as beautiful as the views
As the ridge goes on, in the early season you have your choice of tromping on snow or scrambling over easy class 2 talus:

My husband Robert (left) and the rest of our group; Grizzly is the peak in the background

A patch of alpine forget-me-not (one of my favorite tundra flowers)

Me and Robert, enjoying the day
As you get higher, the ridge narrows and gets a bit more "sporty":

Ridge below Grizzly's summit
The summit itself is nice and broad and has wonderful views of the surrounding peaks (including 14ers Grays and Torreys).  
View from Grizzly Peak's summit
All in all, it's a lovely hike.  The only concern is exposure to thunderstorms, since the entire trek is above timberline.  Start early in the summer months!  Wind can be a factor, too - Loveland Pass is notorious for high winds, and it's no fun to have to crawl along a ridge to avoid being knocked flat.  We lucked out with a nearly calm day - always nice when above timberline.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Whitefire Crossing is FREE on Amazon!

Happy October, everyone! And happy quasi-release day to The Tainted City, which is now available in ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine retailers (including Baen books, which sells my novels DRM-free - which means anyone, anywhere in the world can buy the book in the e-format of their choice and load it on whatever e-reader they possess (Kindle, Nook, Sony, etc!).)

And best of all, to celebrate The Tainted City's release, The Whitefire Crossing is now free on Amazon for a limited time. (Not sure exactly how long, but I'm guessing a few days max - so hurry up and get your copy or gift it to a friend!)

Just in case anyone needs convincing, here are two more awesome reviews for Whitefire that popped up in the last few days: the first from Abhinav Jain (Shadowhawk) over at The Founding Fields (he says, "If I could give out an actual award for best novel of the year, The Whitefire Crossing would be at the top of the list as one of the strongest contenders."  Woo hoo!)  The second is from Kaila over at Stumptown Books, who reviewed the book as part of her series on non-European fantasy written by women.  (Kaila says, "I LOVED this book."  Double woo hoo!)  I'm doing an interview for Kaila and also writing a guest post for her about my favorite non-urban fantasy novels written by women, so stay tuned for links a little later this month.

Sorry there wasn't a Thursday Adventure post last week - I've been busy the past few days having another kind of adventure: taking my 3 year old son to Disneyworld for the first time.  You might think Disney is the antithesis of everything an outdoor-adventure person like myself enjoys.  But for all the crowds and commercialism, I love Disney's celebration of imagination - and I myself have scores of happy childhood memories from my family's visits there.  My three year old had an absolute blast, and so did my husband and I.  (My only regret is that my son wasn't tall enough yet for Space Mountain, or most of the simulator rides at Epcot.  Next time...) As a parent, you can't help but delight in smiles like this:

And as The Tainted City fully releases at last, I'm wearing a grin just as big.