Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Moab, Utah

In the Schafer household, Thanksgiving is not a holiday for gorging on food and joining the hordes at the shopping malls (shudder!).  No, a four-day break means we head out of town for a proper adventure.  This year, we took our son to Moab, Utah, for his first experiences biking and hiking on slickrock. This was my first time back to Moab since he was born, and damn, it was awesome to play in Utah's red-rock desert again.  (As an added bonus, the trip served as extra inspiration for working on The Labyrinth of Flame, since Dev and Kiran will be traveling some similar scenery.)

Me under one of Double Arch's massive spans, in Arches National Park
Honestly, landscape doesn't get much more incredible than that found around the Moab area.  The town sits right next to Arches National Park.  Arches is one of those parks that's deceptively small in area; if you look at the little map the rangers give you, you might think it's hardly worth a stop.  The official trails are all quite short, and most visitors devote less than a day to sightseeing.

Yet Arches is full of secrets.  Awesome secrets.  We learned long ago via word of mouth from canyoneering friends that if you prove you know what you're doing to the park rangers, they'll give you a permit and let you explore some absolutely incredible areas that most people never see.  Of course, this time we had our three-year-old in tow, so we couldn't venture off into the remote areas of the park.  But even the official hikes get you to some amazing places.                

Delicate Arch, with the La Sal Mountains in the background
Another view of Delicate Arch, this time with me and my son under it for scale.
Phantasmal rock fins in the Devil's Garden area of the park
You don't even have to go into the national park to find terrific slickrock hiking.  Drive along one of the various roads leading out of Moab's canyon, pick a spot, and start exploring.

My husband wandering the slickrock
Slickrock domes with the La Sal Mountains in the background
Cliffs along the Colorado River, just outside of Moab
Hiking isn't even Moab's biggest claim to fame.  If every skier must one day make a pilgrimage to Alta's famous powder, so must every mountain biker go to Moab, irresistably drawn by the lure of the Slickrock Trail: 11 miles of insanely steep, technical riding over sandstone so grippy it lets bikers seemingly defy gravity.

Mountain bikers riding the Slickrock Trail
I myself am a total weenie on a mountain bike, not being fond of faceplanting into rock.  (My husband, an avid mountain biker, laughs at me, pointing out that I think nothing of skiing down couloirs that make him turn pale.  I say, yeah, but snow is soft.  I can take a tumbling fall in powder and walk away with nothing more than my dignity sprained.  You should see the injuries my husband sports after his more adventurous mountain biking escapades.)

But even I enjoy biking on slickrock, for the awe-inspiring views if nothing else - I just leap off my bike at the slightest provocation, rather than risk injury.  Our three-year-old had a blast giving it a try on his balance bike:

Zooming along a slickrock slope. 
We look forward to the day we can do some real Moab bike trails as a family.  And the day when we can rock climb together.  We sat eating lunch one day in Kane Springs Canyon watching this guy:

Climber in Kane Springs Canyon
My husband and I sighed enviously, watching the guy ascend.  The three-year-old said, "Mommy, when can I climb that?"  "Soon," we answered.  "Soon..."  (The kiddo is already climbing indoors at the gym.)

While serious family climbs might be a ways off, we had a great time hiking up to watch the sunset and explore the slickrock by moonlight.  Quality time with a preschooler doesn't get much better than that.

Slickrock before sunset
Slickrock by moonlight

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Worldbuilders charity auction for signed copies of Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City

Every year around this time, Patrick Rothfuss runs a huge fundraiser for the Heifer International charity.  The fundraiser is called Worldbuilders, and a vast array of SFF authors and publishers donate signed copies of books and other goodies for Pat to offer up as prizes.  There are two ways to contribute: you can make a general donation, which enters you into a drawing for a big pool of prizes, or you can bid on auctions for specific items.  (See here for details, along with lists of all the excellent books on offer as prizes!)

This year I donated two signed sets of The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City.  One set will be in the general prize pool, but the other set you can bid on directly right here.  If you've any interest in signed copies of my books, this is a great opportunity and you'll be supporting a wonderful organization that helps families in need all over the world.  If you've already got copies of my books, go check out all the other excellent books up for auction, or consider a general donation.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful Thursday Adventure: Cerro Torre, Patagonia

Happy Thanksgiving to any US folks reading this, and to everyone else, I hope you're having a wonderful Thursday.  (I know I am.  I'll share the reason why in next week's Thursday adventure.)

When I consider the things I'm thankful for, mountains are pretty damn high on the list.  Honestly, how lucky are we to live on a planet that holds such an incredible variety of awe-inspiring landscapes?  Mountains challenge me, inspire me, humble me, and bring me a joy that's found nowhere else.  As many beautiful peaks as I've climbed, I'm all the more delighted to know that I've seen only the merest fraction of what the world has to offer - that countless more stunning locations remain to be visited.  (How boring life would be without new experiences to anticipate!)    

Today's adventure post features a mountain that I haven't yet seen in person, though I've dreamed of going there ever since I first saw a picture years ago.  It's the third and final area I had in mind when writing about the Cirque of the Knives in The Tainted City.  (The other two spots were featured in prior Thursday Adventure posts: Canada's Cirque of the Unclimbables, and Wyoming's Cirque of the Towers.)   My husband and I both have it sitting right at number one on our list of places we most want to visit: Cerro Torre, in the Parque National Los Glaciares, in Patagonia (Argentina).

Cerro Torre and nearby peaks, Patagonia 
I mean, just look at that peak.  Here, let me give you a closer view:

Cerro Torre, up close.  Note the cap of rime ice right on the summit - the infamous "ice mushroom" has prevented many a climbing team from reaching the actual summit.
As a climber, you just can't look at a spire so incredible without drooling and daydreaming.  More, Cerro Torre is only one of Patagonia's multitude of gorgeous peaks:

Mmmmm, Patagonia.    
One day, when as my son is old enough to join my husband and me in serious trekking and climbing, we will go there.  We may lack the world-caliber skills needed to summit Cerro Torre - it's one hell of a difficult climb, made even more challenging by Patagonia's notoriously foul weather! - but I'd settle for wandering the area, and admiring its savage beauty from lesser vantage points.

Cerro Torre itself has quite the checkered history in the climbing community, right up to the present day.  Check out this fascinating article from Outside Online, that describes both the peak's history and the bitter controversy that erupted last year when alpinist David Lama completed a free ascent of a notorious route. An interesting visual accompaniment to the article is this trailer on youtube, made for the film documentary of Lama's ascent.  Non-climbers may come away from the article convinced that climbers are even crazier than ordinary people assume.  Or maybe, as Sam Axe says about spies in Burn Notice, "They're a bunch of bitchy little girls."  That may be true...yet the root of all the infighting is the depth of people's passion for the mountains.  Climbing isn't just a sport, it's an entire lifestyle, even a religion.  At least it's one with a beautiful church - one I'm thankful every day for the opportunity to worship in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Authorial Tidbits

Just a quick post to share some authorial tidbits:

  • La Biblioteca de Ilium reviews The Whitefire Crossing, both in English and in Spanish: "The Whitefire Crossing is a good debut novel and a good start for an attractive series with some good characters and intriguing elements."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Check out The Whitefire Crossing's German cover!

The Whitefire Crossing gets a new look (and new title, and series title) for its German incarnation!  (Is there anything cooler than seeing art based on a story you wrote?  I don't think so...)

I love the mountains, and the overlaid sigil-style lines, and Kiran looks about right.  Dev, in the background, looks awfully white (he's supposed to have brown skin and dark hair, like people from India - here's an example of the right skin tone combined with green eyes), but oh well - you can't see that much of him anyway.  Overall, I think it's a great cover!      

According to the book's page on Bastei Lübbe's website, release date in Germany will be 8/16/2013.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Rec: The Wall of Night series (Helen Lowe)

My interest in Helen Lowe's Wall of Night series was first piqued when the first novel, The Heir of Night, won this year's David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut fantasy.  Yet at the time, I was in nose-to-the-grindstone mode on The Tainted City, spending every spare second on writing and revising, with no pleasure reading allowed.  Heir of Night receded into the misty "Books To Read Someday" zone of my brain.  But then, not long after The Tainted City was completed, Helen and I both contributed guest posts to Abhinav Jain's "Names: A New Perspective" series.  After reading her thoughtful post on the power of names, The Heir of Night vaulted its way right up my TBR list - especially when I found the US Kindle version was only $4.74 (and still is: what a deal!).  I snapped a copy right up!  Then after Helen and I happened to chat on twitter and she offered to do a book exchange: two of mine for two of hers, I eagerly agreed to that offer as well.  I sent her The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City, and she sent me the 2nd novel in  Wall of Night series, The Gathering of the Lost, and her YA novel Thornspell.  Perfect timing, too...The Gathering of the Lost arrived right after I finished The Heir of Night and was eager to read more.  I just finished The Gathering of the Lost last night, and found it an even more engrossing read than the first.

The series is classic epic fantasy: you've got a young protagonist prophesied to be the Chosen One, struggling to survive enemies and grow into a great and dangerous power, even as an evil force is rising to overwhelm the world.  But if you're a jaded fantasy reader, don't let the use of traditional tropes scare you off.  The power of a story lies in its execution; and Helen's stellar worldbuilding ensures her story feels both fresh and real, a creation wholly her own rather than anything derivative of older works.  One part of her worldbuilding I particularly liked was the sf-nal suggestion that both the psychically gifted Derai and their ancient opponents the Darkswarm come from another world - that in fact, their battle has been fought over multiple worlds, moving from one to the next as the planets are torn asunder in the struggle.  The idea of mixing interstellar travel and epic fantasy may not be new - I'd thought of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels, particularly the ones set before the arrival of the Terrans, but Helen herself pointed out that C.J. Cherryh's Morgaine saga is an even better analogue, with the qhal and their gates - but the mixture certainly isn't common, and boy do I love the spin Helen has put on the idea.

Another area that Helen's series shines in is plotting - especially the "long game" style of plotting, in which disparate threads come together to give revelations that cast older scenes in a whole new light.  This was particularly evident in The Gathering of the Lost, which features some really interesting choices of character narration, and has some terrific reveals both of current events and character backstories.  Throughout the novel, the story steadily gains complexity and emotional depth, even as Helen shows off the breadth of her world and the different forms of its magic.  The characters are all appealing and interesting - no easy feat, with a large cast! - and the prose is lucid and transparent, allowing the reader to sink straight into the story and get swept away.

So if you've any fondness for epic fantasy, I highly recommend you give the Wall of Night series a try.  I had a wonderful time reading both Heir and Gathering, and can't wait for the next novel in the write faster, Helen!  (In the meantime, I look forward to reading Thornspell!)


Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming

Whew! This last week's been an incredibly busy one, between the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto and a business trip I had to do immediately afterward.  Feels pretty good to be back in Colorado again, and settling back into a normal routine.  (If anything is ever "normal" with a crazily energetic three year old in the house, heh.)  It also feels good to be writing again - real fiction writing, that is, not just interviews and guest blog posts!  I'm only about 5,000 words into The Labyrinth of Flame's first draft, but I love being back with Dev and Kiran.  It's so fun to figure out exactly how their day can go from bad to worse.

Before I get to talking about this week's Thursday Adventure, one quick note: today is my "Ask Me Anything" day over at Reddit r/Fantasy.  Stop on by and leave me a question! I'll be answering the questions live at 8pm CST.  

Okay, on to the mountains!  Specifically, the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's Wind River range, the second of three spots that helped inspire The Tainted City's Cirque of the Knives.  (The first was Canada's Cirque of the Unclimbables, featured on last time's Thursday Adventure.)  

The Cirque of the Towers, as seen from approach over Jackass Pass
The Wind River Mountains are a remote and rugged subrange of the Rockies, not too far east of the Tetons but far less visited than their National Park neighbors.  There are no permits, no quotas, just a few trailheads accessed by long miles of rutted dirt road and a vast expanse of incredible wilderness.  The Cirque of the Towers is the most popular destination in the range, thanks to the multitude of excellent alpine climbs it affords the technical rock climber.  The continental divide runs along the crest of the major peaks, which include such luminaries as Warbonnet, Pingora, Shark's Nose, Lizard's Head, and Wolf's Head.  To reach the Cirque, you first drive 55 miles from Pinedale, Wyoming along rough roads to the Big Sandy trailhead.  From there, you hike about 10 miles, first in a level but sandy slog along a broad valley, then steeply up and over Jackass Pass into the Cirque.  

Me on the trail into the Cirque
My husband and I visited the Cirque back in late August of 2007.  We didn't bring our technical rock gear, intending it to be more of a scouting trip - we thought we'd spend a few days camping and exploring, maybe doing a few fourth-class (ropeless) ascents, and scope out which alpine climbs we'd most want to attempt the next time.  Unfortunately, just after we reached Jackass Pass, my husband sprained his ankle while crossing a talus slope, so badly he could barely walk.  We bound up his ankle to keep it from swelling so much he couldn't wear a boot, and instead of scrambling around the peaks, spent a day or so relaxing and enjoying the views before the arduous hobble back out.  (Thank God for trekking poles.  Not sure my husband could've made it out without them.  As it was, I had to carry all our gear, which made the exit hike one I won't forget any time soon either.)   

Oh, it was painful to be surrounded by so many beautiful mountains and be unable to climb a single one!  The views within the Cirque almost made up for it...

View of Pingora from our tent
Robert relaxing on a boulder and surveying the Cirque's Towers
Waterfall amid willow bushes
Warbonnet Peak
I could've spent weeks here, not just a few days...
And for good measure, here's a link to another climber's picture of a sub-cirque beneath Shark's Nose peak that's relatively close to my mental image of the basin in the Cirque of the Knives where Dev and Kiran fight Vidai.  The cliffs are somewhat smaller in scale than I imagined for my Cirque, but tight semi-circle of peaks and the mix of snow and granite slabs over the little basin lake is right.  

As for the real Cirque of the Towers, my husband and I hope to revisit it one day, this time with technical climbing gear in tow, and summit some of those glorious peaks we drooled over back in 2007.  It's always good to have future trips to anticipate.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Whitefire Crossing FREE today for Nook!

Checking in briefly from the World Fantasy convention to share a couple bits of exciting news:

And continuing the theme of "free"...check out this haul I got from the bag o' free books provided to every World Fantasy attendee:

I've already read (and greatly enjoyed!) a few of these, like Mazarkis Williams's The Emperor's Knife, Peter Brett's The Warded Man, and Robert V. S. Redick's The Red Wolf Conspiracy.  But I'm looking forward to trying Nick Mamatas's Bullettime, Ekaterina Sedia's Secret History of Moscow, and Adrienne Kress's The Friday Society - and the George R. R. Martin calendar is pretty sweet, too.  I love this con.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Yay for Halloween!  I love Halloween, and not just because these days I get to share in my son's breathless excitement over trick-or-treating.  Candy and costumes and creatures out of our darkest imaginations...what's not to like?

Our freshly-carved pumpkins.  
Though it feels strange to be celebrating, knowing how so many people out east are struggling to recover in Sandy's aftermath.  The monsters of our childhood imaginations may not be real, but plenty of dangers lie in wait, and there's no such thing as perfect safety, for all we like to convince ourselves otherwise.  My heart goes out to those who've lost their homes, and had their lives forever altered.

Here in Colorado, untouched by the storm, life goes on apace.  I've been quiet online these last days, thanks to a looming work deadline.  I'm leaving for World Fantasy on Thursday, and really looking forward to reuniting with writer-friends and enjoying all the con has to offer.  I'm not doing any official programming other than the mass autographing session on Friday night, so it's a rare chance to just relax and hang out.  Well, except for one teensy thing...NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and this year I'm taking the plunge once more.  (This'll be my 2nd time doing NaNo; the first time was back in 2007, when I first started The Whitefire Crossing.)

My goal this time is to get a nice big head start on my first draft of The Labyrinth of Flame.  I may not make 50K, but I'd like to reach at least 30K by the end of the month.  I can't wait to dive into the story!  These last two months, I've pretty much been spending all my scant writing time on interviews, guest posts, and other non-fiction writing, so I'm really itching to get back to "real" writing again!  I know how Labyrinth begins, and I know how I want the story to end - the rest, I look forward to discovering along the way.

In the meantime, since I fear I won't have time to prepare a Thursday Adventure post before leaving, here's a link to last year's Night Bazaar post in which I shared my favorite Halloween reads.

And if you've got any burning questions, either about the Shattered Sigil books, or even mountaineering, rock climbing, canyoneering, or figure skating - mark your calendars!  I'm doing an "Ask Me Anything" next Thursday Nov 8 over at Reddit's r/Fantasy: you can leave questions any time during the day, and I'll answer them "live" at 8pm CST.