Friday, May 31, 2013

Thursday Picture: Anza-Borrego in Spring

You may have noticed it's been a little quiet around here. This is because I've been shifting my priorities.  Progress on Labyrinth of Flame must come first, before I do anything else internet or writing related.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Writers should write. But I tell you, writing first drafts is like pulling teeth for me.  Painful, painful teeth.  It's so easy to stop after few scant paragraphs of new prose and think, Argh, I'm writing like crap tonight. Maybe the words would flow better if I took a break. Just a quick one. I'll send a few quick emails. Oh yeah, and I should write a blog post, that'll get the juices flowing. Oh, look, something interesting on twitter... and before you know it, my scant evening free time is over and I have to get some sleep before my son wakes up at 6am.

Want to know a professional author secret?  There's nothing like a deadline to stop that kind of screwing around. I didn't have this problem on Tainted City.  I forced myself to cough out that first draft, come hell or high water, because I simply couldn't afford not to.  Argh, I'm writing like crap, I'd think...and then look at the calendar, hyperventilate, and keep pounding out words, telling myself, Whatever, I'll fix it in revision!  (I LOVE revision. That is my favorite part of writing, by far.)  My problem with Tainted City was managing my through-the-roof stress levels. Now, my stress level is nice and low.  But progress is....also low.

So. Time to learn a new skill: how to make reasonable first-draft progress without a looming deadline.  It can be done, I know it! But I've got to put Labyrinth first. (Well, first after parenting, and marriage, and day job. But definitely over pleasure reading, hiking, blogging, guest posting, and general internet socializing.  Well, mostly first over hiking. I get really cranky and antsy if I don't spend SOME time in the mountains.)

I do still mean to post here. But posts will be a bit more short and sweet - Thursday Pictures instead of Thursday Adventures, quick news updates, that kind of thing.  At least until I catch up to where I want to be on Labyrinth.  So on that note, I leave you with a picture.  This one's a favorite of mine from many years ago, back when I was a student at Caltech.  One spring I took a weekend road trip to Anza-Borrego State Park, when the cactus were blooming.  The ocotillo were particularly beautiful, their long arms tipped with flame.  This picture doesn't do the view justice - it was taken with a little point and shoot 35mm camera, and scanning of course didn't help matters - but it hopefully gives a hint of the rugged beauty we experienced.

Anza-Borrego State Park, in spring


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Illustrated Guide to The Whitefire Crossing

You know how some people like to play the "casting game" with a book's characters?  As a mountaineer, I can never resist playing it with my books' landscapes.  I've shared some pics here in the past of mountain spots that inspired me for the Shattered Sigil series; but today over at BookSworn I went whole-hog and provided an illustrated guide to the journey that Dev and Kiran take across the mountains in The Whitefire Crossing.  Hope you enjoy the pics as much as I did picking them out.

I've also got a guest post over at Bibliotropic, talking about Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and the ways in which re-reading a book can surprise us.

And in not-related-to-me-or-my-books news, Fantasy Book Cafe's Women in SFF Month might have concluded, but Bookworm Blues is still hosting another series of "Special Needs in Strange Worlds" guest posts.  There've been some really excellent ones so far, both new posts and re-runs of the best of last year's series - I highly recommend you check them out.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday Adventure: Jenolan Caves, Australia

Between recovering from jetlag, scrambling to get back up to speed at the day job, and taking yet another plane trip last week so my son and I could spend a little time with my own mom, things have been pretty quiet around the ol' blog.  Happily, my traveling days are now done (for a month or two at least!), and at last I've had the time to sit down and put together a real Thursday Adventure post.

Today I'll show off some pics from one of my favorite experiences on our recent Australia trip: a trip with my husband to Jenolan Caves, on the western side of the Blue Mountains.  (Our first weekend alone together since our son was born - the kiddo stayed back in Sydney with my awesome in-laws.  Any parents out there will understand just how wonderful it was to have the chance to focus solely on each other for a few days!)
Sandstone cliffs rise over eucalyptus forest in the Blue Mountains

I haven't done that much caving before. Colorado's reputed to have some great caves, but I've been too busy spending my time playing on top of the mountains rather than under them.  I did once do a little spelunking with friends in the Grand Canyon's Cave of the Domes, and my husband and I did a pretty nifty cave trip in New Zealand's Waitomo area - all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.  So when my husband told me Jenolan offers both incredible cave formations and the chance for a little "adventure caving," I was eager to check it out.

I wasn't disappointed: the caves are indeed spectacular.  The Jenolan cave complex is quite large, extending far beyond what's available to casual tourists.  Clay in the caves has been dated at 340 million years old, making it the world's oldest known and dated open cave system.  The complex is still undergoing active exploration today by scientists and caving clubs.  If we'd known any cavers, we'd have tried to gang up with some experienced folks on a permit (they're only granted to club members), but lacking that, we simply signed up for a few of the guided tourist trips in the show caves, and one "adventure caving" trip that would let us get a bit dirty.  My favorite of the show caves we saw was the Orient Cave.  I don't have many pics of it, since cave photography is a bit challenging for my little digital camera, but hopefully the ones I did take will give you some idea.

Cave tour guide unlocks a passageway into the Jenolan cave system
Formations in the great chamber of the Orient Cave
Curtains of stone in the Orient Cave
Beautiful flowstone and pillars
I think this formation should've been named Cthulhu's Tentacles
Exploring the massive open-air "Devil's Coach House" area was also pretty neat.  It's considered a "twilight cave," and has some neat formations colored a strange blue-green from cyanobacteria.

The Devil's Coach House - a "twilight cave"
We did a hike up the valley beyond the Coach House and saw plenty of kangaroos hopping about through the forest.

Kangaroos in the bushland outside the caves
My favorite part of all was the adventure caving (of course!). We suited up in overalls, helmets, and headlamps, and branched off from the main tourist path to climb up, through, and around one of the first-discovered caves.  We squeezed through all manner of entertainingly tight spots, saw ancient fossils, nifty rock formations...and a few disturbingly huge cave spiders (near some holes that led to the surface).  

Our little group of spelunkers entering the cave
Fascinating formations

Robert shows off his spiffy caving coveralls

Robert squeezes through a very tight spot (his head is pretty much taking up the whole passageway)

Crawling through the cave

I had a great least until I looked up and saw a spider so big all its mutiple eyes were reflecting red from my headlamp.  No pics of the spider, sorry - I was too busy hyperventilating and squeezing the hell out of there.

Robert hasn't seen the spider yet
Spiders or no spiders, it was a ton of fun.  The most interesting thing to me about caving is how three-dimensional it is, compared to climbing on a cliff.  Through, up, over, around...and it all looks so different when you're coming back!  We didn't have any worries here, traveling with a guide, but I can imagine when spelunking solo you need a very good memory (or a spool of string, as we used in the Cave of the Domes) to keep from getting lost.

Below the main cave area is a lake with gorgeously blue water (the color comes from the caves' calcite), inhabited by a family of platypuses.  We took a walk there near sunset and got to see the platypuses swimming around.  Before I first saw one in Australia I always imagined them as beaver-size, but they're much smaller than that.

Blue lake below Jenolan caves

Platypus swimming in the water
All in all, Jenolan is a beautiful, unique area, highly worth a visit.  If we'd had more time, we'd have continued on from Jenolan to Kanangra Walls in Kanangra Boyd National Park, site of some great bushwalks and cliff climbs.  Next time!  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Back in Boulder

You might remember me talking a while back about my "next big adventure": a month-long trip to Australia and Hawaii.  Astute readers will have guessed from the pics in my last few posts that April was Adventure Month for the Schafer family.  An awesome adventure it was, too!  Not only was it wonderful to see my husband's family and friends again in Sydney, but we had plenty of fun bushwalking (as the Aussies call hiking) in both the Blue and Snowy Mountains....

Bushwalking in the Blue Mountains
...not to mention spelunking in Jenolan Caves (which were fantastic! I'd never been to Jenolan before and it was well worth the visit)...

Squeezing through a tight spot. Thankfully, this part of the cave had no enormous lurking spiders. Other parts...well, I'll tell that story when I do a full-on Thursday Adventure post about Jenolan.
...and yes, we saw plenty of kangaroos.

Curious kangaroo checking us out in the Blue Mountains.
After spending 3 weeks in Australia, we flew to Maui and spent four lovely relaxing days swimming and snorkeling at Keawakapu beach.  (Oh, and for our one big touristy thing we did a dive in an honest-to-gosh submarine, which our 4-year-old son LOVED.)  Stopping in Maui was pretty much the best way ever to break up the grueling return trip from Sydney to Boulder. I mean, just look at this view:

View of Keawakapu Beach from our condo
Even so, the jetlag we're suffering upon our return is nothing to be sneezed at (though not nearly so epic as what we experienced the times we flew straight home from Sydney!).  When a four-year-old can't sleep, well, nobody sleeps.  You better believe I'll have more pictures and stories from our travels to show off over the next few weeks, but right now, I'm gonna get some shut-eye.