Friday, July 24, 2015

The return of the Thursday Adventure! Andrews Glacier/Flattop Mtn Loop

The best part about handing off The Labyrinth of Flame to the line editor is that I have time for mountain adventures again! Having finally recovered from my awful cold, I accompanied a coworker last weekend to Rocky Mountain National Park for a lovely loop hike with some snow climbing and plenty of spectacular scenery.

RMNP is a bit of a zoo in the summer. Arriving at 7:20am, the trailhead lots on Bear Lake road were already full, so we had to park at the visitor center and take a shuttle bus to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We headed up the pretty and very popular Loch Vale trail:

Stream in the Loch vale
But despite the crowds in the vale, once past the junction for the rough, steep trail to Andrews Glacier, we soon found ourselves in solitude. The views of Sharkstooth are terrific - I wished we had ropes and climbing gear to ascend the 5.6 route to the summit.

Sharkstooth and the Andrews valley
The trail climbs through talus toward the headwall below Andrews Tarn:

My hiking partner Dustin on the way to Andrews Tarn

Alpine meadow with Sharkstooth still looming on the ridge
Andrews Tarn is a beautiful little blue-green lake, surrounded by wildflowers and backed by the Andrews Glacier - which is really more of a permanent snowfield, but I guess RMNP decided "glacier" sounds more impressive. The snowfield does develop dangerous crevasses in the late summer, and people have died descending when conditions are icy.

Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier

Edge of the glacier
We came prepared with ice axes and microspikes, and the snow was in great condition: soft enough to kick steps in, but firm enough to prevent any postholing. 

Dustin on the glacier

On my way up
I'd been worried about my fitness level, or lack thereof, after months spent at the keyboard instead of on the trails. Thankfully, my genetic gift of altitude adaptation did not fail me. Most hikers slow waaaaay down once you get over 11,000-12,000 ft, whereas to me, that feels no different than sea level. I wasn't exactly blazing up the glacier, but I had no trouble keeping a steady pace.  Let's hear it for extra red blood cells! (And golden mega-stuff oreos. They help a lot, too.)

A distant Dustin nears the top of the glacier

Woo hoo! Nothing like a beautiful day in the mountains.
At the top of the glacier is Andrews Pass and the continental divide, which in this area of the park is an open expanse of tundra. 

View from Andrews Pass
I love the tiny wildflowers that cover the tundra in summer. So delicate, so beautiful, and so hard to capture with an ordinary camera! But here's a shot of my favorite little blue flowers:

Tundra wildflowers
From Andrews Pass, it's possible to reach a whole host of mountain summits. If you start early enough, you can even do five peaks in a day. But since we could see clouds building, we headed straight for Flattop Mountain and our descent trail. On the way, we passed Tyndall Glacier, which is far steeper than Andrews:

Tyndall Glacier and Hallett Peak
We met some friendly young marmots on the way:

And enjoyed some impressive views of Longs Peak:

Backside of Longs Peak
The clouds were growing ever darker, so we hurried down the Flattop Mountain trail, not wanting to get caught by a thunderstorm above timberline:

The storms are coming!
Thankfully, the thunder held off until we'd reached the trees. Along the way to Bear Lake, we had a nice view down into the gorge that holds Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. (Dream Lake is where I filmed my Kickstarter video!)

Looking down at Emerald Lake
My endurance and conditioning hold up well even after a long time without hiking, but my little feet do not. They were quite sore by the time we reached the Bear Lake parking lot and the shuttle back to our car. But every ounce of soreness was worth it (and they'll soon toughen up properly). A day in the mountains is like a drink of cool water to my soul. There's no better way to refresh creativity - and now Labyrinth of Flame is nearing publication, I look forward to many more mountains days to come!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Original sketches for Labyrinth of Flame cover, plus a chance to vote for your fav female-authored fantasy

I've got a bunch of cool stuff to share today. First up is this post by Labyrinth of Flame cover artist Dave Palumbo discussing his sketch process. It's a fascinating read for anyone who enjoys SFF art - and midway down, Dave shares the original three sketches for The Labyrinth of Flame. Each potential cover sketch is aimed at a different component of the story: the first one emphasizes the journey/landscape, the second is more about magic/mystery, and the third about the partnership between Dev and Kiran. I chose the 2nd sketch for reasons I can't discuss without spoilers...maybe I'll do a more detailed post about it after Labyrinth of Flame has been released!

I'm thinking of attending the Sirens conference for the first time this year, since it's right here in Denver and people say the quality of discussion is excellent. Sirens focuses on women in fantasy (both women and men are welcome to attend). One of the guests of honor this year is veteran fantasy author Kate Elliott, and Sirens has posted a wonderfully extensive interview with her that discusses how the genre has changed over the course of her career, her research process, her experience in both adult and YA markets, and includes her recommendations for five excellent epic fantasy series by women.

Speaking of awesome fantasy series by women, r/Fantasy is running a thread this week where you can vote for your top five favorite fantasy novels by women by listing your choices. (What were my choices? Go and look. It was really, really hard for me to choose just five!)

I know some people roll their eyes whenever women-authored fantasy is discussed separately from fantasy in general. Women authors should just be considered authors, they say. In an ideal world, I'd agree. But given the hurdles women authors of non-romantic fantasy face in getting the word out about their books (misleading covers and cover copy, assumptions that women only write romance, etc), I'm eager for any opportunity to highlight excellent books that don't get nearly enough readership. Also, anything that helps disprove the frustratingly stubborn misconception that "women don't write epic fantasy", or the related "women didn't write epic fantasy until recently."

On that note, check out the cover reveal for Helen Lowe's upcoming Daughter of Blood, third in her excellent Wall of Night series, which is epic fantasy with a cool sf-nal twist. I thought the first book, Heir of Night, was good, and the 2nd one, The Gathering of the Lost, absolutely terrific, so I'm really eager to see where Helen takes the story next.

Last but not least, if you enjoy adventure fantasy with a buddy duo as protagonists, check out Michael Sullivan's Kickstarter for the latest in his Riyria books, The Death of Dulgath. Michael and his wife Robin consistently bend over backward to help other authors, generously sharing experience and support - without their advice and help, The Labyrinth of Flame Kickstarter wouldn't have gone half so well! So if any Kickstarter deserves your attention, it's theirs. The KS only has a few hours left to go, so if you're interested, pledge soon.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Structural edits complete on Labyrinth of Flame, hooray! Plus a pile of book recs

In internet time it has been aeons since I last posted here, yikes. Mostly because I was working so hard last month on finishing structural edits for The Labyrinth of Flame - I figure anyone reading this blog would far rather I was working on the book than writing blog posts! (Well, except for those of you who are only visiting for the mountain pics. Sorry, fellow climbers.)

But as of last week, structural edits are done (at last, AT LAST, hooray!). The Labyrinth of Flame has gone off to line editor Marty Halpern, and so I have a little breathing space before I'll need to dive into the manuscript again for final cuts & fixes. (The book also went off to my agent, who passed it to the foreign rights agent, who sent it to my German publisher so they can decide if they wish to buy it. So cross your fingers, German readers - I'm really hoping you'll get to read the end of the trilogy.)

The very first thing I did with my glorious new-found free time was run off to the mountains. Or rather, my favorite town in the mountains: Telluride, in southwestern Colorado. We go most years for 4th of July, and have a wonderful time hiking and biking and enjoying the local parade and fireworks show. This year we got plenty of natural fireworks, too, as the thunderstorms were frequent and vigorous. (We've having a very wet summer in Colorado this year.)

Rare sight of blue sky in between thunderstorms
Hiking through aspen forest
The storms curtailed the hiking a bit, but I still had a lovely time...right up until I got sick. I should've seen it coming; I hadn't been getting much sleep before the trip, between day job deadlines and racing to finish edits, and lack of sleep plus stress is often a death knell for my immune system. Sigh. Nothing more frustrating than having to lie about in feverish, achy misery while everybody else enjoys the beautiful mountains you can see right out the window. Thankfully my illness only started the last day of the trip, and I had plenty of good books to take my mind off my moping.

Alpenglow outside our condo window. Oh, how I wanted to be outside instead of sniffling and coughing in bed!
See, that's the other wonderful thing about finishing edits on the book - I can READ. I've had so many books stacked up on my TBR pile for so long, and now I can dive into them! It's not that I haven't been reading at all these last months. Reading is like breathing for me, I simply can't go without for very long. But I've been restricting myself to a single book here and there, most often something short, and now I can read whatever I want without guilt over losing writing time....oh my goodness, it's wonderful.

I've devoured a whole bunch of books already on the Telluride trip - I won't discuss them all, since that would make this blog post so long I'd never finish it, but here are some I particularly enjoyed.

In Midnight's Silence (Teresa Frohock) - This is a novella, but it packs a ton of character and story into its pages. Half-angel, half-daimon protagonist Diago is drawn with such deft strokes in the opening pages that when he soon faces some terrible choices, I was biting my nails and praying for him to find a solution that wouldn't come with an equally terrible price. In Midnight's Silence is dark and beautiful and evocative - and only 99 cents! This is a great introduction to Teresa's work if you've never read her before, and a long-awaited treat for anyone who's loved her previous stories (Miserere, The Broken Road, Hisses and Wings). Best of all, it's only the first in a forthcoming series of Los Nefilim novellas; I'm already salivating for the next to come out.

The Liar's Key (Mark Lawrence) - second in his Red Queen's War trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Prince of Fools, last year so I was eagerly looking forward to the further adventures of mismatched (and mistrusting) partners Jalan and Snorri. The Liar's Key did not disappoint! Although I thought the story started off a bit slowly at first (possibly a function of my fever while reading it), it steadily picked up pace and gained ever more depth, expanding the world and characters in some very interesting ways. (I particularly loved Jalan's blood-memories of his family's past - heh, I must say it's a shame Jorg Ancrath was born so long after Alica Kendeth, because I would've loved to see a battle of wits and ruthlessness between a teenage Alica and Jorg!)  Anyway, another superb read, and I'll certainly be snatching up the final installment The Wheel of Osheim when it comes out next year.

House of Shadows (Rachel Neumeier) - I bought this one because a friend of mine recommended it, saying Neumeier's writing reminded him of Patricia McKillip. McKillip is one of my all-time favorite fantasy authors for the lyric beauty of her prose, the mythic feel of her stories, and her vividly drawn, engaging characters, so I had to check Neumeier out. Oh goodness, I'm so glad I did! I loved House of Shadows, hands down. It's a subtle, atmospheric, beautiful novel, and yes, there was much about the feel of the story that reminded me of McKillip (in a good way, not a derivative one). Interestingly, the book's blurb manages to be both factually accurate and yet totally incorrect in conveying a feel for the story. Only one of the two sisters mentioned in the blurb is a major POV character, and there are two more major POV characters who aren't mentioned at all! Including my favorite character, the foreign mage Tauddis, who is quietly clever in the face of seriously ruthless men out to manipulate him - that's something I always love. House of Shadows can be read as a standalone, but I can't even tell you how delighted I was to find out Neumeier has written a sequel. After reading the first scene of said sequel on Neumeier's blog, I want to read the rest right NOW NOW NOW oh god so hard to wait! Thankfully, Neumeier has a backlist of both adult and YA titles I've never read - I'll devour those in the meantime.

Stories of the Raksura, Vol II (Martha Wells) - I've loved all of Wells's Raksura books so far, and this latest entry was no exception. Likeable characters having adventures in a fascinatingly diverse world full of nonhuman races and magic...what's not to love? In this collection, the first story The Dead City was a particular favorite - Wells does such a great job portraying protagonist Moon's emotional devastation over the events immediately preceding the tale, without ever slipping into melodrama. Plus, there's a cool mystery and some seriously creepy scenes that I won't spoil by explaining just why they're so disturbing. The final tale in the collection, The Dark Earth Below, makes a great coda to the original Raksura trilogy, and left me with that warm, satisfied feeling you get with an ending that feels just right. (Which isn't to say I wouldn't eagerly devour more Raksura stories if given the chance. :)

Uprooted (Naomi Novik) - Everybody on twitter had been raving about this one, so I was curious to see if it'd live up to the hype. I think it mostly did, although I don't think I loved it quite as much as some others have. (Probably because I had some issues with the romance.) But I certainly enjoyed the read - Novik is a wonderful writer. Protagonist Agnieszka was engaging, the fairy tale aspects of the story were alternately intriguing and creepy, and I loved the underlying hopeful feel of the narrative.

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (Barry Hughart) - Someone recommended this to me as wickedly funny fantasy, and that was just what I needed while feeling miserably feverish. Sure enough, the combo of sheer exuberance and sharp humor kept me smiling; to quote the Publisher's Weekly review, "Reading Hughart's endearing historical fantasy trilogy, first published almost 20 years ago, is much like wandering blindfolded through a myth devised by a maniac." I'd say that's an accurate description. Hughart can turn from gleeful farce to emotionally affecting tragedy within a handful of lines. The books are not without flaws; to modern readers, the lack of depth in the female characters may at times be frustrating, and I admit to wondering how Chinese readers might feel about Hughart's subversion of their myths. (Hughart has right in the front of the book that this is A Novel of Ancient China That Never Was, so he's certainly not pretending accuracy.) But potential issues aside, I had no problem enjoying Master Li and Ten Ox's zany adventures to the hilt.

I've got plenty more books still waiting on the TBR pile - including Evie Manieri's Fortune's Blight, Alison Croggon's The Singing, E.J. Swift's Cataveiro, Judith Tarr's Forgotten Suns, Django Wexler's The Price of Valor, and plenty more. Also Betsy Dornbusch's Emissary, which I actually read while in Telluride, but was too sick at the time to follow properly - I need to give it another go once I'm better.

Also waiting in the wings is Janny Wurts's epic War of Light and Shadow series...I'd been meaning to hold off and use the series as my ultimate reward once I have Labyrinth of Flame finished and printed and shipped, but I don't know if I can wait that long! We'll see if my self-discipline holds out.