Friday, May 31, 2019

State of the Schafer, Vol 6

Yikes, what a week. My son came down with the flu and was absolutely miserable for five very long days. (And nights. The high fever gave him screaming nightmares. Good times for all.) His head and eyes hurt so much he couldn't read or even watch TV for very long, which left me as his main source of distraction from pain and fever. It's always heartbreaking as a parent to see your child in pain yet be helpless to make that pain vanish; I'm just glad my son is still young enough to find some comfort in my presence. But needless to say, I did not get much writing or anything else done. I have never been so glad that I'm not facing any deadlines.

Happily, the kiddo has at last recovered, and my own immune system seems to have held out against the virus, with the help of lots of hastily snarfed vitamin C. I was terrified I'd get sick and have to cancel my planned trip to GeyserCon. But hooray, I am healthy and typing this in Auckland airport while waiting for my puddlejumper flight to Rotorua.

Writing progress:

I've only managed about 2K more words on The White Serpent since my last update, but I'm hoping to carve out a decent chunk of writing time each day in Rotorua. I always need a little down time anyway at cons, especially when it's my first time at the con and I don't know many people. I love meeting and making new friends, but the extra social effort required is always a bit of a challenge for an introvert like me, so it's nice to schedule myself some quiet time each day when I can write and recharge.

Skating update:

I did manage to squeeze in a skating session before flying out of Queenstown, which was a huge mood lifter after a very long time stuck inside the house with my sick kiddo. I was so delighted to be on the ice again that I even summoned the guts to try my axel.

The forward "leap of faith" take-off for the axel makes it the most intimidating of all the skating jumps. If you don't fully commit to the jump, it's likely to end badly. (How badly? There's a reason for the old stress fractures lurking in my lumbar spine.) You need to kick your free leg through and then instantly shift your weight from take-off to landing side, while simultaneously yanking arms and legs in to generate the required rotation.

All that can go wrong in a whole lot of ways. The axel is the only jump I've ever learned where sometimes, long after you think you finally have it down, you jump and your body suddenly says, "NOT TODAY, SATAN!" and bails mid-air. (This is so common a failure it's got a name: the "waxel", seen on occasion even in Olympic programs.)

So, yeah. Trying the axel again for the first time after 4 years off the ice was a nerve-wracking experience. I kept worrying that my body had completely forgotten how to do the jump and disaster would result. (I do wear gel pads over tailbone, hips, and knees when practicing, but still. No such thing as gel pads that can protect the spine.)

I comforted myself that I'd taken at least one hard fall already on footwork the other week, and my back survived. After some deep breaths, I went out for some axel attempts...and LANDED THEM, HALLELUJAH! Or rather, landed most of them. But even on the axels I didn't cleanly land, I didn't fall. And those I did land nice and solid on one foot...the elation was immense. I still grin wide just thinking about it. Even my coach was delighted, doubtless thinking of how much time it'll save if she doesn't have to re-teach me the jump.

It's only a single axel, sure, not a double or anything really impressive, but still. I came off the ice feeling like a superhero. That seems weirdly appropriate as the start to a science fiction/fantasy convention weekend.

Reading Corner:

I finished Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire, which was just as good as everyone said. The story reminded me of C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner, with an ambassador struggling to navigate complex and deadly politics in a culture they can never understand as a native does. I liked Martine's protagonist Mahit more than Cherryh's Bren, which helped make the reading experience much more engaging. If you're looking for science fiction with a lot to say about issues of culture and colonization, or if you just enjoy SF with interesting worldbuilding and character interaction, this one's for you. I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel.

I then devoured Rachel Neumeier's Door Into Light, the long-awaited (at least by me!) sequel to her 2012 novel House of Shadows. I adored House of Shadows for its lyrical, atmospheric prose, mythic magic, and interesting characters, particularly the bardic sorceror Taudde, who struggles to navigate questions of morality and honor while living in an enemy country. The story in House of Shadows stands well alone, but leaves plenty of room for futher intriguing developments--and ever since reading the opening snippet of the sequel on Neumeier's blog, I have been absolutely panting for more. I'm happy to say Door Into Light did not disappoint me. I thoroughly enjoyed being back with Taudde and Leilis and all the other characters. I think I'll be re-reading both books again soon, just to savor the experience once more. I particularly recommend the duology to anyone who loves Patricia McKillip; it reminds me of her work in all the best ways.

Right now I'm partway through Sangu Mandanna's A Spark of White Fire, which is YA space opera inspired by Indian mythology, with meddling gods and magic and sentient spaceships. I'm really liking it so far. Hooray for great reading streaks!

Pic of the Week:

Sunrise on the way to GeyserCon

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

State of the Schafer, Vol. 5

Oof, it's been a busy 2 weeks since my last post, with some not entirely happy events. My son broke a finger at school while playing "rippa rugby" (kind of like flag football, for all you Americans). Thankfully it's only a hairline fracture and not a bad break, but it's still been pretty painful, and he's frustrated about having to be careful of his hand for weeks as the finger heals.

Meanwhile, I've been having a bit of a flare-up of carpal tunnel, despite wearing wrist braces while typing and using a reasonably ergonomic work desk. Not sure exactly what set it off, but the best cure is to minimize typing and phone scrolling for a while, so this week's post will be on the short side.

Writing Progress:

My draft of The White Serpent is sitting just shy of 25,000 words, and I finally got another chunk ready to send off to both my local writing group and my more distant critique partners. I'd say I'm about halfway through the story. Often I find that the words come faster and faster as I get closer to the end. I'm sure hoping that's true this time...but I won't count on it.

In other writing news, I finally got around to asking the Wanaka library if they'd like to have a donated copy of my Shattered Sigil trilogy. They responded with enthusiasm, hooray! So soon there will be at least one library in New Zealand that has my books. I'm pretty sure there aren't any others, since the books were never released in Aus/NZ. Some Australian libraries ordered them through international channels, but I'm pretty sure nowhere in NZ carries them...until now!

I'm also excited that next week I'll be heading off to Geysercon, this year's iteration of NZ's national SFF convention. (The con moves around NZ; this year it's held in Rotorua, which has lots of geysers and hot springs and other geothermal features, thus the choice of con name.) I'm not doing any panels or anything, but I'll bring some books to sell through the con bookshop, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting and hanging out with fellow SFF people. Plus, I've never been to Rotorua, so that'll be cool. Hopefully I can squeeze in a little sightseeing/hiking.

Skating update:

My back is holding up and I'm having a great time on the ice, woo hoo! Right now I'm working on speeding up my camel spin, so I can have a good strong start for the camel-sit-backsit combination spin in my program. I haven't tried my axel yet, but after fixing my single jump entries, the time has now come to regain it. So I have to decide: suck it up and commit despite the risk of hard falls, or wait until I can get time on the jump harness? The harness can't be used on a public session, and the only freestyle sessions the rink offers are at hideously early hours of the morning, which is a pretty daunting prospect with an hour drive over a potentially icy pass. Decisions, decisions.

Pics of the week:

As cooler weather sets in, Lake Hawea gets really calm, which makes for beautiful reflections

Fall colors in our yard

Snow on Cardrona Valley peaks...the ski season is coming

I spent a lovely day hiking in the Flat Tops Conservation Area near Roxburgh with some friends

Reading Corner:

I finished The Bone People, and I still feel uneasily ambivalent about it. The imagery is beautiful, the style is unique, the depiction of the terrible cycle of child abuse, and how abusers are enabled by their communities, is devastating. Yet like this reviewer, I was not a little horrified by the book's seeming insistence that abused children should not be taken away from their abusers. In talking to Kiwis about it, I realized I am lacking some cultural context; Maori today are still fighting to keep their children from being removed by NZ authorities. One person said something I found particularly interesting: a culture's greatest strength is often also its greatest flaw. According to them, one of the great strengths of Maori culture is the emphasis on acceptance and forgiveness and inclusion for community members, yet in the case of domestic violence and abuse, a tendency toward forgiveness can lead to terribly sad outcomes. On the flip side, that made me consider how individualism has always been heralded by Americans as a great cultural strength, and yet now that focus on individual gain instead of societal good might well destroy us entirely. So anyway...I guess I can at least say The Bone People is quite thought-provoking.

My reaction to Laura Gilman's novella Gabriel's Road, in contrast, was purely positive. I'd been hoping for a satisfying conclusion to Gabriel's arc, and yep, that was nicely done. Plus, the story helped clarify some bits of the Devil's West trilogy ending that I had found a bit confusingly muddy. Most of all, it was pure fun to be back in the Devil's West world. I love Gilman's portrayal of intertwined magic and nature.

Now I'm on to Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire, which I have high hopes for, after seeing a lot of praise from reviewers I trust.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

State of the Schafer, Vol 4

Writing Progress:

With the kiddo back in school, this week was a bit more productive than last week, though my dreams of "serious progress" didn't quite pay off. The White Serpent is sitting now at 22,388 words, which doesn't seem like much increase from last week, but that's because I ended up rewriting one scene a bunch of times before I felt happy with what's in the draft.

You'd think outlining scenes would prevent this, and in many cases I believe it does. Yet I sometimes find I have to actually write a scene in full before I realize it isn't working the way I hoped. And then rewrite it, rinse, repeat. Argh, this is why I am not a fast writer. Oh well, onward ho! My motto at times like this comes from Dory in Finding Nemo: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..." So long as I don't stop, I will finish the draft.

Skating Update:

I drove over to Queenstown for another practice session, this time carpooling with another adult skater from Wanaka, which was a lot of fun. The trip over the Crown Range doesn't seem half so long when you can chat to a friend on the way!

At the rink, I had my first lesson with a local coach, and she was great. She worked on cleaning up my take-offs for my singles, which have gotten awfully sloppy after all these years. On a single jump, you can do all kinds of things wrong and still haul yourself around in the air and land okay. Not so with double jumps, which are a lot less forgiving.

Even in the short half-hour of the lesson, I could really feel the difference in height and flow for my singles with the corrected take-offs. Now I'm all excited that maybe with this kind of work, I could not only regain a double or two, but make them consistent enough to land in competition. But first I've got to put in the time to cement the newer, better habits, so they become reflex, in advance of trying any axels or doubles. Doubtless my back will be grateful.

I'm also excited at the idea of competing, period. There's an old program of mine from 2006 that I always wished I had skated better; I'm thinking I'll use that program again, so I don't have to spend precious ice and lesson time on learning a new one. Ha, though to remember all the footwork and everything, I had to dig up an old VHS tape of me skating the program at Adult Midwestern Sectionals back in the day, pull the video off the tape to a computer, and watch it a whole bunch of times. It's always kind of cringey, watching yourself skate. Every little error and moment of awkwardness seems tremendously magnified. But now I'm all the more motivated to achieve my goal of skating that program clean, with no mistakes.

New Zealand Life:

The house staining continues. My goodness our house has a lot of exterior wall. At this rate the job may take us all winter. Perhaps I can make it a race: what will become a beautifully polished, completed project first? The outside of our house, or my novella?

In parenting news, I've been fascinated by how many toys, TV shows, etc, from my own childhood in the '80s are still a thing today, albeit sometimes in updated form. My son has loved the modern versions of My Little Pony and Voltron and Pokemon. And now, for a real '80s classic, he and his best little buddy at school are super into Rubik's cubes. I guess in this modern era it's a heck of a lot easier to solve them, thanks to the internet. After mastering the original cube, now he's on to the Rubik's Tower. (I myself spent a fair chunk of time yesterday working through the solution to that one. Even with some internet help, it's not always easy the first time through.)

Pic of the Week:

Moody autumn day on the bank of the Clutha River

Reading Corner:

I'm not yet done with The Bone People, since I didn't have time for more than a scant few moments of reading this week. But I know what will be up next once I finish: Gabriel's Road, the brand new Devil's West novella from L.A. Gilman. Gabriel was my favorite character in the original Devil's West trilogy, which are weird westerns with a fascinating premise and some really cool nature-based magic. I loved Gabriel's struggle to confront and accept his ties to the Territory, and I'm hoping this novella will provide the satisfying resolution to his arc that we didn't get in the main books, where he wasn't the protagonist. I'm really looking forward to reading his story.