Archive | May 2014

The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney

Home with Con Crud? Yes. But it did give me a chance to finish The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney, which is one of the tow major reads I had to accomplish before my write-a-thon that begins while I'm on vacation.

Here's what I wrote over at Goodreads.

The second in J. Kathleen Cheney's Golden City books resolves some issues for us and creates some more interesting subplots. In the book, the threat of using magic and weird science to blend supernatural and human creatures together takes center stage as Duilio, Joaquim, and Oriana try to unravel a series of bizarre murders. This makes the book pretty gory indeed, so be forewarned.

For me, a book is at its best regarding its emotional arcs, and here Cheney shines. Readers of the first book should be satisfied with the resolution of the Duilio and Oriana relationship, not too hurried, but not too slow. I wonder what will happen in the next book, as I expect it will be Duilio's turn to be the fish out of water, culturally speaking. Fastidious Joaquim even takes a romantic turn, and Oriana and her father finally get things sorted out.

Other interesting support characters include a revived Mrs. Ferreira and Raimundo, who is second in line to the throne. The return of the Lady and her special police officers was also enjoyable.

I really like and recommend this book. If you wonder why just four stars, I found the mad science just a little too intense for me, which might actually be a commendation of the writing. In short, it's a matter of taste. I was squicked out, although I enjoyed the book.

This will be out in July from Roc. Go get it.

I'm really grateful I had an ARC. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did.

Wiscon: Social Events

And...there are always fun parties and things to do at Wiscon, so I thought I would talk a little about those.

This year, my favorite social event by far was the dance. I could dance this year for the first time in a long time. Weight loss and regular exercise helped me do it. My knee wasn't as wonky as before, and I had a lot more stamina. I am a dance addict. No doubt about it. I'd keep trying to get off the floor, and another cool song would come up, and hey, I'm dancing. It was a lot of fun.

My favorite missed event was karaoke. I understand from the organizers that it will now be an every other year event, due to young children and babysitting arrangements. I get that, but I love the karaoke so very much, so I am anticipating its return.

That party where I managed to fan girl over Daniel Jose Older and Bart Leib regarding Older's reading and Bart's company. Later, I would buy Older's collection, and I would subscribe to Crossed Genres.

Guest of honor speeches might be best viewed by yourselves.

Nora K. Jemisin
Hiromi Goto

Wiscon: The Social

Wiscon is my standing date now with three friends. Lisa and Dan, whom I've known for about 20 years, have been going with me since I was just sort of pretending to be a writer. My great friend Yolanda from Texas is now joining us, and it's wonderful to have an opportunity to see her each year. She's so cool. So, I have this great group of friends to hang out with, eat with, joke with. This is my standing reason for going to Wiscon, and it would make the con cool, even if I didn't know other people.

But I do. It's one of a few chances each year that I get to hang out with my friend Caroline Stevermer. I'm a fan of Caroline's and I gush all over her, and she puts up with it each year with grace. I can tell you this--I'm looking forward to her new book with anticipation, and you should be too.

So. Ann Leckie and Vylar Kaftan won Nebulas this year, and I know them. I know Vylar more casually than Ann, but Ann and I hit it off at a breakfast a few years ago. I thought she was so nice and genuine, and a couple of years ago she was telling me about a new book deal, and now she's a winner of several major awards for Ancillary Justice. I'm trying to get her to come to Icon in 2015. I love it when people succeed. Vylar organized us into reading groups, and was her fantastic, affable, gregarious self.

Other people I was happy to see: Will Alexander, who read a fantastic story that will be in Fantasy and Science Fiction soon. He's so pleasant. The Clockwork Lasercorn reading group--Shane Halbach, Gary Koster, Julia Dvorin and Heather McDougal--who made reading a breeze.

Keffy Kehrli, Shira Lipkin, Sarah Frost, Brooke Who-Will-Be-Moving-to-Cedar Falls (and I apologize your last name has fallen right out of my head), Keyan Bowes, Sigrid Ellis, Charlie Jane Anders, Cassie Krahe, some nice snatches of friendly conversation there. And I'm sorry if I've missed you. I'll probably be remembering people all week.

In the SFWA panel, I was mightily impressed by the questions of Dr. Brooke and Blair MacGregor and Janice Smith, and would like to get to know these smart women better. At the sign out, I had good conversations with Caroline, with Greg Bechtel, with Mary Rickert, and with LaShawan Wanak, whom I'm hoping might come to Paradise Icon.

I fell in love with the voice in Daniel Jose Older's Salsa Nocturna. Oh, the way he reads, and oh, the character! This made me go out and get a subscription to Crossed Genres magazine and buy his book collection, which I will devour at my earliest convenience.

Finally, a word about guests of honor. I admired and appreciated Nora Jemisin's speech, and I can see that she is an important force in the field. I don't know her, but I appreciate her. However, I connect with Hiromi Goto. She was very friendly, we communicate on Twitter, and I like her. From her Oscar the Grouch t-shirt to her literary fantasy and her understanding of what it is to be in a dysfunctional place, well, we have some writing in common. I will value this Wiscon as the time I had a chance to talk to her, and I hope to repeat that again.

So, overall, a good time was had. We'll talk more about events soon.

And I’m Back

I will begin my series of Wiscon posts, an annual tradition, soon. Today, I need to sift through a variety of emails and things like that.

So, it was a good Wiscon, as usual. At first, I had my doubts, and there were many meh moments. But in the end there were spectacular moments as well, so I think it lived up to its usual very good standard.

I bought many books, and I'm questioning the wisdom of that, for soon I will be producing my own novel in extremis, and that means that I will not be reading as much. So, I think I must declare a moratorium on books for the nonce, at least until I dig out a bit. Impossible, as I think people will buy/give them to me, but at least I can say no to my own roaming eyes and fingers.

However, I did pick up some awesome books that I really, really want to read. First though, an ARC for J.Kathleen Cheney, for her book that comes out in July, and In Cahoots by Chris Cornell, which comes from the secret library of people I know who will some day be on your shelves. At least those two while I'm writing.

So. I'm going to see you tomorrow to talk about you know, Wiscon. Until then, well, keep your stick on the ice. If you can find any ice.

Neil Gaiman Does a Refugee Camp

In 2005, I was sitting with my husband at dinner right after I'd just found out that our college had received the Fulbright GPA to Russia. Bryon asked me why I wanted to go to Russia. I replied something to the effect that sometimes you traveled to enjoy yourself and see the world, and sometimes you traveled because you needed to see the world to understand it. Difficult travel can mean that sometimes you subject yourself to things that we in the US are very insulated from and very inured against.

I've seen poverty in Viet Nam and the remains of a camp of intellectual dissent in Russia. I've seen a soldier with no hands and feet in his army fatigues begging on a Russian street. I've visited with a man who was under house arrest for suggesting that Russians and Chenyans shouldn't fight.

I have never been in a refugee camp, although I know many people who have. I work with them every day. My knowledge is second-hand. As a safe American, all I do is cluck and look sympathetic. The problems of the world could overwhelm us, and we are very lucky.

But, occasionally, someone with some notoriety can shed light on an issue in a way an ordinary person like me can't. I can write to you and show you pictures and talk to you, but my reach is more limited than, say, Neil Gaiman's, who was in Jordan last week at a refugee camp. Yeah, I bet the culture shock is reverberating through his frame about now.

Take a look at this entry and this entry.

Today's important question: What can you do to make the world a better place for the brothers and sisters around the globe who are in these kinds of places? Because there are things that you can do. Yes, you.

Wiscon Pre-Game!

I'll be at Wiscon this weekend, from Friday through Monday. I'll be happy to kibbitz with old friends and new, show off my 20-pound lighter self, talk writing, and buy lots of books that I'll probably take another year to get to. I'm excited to be involved in 3 events.

Event the first: Cultural Grammar of Experience.

Essentialisms aside, one's culture(s) creates a particular context of experience and understanding of the world. There is a grammar of seeing and perceiving that comes from being from a specific culture." One of the many things that inspires Hiromi Goto in her writing is her Japanese culture. References to Japanese folk legends and myths, inclusion of non-translated Japanese words in the text, are some ways that Goto destabilizes a reading that refuses to be "exotic". How have other writers of colour and Indigenous writers included their cultures into their speculative fiction tales? In what kinds of ways?

This I'll be on talking about student culture and the sub-cultures I've been involved with, plus making commentary on glowing examples of literature that meet these criteria. I also hope to talk about the creative writing efforts of some of Kirkwood's community of second-language writers.

Event the second: Clockwork Lasercorn

lasercornflier1-1

Come see us read at Michelangelo's on Sunday!

Event the third: The Sign-Out

What we do at the end of Wiscon.

In three short days!

Updatery

And...here we are again, with a surprisingly peaceful start to the summer semester. Honestly, I've been stood up 3 times today, and I don't mind. 🙂 I thought I should get caught up here a bit while I had a chance. So, let's do a few posts.

Writing: I'm working hard, still, on getting the stupid out of my novella. And by the stupid I mean two things: all those silly typos that I always make and some logic flaws. Two readers have been instrumental in helping me find them, and I'm sure I'll still find some more when I comb through the darned thing ONE MORE TIME. The logic flaws? Well, the internal logic of the story isMike Underwood and will be writing the lioness share of my novel over the course of my vacation. I will be a writing machine! And upstairs and outside, people will be working on my house. Yay? But I want that first draft to be done by Detcon. I would like to have something to talk to agents and editors about.

Health: Man, running last night was easy. I was stunned. I mean, it is only orienteering on the Wii, so it's not like I'm training for a 5K, but I feel so much better. At this point, still needing to lose 51-53 pounds, depending on the day, you may not notice when you see me at cons, but the quality of my life is much, much better, even at this level of things.

Paradise Icon: Almost got the planning for this in hand. I'm waiting for a flier, and then the usual promo will go up.

So, Wiscon. This weekend. Next post=Wiscon pre-game.

Semi-Biographical

Recently, I've been working on semi-biographical pieces. I should explain how speculative fiction is semi-autobiographical.

The pieces I'm referring to are Cookies which is a piece about a brother and a sister from a highly dysfunctional family looking for salvation, and The Ground is Full of Teeth, the setting of which is a horror-verse version of the town I grew up in, although its portrayal is more accurate than you would suppose. Also, the abuse case represented in the story is NOT from my own background, as is the case with Cookies (I know, readers of Cookies, that makes things even more squicky), but is rather one I observed as a child through the lens of growing up in a very peculiar place and in a very peculiar way.

Write what you know, they say.

The Ground is Full of Teeth is something I've worked on for three years, until I managed to get it right with some helpful editorial suggestions from a place it might end up. If not, the editorial suggestions helped give the story inherent logic, whereas before, while the description and the events were well-rendered, why the story happened was loosey-goosey. Cookies was spurred by a family phone call and came into existence over the course of four hours, things just twisting and turning as they would. In Cookies, the main character is detached from the events in her narration, at least that's how she tells the story, but her actions belie her involvement. In Teeth, the poetry is the story, the Gothic representation of a very spooky place.

I will probably write pieces like this again. These pieces reveal a great deal of self, perhaps some things about oneself that one would rather not reveal, but this is writing that takes risk. My characters are not me and the events are based on biography, but are not the events. Still, there is discomfort. Some would say, good. That's what makes stories effective. Maybe.

With that in mind, I will still not make this my writing sweet spot. I believe that these are two of my more successful pieces, especially now that the internal logic of Teeth works for me. But I am equally in love with Turtle of the Earth, which is about a Chinese agricultural family, or Mark Twain's Daughter, which has nothing to do with me, or even The Love Song of Oliver Toddle, which is as close as I've come to writing romance, and which is the only piece I've ever read besides the one I wrote about Toby that has made me cry while reading it.

I know some readers would like more stories like Cookies. Bryon tells me that he probably wouldn't read my work if that was all my writing was like. Even if it made us a lot of money, I asked from some where in a fantasy. Yup.

Because these are not enjoyable stories to read, and my spouse likes to be happy. Still, I think it marks some progress in myself as a writer and as a person that I can write these kinds of stories.

Getting in Shape: End of Week 29

Another two weeks vanish, but here's the report.

Beginning Wii Weight: 223.8 (My heaviest ever after this summer.)
Wii Weight on 5-14-14: 203.3 (a loss of .8)
Total: 20.5 pounds LOST

Weight Watchers on Initial Weigh In: 224
Weight Watchers on 5-14-14: 207 (A loss of .6.)
Total: 17 pounds

So, finally some movement on the Weight Watchers front. You should know that my lowest weight was on Tuesday, at 202.2, and my highest is today at 204.8. There was a dinner out with friends last night, and I was a little carried away, so I am now having a parsimonious week. It doesn't take much to get carried away, but one has to balance out a misstep.

Things: A couple of friends turned me onto Chia fruit packs. Very filling, very good for my cholesterol, which is a little high now, and a good way to work in fruits and vegetables. I've been making veggie burger sandwiches with arugula and red peppers. Those are nice. The husband bought cookie dough from a student, and now I want to eat the damned stuff in the freezer. My plan is to bake cookies for the Mindbridge Annual dinner, but that doesn't seem to be keeping me from breaking in and eating spoonfuls of it. Apparently it is one of those foods I can't have in the house, and will never have in there again.

Still exercising. Watching what I eat, whether it works out or not. I hope to continue to report losses next week.

Fly By

That was a day. Our official part of the job search process is over, and I am happy with our first choice, whom I hope takes our job. But I always leave these kinds of things feeling wrung out and uncertain. Evaluating people for a job is never like buying a new couch. There's a lot of hopes and dreams dashed in there, in the selection process. You know, like doing art.

***

Now that that's over, and so many other things are over, it's time to turn my eye toward Wiscon. I have a panel to prep, and a reading to sort out. The panel is on culturally specific language use in literature. Awesome. I have to decide whether to read part of Cookies, A Lasting Storm, or The Ground is Full of Teeth. This minute, Teeth is winning.

So, this is a fly by to let you know I'm alive this week. Weighing in tonight. Nails tonight. Catrina tonight. Ready for vacation to begin, but still have 3 weeks to go.