Luck and Unluck

Hey guys. The birthday celebration went faboo. Bryon had a great time, I tried the new DQ M&M blizzard, and I learned finally how to correctly pronounce Mucha.

I feel pretty lucky. I had a great day with a great guy. And I had a great cruise with a great guy.

Sometimes I think about where I am. It would have been possible for me to have perpetuated dysfunction, knowing how little I kn3w about a good relationship. But I fell in with Bryon. And from there, we have lived exactly the geek romance that we have wanted. Wow, am I lucky.

***

Recently, an author I know had less luck. Jay Lake has treated his cancer over and over, and now he has three tumors. The injustice and impersonal biology of this makes me shake my fist helplessly at the heavens. I know life is unfair too. There is no treatment prognosis yet.

And I got nothing. I think that it would belittle the situation to say anything. This is a tragedy, totally unfair and out of anyone’s control. He’s managed the risk as best he can, and if anyone has faced this crisis with dignity, it is him. He has blogged about cancer with an incredible honesty.

***

Life is just so…you try to catch the good in your fist, but if you open your fist at the wrong time, your fist is empty. Appreciate the good. But it is okay to rage against the bad.

Jay, you make the world a much better place. Know that much.

Catherine

Spousal Unit Turns 50

I’m not here today. Today is Bryon’s 50th birthday. And you know that we’d go somewhere and do something special, but we just used up all our money on our 25th Anniversary Tour. Nevertheless, I have managed to plan a special day for him, taking a day off work. Today is all about Bryon, not about Bryon and Cath, so without further adieu, here’s the schedule for Live Like Bryon Day

Continue reading “Spousal Unit Turns 50”

Basking in the Glow of the Butter Cow

There was the State Fair this weekend. I was truly surprised by the range of emotions that I experienced while I was there.

This was primarily a deliberate outing with my mother-in-law. Last year’s mini-vacation when she came out to us was a little disaster. Nothing bad happened, but I don’t think she enjoyed herself much. Now, to be honest, the lack of enjoyment could have been more about her recently losing her husband than anything else, but the vacation fell flat, so this year I was determined to make sure she had a no-holds-barred good time.

Phyllis is a State Fair enthusiast.

The weather was perfect, about 75. If you’re going to go trooping about with an 86-year-old lady, that’s what you want. As expected, we didn’t see much. There were frequent breaks. Phyllis didn’t eat much (as Bryon said, “Mom’s decided to live on dew and universe juice.”), but she did enjoy the tiny portions of things she had.

We did the fabric and thread room right. One thing that all of us are enthusiastic about is sewing, so we looked at quilts and talked about how modern quilts were more precise than the old style due to the computerization of many of the tools at a crafter’s disposal now. We looked at needle point, designed outfits, clothes made from patterns, knitted sweaters, crocheted shawls, stuffed animals. We compared art quilts and traditional quilts and quilts that were both.

Man, I miss sewing. I miss costumes. I miss creating with fabric. I was seized with such a longing for it yesterday.

I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am…

So, that was good. And beautiful.

***

After lunch, we visited Pioneer Hall and listened to the Mandolin contest. It was the one that happened to be on while we were there. Apparently, it’s okay for Irish music to be played, as well as the usual American types. There were two brothers who played guitar and mandolin, and then switched instruments. They appeared to play with no effort in that way that talented musicians do–watching everything else but their instrument, looking like the music is just running out of them.

Luckily for me, Phyllis wanted to leave the fair before the fiddle contest. My grandfather was State of Iowa fiddle champ 5 times. I would have sat there and bawled like a baby. In a good way, of course. As bad as my family was, this was my grandfather at some of his finest moments. But I didn’t want to cause distress to any other toe tappers.

***

So, I learned that a fiddle can still evoke my grandfather even though he’s been gone for almost 25 years. And that I really, deep down in my heart love my other art as much as writing. I have no idea how people manage two muses. Wait! Maybe they don’t have day jobs?

We didn’t see the butter cow. The line was too darned long. We missed the butter Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs too. It is, by the way, the 100th anniversary of the Butter Cow sculpture this year. Oh, and the Butter Cow is also running for President, in case you don’t see anyone you like on the ticket.

Paradise Icon Update

A Quick FYI: We still have spaces for Paradise Icon, if you’re interested. I’ll need your application by October 5th, and I’ll let you know by October 12th. Hope to hear from you!

***

You know, that neo-pro writer convention that is being held in conjunction with Icon on November 2-4?

Well, here are some updates:

I’ve confirmed our three lecturers for Saturday, November 3:

Steven Erikson, author of The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series

Jim Hines, author of the Jig the Goblin Saga, the Princess Series, and most recently Libriomancer, the first of the Ex Libris series. Yup, THAT Jim Hines

Sarah Prineas, author of The Magic Thief series and Winterling

***

Friday, November 2nd, will be a solid day of Milford Workshopping

Saturday, November 3rd, will be a day of lectures, participant readings, and attending panels.

Saturday night there will be a cool reception.

Check out the web details to learn more about cost and our hotel.

Look under Projects/Paradise Icon at the top of the page.

***

Really hoping we can get some of you from the Midwest to come out for this, although we will welcome folks from farther away too. This has the potential to be another cool event in the middle of the country. I’m happy to answer any questions you’ve got.

Quantum Coin by E.C.Myers

Here’s one of those moments where writing online reaps you a little benefit.

You might remember my review of Fair Coin? It’s always nice when someone notices that you wrote a flattering review, and even nicer when someone sends you an advanced reading copy of a book you’re enthusiastic about reading.

So. Just before I went traveling, Pyr was kind enough to send me a copy of E.C. Myer’s sequel to Fair Coin, Quantum Coin. Since I was enthused to get the book, we could call it a squeequel, but yeah, maybe you wouldn’t appreciate that joke.

This time I did read the book in one day, during my airport waiting time and on my flight back from Florida. It was a great way to wrap up a great vacation. Let me be rightly understood. One of the great disappointments of my life is now that I will never be able to read Fair Coin for the first time again. Quantum Coin did not have the same surprise factor that the first book had, only because it couldn’t.

What Myers did again was complexity. This books is for smart kids. If you have geeky teens who are underwowed by the recent rash of prom-dress-covered YA and prefer to read a savvy, well-paced adventure, this is the one. The characters from the first book have grown, but at the same time, it’s very comfortable reading, like re-visiting an old friend and finding that he or she is still the same, even though the trappings have changed.

One aspect of the book that is rewarding is the multi-faceted characters that Myers writes. He does this not only by making his characters layered, but he also does this by using a variety of incarnations of characters. In Quantum Coin, we have three main versions of Zoey/Jena. And even though these characters are essentially the same person, the differences in their environment give the reader a picture of human diversity and play with the question of nature versus nurture. Like I said, a book for smart kids.

So…sounds like this book will be published in October, 2012. I’ll be keeping you posted when you can find it in the wild. If you haven’t gotten out and picked up Fair Coin yet, do it. How can you read this excellent sequel without reading the first book?

Awkward…Some Conversational Tips

Hi guys! I’m off to the State Fair this weekend. Time to make the pilgrimage to see the Butter Cow, which is a requirement to stay in the state of Iowa for more than five years at a pop. Actually, my mother-in-law loves the State Fair, and we’re trying to make her “vacation” with us a little more fun than she had last year. I think this should do it.

***

I haven’t mentioned yet how very impressed I am with ReaderCon’s reversal concerning Rene Walling. That’s democracy in action, right there, folks, not to mention social responsibility.

You know that this sends out some ripple effects. Two of the Names in SF that I Read have commented on how to do better in convention scenarios. Not that I expect creepers are reading, but still, good sound advice.

One of the things that keeps coming up in Scalzi’s response thread is this: how do I know that these people are not being just awkward. Well, probably you can tell. Here’s a pretty intense article discussing this very thing. And I do mean intense, so go with your trigger defense up.

All that said, one of the questions asked is about social awkwardness. I am NOT conflating predatory behavior with social awkwardness, but I do want to talk a little bit about meeting and greeting new people in less awkward ways.

After all, we all do want to get along. So, take this as advice on how to be more desirable in a group of people, and as no commentary on tolerating predatory behavior, which it is most definitely not.

You may wonder what makes a suave, sophisticated woman like myself capable of offering such tips? True confession time. I have been, at one time in my life, as socially awkward as they come. How could you not be with my background? And here are some things that I learned over the course of my life that have saved me from the abyss. This is far from complete, but it might get you started.

Continue reading “Awkward…Some Conversational Tips”

It Floats…

I have my annual physical this afternoon. Yeah, I’m 47. I have a list of things that aren’t quite working right to ask my doctor about. And some zany medical stuff. New studies suggest, for example, I shouldn’t be taking calcium? Should I? And am I wheezy when you listen to my lungs? And why does my right eye dry out like that?

So nothing medically major. Just getting some mileage on the old chassis.

***

Bryon and I have made a major decision. We have decided cars are dead to us. That’s right, American highway system. You are on notice. We intend to go everywhere by boat. Looking into constructing a canal from our house to Kirkwood and Jefferson. Like Venice, only more direct.

You might take it from the above that Bryon and I loved the cruise part of our vacation. I thought that we would be bored. We took books and I took notebooks for plotting. We figured that there would be a lot of downtime.

What changed? If you’ve been on a cruise, you know that there’s great food. There is, and we do like great food, but that wasn’t it. And there were shows to watch. You could catch in room movies for free, see Avengers for the 5th time, and catch musicals each night. There were parties. Kids enjoyed the Pirates! party, which taught them how to act for pirate night. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Donald Duck shaking his booty every time a pirate talks about treasure. Treasure! the pirate would shout. And Donald and all the kids would shimmy.)

All great. Also great? Champagne tasting. Animation class. Meeting the captain for an autograph. Talking about Eastern European politics with a barista. A hot tub with a glass bottom. Goofy stealing your purse. Having your dining room staff follow you from dining room to dining room getting to know you. Towels shaped like monkeys hanging from clothes hangers in your room. The bartender in the District Lounge making Bryon non-alcoholic drinks off the menu. The ship whistle blowing excerpts of Disney songs when it’s time to leave port.

All that was pretty good. Yeah. I’d do that again.

The biggest surprise for us is that we liked being on the boat. I thought it was like flying. At night there would be darkness outside, but occasionally you could see the lights from another floating city. I liked looking at the water, the smell of it. I love sitting in the portal chairs in our cabin watching us move. Bryon saw dolphins. I wasn’t quick enough. One of our favorite morning activities was finding a spot out of the sun where the wind cooled you just enough, sitting in the deck chair, and enjoying being alive.

***

As I fantasize about future boat trips, I discover that traveling by boat isn’t the extravagance everyone supposes. If you add up the cost of a plane ticket, restaurants, outings, hotel, and in country transport, you’d find the cost of almost any trip to be more expensive than taking a boat there. Of course, the question becomes whether you want to spend time on land or at sea. There seems to be a lot to be said for being at sea. You should give it a whirl, if you can.

***

Since there isn’t much water, I’m going to do my best to get a spider web of canals out here. This summer, we need the irrigation anyway.

Coming Soon: The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent

Tiffany Trent has a new book coming out this month (August 14th!), The Unnaturalists, which I consider a steampunk novel that boldly goes where other steampunk novels don’t in terms of asking some of the harder questions concerning the Victorian era. Like most good fantasy, Tiffany addresses the reality of our history square on, even though she does it in a fantasy. This is a great book for young people, and I hope that it gets the attention it deserves. Look for this cover:

Tiffany was kind enough to answer some questions for Writer Tamago.

Tamago: In the Unnaturalists, the main character is a biologist. Can you discuss how much your own background in the sciences affected your portrayal of Vespa?

Tiffany: Vespa and I are dissimilar in most other ways, but this is probably the one subject where we share a common love. From an early age, I’ve been enamored of biology. In college, I would visit my zoology professor and we would talk for hours about everything from anoles to neuron function. Vespa would likely do the same thing; I wish I’d had more time to show that, but alas, the story ran away with us.

Tamago: Darwin is sainted in the Unnaturalists. Can you discuss the ways in which the theories of Charles Darwin affect your plot, both in a good way and a bad way?

Tiffany: I think Darwin’s influence in New London is much as it was with that of the real London and subsequently the world. He taught us about the amazing beauty and diversity of life on this planet and gave us possibilities for how that came to be over millions of years. But his theories unfortunately spurred others like Herbert Spencer to proselytize for social Darwinism, which legitimized racism and imperialism. The same is true in New London with the treatment of both the Unnaturals and the Tinkers. While there is beautiful diversity being studied in the Unnaturals, they are also not considered anything more than specimens. The only problem is that they are the very life force upon which all the world depends.

Tamago: Vespa is taught that daughters should be dutiful, and there is even a religious treatise on that subject, yet Vespa is different and continues to be interested in the natural world. What do you hope that this portrayal of Vespa will communicate to your young women readers?

Tiffany: I remember having that realization that we all usually have in our teens that my parents weren’t necessarily right and certainly not perfect. Despite the fact that I had self-knowledge fairly early and knew what I wanted to be and do, I let them talk me out of it. (Obviously, I came back to it, but I feel I lost years and much experience in the process). In my last series, the main character was afraid to be what she was. In these novels, I want to have a main character who is sure what she wants to do, even if she’s not sure how to accomplish it. I hope this will communicate that sometimes we know what’s right for us very early in life and we must follow that star, even at great cost.

Tamago: Many steampunk adventures inadvertently praise colonialism by the omission of discussing it. In The Unnaturalists you deal with it head on regarding the treatment of the Unnaturals. What do you feel this discussion adds to your story?

Tiffany: I think it’s important not to glorify the Victorians. Fascinating they may be, but they did horrible things, both to the natural world and the people who inhabit it. I feel that must definitely be acknowledged. But they also discovered things that we’re still attempting to untangle. Their great scientists solidified Western science and founded the way we still practice it to this day. They gave us another way of looking at the world, but I think we can never forget the sacrifices of those other nations—both natural and human—that helped make it so.

Tamago: It’s hard to choose, but would you discuss one or two scenes in The Unnaturalists that are your favorites?

Tiffany: The process of writing this book sometimes feels as vast as plate tectonics. There were two scenes that were in the original draft that were at the very beginning and actually fed into each other in reverse order from how they’re presented now. One was the carriage crash and the other was the Imperial Matchmaking scene. The former is now in the middle and the other is almost at the end, much diminished in its importance. No matter how many times I tore the book apart, I could not get rid of those two scenes.

Tamago: Are there plans for a sequel to The Unnaturalists? If so, when will it be available?

Tiffany: Yes. It’s been a bit delayed due to health problems this year, but it should be out in 2014, hopefully spring.

Writer Culture and Mores

Finally, the last of my Taos posts. After almost two months to digest this, and plenty of time staring out at the ocean from a deck chair, I think I have put together some thoughts that are semi-cogent. I know, maybe I should spend more time in a deck chair, but I can’t get work to buy one for me.

So…two weeks with writers in the mountains. Nothing that Nancy or Walter can do will prepare a group of people for each other and how they will co-habitate. Suffice it to say that writer culture still trumps writer frailty.

At the time of the workshop, there was some friction among some writers. Some writers seemed competitive and other writers seemed to dislike each other. One of the writers left before the workshop was over for a variety of reasons. At the time, perhaps, you might not be capable of feeling comfortable, because your own writing is being critiqued, and that’s uncomfortable enough, even when the critiques are glowing.

People who have been to longer workshops can speak to this better. What’s it like out there the 4th week of Clarion? A wee bit tense. And don’t you want to vote people off the island?

***

As I look back at Taos, I still find the signs of writer civilization. While we may have had one or two problem children from time to time, for the most part, writers seemed to learn from the experience, to bond with each other, and to treat each other with courtesy in their communications after the workshop. They genuinely miss each other, and value each others advice.

Still, I find my time in writer culture at large to be very rewarding. Most of the writers I interact with are friendly, helpful and supportive. I find that many writers are quite generous with their time and support. (I believe that this is the reason that our workshops exist–more experienced writers paying it forward.)

Writers do spend some time talking about how you don’t want to be “that guy,” and “that guy” can be many things. It’s just that you notice “that guy” more in a microcosm.

What I’m trying to say is that later, when all the dust has settled, and people have come down the mountain, you find that the writers you bonded with over two weeks are the same courteous type of writers that you involve yourself with. At least in my experience.

I have some notes from Daniel Abraham that really, really apply.

1. Write well–make beautiful things.
2. Meet your deadlines.
3. Be pleasant to work with.
4. Be flexible.
5. Be persistent.

And so it goes as we keep plugging away.