11 April 2014

*dusts off blog*

It's been a while, hasn't it? I've been busy, and I've barely had time to read anything, either.

I finished the 4th (of 8) module in this German-teaching course and took the exam. Passed, somehow. I was really unconfident about it. So now I get to start module 5, which I intend to have finished (including the exam) before I go to Berlin in June, which gives me just under 2 months. If I buckle down, that should be more than doable. If I spend 2 months on each, I'll be done by the new year. (It's slow going because the course materials are all in German.)

I'm writing a short story, and I have 3 out on submission right now. If any of them get takers, I'll let you all know as soon as I'm allowed to.

We've had too much excitement with the cats recently. We had to take Mylene to the vet school for hospitalization. She doesn't have cancer, but she does have IBS, so we have to find food that she'll eat that is a novel protein. She decides every few days that she doesn't want the food she was eating perfectly fine until then, which is rather frustrating.

I've started jogging recently, since my elliptical broke in a way I'm not sure I can fix. (The axle on the flywheel needs to be greased, and I'm not sure we can access it.) It's mostly walking quickly alternating with jogging as far as I can, which isn't very far at the moment, but I'm getting better.

I kind of burned out on the anime you should watch thing, but I might get back to it. I still have a dozen titles written on a scrap of paper, plus the most recent couple seasons to talk about. But, you know, other things are higher priority right now, like finishing the German-teaching course before March.

Right. So. Time to go jogging, then work some more on this short story, and in the afternoon start in on Erweiterungsbaustein 5: Prinzipien des Fremdsprachenerwerbs.

19 March 2014

Guest blog: Beth Matthews (E.D. Walker)

Hello. I'm a buddy of Conni's from the Viable Paradise workshop, and she was kind enough to invite me to her blog today to talk about my medieval fantasy romance THE BEAUTY'S BEAST, which was just re-released this week.

My novel is a retelling of "Bisclavret," the medieval poem/fairy tale about a cursed werewolf knight written by Marie de France. I was captivated the first time I read her story and immediately decided to write my own version of it, mixing in a little bit of Beauty and the Beast too because I just can't resist a fun fairy tale retelling.

I thought a good way to help introduce y'all to my book would be to tell you about some of the books I've read that helped inspire me. :)

Spindle's End and Beauty by Robin McKinley
I didn't discover Robin McKinley until my late teens, but once I did I went on a tear and read at least half her backlist in one go. I've always been a fan of fairy tale retellings (which is part of why I wrote one…), but these two books made a big impression on me. I loved the wry humor in her characters and their brusque practicality. Another one of my favorite elements was the slow build of the romances in Spindle's End; there's a proposal scene in this novel that has to be one of the most romantic things I have ever read. I also loved, loved McKinley's world-building and all its intricate, well-thought out detail.

The Brother Cadfael Series by Ellis Peters
Growing up I was always asking my mom for stuff to read, and I remember when she handed me my first Brother Cadfael mystery I was totally sucked into the world, and I binge-read the entire 20+ books in the series. Brother Cadfael is a cozy mystery series set in a Benedictine abbey during the English civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maude. The historical period is a little earlier than the one I'm writing in, and some of the research by Ellis Peters is out of date now, but I still remember how wonderful I thought Cadfael's world was, the history, the community. And Cadfael himself, of course. He's a wonderful hero and one of the characters in my book (the wry and worldly court magician Llewellyn) is a sort of homage to Cadfael. This charming series was a huge influence on me and a big part of the reason I wanted to write my own medieval-set story. (Of course mine has werewolves…)

The Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey
(Especially The Serpent's Shadow and The Gates of Sleep)
This was my favorite fantasy series for a little while and the first two books were a big influence on how I wanted to write my own historical fantasies. I loved how Lackey would twist existing history to fit her fantastical elements in. I also appreciated how she incorporated various magical creatures like sylphs, fairies, and even Puck himself into her stories. But, of course, my favorite aspect was how she twisted the basic elements of each fairy tale. She changed things in new and interesting ways so that the bones of the original story were still there, and yet by the end the reader had something totally new and wonderful to enjoy.

If you like fairy tale retellings and historical fantasy THE BEAUTY'S BEAST is currently available for the Kindle and in paperback. Click here:

Thanks again for having me, Conni.

Happy reading, everybody! :D

E.D. Walker
(a.k.a. Beth Matthews)

10 March 2014

Book review: The Shambling Guide to New York City

The Shambling Guide to New York City, by Mur Lafferty

(disclaimer: Mur is a local writer, and I am acquainted with her. I purchased this book on my own.)

Zoe Norris, a travel writer, moves back to New York City after she loses her job at a publishing company in Raleigh...when her boss's wife finds out they're lovers. (To be fair to Zoe, the boss never told her he was married and didn't wear a ring. So it's the guy who's a jerk.) She sees a flier hanging on a corkboard in a weird bookshop, advertising for a travel guide editor position at Underground Publishing.

The owner tries, unsuccessfully, to convince her that she's not a fit for the position. Zoe presses him, and he gives her the job and an out: if she meets her coworkers and finds out she really can't fit in, she can leave.

The owner is a vampire, and her coworkers are zombies, a water sprite, a death goddess, a kitsune, and an incubus. Zoe takes it all in stride (relatively speaking) and starts planning the book.

Except someone has it in for her, and she ends up tangled in a messy plot with the coterie (the polite term for monsters) and the humans who keep them in check, and one person who just wants to watch the world burn.

This was a fast, fun read, and I didn't want to put it down. I was annoyed that I had to stop to eat or sleep.

After each chapter, there is an excerpt from the Shambling Guide, some of which reference people or places in the preceding chapter, others of which give tantalizing hints at what is to come.

Zoe's voice is slightly sarcastic, dryly witty, and the book as a whole is reminiscent of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide. Someone else, and I forget where I saw it, quipped that it's the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Coterie of New York. It absolutely is, and I wish I could take credit for that comment.

If you liked H2G2, and you want a fresh twist on monster stories, you should definitely check out this book. The sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans, came out March 4.

03 March 2014

Book review: Obsidian and Blood

Obsidian and Blood, by Aliette deBodard

As promised, I am back from Germany and posting a review of this trilogy.

This omnibus collects the three Acatl novels and three short stories.

In the first novel, Servant of the Underworld, Acatl, High Priest for the Dead in Tenochtitlan, is called to investigate a murder. When his brother is framed for said murder, he insists on clearing his name.

In Harbinger of the Storm, the Revered Speaker has died, and during the Council's deliberations about his successor, someone is killing off Council members. Acatl throws himself headlong into the trouble.

The final novel, Master of the House of Darts, takes place following the new Revered Speaker's coronation war. A mysterious illness felled one of the captured sacrifices, and Acatl must figure out how the curse is transmitted--and who cast it.

These are, in a way, cosy mysteries set in the Mexica empire, which most people who went to school in the US know as the Aztecs. The most notable difference between these and a cosy is that there is actual magic, and the gods are real.

Gods do intervene, rather often. As High Priest for the Dead, Acatl can call on Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, Lord and Lady Death, as well as the Wind of Knives, a sort of justice bringer for the underworld. He can also talk to the other gods and goddesses.

Readers who are sensitive to animal death may be put off; there are frequent animal sacrifices to gain access to the gods. (The human sacrifices occur off screen, though Acatl often cuts himself to get blood for his spells.)

I had trouble keeping up with what was happening on occasion, possibly because I'm not used to reading mysteries and keeping track of clues and/or who did what; also, I frequently had long breaks between reading sessions and forgot what had happened.

I got this as an epub from Angry Robot during a sale around Christmas. There are a few formatting issues with it, like words merged together or weirdly spaced, but that is neither here nor there as far as the writing is concerned.

Overall, these books are worth reading. The characters are compelling, and the world is well drawn, based on historical research. If you like mysteries and magic, and can stomach a lot of blood-spilling and sacrifices, you may enjoy these.

07 February 2014

I'm in Germany.

It was an adventure getting here, after my flight through JFK was cancelled, and the one I was rebooked to was cancelled, and I missed the connection I was supposed to make in Atlanta instead, so I ended up going RDU-ATL-Amsterdam-Frankfurt.

But I've arrived in Mannheim and am settling in. My flatmates are nice. Mannheim is cute. I've got my schedule for the practicum, and I start Monday.

I bought a really cute shopping bag that folds into itself (so I can take it home easily). I always forget that I need to bring a shopping bag to Germany. I refrained from buying the adorable paper clips shaped like owls, however. I may give in eventually, though; they were super adorable.

Tomorrow I plan to watch a football match in a pub. My Scottish flatmate recommended an Irish pub up the road.

I'm reading Aliette de Bodard's Acatl novels while I travel. I should finish them on the way home for sure. I'm partway through the third one. They're quite good, and I plan to review them when I finish.

29 January 2014

Carolina Snow Day

We got some snow last night. It's really pretty. Everything's closed, of course.

snow on the front lawn and road
On the way to bed last night

snow on the front lawn and road in the morning
This morning. You might be able to see the deer tracks in the driveway.

snow on the deck and back yard
Sunny out back.

Snow on the deck and back yard

27 January 2014

Applications are open for Viable Paradise 18

I had a wonderful time at Viable Paradise 17. I met a lot of new friends and made some new critique partners. I learned a lot about the craft of writing and got insights on how to be a more deliberate writer (I tend to get an idea and start writing to see what happens, which is OK for a short piece but has led to disaster in novels for me).

You should apply if:

  • You are a writer.
  • You've been hovering around the same level of writing for a while and you want to improve your craft.
  • You want to meet people who can become critique partners.
  • You want to learn from established pros in the SF/F genre.
  • The idea of six weeks at Clarion sounds terrifying.
  • You want to eat the best collard greens ever.
A week at VP

The writing part
  • Three days of group critiques (2 hours in the morning). You receive your peers' application pieces, read them, and discuss them in a group (two per day, except the day you receive your critique). Each session is moderated by two instructors.
  • Two one-on-one critiques from the instructors (45 minutes in the afternoon, two days)
  • Lectures and colloquia on topics like plot structure, how not to piss off your readers, and exposition (3-5 hours per day)
  • Wednesday afternoon is free of lecture, but you will have other things to do
The rest of it
  • Morning walks with Uncle Jim (100% optional)
  • Evening walks to see bioluminescent jellyfish
  • Beer with Billy, wherein you drink beer (or cider) (or soda/water) and read Shakespeare (and laugh at all the dick jokes)
  • Spending time with your classmates and the instructors, which may or may not involve alcohol. (Tip: try Teresa's scurvy cure.)
  • Delicious food made by Mac and her capable staff. If you have dietary restrictions (I'm vegetarian, and about half my class eats gluten free), they can be accommodated.
  • Amazing, wonderful, helpful staff composed largely of VP alums.
  • Staying up way too late but not really caring. Everyone else loaded up on coffee or tea, but I can't have caffeine, so I just was really tired.
  • Bonding with your classmates: your writing peers and the people you'll be proud (and maybe a little jealous) of when they publish work or get nominated for awards
  • Beautiful Martha's Vineyard in October. I wasn't quite a popsicle at any point, but it was pretty windy.
Instructions for applying are here, along with lots of information on the workshop and instructors (present and past).

Everyone says that Viable Paradise changed their lives, and it sounds like a cliche. But it's true. It's a transformative experience (usually in the positive sense).

Feel free to ask me any questions you have in comments.