31 December 2014

2014 in review

It's been quite a year, and not even for writing!

In February, I went to Mannheim, Germany, for a little over 2 weeks for a practicum in my German-teaching-certificate program, then I visited a friend in Stuttgart, and we went to see Hertha play VfB (and win).

March saw my first personal rejection for a story. April saw two sick cats, one of whom we lost in August.

In May, I successfully chaired a convention, and we're doing it again in 2015, this time with more staff huzzah.

I spent the last two weeks-ish of June in Berlin, then watched Germany win the World Cup. After that, it was building armor for DragonCon and having a cat die.

I started teaching German at a local language school in mid-September, and I'm cramming to finish the last module I need to get my certificate by Feb 1. (I have until April 1.)

In November I went to World Fantasy Con, met a lot of new people, and saw a bunch of my VP17 classmates. I won NaNoWriMo with a rewrite of my current novel (which I intend to finish a draft I can give to people to read by March 1).

This month involved a lot of baking, planning my next German class (German 2, starting next Tuesday), and visiting my family in Maryland. And crocheting a blanket for my sister's baby, which I finished just in time for her shower.

I didn't read nearly as much fiction as I wanted to, partly because I was either planning a convention, building armor, or reading about the theory of foreign language instruction in German.

For 2015, I want to sell a short story (at least one, preferably more than one; I only have 3 at the moment), get the novel to a state where I can shop it to agents, teach, successfully chair another convention, and run a 5k. I want to make a dent in my to-read backlog (much of which is electronic, thankfully).

I wish you all a happy new year and einen guten Rutsch.

15 December 2014

NaNoWriMo follow-up

Since I blogged that I was going to revise my novel during the November NaNo period, I figure I should say something about how it went.

I got 50,000 words (51,600 or something, actually). I hit the target before Thanksgiving, which was good, because I had company that whole weekend and had minimal time to write. Some may call it cheating a bit, because I was revising; however, I had to rewrite a LOT of scenes, and I threw out a lot of what I had and basically changed the last half of it entirely. So only kind of like cheating.

It was very difficult, and I had to skip a lot of things I usually do (or needed to do, like make lesson plans). I have not yet finished it; I've had a hard time getting momentum to get back into it. I wrote the last scene, yes, but there are a lot of things I need to go back and fill in (interludes of fake documentation, letters, that sort of thing; a lot of description and emotions, especially in the second half/final third), which I will likely do in January, once it's had a little time to sit, and when I've done a bit more research into official documentation.

The next couple weeks I'm devoting to finishing the final module of my teaching-German course, and I'll take the last exam the first two weeks(ish) of January (the school is closed from 12/24-1/6). Assuming I pass, I'll get a nice shiny certificate by spring. Hooray. I also need to make lesson plans and find resource materials for my German 2 class starting in a few weeks. (I need to have enough ready so I don't have to do it while spending 2 hours a day on an exam.)

Once I get back to making a Finished First Draft of the novel, I probably won't dive in as much as I did during NaNo. I would like to get it to a state where I can send it to beta readers by February 15, but that's a target, and we'll see how it goes. I have to give myself a deadline, because otherwise I'll put it off indefinitely.

So that's the state of The Novel (which needs a title, and I am rubbish at titles, so lord knows what it'll ever end up being called). I have a couple short pieces out on submission at the moment, and a piece of experimental flash I want to revise before sending back out. If I make a sale, I promise I'll tell you all here ;)

08 December 2014

"There has to be a word for that in German."

There's a meme that German has a word for everything, and I'm often asked what the German word for some complicated phrase is.

My answer is usually, "There isn't one, but I can make one up for you." (Occasionally there actually is a word for that, like Kummerspeck, weight gained from emotional overeating (literally "grief bacon"), but not most of the time.)

It's very true that German has a lot of long compound words, but the vast majority of them (especially the 5- and 6-word conglomerations) won't be in the dictionary. Yes, Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän is a word, and it has a Wikipedia entry that is largely composed of its usage in machine translation problems and examples of artificial and fictive words composed from it. (I am still of the opinion that it should be Schiffahrt, the Rechtschreibreform be damned. Three f's in a row look ridiculous.)

The German language has a very useful and convenient property that allows for the building of compound (or composite) words, known in German as Komposita. All you need is a stem noun and another noun, an adjective or adverb, or sometimes a verb, which you glom onto the front of the stem noun (sometimes with modifications). Each subsequent addition makes the thing more specific.

Let's use Kapitän as a first example, since we've got the lovely Komposita up there. You have a Kapitän--a captain. You can have a Mannschaftskapitän (a team captain; two nouns) or a Schiffskapitän (a ship captain). Bastian Schweinsteiger is currently the Nationalmannschaftskapitän (national team captain; adjective and two nouns, and the adjective makes the first noun more specific).

Another example: Teller (plate). You can have a Gemüseteller on a menu, and it will be a plate of vegetables. Or you can buy a very nice Porzellanteller, which is a plate made of porcelain. You don't always just smush words together. You wouldn't have a Grünporzellanteller, but you would have a grünen Porzellanteller, if it's green.

It is very convenient to make compound words in German where we would have two words or sometimes a phrase in English. But it's a myth that words for every esoteric concept exist in German. You won't find it in a dictionary, but if you're nice, maybe a German speaker will make one up for you.

13 November 2014

World Fantasy Con 2014 in review

As many conventions begin, mine began with travel. I took Amtrak from Durham to Alexandria, Virginia. For once, my train was only about half an hour delayed. I arrived at the hotel to realize that I should have asked which hotel my roommate for Wednesday, Mur, was staying in.

I suppose I shouldn't go into a minute-by-minute breakdown of the convention, so I'll just say hi to everyone I saw there (my VP classmates Shannon, John, Beth T, Latasha, Mary, and Paul, other VP alums, my roomie JoSelle Vanderhooft, the Helsinki in 2017 bid crew, Carrie, Don) and the people I met (Kat Otis, Laurie Tom, Lawrence Schoen, Ken Kao, Shaun Duke, Chadwick Ginther, Stefon Mears), and the people I spoke briefly to (CC Finlay, the Haldemans, Chuck Gannon, Mike Martinez), and the people I'm forgetting (sorry! There were so many of you!).

Now ends the name-dropping part of this entry.

I had a fun dinner with complete strangers Friday night, after I tweeted asking for dinner partners. So I walked up to 23rd St and had Ethiopian food with Shaun, Chadwick, and Stefon. If the thought of eating with strangers doesn't give you hives, I highly recommend this course of action. There was a chance they'd turn out to be boring or uncool, but I think we got on pretty well.

My panel went pretty well, I think. People said they thought it was good, so I hope they weren't telling me white lies to make me feel better. I went prepared with notes, because I am horrible at extemporaneous speaking, especially at 10 am during a con. (I am a morning person, and I can't sleep past 6:30 or 7, even if I was up until 2 am.)

All the panels I went to were pretty good, though a couple could have used better moderation. All the WW1 panels I went to (all of them except the Great Game, which was really a prelude to it) were fun and informative. Some of them could have had firmer moderation, unfortunately.

There was only one negative panel experience for me, which was Alternate Histories in WW1. One of the panelists didn't seem very well informed on the subject (Germany invaded Serbia! I didn't know that!), said that divergence points were stupid and boring (but isn't that how you get alternate history??), and kept coming back to this one book, The Bloody Red Baron, by Kim Newman. I've spent a lot of time thinking about alternate 19th century history, so I asked a question of the panel that could be summed up thusly: While you were discussing divergence points earlier, you talked mostly about the outcomes of battles or if spies were captured. What would you do to make something earlier that gets into really esoteric neepery interesting? For example, if Friedrich III hadn't died after being on the throne for 3 months, putting a vastly immature Wilhelm II on the throne?

This panelist was the first to speak, and she talked about how divergence points are boring and then something about usurpation. Reader, I may have argued with her. She knew nothing about the Hohenzollern succession! TBQFH I would have been a better panelist on this discussion, and most of my WW1 knowledge is confined to the first months of the war. After she talked around the subject for a bit, I said, "Yes, I know, you don't like divergence points, can we move on?" and another panelist took the question. (I ran into a handful of people who said I raised a good point.) The answer, basically, was to set it X years later, but I kind of wanted to talk about how to figure out the counterfactual history to that point. Maybe some of you who'll be at Readercon will have ideas and we can talk about it there?

I wanted to talk about Leviathan, which is a lot of fun and is definitely alternate WW1 history. But, no, we got all kinds of talk about this book where Dracula survived and married QEII.

Anyway. I had a lot of fun talking to a lot of cool, smart people about writing, WW1, history, books, and all sorts of stuff. I got a "rejected by Clarkesworld" card with an adorable sad robot on it. (I always start with them and Lightspeed, because they send out rejections really quickly.) I don't think I can make it to WFC '15 in Saratoga Springs for financial reasons. (I'm going to Readercon, and I can pretty much only afford to go to one flying-range con per year.) It was definitely a different sort of convention experience than I'm used to, which is good for career-related things, so I'd like to go again sometime. We'll see what 2016 looks like (though I might go to WorldCon in KC.)

03 November 2014

World Fantasy Con

I'm going to my first World Fantasy Con on Wednesday. I'm told this is a very different kind of convention than I'm used to: a lot more professionally oriented, more editors and whatnot around. It's a little intimidating, but I'm looking forward to seeing about a quarter of my VP class there. I miss them.

(All my roommates from THE COMPOUND will be there, me and Tasha and Paul and Shannon, and it will be nostalgic. I learned how to make popcorn on the stove from Paul, and we all sat around our coffee table, one of us in the squeaky armchair, writing and eating popcorn he made and trying not to get too distracted.)

I'm going to be on a panel! Come say hello (or just hear me be a goober, whatever).

Language and Linguistics in Fantasy
Time:  10 a.m. - 11 a.m., Friday, Regency E
Panelists:  Lawrence M. Schoen (M), C. D. Covington, Matthew Johnson, Sofia Samatar
Description:  Foreign languages are often used in fantasy literature to add atmosphere, to show cultural backgrounds, and to bring a richness to the world, as can be seen in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange and Richard Adams' Watership Down.  Some authors rely on real languages, while others, such as Tolkien, have invented entire tongues.  Which stories incorporate other languages successfully, and where have authors stumbled, making much of the work incomprehensible?

I'm also part of a group reading. Come hear me and about a dozen other women read from our fiction.

Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading
Saturday, 2-4 pm, room 1850 (Regency Suite 1).

I will also be helping with an as-yet-undetermined meet-up for the 2017 Helsinki WorldCon bid (likely a bar meet-up). Come find out why you should vote for the Helsinki bid next summer and have a drink (or a soda, if that's your speed).

Hope to see some of you there!

31 October 2014

NaNoWriMo

After a chat on twitter with my VP classmate Shannon Rampe and VP 18 alum Victoria Sandbrook, we all decided to be NaNo Rebels together and revise existing novels in November.

I haven't touched mine since either December (when I wrote an ending of sorts) or March (when I got to the ending in my critique group). I've been focusing on finishing my German teaching certificate this year, and I almost have (one module left!).

I'm re-reading it so I know what actually exists, and then I'll start on the revision and expansion process tomorrow. Its current word count is 51k, and there are a lot of things that need to be fleshed out, like descriptions and emotions and that sort of thing.

We'll see what happens and how far I get in the revision process in one month. If you're participating, feel free to add me as a writing buddy. My profile is here.

15 September 2014

Post-DragonCon update

I had a blast at DragonCon again this year. This time, Ben and I made armor for the first time so we could cosplay as Sasha and Aleksis Kaidanovsky from Pacific Rim. We didn't quite finish everything in time, and we discovered a few things that will need to be adjusted/fixed for future conventions, but for a first armor done in about a month (less, actually), I think we did pretty well.


Us and Comrade Jellyfish (Comrade Squid was unavailable)

Sadly, shortly before DragonCon, one of our cats died. She had (probably) a rare and untreatable cancer, so we had to let her go. Mylene was a sweet, friendly orange bundle of love, and the 11 years we had her weren't enough.


Mylene, 2003-August 2014

Right before DragonCon, I interviewed for an opening to teach German at a local language school, and I have my first class this afternoon. It's a private lesson. I have a regular class starting in early October. And suddenly I have to prep a lot of lessons...

The next convention I'm going to will be World Fantasy Con, where I'll see some of my VP17 peeps and maybe some instructors, as well as friends Carrie, Don, and JoSelle. And probably a lot of other people. Maybe some of you!

Next year's convention schedule will be IllogiCon (January), Shatterdome ATL (June), ReaderCon (July, hopefully), and DragonCon (Labor Day).

11 August 2014

We have got to stop meeting like this.

I'm back with another "sorry it's been so long" post. I don't really have a good excuse.

I read more of the Hugo nominees, but it's been long enough since I read them that I don't feel like I can give them a fair review/summary, and voting is closed anyway.

I'm working on an exam in my teaching-German distance learning course, which is due Tuesday (actually 6 pm tonight thanks to the time difference). It's basically taken up all my time in the last 2 weeks that hasn't been taken up by Shatterdome ATL-related stuff. Though I've spent the weekends working on costumes for Dragon Con, which is in less than 3 weeks oh god, and we don't even have half the things we need.

I haven't done much in the way of writing in a while. I'm focusing on this course I'm taking that I need to finish by April 1. I only have 2 modules left after this one, and each one takes about 6 weeks if I focus on that. I'm taking off between the time I turn this exam in and Dragon Con. Even so, hopefully I'll be done by the new year, and I'll have a shiny certificate in teaching German ... that pretty much no one in the US gives a damn about. Oh well.

After that, I can get back to focusing on writing. And finding a job, I guess.

11 June 2014

2014 Hugos: novelettes

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling by Ted Chiang: This story had the potential to be a cliche, but Chiang's skill avoided that. The narrator describes his somewhat estranged relationship with his daughter and relates it to a technology that allows you to record and remember everything that you've ever done. He weaves it together with a story of a young African man who learns to read and write from a Christian missionary, who discovers that the truth he learned about his tribal ancestry isn't the facts. It's an excellent look at both the advent of technology & its effect on memory and at relationships.

OVA by VD. I'm not going to type out the full name of this, because I don't want his fanclub to descend on my blog. To be quite frank, this story does not deserve to be on the Hugo ballot. The writing is like a twelve-year-old who really loves Terry Brooks or Terry Goodkind and wants to write a story just like theirs. It's painful to read, and exceptionally dull to boot.

The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard: Another entry in her Dai Viet universe (aka the Xuya universe), this one is about the ship Minds and the Outsiders who separate the Minds from the ships, only that isn't quite obvious from the beginning. It's also about colonization, as many of the Xuya stories seem to be; this one is about the loss of culture and self and memory.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal: Elma is an aging former astronaut, resident on Mars, whose husband has a fatal disease and who gets a last chance to go into space on a mission that a young astronaut couldn't do. It's a story about love and aging and caring for a dying loved one.

"The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen: Every time I read one of his stories, I think, "Well, maybe this one will do something for me." This isn't it. this story is about people who Operate remote-controlled spacecraft from a space station, which is then attacked by Chinese space soldiers. It is competently written, extremely dull, and jingoistic as fuck.

09 June 2014

Shatterdome Atlanta recap

It's been a week since the first con I chaired ended, and I'm mostly recovered.

It went very well. The core con com was experienced and worked well together. I bought some cute art prints from the artists in artist alley. When it was all over, I drank a lot of Scotch and also Bärenjäger. And a little bourbon.

The highlight of the con was entirely unexpected. At one point, an attendee noticed that one of the stars of Pacific Rim tweeted that he was in Atlanta. So an "everybody tweet at Rob and let him know about the con" campaign was launched. I didn't think much more about it, because as if he'd show up, right?

me, Rob Kazinsky, Ben
This is me, Rob Kazinsky, and Ben.

He showed up. He was very nice (the complete opposite of his character!), and he was a guest judge for the costume contest (which was about to start when he arrived). On behalf of LOCCENT Atlanta, thank you so much, Rob!

I want to say how nice the attendees were. It was a very supportive, friendly environment, and so many recaps on tumblr were full of appreciation for the atmosphere. We wanted to make it a safe space for everyone, and it seems to have worked. The harassment policy wasn't violated, and I haven't heard of any ickiness. This was the best part of fandom--and it was diverse. This is the future of fandom.

In a month or so, LOCCENT Atlanta will reconvene and discuss whether we want to do this again. After half of the con com gets back from their respective international trips.

02 June 2014

2014 Hugos: Ancillary Justice (novel)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This book got a lot of buzz when it came out. I borrowed a friend's copy recently so I could read it for the Hugos (since Orbit has decided not to put the whole book in the packet, just an excerpt).

In the far-distant future, humanity has spread throughout the galaxy. The Radchaai Empire has expanded for millennia, but the Lord of the Radch has decreed that a particular annexation will be the last.

The narrator, Breq, was present at the final annexation as the starship Justice of Toren and its ancillaries (AIs in human bodies that act as soldiers). She is separated from her ship, and when she stumbles across an old captain of hers, lying face-down in the snow, she cleans her up and drags her along on her quest.

The Radchaai language doesn't have a gendered third person pronoun, so the narrator uses she as the generic term. (Which leads to sentences like "she was probably male.") It's an interesting linguistic trick, which mostly works. Breq has trouble using the right pronouns for people when speaking languages other than Radchaai, which is too Sapir-Whorfian for me to believe. But it's an interesting conceit.

There is a lot of politics going on, which Breq is wrapped up in, of course, and it's different from your standard-issue space opera. (I like standard-issue space opera, but change is always good.) Class issues are discussed front and center several times.

It took a while for me to get into it (Leckie dumps terminology on you and expects you to run with it, which I generally find frustrating), but once it was explained how the narrator could be in multiple places at once and what Esk and Amaat and all that meant, I found it a much easier read. Then I read the hell out of it.

If you like space opera, you should definitely read this book.

26 May 2014

2014 Hugos: short stories

It's that time of year again. I'm working through the fiction, though afaik the packet isn't available yet, so I can only read what's freely available online (or from friends/the library) or already in my collection.

The list of nominees is here, with links to some of the pieces.

Now, my thoughts on the short fiction (in the order they appear in the list above).

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky: This is well written, and the ending, where you find that "you" were hospitalized, probably permanently, following a gay-bashing, does pack a punch, but when I read it, after half my twitter timeline gushed about how amazing it was, I wasn't moved. It felt overly preachy. It resonated for a lot of people, though.

"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt: I couldn't get into this story at all. The narrative voice never clicked for me.

"Selkie Stories are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar: Like "Dinosaur," this story made the rounds of my twitter timeline when it went live. I thought it was ok, a clever take on an old story, but that was about it. (I also saw the ending coming.)

"The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere" by John Chu: A young Chinese-American gay man wants to introduce his partner to his family. His sister is vehemently against it. Also, when you tell a lie, water falls on you. This manages not to be the same old story we've read a hundred (thousand) times. It is very well written and it works.

09 May 2014

Busy, busy, busy.

Shatterdome Atlanta is in 22 days, and I'm spending several hours every day working on that.

I'm finishing up a short story for submission to an anthology.

I'm taking the 5th exam in my distance learning German-teaching course starting Sunday (15 days).

A friend is visiting from California the 20th-23rd.

I'm going to Berlin in about 6 weeks, and I need to plan for that.

Back when I can breathe again.

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)
@IAmBethMatthews

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.

20 January 2014

Book review: Wastelands

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams

This anthology came out in 2008, so it isn't new. I can't remember how I got my copy (an e-book), but it was sitting there on my e-reader when I wanted to read something I could pick up in bits and pieces here and there. Almost every piece is a reprint, ranging from George RR Martin's 1973 "Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels" to a 2007 piece from John Langan. The sole new piece is Jerry Oltion's "Judgment Passed."

It opens with a Stephen King piece, "The End of the Whole Mess," which I liked. It's about a pair of brothers, one of whom is an evil genius who invents a serum that changes people. The Orson Scott Card piece that followed less so. I could have lived without reading Bacigalupi's "People of Sand and Slag," with the whole dog-killing thing.

M. Rickert's "Bread and Bombs" is fucking terrifying and brilliant, a look at a society so overwhelmed with hate that the children do something unthinkable.

"How We Got in Town and Out Again" by Jonathan Lethem had an interesting premise, but it didn't really do anything for me. A sleazy troupe brings a rigged endurance contest (for essentially VR video) to town, and a couple teenagers use it to sneak into a town.

Martin's piece is about a post-nuclear survivor, many generations hence, exploring the tunnels he lives in with his psychic rat companion. His people are growing ill and dying out. Explorers/archeologists from the moon come back to Earth to look for anything that can help prevent them from dying out. (Small populations, bottleneck.)

In "Waiting for the Zephyr" by Tobias Buckell, Mara lives in a future Kansas(?), where everything is barren and desolate, and people live in shelters and have ample wind energy. She wants to escape her current situation and board the Zephyr, a landship, when it comes. Her family is opposed.

"Never Despair" by Jack McDevitt is about a woman who's searching for the Roadmakers, and she ends up in a derelict history museum, conversing with an AI named Winston. I love stories about futures where modern technology is a lost ancient secret, and that's what this is.

Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" is exactly the kind of story I dislike. I know enough about Unix and sysadmins to have gotten some of the jokes, but a story built around in-jokes ... meh.

"The Last of the O-Forms" by James Van Pelt is about the world after a series of mutation plagues hit. Creepy and satisfying. I don't remember much about "Still Life With Apocalypse" by Richard Kadrey.

"Artie's Angels" by Catherine Wells is about survival in a slum and cooperation, and whether the person or the idea of the person is more important.

"Judgment Passed" by Jerry Oltion asks the question "What if there were a Rapture and we missed it?" A small band of people were on a spaceship when the Rapture happened, and they all deal with it a little differently.

Gene Wolfe's "Mute" is about two kids who find all the TVs on mute, and everyone watching them dead. Creepy.

"Inertia" by Nancy Kress is one of the pieces I read elsewhere, but I can't remember where. It's a tale of people with a disfiguring but not deadly transmissible disease, who are forced into leper colonies and live on discarded and donated goods. They have no contact with the greater world or its politics. A doctor wants to sneak an infected girl with minimally visible disfigurement out of the camp to spread the placidity that's a side effect of the disease to the general public.

"And the Deep Blue Sea" by Elizabeth Bear is about a motorcycle courier in the nuclear remains of Nevada, who made a little deal with the devil, on what may be her final courier run.

Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds" I've also read elsewhere. It's about some sort of agent that takes away people's ability to create and understand speech, and society's reaction to it. Excellent.

Carol Emswhiller's "Killers," like Rickert's piece, is about a society so steeped in hatred of the Other that people do unthinkable things. The intro to the piece says it "grew out of [her] objections to the war in Iraq," and that's very clear.

"Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" by Neal Barrett, Jr, was interesting but ultimately didn't work for me. Del and Ginny run a traveling show where Ginny advertises a variety of sexual personas, which are actually VR experiences. There are sapient animals (I think? I didn't quite get that part), and the peak conflict of the piece revolves around Ginny's Possum and the Dog of a mechanic they hired to tune up the van.

"The End of the World as We Know It" by Dale Bailey is about the sole survivor of the apocalypse, a middle-aged UPS driver, coming to grips with the end of everything. It's as much a meta-commentary on post-apocalyptic fiction as it is a story, which I thought was interesting.

"A Song Before Sunset" by David Grigg is about an older man who wants to play the piano one more time in a run-down world where culture is forgotten and Vandalmen smash things for fun.

"Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of Purple Flowers" by John Langan is about what it says in the title. It was influenced by Bailey's piece above. Jackie and Wayne are on the run from a pack of wild dogs, which suddenly appeared one day. Wayne has a Plan to get rid of the pack, but Jackie notices something terrifying about him while he's enacting it.

There are a lot of stories in this anthology, and only a few of them were misses for me. To me, that's a success.

06 January 2014

Book review: The Future is Japanese

The Future is Japanese, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington

I bought this anthology after Ken Liu's piece "Mono no Aware" was nominated for the Hugo. I put off reading it until recently.

Individual stories within an anthology are often hit or miss. That's the nature of an anthology. For me, more stories in this one were misses than hits.

I was especially disappointed with the translated pieces, because they tended more toward the style of writing that bores me to tears: some stuff's happening, it isn't very well explained but it's kind of interesting, then either the narrator or a character stops to exposit on a particular aspect of math or physics. At which point my interest is completely lost.

I thought Project Itoh's "The Indifference Engine" was interesting, premised around a piece of machinery that takes away the ability to distinguish between tribes (in a war-torn fictional African country). The premise isn't new, but this was a take I hadn't seen before.

Ekaterina Sedia's "Whale Meat" was haunting, about the disputed islands between Japan and Russia, and what was probably the last whale.

On the whole, though, the anthology didn't capture my interest. Several authors whose other work I've liked had pieces in here that didn't do much for me.

01 January 2014

Happy new year!

2013 was the year I realized I'd probably never get a job in pharmacy again, since I've been out of practice for a long time. But I was okay with that, because I also realized that I'd followed a mercenary tendency when I went into the field, rather than doing the thing I loved, which is German.

So I signed up for a distance learning course in teaching German as a foreign language.

I worked my last ConTemporal, but I apparently wasn't smart enough to swear off con-running forever, because I'm now co-chairing Shatterdome Atlanta, which is happening May 31.

I went to Viable Paradise, where I met a lot of awesome writers, whom I miss a lot. It's a difficult experience to talk about, because if I say "it was this awesome transformative experience" that isn't very satisfactory.

Writing: I revised my VP application piece and submitted it to a magazine. I submitted my Thursday story twice. I submitted another short story, which I may work on some more after I finish the short I'm working on (started Monday, so it counts for 2013).

I finished a very rough draft of a novel expanding the events of "Something There Is." It's more like a really detailed outline, and it's about 51000 words. By the end of revisions, I'd like it to be around 75000. At least.

For 2014, I intend to finish, revise, and submit the piece I'm working on currently; take the rough draft of the novel to a point where I won't be embarrassed to show it to people outside my writing group; and resubmit pieces that were rejected. That's what you do.

I have a fair amount of travel coming up this year, which will affect my writing time. In February, I'm going to Mannheim, Germany, for about 2 weeks to do a hospitation practicum (where I observe teachers teaching and get acquainted with course materials; I really hope it's not 100% me sitting around; I guarantee I'll fall asleep). When that's over, I'm going to visit a friend in Stuttgart and see Hertha BSC play VfB Stuttgart. It won't be quite the same experience as seeing Hertha play at home in the Olympic Stadium, but it should still be awesome. And I'll have a day to see Stuttgart, where I've never been before.

I'll be going to Atlanta for Shatterdome the last weekend in May.

Mid-June, I'll be in Berlin for a family vacation with the in-laws. We've been planning this for a while, and it's finally happening.

I might go to ConGregate in Winston-Salem for the day, and I'm already planning to go to IllogiCon for the day (oh hey that's next weekend...) so I can get Mary Robinette Kowal to sign my copy of Without a Summer.

I'll be in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend along with 60,000 other nerds.

Then there's the obligatory winter holiday travel, which is always interesting.

So, that's my year in review and year in planning. May 2014 be kind to everyone.