Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday


Max is skeptical of my experiments with water-soluble crayons over Pentel Pocket Brush pen in my sketchbook. But sometimes you just gotta scribble.

Maybe this will have to become a thing. Sometimes I’m so project-driven (today it’s a cosplay thing, and then working on the sequel to Albatross) that I don’t give myself time to sit down and just lose myself in a good book. Committing to posting something I’m reading on a Tuesday could be just the nudge I need to make sure I’m not neglecting this bit of self-care. Committing to a related sketch makes sure I’m playing in my sketchbook, too.

I attended a seminar last night on publishing for LGBTQ+ and allies. It was informative and I met some cool writers and their friends. It’s revitalizing to have “authorial energy” being shared in person. Online connections are important and so special, but I really miss that in-person connection. Note to self: look for a writing group locally. It was also a refreshing break from some of the bigotry and hate I’ve been seeing online: folks working together, sharing their craft, without judging. Diversity and inclusiveness in action.

Today’s reading: I recently finished cult favorite Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Not your typical fantasy novel … definitely more swords than sorcery. Flavors of Dumas for a modern sensibility. Kushner joined with partner Delia Sherman to return to the world of Riverside with  The Fall of the Kings . I’m not too far into the novel, but it seems there is at least a discussion of magic. Most of the characters don’t believe it’s real (yet), but I-the-reader withold judgement. As with the earlier novels in the series, there’s elevated language, a complex plot that one suspects is about to become more complicated, and intriguing characters in a well-painted habitat. I will probably stay up long after my tea is gone tonight, caught in this world, happy for the chance to revisit some of the characters I so enjoyed in the previous books. And Kushner’s matter-of-fact inclusiveness is a pure delight in the previous books, so I’m hoping to find more of that in this collaborative work.

Need more Riverside? Kushner is spearheading a new set of serial stories also set in Riverside’s world, a prequel to Swordspoint. Does the name “Tremontaine” mean anything to you? If not, go read Swordspoint. Otherwise, you can find out more at Ellen Kushner’s website.

I hope your Tuesday finds you with a warm mug and a good book.

Of Cats and Colored Pencils

Eunit Cat

I don’t like to talk much about having systemic lupus. Illness is tedious enough living through; talking about it is boring. And if I’m well enough to write, I’d much prefer writing about something else! I’ve got some friends, though, new to dealing with serious health issues. I’ve got a couple of decades experience here, though, so when they ask me for coping mechanisms, I may have something useful to share.

Sometimes my chronic illness keeps me from writing. Or reading. Or, you know, walking. Or moving much at all. Cats and colored pencils are handy for those times when I’m achy and my brain doesn’t want to hold words. Unlike paint, they don’t wreak havoc if you lose energy unexpectedly. A colored pencil might drop and break, but it’s rare for them to damage your surroundings. A cat is likely to curl up companionably and take a nap, a furry heating pad that fends off feelings of isolation.

And for someone with memory issues, unlike writing a novel, stopping in the middle of a colored pencil piece won’t leave you scrambling to remember where you were going with it. In times when I’m physically fragile, I tend to be emotionally fragile, too. Carefully setting myself up to succeed is important. For some reason, my self-esteem is more likely to be tangled up with my writing outcome than my visual art outcome; your own sensitive areas may be different. I suspect that may be part of the reason for the surge in popularity of coloring books for adults: a creative outlet in which the ego is not so involved.

A cat and colored pencils, some kibble and a pencil sharpener handy, and those long challenging hours may turn into quiet creative time. Having a buddy and a simple occupation to engage the hand and mind can go a long way to staving off the mental funk that a chronic illness can carry with it.

And sometimes, you even end up with something you like. I don’t know that I’d have had the patience and commitment of time to make things like the above piece if I weren’t forced to stillness. Years after her passing, this colored pencil portrait of our cat summons warm memories of her, and our hours together with couch, pencil, blanket, pillow, peace.


Tuesday: Tea and a Tale


Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!

Pulse Orlando


Years ago, friends and I would go dancing in Orlando’s gay clubs. A joyous man would weave through the swaying crowd, blessing us with sunflowers. Magic.


How beautiful those nights were, caught up in the lights and the music and the laughter, the friendship and the dancing. I remembered those bright Orlando evenings, even as the news filtered through of an act of hate against people who were celebrating life. The attack on the community at Pulse was a very public action, and I would like to say it was surprising. Sadly, it was not. This past year has seen a host of legislation initiated which discriminates and sets a percentage of our population aside as “other.” The attack at an Orlando club was very public and visible. Some of the many other attacks have been less public, less easily seen … and while they are less overtly bloody, they are still harmful to the core concepts of our civilization.

How does one counter such hate, the visible and the insidious? As individuals, our acts of support may seem small, but cumulatively, they are powerful. It’s time us to be more public in our statements of affirmation and love. R. A. MacAvoy, Bertie to her friends, agrees with me. So in addition to the celebration of difference that we try to live daily, and include in our writing, we have decided to make a public commitment. We, all of us standing on the side of love, need to be visible in our support, so hate will know it has no place among us.

Bertie and I are pledging the entirety of our author royalties from our e-book, Albatross, for the next 30 days, to the Orlando organizations providing support to the Pulse victims, survivors, and their families. Additionally, Bertie is donating a portion of her proceeds from sales of her previously published works.

We can’t say that the dollar amount of a donation will make a difference. But this attack has wounded us all. We want those most injured, and the larger world, to know that we believe that the power of love is stronger than the power of hate. We believe in the lights, and the music, and the dancing, and the joy, and a world where differences can be embraced. #StandWithOrlando


Podcasting Fun!


Essential podcasting equipment: big microphone, big tea mug.

Had fun this evening chatting with R.A. (Bertie) MacAvoy and the dapper Doc Coleman for the Balticon podcast. Of course, AS SOON as you’re off the phone, you think of all the interesting places to take the conversation. Still, I had a good time. (Remind me to take Doc and his wife out for a refreshing beverage next time I’m in Baltimore.)

Here’s hoping I didn’t hog the mic! Before meeting me in person, Bertie was afraid that, being a verbally expressive individual, she’d never give me an opportunity to get a word in edgewise. She learned pretty quickly that this wasn’t to be the case.

At least it wasn’t a video interview, so everyone’s spared my expressive gestures.

I think there was a very minimal amount of people talking over each other; impressive considering that we had an audio meeting of three people who, essentially, tell stories for a living.

Doc was very kind and entertaining. Should take a couple of weeks before the ‘cast is edited and available for download. I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, give some of the back episodes a listen!


The Book You’re Writing


Mixed media exploration in an old sketchbook.

I recently read a fantastic novel that Bertie recommended. It’s Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes. I don’t often review books, and I especially don’t usually rate books with stars or numbers or other things that can  be calculated coldly, but I wanted to make sure that my friends didn’t miss this one. Bertie and I have each written reviews over on Goodreads, and you can see them there. A review isn’t the point of this post.

What I came here to say is that many of us creative folks are strangely vulnerable to beauty and craftsmanship. When a work really strikes us, it can really strike us: a blow to the creative spirit. There’s a potential danger then of invidious comparisons to our own strivings. I found myself prey to this a couple of times during this reading: this thought, this emotion, so perfectly conveyed! And then the sneaking corollary: what could I ever say to equal that? I’ve never been a jealous writer. I have, however, been a despairing writer. And it’s important to train yourself to let that feeling go.

I’m just putting this out here so that if you’re that vulnerable creative, and you’ve been struck painfully by some drawing or painting or story or elegant mathematical explanation: know that you’re not alone in that momentary experience of pure inadequacy. And that while this piece of creation you’re observing is wonderful, true, please note that it is not only okay but essential that what you are creating is not the same. You are not Leah Bobet (unless you are Leah Bobet stopping by, in which case HI!), nor are you Michelangelo (unless you are, in which case WEIRD and please drop me an e-mail).

Similarly, the person who will be the observer of your work is not you. And you never know when the creation you release into the world will be just what resonates to that other person.

Somebody may be waiting for what you have to say.