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.

GBR #17: Peter S. Beagle

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was born a storyteller. As he grew, he told stories, and some of them were made into books. Grown, he told stories, and some of them were acted out by other people, or put into magazines, or had pictures drawn of and through them. Growing older, he told stories, and some of them were put into new books, or were told to people, and some of them went dancing through the air and came slipping along through the wires and curled into the screen in front of me.

Along the way, he wrote some lovely things, and some true things, and some things that were both. (And some of those were about cats.)

Not everyone appreciates the work of Peter S. Beagle, but many many of us do. It’s a quiet tribe. I had wondered if perhaps the love of this sort of lyric wordsmithing was leaving our culture. Then, backstage at a theater, I saw a young man I’d met but didn’t really know. He was reading. He was stealing moments from the production, and himself from the attention of his peers, to lose himself in the pages of The Last Unicorn.  I smiled. I left him to it, to the play of words and images, to learn something about himself and the world. It’s good to find your old friends loved by new readers.

Peter S. Beagle: voted Most Likely to Have Nancy Lose It and Start Crying at Balticon. (Last time such a thing happened, it was Caroll Spinney. So fine company.)

The Last Unicorn has sold over 6 million copies, and Beagle has been storycrafting ever since. Many books, short stories, and more. He’s got a lovely rich storyteller’s voice, too. Writing Excuses podcast has an interview with him; you should give it a listen; you’ll probably want his audiobook that he narrates once you’ve heard this voice.

Cat status: this is the man who wrote, “It made the cat dozing in Molly’s lap look like a heap of autumn leaves.” These words will always summon my long-gone Purrl from memory. And Purrl would never come for anyone who didn’t appreciate a good cat.


GBR # 13: Kaja and Phil Foglio

imageMy first exposure to Phil Foglio was back in 198mumbletymumble, when I’d bum my friend’s incoming issues of Dragon Magazine and, very first thing, seek out What’s New with Phil & Dixie, his humorous comic strip. At the tail end of that same decade, I was working in a scifi/fantasy comics and gaming shop and started seeing his work illustrating Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series. Oh, and XXXenophile, which was kept behind the counter under glass in the same section with Anne Rice’s naughty fairy tale books.

As I’m not a Magic: The Gathering player, I hadn’t run across any of Kaja Foglio’s work until (blushing to admit it) this project. But that’s sort of the idea behind the Great Balticon Readathon: there’s such a lot of diverse material out there, and I knew I was missing many opportunities to experience it. And I can’t believe I was missing Girl Genius!

Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones won the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Novel. Then, with subsequent volumes, the couple kept winning this award. After three years straight, they declined nomination in 2012. Now they’re back in the running, and have just completed a Kickstarter project to get a new volume out! They started their own press to be able to publish Girl Genius; it seems to be working out for them. Additionally, there are text volumes of Agatha Heterodyne’s adventures now. The Foglios have been keeping busy!  From multiple sources online, their work structure is largely Kaja doing the writing, Phil doing art old-school in pencil on Strathmore Bristol 2-ply, a little digital magic between them, then off to the colorist. Seems an equitable division of labor, to an outsider, with Kaja finishing up with much of the file management. It’s good to have at least one person who knows how to do that.

Kaja has said she’s not making much visual art right now. As a creative person with a kid, I get this: time constraints change. AND they’ve got Girl Genius coming out (I believe) three times a week. That’s a tight schedule. I hope that someday she’ll consider returning to the visual art side;  what I’ve seen of her work I’ve quite liked. Up to her entirely though, of course. Maybe the words are just calling more loudly now. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Cat status: internet sighting confirmed: a photograph of multiple black cats chilling in their office. With a dog. (I consider the dog bonus content.) Additionally, if you read Girl Genius, you will find a cat who is a Character. Come for the cat, stay for the Steampunk. Girl Genius is set in a different-but-similar world to ours. A certain rare inborn ability, Spark, allows the possessor to use mad-scientist type abilities to create incredible machines that appear to defy physics as we know them. Given the series title, it’s not really a spoiler when I tell you that Agatha, our primary protagonist, is a keen inventor. It’s fun to watch her in action. Girl power! Swashbuckling and adventures, with kids included in non-token ways. Wackiness ensues.

Agatha appears in her underwear a lot, which a friend says just shows that some things don’t really change. Although honestly, Phil didn’t draw much underwear in XXXenophile that I recall. (The centaurs especially, I think, didn’t wear any, did they?) While I haven’t read the whole series yet, what I’ve seen so far has certainly been appropriate for mid-teens and up. It’s Victorian underwear, for mercy’s sake. If you’re wondering if it’s okay for your kids, go take a look for yourself. Because…

Girl Genius is now available online for FREE reading! And then you can go grab hard copies once you’ve fallen under its spell. There’s also a selection of plushies and T-shirts and so on. Years of material here, so there’s an established fandom. The Foglios seem to do a number of conventions, too, so chances seem pretty good you can hunt them up for signings and meeting your tribe of fellow GG fans.

If I meet the Foglios at Balticon, and need something to discuss, I will probably get into a GeekMom chat with Kaja. I believe she actually has outdone me in this department.  We celebrate Bilbo/Frodo’s birthday, but KAJA made an awesome Zelda cake for her kid’s cakewalk. I acknowledge a master. Oh, and they do things like having Pat Rothfuss over to play Tak. As one does. I wonder if she and Phil have 3DS systems, and if they’re bringing them to Balticon? Would LOVE to see their Miis.

GBR #3: Nancy Springer


Nancy Springer, sketched directly in pen, then colored with crayon. Because CRAYONS!

I Am Morgan le Fay

At last: I reveal myself! Quail before me, mortal child! Down the long years have I journeyed…

Wait..this isn’t actually a declaration of my secret identity.  (That’s for another time.)

The Great Balticon Readathon continues with a look into the Arthurian realm with the very prolific Nancy Springer. Springer has broken the 50 book barrier. Think about that for a minute. Imagine the sheer linear feet of bookshelf space. Has it sunk in? Great! Now that you’re properly wide-eyed, let’s continue.

I Am Morgan Le Fay is one of those books marketed as Young Adult that so many of us who are no longer precisely young enjoy.

((Aside: Young…compared to what? We need a good term for these readers, and books these readers enjoy. A good book is a good book, and there should be no stigma attached to reading something outside of a prescribed age group. How about Aoung Ydult? Yes. That’ll do. End of aside.))


One of the risks assumed in addressing such an often-referenced legend in a book is that the whole enterprise can so easily fall into cliché. Overfamiliarity can kill a reader’s interest.   Nancy Springer takes these familiar characters, as well as a number of brand-new ones (or old ones in new guises) and builds for them a world that is lyric and mystical and uniquely hers.

Morgan’s power comes from her otherworldly nature but, like her enchanted castle, the life she builds is based on very real, and quite primal, human emotions and experience. Aoung Ydults, and Young Adults too, will appreciate the psychological foundation for Morgan’s flawed choices. This book would make an excellent book discussion group, because it raises questions. Can an individual overcome family history? Are we truly able to choose our actions? Or are our decisions pre-determined by early experience? Is Morgan a trustworthy narrator? Do we believe her when (spoiler redacted)? Are there parallels to people we know in life? Do we believe them?

I Am Morgan le Fay is a very readable book. Springer’s prose is lyric without being overblown. It is crisp in places, lush with description in others, but the parts blend well. Very approachable. (Just as with Varley, though, I found myself more deeply touched by an animal death than by some human passings. Seems to be a theme beginning here in the GBR. Or, perhaps, it’s just me.)

And speaking of accessible, Nancy Springer’s back list is now available via Open Road as digital downloads! She’s also rocking an author blog on Goodreads, and tweets about things that matter to me (like dandelions, for example. Oh, and books.) Be sure to visit her author site for these links and more.

If you have been following along through the Readathon, you know that I am seeking out things about which I could have conversations with the various authors, should we meet at Balticon. Nancy Springer collects, among other circular things, Venn diagrams. Thus I have made one. It’s the thought that counts.