Happy as a Cat in a Box

IMG_7010Here’s Kyle on my desk, joining me in listening to the final chapters of the Albatross audiobook. Kyle APPEARS drowsy, but he is in fact purring busily.

As am I. Breaking open a bottle of elderflower and rose lemonade to celebrate! I’m so pleased with the way this project turned out. I hope to announce its availability for you soon.

Meanwhile, Kyle and I already have the first chapters of SHIMMER waiting for us to hear. Time to break out the catnip!

I’ve been sick recently, and minus the use of my right hand and arm. And we all know what pain and meds can do to you. However, I HAVE managed to do some reading of classics (Prisoner of Zenda…thank you, Project Gutenberg!) and some more contemporary books and stories. Watch for reviews coming soon.

And also maybe some photos of my new glove collection. Or maybe photos of Kyle with my glove collection. (Yes, he found that box too. But one cat photo per post, yes?)

 

 

 

Foz Meadows Sees Your Tropes and Uses Them for Silage

IMG_6889I was reading this book during the aftermath of a horrific mass murder in our local high school. This quote is really sticking with me: Apathy breeds more evils than defeat. So, you know, keep fighting. I kind of want it on a t-shirt. Thanks, Foz, for helping me get through this rough time. 

Spoiler warning: I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reader responses. I can’t really do that here; this book is too complex and so you’re fairly warned.

I present for your consideration An Accident of Stars, Book I of the Manifold Worlds, the ambitious portal fantasy by Foz Meadows. (Note 1) I say ambitious because it’s almost as though Foz sat down with a LIST OF PORTAL FANTASY TROPES, and went down the list intentionally reversing or dismantling each one. (My Foz quotes here are not actual quotes. It’s my imagination of her process, every time I’d see her turning some other expectation on its head.) Here’s a few:

  • Protagonist from “real” world is a Chosen One in the new world. Special gifts or powers. I can imagine Foz: “Ohellnoez. Normal girl.”
  • Protagonist is an orphan. Foz: “Nope. Nice family. Supportive. Conveniently offstage, but everybody’s alive and caring.”
  • Protagonist has Special Problems. Foz: “Nope. Sexual harassment at school, all the girls face it, and some (implied) have it worse.”
  • Adults Don’t Understand/Won’t/Can’t Intervene…well, okay, that trope sticks around but it feels like it’s making a point that Yes This Is What The Real World Is Like for Teens; especially resonant with the #metoo movement.
  • We follow the Protagonist through their journey to the other world, experience the world with them, then follow them home. Foz: “Y’know, let’s have another viewpoint right away, before we even get through the portal. And then, a bunch more. But we’ll actually let the main character change and grow, instead of just being a boring narrator placeholding for the reader.”
  • Guys have a bunch of adventures. Foz: Let’s have most of the major characters be females. Even the nominal villain, let’s have the real interesting one be his wife. Let’s see her more often, too. And…the warriors are women. And the religious leaders. And the guys are kind of sidelined, and it’s really not fair, let’s make that really visible! (To be fair, the male characters are also interesting, and the older one has some nuance. The younger one is less developed. But there’s only so much you can do in the space of one novel.)

 

(I can practically smell the burning rage coming from some folks who are still jammed up into the idea of ButFictionHasToLookTheWayIExpectItTo.)

It goes on and on. Instead of a love triangle or epic hetero romance, there are complex relationships: friendships, polyamory, parent/child, complex families, siblings, subject/ruler, worshiper/priestess, etc. We see trans representation, aromantic representation, genderqueer, bi…a whole rainbow of gender and sexual orientation. BUT unlike a number of fantasy novels I’ve read recently, these relationships aren’t painted in graphic detail. This keeps things more YA friendly (and, honestly, a number of my older friends have told me they’re a bit overwhelmed with the volume of sex in some recent fantasy novels, so I’m happy to point them here.)

I really admire the way Foz tackles Big Social Issues around gender, race, identity, religion, sexuality head on. Representation is so vital! And Foz dives in head first, into the deep end. Let’s be very clear: this is a book I don’t think I’d have had the nerve to tackle writing. At least, not without having seen Foz do it first. And maybe not even then, because parts of it are so honest. There’s a vulnerability in that, and some writers just aren’t comfortable opening themselves that way. I am blown away by this author’s determination to Not Shy Away From Hard Subjects.

Sometimes it feels as there may be too many issues being grappled with here to fit easily within the structure of one story. As a result, we get more exposition chunks than we might otherwise; that can pull the reader out of the story flow. The framework is solid: newcomer has to learn the new ways. But there’s so much complexity, so much to fit within that framework, that it feels a little forced sometimes. This wouldn’t keep me from recommending the book, though…(cue moment of personal reflection)… Sometimes exposition feels weighty because we’re being exposed to something outside our usual understanding. For example, I’ve never been in a polyamorous relationship; this may have made the explanations for the complex marriage customs seem longer to me than they actually were. (Note 2) (If my TBR pile weren’t so big, I’d re-read, with my self-evaluation glasses on.)

Back to the book. I like the magic systems, with their built-in flaws that keep things interesting. The world is complex, with some well-developed scenes that made me feel that I was really seeing the place the characters were experiencing. The plot is intricate and as tightly interwoven as the braids that are a recurring image in the novel. The characters are diverse, multi-dimensional, well thought out with their own motivations and goals.

Between themes, characters, worldbuilding, and plot … I wonder if An Accident of Stars might have been better served by being TWO books. Each of these areas left me wanting a bit more development. I wanted to see more of the characters, more of their worlds, have a bit more space to breathe around the social questions. But I understand that pacing is important, so I’m going to trust that Foz and her editors made these choices for reasons. (And leaving them wanting more is not generally seen as a bad thing.)

I’ll definitely be picking up Book Two. This was a really solid, ambitious work for a first novel. Congratulations to Foz for a trope-bashing extravaganza! And, hey Foz? You know…keep fighting.

(Note 3)

 

(Note 1) Foz and her husband came to my attention recently due to egregious and unfounded attacks by some hacks with more time than skill, in writing OR online detective work. I pulled this book to the top of my TBR pile as a gesture of solidarity. Because it’s not a good idea to let the malicious voices be the dominant ones in a conversation just because they’re loud and annoying.

(Note 2) It’s a good thing to read books that represent people who don’t look, act, love, believe just as you do. It strengthens our understanding, increases our ability to identify with other humans. It makes us better people. And if it makes us uncomfortable? Well, sometimes we need to be uncomfortable.

(Note 3) I read an early print version of this book. I understand that later versions have had the formatting errors corrected. 

ALBATROSS in Print!

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This book is now available in print, as well as digital format. I’m old enough that this makes it seem somehow more real. It sits here on my hearth, soft and solid against the warm brick. An artifact of sorts, documentation of these days. A story of the near future, that is in some ways an attempt on the part of the authors to find their way through a troubled time.

This is the book we needed to write. We’ve have been told by a reader that it’s the story they needed to read. And so Bertie and I, and the good folks over at WordFire, are quietly launching Albatross into the world.

Wishing you all peace, a warm cup of tea, and a quiet spot for reading.

— Nancy Palmer

Parkland Florida, November 2017

SNOWSPELLED by Stephanie Burgis

I tore through the advanced read copy of SNOWSPELLED by Stephanie Burgis. A quick-reading adventure story set in a Regency-flavored “Angland,” this novella twists some tropes on their heads and sets off merrily in its own direction. Seriously, I laughed out loud a couple of times when the “expected” was NOT what happened. Very refreshing.

The political and magic systems are engaging, and there’s an intriguing romantic interest … again, trope-twisting.

There’s also non-romantic relationship development; this was delightful (and hearkens back to the Austen tradition, which I really appreciated). I was looking forward to doing a review in time for the book’s release back in September.

Then I was in a car accident, and muddled my brain. And basically forgot the book. So I had to re-read it, but my brain refused to focus on more than a paragraph at a time for several weeks.

Then I was in a hurricane.

So my reader response is posting REALLY LATE!

But I have to say, there are worse things to re-read in 98 degree Fahrenheit South Florida humidity than a book in which a group of people are snowed in at a house party. Magicians, politicians, and lots and lots of chill, both in atmosphere and human relations.. This is a quick-reading book, and I’m recommending it for fans of historically-influenced romantic fantasy as a great escape. Just the sort of thing to have on your reading list for those times when you need to mentally Do Something Else. SNOWSPELLED’s world is engaging and well-written. And while the reader may suss out the source of the conflict long before the characters, the process of their realization is engaging enough to keep the pages turning.

SNOWSPELLED was created as the first in a series, and while it is a stand-alone, it does read very much as though it’s establishing this world, these characters, for a longer adventure. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series; I want to see what protagonist Cassandra Harwood and her peers are up to next!

How His Worlds End

imageHard news tonight.  I found myself last Friday on the receiving end of an auto which was busily demonstrating Newtonian physics in action, with associated rattled brain and body. Reading is hard just now. Writing is harder. Accordingly, I’ve been largely absent from social media this past week. So I didn’t know. Until Bertie MacAvoy messaged me. Details have been following. And I’m wrestling with my accident-addled brain to make sense of it, to find words. Because words are what brought Michael Harper to my page, and are what our strange friendship was built from.

Writing is such a weird art form. It’s so solitary, crafting a story. But it’s such an intimately cooperative art, too, because the story never lives without a reader. The story is uniquely THEIRS, their understanding of it shaped by their own experiences and thoughts and ways of being. A writer envisions and shares a world and its people and places. But the reader is the one who actually LIVES in  that world, for a time, shaping the experience of the book by their own essence.

When someone passes, we lose their presence in this world. Also gone, though: their experiences in the fictional arts, the worlds they shaped in their own images. Nobody will ever again read my stories in the form that Michael Harper read them. Whatever his waking walking life was, Michael knew how to read and be present in a book. I so appreciate his bringing his energy to my stories. My head is splitting from the effort of writing this, but I know that of all things, words were what was between the two of us. So I can’t help but share a few in his memory.

Rest, in peace, and I wish you joy amid the stardust, Michael Harper.

 

 

Escaping

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Began coloring this page from my Naughty Fairies coloring book during a night vigil at my brother’s hospice bedside. Lost myself here for a while in layers of blue.

Last week’s sojourn to be with my brother and sister as they finish up this part of the universal experience was beautiful and devastating and, clearly, as much as my body can handle right now. And the whole thing is Just. Too. Much. I’m sick now, in body and heart, and I cannot return to them as I so very much wish to.

Bless Bertie MacAvoy today, who has flung a double handful of electrons at me today in the shape of her latest round of Shimmer edits. I get to look at them, think about them,  fall into the story and see where it needs to be transitioned.

Exactly what I need at exactly this moment.

Sometimes ducking into another world for a while gives you the break that you need to be able to cope in this one, don’t you think? Even if you’re the one making that other world. Blessings on the artists, the creators, the musicians, the poets, the weavers, and all, who give us respite from our many cares.

 

Fragment

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Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday: Fragment by Craig Russell

Bertie (R.A.) MacAvoy sent me a book to read, without telling me much of anything about it, or why I should read it.

But I trust her. So I read it: Fragment, by Canadian writer Craig Russell.

Well, I meant to read just a chapter or two. But I ended up reading the whole thing, compulsively. It’s a slender volume. The story, however, is a big one.

Sometimes what’s scary about a thriller is its plausibility. One of the things speculative fiction writers do best is tell the truth sideways.  And there’s a lot of truth here. Craig Russell’s near future ecological and political world are a little too easy to imagine as reality. It was a compelling, but uncomfortable read: I found myself reading faster as the story progressed, hoping there might be some way to avert disaster. Maybe something in the way of hope, that might be carried past the pages of the book and into the outer world. The hubris and political manipulation in Fragment: yes, there are real-world analogs. Seeing the potential outcome as spelled out in this novel? Dread inducing. But I couldn’t look away.

As a key part of the novel, Russell has created  a particularly compelling, and unexpected, major character. No spoilers here … but I’d have liked to see the book return to this character’s unique viewpoint more often.

This book would make a challenging summer movie. It might be difficult to get made in the current political situation. But there are some important messages here. And the visuals would be mesmerizing.

Tuesday: Tea and a Tome 9/13/16

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In my studio today.

My happiest time is when I stand in front of a white empty board: the space is full of hope.

— Kinuko Craft

Too much wrestling with tech yesterday left me irritable. Today is a new beginning! So I had a lovely cup of chai tea with a friend to start my morning. Cinnamon and ginger, allspice and cloves, quiet conversation: all warming and life-enriching. These things will soothe.

As will a peek into the visually delicious Kinuko Craft: Drawings & Paintings. I purchased a copy in New York recently. You may not know Kinuko Craft’s name, but you might recognize her paintings: ethereal, yearning,  ambient pieces that cup narrative in an enchanted, wordless space.

If you know her work, then like me you probably saw her paintings first on a book cover. I looked into her art after discovering her wonderful illustration for The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip, and realized that many of these paintings were familiar to me. Generally, yes, via book covers. A good cover stands alone as a work of art, but also serves as a sort of gateway, inviting a reader to come step through into the story.

An ill-suited cover can suffocate a book, but the right cover can make it sing. Craft and McKillip are well suited. As are Craft and Ellen Kushner, at least in the case of the wonderful Thomas the Rhymer. I read this story in 1990, when it was a new version of an old wonderment, and have revisited it since. I loved the Thomas Canty cover back then, and thought it couldn’t have an equal, but the US and Kindle reissues are graced with a Kinuko Craft cover that will likely draw in a new generation of readers. (You can see more about it on Terri Windling’s wonderful blog post over at Myth and Moor.)

But back to the book at hand. This volume (available through her official gallery for $25 at the time of this post) is a lovely production. Gleaming gold ink, lavish borders, and vividly printed illustrations. Worth the space on your bookshelf.

Kinuko Craft’s words give insight into her process and motivation.

“The stories invite me into a world the author has created. I start living there and let my own dreams and imagination explore and guide me.”  — Kinuko Craft

The art, though, is the main reason for picking up the book. Line drawings let us see pieces of the creation of the finished works. She has a very great technical skill in art, but as with the best writers, she transcends technique and takes us into worlds of her own creation. Dense, layered, rich with detail and color. Her paintings are so narrative, they don’t have subjects: they have protagonists.

Once a painting is finished I never look back. The journey is done, and I go on to the next adventure. — Kinuko Craft

Visit Kinuko Craft’s official website for more wonderment!

Supercon and Supercool Humans

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The self-proclaimed Tower of Geek from WordFire Press. Watch for this edifice, coming to a con near you! Say hi to authors. Discover cool books. See epic hats.

This has been a jam-packed week! Friday last, I gathered up the son, his various cosplay elements, a couple of fabulous hats, braved the infamous I-95, and headed to Florida Supercon. Saturday was sold out, a first for this event; congratulations to the organizers and volunteers for running a successful show!

Lots of great artists and some fun costumes in evidence. I got to chat with actor Emilio Delgado (Luis from Sesame Street) and we sang a bit of impromptu music from the “Lovers of 5” segment. I’d only seen that bit once, but the catchy tune, costuming, and staging stuck with me through the years. Emilio laughed and said it was one of his favorite bits. You can find the video online by searching “Sesame Street Give Me Five”: worth your time for the costuming and epic sideburns alone! That show had some great music. I think that segment, music and costuming alike, was likely a play on “Float On” by The Floaters. But I actually prefer the Sesame Street version. (Does it seem strange that a song about loving the number 5 would be performed by 4 guys?)

I love going to a convention that’s not primarily a literary event and seeking out the writers. At Supercon, I met some from indie and traditional publishing (sometimes both in the same person)! WordFire Press scored a great location in front of a set of entrance doors and erected their Tower of Geek; see photo above. Egged on by Todd McCaffrey, I entered a silent battle of hats with the gent above, which I will freely admit to losing. He had panache, and better accessories. And was unaware of our battle, until I told him he’d won. He won with panache too. A great hat and confidence go hand-in-hand.

Blew my budget on books and art (a refrain you will grow accustomed to around here) and you’ll be hearing about them in the weeks to come. Right now I’m in the throes of editing, though, so not much reading time. (I’m hoping to enlist a couple of younger readers to my cause today. I will use tea as a bribe, and with any luck I will get them to guest post here! Wish me luck!)

Also loved: attending a writing panel with Miami playwright and groovy human Andie Arthur (of Lost Girls Theatre fame) and her very generous friend, Kent Wilson, who so kindly distributed my extra ticket to the event to a forlorn-looking random stranger standing alone outside. (Kent went so I didn’t have to go through bag check again. And because he is an awesome human.) Kent missed part of the panel, but gave some huge delight to a guy who’d driven the length of two counties (on I-95) only to find there were no tickets available … Our co-conspirator walked up to him and transformed his day! There’s so much grim in the world. I love having been able to be a small part in this moment of kindness, and so appreciate Andie and Kent for helping it happen. You can find out more about Andie on her website. Or watch for her all over the South Florida theater scene.

In honor of Andie and Kent and the book-in-30-days panel we attended together, I’ll share with you a podcast I’ve discovered. (I wish I could remember who told me about this one. I want to think it’s Terri Windling, but I’m not sure.) In any case, I made the road trip north to Ocala (and back!) over the last three days for family stuff; wee dog Max and I while driving listened to several episodes of new-to-me podcast The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn. Just in time for Camp Nanowrimo, so of interest to some writers. But her opening thoughts on Brexit were calming to me, and very timely for reasons I won’t go into here, and I’d like to thank her for them. Whether you’re a new or established writer, indie or traditional, or a reader looking for more insight into the process, Joanna will have something in her backlist of podcasts that will be of use to you. Highly recommended.

How To Write 50,000 Words In A Month With Grant Faulkner

 

Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday

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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.