Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

When I was 13, a friend gave me the Earthsea trilogy for my birthday. There are some books you remember as turning points in your career as a reader, and the entire trilogy, but especially  A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, were that for me. I had always gravitated towards SFF, but these books really marked me. The world, the wizards, the forces of the Nameless dark and the power of naming one’s shadow, Ged’s and Tenar’s struggles with their own natures–these opened a door in me. There are books that touch a reader deeply, that make them consider the reader’s self and the world outside, that shape how one looks at the world.

The beauty of speculative fiction is that talking about the impossible, the improbable, shines a light on who we are in the real world, and who other people might be. An archipelago of other experiences is out there, every book a doorway, waiting for the reader to step through. Ursula Le Guin’s books were always islands of understanding as well as delight for me to fall into.

I can remember reading The Left Hand of Darkness a few years later, sitting in the cafeteria of my high school and reading through lunch as Genly and Estraven crossed the ice, and Genly’s understanding of Estraven and the world changed. I like to think stepping through that doorway helped me have understanding later on when my perception of people shifted.

The structure of Four Ways to Forgiveness blew me away when I first read it: four linked stories exploring two linked planets, where one people have enslaved another. It’s a meditation on betrayal and freedom and forgiveness, and how people change.

When I first decided I wanted to write seriously, it was to Le Guin’s Steering the Craft that I turned, working my way through every chapter and exercise in the book, a mentor in paper form.

My husband sent me the news of Le Guin’s death. When I opened the news on my phone, I said, “Oh, no” out loud, and my eyes started watering. I never met Le Guin, but she nonetheless had an enormous impact on what I read, and how I think about stories, and how I think about people. She was, of course, a storyteller of immense skill as well as an elegant wordsmith, but when I think now on her collected works, what strikes me is the compassionate note that rings through all her books, whether for a bitter Sparrowhawk who’s almost lost himself in hawk form, or for Solly and Teyeo as they discover there’s more to each other than they thought.

She produced an enormous body of work, and it comforts me that there are books of hers I’ve yet to read, as well as old favorites to revisit. Her books have always brought me greater understanding, since I was thirteen, and will continue to do so, whether it’s the first time I read them or the twelfth.

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

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Goals for 2018

Happy New Year! I hope your celebrations were festive and you’re ready to tackle 2018. I don’t exactly make New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to set myself goals at the turning of the year. I also try to set specific actions so that they turn into accomplishments instead of just staying ephemeral wishes.

A lot of mine this year are focused on writing and planning my production schedule for the next Crossroads of Worlds books, but I have a few others as well.

Crossroads of Worlds

My goal for 2018 is to edit Queen of Storms and write the next two as-yet untitled books. Back in the fall, I had hopes of getting Queen of Storms out in January, but it ended up needing a lot more words than the first two, so consequently, it took a lot longer to write! I finished the first draft last night. I’m going to clean up the draft this week and get it to my first readers and editor. I’m now looking at a March publication date. But for those of you who wanted to see more of Faerie, and who felt that the first books felt maybe a little short, I think you’ll really enjoy QoS.

I also have a bit of a Rowan prequel written that may end up as a bonus short story or novella. (I started writing it because I needed to nail down some of the details about his past before I write book 4. I do this all the time when I need to know more about characters. But in this case, there’s the structure for an actual story, not just a vignette.)

Short Stories

This year, I was so focused on Crossroads of Worlds and learning how to self-publish that I let writing short stories mostly fall by the wayside. I miss writing them, so this year I’m challenging myself to write a short story a month in addition to longer works, and submitting them to magazine.

As a side note to all the writing, I’m also keeping a spreadsheet of my wordcounts so at the end of the year, I’ll be able to look back and see how much I’ve written. I have a very lackadaisical system right now where I write down how much I wrote in my planner when I remember. (I also give myself a sticker if I write over 1000 words. Right now because of my push to the end of QoS, there are a lot of little dinosaurs all over the pages.) In addition to a pretty basic one I made myself, I’m using the 2018 wordcount tracker by the fabulous Christie Yant. You can grab one here.

Blog Posts

When I look at my blog archive, there are long stretches where nothing but tumbleweeds blew through here. I’d like to have at minimum a post here every two weeks, so that not a fortnight goes by without a post.

Just for fun

I picked up calligraphy again last year, and I want to keep practicing this year, and painting more. A sketchbook painting every weekend sounds like a reasonable goal. (I’ve been painting about one a day over this long weekend, but that’s without work or the kids’ school schedules to worry about.

Moderation

I am a pretty active person. My sister is my workout partner, and I usually get in 4 to 6 workouts a week. Over the last year or so, I added strength training and high intensity workouts to my schedule, and it wasn’t long before I could really tell that my fitness and athleticism had leveled up; my formerly hard workouts got a lot easier. However, I’m heavier than I’d like to be. My main concern is that I don’t want to put any additional stress on my joints. I’d like to be this active for a very long time! So my goal is less wine,  more vegetables, and more mindfulness around snacks, while maintaining my current level of activity. The action for this one is logging what I eat and drink on My Fitness Pal so I can see what I’m doing and head off some of my bad habits at the pass.

Travel

I so enjoyed traveling last year. I want to do more of it in 2018. There are a lot of gorgeous state parks in Alabama, and I’d like to take the kids to see three they’ve never been to this year. (If they are three I’ve never been to either, that’s even more of a bonus!) I downloaded an app called AllTrails when we went to Oak Mountain state park, and it showed me a few parks I’d never heard of, so I’m looking forward to exploring once the weather is suitable again.

So that’s what I’m aiming for in 2018. May you accomplish whatever it is you’re aiming for this year.

 

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End of Year Round Up, 2017

As the year draws to a close, I’m making plans for 2018 and looking back at what I accomplished with 2017. I’ve started keeping a diary/journal/organizer where I write down my goals and try to organize my time so I can look back and see what I’ve done.

Writing

Books: My (big) writing goal this year was to get out the first three books of the Crossroads of Worlds series. That didn’t happen. But I’m glad that I aimed high and got close.

I did get out the first two Crossroads of Worlds books, Strangehold and Sorrow’s Son, and a prequel novelette, Fire on the Hill. I’m proud of these books and hope they’ll continue to find an audience in 2018. Go, little books, go!

    

I learned a lot about writing and self-publishing this year. First, I learned that everything takes longer than I think it will. Not that I didn’t know this before—but I’ve always worked before on no particular schedule, just writing as it suited me. This year I tried to set myself a schedule. And since I was actually writing with a deadline in mind, I could really see how much longer parts of writing—particularly editing—take me. I also learned how to format, what it’s like to work with a cover designer, and a story editor, and all of this was highly educational to say the least.

Short Stories: Daily Science Fiction published “An Invasion in Seven Courses” in February, my short story that came from mishearing a history show as talking about a defensive cookbook, which got me thinking about what kind of cookbook that might be, and what kind of recipes it might have, and what, exactly, it could defend against. (Before I wrote it, I wrote down about five different settings the idea might work in, but the historical one drew me most, maybe because of the documentary we were watching when I had the idea.)

I also had a short story reprinted in Cicada“Your New Voice and You,” originally published at Daily Science Fiction. This was really cool to me for two reasons. First, it’s my first-ever reprint! Second, Cicada found the story at DSF and reached out to me to reprint it. That was an amazing feeling—after constantly sending stories out into the world, this magazine came to me because they liked the story that much (and of course, it fit their theme for that issue!). That felt like a writing milestone.

I self-published two short stories, the first for practice with formatting, etc., and the second because I had already formatted it as a giveaway for my newsletter, so why not?: The King’s Monster and Misericordia (originally published in the Fantasy Faction Anthology.)

Art and Craft
I didn’t embroider that much this year, but I made a ton of hats right before Christmas and remembered why I love knitting so much. I also made a bunch of wee crochet Pokemon, to the delight of my kids and their friends. I also left a few at Pokestops in my neighborhood, where i hope they found homes with people who enjoyed them.

I once again completely tanked Inktober. I had a fun idea and a strong start, but ran out of steam. Oh well. Maybe next year.

But I got (back) into calligraphy again. For anyone interested in trying their hand at it, I’ve found The Postman’s Knock to be an amazing resource.

Travel

This was  a big travel year for me, and I loved it. Last year, my sister-in-law and her husband and kids moved to New Mexico. They were our neighbors for a decade before that, first in the same apartment building and then in the house across the street, so we really missed them when they left. They also welcomed a child in March, so at the end of May, we piled in the minivan and drove across the country to visit and meet him, camping along the way. It was an incredible visit and a revelation to watch the countryside change from Alabama to New Mexico. They live near Sandia Mountain and we took a hike around the top of the mountain. It was gorgeous. Definitely want to do more family road trips in 2018.

In August, I was fortunate enough to go with my mom and sister to WorldCon in Helsinki, stopping in Amsterdam and Stockholm along the way. One of my college roommates lives in Rotterdam, and she was able to come meet us. We also ended up visiting Amsterdam during Pride Weekend (unintentionally.) It was a blast, and the hotel kindly provided earplugs for the nightly festivities.

I had no expectations of Stockholm, but I ended up loving it. It’s a beautiful city, with the original medieval city a smaller island within the larger city. I loved it, and would love to go back someday. We visited many, but not even close to most of the city’s plethora of museums.

Helsinki was another creature altogether. Rather than staying close to the old town there, we stayed closer to the convention center, in a a more residential area. Visiting the historical areas was fantastic, but it was also really nice to see the way more people who live there actually live.

WorldCon itself was pretty darn fantastic. The panels I went to were aces, and it was just neat to be around a bunch of people who love SFF. This does not necessarily include my mom to the degree it includes my sister and I, but she went along and seemed to have a pretty good time regardless.

Fitness

I am probably in the best shape of my life. In 2017, I upped my workout game, adding TRX (bodyweight resistance) and HIIT classes to my schedule. My fitness center is changing up their schedule in January, so I will probably shuffle around my schedule a bit, but I have been able to feel my improvement in that my formerly hard classes are now my easier classes. Cool!

It’s also become clear to me that I need to change some aspects of my diet, so that’s going to be more of a focus for me this year. More Vegetables, Less Wine 2018.

*

Personally, there were a lot of tough things going on this year in addition to the maelstrom of the news cycle. But there were a lot of good things, too. I’m going to try to remember the latter, and take that forward into 2018.

 

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NaNo!

I have been typing away furiously on Queen of Storms. I’m not technically doing NaNoWriMo “right,” because I had a significant chunk of Queen of Storms written already, but I wanted to ride on the collective creative power of all those other writers, so I’m doing it. I’m obfuscation there if you’re doing it and want to check in. It’s kind of fun getting little wordcount badges–that tiny ping of validation is a nice motivator.

Speaking of nice motivators, I’ve been using the website 4thewords.com as a way to get myself going with writing sessions. It’s writing made into a quest-style game, in which you defeat monsters by writing X amount of words in X amount of time. The timers are long enough (especially for big goals) that I can count my morning writing and my lunch writing toward the same creature. It’s been a great boost for me–instead of hitting my goal wordcount and quitting, I’ll tackle another monster or two. In each area of the game there are usually at least two choices of different amounts of wordcount to tackle, so if you only have limited time, you can aim small, or if you want to try for a bigger one you can go for it. Highly recommended if gamification works for you.

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Goodreads giveaways!

Quick post to note that there is a Goodreads giveaway for Strangehold ending Oct 1, so if you’re looking for a print copy, now is a great time to put your name in.

And there’s a Goodreads giveaway for Sorrow’s Son beginning today and running through Oct. 27. Good luck if you’re entering either!

 

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WorldCon 75

Back in August, I went to my first WorldCon, WC 75. I traveled with my mom and my sister. We went to Amsterdam and Stockholm before taking an overnight cruise to Helsinki and WorldCon. It was a fantastic trip.

WorldCon has a YouTube channel here with videos of some of the panels. Some of the ones I attended:

Romance and the Female Gaze

We are the Crystal Gems

Food Lies (this was particularly fun)

But some of the panels I went to appear not to have been recorded. Mary Robinette Kowal’s Short Story Writing for Novelists was a fantastic lecture. Here are a couple of resources that seem to cover the ground that Mary talked about at WorldCon:

Writing Excuses 12.32: Structuring a Short Piece

JoCo Cruise Short Story Structure

I found this lecture so incredibly useful for thinking about what to put in and what to leave out of a short story, and what order to put the pieces in. The Writing Excuses show notes also have a very helpful infographic to help visualize the information Mary covers in the lectures.

What I can’t find is something to cover the same ground as the incredibly informative Self-Publishing panel that I went to. It was great. My mom and sister are not involved in publishing whatsoever and have no plans to ever self-publish anything, and yet they still found it interesting. (So, kudos to the guests and moderators for making it compelling even to some folks with no skin in the game!) Luckily, I took pretty detailed notes, so sometime soon when I have the time, I’ll type those up and post them here.

 

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Peavine Falls

Over Labor Day weekend, my family and I went to Oak Mountain State Park, which is a beautiful park only about a half hour away from us. It’s got canoeing and horseback riding and swimming and probably a bunch of other stuff I don’t know about, as it had been decades since I went out there. But there’s a waterfall I remembered hiking to, and we wanted to take the kids out there to experience it for themselves. I look a jillion pictures. A select few are below the cut.

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Sorrow’s Son Release Day and Strangehold sale!

It’s here! Sorrow’s Son is live on Amazon. I’m really excited for the book to be live and hope you enjoy it if you check it out. It’s a little longer than book one; Strangehold was about 45,000 words, and Sorrow’s Son clocks in at 55,000. There’s a new POV character, Javier, who was orphaned during the Savannah flu and is looking for other spellcasters. He finds Morgan, Rowan, and the twins, and the plot thickens from there.

Javier was actually the first character I wrote in the Crossroads of Worlds setting, back before I really had Morgan and her family figured out. Back then, my working title was Desiderium, which is an old word meaning “a feeling of grief for something lost.” My initial conception was of a spellcaster who wasn’t even sure if there were any other magicians left in the world but was looking for them anyway, left in his own private desolation because his whole world was gone and the nonmagical world hardly even noticed. I also wanted to write a character who had suffered and lost a lot, but was still essentially kind. I hope I’ve succeeded.

Of course, the characters, setting, and complications evolved as I wrote, so it’s not quite so elegiac and mournful as all that, and there are significantly more hellhounds than in my first draft.

Free book! 

And to celebrate Sorrow’s Son being finished and out there in the world, Strangehold is free through Tuesday. If you’ve been thinking about checking it out, now is a great time!

 

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Sorrow’s Son release date: Sept. 15

Quick post to note that Sorrow’s Son is coming out Sept. 15th, and is available for preorder here. Whew! Very excited to have the release date set. You can read more about the book and read an excerpt here.

Also, beginning Sept. 8th, I’ll have a Goodreads giveaway for Strangehold, followed a few later with one for Sorrow’s Son, signed paper copies for both. I’ll link to those when they go live.

Right now, I’m in edits for “Fire on the Hill”, a 15,000ish word story about Morgan and Matthew in the 1990s, well before the events of Strangehold. It should go out exclusively to newsletter subscribers by the end of the month.

After that, I’ll be getting back into the first draft of book three, Queen of Storms. If the writing goes according to schedule, it should see release by the end of the year.

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Pinterest boards for Crossroads of Worlds

As I’m closing in on the edits for Sorrow’s Son (so close!), I was looking at some of the reference pictures I pinned for the books. Sometimes looking for reference images can be sweet, sweet procrastination, but sometimes those images are really useful for getting a solid visual on something (or someone) to describe it.

Below the cut are my boards for Strangehold, Sorrow’s Son, and book 3, Queen of Storms. Obviously there are some hints about what future books might hold. (Lots of dresses in the fae court in QoS, for example!)

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