Sunday, December 22, 2013

Conflict-free, Fair Trade, and 3D Printed: How Consumer Electronics can be made Ethical and Ecofriendly

As a writer, I'm acutely aware that my chosen profession is not exactly eco-friendly. Many trees have died for my journals and publications--although a handful of books are now being printed on recycled plastic, making them both waterproof and a potential solution to overcrowded landfills--and it seems like even when I move away from hard copies poor planet earth can't win. To say nothing of the conflict minerals that go into phones, computers, and other electronics.

So I was really excited to do the research for this week's Fair Trade Friday post at the Amani DC blog. The subject: ethical consumer electronics. There have been two interesting new developments: first, the Fairphone in Europe comes as close as possible to a fully ethical smartphone, built with conflict-free materials mined and constructed by workers earning living wages and designed to be long-lasting to minimize waste from disposing of old electronics.
Gizmag takes a first look at Fairphone (Photo: Gizmag)

Another way to keep more phones out of landfills comes from Motorola's Ara phone--constructed of puzzle-piece like "Phonebloks," some of which can be created through 3D printing, the Ara is designed for extreme user customization but also virtually eliminates the need to ever buy a new phone. Instead, you can upgrade or replace each Phoneblok as needed or desired--your cracked screen, old battery, or subpar camera can be switched out for a better blok without having to dispose of the entire phone. Plus, the Ara looks pretty awesome.

The Fairphone seems pretty popular in Europe (25,000 phones sold so far--not a lot in the scheme of things, but a nice amount given it's barely been released yet), but the Ara is still in the tinkering stage and it's unclear if it'll really catch on. If it does, though, the potential impact could be amazing, especially if these innovations are scaled up to other electronics besides phones. Laptopbloks, anyone?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"The Queen's Arrival" in Liquid Imagination, and a Christmas Gift Idea

My mythic fantasy piece "The Queen's Arrival" has been reprinted in Liquid Imagination Issue #19.

It's actually been up nearly a week, and I apologize for posting the link so late--though as you can see, things have been busy. I've only just got around to making my Christmas card & gift list and am starting to scrape together time, ideas, and money to fulfill it.

Speaking of which:

If you're lost on gift ideas for a writer in your life--surely they don't need another journal (that just means they have to start another story to put in it!)--consider getting them a manuscript edit, to be redeemed any time after Christmas!

Email me and we can arrange for a wordcount-based edit ($5/1000 words, or around $25 for a short story or up to $300-$400 for a novel), to be done on a piece of the recipient's choice. If you like I can even design a gift card for you to print out or email them.

I will be at my gentlest, yet nonetheless thorough, helping the writer develop their craft and their manuscript to the next level. It's a gift that will keep on giving!

The Starter Guide for Professional Writers should be released soon, but may not make it to wide distribution in time for Christmas. Meanwhile, if you're looking for books either as gifts or as ebooks to download onto your new E-Reader (guess what yours truly is getting!), I'd be eternally grateful if you checked out Aqua Vitae and other publications.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chicago TARDIS (November 29-December 1)

I've just returned from DC after a week away--back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Seeing my family again drove home just how much I missed them, but also how much I enjoy living on my own. It's a balance between different sources of comfort and stress, I suppose, especially after as rough a year as this has been (you didn't miss anything; I'm not giving details on this blog, at least for a while yet. Suffice to say this was the first time I've seen some people since certain things had happened, but the adjustment went far better than I feared).

I also took a few days to run down to Chicago and hang out with my other family: the Whovians.

Pictured above: Ellen (as the Eleventh Doctor in the episode Closing Time), "Hearts" (as the Eighth Doctor in the Dark Eyes audios), me (as President Romana III), Fyodor (as the Eighth Doctor--and Plushie Eight), Ashli (as Charley Pollard from the Eighth Doctor audios), and 2 friendly Third Doctors whose names I didn't catch. Photo credit goes to Fyodor's mom!

I just realized a lot of this post will not make much sense to anyone who doesn't follow Doctor Who. Oh, well.

Although I felt bad for running out on Mom for two and half days of the seven we had together, she was really sweet about agreeing to drive me to the convention center on a Black Friday. My sister, back from the University of Davis, rode along and we got two hours of conversation in that way. We've never been Black Friday shoppers (my sister and I have both worked retail) so it wasn't a real loss to be driving that day, although we did worry about finding parking once we found out the convention was right near a shopping center. Luckily, we found spaces--among numerous cars in a certain shade of blue, licence plates like Davros and T4RDIS, and windows decorated in Circular Gallifreyan. We'd come to the right place. 

We'd hoped to get lunch between the three of us and "Hearts," the first of the friends I was meeting at Chicago TARDIS, but the length of the registration line didn't permit it, especially as Hearts & I wanted to make it to Paul McGann's Q&A panel at 2 and it was already one o'clock. So I bid farewell to Mom and the sister, after explaining a few of the costumes they saw in the lobby (aw, civilians).

Hearts and I first met and bonded over a shared love of Paul McGann, and over time we've gathered with others in an internet-based fanmass known as The Clann McGann. I could say too much and too little at this point. I could easily make this entire post one long squee fest about how lovely and adorable 54-year old Scouser Paul McGann is. Here's an equivalent of one thousand-word post in one picture:
(54 as of November 14th!!!)
(In fact Hearts had just given him a birthday present, which explains some of that smile. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Anyway, although I've been participating in the Clann McGann since mid-2011, the first time I saw him in person was at Gallifrey One in 2012. Long story short, Hearts and I had a singularly wonderful time, I wound up gushing and calling him "darling" to his face (a bit patronizing, as he's 30 years older than I am) and over the course of apologizing for that, I wound up being kissed on the hand by the Eighth Doctor.

Paul McGann is a wonderful human being.

He wasn't feeling very well at the beginning of the interview (many people laughed nervously as he asked if there was a doctor in the house--not exactly punning) but he was characteristically gracious throughout the interview. He also seemed to liven up when his co-star Daphne Ashbrook came onstage. She's also a darling, and always seems as excited to see her fans as we are to see her. She pulled out her camera onstage to take pictures of the audience a few times. Hearts and I sat with several members of Clann McGann in the audience and we cheered at several opportunistic moments, like when "groupies" were mentioned, and also remembered the title of at least one of Paul's movies--"Paper Mask"--that he didn't ("that one where I was a fake doctor" opposed to, well, the Doctor I suppose). When one of the Clann went up to ask a question and said he was her favorite, he complimented her on her discerning taste, which was a refreshing change from modesty ;D. He also, after someone pointed out that Daphne Ashbrook's character Grace is still owned by Fox and can't appear in the current BBC series because of that, suggested a meeting of executive minds to bring everything "into common ownership--if that isn't too socialist." 

There was also one fan who was a bit nervous to ask his question. Paul told him to come onstage and see how nerve-wracking that was. So the intrepid fan lept up, turned around, let out a squeak like a gargantuan mouse, and jumped back down. I take it we were pretty intimidating. 

Speaking of politics, even the more liberal of us admitted to an uncanny feeling of deja vu as we found ourselves waiting...and waiting...and see a doctor--for photos or autographs. The "virtual queue" ticket system is good in theory, but in practice--well, I'll hold my peace, especially as I was lucky and got into all the sessions I hoped for. I feel very sorry for the volunteers who had to wrangle all of the crowds, very very sorry for crowd members who got lost in the shuffle, and pretty irritated, though not surprised, at how downright nasty some people are getting on the con's Facebook page. Throwing insults around never makes anything better, you guys, for shame.

On a happier note:

I spent some time Friday in my Eighth Doctor cosplay, which has seen a lot of love over the years, but the heavy velvet coat and shirt which would not stay tucked (at least the waistcoat hid my duck tail) left me yearning for a change--plus, I wanted to show off my new discovery. While sorting through my wardrobe, I had discovered the makings of a "closet cosplay" of a native of Gallifrey, flaunting orange and magenta silk. Although not everybody picked up that I was supposed to be Romana III (who only appears in the Eighth Doctor novels), I did get plenty of compliments, and several to the effect that they couldn't believe it was something I'd dug out of my closet.

The secret ingredient to a closet cosplay: prom gown.

"It still fits!"--a closet cosplay is born

Upon discovering a) that my prom dress was still wearable, plus the coat a good friend who works at JoAnn Fabrics had sewn me, b) in the 50th anniversary episode, some random Gallifreyans showed up in a similar color scheme, and c) this was really really fun to wear, I shared some pictures with my online Whovian friends asking them to convince me to do or not do it. They failed to convince me not to do it, so. This meant a number of people who had never before seen me in real life were able to recognize me by the dress, as I found out once I stepped off the elevator and had someone literally run across the lobby to greet me.

Our merry band was rounded out as Heart's (her preferred nom de guerre) and my friend Ellen arrived from Vancouver around 8 o'clock. We traversed the surrounding area in the chill November night to find a food court. Nourishment provided, we caught the tail end of the charity auction being held for the Illinois food bank and went to bed at an hour shockingly early for a con.

"Hearts" is on the left, Ellen on the right. Ellen took many of these pictures, leading to the sadly ironic result that she does not appear in many of them.

Then again, we were up shockingly early on Saturday morning. We wound up in the halls at 9:15, waiting to get in line for the virtual queue--or as I came to call the phenomenon, "queuing to queue for the queue." The virtual queue system did not quite offer the unparalleled convenience it promised. Milling around in the halls did give us the chance to meet with more Clann McGann members and other congoers, admire cosplays, and scout out the dealer's room and upcoming panels.

I am trying to convince Hearts (Plushie Eight's mama) to sew more Plushie Doctors to sell in dealer's rooms to come or perhaps on Etsy. Your help in this campaign is appreciated. 

Once I got my virtual queue ticket, I hurried to the 10:00 one-on-one session with authors Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman. This genuinely sweet married couple has written some of my favorite Eighth Doctor novels, so I rushed in as soon as possible in case I'd be crowded out by other fans. When I told this to Blum, he was genuinely appreciative. As were the 2 or 3 other people in the room. A few more did trickle in over the course of the hour, but I guess it is difficult to get people into Saturday morning panels. Even though plenty of us were up anyway thanks to the queueing.

It was a really fun panel, although small. Orman and Blum compared their different writing styles--going really fast and then revising vs going slowly to create a more polished, if not finalized, first draft--and also reminisced on the "wilderness years" when Doctor Who as a TV show was over and the novels were the focus of fan attention. Not all of that attention was exactly good, as Blum recalls a fan standing up to demand a refund at an early convention. None of that happened here.

Also, one sure way to my heart is to admire Plushie Eight, which Blum and Orman certainly did. He was dubbed "insanely cute," his little cravat was wondered over, and we discussed whether the Eighth Doctor's coat was really green. The latest word I've had, from people who have seen the original in the autograph room, is that it was deep green, but the stunt coat was black and shimmered green in some lighting. The novels also described Eight's coats as brown, purple, or red. Kate Orman related a brief-lived controversy over the color of Paul McGann's eyes, which was settled by an editor spending an hour seated across from him and emerging to declare "They are BLUE." A sentiment with which I heartily agree.

And at some point over the course of the panel, despite a wise policy of not speaking ill of other writers, somebody mentioned writing needlessly overcomplicated plots and someone in the room (naming no names) cheerfully exclaimed, "Hello, Stephen!" Although I'm actually happy with what Moffat did for the 50th anniversary and extremely excited about him bringing McGann back for a mini episode, I'm very annoyed that the message he drew from the fan response to that episode was not "The fans really like the Eighth Doctor" but "The fans really like surprises." To be fair, I think he may have been attempting to drive home a lesson about leaked footage--since that's why McGann's Doctor wound up regenerating a week early ("I can't believe Moffat killed Paul on his birthday," someone said in the Clann)--but, still. To a man with a hammer, nails everywhere, etc etc.

 Anyway, moral of the story is, the authors and stories of the Doctor Who books are awesome even if they're no longer the Where It's At of Who.
"Because Book Companions Deserve Love too!"

At last, Hearts, Ellen, and I found ourselves in the less-than-virtual queue for photos with McGann and Daphne Ashbrook--accompanied by some props. Ever since the "Paul Doll" got cuddled by Daphne at Gallifrey One this February, it has been my ambition to introduce him to the original. Now I had my chance.

I was so flustered to see McGann in person again that I forgot to hand over Plushie for possible hugs or silly poses, an oversight I regret now. I did make Plushie wave (it's not that I revert to 12 years old when shy; I genuinely just make plush toys wave at other people to say hello and I will do this all my life even if I die at 300 after a cyrogenic freeze). McGann said something about him being "Cute" and "like a little brother" but then he had his arm very firmly around my back for the photo and I wasn't paying much attention. Paul McGann's capacity for touchy-feelyness in a way that seems both friendly and sincere is a true gift.

Then it was Heart's & Ellen's turn for a picture. I admit I watched with some trepidation, as their choice of props to pose with was...a little atypical. After sewing Eight for me, Hearts went on to make two other plushies--a little Redcoat and "the Kid," a little faun. The faun was inspired in part by a scene of McGann's in the early 90's miniseries Nice Town. How shall I explain Nice Town? It's an...erm, a comedy about family planning and gender roles in suburban Britain. It avoids being raunchy simply by how bizarre and at times straight-faced it is. That said, [please if you are under 16 can you stop reading this now] the little plushie faun was not...100% anatomically accurate in a way true to the film, which was very true to certain aspects of satyr mythology.

So you have to admit that's an unusual choice of plush toy (much as I love The Kid in his innocently magical way) and even more unusual to actually confront the actor with. I put our chances at 60-40 of Paul McGann taking out a restraining order on us on the spot. That's probably why I made Hearts let me get my picture with him first.

I was so, so, wrong. 

Amanda introduced the plushies. The Redcoat has a complicated heritage but his root inspiration was McGann's role as supposed bad guy Colonel McNab in the Kidnapped miniseries. "It's been a long time!" he said about that one, posing little Plush!coat on his knee. And then out came Faun. "From Nice Town."

Scroll back up to that picture of Paul McGann to see his eyebrows, and consider how expressive they can be.

"He's missing a vital appendage," he told us.

Hearts sputtered that he was, of course, only a little Faun with much growing to do, and I laughed--probably quite loudly, although all the world for me was silent except those amazing words in that soft, gentle Scouse accent. Well.

After the photos he gave Hearts a hug, presumably for her hard work sewing plush toys of his increasingly obscure roles (it's good work and should be ongoing!) and then kissed her on the cheek. She reports she felt stubble, before lapsing into delighted catatonia. 

Above: the result of getting kissed on the cheek by Paul McGann. The little tricorner is from the plushie Redcoat checking up on his mother. 

While we were upstairs, I changed out of my Eighth Doctor cosplay (which I'd worn to get a theme going in my photo--upon reflection, it's a pity that Hearts and Ellen didn't do the same; Hearts would have made a lovely faun) and swept in my Lady Presidential gown back to the mall food court. The Egg Harbor cafe was open for brunch and had an excellent gluten free menu, so take note if you're ever in the area in the future. There was a bit of a wait, though. We spent the time checking out the Yankee Candle shop, which is only worth mentioning because Hearts swears that their Treehouse Memories scent is exactly the smell of Paul McGann and/or his sweater.

I tried to be cool about it, I swear I did. I'm sorry.

After lunch, we went back to queue for the queue--this time for autographs from all Three Doctors. We got to hang out with some other Clann McGann members. There was even a heartwarming moment when two people who had only known each other by icons online exchanged real names, then screen names, and discovered they were best friends all along. Unfortunately, this was followed by a nature documentary worthy stampede once the queue opened up. I swear I could hear Mark Strickson narrating our plight.

In the Virtual Queue holding area, they had a life-size TARDIS to pose with. Both Plushie and I might be considered something less than life size. 

Also, a little ahead of us in the queue, I discovered this fellow Eight plushie. His creator gave him to Paul McGann when she got her autograph--I heard the Scouse-accented "Thank you!" across the room and spotted him lying on a chair besides Paul when I got up. I'm sure he's going to a good home.

The Three Doctors Autograph queue was long and arduous, the less said of it the better. I did have some entertaining moments, especially when I realized I had my photo with Paul but nothing for Colin Baker and Peter Davison to sign except my con program, which I'd left up in the room. The benefit of being very far back in line was I had time to run up and fetch it. On my way back, I encountered two members of a wedding party happening on an upper floor. We exchanged best wishes on our respective festivities. 

Sometime I plan to put together a collage set of all the Doctor Who related autographs I've collected over the years. But really, I go for the autographs less for the sake of having a signature and more to get to meet actors and creators in person.

Although the Doctors had it about as hard as us--waiting in line for 2 hours vs signing nonstop for 2 hours, I'm not sure which I'd rather endure--but were extremely pleasant and preternaturally gracious. Colin Baker was even generous enough to laugh weakly at my comment that "The Sixth Doctor is colorful in ways besides the obvious." I'm truly sorry, Mr. Baker.

Meanwhile, Hearts was beside me talking to Paul McGann, and Ellen was filming (somebody get this woman an Oscar statuette). The Clann McGann, like all asylums, is a democracy, but if that ever changes Hearts will become our monarch. She'd brought some chocolates and a card as a slightly-belated birthday gift. She also gave him a (watercolor? in any event beautifully drawn) picture of him as Percy Toplis in The Monocled Mutineer, one of his first and favorite roles.
So she got glomped again, and no one deserved it more richly. Then from her bag of tricks she produced several more things.

A copy of the novelization of the Monocled Mutineer:

He was extremely excited to see a copy, as he hadn't had his hands on one in years. He was so excited that he turned to show it to Colin Baker beside him--"Look at that young soldier boy" (this was 30 years ago, but he still looks eerily like Percy. I'm not sure what McGann is doing to keep from aging, although he's such a sweetheart I suspect it has more to do with Time Lord magic than blood sacrifices a la Elisabeth Bathory).

The rest of Hearts' bag of tricks, culminating in a reference to a certain "naughty scene" from Nice Town (watch the series and find out; I'm not telling you) can be found here. Currently clinical tests are being run to see if daily viewing of that video defeats seasonal winter blahs. The subject of these tests is myself, and I suppose Plushie Eight is the supervising physician.

Speaking of Plushie Eight, he was with me--partially so I was still identifiable after my costume change, and partially because I just got in the habit of carrying him everywhere. Colin Baker asked me who my "little doll" was (continuing the demographic trend of everyone over 40 having one word for Plushie, and the younger, hipper crowd another, although Jonathan Blum of unguessable age described him as "Chibi Eight" and that's accurate, too). Understandably, the Sixth Doctor hasn't watched Eight's movie recently if ever. But I could only point at Paul McGann sitting next to him. "Um, it's him."

Paul agreed, and even added that they shared the same "daft grin." Plushie Eight was modeled off a TV movie screencap:
It's all in the left mouth crinkle

--but until now I hadn't realized quite how accurately I have been waking up to Paul McGann's smile every morning the past year. Well, indeed, again. 

Oh, and either because he liked Plushie or he did remember me from Gally after all or perhaps because I was there in association with Hearts and her bag of wonders, he gave me a hug. And told me I was "nice and warm". I was just angling for a handshake, as when that happened the first time my hands were cold and he wound up chafing warmth into them. Paul McGann's mild obsession with regulating his fans' body temperature is oddly endearing, although I don't know if it's the first sign of an oncoming British grandfather transformation or what. Anyway, as per usual, my expectations were proven wonderfully wrong.

Smiling! Left mouth crinkle! And Plushie is under my own left arm, so I guess he's technically been hugged by McGann, too? (Thanks once again to Ellen for being so handy with a camera!)

Peter Davison, after 2 solid hours of signing, was subdued but gracious. Like probably many other people in the line, I thanked him for the Five(ish) Doctors anniversary special.

We piled in to friends car and drove around looking for food, decided against a few sports bars as we weren't exactly dressed for it, and wound up at a Noodles and Company. They served wine, although when Ashli ordered a glass she had to take her blonde wig off to be carded. The unexpected perils of cosplay. A little girl at the restaurant asked me if we were in a play because we were so dressed up. Unsure how much she'd understand the concept of a convention--I don't think I would have at her age--I said there was a big party going on at the hotel and we were in costume for it. Ashli's boyfriend was dressed as Ainley Master, and he said Paul McGann complimented him on the excellent Renaissance-era costume. So Colin Baker might not recognize McGann in plush toy form, but McGann didn't recognize Baker's nemesis. It all evens out in the end.

Speaking of Masters, the one hosting the Masquerade was excellent (Played by William Dezoma, who for some reason bore a resemblance to Tony Lee. Perhaps it was the beard. I did see Tony Lee out of costume going to pet a congoer's dog and having a really friendly and down-to-earth chat, so I'm in his fan club anyway).

Also, it seems like Freema Agyema was just down the hall from our room. Nothing really came of this information, except we saw her going in once and it was kind of cool.

Sunday morning we didn't have any queues to get up for, but we did sit down in the lobby by the elevators to people watch. This paid off as we saw lots of wonderful cosplays, including a fantastic Liz X who enchanted a little girl, and also some of the guests on their way to the brunch. Paul McGann wandered towards the front doors instead until someone called him back. Early-morning dazed and confused, or trying to make a break for it? Who can say.

I went to the Crafty Whovians panel, where I was inspired. I really do want to either take up sculpey clay again or start knitting. If the latter, an accurate 4th Doctor scarf is probably too ambitious of a first project. Still inspiring.

Captain America and Iron Man may not be Whovian, but they sure are cute!

(Brothers of the Other Eight, who went to Paul McGann. And check out that weeping angel!)

In the dealer's room, I got autographs from Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman. Sadly, I'd left my copy of Year of Intelligent Tigers--complete with giant Paul McGann signature on the title plate--at home, but I had them sign a leaf of drawing paper which I intend to decorate as a bookmark soon. My fan bona fides was maintained, however, by the way Blum recognized me--or at least Plushie Eight, although he had my name down to a syllable--as one of the early-morning panelists the day before. Kate Orman detected Plushie's resemblance to Ed Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, which is cool because when Hearts was just brainstorming how to make him I sent her a picture of my Ed plushie for comparison. Between Orman and McGann, Plushie's pedigree has never before been so well sussed out. Jonathan Blum also took this opportunity to snuggle Eight, and then, realizing this was out of character given how he writes the novels, decided to try stabbing him with a capped pen. Somehow (oh, however could it have happened?) our conversation turned to Lloyd Rose, the other Eighth Doctor Adventure novelist who writes such lovely torture scenes, and it turns out she lives in DC! I was excited, although I imagine it'd be a bit awkward if I hunted her down just to tell her that her villains do such lovely things with knives...

The 50th anniversary celebrations continued with a screening of The Five(ish) Doctors with commentary by Peter Davison, who was happily awake this time around. He was gracious even when exhausted but actually has a real sense of humor! And the shocking revelation of John Barrowman's family was apparently his idea. Also, Colin Baker has a specially tailored copy of the Sixth Doctor's coat that fits, shall we say, more comfortably than the original. Given how much he seems to enjoy loathing the thing (he told a baby Six cosplayer--a winner of the Masquerade, actually--that "you're the only one who makes that look good") this was rather amusing to me.

One last time with Blum and Orman, I dropped into see the screening--if that's the right word for an audio--of the first part of The I Job, which involves some alien monsters that first premiered in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Seeing I.  They are a really endearing pair and I sort of envy them each other. Also, although audios are still a little unusual for my American media appetite, The I Job looks pretty fun--the tagline is Blake's 7 meets Ocean's 11 if that gives you an idea.

The Classic Companion panel was adorable, because classic companions are all adorable. It's some sort of hidden casting requirement, I think. Passing by the autograph room by the dealer's room, I overheard one of the volunteers (a little recovered from Saturday) reflecting how lucky they were that everyone involved with the show was somehow magically nice. A good moment of fluffiness to end on, I think. I spent a little more time 'lobbyconning' before Mom arrived to drive me back home. She's not quite converted to Whovianism, but I think she can at least see the appeal it has for me. She also seemed to completely understand when I wore my prom dress for the rest of the day.

Actually, in closing, I just want to state for the record that Hearts really needs to open an Etsy shop.
Between the plushies, who several people thought came from the dealer's room and at least one dealer thought were excellent,
and her handmade steampunk Sonic Screwdriver, which not everyone recognized from the audio covers but at least one person thought was official merchandise 
this really has to happen. 

(The sonic is the thing she & Paul McGann are holding, and is, honestly, the least interesting part of this picture. Even so.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It's Been a Grand Weekend

Especially for Whovians. Also those still mourning the passing of John Fitzgerald Kennedy--now that's a morbid cosmic coincidence. And somewhere between joy and tragedy lie the Hobbit fans, with the Battle of Five Armies also falling on November 23rd (warning: may be spoilers through the wikia link).

For me, it's also been the culmination of several weeks of intense labor, interspersed with perhaps more procrastination than strictly speaking necessary. And also with my awesome part-time internship blogging for Amani DC, including this announcement of our new local job skills training program, a piece I've felt especially proud of. Unfortunately, in blogging for them I'm afraid blogging for myself has sometimes slipped my mind.

I've also found little to blog about, and, again, haven't had a lot of time for it--all because these past weeks have been filled by my last push to finish the Starter Guide for Professional Writers. And, as of this weekend, I've done it!

This is much, much later than I expected or would have preferred to finish it, although there's a reason even for that. As I wrote the second draft, I expanded in a lot of areas, not least to include my lessons from running crowdfunding campaigns and preparing to self-publish through CreateSpace and Smashwords. The Starter Guide is more than twice as long as I planned--90,000 words instead of 40,000! Hopefully this means it will have even more useful information for writers on finishing, editing, publishing, and promoting their stories!

It still needs to undergo a final copyedit and  formatting, but I assume I will be able to release and distribute it not longer after I return from Thanksgiving. I'll be visiting my family after a particularly rough summer, so we'll see how that goes. There are many people back in Wisconsin that I miss--and I'll also be meeting some fellow Whovian friends at the Chicago TARDIS convention the weekend of December 1st. Paul McGann will be there, and so, of course, will Plushie Eighth Doctor (for non-Whovians, that's McGann's character).

(That's the little guy sitting on the shoulder of the woman in the picture. As for that woman, um, I'm not quite sure who she is, but she's wearing a devilishly stylish shirred tunic from One Mango Tree, Fair Trade apparel carried in the Amani DC store. I need to do a fashion post someday, although being ~fashionable is quite the new experience for me.)

Once publishing the Starter Guide is out of the way, I'll be devoting my energy to more systematically approaching my job search. In the meantime, I'm also seeking more freelance editing gigs, and you can find me on Fiverr and Elance. I admit, I'm pretty delighted to score in the top 5% for Creative Writing testers on Elance.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: "Collegium Sorcerorum: Thaddeus of Beewicke" by Louis Sauvain

Another prize from the LibraryThing giveaways program, this one even came with a courteous letter from the author himself. I'm always one to be impressed by presentation, and the presentation of this book was fine indeed: I was especially impressed by the dozen or so illustrations by Sean Bodley scattered throughout the text. The back matter was also quite impressive: 40 pages of Dramatis Personae (not as excessive as it first appears if these characters continue to play a part in this 9-book planned series) and another 10 pages of glossary that, while not necessary to understand most of the book, will prove helpful if you need to brush up on your Latin.

The full title at the least should prepare you for the Latin and the epic scale. Although my favorite bit is Beewicke. It's just adorable. Don't tell Thaddeus, though--he hails from the village of Beewicke, appropriately renowed for its honey, and he is highly sick of hearing about it (a running gag that just managed to not annoy the reader as much as it does Thad).

Collegium Sorcerorum: Thaddeus of Beewicke

For all its epic promise, though, this first story of the saga is smaller in scale. Its focus lies mainly on young Thaddeus, a boy who shows promise in magic; his new teacher Master Silvestrus, and his fellow apprentices Anders (a likeable bookworm) and Rolland (a redheaded thief who has quite a bit of character development to undergo, and, with the help of his travelling companions and a few amusing hijinks, does). Plus the talking mule, Asullus. The mere fact of a talking animal doesn't bother me much, and Asullus actually has plenty of sound advice for the new wizards, but his Scottish (mulish?) accent is transcribed, and that becomes painful after hundreds of pages (and he does talk for pages upon pages of this 500-page book). The Redwall series did the same thing, but being children's books they were more concise.

There's also a steady stream of other characters--again, see the 40 page Dramatis Personae. At once I liked the young courtesan Ethne, whose affectionate but not passionate relationship with her patron was sympathetically drawn and who is revealed to have both a kind heart and a good head on her shoulders. I didn't quite understand her attraction to the much younger Thaddeus, who does little but gape at her from the moment they're introduced (to be fair, he's recovering after a bandit attack). Bella the dog was almost sinister in her ability to enchant everyone around--trust me, this works quite well in context. The characters who were least fleshed out, honestly, were the 3 female apprentices and their teacher, who the travelling students and Silvestrus encounter in the second half of the novel. Three boys, three girls--they're inevitably paired off, but though the dynamics of the groups as a whole play out well, the individual young ladies were never very fleshed out. This is especially a problem as Thad seems to have chosen one for his life partner, and she gives Thaddeus a gift that surprises everyone and suggests she has intelligence and powers beyond the norm--but it's never really explained. Perhaps in book two.

For all I was occasionally surprised or baffled, not much of this story felt like a surprise. The plot exchanges a firm handshake with genre conventions and takes them along on the journey. A prophecy is in play, although this topic is lightly lampshaded (playing with a trope by admitting it's there, and yes, it is a trope, but let's make use of it anyway--the term is from TV Tropes, which I will not link you to because you will never emerge and I'll feel bad). Our thief is even a redhead. While tension arises from temporary problems--like the attack from Rolland's fellow thieves--these problems are quickly cleared away within a chapter. Like many journey stories, it moves linearly: start at Beewicke, end at the Collegium Sorcerorum. On the way Thaddeus has met many people and learned many things, and the fact that the things he's learned haven't proven relevant in this story suggests they'll be crucial in the sequels. But I'm just taking that on faith. Payoff does come in the fast-moving final chapters, which among other things explain Ethne's motive for getting so close to Thad (I would read a novel completely about her, just saying) as well as fleshing out most of the other female characters (except the three students) in one fell swoop. Proper epic scale is very nearly reached. But honestly, I wonder if this isn't a series better begun on Book 2, with the relatively staid Thaddeus of Beewicke serving as a sort of prologue.

Compared to other epic fantasy novelists like Tad Williams or Patrick Rothfuss, Sauvain's great girth of spine derives less from busyness (Williams has stuffed so many side quests into a book that I've actually become furious with him) and more longwindedness. I dare say's and As I was saying's and With not a moment to spare's abound. And sometimes characters are downright redundant:

"...that does not mean I have a liking for yanking and overgrown boy half a mille passe because I'm enjoying the experience!"

My high school English teacher used to give her students an M&M for every word they cut form their essays. The habit has gotten deep in me; I was wondering if have a liking for or because I'm enjoying the experience would earn me more candy-coated chocolately treats.

Some of the garrulousness is clearly meant to make the dialogue more realistically historically flavored. Speaking of history, although there is plenty of Latin (which adds an appropriate level of authority and epicness to the proceedings, without hampering the understanding of any reader either already versed in the language or willing to look back in the glossary), this clearly takes place in a secondary world rather than the actual European Dark Ages.

There is one last topic I'd like to address: sorcery being connected to sexual intimacy. I was a little nervous when I read this on the back cover copy, because it sounds like a trashy porn setup (as opposed to an intellecutal and tasteful porn setup--ahem, ahem) and/or give me flashbacks to the reverse system in Andre Norton's Witch World, where you could conveniently disempower an enemy sorceress by assaulting her. I have...issues with Norton's worldbuilding choices. However, the Collegium Sorcerorum system is far more thoughtful, including offering a loophole system for female wizards to make use of (if, among other things, they'd like to put off pregnancy). A little tough, still, for ugly or asexual male wizards. Not tough at all for Thaddeus, though. Given his womanizing-as-a-teenager tendencies I appreciated the nuanced writing of most female characters. They may fall into tropes, but no more and no worse than the male ones, and the sexism of several male characters is called out in ways more playful than anvilicious. Thaddeus never White Knights or takes credit for simply seeing women as people, and the men who do hold less-than-ideal attitudes are not mustache twirling professional misogynists, just everyday people with a blind spot. A blind spot that may get their egos smacked upside the head, to badly mix my metaphors.

Also, I caught the Hound of the Baskervilles reference on page 303 to Lord Basker who keeps hounds and lives on the moors. Although that's another strong argument against this one taking place in the actual dark ages.

Amazon (Print)
Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Serving Time by Nadine Ducca

For this review, another thank you is in order to the LibraryThing giveaways program, and of course Nadine Ducca herself for offering the first volume of her Timekeepers trilogy. I'm a winner once again!


Although I was often confused over what was going on, the original mythological background  of Serving Time was strong from the beginning. The author has clearly spent time developing this mythology and shows it by demonstrating her characters' familiarity with its workings. I found Robert, the wizard who figured out how to blackmail Time, a fascinating character. He didn't play a major part until the end, though, as there is a wide cast of characters scattered across multiple planets, satellites, and outposts. And as for the story's mythology, it's far from comforting. After the Angels meant to guide souls through their many incarnations have fled, the demonic powers, kept barely in line by a frazzled Time, try to pick up the task. Nobody is particularly happy about this. Not Time, who has her own concerns. Nor the demons, who are meant to devour souls, not look after them! And who must contend with the ever-present threat of clerical work.

Things are no more comfortable on the mortal plane, where big businesses now run pretty much everything with no sense of corporate social responsibility. It forms an interesting parallel with the bureaucracy on the mythological plane. Our protagonist's Tristan's opening scene, which shows a day in his life as a hired assassin dogged by robots ready to clean up after his "job," was pulpy goodness worthy of Blade Runner, or perhaps The Fifth Element.

The demands of being a killer for hire have driven Tristan to a breakdown, making him less than useful to his bosses, who sell his contract cheap to another corporation even more lacking in concern for employee welfare. Meanwhile, Tristan's brother Eneld is visited by a demon who gives him a warning: it's his task to look after his brother's soul in this, Tristan's final incarnation before he's damned to the Respository (hell in this setting) as damaged metaphysical goods. Although the brothers may be less than convinced by this vision, they clearly have pressing problems as Tristan is pursued by his new bosses, who he's trying to escape.

The prose and tone of the story varies widely. I admit I have nitpicks--like when the Goddess Time is described as a "fifteen foot" colossus on a limitless plain. The exact number makes her size ever so slightly less impressive (I like to think most mortals won't whip out a yardstick on their first confrontation with a deity). But the dialogue is plausible and mostly snappy. There are also points where the prose becomes playfully visible-"It was on the verge of hyperventilating, if soul dew could ventilate in any way." Fun and fitting with the bizarro tone. And yet in other cases I just couldn't figure out where the author was coming from. What does it mean that Time has strands of hair "like honeyed spiderwebs"? And another thing that puzzles me, and makes me wonder how seriously the science-fiction worldbuilding is being taken: why is Tristan's drug run for his corporate overlords done under cover of an interplanetary shipment of tiramisu? Glad as I am to know we'll still be eating tiramisu centuries from now, wouldn't it be a thousand times faster and cheaper to bake it on-planet? Did nobody find this sort of suspicious?

Speaking of baked goods in the future, fruitcake and Christmas are still going strong, even as the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona has not only been completed but also fallen into ruin again (I see what Ducca did there, and it amuses me, not least because of the sense of scale it gives). All the homey anachronisms could probably be excused in the end, although I always like to see spec fic writers dream a little weirder. But the tone never quite recovered from the revelation that the highly laid-back population of the Stone Cloud spaceship call themselves "Stoners". I love puns from the likes of Peirs Anthony, but I felt rather offended on behalf of my sense of humor at that one (reminds me of cowboy romance talent Diana Palmer's first venture into sci-fi, where she thought she'd be clever by having the alien race of the Centauri system be named the Cehn-Tahr*). How much danger in Tristan's soul really in, and how much should I fear for him, in a world built with puns?

Puns aside, a sort of wordplay does go into the mythology-building of this story too, at least for fans of Madeline L'Engle. Over the ages, Time has developed quite a few wrinkles, and is displeased twice over when various galactic species start exploiting them for time travel--plus the apparently unforgiveable indignity of being a female deity who does not look like a teenager. I mean, Lucifer certainly isn't worried about his looks. Then again, Lucifer doesn't have the problem of being a gorgeous young woman everyone pictures as a white-bearded Father, so I guess I can cut Time some slack here. Mythological figures being irritated by mortals' mistaken impressions of them is a trope I usually enjoy, but I enjoy them because of the surprise factor; a female character being caught up in her looks is, alas, not much of a surprise. In any event, Time's vanity is assuaged by Robert's offer of a cure, in exchange for perks like power and immortality. But Time has another favorite human: Tristan, who in a past life was Time's good friend Alexia. Perhaps I only dreamed the lesbian subtext between those two, but they were certainly very close--Alexia medicated Time's vanity just as Robert does in the present, but they also went on adventures together literally to hell and back. The sweet girlfriendship plot, and Time's tendency to call Tristan "Alexia" even when he's romancing her, redeemed the otherwise disappointing representation of female characters. I warmed to Eneld only very slowly after his intro shows him in bed with a woman who he calls a slut (granted, logical thinking is never his strong point, but why is this supposed to be attractive in the character who serves as the moral center? Tristan's much more screwed up, in that he actually kills people for a living, but he's very upfront and equal-opportunity in his screwedupness). Jim Kirk spoiled me; I expect the 23rd century to be a touch more progressive, to say nothing of free love.

This story ends on a definite cliffhanger, but its resolution centers more around Robert than Tristan in my mind. This is fine, except Tristan has been the more central character, and winds up nothing but a pawn for the last chapters. His story will be continued in the sequels (Serving Time is the first of the Timekeepers Trilogy). Overall, while this story has an entertaining setup and I appreciate the devil-may-care attitude blending mythology and gritty science fiction, the sometimes corny tone and lackluster character development made it hard to lose myself in. Readers more used to irreverence in their stories (use the "Stoners" pun as a guideline) might even love it. 

Barnes and Noble

*I discovered the MST3K-style running commentary I made for the first few chapters of Palmer's Morcai Battalion, and if you think I'm snarky now, you should have seen me then. Although since I've become a writer myself I try to nicer to my fellows, I think I was also being defensive of my genre. Nobody's an interloper in sci-fi, I don't want to be a gatekeeper, but neither do I like to see such careless writing. It gives the impression Palmer thinks all sci-fi writers are so careless, or that her publisher thinks all sci-fi readers are heedless of the quality of their reading material. Even as a teenager I was eager to prove them wrong.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy National Novel Writing Month!

For several hundred thousand writers, the great challenge of the year has just launched: for the next 30 days, they will be scrambling to maintain a semi-functional life while also producing 1,667 words per day, to end with a 50,000 word story on December 1st.

I wish them luck.

While I can't deny the glories of a creative adrenaline surge, I have never managed to get more than 35,000 words in November, and have several times had to step back and let the challenge go before I had a nervous breakdown (or at least it certainly felt that way at the time). It doesn't help that November is the month of Thanksgiving, Final Exams, and in one particularily memorable year my grandmother's passing away at 102. This only makes my admiration stronger for anyone who has managed to complete NaNoWriMo.

In their honor, and in honor of all the brave souls about to begin their tribulation--and with all due respect to Tom Lehrer--I have composed a ballad. It accurately, if with some exaggeration, captures my feelings about NaNoWriMo madness...and perhaps writing in general some days. As Thomas Mann put it, "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

To be sung to something like the tune of National Brotherhood Week:
Oh writers like to clean stuff
And writers like to make stuff
To do anything but to write stuff
Is our old established rule
But during National Novel Writing Month, National Novel Writing Month
Write sixteen hundred words before you do any other stuff
It’s time to eulogize
The plot that you despise,
As long as you just get the d*mn thing down.
Oh, writers sure like to cook things
And to talk about movies that we’ve seen
And good god do writers love blog-ging,
But write novels? We’d rather die.

But during National Novel Writing Month, National Novel Writing Month
Without six thousand words by this weekend you’re sunk
Step up and write a chapter
Whose completion you’ve been after
You know that you can do it if you try!
Oh, how I hate writing adverbs
And I keep choosing weak nouns and bad verbs
My participles are less than superb
And my character’s a Mary Sue

But during National Novel Writing Month, National Novel Writing Month
It’s National Ignore-this-pencil-that-I’m-biting Month.
Keep your butt in the chair
And get some words done there
It’s only for a month, so have no fear.
Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Heaven's Needle by Liane Merciel

You know how I said The White-Luck Warrior became horror a few pages in?

The White-Luck Warrior would take one look at one page of Heaven's Needle and run away crying.

Which is why, despite it being marketed as high fantasy, Heaven's Needle is my review of choice for Hallow's Eve this year.

(That's a warning, by the way, that the following review will contain disturbing imagery and if you aren't up for that, especially if you're currently eating tasty food, feel free to visit a different webpage).


The prologue includes a nice grisly bit about people exploding, proving this is going to be far more twisted than previous The River King's Road if nothing else. Of course, we should expect more twistedness, given the Sun Knight Sir Kelland has been kidnapped and imprisoned by the sadomasochistic Thorns, whose magic depends on their worship of the goddess Kliasta through disfigurement and torture. His friend and would-be lover, Bitharn, is on her way to rescue him. But doing so involves deceiving and betraying their own order of paladins serving the sun goddess Celestia. She frees Malentir, a Thornlord imprisoned by the Celestians, in order to have a prisoner exchange.

Meanwhile, Kelland is discovering moral complexities of his own in conversation with the leader of the Thorns, called the Spider. Here the Thorns rise above standard villain fare by revealing discipline and philosophy. For one thing, these vicious clerics are truthbound, which the Spider explains is because "the truth hurts worse" than any lie. It's still interesting that the villains of the previous book are suddenly revealed as...not exactly trustworthy, but more complex than they were at first. The Spider is also deeply in love with her husband (and their relationship has definite consensual BDSM undertones, which is confusing to the chaste Sun Knight but not represented as a sign of their Evilness. Although, alas, I miss the days of R.A. Salvatore's sadistic sorceresses and their captive elves, it was refreshing to see BDSM as a humanizing element to an evil character, rather than Bad People Having Bad Sex). Speaking of confusing the chaste Sun Knight, the Spider further sends Kelland for a spin by teaching him of a Celestian heresy that allows sexual activity within a committed relationship. In short, only casual sex is bad for Celestians. Given Celestia is the moral arbiter of this story's universe, I feel like She's going both too far (celibacy, according to my Catholic upbringing, is the sacrifice of emotional as well as sensual intimacy) and not far enough (what's so wrong with casual sex?).

This is all extremely interesting to me, if the thick paragraph above hadn't tipped you off. Unfortunately, one of my pet peeves from The River Kings' Road carried over--the flashbacks. "Have you heard of this fortress?" Character A asks. Character B has heard of the fortress, and now we the readers will to, in the form of a 2-page flashback/lecture. Then Character B replies to A, "Yes, I've heard of it. <Pithy 1-sentence summary of the lecture that tells us all we really needed to know for the story to move forward.>"

Enjoying this series involves some level of acceptance of the fact that every chapter or so will contain a mini-short-story setting up background information that is perhaps 30-50% relevant. I get some fantasy fans really enjoy the worldbuilding. I usually do, too, but I like it to be subtler and more connected to the action of the story. Especially because there's enough to unpack in this story.

Our villain (or at least one of them), Corban, starts down the road to ruin by trying to democratize magic, which has previously been the realm solely of the gods. Unfortunately, he decides to democratize war magic, as that's where the greatest popular demand is. Even more unfortunately, this magic isn't actually free of the gods after all--it comes from Maol, god of Madness. This is why tracing your supply chain is important, everyone.

That said, the idea of god-free magic is very tantalizing to those of a more agnostic strain of thought, and I feel the theocracy of the Celestian Sun Knights goes unexamined. Especially as Bitharn goes to prove the Celestians are not flawless avatars of the good.

I said about the previous book that this world's Viking-analogues were very close to historic Vikings, but I was incorrect. They turn out to be more misogynistic (not hard, actually, as the Vikings allowed women to own property, divorce, and many other useful rights) and this paves the way for a new character, the gender-role-crossing Sword Maiden Asharre. Asharre is mourning the loss of her sister, a Celestian cleric, when she is given the job of playing bodyguard to two new clerics as they travel to their first assignment.

It doesn't go well.

Kliasta, the goddess of the Thornlords, has driven her followers to pluck out their eyes, disfigure themselves, and devise some really amazing torture devices. Thorns still flock to her in steady numbers. The followers of Baoz, god of war, are the topic of some really horrible visions inflicted on Asharre as she crossed a booby-trapped bridge. Boaz is still pretty popular among solider types, who come to him willingly. But Maol, bloody four-armed Maol, is so wrong that he doesn't have volunteer converts; instead His spirit just sort of comes where it will, inflicting body horror and insanity.

He's taken over the town where our baby clerics and babysitter Asharre are going preaching.

If the scene where a ferret claws out its own guts hasn't proved enough warning, I'll just lay down the line: do not eat, and be careful of drinking, anything at all after page 200. I giggled through MangaMinx's Amnesia playthroughs, and this book was too much for me (not literally too much, but...I'm pretty sure you understand what I mean. If this were a movie I'd be hiding behind the couch). Body horror transformations, torture porn, and scary creatures chasing the protagonists through the night abound. There's also helpings of sexual assault (consider yourselves trigger warned), no child immortality, and pleas from mercy coming from orifices that shouldn't even work as mouths.

To defeat this haunting/manifestation/curse, Kelland and Bitharn find themselves working alongside Kliastans, who are not only safer than the alternative but also more stylish. You know it's bad when I prefer the aesthetic of missing-eyeball body modifications, although for the record, Malentir's thorned bracelets? Stylish.

Aside from the Amnesia games, this book also reminded me of C.S. Friedman's Coldfire trilogy, if only for the surface similarity of sun clerics fighting the powers of darkness against a fantasy-horror background. Coldfire, though, had much more depth and the worldbuilding felt more rigorous--appropriately, as among its mash of genres there was a healthy dose of science fiction. Heaven's Needle seemed to miss the chance for deeper examinations of its premises in places like Celestian theocracy (also, Celestia appears to be the only benevolent deity in this universe). There was a nice bit of mindfuck, a twist I'm not even sure was played straight or not, when Asharre's horrific visions turn out to be helpful in defeating Maol, who uses terror to distract her from a path to salvation. Or maybe it was a double-blind taking advantage of reverse psychology. I'm not certain.

The Celestian plotline inflicts a specific cruelty masterfully in a way Coldfire also achieved and R. Scott Bakker's opus, though brilliant in other ways, hasn't managed: it holds out cosmic virtue alongside cosmic evil, revealing a right path that is neither good nor easy. Given Celestia exists, and Her precepts are good, and Her servants seek to ease suffering, and all this is self-evident, there's no excuse for Asharre, Bitharn, or Kelland to turn away from the frequently gruesome demands of their quest in Her service. In Bakker's universe you (especially as the reader, but as a character to) can toss up your hands at an especially grotesque im/moral scenario and live on in a selfish state of apathy. Perhaps some children have to be sacrificed so you can keep living, but oh well; the universe sucks and once you accept that, things make a sort of sense. Not so here. Serving Celestia may require you to let some children be sacrificed, and that makes it your duty to let them die, and this is a fact that coexists with the goodness of Celestia and, holy heck, my Catholic upbringing didn't prepare me for this (lies, it totally did and I'm drinking it up).

I was hoping for more tie in with The River Kings' Road, which I didn't feel had concluded the stories of all its characters, but Bitharn and Kelland are the only ones who carry over. I think the Thornlady in Road was acting as part of a long-term plot the Thorns had to capture a Sun Knight, all so they can secure Kelland and Bitharn's cooperation against Maol, but I'm not actually sure. Meanwhile,  Brys Tarnell isn't ever gonna get his redemptive arc, is he (which is fine, but then why all the backstory?). I'm not even certain if the series will continue or rest as a duology. If there is a third book coming, I hope it's a bit lighter in tone--maybe fluffy scenes of the Spider and her husband beating each other up and conquering the world. Yes, that would be a great deal cheerier.

Final judgement: I haven't read a really horrifying book in a long time, and it was oddly fun to give in to the occasional urge to whimper Liane Merciel, NO, have mercy!. It was also an interesting book to compare/contrast with The White-Luck Warrior, which I thought was scary at the time but is now regulated to merely grimdark swords and sorcery ("merely" meaning "on an unprecedentedly epic scale," but it didn't touch me in the deeply, emotionally violating sense Heaven's Needle did).

Read it if: you want to prove your toughness, enjoy some twisted dark gods, and, yes, see Kelland and Bitharn get their happy ending--whether or not you feel they deserve it after everything they allowed to happen in this book.

Do not read if: you dislike dead children, have extreme triggers for gore, and never want to picture intestines as a mode of locomotion. Oops, sorry, that mental image is here to stay. I don't see why I should suffer it alone.

Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Return from the 18th Century

It may say something about how much I've traveled this year that I have not purchased a single bottle of conditioner, instead relying on the cute little bottles they give you in hotel bathrooms. I'd have the same record for soap but this weekend at Colonial Williamsburg their scented and fun-shaped "soap balls" were too much fun to resist.

I got peppermint scented and "Castille," which is actually not the name of the scent (it's vaguely floral) but the Spanish town where that style of soapmaking was invented. The more you know.

My good friend Amanda, who came with me, got a much more involved souvenir: a new dress.
Plushcoat and I at Colonial Williamsburg this past weekend!!
(I took about 300 pics so its hard to choose what to post!)

Plushcoat and I at Colonial Williamsburg this past weekend!!
(I took about 300 pics so its hard to choose what to post!)
As well as hats for herself and the Plushie Redcoat she made (she's also the creator of my plushie Eighth Doctor--an all-around talented individual).

Speaking of which, yeah, little 'Who' (my mother's name for him--I'm not going to correct her that he's "The Doctor") was along too:

Considering we were bringing a fun-sized version of the enemy into Williamsburg, everyone was quite courteous to us. Specific shout-outs to that charmer Lafayette, Chelsea at the milliner's where we got Amanda's dress, and the hosts of the ball at the Governor's Palace Saturday evening. I may have butchered a Scottish Reel but they were nevertheless gracious. It's rare to have an audience-participation event handled with next to no stage fright on my part, but they managed it.

We stayed 2 nights at the Chiswell Bucktrout house, which we remembered by the name of a certain British actor (perhaps better known as Sherlock). Although not as cheap as a Motel 8, it was happily affordable, especially considering our package included not only historic housing but also complimentary breakfasts at the super swanky Regency Room up at the Williamsburg Inn. All in all, a pretty cool way to make the most of your visit to the 18th century. The gift card that came with also managed to cover dinner at the King's Arms tavern, which this impoverished recent graduate would not have managed otherwise. We got to sample syllabub for the first time (tangy, because of the lemon, and just enough white wine to give teetotalers a buzz although our server said they were allowed to serve it to children) and I got the first good peanut soup I've had since my trip to Ghana. I bought mixes for both at the general store. All in all, a good review for the King's Arms too, even if they didn't believe me when I said I was from Washington, D.C. (apparently nothing had been named for the General yet--I wonder if visitors from Washington State encounter the same paradox?), and when we agreed I was from Foggy Bottom, the mosquito-ridden shores of the Potomac, this was taken as the reasoning behind my slovenly state of dress.

Well, slovenly compared to Amanda's period-appropriate round gown, I suppose, but I leave you to judge for yourself:

Returning home, I've got an email from mom in the colony of Wisconsin (yes, I know Wis. was never a colony) that my contributor's copy of Outposts of Beyond has arrived safe and sound. It'll sadly be a bit until I can read it, but that doesn't mean you can't get your hands on Issue #2, which contains among other delights my fantasy short "Murderer, Confessor, Executioner." The story evolved as an experiment in creating nonhuman characters, specifically a character who is other than human not merely in physical appearance but in emotional life as well.

Speaking of fiction, there's a call for submissions out for the Mammoth Book of Science Fiction by Women. If you have written stories meeting both those parameters, I encourage you to go check it out!

 PostScript: Okay, so Lafayette may have been a charmer, but it can't be denied he had eyes in other places than just the colonial ladies. That man's crush on America (perhaps personified by Washington, but consider the fact he brought home barrels of soil from Bunker Hill to be buried under) is historically adorable.