Bike MS Tour de Farms 2017

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Power Pedallers Randy, me, Tiger, Cookie, and Tyler – can you spot who was photoshopped in later?

Sigh. The most wonderful time of the year has once again come and gone.

Tour de Farms 2017 was a real challenge. In addition to how little training time we seemed to have, we have never ridden anywhere near this long with winds of 20 mph, gusting sometimes to near 30. I used to think headwinds were the worst, but that was before I learned what a 30 mph crosswind can do to you… or more properly speaking, your partners in crime.

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Cookie and Tiger meet some sheep at Rest Stop #1

Cookie and Tiger had a tough go of it. I think they still are glad they came, but it’s harder to have fun while being blown off one’s bike, or onto a gravel shoulder you had no desire to end up in. When you’re a dainty, delicate flower like Cookie or Tiger, you are far more likely to be blown sideways by a good crosswind.

I, however, am quite heavy and was thus able to keep my seat. Don’t let anyone tell you there is nothing good about being fat. It was easier to stay on my bike. Oh, and my bone density is also swell.

Our team, the Power Pedallers, raised nearly $7,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Cookie, Tiger, Randy, and Tyler will have their own folks to thank, but here’s my list:

Thanks to BK for tons of support of every imaginable kind leading up to the ride and over the weekend.

Thanks to Sis and Al for generous donations and moral support. It was wonderful to have them with us during the weekend.

Thanks also to donors Lorie & Steve, Cecelia & Brian & Emily (oh my!), Danielle, Cookie, Kishin & Rita, Elizabeth & Jay, Tim, Katherine L.,  Ann, Lori, Rocky, Quentin, and Kevin. You are all my heroes!

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Two holes, three riders: me, Tiger and Cookie

 

Nebula Reading Time!

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What the Nebula Award looked like in 2015

It’s that time of year. The Oscars are over, and weren’t they interesting this year!?!

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have announced the finalists for the 51st Annual Nebula, the Ray Bradbury Award for an Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

You can see the whole list here.

Possibly for the first time ever, I’m slightly ahead of the game, having acquired Borderline by Mishell Baker and Everfair by Nisi Shawl the minute(s) they were available. They were both incredible!

I’m now listening to the Audible release of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and enjoying the hell out of it.

That leaves only two novels still to read: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. I’m looking forward to them!

I’ve also seen all the Bradbury nominees except the Westworld episode. I don’t do HBO. I may have to see if Cookie will let me come over and watch.

I’ve probably read some of the shorter fiction, but  I usually have to refresh my memory before voting; l usually can’t match a title to a story until I’ve read a paragraph or so. And this year I haven’t read any of the nominated YA titles, so I’d better get on that.

SFWA members have from March 1 – March 30 to vote, so I’d better read (or listen) fast!

Which of the nominated works have you read? What would you vote for?

 

A Writer’s Christmas Wish List

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Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve shared what I’m up to. Am I claiming that I was too busy to blog? Bad CB! No cookie!

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing, at least in the writing department:

  • I did NaNoWriMo again this year, and got my 50,000 words. I’m not done yet; still working on the exciting climax. You know how it is with ballerinas who are suddenly infected with lycanthropy; they have some serious issues.
  • I finally have my previous novel—a historical fantasy set in 1870s Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska—more or less ready for alpha readers. I hope to have a beta version by spring.
  • I’ve continued submitting short stories to magazines. No acceptances yet, but I made at least editor’s one short list. Still waiting to see how that turns out.
  • And…I’ve decided to apply to some workshops. I’m talking the serious sci-fi/ fantasy workshops where you have to send a writing sample, spend a chunk of money and 1-6 weeks of your life learning whether or not you have what it takes to get your short stories and novels traditionally published. Think workshops like Clarion, Clarion West, Odyssey, Taos Toolbox, and Viable Paradise.

So here’s what I want for Christmas. (You don’t really have to get me anything…)

Help I need in December/January:

  • Read what I what I think are my best short stories (about 20K words total), and vote for your favorite 2 or 3; if you’ve successfully applied to one of the workshops mentioned above tell me which of those stories you think might get me into a competitive workshop
  • Tell me how you got into Clarion, Clarion West, Odyssey, Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise. Gory details? Trials and tribulations? I’m all over whatever you want to share. If you’re willing to point me to anything you’ve written on the subject of applying to or attending a competitive workshop—or if you’re willing to exchange emails/chat about the experience— I can’t tell you how much I’d love to hear from you.
  • Give me tips on writing an essay about myself that would persuade anyone to give me a shot at one of these workshops. Or read mine (once I’ve written it) and tell me how to make it more convincing.
  • Alpha read my western fantasy novel (about 100K words). This means reading the story and just giving me general impressions, but no need to heavily edit.

Help I may need in March/April

  • Alpha read my novel about the werewolf ballerina (not finished yet, but I think it will be about 100K words)

Help I may need in May/June

  • Beta read my western fantasy. This would happen after alpha readers have checked it out. Most of the major flaws should already be dealt with. You’d be spotting continuity  and other errors, helping me make it read better, stuff like that.

If you’re able to help with any of my above wishes, please comment below or message me via Facebook/ Twitter/Google. And let me know if you need a similar Christmas present…

108 Years in the Making

First, a bit of historical context:

November 4, 2016

As I write this, TV coverage of the Cubs victory parade and rally for their 2016 World Series win plays in the background. WGN-TV reports that six million humans are packed around the 6.7 miles of parade route from Wrigley Field all the way down to Grant Park.

If you don’t live in Chicago, you may not understand the fuss. Then again, you might. If you have Cubs fans in the family, or if you follow baseball, you will be at least a bit familiar with how loyal the north side club’s fan base is, despite 108 years that ensued between the last World Series win before 2016. You may have heard about the people who have bought Cubs’ wear to put on the graves of loved ones who lived and died without seeing their beloved baseball team win a World Series.

If you don’t live in Chicago, you also likely have never heard (arguably) the best radio DJ ever: Lin Brehmer at 93.1 WXRT-FM.

His Lin’s Bins segments, wherein he answers questioned emailed by listeners are things of beauty—often classic bits of poetry or philosophy I hold to my heart long after the segments have aired. My main issue with them is that they’re no longer available via podcast. If they were, you know I’d share a link to one of his Cubs related episodes here…maybe more than one.

Well, I can’t. I can only mention that the Thursday morning broadcast on November 3, despite Lin’s fatigue after what had to be the shortest night’s sleep ever before his usual 5:30 a.m. start, brought a tear to my eye. Multiple times. He and news director Mary L. Dixon (who shares that morning slot) are huge Cubs fans. Exhausted but thrilled, there was no way they’d miss their first chance to celebrate with their listeners.

In addition to the Steve Goodman classic above, they also played J.D. McPherson’s North Side Gal  and Eddie Vedder’s “All the Way,” which you can hear on the WGN site.

Loved those songs, and of course many others Lin played, all full of the excitement of this long-delayed victory. But my favorite part of the broadcast was the way he closed it. Lin and Mary have hosted a special Cub’s opening day broadcast for as long as I can remember. As they ended their shift, Lin paid tribute to the many fans he’d met in the stands over the years, naming them, and telling stories of how long and thoroughly they’d supported the team. And as Lin likes to do, there was a tiny thread of music under the narrative. As it swelled, it sounded like this. If you choose to click on this link, as you listen, imagine people you live among and love, and some who you have loved, but who have since passed away, and how it would feel to share a moment of happiness with them and say, six million other people who are feeling the same thing.

That is all.

 

The Black Archives of Mid-America

The main reason I wanted to attend Mid-Americon/WorldCon is this: the novel I’m working on is set mostly in eastern Kansas. With my characters traveling the area in 1872, I needed to know what their experiences might be like. So I traveled to Kansas early, and did some area research.

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I loved my Kansas/Missouri experience (of which more news will follow) but let’s start with the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.

My novel contains one small but pivotal section set in Kansas City. I needed to know how this mixed-race group was going to navigate the city, and what it would be like when they got there. So I contacted the archive, as you need to let them know you’re coming. Emiel Cleaver forwarded my questions to Glenn North, who put me in touch with archivist Geri Sanders.

Geri was incredibly helpful. As I feared, there wasn’t as much about the era I was interested in as there was for later times. However Geri was generous with her time and resources, tirelessly scouring the archives for books containing valuable information about the geography of the city at the time, the history of local slavery and reconstruction, and some wonderful people who lived during the period.

In historical fiction, I always enjoy references to actual historical figures. I’m now hoping  to have my characters talk about (and possibly even meet) impressive local inhabitants of the period like:

William D. Matthews (c.1827- 1906) moved to Leavenworth, Kansas in 1856, had a station on the local Underground Railroad, and recruited ex slaves to fight for the Union during the Civil War.

James Milton Turner (1840-1915) was born a slave in St. Louis, but his father was able to purchase his freedom. He attended Oberlin College until he had to return to care for his family after his father’s death. While in St. Louis, he attended John Berry Meachum’s floating Freedom School on a steamboat on the Mississippi River. The Freedom School was established to evade Missouri laws against education for blacks. Turner served in the Union Army. After the war, he was Missouri assistant superintendent of schools, helping establish Lincoln Institute (later Lincoln University), the first institution of higher education for African-Americans in Missouri. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him ambassador to Liberia, making him the first African-American to serve in the U.S. diplomatic corps.

Mrs. Alpha Minor Smith sold notions door-to-door until 1870, when she was able to open a dressmaking shop and notions store in the West Bottoms neighborhood. Her shop was the first in Kansas City to carry ready-to-wear clothing for ladies.

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Historic Church Hill neighborhood east of Troost, view to the west

In addition to the biographical information, I also have possible scene locations (early churches) and local legends (like Hiram Young) to add verisimilitude.

I can’t thank Geri Sanders (and all the people at the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City) enough for their help with my research!

For more information about the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, you can visit their website, Facebook, or Twitter.

WorldCon (aka MidAmericon)

It. Was. Awesome.

I loved seeing people I knew from various past writing classes like Mishell Baker, Stina Leicht,  Ada Milenkovic Brown, Vanessa Rose Phin, and Will Gordon, receiving hugs, and generally hanging out.

And Spotting a wayward T.A.R.D.I.S.

And fun with Ann Leckie novels, like:

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Grabbing Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy swag
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Morgan Swim

as Lieutenant Tisarwat

And any awesome panels and presentations (more than I can fully represent) including:

Ready, Set, Flash! starring Lee Harris, Deirdre Murphy, Chris Phillips, Vivian Trask, and James Van Pelt: a game show where brave authors wrote a complete flash fiction piece in five minutes based on prompts supplied by the audience.

Enjoying Urban Fantasy with Yanni Kuznia, Melissa F. Olson, Max Gladstone, Stina Leicht, and Diana Rowland,  wherein authors formed Venn diagrams with their bodies in order to explain what urban fantasy is.

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Diana Rowland and Stina Leicht at the urban fantasy panel

Sarah Pinsker’s concert. I love Sarah Pinsker’s fiction, especially “Our Lady of the Open Road.” Sarah’s also a singer-songwriter. Her lyrics are fully as awesome as her stories, so I’ll be picking up some of her music. She played a few songs from her new CD. Can’t wait until it drops!

…And Yesterday was Already Tomorrow: Ancient Greece and Rome in Science Fiction with Robert Cape and Timothy Phin. Tim delineated many ways in which you could find the Roman Empire in the Radch (aka the civilization Ann Leckie builds in her Ancillary novels).

And of course, the Hugo awards ceremony. Pat Cadigan was a highly entertaining toastmaster, and the results were much as I would have wished.

In other news, I missed most of the drama, of which there was apparently plenty:

 

But to finish on a more positive note: I think the most fun I’ve had in a while has been playing along with the launch activities around Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers.

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Cracking this code led to the next clue…

So much code-breaking! Sadly, I wasn’t able to make it to the Tor party Friday night. One lucky code-breaking winner received an original story, written by Mary to their specifications, on a 1913 Corona #3 portable typewriter, while they waited!

Now that’s how you launch a book.

Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire served up the most moving time I’ve spent in a theatre in a long while.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a play-within-a-play. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, is arrested and put in a holding cell to await the Inquisition. He waits with his assistant, among those who also wait: if they’re lucky, just to be tried for theft or murder; if unlucky, to be called before the Inquisition. The other prisoners rob Cervantes of his belongings, including a manuscript. To ransom the manuscript, he enlists his fellow prisoners’ aid to present a story which he hopes will convince them to let him keep his manuscript.

In other productions I’ve seen (or performed in), both the outer and the inner play are set in 16th-17th century Spain. For this production, director Nick Bowling (and designers  Jeffrey D. Kmiec, Jesse Klug, Nancy Missimi, Robert E. Gilmartin, and Sally Weiss) reimagined the setting of the outer play, presenting the characters as modern—people you could easily imagine populating a present-day holding cell. Since these people had no notion of when they might be allowed their day in court, if ever, the production evoked associations with any justice system that’s arbitrary and unfair. As we know from the news, there are too many people in the world being held unfairly even in our supposedly enlightened age.

You should go. To this production, if you can, though it’s only possible until August 14, 2016. If you can’t attend the Marriott production, your next best bet is probably to listen to a Broadway cast album of the show. Don’t bother with the movie.

The ensemble acting and vocals at the Marriott Lincolnshire were sublime. While I can’t mention everyone, I need to say that for both acting and singing, Nathaniel Stampley, Danni Smith, and Richard Ruiz brought the production to a peak of near-perfection. I think it was the combination of the immediacy (or maybe the timeless feel) of this production and the beautiful vocals that put it over the top for me. I wept like a tiny little girl. In my defense, I was not the only one. I heard sniffles from BK, Sis, Cookie, and Cookie Jr., as well.

There are people who knock the musical as reducing Cervantes’ work too much, or as having too simplistic a message. I can’t speak to the former since I haven’t yet read his novel. As to the latter, I say, “hooey.” Evil remains in the world, and it’s not illusory. We have our work cut out for us. If anything, even a Broadway musical, can give us the courage to face the task, I say revel in it.

And then sally forth.