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.


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.

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:

Grabbing Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy swag
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.

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.

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.

Tour de Farms – Another Year in the Bag

The mighty Power Pedallers: Dave, Kevin, Cookie, Beth, Danielle, me and David.
MIA: Randy, Natalie, and Sandy. But they biked that day, honest!

Bike MS has come and gone, and it was an adventure! While we didn’t miss dinner (the greatest fear of Bilbo Baggins), we did bike many miles (50 for Beth and me) in 90-degree heat, with 67% humidity, uphill, into a 15 mph wind.

Okay that last two claims were, of course, a slight exaggeration. I’ve yet to do any bike course that was uphill the entire way. And if you have a 15 mph headwind when you’re going south, it stands to reason that when you’re going north, it’s a tailwind. However…at one point, there’s a 17-mile stretch (mostly south, into the wind) with no scheduled rest stops. In the past, we’ve been able to get through it without needing to stop in between, but this year a lot of people sought out shade so they could gather strength to carry on. Several of us were sitting around under a tree in front of a farm house (this was Tour de Farms, after all) and we began to complain of this year’s challenges, each person seeking to top the person who spoke before. When we got to the point that someone said, “in the snow”, the next person said, “barefoot,” and I said, “and we liked it!” we figured we were done.

A blurry picture of me, grasping the medal I got for finishing

Here’s a shout out to BK, Sis, my cousin Steve, and friend Alan, for making the most awesome cheering section ever, and to all the generous people who sponsored me and thus, have contributed to MS research and support to those who are dealing with this disease. This has been my best year yet, in terms of fundraising. As of this writing, I’ve made 95% of my (admittedly ambitious) goal of $2500. I have until July 30 to meet it, so if you wanted to donate but haven’t yet, it’s not too late. Tour de Farms donations are being accepted until July 30. The link to my donation page is here.

Thanks so much to donors Lorie & Steve, Eileen (with Pat & Kat), Randy, Cecelia & Brian, Mickey, Danny & Lori, Rita & Kishin, Praful, the Ratay family, Rocky, Katie, Jay & Elizabeth, Ann, and Beth. I hope I haven’t missed anyone; please let me know if I have.

Bike MS Tour de Farms is this weekend!

And How Cookie Achieved her Nom de Voyage


Cookie and I have participated in Tour de Farms since 2013. In addition to raising funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, this ride is just plain fun. We’ve enjoyed it so much, we’ve been recruiting others to join us. This year our friend Beth will ride with us for the first time. She has always called Cookie by her given name.

Now it can be told: Cookie’s baptismal name is Eileen.

Anyway, Beth noticed that Eileen always signs her emails about the event with the name “Cookie.” Beth asked if Cookie was Eileen’s “biker name.” Since BK is the one responsible for the fact that Eileen’s nickname has stuck, I suggested that he be the one to explain it to Beth.

Here is his account:

About 3 years ago, on a Sunday morning, Catherine and Eileen were engaged in a bicycling outing with a group from a local bike shop. The path they were riding, as many paths do, crossed a street. Catherine managed to cross successfully. Eileen had the misfortune to catch her front tire in a break in the pavement, whereupon her bicycle, feeling rather unsettled by this unexpected turn of events, refused to roll on. In this instance, the intransigent attitude of her bicycle was in direct opposition to the laws of physics, particularly those dealing with conservation of momentum and angular motion.

Eileen was thrown from her bike into the street, landing principally on her head but not without significant contact with other body areas that led the way in her flight to the asphalt. I cannot fully describe the extent of her injuries. Fortunately, she is a physician and can explain these in detail to you should you ask. For my part, I will say that she had a concussion, an injury to her brain (opposite the point of impact, I think, with the brain compressing against the skull from her momentum at impact, and a broken collar bone.

— A pause for a safety message from BK

Our dear friend Eileen in a sensible woman. She wore sturdy shoes, appropriate garb on arms and legs for protection, and the most beautiful little helmet you ever saw. Now, if you had seen her helmet before the crash, you might have remarked “Nice helmet” but probably walked off thinking “No big deal.” However, if you observed the helmet’s postmortem, you might rather be inclined to walk away in amazement how this selfless piece of attire gave its life – figuratively – to protect our friend, Eileen. If you did not see the pictures on Facebook, it must suffice to say that one of her nurses requested permission to photograph it to show her children why they should wear helmets when riding.

Eileen’s defunct helmet, with cracked foam circled in red

— Now, back to the story —

Through weeks of rest and care from her doctor and his staff, Eileen recovered. Oh, certainly, there were headaches. Sometimes her neck bothered her (while other times she was able to sleep through it). Bruised and battered limbs, abraded skin, collar bone knitting, cranial swelling slowly returning to normal, she soldiered on.

On a visit to her physician’s office, as is probably standard practice for doctors performing follow-up examinations, her doctor had her sit on an elevated examination table for him to assess her condition and judge the progress of her recovery. Satisfied that she was mending, he completed the exam and told her that she could get down from the table. He no doubt expected her to ease off the table, using the step alongside to relieve stress on her bruised and battered extremities and to help her maintain balance in the transition. He was, therefore, rather surprised when she hopped directly to the floor without trepidation.

“My, you are one tough cookie!” he pronounced.

When Eileen told us the story of her visit, I could only agree that this was perhaps the best, most fitting diagnosis I had ever heard. From there, what else could we call her? So, I guess it is her biker name and one day maybe we will get her a leather jacket with that name tooled across the back. For now, it is our term of endearment for a good friend, a reminder of how important helmets are, and a sign of respect for one tough cookie.

BK’s note: I did not mean this to be so long, but as another great woman once remarked, “My husband never uses one word when three are available.”

CB’s note: I only edited BK’s account slightly, as I wanted to retain the entertaining flavor of his authorial voice.

If you’re inclined to donate to any of our rides, here are our links:
Beth, Cookie, me.

See National Multiple Sclerosis Society Illinois Chapter for helpful information about MS.


I voted.

It’s March 15, 2016 in the United States of America. Do you know where your polling place is?

If you live in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada  (some of y’all), South Carolina, Alabama, Alaska  (some of y’all), American Samoa (some of y’all), Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota  (some of y’all), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming (some of y’all), Kansas, Kentucky  (some of y’all), Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska  (some of y’all), Puerto Rico (some of y’all), Hawaii  (some of y’all), Idaho  (some of y’all), Michigan, Mississippi, Virgin Islands  (some of y’all), Guam  (some of y’all), Northern Marianas (some of y’all), or the District of Columbia  (some of y’all):
Thanks for voting already!

If you live in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands (some of y’all), Ohio and you already voted:
Thanks! You’re what America is all about!

If you haven’t voted yet:
You still have time! At least, you did when I posted this…

If you live in American Samoa (some of y’all), Arizona, Idaho  (some of y’all), Utah, Alaska  (some of y’all), Hawaii  (some of y’all), Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming  (some of y’all), New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, Guam  (some of y’all), Nebraska  (some of y’all), West Virginia, Kentucky  (some of y’all), Oregon, Virgin Islands  (some of y’all), Puerto Rico  (some of y’all), California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota  (some of y’all), South Dakota, or the District of Columbia  (some of y’all):
Remember to vote!

For a reward (and/or bribe), here’s a link to a Helpful Chart about Elections and Bitching.


Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. It has really been hard to keep up with the blogging, between the writing and the reading I’ve needed to accomplish lately.

Speaking of reading, as soon as I’m finished with some reading I need to do for work, I absolutely know what I’m reading next.

Borderline by Mishell Baker

I preordered this for Kindle and got it as soon as it was available (March 1). I read the first page aloud to BK, and we’ve both found our next book. He doesn’t do e-books, so I bugged my library to order it. So far it doesn’t show up as being available in my home library, but here’s what the system says about it:

A cynical, paraplegic screenwriter with borderline personality disorder is recruited into a secret organization that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland, receiving as a first assignment a search for a missing film star with ties to Tinseltown’s darkest secrets.

Thank god for interlibrary loan!