Category Archives: Filling the Well

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.

Trip Planning

Cookie, Sis, and I are going to London and Paris. And Bath and Stonehenge and Versailles and Giverny.

I’ve never been to any of those places before. I am stoked.

The trip is coming up soon, so we needed to get together and strategize. We decided to meet at my house. Planning being thirsty work, we needed something to drink. We thought of tea or beer (in honor of England) or else coffee or wine (in honor of France).

Wine won. Here’s what we drank:

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Okay, so it’s not French wine. However, it was thoroughly delicious. We’ll have to see if the French can do any better; we plan to give them every opportunity to prove themselves.

Friday afternoon hooky

I should be writing. Okay, this is writing. What I meant was, last Friday I should have been writing, Instead I went with Cookie and Cookie Junior to the Art Institute. We especially wanted to hear the gallery talk on Cassatt, Sargent, and Whistler, but we stayed afterwards to appreciate a few other things.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures because 1-all I had was my phone, and 2- the art is usually there, and better in person than any snapshot I could take of it.

That said, a few things either caught my eye, or were going to be gone soon. Here’s a small sampling:

Our gallery talk lecturer showed us this picture by John Singer Sargent.

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John Singer Sargent – Venetian Glass Workers

It made me think of Mary Robinette Kowal’s novel, Valour and Vanity, a novel which is set in Regency-era Italy and is the kind of novel you might end up with if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven. There are Venetian glass workers in it.

As long as we were thinking about Mary Robinette Kowal, who is a puppeteer as well as a writer, we decided to scoot into the Puppets exhibition. It was slated to close two days after our visit, so if we missed it on this trip, we weren’t going to see it. I say “we” but we couldn’t talk Cookie Junior into puppets, as she thinks they are creepy. She looked at 20th century art while we checked out the puppets.

Some historical puppets hung out inside a display case. You weren’t allowed to play with those.

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Historical puppets from distant lands
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Puppet closeup

Good thing Cookie Junior wasn’t with us to see the next one; creepy on so many levels! I don’t watch horror movies, but I want to know what kind of story someone could come up with about her.

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Creepy puppet

The part that was most fun was the shadow puppet theatre. There were shapes on sticks that you could move behind a scrim, but that’s not all!

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Shadow puppet theatre

They also provided instructions for making animal shapes using nothing but your hands. I’ve done the wolf one before, but that was the only one I knew how to do. We learned how to make dogs, ducks, horses and rabbits.

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Cookie makes a bird!

We also visited the Asian collection. I found this incense burner shaped like an insect cage:

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Incense burner from the Asian collection

Possibly the most interesting find of the day was the one Cookie described as “something that belongs in a Terry Pratchett novel.” We must have spent 15 minutes admiring it.

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Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs lock

Here’s what the Art Institute says about the item that so captivated us:

Frank L. Koralewsky served as a traditional ironworker’s apprentice in his native north-German town of Stralsund. After obtaining journeyman status, he worked in various German shops before immigrating to Boston in the mid- 1890s. By 1906 he was a member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, specializing in locksmithing and hardware. This extremely intricate lock, which took seven years to complete, exemplifies the early-20th-century taste for sentimental medievalism and represents the pinnacle of the metalworking tradition at the turn of the 20th century. Exhibited at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, where it won a gold medal, the lock illustrates Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

We’ve been going to the Art Institute for how many years, and we just now discovered this? Inconceivable!

I want one.

By the way, there are only six dwarfs on the lock. Bonus points to the person who can either state definitively what happened to the seventh, or come up with a convincing story…

Have some pictures!

It’s been a busy time. Yup, there’s been writing and revising, but there’s also been bicycling, as well as conferring, conversing, and otherwise hobnobbing with my fellow wizards. Here are a few pictures I grabbed around the times some of that was going on.

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Azaleas and daffodils at Arboretum

I’ve been in training to ride the Bike MS Tour de Farms ride in DeKalb on June 27-28. The above shot was taken during an early training ride back in April. Thanks to BK and the kids for our Morton Arboretum membership. When you have a great place to ride, exercise provides inherent rewards!

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Me, KT Bradford and others

Tempest Bradford visited in May, just before WisCon. I made her pose for silly tourist shots. Here’s one of our reflection in Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) in Millennium Park.

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Lurie Garden in June

One of the nice things about being at the Palmer House for the Nebula Awards weekend is that you’re a block from places like Millennium Park and the Art Institute. Cookie and I escaped to Lurie Garden a couple of times for walks. Glorious!

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Nebula Weekend Swag

They gave us stuff at the Nebulas just for showing up (and I bought a couple of things, too). Here’s what I brought home.

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Home again – Sunset after Nebula Weekend

There was an improbably gorgeous sunset Sunday night, so I took a picture.

What we saw, heard, felt, smelled and tasted on our winter vacation

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I don’t know about anyone you guys, but it takes me forever to get back on schedule after going on vacation. It might help if I didn’t always take a gazillion pictures which I then have to sort through (tossing most), apply Photoshop magic to the rest, and only then make available to those who have expressed an interest.

Fear not; if you don’t want to see any more vacation pictures, we’re done! If you do want more, I’m including links to the albums on Flickr.

  • Here are about 40 shots of central Florida scenery
  • Here are about 80 shots we took at Universal, which is mostly Harry Potter stuff, but has a few shots of the Blues Brothers Show and other areas
  • Here are about 60 shots from Disney World

So. Here’s where I use my words to try to convey the sensory delights of Florida. Aside from things to see (some of which are captured in my photo albums), there are also things to hear, feel, smell, and taste.

Sights

  • Tired red flowers…and glorious red flowers (like those pictured above)
  • Chartreuse and red foliage
  • Palms, both tall and bushy
  • The model timeshare unit they showed us, with decor from this century…unlike the unit we stayed in.
  • Faux aged wood and stone at the pristine theme parks
  • Pretend settings in general: a New York street with the Blues Brothers (or reasonable facsimiles thereof); Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade; a supposed antiquities museum where you can buy faux Egyptian goods; Thunder Mountain “mine train” which is really a roller coaster
  • So many swimming pools!
  • A long, long beach
  • Dunes
  • Little black-eyed Susans nestled in the sand
  • Gray skies
  • Bright sun

Sounds

  • The drunk guy in the airport elevator. Our first clue to his inebriation was his slow, overly dramatic reaction to the request that he move over a bit so our luggage cart would fit. Then he yelled at us to come back so he could continue fighting with us.
  • A “90-minute” time share pitch that lasted more like 3 hours; the snappily dressed young men—Faisal and Neph—who faked friendliness and interest in us so they could sell us a time share at Westgate Lakes. It didn’t work.
  • Traffic on the interstate
  • The loudest housekeeping staff ever, banging and shouting at 8 a.m.
  • Improbably cheerful confectionary shop workers
  • Rolling waves at Cocoa Beach

Feelings

  • Fighting strong current on the lake (in a paddleboat)
  • Aluminum-framed sliding glass doors to the screened balcony. So hard to open and close!
  • Warm paraffin during a pedicure
  • The scrape of exfoliating scrub on my legs
  • Misty drizzle
  • Gully washing rain
  • Cold water and the grit of drying sand as you rub it off your feet
  • Soft sand
  • The overhead scorch of the dragon’s breath at Gringotts
  • Chilly, misty breezes
  • Warm sun
  • The scary elevator that arrived on the top floor, bounced and banged around for several excruciatingly long seconds before finally opening its doors and allowing escape
  • Bicycling on twisting, bewildering “roads” around the resort

Smells

  • The drunk guy in the airport elevator. Seriously, the alcohol emanated from his pores!
  • Asphalt
  • The ocean
  • Warm paraffin during a pedicure
  • Butterbeer (a butterscotch soda) at Harry Potter world/ Universal Studios

Tastes

  • Fat Tire amber ale – strong, with a clean finish
  • A lovely white bordeaux and the best spinach goat cheese quiche ever at Le Cafe de Paris in Orlando
  • Cucumber-lemon water
  • Fortescue’s sticky toffee pudding ice cream: caramel deliciousness
  • Potato leek soup at Three Broomsticks: smooth and mildly aromatic
  • Spring green salad with red and golden beets, walnuts, chèvre, dried fruit and apples
  • Apple caramel cheesecake
  • Fizzing Whizbees, which are much like having a milky chocolate soda in solid form
  • Chocolate Frogs, which actually taste only faintly of chocolate, but at least included a trading card of Rowena Ravenclaw
  • Grateful Dead wine, berry-flavored and full-bodied, with some tannin

Habits, revisited

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It’s that time of year again. Okay, it’s about two weeks after that time of year. But, hey! If you were going to make New Year’s resolutions, you’ve already made them and have some sense of how well they’re working out for you.

I don’t make ’em, or not exactly. I do try to find behaviors that work well for me and to eliminate bad ones. I don’t limit that strategy to once a year, though. I do find myself thinking, come January, what’s worked out for me. Lately I’ve had encouraging success with adding new, good behavior, though I’m a bit iffy on getting rid of ones that are less positive. Ah well, each of us special little snowflakes is a work-in-progress.

Regarding habit change, I’ve mentioned books and web sites on this blog that I’ve found helpful. If you’re interested, here are a few links:

Here’s one I haven’t mentioned before. A guy named Drew Hendricks lists 6 things you should do when you first get up in the morning. I’ve been following most of his suggestions for the last 2-3 months, and I think he may be on to something.

At any rate, I’ve developed a few habits well enough to be convinced of their efficacy. What do I mean by that? I mean I’m writing more. I’m also accomplishing more of my non-writing tasks. So, huzzah!

In case you’re interested, here are some habits that work for me:

  • A morning routine which is my own variation of Drew Hendricks’ suggestions:
    1- No screen time for 15 minutes,
    2- Drinking room temperature water first thing; also holding off on coffee for half an hour,
    3- Getting out of bed in such a way that I don’t hurt myself,
    4- Setting three (and no more than three!) feasible goals for the day,
    5- Stretching, and
    6- Meditating. Yes! Meditating! I couldn’t seem to stick to it for the longest time, but I’ve worked up to doing it 15 minutes every morning. Who knows, one of these days I may add an evening session as well.
  • Exercise 4-6 days a week. Mens sana in corpore sano, after all.
  • Writing. I may not write fiction or a blog post daily, but at the very least I make a journal entry. Every day.
  • Making the bed.

That last one surprises even me. I used to think only martinets or uncreative people or other judgmental sticks-in-the-mud worried about making their beds. After all, you’re just going to mess it up again, right? However, I have reconsidered. I’ve heard bed-making referred to as a cornerstone habit. That means it’s one of those habits (exercise is another one) that leads to other good habits. For me, it makes it unlikely that I’ll climb back in and/or stay in my pjs all day.

So those are my positive habits, the ones that help me get things done and generally feel like a worthwhile member of society. Most days.

What works for you? I’d love to read about it in the comments.