Category Archives: Travels

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.

Breaking Radio Silence

I’ve been hella busy the past month or so; here’s the first of a few blog posts to get me used to blogging again (and you all used to reading)

With a title like CB’s Mojo, you probably figured out that this blog is mostly about the stuff that makes me feel happy or inspired. In terms of world events, it’s been a tough month for that.

Cookie, Sis and I were in Paris for about 6 days at the end of September Here are a few pictures of the trip.

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Palais de Justice
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The band Presteej with tourist at Sacre Coeur
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Musician at Sacre Coeur
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Sis and Hélène (with Cookie as Napoleon) at Les Invalides

I may share more later, but these are the photos that especially spoke to me after November 13.

The European Adventures of Cookie, Sis, and me

Part 2 of a series of indeterminate length

Day trip to Bath

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The Royal Crescent

The town of Bath, in Somerset, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a long history, and was apparently well known for its healing waters even before the Romans built a spa there around 60 C.E.

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Roman Bath in Bath

They dedicated this temple and bath to Sulis Minerva, a hybrid British-Roman goddess…because the Romans hardly ever reinvented the wheel; they were far more likely to let a couple of goddess wheels smash together (like Sulis and Minerva) and see who crawled out of the wreckage.

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*Not really Sulis Minerva

As fascinating as the history and mythology was, however, we might never have cared much about Bath if not for Jane Austen (and later, especially for Sis, Georgette Heyer). The Bath we wanted to see was the Bath of the Royal Crescent, the Circus, and the Assembly Rooms, all built out of warm. golden Bath Stone.

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Part of Bath Circus

According to our guide Viv, local legend had Bath being discovered by Prince Bladud, who was banished from the royal court because he had leprosy. In order to keep body and soul together, he became a swineherd, but unfortunately his pigs also contracted his disease. One day, he noticed them wallowing around in some hot springs and—wouldn’t you know it?—coming out completely cured. He hopped in the springs himself, was also cured. When he later became king, he built a city at this magical site out of gratitude. That explains why you see acorns (which Bladud’s pigs liked to eat) all over Bath.

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See the acorns?

We found some other interesting symbols around Bath, especially in the Circus. Wouldn’t it have been fun if the Circus was filled with animals and acrobats? No such luck. The name actually refers to the fact that the buildings in this area of Bath are built to form a circle (aka “circus” in Brit-speak) around a park. There were designs above the columns that are reputed to have Masonic origins. I was so delighted to think of Freemasons being responsible for building large portions of Bath, I could barely contain myself, but instead of dancing, I just took pictures.

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Masonic symbols, allegedly

After oohing and aahing over the Royal Crescent and the Circus, we headed for the Assembly Rooms.

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Gallery overlooking the Tea Room

From 1705-1760, the balls and other social activities at the Assembly Rooms were organized (and apparently ruled with an iron hand) by the town’s Master of Ceremonies, John (aka “Beau”) Nash. He was good at getting people to mingle, but my favorite story about him hearing how he kept an eye on the eligible young ladies who were seated, bleacher-style, on one side of the ballroom. If a young lady wasn’t asked to dance within a certain period of time, she would be escorted to a bleacher near the back wall, out of the light, so people wouldn’t have to look at her pitiful loser-hood. Viv thought this was the origin of the term “wallflower. Seems like a legitimate explanation, but holy cow! This Nash guy was harsh!

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Regency dress

Then it was on to the Jane Austen Centre.

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Where I got to channel Jane Austen…

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Cookie got to practice her flirting…

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and Sis posed with Mr. Darcy (see his portrait, way in the back?) as we awaited our cream tea. Warm scones the size of hockey pucks with cream and jam, and numerous flavors of tea!

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It’s possible that the door above leads to one of the places Jane Austen lived when she lived with her father, mother and sister in Bath. At any rate, it’s in one of her neighborhoods; the family lived in about four different spots during their time in Bath.

We went to the Roman Baths as well, but unless you’re a huge archaeology fan (or you have more time than we had allotted to Bath), you might not want to spend a lot of time there. Cream tea in the Regency Tea Room was much more fun!

The European Adventures of Cookie, Sis, & me, Part 1

Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length

Welcome to England: Claridge’s

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Claridge’s: image by Dave Hunt on Flickr

Cookie took care of our arrangements, aided by her travel agent at Artisans of Leisure. We ended up with absolutely fabulous hotels in both London and Paris. Here are some of the cool things that happened at Claridge’s, aka Buckingham Palace’s spare rooms. Apparently when the royal family doesn’t have room for all their guests, they ship some of them over to Claridge’s.

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Tea, fruit, and macarons

Our welcome

Our flight got in before 8 a.m. Luckily, the hotel was able to arrange a very early check-in for us, and brought us tea first thing. It went well with what the travel agency had already arranged: fruit, macarons, and champagne awaited us in our rooms. Thus began our vacation tradition of drinking champagne at the drop of a hat. (Though we were restrained enough to wait for the champagne until evening.)

It took us two days to get through the macarons, three or four days to get through the champagne (it’s all rather a blur), and we never quite finish all the fruit, though we put up a good fight on that front.

Celebrity Spotting

My favorite celebrity quote about Claridge’s comes from Spencer Tracy, who said: “…not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”

Our first morning, our guide Viv saw a British comedian whose name I can’t remember, probably because I wasn’t familiar with him. He was hidden in the celebrity breakfast area (which doubled as a bar in the evenings), just off the public restaurant where we were breakfasted. When the mirrored door leading to this hideaway opened, Viv caught a glimpse of a server bringing something to Mr. Famous Comedian, and got all fan-girly. Then as we were leaving the restaurant the next morning, we saw Harvey Keitel, probably on the way to the same little hideaway. It must have been his first morning there, because they hadn’t yet shown him how to avoid being seen yet. There were also reports of Joan Collins, and we spotted a very well-put-together older woman who was definitely “somebody,” if one judged by the stir she caused when she walked through the lobby. Maybe a British actress?

My favorite, though, was our near-spotting of Matt Damon. The night we were going to the Globe Theatre, our driver Clive said, “You know that fellow, the one who plays Bourne?”

“Matt Damon?”

“That’s probably the name. I don’t watch many films, but I remember Bourne.”

“Yes, what about him?”

“He just walked into the ballroom entrance, up ahead there.”

“Up ahead there” was perhaps ten yards from the car. We stared at Clive, our mouths opening and closing like guppies. Clive is a prize-winning fisherman, so maybe that’s what he was after.

He finally went on. “Yeah, the doorman said there’s a big party tonight for some film. Lots of folks in fancy dress. He looked good, did Bourne. They’ll all be going off to Leicester Square for the premiere after this.”

“The movie—could it be The Martian?”

Clive shrugged. “Dunno. Don’t see a lot of films. I just know Bourne.”

There was some temptation to blow off our theatre tickets and hang out in Leicester Square, but that was momentary. After all, it wasn’t like we were going to be able to chat up Matt, Jessica, Ridley, or any of their pals even if we could get into the premiere. So it was off to the Globe for us, to see Nell Gwynn. But that’s a post for another day.

Tea

You can get a fancy afternoon tea in London. Sis took Cookie and me to tea at Claridge’s, and you don’t get any fancier.

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Sis, Cookie, and me

We had champagne (do you sense a theme?) and of course, many types of tea from which to choose. I was boring and predictable, and chose Claridge’s Blend. Sis, being more adventurous, had White Silver Tip. Cookie tried the Iron Goddess of Mercy. Seemed apt.

The ritual was familiar; we began with tea sandwiches, and there were several tasty vegetarian choices. Then we had the best scones (plain and raisin) I personally have ever eaten, accompanied by Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo jelly—fruity and mildly spicy. At this point, we were so full we could do little more than sniff the gorgeous pastries that ended tea: a strawberry mousse nestled on a large, macaron-type shell, a fluffy apricot dessert much like a light cheesecake, lemon cake with raspberry filling, and a mocha pastry with half a malted milk ball on top.

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Our waiter asked if we would like our unfinished pastries sent to our room, to which the answer was a resounding yes. We saw him the next morning at breakfast, and he asked if we had finished them later that evening. We had to admit that we hadn’t been able to. After a walk down to the Serpentine in Hyde Park, we were pretty much done for the night. The pastries ended up being our dinner the next night, if memory serves. We had a lot of dessert for dinner during this trip. That’s okay; we were on vacation.

Bon voyage à moi! Et à ma soeur, et Biscuit!

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Research and Funding

We’re going to London! And Paris!

By we, I mean Cookie, Sis, and I. BK was invited, but he’s rather like a cake in that he doesn’t travel well.

That reminds me of a story about my Sis’s friend Carmen:

Many, many years ago, when there was still an Iron Curtain, Carmen traveled behind it, to visit relatives in Poland. One of the relatives entrusted her with a broken samovar to bring back to her parents in the US. Why was this heirloom so important? Not even Carmen was quite sure, but it seemed to mean a great deal to this relative back in the old country, so she agreed to take it. She also bought scads of stuff in Poland, to the point where she was going to have to pay a ton of duty if she came clean about every little thing she bought. So she underestimated her expenditures, and just hoped they wouldn’t ask too many questions.

She was going through Customs and the official was giving her the side eye. She still managed to behave as if butter wouldn’t melt in her little rosebud mouth. The official either smelled a rat or was otherwise immune to Carmen’s charm. He pointed suspiciously at the box that held the family heirloom and said, “What’s in the box?”

Carmen said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Official: “Try me.”

Carmen: “It’s a broken samovar.”

Official: “You’re right, I don’t believe you.”

So Carmen opened the box and revealed the broken samovar. The official seemed at a loss for a sensible response, though he might eventually have asked why she would bother bringing such an item back.

Carmen replied, “Well, I would have baked a cake, but I hear they don’t travel well.”

The official laughed and waved her through, and she was free to go on her merry way. The little outlaw.

So that’s how I learned that cakes, like BK, don’t travel well. With a broken samovar, who can tell? It was already broken.

Anyway, London! With side trips to Stonehenge and Bath.

Paris! With visits to Versailles and Giverny!

We are leaving really soon. We are stoked.

Any tips, hints, ideas for things we shouldn’t miss at any of the above locations? Comments are not only welcome, but highly desirable.

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.