Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Year-End!

Oof. Half a bottle of wine, a glass of cider, and a slice of rum-soaked Christmas pudding with rum butter, and I am not firmly anchored to the turning world, I must say.
So I will post some pics, which will not risk spelling or syntactical errors.

 An artistic shot of one of our saffron-producing croci, beside the front gate in November, taken by Mark.
 Me icing my birthday cake, with the icing left over from doing Christmas cookies. Also taken by Mark. He took about a dozen, but I kept moving at the crucial moment and coming out blurred.
The overall icing is butterscotch, melted butter, cream and brown sugar. The coloured icing is basic butter icing. The red behaved much better then than it had for adding holly berries and suchlike to the cookies, but I don't know why.

Baking tally, hmmm...
Two batches of cake gingerbread
1 batch of gingerbread men
4 pans of 'petticoat tail' shortbread
1 batch of rolled shortbread
2 pans of oatmeal shortbread
2 pans of chocolate shortbread
1 pan of domino cookies (choc shortbread with white choc chips)
1 batch of cardomon sugar cookies
1 batch of honey cookies
2 batches of rolled & cut Christmas cookies, iced
1 batch of caramel sandwich cookies
2 batches of cheese shortbread (1 spicy, 1 plain)
2 batches of butter pecan shortbread
3 pounds of sugared walnuts
3 pounds of candied grapefruit peel

Tomorrow I may do butter tarts.

For Christmas dinner I made a spinach and feta pie for the boy, who has gone vegetarian, the pastry done with a veg shortening called Fluffo (which makes me laugh). Mark very very kindly dealt with the stalks and washing and stir-frying of the spinach, to spare me from the cooking side of things. I get somewhat nervous when I have to jigger a recipe the first time  I use it, so his prodding was more than a little helpful. 

The duck was dinner for the carnivores. Mmm. And made into curry, it fed another ten diners (two to four at a time).
I got to try out my Christmas present of an ergonomic potato masher, and very effective it was too.
Other cool presents - a long-handled pruning hook, with saw, so that I can Deal With that tree that's overshadowing the roses in the front.
And a Kobo e-reader. Which I am still learning my way around, after helpful lessons and work-arounds from Chris.

 A definitive sign of Christmas being over, I reckon. A flat Santa. (photo by Mark)
By the way, while I understand several of the Christmas totems (nutcracker soldier, reindeer, Santa in a prop airplane), I am stumped by the cartoon owl with Santa hat. Is it from some animated Christmas special I've missed? From the back it looks like a monstrous baked potato with a Santa hat, which is less Christmassy than one might think.
I prefer plywood to inflatables, but that's probably just my failure to move with the times.
A cute cat picture to see you to year's end. At present, Priss is squished between my breastbone and the back of the Capisco chair, relaxed and purring. Here she is at the kitchen table, preventing me from doing anything useful.
Though in cat terms I'm probably doing the most useful thing of all, providing aid and comfort to the cat. 

all photos by Mark, it seems!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

And other winter festivals as appropriate to your particular circumstances. Also my birthday. Yay!
The beating of Cost of Silver into another shape has been set aside for a while in favour of Christmassy things like writing and mailing cards, visiting friends, wrapping presents, decorating, and baking cookies (in a leisurely way, since I only just finished icing the rolled cookies).

 A little early this year (that is, before Christmas Eve) we brought in the greenery.
The tree was decorated with the assistance of Tess and Rowan, so there's rather more ornaments on the lower 2/3ds than on the top, and some of them are a bit crowded.
It still looks good with the lights on - and none of them blinking, after Tess's careful examination of every bulb to make sure.
If you're wondering, yes, we are standing on the big table, which Mark's mother used to polish by walking a floor polisher up and down it.

(The box of stuff in the front is my collection of antiquities, waiting on the new position of the display case, which is waiting on us figuring out where it will go.)

And here's my cubicle at work, where Christmas gets serious. It takes a couple of days to get everything out and on the shelves, once I've cleared off the books and orders that usually occupy that space.

Each year the Times-Colonist paper (yes, Victoria's newspaper really is called the Colonist) prints a map with routes to see the best light displays, and I always resolve to go and see them, but there isn't always time.
This year Mark got me out of the house, abandoning baking and wrapping for an evening, so here are some pics to share the Christmas wattage.

Here is but one small corner of the house that really goes all out. You need to get out and walk around the yard for the full experience.
I managed to enjoy it in an entirely non-ironic fashion, and without wondering about their electric bill until later.
 I admit it, this pic is for the sake of the madly excited pine tree in the front.
Whe I was a young child, our family would drive into Vancouver for Christmas shopping, and to visit my godmother. Near her house was a family who each year put up plywood figures of a snowman family. This was a high point of Christmas shopping, to drive by the snowman family.

On the other hand, the big department stores, like Hudson's Bay and Eatons, would fill their display windows not with fashion mannequins and goods for sale, but with Christmas scenes of trains, skating rinks, Dickens-era carollers, inhabited by animatronic children and elves. I don't know if anyone still does that, devote retail display space to a non-retail purpose. Perhaps no one can afford to anymore. So it's fallen to individuals to make up the balance of animatronic skating rinks?
I have to mash potatoes in a minute, so I'll leave you with the more spiritual side of Christmas, as expressed (like the snowman family) in plywood.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

metaphorical cat

Here, the cat takes on the role of symbolising Christmas tasks such as addressing and mailing cards, wrapping presents, and decorating the house, as she rises over my head.

Picture taken with Mark's IPad.

Monday, December 5, 2011

long tail?

Two weeks knee-deep in the 1600s, and last week hip-deep in other people's books.

I was helping with the United Way booksale at the university Student Union Building, and a right object lesson in humility for fiction writers it was.
See, it turns out that the hardest category to sell, even for $2 a pop is ...

Hardcover fiction.

Doesn't matter which genre. We had stacks of mysteries, thrillers, romance, Canlit, bildungsroman, small-town angst, wry slackers, picaresque, in shiny clean dustjackets and shabby library brodarts, sitting there yearningly like unattractive Babylonian women in that Herodotus story.
In the meantime, nonfiction, maps, and mass-market paperbacks were trundling steadily out the door.
Sarah the amazing co-op student and I made up gift baskets of thrillers, mysteries and romances with props like martini glasses, teacups, teabags and candles, in hopes of moving a few more, but even this did little to thin the ranks.

I took pity and took a few home at sale's end. For Christmas presents, of course.
Really. I'm not adding more books to my library when I should be weeding. Of course I'm not.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ergonomic cat

As you may recall, my 'writing room' has a HAG Capisco chair, which is super-ergonomic and ... has no provision for a lap.  Especially if I'm sitting in it backwards, which I do a lot.
Since the cat loves my writing sessions because I remain sitting for a couple of hours at a time, furnishing her with a lap, I wondered how she would cope.
She found a way.

In other non-writing news, I have successfully made apple peeling jelly, from this recipe here! I reduced the sugar and added a grated quince (from my brother's trees) for more pectin, and some ginger slices, not being a cinnamon fan.  
I don't know that I'll do this a lot, but I feel fairly virtuous about it, despite the extra electricity use.  And I can still compost the peels & cores afterwards.

You may have noticed, faithful reader(s), that I haven't said much about nature's goddamn bounty this fall. This is because something like 80% of the Spartan and Golden Delicious apples have Gone Away to be made into cider. So you may hear some groaning when bottling time arrives. 

In actual writing news, I have received 6 pages of editorial comments on the Dread Synopsis, which will require substantial revision (naturally). It seems I went too far on the expansion of historical scope / events / characters. Plus need to clarify motivations, provide closure to plot threads, etc. My agent includes this observation, which I found very interesting, so I share it with you:
As I read over this synopsis and thought about what kind of book succeeds I realized that what editors really want is a novel that feels like it has scope, but which isn't actually too complicated in plot because too much complexity undercuts the suspense and pacing.
There you are, actual writing advice. Now I need to take it into the revision.

Monday, November 21, 2011

WFC 2011 panels

 While I'm stuck in the kitchen waiting for the apple peeling jelly to cook down to jelly consistency, why don't I give you a few pictures from the sf-con side of WFC?
This is the last panel I attended, and a good one, too. Time Goggles: Modern perspectives and period literature. Emma Bull moderated, with panelists Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Bradford Lyau, and Marie Brennan.
Some very good discussion of how to honestly portray period attitudes without losing reader sympathy--and that tightrope between giving a character modern-day sensibilities and appearing to condone repellent practices like slavery.

 Another good one - The Not-So-Fair Folk, a discussion of the bad fae, fairies as fearsome rather than charming or benign.
Delia Sherman has something to say about this, as Mercedes Yardley listens.

Woo! Thanks to Mercedes linking it, I discover that there's a podcast of this panel on the Filipino Bibliophile.
 Jenny Blackford and Patrick Rothfuss were the other panelists. I realise that now I'll have to find my copy of Dreaming Again and re-read Jenny's story.

(Excuse me here, as the jelly seems to have reached the required temperature. Back soon.)
 With Holly Black as moderator. She had some great facial expressions as she guided the discussion or prodded the panelists, and I wish I'd caught one of the sly ones, but this will have to do as a hint.

 I might have skipped I Believe That Children Are the Future, because I've been to a few panels on juvenile and YA fantasy recently, but I couldn't resist the lineup. In any case, the discussion veered rapidly to trends in YA fantasy, particularly paranormal romance and The Book That Must Not Be Named.

Here, Tamora Pierce speculates on the mechanics of sex with the undead/dead.
 And here, Cindy Pon and Karen Healey react to those speculations.

It was a pretty amusing panel, and Tamora Pierce was gracious enough to stop in the hallway and sign books (she hadn't been at the Friday night autograph session).
Because I am, apparently, not at all on the ball, I took no photos at The Coral Sword: material culture of undersea civilizations, with panelist Sharon Mock (fellow VPer), or at But Can You Take Him Home to Mother: paranormal romance, with panelist Sandra Wickham (fellow SF-Canada).
But! Here is a pic of From Elfland to Poughkeepsie: should fantasy sound like fantasy? with Terri-Lynne Defino, Susan Forest, Ellen Klages, Shawna McCarthy and Ellen Kushner as moderator. How's that for star power?

Obviously, only to be outdone by Neil Gaiman, taking the podium during Opening Ceremonies. 
This is as close as I got to the Neil. The lineup for signings for him was immensely long, and so was the second signing added to make up for those who missed out the first time. The man must have signing muscles of iron by now.
This last pic here is why I missed about half the panels I'd put arrows next to--all the hanging out with VPers & associates.
I've forgotten the name of this restaurant, which I guess is a chain in the States? Any road, it's the chain where you can have Asian-fusion food next to the butt-end of a giant concrete horse. I hope sincerely that's an identifying feature.

I got back to the site in time to catch part of Out From Under the Bed: Monster as Protagonist, and managed to stay awake for How to Survive the Coming Zombie War (conclusion: I am pathetically unprepared and am doomed).

Panels I missed because of hanging out with people and eating food or scheduling difficulties (ie need for sleep):
The Role of Class in Fantasy and Horror
The Successful Misfit as a Theme in Fantasy
Founders of Steampunk
William Hope Hodgson's Nautical Horrors
Who Wants to Live Forever? Immortals
Don't Open That Door! The role of stupidity in genre fiction

On the whole, I think this was the best lineup of panels of the World Fantasy Conventions I've attended. Plus, that really annoying moderator whose name I've forgotten wasn't there.

because it is Nanowrimo

An excerpt from Maenads at Band Camp, which, if I finish it and have the nerve to attempt the YA Paranormal market, will probably go out with one of those portentous one-word titles instead. I'm favouring Muse.

This is about midway, from the pov of the Sensible Girl, Cassia:

I slid down the grassy overhang, and landed with a sandy thump on the narrow beach. Good thing they'd picked the sand beach, instead of the pebbled boat lauch. And there they were, all seven of the Parthenoi, some standing with arms crossed, some cross-legged or kneeling on the sand. I couldn't tell which was which in the moonlight, with all their hair turned black and silver.
"Okay," I said. "I came. And I didn't tell anyone I was coming. But I'm telling you now, I'm going to use my own judgement about what I tell Kay. I'm not keeping secrets from her."
"That is well." Oleia's voice. "She may believe what she hears from you."
"You're going to tell me something that's hard to believe, right?" I wasn't too sure what was still hard to believe, if the last few days were believable. They happened, I told myself. That means you believe them. Otherwise you can't trust anything.
"Hard for some. Your friend will not wish to believe."
I'd read about 'her heart sank'. Now I knew what it felt like. More in my stomach than heart, but I guess that doesn't sound as dramatic. "This is about Adrian."
"What have you guessed?"
"Uh-uh." I shook my head. "No. I know how a cold reading works. You have to tell me what's going on, you don't get to let me fill it in while you pretend you knew all along. That's what con artists and fake mediums do, and I'm not going to fall for it."
A sigh rippled across them, starting with Oleia and ending with the two who were kneeling.
Oleia seemed to hesitate, which was not what I was used to from her. "You have seen what happens when we sing. When Adrian plays."
"No kidding. And I've seen that Dubois and Sawchuk don't see what happens. Cute trick."
"Do you know what Parthenoi means?"
Jazz had told me, after he'd googled it in town. "Virgins. So?"
"It is a name of--courtesy for the dancers of Dionysus. The Maenads."
I bit my tongue and managed not to say 'the what?' Maenads was the spelling my brain came up with after a second. The first thing I remembered was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with Bacchus and the wild girls making vines spring up in freed Narnia. But C. S. Lewis hadn't written the real maenads and bacchanalia, not in a kid's book, not by a long way. Hadn't Lucy said she'd have been afraid of them if Aslan hadn't been there? What about the real (mythical) maenads? Come on, brain, you read a book of Greek myths when you were thirteen...
Dionysus, the god of wine and madness. The bacchanalia, a mad dance and orgy, which sounded like fun (a ceilidh?) until you read about mad women chasing animals and tearing them apart with their bare hands. Mad women who demanded that Orpheus play his lyre for them. But Orpheus was mourning for what's-her-name and refused. So the Maenads tore him apart, and his head floated down the river, singing...
I shivered, and it wasn't just the cold wind off the water. "The Maenads who murdered Orpheus."
One of the sitting girls spoke. "Not murdered. The son of a god is not so easily dealt with."
There were seven of them, and one of me. I knew the ground better, and my night sight was pretty good, but--better to stand and face them. "You got me to break bounds so you could test my trivia knowledge of Myths and Legends of the Ancient World?"
"Not ancient," said Oreia, without a smile or sneer. "Now. We are the Maenads, we pursue Orpheus down the millennia, but the story is not as you have learnt it."
I crossed my arms, partly for warmth and partly to look bigger and more businesslike. "No kidding. What's your version?"
The sitting girl spoke again. "She is not ready to hear. Let us go." They swivelled their heads all together as if they had practiced for hours, and the seated ones flowed smoothly to standing, so they were all poised to leap up the bank and run into the night.
"Wait," I said. "Is this about Kayley? Is she in some kind of danger?"
They turned their faces toward me, all together, and the moon lit their eyes to white. "She s always in danger. In every life."
"Wait, every life? You mean, reincarnation?" I tried to remember. Did the ancient Greeks even believe in reincarnation? Didn't all their dead end up as ghosts in Hades, the most boring afterlife ever? "No, forget that. Is Kayley in danger now? Here and now, at Forbidden Lake, this summer? No double-talk, just tell me yes or no."
The moonlight cut Oleia's face into cold stone, a statue that didn't understand pity or fear. "Yes. She is in danger."
That book of myths had taught me one thing:  gods and other immortals were double-talking, double-dealing bastards, worse than lawyers about hidden clauses, fine print, and reading between the lines. "Be specific."
"If she continues on her present path, she will be dead before the week is out."

Monday, November 14, 2011

my WFC tribe

Not much wordage here, just some pictures, valued for their associations rather than their composition or artistry.
Perhaps the coolest thing about WFC2011 was the number of VPXers who were there. It made me realise how much I missed everyone. Following LJs really isn't the same, though maybe if I used twitter? Nah.
Let's see if I can remember who all was there from VPX. Zak and Sharon, Terri and her stalwart husband, Dave, Bart, Nikki, Elise, Erin and Mur--who have I forgotten? Myself? And a bunch of pre- and post-Xers, whom I will not attempt to name without reference materials handy.

 Thanks to everyone else being on twitter or texting, and to Zak and Sharon's hospitality, we managed a VPXetc. room party and a VP afternoon lawn party.
Yay us!

Room party pics:
Bart, about to unveil some amazing chocolate, and Nikki, relaxing.
They are as far as possible from the creepy girl-with-birdcage print, which is why they are relaxed.
 Dave Thompson, the voice of, did not on this occasion fall through the mirror to another world.
But it was a near thing.

 PNH was lively, providing an audio-tour through Great Moments of Making Light and filks of British fandom.
He and Elise make great tour guides of fannish history. I hear there was an impromptu concert another night, but I had puppied out and fallen asleep hours before.

 However I did not miss the music the next day, during the VPetc. afternoon lawn party, at the tables outside the con suite. Someone had provided a ukulele, which lured PNH over.

There was also, nearby, a very scenic and photogenic gazebo, causing a series of wedding-type photos. But I'll leave that for next time, and finish up with another group shot.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


 Until recent years, I haven't often stayed in hotels, certainly not in upscale ones. I still harbour a fearful conviction that staying in hotels and taking taxis is the Road to Financial Ruin, while sleeping on the couches of friends and standing in the rain for city busses is the Path of Financial Virtue. Perhaps as a result, the decor in hotels tends to make  me uneasy. The hotel where VCon was held featured carpets with a raised vinework that seemed likely to creep up and entangle one in one's sleep.

 World Fantasy was in San Diego this year, in a hotel complex that was very pretty, much too big and spread out, and both bewildering and frustrating to navigate. I'm fortunate in not having mobility issues yet, but for those who did, I can see that getting past the random steps and gates and steep narrow ramps would range from exasperating to outright dangerous.
The hotel was originally three or four hotels, I gather, which accounted for the disparity in height, accessibility, decor and theme. I was on the 9th floor of um, Park Tower? something like that.
A pleasant room with two big comfy beds and an unnerving colour print of a little girl with ancient eyes, wearing 19th c. clothing and holding a birdcage in which she doubtless trapped the souls of unwary guests.
 The view was impressive. Here is my arty shot of the balcony in the early morning, through the gauze curtains.
This fake mist was the only mist to be found. The weather was clear and warm and dry, only a bit chilly at night. I washed a couple of shirts and hung them on the balcony chairs, where they dried nicely.

 I mentioned a diversity of decor? I didn't get any pics of the rose gardens (rose pictures I have too many of already) but here's a tropical bit of garden that went with the palm trees. Unlike the scrubby little palm trees that cling to life in Victoria, those in San Diego are great big hairy things.
And here is a tiki - just for you!

Lots of green space and lawns and pathways, but interrupted by many white iron fences and gates. Some attendees were reminded of The Village, and expected Rover to come wallowing and bouncing along in pursuit of some poor escapee.

It's a good thing that along with relative able-bodiedness I have no fear of heights. This is the view out the front door of the hotel room. All the rooms in this building were reached by an exterior walkway. You could take the elevator or walk up the exterior stairs (I did the latter, to make up for not bicycling--discovered that after the 7th floor I do start to feel a touch vertiginous and have to watch my step), but either way you then walked along the outside of the building to reach your room.
Nice view though.

I admit, this post is mostly an excuse to put up some photos. Next post will be about people and panels. Probably. Unless I'm distracted by something.

Oh, yes, and I'm doing Nanowrimo again, with the usual degree of application and success. So I'll go and shove a couple hundred words into its gaping maw now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

chronological conventions

 Before I babble on about World Fantasy, I must not forget that I owe you a VCon post, which is this one here.
On your left, a mandatory pic of someone in costume kindly posing for me. In the hallway outside the dealers' room were Ghostbusters with an inflatable Sta-Puft marshmallow man, with which one could be photographed, and Imperial Stormtroopers with a big painted backdrop, ditto.
A number of anime-cosplay freelancers, but a surprising lack of vampires, sparkly or trad.
Larry Niven was the Guest of Honour, but the autograph session was Friday afternoon, and most people missed it. I didn't even find it on the schedule.
 I spent most of my time in the dealers' room, next to Mark, hanging out at the SF-Canada table, which I was overseeing. This year we had no wall behind us, so the banner didn't get used--the table behind us had a nice pennon arrangement that I think I may swipe the idea of, and paint up something that will fit in smaller spaces. Also I want to paint or print up an SFC logo to fit that blank space between the red tablecloths.
Other SFC members took shifts at the table, so I got in some panels and some wandering of my own. Thanks to Casey Wolf, Donna Farley, Eileen and Patrick Kernaghan (I've forgotten someone--must find my notes).
All three copies of my self-published 3-Day Novel collection, Threefold, were sold, so woohoo! All to people who know me, but it's a small world.
I even ended up on a panel! I hauled a half-dozen people from the SFC party to an 11 pm panel (really, yes, pm) on 'Are You Prepared to Be Published', about what publishers wish writers knew, as an act of mercy to the panelists, Brian Hades of Edge, and Ian Alexander Martin of Atomic Fez, so that they wouldn't be alone with the hypothetical desperate unpublished insomniac writers (the sort who use more than one adjective in a row). And they called me up to represent writers (or be moderator?) on the strength of my four e-stories and having an agent.
Mark too was unexpectedly on a panel, filling in as swordsmanship historian for Devon Boorman, who couldn't attend.
One of the perks of a trip to Vancouver is a chance to visit with the boy and the girl. Chris and Shannon were about to leave for a camping trip, but hung on long enough to go out for dinner at a rather good Asian vegetarian place within walking distance.
I forced baked goods onto them before they escaped.

Next, WFC 2011!

Monday, October 31, 2011

sometimes I'm clever

Fellow Furtive Scribbler Holly reminded me of something I'd posted on the book forum some months back, and re-reading it I thought, hm, that's not bad advice. So I thought maybe I'd start an irregular feature on this blog, posting cleverish things I've said elsewhere that might bear repeating.

This was part of a discusssion about following the dictum 'make things worse for your characters', specifically having them get caught while searching someone's room.

Just my take - no, it's not always a good idea to make things harder. If it stops the plot dead in its tracks, if it leads to a pointless roundabout subquest that changes nothing, if it makes the story duller rather than more exciting, then it's a mistake.
Twists should make things harder for your characters but in ways they can overcome while advancing the plot and their own characterisation. (whew!)
You know those legends and fairytales where someone's given a quest but on the way finds he can't accomplish it unless he first goes and gets the sword of Ladidah, but he can't get that until he gets the horse of Wateva, and for that he needs the bridle of Blaah? And you lose all interest in whether he ever gets back to rescuing the princess of Hawtt?
Maybe have them almost caught, to up the tension, but not actually. Protagonists need to win sometimes, or they look like losers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

airports must be liminal space

I'm at the San Francisco airport, on my way back from the World Fantasy Convention. It was good.
Do not speak to me of synopses. The dead Duke of Buckingham is my King Charles's head. (bonus Dickens reference).
Will post photos and coherent sentences later.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

fall harvest

Last year I cut the grapes back severely in the back yard. But in the summer I got distracted and let them grow madly again, so the grape harvest was not so magnificent a thing as it might have been.
Blueberries would snicker at our grapes, and kick sand in their faces.

On the other hand, with my Snackmaster! I'm collecting a fair bagful of raisins. Not seedless, but tasty. The grapes are tasty too. They may be Pinot Noir--it's been so long since the vines were begun that neither of us remembers. Maybe Cabernet. Then there's the green grapes on the arbour; no idea at all about those.

Behold! A study of my own. Chris's loft bed and shelves have been moved out (thank you, and I have bought a desk ($150) and an ergonomic chair (HAG Capisco) ($80) and dug out my old camping carpet ($25). Then bamboo blinds ($10) against the afternoon sun.
The small bookcases are temporary, because the plan is to fill both long walls with bookshelves, as per ch. 8 of The New Yankee Workshop by Norm Abram, Little Brown 1989. Then I can clear my stacks of books out of the window seat and the computer room. And the latter becomes Mark's office properly, so that he can sort, photograph, and enter antiquities in one place.

The cat approves the carpet as a good place to disembowel her catnip budgie. Next she would like me to get a comfy chair (free) for research, reading, and cat-petting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

pictures from the past

 Well, from about a month past. Photos from our Living History Week at Fort Rodd Hill. I've chosen a few pictures that I like or think are nicely composed, but I'll provide a commentary pretending that there's an educational aspect to this post.

Remember the clay and cob oven Joan and the kids and I were making? Here it is in action, with Joan in charge. Bread and pastry and buns every day! You build a fire inside the oven, until the interior is hot enough (there are a few different tests for this, disagreeing with each other). Then sweep the fire and fuel out, and insert the thing to be baked, either on the floor of the oven, or on a piece of stone covering the floor of the oven. Cover the mouth of the oven with that square of wood (which does scorch through eventually, yes) and let the contents bake until done.
One of those simple-sounding things that takes much experience and many mistakes to get handy with.

 The labyrinth returned after two days of picking and laying out stones. Here the younger kids make sure that it works properly. The littlest one was a babe in arms last year.

Because we're portraying everyday life and working-class artisans, it's important that everyone have work to do, whether their craft or daily tasks around the camp. Here, weaving narrow-ware. That's a stool turned upside-down serving as the loom.

Gathering for a meal in the dining tent, at a trestle table spread with a linen cloth and loaded with bread, apples, dried fruit, eggs, cheese, sausage, butter and honey. It's a hard life, but we keep our spirits up.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The origin of vampires

As requested!

First, background on magic, in my system. Every living human being has magic in them, just by being alive. Some have much magic, increased by study and practice or by being in proximity to magic (think of it as second-hand smoke), some have only a little.
Back in the mists of time (Bronze Age?) magicians developed a way to join their powers and channel them towards some great task they couldn't accomplish singly. The joining was accomplished by a blood-sharing ceremony and had a tendency to kill or drive insane one of the participants--the weak link in the chain, it was assumed.
The magicians came up with what seemed like a good idea. They would include in the joining someone (a slave or prisoner) who was dying, in hopes that the magic would be directed to that 'weak link' and spare the magicians.
Sometimes it worked as expected. Sometimes it charged the dying person with enough magic that he didn't quite die. Instead he became a sort of zombie, a mindless slave blood-bound to the magicians, and could be maintained semi-alive by small feedings of blood, the same way animal familiars were bound to a magician. And who doesn't want a mindless slave, particularly one who could be used as a sort of magical storage-jar? While it might be filled with magic, it couldn't direct or control that magic, because of not being properly alive.
But if the zombie-slave was overfed, or re-used too many times in the joining ceremony without being burnt out by it, it might become sentient. If the magician who was feeding it died or lost control of it, it might become autonomous. And would still need blood to maintain itself, but would have to go out and get that blood. Thus, vampires.
It's the magic in the blood that maintains them--although they can't control magic, they are magical creatures, and have some powers (glamoury, strength, etc.) that are associated with magic. If one takes a magician's blood to the death, it is charged with enough magic to create another vampire, blood-bound to it.  (There is not a strict one-to-one exchange, by the way). For this reason, second or third generation vampires are forbidden to take magician's blood, lest they become powerful and autonomous. Or, if they take magician's blood in small quantities, they might be blood-bound to the magician instead of to the vampire master who made them.

Somewhere between the Bronze Age and the Early Modern / Late Medieval period, there was enough disruption of the magical tradition that this (fairly closely guarded) knowledge was lost to the magicians. The oldest vampires knew it, but guarded it even more closely.

Now I believe I'll go to bed, so I can be up early and work on the Dread Synopsis.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October? What?

I'm at the Sheraton in Richmond, at the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention. I've been trying and trying to post some pics from our Living History Week in August, but apparently I can't upload from here. Argh.
This will be a more visually interesting blog in a couple of days.

So, you may recall that I was going to produce a revised synopsis of the new! bigger! expanded! Cost of Silver 'after Labour Day. Which I had thought of as being about a week after Labour Day weekend.

This has not occurred. Instead I have been dashing about for 3 weeks, researching byways of 17th c. life and beliefs and customs and folklore and court intrigue and... And writing bits of synopsis with lots of square brackets [ insert motive here ] and [ why? ]. And writing snippets of conversations and scenes to try to figure out who these characters were and what they wanted.
I've researched
- bog bodies
- Prince Rupert of the Rhine
- fen ecology
- the Duke of Buckingham
- Catholic plots and anti-Catholic plots
- rescue archaeology
- King John's treasure lost in the Wash
- Doctor John Lamb
- alchemy
- etc.
And after consulting with (ie throwing myself on the mercy of) my fellow Furtive Scribblers, I think I have it worked out, including the Origin of Vampires.
Now I must go away for a while and write it.

But I will post some nice pictures soonish.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

did not break 20k

Final wordcount, once title page, address and End were added: 18k exactly. Annoyingly, I signed off at midnight feeling that I could have kept writing, although the two nights before I'd been propping my eyelids open and ready to fall face-forward.

Last line: "At least in the meantime you and Persie can earn money babysitting the gods."

Thanks to the advent of (hurrah!) online submission, I don't have to muck about reformatting, dragging the file through bloody Word, and traipsing over to Zap to have it printed out. Yay! all done!
Next year I am a)going to have an outline, however minimal
b)going to have more than one pov character so I can swap around. Nothing gooses a story better (for me) than bringing in a new person with their own backstory and angle.
 And this is the rose that was blooming Tuesday morning, in the gallica bush behind my window seat.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunday wordcount

Finished near midnight with 11011.
Not my lowest, but not the 12-14k I aimed for.  Today will be a hard slog if I want to break the 20k ceiling for the first time. Saturday is easier usually because I'm following the characters around and exploring the world. Sunday the characters need to do something, and I start to second-guess myself about what they should do and how it will lead to a resolution. However, in the last couple of hours I decided to write from the child-goddess's pov, and that perked things up. (I should remember this! Alternating storylines are a Good and Helpful Thing.)

Last lines written last night:
    Only I wondered sometimes, as I was washed and painted for the day, why only the Little Girl aspect took a mortal vessel, and the Fierce One went unbodied?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Saturday wordcount

Yesterday's progress:
Sitting at the laptop by 7 AM with a cup of tea.
8 AM broke for breakfast with a wordcount of 1002.
1:20 PM stopped for lunch, wordcount 3045
6:30 PM stopped for dinner, needing food, although my wordcount was only 4682, not the 5k I'd aimed for.
Closed at 11 PM with a wordcount of 6763, shy of the 7-8k I'd wanted, but still my highest Day 1 count ever. Previous highest was 6555 in 2009.

Title is Vessels.
First line: The day began with portents. That's never a good sign.
Last bit written last night:
    Virgie thought it over, tearing her muffin into blue-stained crumbs. "There are only two groups? Not more?"
    "Lots more," I said, taking my turn at the cookpot. "But only two that want a public fight for dominance."

Friday, September 2, 2011

on my way to bed

Because this weekend is the 3-Day Novel Contest, and I must be well rested. And sparkling with brilliant ideas and thick with fully-rounded characters and chattering with witty dialogue! Or at least rested.

In other exciting news, Mark suggested that I take over Chris's old room for a writing room. He's been using it to sort & store antiquities and take photos for the website, but if I got my desk and the futon-couch out of the 'computer room' he'd probably have room to do that in there.
I could move my stacks of research books into one place and put them on shelves - of course we'd need to build floor-to-ceiling shelves on two walls. Maybe move my children's books in there as well.
A room of my own, just for writing.

I had been longingly browsing shed designs (Summerwood lets you customise your designs online, plus has immense design galleries to play around in) and occasionally looking at cabins at (I classify this as house-pr0n, lusting after things impossible to perform) But having my own room would be pretty much as good as having my own building, with access to electricity, refrigeration, and tea.
So now I'm browsing Where I Write and the Guardian's series on Writers' Rooms.

Bed time! I'll try to post my 3-Day progress.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

more Pennsic photos

 It's difficult to pick what's representative of the 'Pennsic experience' when I just photographed whatever took my fancy. I'll try to provide some context.
About 12000 people attended the Pennsic War, most camping onsite. The Cooper's Lake campground was long ago filled, and I think they rent surrounding fields to cover the overflow and allow room for fighting fields etc.
There are two large marketplaces with about 300 merchants, a dozen tracks of classes (hands-on, seminars, etc.) running every day, performances of music, dance and drama, processions, craft demonstrations, ...
oh, and a war, with battles and stuff. Somewhere. But it was really hot.

 Various groups, from kingdoms to households, prefer to camp together, and there's a complicated system for allotting space. Having won their land, most groups mark it with fabric walls and gates made of anything from fabric to plywood to stone. I liked the paint job on this one, a pretty decent trompe l'oeil.

 Midweek there's a late-night shopping spree called Midnight Madness. Merchants drop their prices, offer odd bargains, and sometimes do silly things like shave their heads. The markets are full of people, it's a great night for buskers (three very young ladies outside our booth performed 'What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor' and Leonard Cohen's Alleluia, an odd juxtaposition), very carnival atmosphere. This photo is of some 'dead' being carried out, complete with Monty Python quotes.
 "I'm feeling better!"

 One of the many streets at Pennsic, photographed towards the end of the event. This area is residential, so not many people are about. They're either napping in the heat of the day, or off taking classes, or fighting, or wandering the market.
Hoping this gives at least a hint of how big the event is.

Artisan invasion! A number of artisans arrive in the market street with their tools and materials, and work through part of the day, then vanish, reappearing elsewhere another day.
Mark points out that almost everything they do is 18th century, but it's still fun to watch.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

writing? oh yeah, writing.

No pics yet, because they're on a camera card and I'll have to do it through my EEE which has a card slot. Instead, a return to the ostensible topic of this blog:  my fabulous writing career.

Okay, my writing. There.

You'll recall that before leaving for Pennsic I was in a mad rush to cut free and mail off the first 'half' of The Cost of Silver for my agent's opinion on how I should proceed. In that narrow window between my return from Pennsylvania and my departure for Fort Rodd Hill,  she emailed her assessment (yes, she is speedy like a speeding thing), having read the mss while on holiday with her family.
While containing phrases like 'spooky and compelling', 'carries absolute historical authenticity', 'raced through it', the gist was that the narrative was headed in the wrong direction and that my research was showing. (what a surprise, right?)
I imagine her reading and reading, with a sinking feeling getting stronger and stronger, and her wondering how to break it to me gently.

Well, I emailed back, and we had a bit of discussion, and I'll be working up a revised--severely revised--synopsis for her after Labour Day. I think I can keep the storyline I care about, of the commoners and fenfolk and their fight for their land and livelihood, by tying it more securely into the revenant story. Which means building up characters and plot for the courtiers, royalty, and fen-drainers, so that they appear on-stage, not just referred to by the commoners. With the revenants being in various ways supporters of the enclosures, because enclosing land for the gentry means driving commoners off, creating a dispossessed, powerless population that's easy prey, in place of tight little villages where everyone knows everyone else.
Maybe the revenants have fond memories of the abolition of the monasteries, too? Some number of them must have been around at the time.
This also means more scenes with revenants, because there's bound to be conflict among them, with some liking the idea of influencing the powerful mortals, and others thinking it dangerously rash and risking discovery.

She's suggested working in a modern-day plotline, with perhaps a Cambridge researcher discovering papers that lead back to the 1600s story. I talked this over with the others at Fort Rodd Hill, and what sparked from it I quite like, involving Wicken Fen (the last untouched fenland in East Anglia) and the discovery of a 'bog body' which perhaps ain't as dead as all that.

So, I am quite excited, not least by her suggestion that 'you have it in you to write a big commercial historical fantasy novel' that could be sold to a mainstream editor. After I had curled up in a corner and twitched for a while, then wandered around the house muttering 'but, but,' that is!
I'd pretty much pinned my future as 'quirky midlist author with small cult following', but the point of having an agent is for advice and guidance, right? So I shall work on reassessing. Then on massive revising.

But first! The 3-Day Novel Contest this weekend. I even have an idea for it, at last. An artists' colony on Saltspring Island, populated by retired gods and heroes, stirred up by the arrival of a young girl who was recently the incarnation of a goddess and has issues therefrom.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

here presently

Back home from our Living History week at Fort Rodd Hill. After a slow start because of being so recently returned from Pennsic, followed by two days work panic, I got myself sorted out and immersed in daily life of the fourteenth century. I didn't go online, turn on my EEE, or read, except for one brief trip to 'the fried bread shop' on the day it rained a lot, when I read a couple of chapters of The Book of Air and Shadow, by Michael Gruber.
Now I am back home, a home strewn with un-unpacked baskets and bags, clothesline heavy with freshly-washed linens and lawn covered with tarps and carpets. My brain appears to be in a remarkably similar state.
So. More later, and pics. I will never catch up with the pics!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

random Pennsic pics

A small selection of the cool stuff at the war. First, labyrinths of various designs appeared by the barn, in the food market, and along the paved pathways. Every morning they were drawn fresh. You can imagine how happy I was to discover them on my early morning walks, and to take the time to walk or run them on my way.

Another new thing: parchment makers in the market. The Meyer family has been making parchment since the 1500s, reportedly, but this is the first time they've come to Pennsic. Next year they hope to have a proper tent, but I suspect no one really noticed anything past the OMG PARCHMENT!!!eleventy.

Another thing that might almost have been chosen to make me personally happy: Alexander, apprentice to Arab Boy, is making Aldrovani-style enamelled beakers. These are the very objects that caused me to fall in love with enamelled glassware in the first place, and to work on faking them up with thriftshop glassware and low-fire enamels. Alexander is doing them for real. When I found out there would be a demo of the process on Saturday, I was all bouncy.

By the food market we met the labyrinth maker, who had just finished a gnomen sundial nearby, and was adding another classic labyrinth to the path.

I wanted to add a video of Dru and Osprey playing cigar-box and cookie-tin banjo, but there isn't room on this post, so it will have to wait.