I’m leaving tomorrow for the Writing Excuses Retreat. I’ve been listening to the Writing Excuses podcast since Dan Wells told me about it when he came to my store for a signing. The tagline is “15 minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”
Except, they really, really are. The hosts are Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler. We’ll spend some classroom time with the experts talking to us about various things and then we’ll spend time writing. There are wifi-free zones. There are dogs. There is a gazebo. There is Croquet LARP. I have no idea how that will work, but I’m expecting it to be awesome. In fact, I’m expecting it to be so awesome that I’ve packed my Wonder Woman costume to wear during the game.
I’ve at least casually met all of the presenters except Howard, so I’m not too nervous (yes, I am.) There are about 28 students altogether. We’ll be in various smaller breakout groups. I’ll try to post some while I’m away, but I’m not sure what my time is going to look like. Hopefully, I’ll be too busy writing to worry much about blogging.
Are any of you writing these days? What resources do you use; podcasts, writing books, blogs, and websites? Please share in the comments below.
I’m sure many of you have at least heard of Erin Morgenstern’s beautiful novel, The Night Circus. But have you read it? Have you delved between its black and white covers into its black and white pages and rolled around in the beautiful world she’s created?
Two magicians have pledged their apprentices to a magical duel. The fight is to the death, but the arena is something special. It is a circus.
The Night Circus arrives without warning, sets up for a time, and then fades away just as quietly. Everything in the Circus is black and white. The clothes, the tents, even the animals. Some of the acts are normal. There are aerialists and living statues. There are fortune tellers and clowns. But there are also magical tents, tents that Celia and Marco have created as part of their competition. There is the tent that is full of people’s dreams. There is a clock like no clock ever seen before, although it isn’t made by one of the magicians. There is magic and wonder and unexpected love.
But remember, this is a duel to the death. There is a darkness stalking the edges of the Circus and the unwary visitor might stumble and be lost.
I first listened to the book on audio and then had to go back and buy a hardcover because it was a beautiful object as well as a beautiful story. The end papers and chapter headings were tiny little treats inside the book.
I found this book so stimulating that I created an entire Pinterest board inspired by the book. I have several costumes I want to make once I figure out how.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had so many images stay with me from a book. Maybe Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee. But even with that book it’s only one or two. The Night Circus is full of beauty. I would love for Erin to write travel books because her descriptions are so amazing that I’m sure everywhere she went would sound like a fairyland.
If you’ve already read The Night Circus won’t you tell me your favorite image?
Mine is the chameleon dress Celia wears to the party. Someday, I will figure out how to make something like that. Or, rather someone much better at technology will help me make something like that.
I have a book buying problem. I also have a book receiving problem. That happens when you work in a bookstore. The publishers send you advance copies of books. You get a discount on books you purchase from the store. You hear about or see books you might not otherwise have known about. So, instead of having a manageable “To-Be-Read” pile I have a small mountain. (There are 452 books in my to-read folder on Goodreads.) I’ve threatened to turn it into a fort on more than one occasion. And I will if I can ever figure out how to keep my cats from knocking it over as soon as I begin. (Advise on book fort building welcome in the comments below.)
Alternately, I’d make a great dragon with a hoard of books instead of gold. Although, I do have rather a large amount of jewelry too… Speaking of which, have you seen Lauren’s “Uncommon Dragon Hoards” on tumblr? They’re pretty awesome. You can buy prints too! I have a friend who might need the hoard of nail polish. I want the hoard of kittens. The hoard of books print is sold out right now, but maybe there will be more soon!
I thought you might like to see what I’m hoarding at my house in my immediate “To Read” stack. I can’t list all the unread books at my house because that is too much like making a comprehensive catalog and I just don’t have the time to do that if I’m going to get this blog posted before I leave for Chattanooga on Sunday.
So, here are the books that are most immediately in danger of being read:
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry – It sounds a bit like a cross between “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” and St. Trinian’s by Ronald Searle. The horrible headmistress and her loathsome brother have been poisoned, but if their deaths become common knowledge then the school will be closed. Since the girls don’t want to return home they set out to conceal the bodies and solve the murders before anyone in authority finds out what has been going on.
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu - I picked this up quite awhile ago, but for some reason didn’t dive in immediately. I’m not sure what distracted me, but whatever it was probably wasn’t as good as this is going to be. An out of shape IT tech ends up with a millennia old alien inside him motivating him to improve himself and also become a secret agent in an alien civil war. How does that not sound awesome? Also, I’m pretty sure that having an alien implanted in my skull is the only way I will ever manage to get in shape, so this books is aspirational for me too.
The Red Queen Dies by Frankie Y. Bailey – Near-future, Alice in Wonderland infused murder mystery. Why yes, yes I will. The book is set in 2019 and a new drug has made it’s way out into the population. Taking it erases traumatic memories, which is great when it comes to treating PTSD, but has serious implications when it comes to investigating crimes. Two women are murdered by a potential serial killer and Detective McCabe is assigned to the case. “The Red Queen” is a broadway actress who might be the third victim of this killer, although McCabe isn’t sure she fits the pattern.
London Falling by Paul Cornell – I’m terrible! I got an ARC of this and I STILL haven’t read it. I just… Things happen. I’m sorry Paul. I have done nothing today to make you feel proud. (That’s an SF Squeecast in-joke for those of you who are really confused right now.) London Falling is, as far as I can tell, a murder mystery crossed with grimdark urban fantasy. So, that’s awesome.
Death of a Mad Hatter is the second in Jenn Mckinlay’s Hat Shop Mysteries. Book One, Cloche and Dagger, was a fun read, so I was happy to see that McKinlay had continued the series. A quick bit of background:
Scarlett Parker was in the hospitality business at a prestigious hotel in Florida until she found out that her boyfriend, and boss, was engaged to another woman. Overnight Scarlett went from a well paid professional to an internet sensation because, of course, someone who witnessed the confrontation had their cell phone out. Also, the creep’s family, who happened to own the hotel Scarlett worked for, made it very clear that she would never be able to find another job in the industry. Luckily, Scarlett had the perfect escape route.
Her English grandmother had left her Portobello Road hat shop, Mim’s Whims, equally between her two granddaughters. Vivian, the fully English partner, had been managing everything while Scarlett thought she was setting up a successful life in Florida. Now, there was a ready made home and career waiting for her just across the Atlantic.
Unfortunately, things in Merry Olde England aren’t looking much better than they were back in Florida. Vivian is missing, Harrison-the-business-manager is drop dead gorgeous, but gets right under her skin, and then one of Viv’s clients actually does drop dead wearing nothing but a hat from Mim’s Whims.
In Death of a Mad Hatter Scarlett and Vivian have settled into a good partnership at the hat shop and business is brisk. Dotty Grisby, an old friend of Mim’s, has commissioned them to make hats for an Alice in Wonderland themed charity event. The theme is right up their alley, but all is not wonderful in the Grisby family. First, Dotty seems to have blocked out the fact that her late husband left her thirty years ago and moved to Italy with his mistress. The oldest daughter is enraged that the beastly only son gets everything, cutting off her, her two sisters, and her children. Said beastly only son is possibly abusing, and certainly cheating on his delicate wife. The situation couldn’t be any worse.
Until the beastly heir ends up dead in the garden with traces of the poison on the Mad Hatter hat made by Vivian.
Scarlett feels an overwhelming need to look into the situation between her worry that the police suspect her and Viv and her genuine sympathy for the not-quite grieving widow. But someone who has killed once won’t balk at doing it again.
I read this fairly quickly, over two days, which is typical for cozy mysteries. It isn’t terribly deep, but it is fun. If you have an interest in fashion, I would say that this is right up there with Annette Blair’s Vintage Magic Mysteries. Scarlett has some very nice clothes and notices them in others. I don’t actually know what most of the clothes look like, but I do like the descriptions of the hats.
My one quibble with this book is that Scarlett spends a great deal of time discussing how plain she feels next to Viv or Fee, their apprentice. But I didn’t feel like this was anything more than skin deep. And that’s ok too. We all have ugly days. But there seemed to be the desire on McKinlay’s part to really make the reader sympathize with Scarlett over this insecurity, but it came across as petulant rather than sincere.
However, that’s just a few pages in what was, otherwise, a very entertaining mystery.
I haven’t gone over DragonCon yet, so even though it’s been three weeks, I’ll do a quick recap now.
I had a very different convention than usual. I participated in two large photo shoots and did the autograph lines for the first time. I also wore five different costumes. When you put all that together you end up with some serious con fatigue.
During a normal convention I’ll go to three or four panels a day, so I’m used to sitting one hour out of every three or so. This year I only made it to four panels total. Standing around in a corset all day really wears you out!
The panels I did make it to this year were “Arming the Written Word,” which was about writing fight scenes. Jonathan Maberry was one of the panelists and, as always, his advice was very helpful. I don’t no recall the other panelists, but they had some
cool things to talk about too. I went to another late night panel with Jonathan on a new X-Files anthology that’s coming out next year, I think. That was fairly interesting too, but taxed my somewhat old knowledge of the show.
The next panel I went to was on Rococo and Regency costuming and it was fantastic! The panelists were informative and the audience asked interesting questions. They didn’t have any slides, which I believe was because one of the panelists didn’t make it, or possibly the projector was broken? I don’t recall now, but it was still a very valuable panel. The last one I made it to was on Monday. I went to a panel on Plus-Size Costuming. That had some great information, but there wasn’t time to get into too many specifics that I didn’t already have some ideas about. I’m at the point now where I’m at least vaguely aware of most of the information at the more general costuming panels. I may not have a good handle on implementing that information yet, but I am aware of it.
I had a special project going on; I’ve got a friend in Afghanistan who has a birthday coming up, so I wanted to get some birthday cards signed for him. Jonathan Maberry was on my list, although I’m not sure my friend is a huge fan, but I am, so I had to get him. I also got some of the Whedon cast that was there. I didn’t have the time or money to get Ron Glass or Adam Baldwin, but I did get Julie Benz, J. August Richards, and Amy Acker. They were all super nice, although I think I caught Mr. Richards just as he was hoping to get a break. I hope I didn’t delay him too much! Julie Benz is brunette right now, which was somewhat disconcerting. You know actors and actresses change their hair all the time, but it always startles me when they go from blonde to brunette for some reason.
I got Billy Boyd’s signature and one of his band’s recent albums. He’s in the band Beecake if you didn’t know and I think they’re rather great.
The real standouts from the signings though were the Mass Effect voice actors. I got to talk briefly to Tricia Helfer, who is just as gorgeous in person as she is on Battlestar Galactica. She also spends a ton of her time working with Katie Sackoff and their organization Acting Outlaws to raise money for charity. So, I really admire her for all that. She was very gracious. But the two most amazing ladies that I met were Courtenay Taylor who voices Jack and Kimberly Brooks who voices Ashley. They were both amazingly nice and willing to spend time chatting with me. Mark Meer, the voice of the male player character, was at the con too, but I never managed to run into him when he seemed unbusy, so I didn’t luck out there. He was out on the floor in his Mass Effect armor most of the time having fun.
The other major highlight of my DragonCon experience was that I got to meet three of my cosplay idols; Bill Doran of Punished Props and Maery Morrison and Sam Witlox of Anatamoy of Cosplay. Bill is awesome and he does (mostly) weekly google hangouts called PropLive, during which he and a guest answer cosplay and making questions. He helped me out with some ideas for one of my costumes. Bill also has a very active YouTube channel and an ebook on armor construction.
Mae and Sam, have also done some hangouts as well as an amazingly helpful serious of YouTube videos on the making (from scratch) of their AMAZING Shiala costumes for this year’s DragonCon. Maery and Sam are total inspirations for me and I have a giant, giant cosplay crush on them both. So, I was very proud that I managed to meet them and not fumble all over myself. Bonus points for social poise!
So, onto my costumes. I had an awesome Wonder Woman costume with a scale male top and belt that my friends at Back to Earth Creations made for me, but… I didn’t get any pictures of me in it. So… I’m stupid.
But, here are my other costumes:
And yes, I’ve already bought my membership for DragonCon next year. ^.^
The Late Scholar starts off with a post-WWII Lord Peter, now Duke of Denver, at home some time after the events of The Attenbury Emeralds, which elevated him to the Dukedom. Peter has been called on to fulfill one of the lesser known, hereditary duties of the Duke of Denver, that of visitor to St. Severin’s College at Oxford. (I had to look up what a Visitor was, but it seems, within the context of the story to be a mostly ceremonial role.) The college is torn. A parcel of land has become available to them, which could be developed or held and sold at a great profit in the future. However, to raise the money for this sale a valuable and ancient manuscript from the College library would have to be sold. The matter has been put to a vote twice already with the Warden of the college casting his deciding vote for the status quo, to retain the manuscript.
However, the third vote is coming up and the Warden has taken an unexpected and unannounced sabbatical. Peter has been called in to decide the matter in his capacity as the visitor. However, before he can even leave home for the trip to Oxford he receives news that one of the dons has died in a tragic accident. Further investigation shows that two other dons have had near escapes, which everyone also puts down to accident. Peter, however, notices that each of the three incidents bears a striking resemblance to deaths in previous cases of his, cases which have been detailed in Harriet’s mystery novels.
It suddenly elevates this from a simple academic dispute over a rather dodgy land venture into a case of murder. Bodies continue to pile up as Peter and Harriet investigate.
Bunter is, naturally in a Lord Peter Whimsy mystery, an integral part of the investigation. Both the Dowager Duchesses make an appearance. Helen, the somewhat loathsome widow of Gerald, is her usual self, while Honoria, Peter’s mother, continues to be delightful.
I am a long time Lord Peter Whimsy fan. I’ve read all of his adventures, seen all the television adaptations, listened to all of the audiobooks. So when a new Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery is announced I get both excited and trepedatious. The Late Scholar, the fourth Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery from Jill Paton Walsh is a solid, workmanlike addition to the series. It isn’t going to take anyone by storm, but it doesn’t let one down either.
This does seem, rather, to damn the book with faint praise, but that is not its intention. I enjoyed The Late Scholar, but I did not keep it in my library to reread as I have the original Dorothy Sayers volumes, and even the first two of Walsh’s contributions to the series. It is, perhaps, a library book, rather than a purchase. If you love it more than I did then there will always be time to pick it up from your local bookstore in the future. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal had a glowing review.
I attribute my feelings to two things. First, this book seemed slightly more contrived than previous iterations. The murder methods are taken from previous cases of Peter’s, which is a nice nod to long time fans, but at the same time is a gimmick seen over and over again. The first episode of Castle springs immediately to mind. Also, Harriet is a mystery novelist in her own right. I don’t know how I feel about the notion of her recycling Peter’s old cases to get material.
Second, I have read and reread a mystery set in the 1920’s that has a few superficial resemblances to this story. It’s also set at a college and there is also a medieval manuscript peripherally connected to the case. Despite the two novels being entirely distinct, I couldn’t help but compare them in my mind.
I don’t want to leave the impression that I didn’t enjoy the novel, because I did and I do recommend it to fans of Lord Peter or the classic, Crime Queen era of British mystery fiction. But, I think if I were to re-read one of the Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mysteries I would take myself back to Thrones, Dominations or A Presumption of Death.
Ben Hatke is one of my favorite author/artists. He is the creator or the inimitable Zita, the Spacegirl. Zita is the heroine of three graphic novels, which are all wonderful. She’s a favorite of mine and of the kids at my library. (Did I mention I’m a school librarian now? I can’t remember.)
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is Ben’s first picture book. It was published by FirstSecond at the beginning of the month. It’s about and adorable and intrepid young lady named Julia who moves to a new town with her magical and mystical house (It arrives on the back of a turtle.) The two pages spread of the inside of Julia’s house makes me insanely jealous. I’d love to move in there right now.
The problem is, it’s too quiet. So, Julia makes a sign designating her house “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.” Before long she has more company than she expected. There’s a patchwork kitty, a sad troll, a mermaid, a dragon, goblins, ghosts, and all kinds of other new residents. Some ground rules have to be established, but the household gets along in the end.
The illustrations in this book are just beautiful! Ben has the ability to make amazingly beautiful art as well as to tell wonderful stories. I can’t recommend his books highly enough. I’ll just leave you with some of his illustrations to tell their own story.