Recently in the writerly life

Greetings, all!

Here we are, at my last pre-NaNoWriMo weekend post.

I’m going to recap some of the writerly events I’ve attended in recent weeks and mention a thing or two that will be happening in the nearish future.

First, we’ll be going back in time to September 28 and the Latitude 46 fall launch. One that evening, five authors were reading from their works.

LiisaKovala

Liisa Kovala is a friend from the Sudbury Writers’ Guild and she was launching Surviving Stutthoff, her memoir of her father’s experiences behind the death gate.

Also launching books that night were Sudbury’s Roger Nash, with his nineteenth poetry collection, Whazzat?, Rod Carley from North Bay, Hap Wilson from Rousseau, and Suzanne Charron with the second edition of Wolf Man Joe LaFlamme: Tamer Untamed.

The event was held at Ristorante Verdiccio, and it was a delightful evening.

Last weekend, October 21st, I attended the launch of Kim Fahner’s fourth poetry collection, Some Other Sky, which was held at St. Andrew’s Place in downtown Sudbury.

Kim not only reads, but she also sings, and she usually has The Wild Geese perform Celtic music before, during, and after.

Next weekend, November 2-4, I’ll be attending Wordstock Sudbury.

On Thursday, I’ll be at a poetry reading by Emily Ursuliak, Tanya Neumeyer, Kateri Lanthier, and Kim Fahner at One Sky, followed by the festival opening, and then a dramatic reading of Kim’s play Sparrows Over Slag.

On Saturday, I’ll be attending Merilyn Simonds’ masterclass on The First Page and then Nathan Adler’s masterclass on Writing Speculative Fiction.

Torvi

Phil and I will also be visiting our new puppy, Torvi 🙂 She’s still a few weeks from adoption age, so we’re bringing a blanket and toy out for the pups. When we do adopt, we’ll be able to aid the transition with the smell of momma Mocha and a familiar toy.

Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will be posted this week, but after that, I’m getting to puppy prep and working on Playing with Fire. I’ll see you after the writerly masochism that is NaNoWriMo!

As ever, be kind, be well, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Oct 15-21, 2017

Your weekly dose of informal writerly learnings is here!

First, get your fill of preptober:

Janice Hardy continues her 31 day online novel workshop with day 15: discovering your internal conflicts. Day 16: finding your stakes. Day 17: turning your idea into a summary line. Day 18: turning the summary line into a summary blurb. Day 19: creating the most basic of outlines. Day 20: developing your plot. Day 21: the opening scene.

Gabriela Pereira guest posts on the NaNoWriMo blog: outline your story like a subway map.

Later in the week, Gabriela interviews NaNoWriMo’s Grant Faulkner for DIY MFA radio.

As part of her preptober series, Rachael Stephen shares three efficient techniques for fleshing out characters.

 

Jenny Hansen plots up a storm (for NaNoWriMo) with Writers in the Storm.

Elizabeth S. Craig offers some suggestions on how to be a #NaNoWriMo rebel.


And now …

K.M. Weiland follows up on a recent post: the only good reason to write. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jan O’Hara shares lessons learned from Ruby Dixon: how to write sex scenes that readers can’t and won’t skip. Writer Unboxed

Julianna Baggott: the writerly skills test. Writer Unboxed

Porter Anderson considers the book doula. I love how Porter presents the evidence and lets the reader decide what they think about the topic. Writer Unboxed

A.K. Perry ponders the eternal question: to outline or not to outline? DIY MFA

And here’s my most recent DIY MFA column—the science in your science fiction: artificial intelligence.

Jami Gold helps you decide what you should show and what you should tell. Then, she helps you find balance between showing and telling.

Tamar Sloan stops by the Writers Helping Writers coaching corner: what’s the real purpose of writing?

Is there such a thing as a good MacGuffin? Robert Wood, Standout books.

Adrienne Liang interviews Patrick Rothfuss for Omnivoracious: what brings him joy?

And that was your writerly goodness for the week.

Be well until Thursday!

tipsday2016

Lessons learned and takeaways from my European adventure

Over the weeks since my return and interspersed with monthly updates, I’ve been recounting my European adventure. Now, I’m finally ready to talk about the benefits I’ve gained and the things I’ve learned from the experience.

Muse-inks

Planning and preparation are important

I committed to the Writing Excuses Retreat and WorldCon in early February. It could have been January, but I was hesitant because of the expense. Ultimately, it was a confluence of events: WXR doing a Baltic cruise—they usually cruise the Caribbean, WorldCon being in Helsinki, my desire to visit the country of my ancestry, and the fact that I could do all that AND get in some quality first time tourism at the same time as I continued my professional development as a writer.

Once I committed, I was hip-deep in making the travel arrangements. WXR had their own travel agents and I was able to get a great price on a return European flight through them. All of the cruise arrangements were made through the travel agency.

They facilitated the registration for the cruise, the booking of all the tours at each of the stops, and the issuing of all electronic travel documents.

I made my own hotel booking and, with very little back and forth, I was able to secure the convention rate for my extended stay.

While I attempted to make my additional travel arrangements through the travel agents associated with the cruise, they were busy enough handling the details for the cruise. I’d noticed that the Canadian Auto Association, of which I am a member, was promoting their European travel services. I decided to make the remaining arrangements through them.

There was much more back and forth, but by staying on top of the email thread, I had my flight from Hamburg to Helsinki booked, my rental car, and my bus tour to cover the days in between the cruise and WorldCon.

I went to the airline sites and to CATSA to help me with my packing. My thought was to travel light and only have my carryon luggage and my (fairly large) purse. I reviewed my itineraries for the flights, cruise, and the schedule for the convention to plan out, in rough strokes, where I’d have to be, when.

I was as prepared as I could be by the time I left, but while planning and preparation are important, they aren’t everything.

I still suffered panic attacks in the week leading up to my trip. I still had to deal with ongoing anxiety during the flights—not because I’m afraid of flying, but because I was afraid that despite all my planning, that something catastrophic in terms of making my connections, delays, or other uncontrollable elements (weather) that attend travel would render my planning useless.

Fortunately, none of that happened.

Travelling alone is empowering

Because so much is out of your control when you travel alone, you quickly realize you just have to put on your big girl (or big boy) pant(ie)s and git ‘er done.

Anxiety serves no purpose in these situations and, frankly, can’t be indulged. Yes. I wrote that. Anxiety, in some situations, is an indulgence. It’s an indulgence of imbalanced or malfunctioning neurotransmitters, and not easily managed, but it’s still an indulgence.

I have a friend who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder and its attendant anxiety. I invited her up for a short visit that, because of its brevity, was highly structured (I guess planning’s a thing with me). In the ensuing whirlwind, she didn’t have the time to perform her particular rituals.

Months (it might have been years) later, she told me how that visit had changed her. It was concrete evidence that even if she couldn’t indulge her OCD, that the things she feared would happen, didn’t. It was a breakthrough for her.

I travel alone all the time. I drive down to Ottawa, to Toronto, or to other cities in southern Ontario to train for my day job. I attend writing conferences, conventions, and workshops alone. Some of these have been across the country, or in the States. But I’d never been outside of continental North America before. In a very real way, I had never been more alone.

After the pre-departure panic attacks, though, I progressed straight to a semi-fugue state during travel. I was completely in the moment. I had to continually check my itinerary to make sure I was making progress to the next queue, or boarding, or whatever, because it was too tempting to slip into a place in which I wouldn’t care if I got anywhere at all.

Though I spent my waiting and flight time reading or watching movies to keep myself distracted, I wasn’t really forming solid memories of these things. I felt like a deer in the headlights most of the time. It was a test of endurance more than anything else, but I didn’t have a panic attack for the duration of my trip.

A little bit of that disconnect from reality followed me throughout my journey and reasserted itself for my days of solo travel. I was more in control once most of the uncertainty was behind me, once I’d reached the Atlantic Hotel in Kiel, for instance, or embarked on the cruise ship, or checked into the Sokkos Presidentti.

During the retreat itself, I had to be intentionally vulnerable, painfully honest, and resist attempts to make my work, accomplishments, or failures—essentially me—sound better, less devastating, or more professional than they were. It takes effort to do this when your body and brain is used to preventing you from doing these very things. It’s very liberating.

And, as my friend Kim told me, it’s also empowering. I can be authentic and the world doesn’t end. People still like me. I can be honest, and my tribe (writers) will support me.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts about this trip, the experience is still changing me. I’m a creature of habit and change is slow to come.

It was bucket-listy

When I started to attend conferences, conventions, and workshops, I started to set goals. Attend  Ad Astra. Check. I’ve now attended three. Attend the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Check. Attend When Words Collide. Check. Attend Can-Con. Check. Attend WorldCon. Check.

When I started to listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, I became aware of their writing retreats. Initially, they were held at Mary’s parent’s house. Eventually, though, they became more ambitious and the retreat took place on a cruise ship.

So I put that on my list of writerly goals. The Baltic cruise was special, though. The Writing Excuses cast will likely not be doing something similar in the near future. I could have made it even more bucket-listy by attending the German castle tour that followed the cruise, but I had to draw my financial line somewhere.

Still, to attend a writing retreat on a cruise ship, in Europe, and to be able to see some of the world in addition to developing my skill as a writer? As they say on the credit card commercial, that was priceless. It was the perfect storm of opportunity.

Travel and experience are critical parts of becoming a better writer. You have to push your limits, get out of your comfort zone, to make a breakthrough.

Ask and you shall receive

I left on my trip with a couple of personal goals in mind aside from travelling Europe and participating in the cruise.

Again, as I’ve mentioned previously, I have been having increasing difficulty with creative burnout. I wanted to see if I could get some practical advice and solid strategies for identifying and addressing the underlying reasons for this.

K. Tempest Bradford and Emma Newman were particularly helpful in this respect. The path they’ve lit the way to is one I’m still walking. I’ll have to devote another blog to this in the future, once I’ve sorted more of it out.

For now, I’m easing up on the writerly goal setting. I’m making room for other entertainment, down time, and self-care. I’m not so obsessed with heeding the siren song of production (moar!). I’m working on understanding that what I can get done is enough, that I am enough, and that reminding myself of the reasons I chose to write in the first place (love!) take precedence over external validation.

The other thing I was looking for was something that I’ve been trying for a couple of years to get in place, a mentor, editor, or some other form of support to help me get to the next level, so to speak, in my writing. I’ve tried to get a situation in place, but often personalities, interests, or skill sets have not meshed.

I’ve also been a part of many informal writing groups in real life as well as on line over the years. Again, personal goals, interests, and skill sets have not meshed. Or the methodology has been, in my opinion, flawed. Focusing on the first X pages or chapters doesn’t result in appropriate feedback, and feeding chapters, or sections, to readers over months or years isn’t necessarily productive either. Neither approach allows the reader or critique partner to get a feeling for the whole story, which I think is critical to feedback that results in improvement.

By the end of the cruise, I’d expressed interest in a full-novel critique group. Over the course of WorldCon, connections were made and things were firmed up. Starting in January of 2018, there’s a group of us that are going to give it a shot. I have hope and expectations, but not so many, nor so high, that they will be easily disappointed 🙂

One thing that I wasn’t expecting to receive was the excellent advice of Thomas Olde Heuvelt on how to develop and maintain a creative life plan. I’ve been setting writerly goals for years, but they’ve been primarily one-dimensional and focused on production.

Thomas’s advice to let the over-the-top, blue-sky, dreamy goals inform your overall writing goals and to include holistic life goals, like health—physical and mental—and financial, in the plan helped me to realize how much wellbeing I’ve been leaving out of my goals in recent years. He also recommended having a five year plan in place, subject to change (life does have a habit of intervening).

My European adventure was truly a life-changing experience, in many ways.

I’ll have to let you know how everything works out, but as many of my takeaways were things I’m going to be implementing over time, the results may be a while in coming.

Next week, I’ll be devoting some time to Kim’s launch of Some Other Sky and my presentation for the Sudbury Writers’ Guild on Fantasy (yes, the topic is wide open—it’s going to be fun). After that, I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo and taking a month-long blogging break, except for the Thoughty Thursday coming out on November 2nd.

I’ll catch everyone up in December with another bonanza October/November next chapter update. There are also going to be some writerly events coming up in November, including WordStock Sudbury and a possible Gail Anderson-Dargatz workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.

There will be more writerly goodness coming up.

Until next I blog, be kind, be well, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories.

Catching up on my DIY MFA columns

Hi all you writerly people!

Over the summer, I fell behind in sharing my DIY MFA columns. I know, I said I was going to post to let you know when they were out … but life happened and sharing the posts was the last thing on my mind.

Now I’ve come home and life is more or less in order again, I thought I’d catch everyone up.

First, my latest Speculations column, the science in your science fiction: artificial intelligence. This was just published yesterday (October 17).

AIColumn

D’aw, isn’t this lil guy cute?

Earlier in the summer, though, I did a two part post on the hero’s journey. Part one: strengthen your writing by studying the hero’s journey. This was posted July 25, two days before I left for my European adventure.

herosjourney1

Part two: a deep dive into the hero’s journey. This one was due within days of my return and was posted September 7.

herosjourney2

I hope you enjoy.

And while you’re there, check out the other awesome columnists and all of Gabriela’s great resources. If you like what you see, join the DIY MFA community 🙂

See you tomorrow!

 

WorldCon 75 summary post

It seems we’ve exchanged hurricanes and mass shootings for wildfires and floods. Wherever you are, whatever has come your way, please find safety.


Welcome back to the ongoing tale of my European adventure 🙂

This instalment will be the penultimate one. Next week, I’ll cover my takeaways from the trip.

Since I’d made the decision earlier in the year to stop blogging my session notes … I didn’t take any during the whole of WorldCon (!) It was very freeing. I relaxed and enjoyed.

Something I forgot to mention in my last post is that I also enjoyed the hotel’s Sauna on Tuesday night. I had a nice, naked conversation with some Finnish ladies who were curious about all the Americans in town … but it was helpful for the cruise crud.

Wednesday, August 9, was the first day of WorldCon, and at breakfast that morning, I met up again with the Tracy’s, Heather and Bill, and their mom, Becky, who’d been my roommate on the WXR cruise. Bill was also attending WorldCon, while Heather and Becky did the tourist thing in Helsinki.

After breakfast, I strolled down the pedestrian underpass to the train station, bought my ticket at the kiosk, and caught the train to Pasila.

I want to take a moment here to express just how fabulous the Helsinki trains were. Clean, spacious, and efficient. My registration for the con included a train pass for the week, because they knew most of us would be staying in the downtown area. There are a couple of hotels in Pasila, but they were booked quickly, and blocks of rooms were reserved for those who needed accommodation (or so I understand).

The only other city train I’ve been on that comes close is Vancouver’s, but at the time I travelled on it, the number of passengers made the journey (with luggage) uncomfortable. In Helsinki, there were two main lines, the K and the I (though there were more) that ran north and between the two, one left every ten minutes.

The first day of WorldCon was a bit disappointing, to be honest, because I think the organizers underestimated the interest of casual attendance (day passes). Except for the academic stream session I attended, nearly every room was full and they were very strict about the numbers because fire regulations. I don’t blame the organizers, but it was a frustrating first day.

The convention centre did have a great food court, however, and I ended up meeting a couple of friends of fellow Sudbury Writers’ Guild member Andy Taylor at the cafe. Tim Boerger and Nina Niskanen had both attended Viable Paradise with Andy and he wanted me to connect with them. I’d actually seen Nina at WorldCon last year, but I didn’t know who she was until after her steampunk panel was over 😦

While there, I also met Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough 🙂

I also saw a number of WXR cruise mates, and fellow member of SF Canada, Su Sokol.

That evening, I met up with a group of Canadian SF fans and writers, including Su, Eric Choi, and Jane Ann McLachlan, to have dinner at Zetor.

Thursday was a more productive day. I attended sessions on the Kalevala (which I was geeky enough to be reading at the time), Nalo Hopkinson’s Guest of Honour interview (I kind of stalked her sessions throughout—I’m a fan), a presentation on the sauna, the live taping of the Coode Street podcast with Kelly Robson and Walter Jon Williams, a panel on secrets in SF that Jane Ann McLachlan was on, how to start a podcast with Howard Tayler, and the live Ditch Diggers taping.

nalohopkinson

That night was a meet up with Writing the Other alumni and K. Tempest Bradford. We went to a Nepalese buffet that was only a block or so from the convention centre called Mero-Himal. A number of alumni had also been on the cruise, and so it was a very enjoyable evening.

Friday’s WorldCon line up included a panel on artificial intelligence, one called Building Resistance, on which where Nina Niskanen and Kameron Hurley, one on female friendship in fiction with Navah Wolfe and Amal El-Motar, another Nalo Hopkinson GoH presentation, a panel on Austalian fantasy with Juliet Marillier, more Nalo Hopkinson (I said I was stalking her), a panel on how science really happens with Eric Choi, one on weird fiction with Helen Marshal, and one on alien language in SF with David J. Peterson, creator of the languages for the Game of Thrones series.

australianfantasy

Friday night was the night of the Hugo Awards Ceremonies and, still suffering from cruise crud (it didn’t completely clear until I was back home), I thought I’d catch the ceremonies on YouTube from the comfort of my hotel room. They were supposed to be webcast.

As I headed out on the train, the skies grew ominously dark and by the time the train arrived back in Helsinki, it was a full-on torrential downpour. The forecast had said that the weather would hold until evening … and so I’d left my umbrella in my hotel room.

While I waited some time at the station for the rain to stop, I eventually had to make it back to the hotel and got completely soaked. I got in and changed clothes, waited until the weather cleared a bit, and then strolled around the block—with my umbrella—to a little sushi restaurant for supper.

When it was time for the Hugos webcast … I was unable to connect. When I hopped on social media to see what I could find out, it turned out that there were technical difficulties and the webcast was a no go. I watched the Twitter feed for a while and ended up calling it an early night.

Saturday began with a science panel on planets beyond the Goldilocks zone, a panel on worldbuilding without ableism with Fran Wilde and Nalo Hopkinson (yes, I know), one on maintaining your scientist character’s credibility with Karen Lord, a panel on Octavia Butler (with you-know-who), I checked out the author signings where Mary Robinette Kowal and Margaret Dunlap were at side-by-side tables, a panel on fairy tale retellings with Navah Wolfe and Karen Lord, one on bad-ass female leads in young adult, and one on crafting a fantasy tale from mythology with Juliet Marillier.

I decided to call it an early night because I’d be heading for the airport in the morning for my flight home. I had supper at a sports bar, packed, and got a good night’s sleep.

secondmorningskyiceland

My flight left just after 8 am. I watched the sun rise on the train (at—bleargh—5:30 am) and, after a three hour flight to Iceland, watched the sun rise again 😉 Because I was travelling back through time zones, another five and a half hour fight brought me to Toronto before noon (!)

I hung out in Toronto for five more hours as my flight home was delayed, but I was home in time to watch that night’s Game of Thrones episode and then crawl into my own lovely bed.

I spent the next day resting and catching up on the television I’d missed during the trip. I could have used the rest of the week off to resent my internal clock and fully recover from the cruise crud, but it was back to the grind on Tuesday.

And that was how my European adventure ended.

Thanks for hanging with me on this journey!

As I mentioned off the top, next week will be my lessons learned/takeaway post but, because next Saturday is the launch of Kim Fahner’s latest poetry collection, Some Other Sky, I may not get the post up until Sunday. The next week, I’ll probably dedicate some time to writerly events (including the launch) and other happenings in this writer’s life, and then I’ll be on my annual blogging hiatus for NaNoWriMo!

Holy cow! This year is disappearing!

In the meantime, dear friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The next chapter: Thanksgiving and September 2017 update

Before I get into the personal stuff, I want to shout out to all those affected by hurricanes Harvey/Irma/Maria, and now Nate. I support various relief funds and hope that money reaches those in need. I know that the Canadian government has pledged $160k for relief in the Caribbean. We stand ready to assist.

I also want to decry the Las Vegas mass shooting and, though I have no impact on American policy as a Canadian, I voice my opinion that improved gun control is your best action to prevent such tragedy in the future. While I am realistic enough to know that it’s unlikely to happen any time soon, I hope that reason will prevail.

And now—to the update.

September was a calm and reasoned month, writing and revision wise. I set myself the task of getting through the revision of Reality Bomb. I had to add a character and a chapter, change the setting, change the climax a bit, and parse for continuity. So it wasn’t so much about polishing prose as it was about structure and flow.

SeptemberProgress

Like this? Jamie Raintree has launched the 2018 writing and revision tracker. It’s worth every penny!

I’m happy to say I met that goal as of September 30, revising 53,594 words, or 107%, of my 50K word goal.

Writing wise, thanks in part to my WXR/European adventure blog posts, I wrote 8,134 words of my 6,600 word goal, or 123%.

I also wrote my next column for DIY MFA and proposed a #5onFri column for them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to NaNoWriMo prep in September. I’ll have to cram that into October.

Aside from NaNo prep (which I have now started), I’ll be writing my DIY MFA columns, continuing the blogging, and doing another run through of RB. I’ve already added another chapter, but my word count on the draft continues to be shy of my 80K goal. I’m at about 75K, so not that far off, but, as I mentioned in my last next chapter update, I’ll be submitting RB for critique next year, and I want to make sure the draft’s at least passable.

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. I’ve already feasted with the fam (hence the Sunday post), but I wanted to spend some time expressing my thanks for the various good things in my life.

I had at one time considered a daily gratitude post, but that’s just not me. I’ve also realized it’s not necessary. Every post I share is shared out of gratitude for what I’ve learned. Every picture I post, likewise, is a show of gratitude—for my garden, home, Phil and all the things he does around here to make our place even more “ours.”

I take pictures of family and friends, writing events, pets, and so forth, because I want to share with everyone just how awesome it is to have these people and things in my life.

So, if I share it, it’s because I’m thankful for it in some way and I’m duly thankful for everyone and everything I have in my life.

Some people and things that I’m extra thankful for:

  • Phil, always and forever.
  • Mom, ‘cause she still takes care of me after all these years.
  • Barb, Steph, and Ger, ‘cause it’s nice (as an only child) to have more family.
  • Kim, my wordly soul sista.
  • Margaret, my oldest (like, we’ve known each other since we were seven), dearest, BFF.
  • The awesome novel critique group I hooked up with at WXR. No pressure, but I hope we can all help bring each other to the next level.
  • My job, because, while I no longer enjoy many aspects of it, it enables me to do amazing things like my European adventure. Also, I have the benefit of periodic self-funded leaves, which, I’m pleased to say, I’m taking advantage of again this year. Six weeks, this time, just in time for NaNoWriMo.
  • Our soon-to-be puppy! Yes, once my leave was approved, I started the hunt … and this is the little dear we found thanks to Furever Furbaby Rescue. We’re going to visit her next weekend and should be officially adopting her sometime after November 14.

There are other things, but I’m still in the process of working those out.

Life is good.

Until next I blog, dear friends (for whom I’m also very grateful), be kind, be well, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Next Chapter

Playing tourist in Finland, part 2

My European adventure resumes on the morning of August 8, 2017.

After breakfast, I started my tour of Helsinki at Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art. Though I will attempt to describe the exhibit, the installations must be seen to be appreciated. I will say this, though: my mind was blown.

kiasma

The theme of the exhibit was how social media is changing what it means to be human. There was one installation which included poetry generated and read by a neural network. There were videos documenting the lives of fictitious social media celebrities, stories detailing the impact of social media on identity, physical installations of monitors and wiring which spoke to how our perception of the world is affected by social media and how computer waste pollutes the environment and endangers workers who sort and extract precious elements from hard drives and other computer parts.

I emerged from Kiasma in a kind of daze to be confronted by a peaceful and small demonstration by young refugees who didn’t want to be deported.

I had been told that the Hop-on, hop-off bus tour stopped at Kiasma. It was on the map the desk staff at the hotel had given me. I couldn’t find a sign anywhere near the museum that would indicate a stop, though. I waited, thinking that I could flag down the bus when it did stop, if it was anywhere near.

The driver of the first bus I caught up with informed me that there were two hop-on, hop-off bus tour companies and that my ticket was for the other one. He directed me to the proper stop, and I crossed Mannerheimintie to wait again.

I was understandably confused (and not a little frustrated) when, upon boarding the second bus, I was again told that my pass was for the other company. Once more, I crossed the street and waited.

Thankfully, the third driver accepted my pass and gave me the proper map and a set of headphones.

 

By this time, it was again after noon and having caught the bus near the end of its route, it wasn’t long before we passed Stockman’s (the Finnish equivalent of Macy’s or The Bay), the Esplanade (a lovely park and Market Square leading to the waterfront), and stopped at Senate Square. The next tour would depart in 20 minutes.

I took advantage of the stop to take a few pictures and try to find a public bathroom.

Another toilet story for you 🙂 Most public bathrooms in Helsinki are pay per use. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right change to access the one I found. I didn’t have the time to have a meal and use a restaurant bathroom, and so I scouted around until I found what looked to be a free public bathroom.

Let’s just say that in the future, I determined to have two and five Euro coins on me at all times. Enough said.

FerrisFlyTour

The two and a half hour hop-on, hop-off bus tour took us past the Uspenski Cathedral, ferris wheel, heli-port for flying tours, and the Market Square (again) and then down the peninsula. We passed the Olympia Terminal, Mannerheim Museum, Kaivopuisto Park, and through the Eira neighbourhood, featuring homes with Jugend, or Art Nouveau, architecture.

We then made a detour down to both cruise ship terminals to drop off passengers. Continuing the tour, we passed the flea market, the Tennis Palace, and the Natural History Museum on our way to the Rock Church, so named not only because it is made entirely of bedrock, but also because of the concerts that take place there due to the awesome acoustics the Rock Church affords.

We zipped on past the Sibelius Monument, the Tram Museum, Olympic Stadium, the Botanic Garden, and Linnanmäki Amusement Park and Sea Life Helsinki, before swinging by Töölö Bay, the National Opera House, Finlandia Hall, the National Museum, and the Parliament building (under construction) until we once more arrived at the Kiasma stop.

While I got to see all of these landmarks, I didn’t feel that I’d have time to hop off the bus and see anything, as the tours stopped running at 4 pm and I didn’t want to get stranded. I stayed on the bus until we once more reached the Esplanade, where I got off, had a stroll, and booked a discount ticket (thanks to the bus tour) for the boat tour of the archipelago for 4 pm.

I had time to grab a late lunch, see the inside of the Uspenski Cathedral, and shop for more souvenirs at the Market Square before the boat left the dock.

The boat tour was great. I sat on the upper level (and got a sun burn) so I could take pictures of all the things. We went most of the way around Suomenlinna, the sea fortress, which is actually five islands connected by bridges. It had everything, including its own church.

Suomenlinna guards the Gulf of Finland and Helsinki. The sea fortress was built because of all the naval warfare in the area. The main channel through the area was even protected by huge chains which would be used to prevent ships from passing (like Game of Thrones and Vikings).

paddleboarders

Paddle boarders–look, ma, no life jackets (!)

We cruised by islands used for recreation (camping and hiking), public beaches, summer homes, and many year-round residences. There were lots of sail boats, cruisers, and even a sea plane, which again reminded me of home. There’s at least one resident on Lake Nepahwin that has one 🙂 They fly right over our house when they take off.

zoo

The animals were camera shy.

Before we returned to the dock, we passed Korkeasaari, the Helsinki zoo. It’s on its own island and is the most northern zoo in Europe.

After the boat tour, I walked back to my hotel by way of the Esplanade, where I caught the end of what I think was a koto concert. There were two performers plucking large, solid-bodied harps. It was lovely, regardless.

When I got back to the Presidentti, I decided to try their “pop-up restaurant.” In the summer months, they offer an evening meal. It was quite good, though not as drool-worthy as Kaarna.

Overall, my two days touring around were just enough for me to get a taste of Finland, and to make me want to return in the future.

Wednesday would be the start of WorldCon, and that I’ll save until my next instalment, after next weekend’s next chapter update.

Until next time, be kind, be well, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

Playing tourist in Finland, part 1

Before I get into my continuing European adventure, I have a more recent misadventure to relate.

Last Monday, when I returned from work and turned on my computer, I was greeted with a message: hard drive failure imminent!

I consulted Phil, and we proceeded to start up. And the computer promptly shut itself down.  So, though he’d had a full day of techie work, my man went out to get me a new computer (he considered a hard drive, but the transferring the data might have taken longer than the existing drive had remaining).

I managed to complete an emergency backup of my recent documents and pictures without another random shutdown and I had my full backup from earlier in the month. Hint: back up your stuff people—it saved my Canadian bacon!

I was mostly functional by Tuesday evening, but with a new computer, there was all kind of update hell to get through. An hour and a bit of HP updates Wednesday, followed by another couple of hours of Windows updates on Thursday, and then uninstalling the crap I didn’t want, like McAfee.

I only sorted iTunes out as of Saturday and the fix isn’t perfect. I have to do a proper export and backup of my music library once I have it completely restored. Apparently saving the iTunes folder isn’t enough.

Needless to say, I’m a bit behind. Hence the late “weekend” post.


And now, Back to Kiel, Germany.

Sunday, August 6th was a casual day. All I had to do was take a shuttle bus to the airport in Hamburg and catch my flight to Helsinki, via Stockholm, at 2 pm.

My roommate for the night in Kiel had to leave at ridiculous o’clock to catch her train. She was among a number of cruisers who were taking the German castle tour with Mary Robinette Kowal for the two days between the cruise and WorldCon.

I had other plans.

I had made my travel arrangements for this leg of the trip through the Canadian Auto Association. The flight, rental car, and bus tour of Helsinki. Any Canadian travellers with a CAA membership? They’re awesome. And they’ll help you wherever you’re headed.

After a leisurely breakfast, I broke my last large Euro bill so that I’d have the proper amount to pay the shuttle bus to Hamburg airport. I caught the bus at 11 and arrived in more than enough time to get my boarding pass and … yes, queue up for the flight.

The flight itself was fine. Unfortunately, the continuing cruise crud made the journey excruciating. My ears were too clogged to pop properly and none of the tricks—chewing gum, yawning, nose blowing, holding your nose and blowing—worked.

HelloHelsinki

But I landed safely and the greatest part of the pain was relieved. Fun fact: they play bird song in the Helsinki airport bathrooms.

MyHotel

Outside, I grabbed one of the waiting taxis and asked to be taken to the Sokkos Presidentti. This is the hotel from the outside, and directly across the street was a Zoological Institute with these two (yes, those are giraffes) having tea on the upper balcony and this one moose standing guard below. I felt at home already.

I checked in and asked the desk staff about finding the rental car place the next day, and about finding the bus tour the day after. In the elevator, I saw that the floors were all named. I was on the eighth, Tranquility, but I could have been on Sisu, or The Fairytale Forest (!)

hotelfloors

My room was more rustic than tranquil, but I’d made it to Helsinki and wanted to rest up for my next two days of adventures.

In the morning, I grabbed my usual European breakfast, bacon, eggs, muesli, and fruit, with coffee and juice. It sounds like a lot, but I was feeding my cold and needed energy for the day ahead. That day was the day I was going to find Marttila, Finland!

An old railway becomes a pedestrian (and bicycle) underpass. Commissioned graffiti. And that green? Geraniums. Smells peppery and awesome in the morning, or after rain.

Despite the directions of the desk staff, it took me over an hour to find the car rental place. When I checked in, I confessed my doubts that I would be able to competently navigate out of and back into the city.

Without a pause, the lady at the counter rebooked me for the airport location and advised me which train to take to get there. The people at the train station were very helpful, too.

This first journey out to the airport, another traveller sat across from me and shared her adventures. She was an American and I have to confess that I don’t remember her name. I’m horrible at remembering names. She’d been laid off with severance the year before, and decided to see the world.

At the airport, I found the car rental counter and got the keys to my car, actually a crossover. I can’t remember the makes or models of cars, either. But it was white and clean, and comfortable. I spent a few minutes chatting with the two young men there. I’d Googled the directions, but wanted a back up.

They gave me a map and marked out my route, and I was off. Sort of. European vehicles, even automatic ones, are sufficiently different from North American ones that it took me a few minutes to figure out that I’d even turned the car on. They’re all hybrids.

And the stick shift is different, too. There’s no park. And the gears are in the opposite order to NA cars. But after a little trial and error, I had it down and pulled out of the airport and onto the highway (!)

Once on the highway, I relaxed. Driving soothes me. And once out of the city, the landscape reminded me so much of northeastern Ontario, I could have been driving on the 400 North. Except for the tunnels.

There were a lot of rock cuts where the granite had been blasted away, but, I guess there were criteria. If the rock was so high for so long, they’d tunnel through rather than blast. So there were seven or so tunnels and at least one of them was several kilometres long. Call me a troglodyte. It was amazing.

MadeItToMarttila

I turned off the main highway onto smaller and smaller roads and, eventually, I found Marttila. The land around the town was all farmland. It reminded me more of some of the towns on Manitoulin Island. I saw what might have been a school, or a library, a grocery store, where I stopped to pick up some snacks for the road and ask if there was a place to eat and maybe a restroom I could use … ?

More wandering around and I found the little lunch place where I had a Panini and coffee. I tried to explain what I was doing there to the girl behind the counter. I’m sure she thought I was crazy.

I’m sure there was more to see, but I did want to get back to Helsinki for supper, so I reversed my search on GoogleMaps and navigated back to the airport. The train ride back was uneventful and I talked to the desk staff again to get a recommendation for supper.

She sent me to Kaarna.

KaarnaLounge

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything more delicious than reindeer sirloin. I’m drooling just remembering it. And Kaarna paired all of their entrees with tasty bevies. The Tin Soldier cider they recommended enhanced the flavours perfectly.

ReindeerSirloin

And that’s where I’ll leave you for this instalment of the journey.

I really thought I’d pack more into this post, but there you have it.

Next weekend—and it should be on the weekend, this time—I’ll cover my tour of Helsinki. Then, it will be October, and time for my next chapter update. I’ll resume with my WorldCon experience the weekend after that.

So stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 4

Part four of the Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) begins on the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2017, day six of the cruise.

This was our day in St. Petersburg, Russia, and our third port day in a row. In every other port, the tours ranged from three to five hours and there was always the option to take a taxi and wander around on our own if we wished. In St. Petersburg, the tour was all day. In fact, it was two tours with a brief break in between.

The rules were fairly strict in Russia. Our passports would be checked on the way out and on the way in. We would be issued visitor’s visas for the day. We were not, under any circumstances, to leave the tours, as our visas only covered us for the cruise-related excursions. There would be no wandering around St. Petersburg.

It was also an early-rising day. We’d have to get up, get ready, and eat in time to report for our 8 am (ish) departure.

The morning would be spent at Catherine’s Palace. Sweet lord that place is huge, and we only got to see a relatively small part of it. The sprawling courtyard is bounded on all sides by buildings or iron gates. And all that yellow-painted detail? It will eventually be gilded, like the domes.

 

Catherine’s Palace is part of a city-wide restoration. Scaffolding was erected around several sections of the palace grounds as buildings were repaired and painted, only awaiting the gold leaf.

Inside, it was the same. Every entryway glittered. There were 14 different kinds of wood, imported from all over the world, inlaid in intricate patterns on the floors. And, of course, we had to don booties again to protect the site from plebeian tourist feet.

TheGildening

Just as in the royal reception hall in Copenhagen, each room was designed based on the style in one of the European capitals. There was the Versailles room in red, games rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, studies, art galleries, and lots of cabinets, painted in toile designs.

And there was the legendary Amber Room, which we were forbidden from photographing (though our tour guide did encourage us to take surreptitious photos at the doors, to and from the room—the babushkas were quick to discipline those who tried, though, so I refrained). Amber is one of Russia’s special resources and it’s considered an extravagance to cover an entire room in the petrified resin.

The Amber Room itself is considered a national treasure and that’s one of the reasons we weren’t to take pictures of it. They don’t want cheap replicas of the room appearing elsewhere.

TheGrounds

After the tour, we were taken out into the palace grounds and took the long way back to the tour bus past what looked like a Roman aqueduct, through the gardens and forested grounds, and one of Catherine’s personal outdoor retreats, or bowers.

On the way back to the pier, we stopped for shopping. The cruise crud I’d contracted had (literally) reached a fever pitch, and I availed myself of whatever over-the-counter remedies I could find. Of course, I bought souvenirs and gifts, as well, but coughing until my chest and gut were sore was getting tiring. Immediate comfort was my chief concern.

SpilledBlood

Forgive the intruding phone strap at the bottom. I’m a terrible photographer.

The afternoon tour took us into St. Petersburg and to the Spilled Blood Cathedral. The cathedral was built on the site of the murder of Emperor Alexander II as a monument to his greatness, by his son, Emperor Alexander III. It took 24 years to build, which, once you see the mosaics inside, is absolutely mind-boggling.

Every inch of the walls, arches, and domes is covered in mosaics. These few pictures will just give you a taste of its magnificence. Really, there are no words.

mosaics3

After the cathedral, we did a walking tour of St. Petersburg, during which we saw Senate Square and the Winter Palace.

Peter the Great wanted to build Russia a capital like Venice, a canal city on the Baltic. Really, Russia needed a naval port, and St. Petersburg served that purpose too, but its true purpose was to be the jewel of the Baltic.

canal

Though there are canals, St. Petersburg never achieved its architect’s dream of becoming a canal city. Every street is lined with grand houses, palaces, though, because all of the Russian nobility moved in and set up house, each family trying to outdo the others in terms of grandeur.

And there was a second shopping stop 🙂

I had time upon my return to devote some time to revision, and then take a cruise crud induced nap.

JasperFforde

That evening, Jasper Fforde delivered his talk on the last 5%, that ineffable quality that most writers lack: magic fairy dust. He promoted a lifestyle of creativity and joie de vivre so that, when we wrote, we couldn’t help but infuse that little something extra into our work. And he was hilarious.

At supper, I sat at Piper and Matthew Drake’s table. They are such an adorable couple, I couldn’t help but do an internal squee. They also had fascinating stories to tell.

Friday was our second day at sea as we sailed at top speed back to Kiel, Germany. The wind became progressively fierce throughout the day, eventually causing the water park and on-deck bar to close. All the deck chairs were stowed and the tables and chairs were crammed up against the rail and Plexiglas wall because the wind was blowing them around the deck. It was our only stormy day and even then, I barely felt the roll of the ship.

At the giant Q&A session, I sought out Thomas Olde Heuvelt, as I’d missed the early part of his presentation, and Emma Newman, because I wanted to get some help with my interminable burnout. Both were extremely helpful.

WXRecords

After lunch, we attended the on-board recording of the Writing Excuses podcasts. The first one featured one of my new friends, Mike Stop Continues.

Then, after another stint of revision, I had to crash. Cruise crud was getting the better of me.

At supper on this final night of the cruise, though I was not scheduled to sit with any of the instructors, there were enough absences, perhaps due to the cruise crud, that I got to sit at Emma and Peter Newman’s table. I think it was my second most enjoyable night (next to dining with the two Sarahs and the two Laurens).

The Newmans gave equal time to everyone at the table and it was the meal at which I learned the most about some of my fellow WXR participants.

Saturday was debarkation day, and so … yes, there was more queuing 😉

Fortunately, the process was handled as efficiently as embarkation and we were back at the Atlantic Hotel in Kiel by noon. Not all the rooms were ready for occupancy, however, and so a group of us gathered out front and His Majesty Dan Wells led us to a local laundromat.

Once everyone got their wash on, we strolled two doors down to a döner restaurant for lunch—yum! The owner had to call in extra staff to help with the crowd (!) Afterward, while we waited for our clothes to dry, Mary and Dan recorded Patreon special episode of the WR podcast. Then, we trouped back to the hotel.

Kiel

After checking in, I spent the afternoon wandering around Kiel’s mall and open market, meeting up with some of my fellow cruisers to head to supper. There was some disagreement over where to go, and we ended up splitting, some choosing a German restaurant, and my group opting for Mexican.

I must say, the German version of Mexican is … interesting.

And that is where my WXR adventure ends.

Next week, my journey to Helsinki, and how I spent my time until WorldCon began.

Until Tipsday, be kind, be well, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 3-9, 2017

Here are your informal writerly learnings for the first full week of September (!)

K.M. Weiland continues her most common writing mistakes with part 62: head-hopping POV. Helping Writers Become Authors

Colleen M. Story explains how your time personality influences your writing productivity. Writers in the Storm

Susan Spann explains the law (and ethics) of conference blogging. Writers in the Storm

James Scott Bell stops by the Writers Helping Writers coaches’ corner: using the novel journal to make writing breakthroughs.

Vaughn Roycroft is fortified by gratitude. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass muses on what makes a journey. Writer Unboxed

Here’s the second part of my exploration of The Hero’s Journey on DIY MFA.

Crash Course Mythology – The Hero’s Journey and the Monomyth. They do a really good job of illustrating how some of the stages of The Hero’s Journey are optional, or can be shifted 🙂

 

Leanne Sowul: it’s back to school time at DIY MFA—what do you want to learn?

Kristen Lamb explains why suffering is essential for great fiction.

Jeff Lyons returns to Jami Gold’s blog to bust the rest of the top ten writing myths.

Rachel Chaney is Dan Koboldt’s equine expert for this article: matching horses to use, climate, and characters in fiction.

And then, Judith Tarr contributed in praise of the hard-working fantasy horse to the Tor.com blog. What do these ladies have against Friesians, anyway?

Rebecca Solnit: if I were a man. The Guardian

Isabella Biedenharn: Libba Bray has some thoughts on this all-female Lord of the Flies remake. Entertainment Weekly

What growing up in the sulphur city taught me about beauty. Christine Schrum on the Latitude 46 blog.

Cat Rambo announces that games writers will be eligible for an award in the 2018 Nebulas. Geekwire podcast.

Tor.com presents Ursula K. Le Guin’s introduction to the Library of America’s The Hainish Novels & Stories, volume one.

OMG. Droughtlander’s almost over! Actually, the first ep will have aired by the time I post this. Still. OUTLANDER!

 

Ever think Gandalf was a dick? Well, so does Emily Asher-Perrin: five things Gandalf should have admitted instead of being a jerk. (ROFL-hilarious) Tor.com

So I went to WorldCon in August, eh? This happened. The Tea & Jeopardy live podcast taping with George R.R. (Really Really) Martin!

 

Enjoy, and be well until Thoughty Thursday!

tipsday2016