The next chapter: July 2020 update

Another month has passed. July was eventful and not in the all the ways I expected.

And yes, this post is late. A week and a day late. You’ll understand.

Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until all Black and Indigenous lives matter. This is a fundamental truth.

The lives of all BIPOC, LGBTQ2A+, disabled, neuro-atypical, and all other racialized or marginalized people matter. We all need to listen, learn, and do better.

That is all.

Pandemic life

So. 24 new confirmed cases of covid-19 have occurred in Sudbury over the last couple of weeks, most of them in people under 30. While there hasn’t been any confirmed written report on the topic, the rumours are that a group of young people went down to a huge party in southern Ontario and brought the virus back with them. Police have also reported breaking up a couple of large parties within the city.

Some people are blaming covid exhaustion. Indeed, it’s taxing for people who haven’t been able to engage in any of their pre-covid social activities, but going from isolation to parties that exceed the safe gathering limits? Travelling to do so? Not smart.

The worrisome part of it all is that we now have community spread in our area and health officials haven’t been able to determine where some of the newly infected might have been exposed.

It’s a drop in the bucket with respect to covid cases nationwide, and we’re faring so much better than other areas of the country. Overall, Canada is doing better than some countries and worse than others. Considering that we had, in total, 68 cases and 2 deaths up until this new rash of infections, though, I think that we may be heading for a second wave. Those 24 new cases represent a 35% bump for our relatively small city. It’s not necessarily going to happen the same way everywhere, but even extrapolating a 15% increase elsewhere means a lot of new infections.

I’m still worried about what’s going to happen when kids return to school. The “plan” we have in Ontario is missing a lot of key details. I think now is not the time to experiment. “Let’s wait and see” is not an acceptable strategy.

Wear your masks, people. Stay safe. Keep your distance when you can. Gather in safe numbers and watch out for your friends and family.

My situation remains status quo with the one key excitement of being invited to write an exam for an internal position I applied for pre-covid. As the position is one that I am very interested in (in many ways, it’s my dream job), I confirmed my participation and awaited next steps.

It turned out the exam was to be written over the course of a week, well, six and a half days, most of which would be while I was working my substantive job. So, evenings and on the weekend, which in this case was the Civic Holiday long weekend.

Then, due to a technical issue, the exam materials, which I was to have received Monday morning, were not issued until that night, but they were sent to my work email (which, admittedly, I had requested because of the technical issue). This means I didn’t even see the email until the next morning when I logged in to my remote desktop. The due date was extended, but only considering the time of issue, not when I would have, in fact, received it. So, I lost any time I could have devoted to the exam on Monday and the due date was now the morning of the Civic Holiday.

It was a lot of work. By Friday, I’d only managed to devote about three or four hours a day to the exam. I determined that I would submit the exam on Sunday night, rather than work through the night to submit the exam in the morning. I know my limits. Going without sleep is not something I can do without consequence. I planned accordingly. I devoted eight hours to the exam on Saturday and 12 on Sunday and I still didn’t have the time to do all I’d wanted to do.

For better or worse, I submitted the exam at 11:57 pm on Sunday.

Because I was catching up on all the work I hadn’t done during the exam week, I didn’t get around to writing this update until today.

The month in writing

Once again, I failed to finish my rewrite of Reality Bomb. I’m closer, but I’m not done yet and the draft is over 108k words. Once I do bring the story to a conclusion, more or less, I’m going to be going over it again and cutting like mad. I have to tighten it up and make sure that the overall story has continuity. I want to reduce the draft to 90k if I can. I’ll settle for 100k, but I want a trim beast to present to my critique group.

I also critiqued a draft for one of my group members.

JulyProgress

I set another modest goal of 5,000 words and wrote 6,628 words, or 133% of my goal.

I blogged 5,448 words of my 3,750-word goal, or 145%.

I planned to write 8,750 words and actually wrote 12,076 words. That’s 138% of my goal.

Filling the well

On July 1st, I attended an online workshop with Roz Morris on backstory, offered through Jane Friedman. Love Roz 🙂

On the 11th, I attended the WXR virtual reunion and the taping of their annual “cruise” portions of the Writing Excuses podcast. The cruise is cancelled this year, and this was a great compensatory virtual get-together.

I also attended the virtual launch of Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon on July 14th. It was fun. The Lady Astronauts Club showed up in period-appropriate/IAC costume, MRK was dressed as her protagonist, Nicole Wargin, and they framed the experience as an orientation session for new lunar colonists at the IAC. There was a lecture on orbital mechanics, a lander simulation (which I managed on the fourth try), and several other entertaining activities. I’ve since received my copy of the novel and an IAC Artemis Base badge.

On July 20th, I attended a virtual lecture by Ibram X. Kendi on how to be an anti-racist broadcast by Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

Finally, on July 24th, I attended a session on Mythology and Speculative Literature that was sponsored by The Carl Brandon Society. Vida Cruz, Piper J. Drake, Kate Elliot, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Shveta Thakrar discussed the mythological inspiration for their work, problematic or clichéd uses of myth, and other mythic goodness.

A couple of friends from out of town were visiting family and came over for an evening, which we spent on the backyard patio, appropriately distanced. These visits are always too short.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched all of Penny Dreadful. Though we enjoyed the first two seasons, the third left us scratching our heads. Ethan was taken back to America and Sir Malcolm, recruited by Kaetenay, travelled from Africa to rescue him. Ethan temporarily goes dark side before the resolution to his troubles brings him abruptly back to the light. Then, Kaetenay has a vision that sends them back to London to help Vanessa …

… who has been languishing, abandoned by all her supposed friends and family. At Dr. Lyle’s suggestion, she enters into therapy with Dr. Seward, who looks identical to her witch mentor from the previous season’s flashbacks. She makes progress through hypnosis and ventures out into the world again with Dr. Sweet, who is, in fact, Dracula (dun, dun, dun!).

Frankenstein teams up with an old colleague, Dr. Jeckyll in a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere.

The creature reunites with his family, only to discover that his wife wants him to take their dying son to Frankenstein for resurrection.

Brona recruits the fallen women of the city and trains them to become her army with Dorian’s help. Her goal: to liberate women everywhere from the power and cruelty of men. Sadly, Dorian bores of the game and delivers Brona into Frankenstein’s hands, where both creator and creation have inexplicable changes of heart. He refuses to use the serum he and Jeckyll developed to tame Brona, and Brona, once freed, knowing that Dorian delivered her into Frankenstein’s captivity, decides not to take her revenge on either of them. She returns to Dorian’s manor and, seeing her disciple dead on the floor at Dorian’s hands, simply leaves. Brona delivers an empowering speech that’s supposed to leave Dorian devastated, but it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, a new friend enters Vanessa’s life, Catriona Hartdegen. Cat knows a lot about vampires and Dracula in particular and together, they figure out that Dr. Sweet is Dracula. Vanessa goes to confront him, intending to defeat him, but—again, inexplicably—decides instead to surrender to him. Darkness and chaos descend upon London.

Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Kaetenay, newly arrived, team up with Dr. Seward and Cat to save Vanessa. Dracula tells Vanessa that her former friends are coming, and she intimates that she will welcome the opportunity to slay them all. When the battle is joined, however, Vanessa is no where to be seen. Everyone fights valiantly, but it looks like the tide is turning in Dracula’s favour. Ethan breaks away and finds Vanessa isolated in a room where she merely begs him to kill her, which, after some weeping and moaning, he does.

And that was it. I know the series was cancelled while they were in the middle of filming this last season, but in an attempt to compress the story, the writers were unable to set up the appropriate character development that would make the last few episodes feel earned (where have we seen that before, eh, GoT?). Instead, we have uncharacteristic actions/decisions by nearly every character, lose ends, and a lot of lost opportunities. It would have been better if they had changed course and written and ending that made sense, even if it wasn’t the ending they had been writing toward for the whole series.

On TV, I watched the most recent season of The Good Witch. It’s candy and fluff, but sometimes you need a little candy and fluff.

I finally finished Orange is the New Black. They had to do some fancy tap dancing to get everything rolled up and they did leave some loose ends. I’m glad Piper decided to stick with Alex, but I think I would have been just as happy if she’d gone on to have her own life. It was the other stories, Taystee’s, Original Cindy’s, and Gloria’s stories in particular, that grabbed me. Blanca got a happy ending. Pennsatucky’s end was tragic. Maritza and Shani’s deportations were senseless. Aleida and Daya just continued the cycle of violence. Suzanne was left hanging, much as Red and Lorna were. I know it was supposed to be a commentary on the incarceration system, but aside from being largely depressing, I was left with a solid meh.

I watched The Crown’s latest season and it was interesting, but it wasn’t edge-of-your-seat viewing.

13 Reasons, season 3 definitely had me on the edge of my seat, but I kept asking myself why. Why even write a second season? The first season covered Asher’s book and did so well. They just delve deeper and deeper into trauma and its aftereffects to the point that in season four, it’s just painful to watch. That may have more to do with my trauma than anything else, but there you are.

I finished the 2018-19 season of Riverdale, which was already out there (juvenile prison fight rings, a criminal empire based on a D&D analogue, and an organ-harvesting cult) and am trying to catch up on the 2019-20 season.

And I finally finished the 2018-19 season of The Flash. Solid meh. But proceeding with the 2019-20 season, anyway.

Reading-wise, I only have four offerings.

I finished Jenn Lyons’ The Ruin of Kings. I liked it. I wish I could rate a book three and a half stars, but I gave it four. Lyons did play with structure in an admirable way. The book overall is presented as a report to the current empress (a very long report, might I say) and the annotations that appear throughout are not distracting, as you might think, and they do add to the content of the story. Once I learned who the empress was, I had trouble understanding how most of the annotations were necessary and that returned them to the category of authorial intrusion, however.

The first part of the book is told by two narrators, prisoner and jailer (kind of like Black Panther, Red Wolf) but the jailer is a shape-shifter named Talon who has the ability to absorb the memories of the people they imitate. Or come into contact with? Or consume? Really, the process isn’t well-explained. Talon and Khirin (the prisoner/protagonist) use a stone, handed back and forth. It’s a clever conceit that allows Lyons to present other POVs than Talon’s and Khirin’s, by virtue of Talon’s abilities.

Not only that, but Khirin starts telling his story from the point of his enslavement. Talon complains and goes back further, to the point they believe in the true beginning of the story. So, we have a narrative frame within a narrative frame and dual timelines that intersect and the end of part one. That’s another structural oddity. Part two is maybe a fifth of the book.

There was nothing wrong with the story itself and the structural gymnastics were definitely novel, but it made me wonder if Lyons had presented the story chronologically, without the frames and the annotations, if I would have thought differently about the book.

Then, I read The Queen of Katwe. I was hesitant, because the author is a white man (Tim Crothers), but it’s a non-fiction book using a lot of interviews and correspondence and thus presents the book in the words of the people involved. The book was, by turns, depressing and uplifting, but there was no real resolution. It’s an incomplete biography that leaves the reader wondering if Phiona ever achieved her dream of becoming a grandmaster. Wikipedia indicates she holds the title of candidate women’s master, but that’s as far as she got.

Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was interesting. Rather than starting in this world and entering one of dream, Johnson flips the concept. Vellitt has always lived in the dream world and must travel into our world to recover the favourite granddaughter of one of the gods, who, if he wakes to find his favourite missing, will destroy half the dreamlands. The one thing I wasn’t comfortable with was that the real-world dreamers who travel to the dream world are always men, powerful and ageless. When Vellitt finally reaches our world, she is instantly transformed, has an identity and all the knowledge she might ever need or have gained from living a life in this world, though. Maybe Johnson’s statement is more subtle. Maybe women are the only true dreamers, living lives simultaneously in the dream world and in this? It’s thought-provoking, to be sure.

Finally, I read Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. What kind of country would America have been if the civil war was interrupted by a plague of zombies? Ireland calls them shamblers and, in her novel they basically make time stand still. In some respects. The protagonist, Jane is biracial, though her skin is not light. She’s at a school for “attendants,” Black girls who are trained to fight shamblers and protect wealthy white women. It’s the best she can hope for in a world in which slavery and indenture still exist and people of colour (Black and American Indian) are seen as biologically inferior. Ireland examines the racism of the world she’s created through the lens of her “finishing school,” the viral shamblers (one plotline involves the development of a vaccine), and the white supremacists who attempt to create their own isolated empire in the midst of the chaos.

Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a letter that Jane has written to her mother and later, after she learns that her correspondence has been intercepted and she comes into possession of them, her mother’s letters to Jane. It’s a good book, but I kept wanting a little more and there were some events that seemed to resolve in the favour of plot convenience rather than where they seemed to be heading. I’ve already nabbed the next in the series, though.

And that was a month in this writer’s life.

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

The Next Chapter

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.

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

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!

The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 3

We resume the tale of the WXR Baltic cruise on Tuesday, August 1st, day four.

I woke up at ridiculous o’clock and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I dealt with the morning’s email, social media, and blog reading, got up and dressed for the day, and went out onto the balcony with my lap top to work on my revisions.

We were approaching Stockholm, having sailed all night, and I was struck by the landscape. It looked just like northern Ontario. I could have been on Georgian Bay or in the Nipissing Narrows. So, of course, I took some pictures 🙂

JustLikeHome

It was the second of four consecutive port tour days and the early rising was a good thing as I had to get ready for my day in Stockholm.

StGeorgeandtheDragon

Our tour took us into the old town (every major city in Europe has one, apparently) for a walking tour. We saw the parliament and a couple of old churches, had the opportunity to get some souvenirs, and then we were off to Skansen.

DragonWaterspoutCoolDoor

Skansen is basically a Viking pioneer village. We toured some of the old farms there, saw a windmill, church, and old pillory (the pole they chained miscreants to for public punishment—like stocks). While we didn’t have time to see them, they had heritage craftspeople, and reindeer, which a group ran off to see—and were almost too late to catch the bus to our next destination (!)

Skansen

We then went to the Vasa museum. The Vasa was an enormous war ship, commissioned by the then king of Sweden. Against the advice and better judgement of his shipbuilders, he ordered a third deck of gun ports. This severely overbalanced the ship and the gun ports were too close to water level.

VASA

The Vasa’s maiden voyage lasted 15 minutes and she sank in the silty harbour where she sat for 300 years until salvage crews were able to raise her. The ship was remarkably preserved by the silt and the Vasa museum has been built around the salvaged ship to tell the tragic tale of one king’s hubris.

We got back to the Fantasia a little late and, after dropping my goodies off at my stateroom, I ran down to catch most of Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s presentation on maintaining a writer’s life. It was about setting and tracking writerly goals, not word count goals, but career goals.

First, he said to blue sky a goal. His included a house on the French Riviera 🙂 Then, you scale down to five years, then one, and finally break your year up into monthly goals. The important thing is to assess your progress.

At the end of each day, review what you accomplished, and what you didn’t, without judgement. Adjust your goals accordingly. Unexpected things are always going to happen. The point is to adjust course in a way that will facilitate success. Always take the positive view.

Thomas’s presentation appealed to an organized, goal-oriented person like me. I didn’t dive in and create a plan immediately, but I think I’m going to work on one for next year, taking account for how my experiments of the past couple of years have gone.

At dinner that night, I sat at Dan Wells’ table, and again, I enjoyed getting to know one of our hosts, more of my fellow participants, and the conversations we had about our work and goals.

After dinner, I went to the upper deck to take a picture of the sunset as we travelled to Estonia.

SunsetDay4

The next day was our tour of Tallinn, which I think was one of the port cities I enjoyed the most. We started with the amphitheatre where the annual song festival takes place. Apparently choirs from all over the world perform there, as well as many popular music bands.

We drove around the harbour to walk on the shore, saw a war memorial, and an old abbey which was being restored.

The centrepiece of the tour was the old city. In the case of Tallinn, the old city is completely surrounded by a wall, which still stands. It’s a place you have to walk through to appreciate. All the old buildings, the narrow, winding, and ascending laneways, the churches, the old merchant houses, the excavated headstones of Estonian notables.

And the market square. After the walking tour of the old town was complete, we were given thirty minutes to wander and shop. I bought most of the gifts I brought back for family and friends there and a few things for myself.

TallinnWall1TallinnWall3

Back on the ship, I attended Ken Liu’s presentation on how to work with your translator.

That night’s dinner was dubbed the elegant night. I sat with a table of other participants, most of whom I hadn’t yet met, and had another enjoyable night of camaraderie and conversation.

Once more, I took a picture of the sunset.

SunsetDay5

The next day was our day in St. Petersburg, Russia … which I’ll save for my fourth and final instalment of my WXR cruise adventure 🙂

I hope everyone in Florida is safe, tonight.

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

The next chapter: Double update for July and August 2017

This is what happens when I go away for two and a half weeks—I have twice the update to deliver!

Still, I would not give up having gone to Europe. It was life-changing, is still changing me as I readjust to “normal” life again.

July

In July, I finished another revision of Wavedancer. I should have moved right on to the next round of revisions on Reality Bomb, but the task involved writing a new opening chapter. And it was slow going.

Unlike most of my other novels, I’d started RB too late. Also, I had a rather huge plot hole to fill. Hashing things out with Phil gave me the means to fill the plot hole, but it would mean going even further back than I had intended.

There’s still a lot of reworking that has to happen. I’m not confident I’ve shown the proper bits. There’s quite a bit of narrative explaining what I thought was not as important, but now I’m not so sure. I’m probably going to leave it in its current, messy form until I start working with my new critique group (more on this in a bit).

I started July writing full force on a piece of short fiction, as well, but … I overshot the due date (July 15th) and still wasn’t finished writing. There were too many characters and too many settings to complete the story within the word limit imposed by the anthology call.

I made the decision to continue working on the story and potentially repurpose it for another contest or magazine with a higher word limit, but as work on RB stalled, so too did work on the story.

I was getting closer to the date of departure for my grand adventure (WXR and WorldCon) and my anxiety was having its way with me, as well. I wrote about this previously, and that, though I’d recovered somewhat from my spring bout of burnout, it was rebounding on me.

Blogging continued until the date of my departure.

I ended up adjusting my word count goal for RB, which I’ve subsequently revised at least twice since.

Once I departed for Germany, travel concerns overtook my desire to write until the third day of the cruise, when I committed a (very) few words to RB again.

Interestingly, when I read an excerpt of my short story on the cruise, one of the comments I received was, “I want to read the novel, when it’s finished.” So maybe it’s yet another not-short story 🙂 I have a habit of coming up with novel-sized ideas, no matter what …

JulyProgress

Word count breakdown for July:

50,100 words revised of my 50k goal for Wavedancer, or 100% 🙂

2,385 words revised of my amended 2,500 word goal for RB, or 95%. I had hoped for 15k, initially, changed it to 10k, and then realized that 2,500 was the best I could hope for.

Because the short story ran long, I wrote 3,571 words of my 2,500 word goal, or 143%. And … it’s still not finished.

Even accounting for my trip and blogging vacay, I wrote 6,155 of my 5,600 word goal, or 110%.

Total words revised: 52,485

Total words written: 9,726

August

I spoke to K. Tempest Bradford and Emma Newman about my burnout on the cruise. Both of them had some useful suggestions that I continue to work on implementing.

I’ll leave the bulk of my adventure details to my other blog posts on the topic, but one of the cool things to come out of the WXR cruise was a new novel critique group. We’re still in the organizational phase of things, and some of us have life events that will make starting in 2018 more feasible, but it’s going to happen.

I hope this will be the beginning of a fruitful and supportive group. The other cool thing? We’re international, with members from Australia to Germany. We’re awesome 🙂

I picked up revisions of RB on the third day of the cruise, and continued to revise through to my day in Kiel, until I flew to Helsinki for WorldCon. I then decided to give myself another break until I got home and readjusted to life in Eastern Daylight Standard Time.

It didn’t help that the cheap set of European outlet converters I bought didn’t include a ground, so I couldn’t charge my lap top, in any case.

It was good not to write or revise for a while again, though.

I focused on enjoying WorldCon and I made the decision not to take notes for any of the panels or presentations I attended. Since I’d already made the decision not to blog my session notes, I figured I’d give myself a break in that respect, too. I think I had a much better time at WorldCon this year as a result.

When I got home, I picked up on the blogging the next weekend, but didn’t get back to revisions until the 26th. Still, I got back to them, and I have been working steadily since.

I didn’t return to the short story, but have created another novel folder for it. I think the idea’s big enough to expand into 80k or so 🙂

So August is a little scant on both the writing and revising, but I’m satisfied. And I’m feeling much better.

AugProgress

I revised 14, 628 words of my amended 15k goal, or 98%.

Again, even accounting for my blogging vacay, I wrote 3,764 words of my 2,800 word goal.

Moving forward, I’m going to finish revisions of RB and begin the outlining for Playing with Fire, the fourth novel in my epic fantasy series and this year’s NaNoWriMo project.

Aside from blogging and my columns for DIY MFA, I’m going to let the rest of my WIPs slide for this year.

I hope that between now and the end of 2017, I’ll devise a more balanced plan for writing and revising in future years. I clearly can’t continue as I have been. I’ll also have the novel critique group to account for, which will have me reading and critiquing four other full length novels in the months when mine isn’t being critiqued (!)

So that was July and August in this writer’s life.

I’ll check in with you again at the beginning of October to catch you up on how September’s plans went.

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong, whether assailed by fire or flood or fascism. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 2

Copenhagen and day at sea

In this instalment, I’m covering days two and three of the Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) Baltic cruise.

On day two, I was up fairly early, mostly because I hadn’t yet fully adjusted to the time change. Then again, daylight savings messes me up twice a year and the two times I travelled west, I never adjusted to the time change at all. I just got by on a sleep deficit for the week I was in Vancouver and Calgary, respectively.

It was a good thing, though. Day two was our day in Copenhagen and I had a tour to catch.

We went straight to the Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid has always been one of my favourite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. This is probably due to the 1975 animated version narrated by Richard Chamberlain. It was faithful to the tale Andersen popularized, including the attempted murder of the Prince and suicide of the heroine.

LittleMermaid

Of course, I know it’s a terribly misogynist tale that entrenches some vile stereotypes of feminine agency, or the lack thereof. But it’s still one of my favourites.

Fountain

We then stopped at the Fountain of Gefion, the goddess who created Denmark. The Swedish king Gylfi promised her all the land she could plough in a night. She turned her four sons into oxen and the land she ploughed was thrown into the sea to become Denmark. Next to the fountain was the oldest Anglican Church in Denmark.

Christianborg

From there, we visited the Christianborg Palace courtyard (our tour did not go inside) and saw the opera house, the canal, and the new incinerator. Our tour guide proudly pointed out that Copenhagen imported garbage to incinerate from all over the EU and that 100% of private residences ran on renewable energy.

canal

Interestingly, the new incinerating facility was built like a mountain and the plan is to have a ski hill on its slope. Denmark is a flat land and citizens have to travel elsewhere to ski.

Next, we toured the royal reception hall. Though once the place of all royal business, the hall is now only used to entertain visiting dignitaries.

Some intriguing facts about Queen Margrethe: she’s an artist. Under a pseudonym, she illustrated an edition of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. She designed one of the carpets in the reception hall. For her 50th birthday in 1990, the queen was presented with 17 surrealist tapestries depicting the history of Denmark.

Tapestry

My picture does not do the tapestries justice. They were breathtaking. My favourite room in the reception hall.

Well, I was rather fond of the library, too.

library

The history of the Danish kings (either Christian or Frederick) reads like Game of Thrones. Our tour guide intimated that George R.R. Martin drew inspiration for some aspects of Westeros from Danish history.

The tour returned to the Fantasia just after noon and I had time to grab lunch before John Berlyne’s presentation on the purpose of an agent.

JohnBerlyne

Then, Aliette de Bodard presented Worldbuilding in the Smallest Parts and it was time for dinner.

That night, I was seated with other attendees, but our table was short one. At the table next to us, one lone participant sat. We asked him over, but he was waiting for his spouse, so two of our table went to join him, instead. And it wasn’t too long before another table of two was asked to join us. Yes, it was musical chairs night, but it was one of the best evening meals I had with the two Sarahs and the two Laurens 🙂

Unfortunately, that was also the night my throat got sore, heralding the cold that was to become known as Cruise Crud. I’m still clearing out the trachea, three weeks later … at the time, I thought it was just the wine and the continual gales of laughter.

That night, we once more passed under the Øresund bridge, but I didn’t get another picture.

On day three, we crossed the Baltic heading toward Stockholm, Sweden.

I just want to digress for a moment. I’d never been on a ship the size of the Fantasia before. Sure, I spent many summers on my uncle’s houseboat. Yes, I’ve been on ferries like the Toronto Island ferry and the Chi-cheemaun. I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t be sea sick, but I had no clue.

The truth is, I barely felt the ship’s movement. When we departed or approached a pier, yes. The ship had to employ engines on the sides of the ship. There’s not enough pier to glide in like a smaller ship might. So the ship moves parallel and sidles up. That’s when you feel the chop.

So I’m happy to say my constitution did not let me down. In that respect, anyway.

I got to sleep in a bit on day three. Not that I actually did, but I didn’t really have anything to get up early for. Every morning, the instructors gathered for office hours, but I didn’t have any specific questions to ply them with … yet.

After the breakfast buffet, I headed down to the breakout session. I was group cake, but I’d signed up for the lightning readings in the afternoon and attended Mary Robinette Kowal’s foreshortened How to Present workshop which was squeezed in at the beginning of the breakout session.

MaryRobinetteKowal

Then, I hung out until my one-on-one with Tempest, which was scheduled in the middle of the breakout session. Day three was my first real opportunity to do any writing and the first day I felt like my body had adjusted to being seven hours in the past 😉 I lugged my laptop around with me so I could use what opportunities I could.

WesleyChu

Back to the buffet for lunch, and then it was time for Wesley Chu’s Deep Dive into Action presentation, which was followed by the lightning readings, at which I believe I acquitted myself well.

Afterward, Margaret commented that she wanted to read the novel when it came out. I think I blushed. The reading was from a short story, but I guess that’s just more confirmation that my story ideas tend toward novel-length projects.

There were a lot of interesting pieces and I’m looking forward to reading some of the resulting projects, whether story or novel, as well 🙂

Day three was the evening of the costume contest. I didn’t have room to pack one, but there were some very clever costumes. Ann Tagonist and Professor Tagonist had the pages of a book incorporated into their costumes. One young man was the Excuses Monster, onto which people were invited to write their writing excuses on Post-its and stick them to his cape.

There were a number of flappers and a number of Regency costumes. Waldo and Carmen Santiago made an appearance, as did Nanny Og.

masquerade

That night, I sat at Mary’s table at supper. It was another night of fascinating conversation at which I got to regale the group about my malignant hyperthermia (Google it).

The Cruise Crud was blossoming, so I once again called it a night after supper.

And that’s where I’m going to pause in my tale.

Next weekend, we enter a new month and it will be time for my Next chapter update.

I’ll pick up with our arrival in Stockholm on the weekend of the 9th.

Until my next blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends 🙂

The Writing Excuses Baltic Cruise, part 1

I’m baaa-aaack!

Did you miss me?

As you might be able to tell from the title of this post, I’ve decided to break up my Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) experience into parts. There was just too much writerly (and other) goodness going on for me to pack into one post, even in summary.

And that is what I intend to provide for you here: a summary. An event like this really has to be experienced to appreciate the impact it can have on a life. Not just a writer’s life, either. Any life.

I’ve never been outside continental North America before. Simply going to Europe and getting a taste of seven different countries changed me as a person. If you haven’t travelled, I highly recommend it. Even if you think you can’t afford it, save up (preferable), ask for financial assistance, or, if you have the means (i.e. stable employment) and aren’t too far into debt already, commit to some medium term debt and a reasonable strategy for getting out of it. Planning is everything in this last instance.

It was so worth it for me.

As you may remember from my last post, pre-departure, anxiety was having its way with me. I knew once I got in the air, I’d be fine. Once the first plane is boarded, there’s really no turning back. Even my anxiety can’t argue that point.

The journey was nonetheless fraught.

I got up at 5 am, so I could get to the airport by 6:30 and check in to board my flight at 7:30. The usual Skycheck service wasn’t available, but Air Canada checked my baggage (I only had the one, carryon-sized case) at no extra charge.

I arrived at Pearson International at 8:30, retrieved my bag, and had time for a leisurely breakfast. I had time to search out the Iceland Air registration desk and find out when it would open. It turns out that contrary to the general advice to be in the airport three to four hours ahead of your departure time that you can’t even check in or start the security process until two hours before boarding.

Still, I’m glad I gave myself a wide margin. I could have caught the next flight if the first one had been cancelled. I would have had the time to take an Airporter to Pearson, if necessary.

The journey from there was similarly without incident. The eight hour layover in the Reyjavik airport was, if anything, a little boring. I worried a bit about my flight not showing up on the information board until about an hour before departure, but there was no real problem.

KeflavikAt3am

HamburgAirport

When I landed in Hamburg, I wandered around for a while before I found a group of  WXR cruisers and caught the shuttle to Kiel. I made friends right away on the shuttle (virtual hugs to Margaret Dunlap), while I fought the exhaustion of travel. We arrived at the Atlantic Hotel, checked in, and I met my room mate (more hugs to Becky!).

AtlanticHotelinKiel

I did not nap. I kind of got my second wind in the afternoon and made some more friends (waves at Mike, Oliver, and Alex—Strumpwaffle bonding!), met Mary Robinette Kowal again, Kathy Chung who, in addition to being Security Officer for the cruise, is also the Coordinator for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC), and K. Tempest Bradford, with whom I took the spring offering of Writing the Other.

A group of us went to Vapiano, a popular European chain of Italian restaurants, for supper, and then returned to the conference room for the evening orientation session and taping of the Tea and Jeopardy podcast (!) featuring His Majesty, Dan Wells 🙂

At this point, I’d been up for nearly 30 hours, and, after a much-needed shower, I collapsed.

The next morning, after breakfast, there was the embarkation information session, during which we were divided into groups for our first event—a scavenger hunt, we collected our baggage, and prepared to board the MSC Fantasia.

The thing I dislike most about travelling is all the queuing. There are line ups everywhere: to check in, get through security, and to board (for each flight), for the shuttle, and to check in to the hotel. Cruise embarkation was no different.

We were bussed to the pier in shifts, based on our scavenger hunt groups, and, once there, had to relinquish our luggage to the handlers, prepare our boarding documents, and—you guessed it—queue up for embarkation.

It was like an amusement park line. Looooong.

MSCFantasia

But once aboard, I located my stateroom, outside of which my luggage had been left, got unpacked, and got my credit card registered before it was time to gather for the scavenger hunt.

MyStateroom

WXR instructors hid throughout the ship, and each team had to solve riddles to find them, hopefully ending up in the buffet at the end, in time to have lunch. My group was a little late starting out and we missed the final check-in point, but we had fun solving the riddles and did bond over the experience.

There was an afternoon workshop that I ended up choosing to miss, on writing through distraction. My more pressing need at the time was for some food and I acquainted myself with the buffet 🙂

I had time to sign up for a wi-fi package for the trip before muster, which is the emergency drill for the ship, and returned to my stateroom in time for our departure from Kiel.

FearAndWritingEmmaNewman

That evening, I attended Emma Newman’s (yes, she of Tea and Jeopardy) presentation on Fear and Writing. Mary intentionally organized Emma’s presentation for the first evening, as fear is every writer’s worst enemy. It was hoped that Emma’s presentation would allow us to set appropriate goals for the cruise. I’ll just say that it was brilliant, and one of my favourites of the cruise.

SunsetDay1

At supper, I sat at Howard and Sandra Tayler’s table. It was a great first night getting to know a couple of our hosts, and some of my fellow WXR participants.

Normally, for a cruise, the passengers sit at the same table every night and the serving staff is able to develop a relationship with them. For the WXR cruise, we would be assigned different seating each night at supper so that we could get to know one another better. It made for more difficulty for the serving staff, but a better experience for the retreat’s participants.

Supper that first night was a late sitting (9:30) and by the time I got back to my stateroom, I was just in time to watch the ship (it’s huge—18 storeys I was told) pass under the Øresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Other cruisers went to the uppermost deck of the ship to take pictures, but I didn’t have time to get up there (!)

UnderTheBridge

And that’s where I will leave my journey for now.

In my next instalment, I hope to cover Copenhagen and Stockholm. After that, it will be time for my Next Chapter combination update for July and August, and then I’ll continue with my adventure through Tallinn and St. Petersburg. Then, I think I’ll write a couple of posts to cover my Finland adventure and WorldCon, before I turn to other topics.

Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will resume through to NaNoWriMo when my next blogging hiatus takes place.

Recent events in Charlottesville, Barcelona, and Turku have my heart aching. Still, the battered thing goes out to all of those affected by extremism and terrorism. We can resist, heal, and make a better world.

Until next I post, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories now, more than ever!