thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Here, here J.R.R. Tolkien, here, here. The Hobbit is just full of tasty lines that apply seamlessly to our own travels. Luckily we are not likely to encounter any trolls. But I suppose that really depends on who you ask.
There have been witches. And possibly ghosts.
Though a comfortable stay in a cozy house with ample food and drink may not make for much of a story, I can tell you this about our first two weeks in the U.S.:
Pickles can now pedal a tricycle and say a lot of new English words. English is winning the language race now that we’re surrounded by people speaking it.
I can now say, tried and tested!, that this recipe for Pumpkin Pull-Apart Bread is the best cooking decision you will ever make. (Oh. My. Cod.)
Sculpture parks can be creepy and fun. (See photos.)
Jet lag with babies sucks more than you ever could have possibly imagined.
There are air mattresses in this world that are actually comfortable.
Tonight will find us on the highway heading south. Who knows when we will make it back to New Jersey. Next year? In three? In five? But it has been fun. And off they drove, tra la la!
what i’m reading right this second
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
-The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Show of hands: who’s read The Hobbit? And who’s going to see the second Hobbit movie come December?
the traveler by john twelve hawks
He knew that newspapers and television announcers reported on a certain level of reality. What was happening to him was on another level, like a parallel universe. All around him, different societies were growing larger or being destroyed, forming new traditions or breaking the rules while citizens pretended that the faces shown on television were the only important stories.
-The Traveler, John Twelve Hawks
The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks was the only non-digital book I brought to America; I assumed I would enjoy it without feeling the need to read it again—my requirement for releasing a book back into the wild. I was right.
This is a fun book that keeps you turning pages, a thriller, and I enjoyed the ride. But the dystopian elements didn’t do much for me. The ultimate message—that surveillance culture and panopticon-ical control are a bad idea—is an important one, but the capitalized terms for things (like the Vast Machine aka the government/culture of computerized control) didn’t ring out like a note of genius among the muck, the way a well-invented Sf/F term can and should. The story itself is based around a fierce female body guard (a Harlequin) who is (reluctantly!) sworn to protect a man whose spirit can leave his body (a Traveler) and was a bit too alienating-yet-cookie-cutter for me. But this is the new Big Brother! But everything happening in the society of this book is happening right now! Yes. Yet it still didn’t stimulate many brain cells. It still was a bit too lollipop-ish. And I fucking hate hearing story after story about the godsdamned Templar mythology, which Twelve Hawks weaves, albeit sparsely, into the book’s secret-society back-story without blinking.
But I did like it; let’s be clear about that. However, I doubt I will feel the need to read it again in my lifetime, and I’m releasing its pages back into the wild. Before I do, I thought I’d preserve one more handful of its words in blog formaldehyde.
On an intentional community the book’s characters encounter:
“We didn’t want to run away from the world and pretend to be medieval farmers,” Martin said. “Our objective was to gain control of our lives and prove that this Third Way of ours can work. There are other groups like New Harmony—the same mix of high tech and low tech—and we’re all connected by the Internet.”
The Third Way. Not going backwards, like so many off-grid intentional groups are accused of doing, but moving forwards by picking and choosing from all of the tools available to them. I like the ring of that.
on stranger shores
I am writing this to you from the shores of America.
It is a fact that I still find hard to believe.
The jet lag was horrible; I don’t recommend traveling across time zones with babies to anyone, ever, period, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point.
I spent 23 years of my life in America, and now it strikes me as a country of people running in circles, frantically waving their hands above their heads.
Not everybody, not individuals, and probably not you: It is a feeling, an image that comes to mind when people start telling me stories about the health care system and gun violence and the economy and abandoned houses and minimum wage and the way people drive. America doesn’t make any sense to me, and I’m not sure that it has anything to do with the fact that I have lived elsewhere for the past eight years.
But we are having a lovely time, eating decadently and enjoying watching Pickles get to know a new set of grandparents. We’ve been to the beach (it was foggy; we built castles) and a thrift store (I miss the warehouse-sized American thrift stores, though it turns out I can get much better deals at the flea markets in Germany) and on walks beneath the brightly colored stragglers still hanging onto their trees.
more tiny house toys
The internet is full of Bauwagen toys. (And by full I mean “contains about five different kinds upon being googled.”) I found this one here. Steep price for a play house that you could easily, and perhaps more charmingly, build yourself for under 100 euro. Still, I like the idea. Peter Lustig is probably to blame.
wherein china mieville makes me sad and neil gaiman makes me happy (wfc 2013 part 6)
China Mieville. His name on the program was the reason I had initially decided to attend World Fantasy. Then his name disappeared from the program. Had it all been a cruelly realistic dream? A dream that had resulted in tickets purchased and charges to my credit card? At the airport at 5 am I scrolled through the convention website and found the communique explaining his sudden absence (which actually explained nothing at all, where were you China?!?). Which was also when I found out that Neil Gaiman would be replacing him as Master of Ceremonies. Huh. Now there is a substitution I can live with.
Every morning I walked past the ruin pictured above on the walk betwenn my sleeping hotel and the con hotel. It made me think of China—it would fit right in on Armada, give or take 500 other skeletal vessels lashed to its sides. If you haven’t read it yet, I really can’t recommend Perdido Street Station enough (or The Scar, which is what this ruin made me think of). Neil Gaiman was probably the only author that could have softened the blow of his absence.
I fell in love with Gaiman’s work when I fell in love with Neverwhere, a book about an alternative world in underground London, given to me just after my first trip to the city in 2005. I read Sandman as part of a class on Literature of the Fantastic during college. And I’ve read everything else he’s written (excluding the comics and his first book, which was a biography of Duran Duran that apparently sells for 10,000 pounds these days). American Gods and The Graveyard Book eventually vied with Neverwhere as my favorite. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the scariest book I read this year. His worlds and his words are dark and magical and enthralling. Not to mention that he is a charming, well-spoken human who is married to the force that is Amanda Palmer. He’s become a cult-figure in his own right, and now I was—surprise! wohoo!—going to get to see him speak, was going to run straight into him coming out of the door of the hotel one evening, was going to get used to just seeing around. And the people rejoiced.
I arrived at the convention hotel early on Friday morning, prodded out of bed by my own excitment, jittery with coffee from the all-you-can-eat English breakfast that would become my daily morning routine. I hadn’t planned on attending the Joanne Harris interview, but I was glad I did. She’s written a lot more than Chocolat, you know (don’t worry, I didn’t). She was a joy to listen to, and attending her panel meant that I had secured a front-row seat for the conversation between Neil Gaiman and Jo Fletcher which would follow. Not that I needed to fight the crowds; apparently the changes to the program had gone unnoticed or (and!) the hour was still too early—the room was barely a quarter full.
I didn’t take many notes during their talk—it was more fun to sit back and absorb every word—except for one quote. “You can just do so much if you don’t know the rules.” (Amen.) They chatted—old friends—about the start of Gaiman’s career, about the last time they had attended a World Con in this very same hotel, about making sure you at least make your hotel bed look sleeped in so that the management don’t sell your room to someone else. I’m hard pressed to imagine what could make a day better than seeing Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris speak (Jo Fletcher is a publisher and is quite interesting as well, though I hadn’t known anything about her at the time), and yet that was only the beginning.
witches in the air
I meant to post this on Halloween. But photobucket wasn’t working and then Brighton swept me off of my feet. But I still wanted to share because…tiny dragon! Did you celebrate Halloween?
It has arrived: The time for pumpkins and ghosts, crispy leaves and apple pie, early darkness and candles in the windows.
I wish I was going to be at home for Halloween. I would have liked to take Pickles trick-or-treating. I would have liked to have a harvest dinner party. Alas, I will be in England having a very different and wonderful brand of fun. But we still got the dragon.
people i wish i had met at world fantasy, and people i’m very glad i did (wfc 2013 part 5)
I noticed her on the first day because of her t-shirt. I didn’t get a very good look at it, but in passing thought I saw the word feminism. Was there something about Marx on there as well? My people? Likely. But panels happened, readings happened, and I didn’t get the chance to say hello. At a party several nights later I found myself chatting with someone I had met in line at the Susan Cooper signing. The woman with the t-shirt was sitting nearby. That’s Foz Meadows, she told me, pointing in her direction. Who’s that? I asked. Just the very intelligent and articulate writer of Shattersnipe (and a fiction writer, says the internet). Just someone whose blog I am now totally enamored with, now that I have been led to it by the hand (d’oh). Just someone who is writing about feminism and speculative fiction articulately, wonderfully, engagingly. Just someone I really, really, really wish I had gotten a chance to meet and chat with during World Fantasy. I hope there’s a next time.
Cheryl Morgan came to my attention on the “We’re All Bloggers Now” panel, which was itself a ridiculous mess that very blatantly exposed some of the flaws in the convention planners’ system (or lack thereof) of assigning voices to panels. But Cheryl’s comments stood out, and yup, she has a wonderful blog called Cheryl’s Mewsings. She’s also behind Wizard’s Tower Press, who are doing their damnedest to put more voices of women, LGTB, and other marginalized groups into print. And actually that’s just the tip of her iceberg of amazing. From what she’s said on her blog, she’ll be attending Nine Worlds and LonCon next August, and I really really hope I don’t miss another chance to chat with her then.
Cheryl Morgan and Foz Meadows, thanks for doing what you do.
But wait! I almost forgot. Polenth Blake of Polenth’s Quill was there as well. I’ve been following her blog for a while now, but in the busy that led up to World Fantasy, I missed the posts that mentioned that she would be attending. I wouldn’t have minded telling the folks over at Pornokitsch how much I enjoy their writing either (don’t let the name fool you, it’s a damn fine book blog). How many more bloggers that I follow did I miss? We should have couped the blogger panel, damn it, and saved the sinking ship. Remind me to try to organize an informal book bloggers meet-up at the next convention I attend. Then maybe I won’t have so many missed connections to lament. Maybe. It is inevitable that you are going to miss talking to hundreds of amazing people at a convention like this. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
As for the people I did meet…
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz who writes at From the Beloved Country, Chie and Weng Read Books, and as a columnist over at Strange Horizons also caught my attention on the “We’re All Bloggers Now” panel. She had some interesting things to say about the internet providing a speaking platform for people on the margins and at one point said something along the lines of “I can’t seem to stop writing about revolution.” (Correct me if I’m misquoting you there Rochita.) I got the chance to chat with her during one of the publisher’s parties, and subsequently went to her reading on Sunday morning. The politics and themes in her writing are right up my alley, and I am glad that the most ridiculous of panels at least had the positive side effect of bringing her work to my attention. Looking forward to seeing more of it in the future.
Then there was my constant convention companion, at first by accident, and then by choice. We’d been to all the same panels on Friday, sitting several seats away from each other in the front row, both taking notes, both slighted by the traumatic experience that was the Terry Prachett reading (more on that in another post). I saw her taking pictures with a little stuffed pig (as in the picture above) and guessed that she was also a blogger. She was, and we bonded over our anger at the way the blogging panel had gone and our dislike of the behavior of one of the panelists. With every subsequent panel—and it was no longer a question of whether we would run into each other, but when—we talked a little more, found a few more things we had in common, geeked out about a few more favorite authors and books. It wasn’t long before we were making plans to run into each other. It was a grand old time and having the company of Sullivan McPig (who is the centerpiece of the book blog Pearls Cast Before a McPig and The Life and Travels of Sullivan McPig) for the weekend was the icing on the con-cake.
There were others of course: people from the newbies corner at the hotel bar whose names I didn’t write down and therefore immediately forgot, two Scottish girls, authors, writers, bloggers galore. If I was more organized I would have all of your names and internet info to share here. But alas. If any of you are reading this, please leave a comment with your calling card or find me on twitter @bookpunks.
Read part six of the WFC saga here.
wherein i find a place to rest my head and all is well in the land of eternal darkness (wfc 2013 part 4)
Just tuning in? Catch up on my World Fantasy Convention saga with Part One (Scott Lynch! Elizabeth Bear! Trains! Twitter!), Part Two (S.M. Stirling! Missed connections! Anxiety! Rain!), and Part Three (Patrick Rothfuss! Feminism in Fantasy writing! Hope!).
The way I saw it, I had several options: staying up all night drinking at the bar (after which I would feel like total shit and probably fall asleep during the panel discussions I had been looking forward to), getting back into my couchsurfing non-host’s apartment building and setting up camp in her foyer (but where would I go to pee? and what if she never actually came back?), finding someone willing to let me sleep on the floor of their hotel room after hearing my sad sad story of strife and abandonment (it’s happened before, but there is a lot of luck involved), or just curling up under all my clothes on top of my suitcase under the pier (and get my books wet?! fuuuck). Or I could just get a hotel room. Cod damn it. I am getting too old for this shit.
At the end of the Patrick Rothfuss reading at Waterstones, I had returned to the convention hotel. My phone’s battery was almost dead—because not being able to get in touch with your host in a strange city isn’t traumatic enough without the constant threat of having your communication device crap out completely—and I knew there were both plugs and free wifi in the hotel lobby. People in dresses and suits were mingling, drinks in hand, as I set up camp on the floor next to a free plug, hair wet from the rain, resolve stiffening into a wild joy at the thought that I would not be fucked, not as long as I had electricity, a convention badge, and a credit card. A woman playing a game on a tablet helped me get onto the wifi, and I started to look for accommodations. I really would have appreciated a minority report on that couchsurfing host. There had been so many lovely Airbnb options that I had almost booked. Instead I opted to save money and ended up spending even more of it booking a room at the last of the last minutes.
The internet, the telephone, and the credit card made it possible. I don’t hold much by credit cards in general, but my mom has always encouraged me to have them around. For emergencies. Well, mom, right again. Good thing I grew up in America at a time when credit card companies were throwing themselves at anyone and everyone. I found a room online and booked over the phone. Twenty minutes later I was walking toward the Royal Albion Hotel. The walk took under ten minutes, a straight shot beside the pebble beach and just past the Brighton Pier.
The price was more than I had wanted to spend, but it was a room, a room in a city I had been certain had been completely booked out by the convention and the Halloween party-seekers whose wobbling, scantily clad bodies lined the sidewalk beside the water that connected the Royal Albion and the convention hotel. I had considered and discarded the idea of booking just one night, of booking something more affordable or finding my gods damned couchsurfing host on the morrow. But then I would have had to drag around my luggage. But then I would have missed panels getting the details straight. Fuck that. I did not come to this convention to miss half of it chasing hotel rooms and irresponsible hosts, I told myself. No I did not.
There is something about having a hotel room all to myself that makes me feel like an adult. More so than almost anything else I’ve ever done, including having a child. What a strange phenomenon.
The manager upgraded me to a double room, and even so it was a small white cave, the usual bed-television-closet-desk-weird-art combo of high mid-class hotels everywhere. It was also in the basement. The Land of Eternal Darkness: A good place to sleep in, a good place to lose track of time, place, and weather. I lined my books up on the desk—they already numbered in the double digits—and poured through my program at the events of the next day. The bed was incredible—warm arms, security, the womb of “I am not going to be sleeping outside tonight”-ness. It enveloped me, and carried me through dawn into morning.
Read part five of the WFC saga here.
Note: The first and last photos on this post are from one of the exhibiting artists at the convention. Her work—the tinest of sculptures featuring bug corpses and minute skeleti fairies—blew my mind. Her name is Tessa Farmer. Yes, I am aware that skeleti is not the plural of skeleton. Sue me; I like the way it sounds.
the third wagen has landed (seeing is believing)
We interupt your regularly scheduled report on the 2013 World Fantasy Convention to bring you OUR NEW FUCKING WAGEN.
Holy shit. It is finally here. The work is finally done. We sold cursed (that’s pronounced curse-ed) Wagen to someone else, and then *magic* bought this one from a good friend. Holy holy shit.
It is never easy to move a tiny house, but this particular move was easier than most. We spent the day before Day Zero (Moving Day) in Mainz getting her ready. She had been our neighbor for something like four years. We had hung out in her and slept in her when we’d stopped by. There was a lot of shit to get out of the way, but our old Platz-mates cleared our path (ten trazillion high fives for everyone who helped with that). Still, it took a hand or two full of hours to get her ready and moved and parked out on the street, ready to click onto the truck that would pull her home early the next morning.
The Beard got up at 4 am (there’s been a lot of 4 am going around, huh?) to ride out with the driver, a friend, to pick her up. They were back by 9 am, barely an hour after Pickles and I had gotten up. Go to sleep with a house one size, wake up with a new addition.
You’d think that that was when the hard part was over. We parked her on the grass and waited for another friend to come by to drive the tractor that we would use to put her in her place. But it turned out that the tractor was broken. Surprise!
After quite a bit of tinkering around, we decided to do it the old-fashioned way. We called some friends and rounded up a handful of Platz-mates, and we pushed the damn thing by hand. It’s hard to push a trailer with only one axel by hand: you have to hold the thing upright and push at the same time. There were ten of us. It was enough.
Now she’s in place, ready to be turned into a kitchen. My head is full of plans and ideas and paint and cabinets But instead I’m getting ready for a two-month trip to the United States. (We leave on Wednesday.) I guess the kitchen will have to wait. But, still, isn’t she purdy??? Swoon. So much to look forward to.