Locke the Puppy!

Apologies once again for the lack of updates. It turns out that puppies are disruptive to one’s schedule and general life style. Who knew? Fortunately, they’re so unbelievably incredibly adorable, it’s hard to hold it against them.

7wks IMAG0242 11wks IMAG0434

As the pictures show, he’s growing super first. He’s seven weeks old in the first, eight weeks in the second, eleven weeks in the third, and thirteen weeks in the fourth. Having him has been both joyful and frustrating, as most worthwhile things tend to be. Perhaps the most important lesson is that having a puppy is the great social icebreaker ever conceived by man. I’ve had more conversations with strangers in the past six weeks than I’ve had in my life to date prior to that point.

At first I got nearly no writing done, but I’m starting to find a post-puppy equilibrium. Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story that will hopefully be included in an anthology that may or may not be themed after purple unicorns. The plan is then to return to Gare and try to do my next revision of Wildfire Crown (which at this point needs a new title, sadly). Hopefully that will be done by the end of the summer and I can jump back into some other projects.

I also posted on the Fictorians this month. The theme was best-novel-you’ve-never-heard of, and I chose S, by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Check it out here!

I’m headed toward the east coast to visit friends and family next week. The plane ride will be made all the much more enjoyable by Skin Game, the newest Dresden files novel. If you haven’t started the series, please do so. It’s superb.

I’ll leave you with a “video” that’s really only audio, but still worthwhile: a symphonic rendition of Phantom of the Opera that’s just sublime.

 

 

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Awesome Books You Should Read

2014 is upon us, no doubt to the dismay of doomsday-prophets everywhere. So far it seems suspiciously similar to 2013, but I imagine it will eventually reveal some surprises.

I’ve got an exciting year ahead of me. I’ve sent The Wildfire Crown off to an editor whom should be starting on it soon. It depends a bit on how much more revision I have to do once he hands me back his comments, but I hope to self-publish the novel this spring (April-ish would be nice). Meanwhile I’m hard at work on a new novel I’m calling The Lanterns of Shadesmere which is theoretically going to be the start of a YA-leaning seven book series. I’ve been hard at work on the first section and got a rough draft of the first third or so done during Christmas break, which revealed a number of plot issues I’m trying to fix. I thought I had them nailed but this weekend they rudely informed I still had work yet to do.  Still, I’m very excited about this book and series, and will share more about it later.

I’m headed to the Superstars Writing Seminar again in a couple weeks. It’ll be great to see old friends again. I also managed to nab a coveted spot in the retreat held by the Writing Excuses authors, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Taylor. It turns out I got pretty lucky, getting up at 6 am Saturday to go for one of 24 spots that about 200 people were vying for. That’s going to be in Tennessee at the end of September.

I had plenty of time for reading over the holiday, and happened across a number of great books that you all should add to your reading lists.

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie:

Joe Abercrombie, together with George R.R. Martin, writes what many call the ‘grimdark’ flavor of fantasy. I had tried one of Abercrombie’s stand alones a few years ago and didn’t finish it, mostly due to not liking any of the characters. But I’d seen his debut trilogy recommended enough that I finally decided to give it a try, and am very happy I did. Yes, it’s dark, but not hopelessly so. Abercrombie takes characters that feel like fantasy mainstays – the mysterious old wizard, the barbarian warrior, the spoiled young noble – and makes them fresh again. The characters in this series may be my favorite ensemble ever. My favorite isn’t any of the aforementioned but instead a crippled torturer named Glokta. My guess is you don’t think you’d enjoy reading about such a character, a sentiment I would have shared, but Glokta is one of the most brilliantly compelling characters I’ve ever read. It’s a case-study in how to make a reader sympathize with someone who is nearly amoral.

I haven’t quite finished the trilogy, but I suspect the ending won’t exactly be happy. Fortunately a childhood of Stephen King novels has cured me of such hopes, and I’m prepared for whatever gristly spectacle Abercrombie throws at me.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

An infamous warrior recalls his childhood where he was torn from his father and given to an order to be trained in battle. The concept here is as familiar as it gets, but man, when it’s done as well as Ryan does it, who cares. Vaelin, the main character, is as compelling and likeable as a character gets, and though there aren’t many surprises, it doesn’t matter, you’ll still be turning the pages as fast as you can. This thing’s got a full five stars on amazon after a ton of reviews. I picked it up after reading a lot of people call it the best fantasy novel they’ve read in years. They’re not wrong.

S by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Now this is cool. I bought S for my dad for Christmas, then immediately snatched it back to read myself. S is a kind of epistolary novel, though I’d call it a meta-book myself. It consists of the novel Sea of Theseus by V.M. Straka, a fictional author, as well as the notes written in the margin by two fictional characters, Jen and Eric,  who end up passing the book back and forth in a library as they try to determine Straka’s true identity, thus creating a story within a story.

Both the inner story, Straka’s novel, and the outer-story about Jen and Eric, are beautifully done. Doug Dorst recreates the style of older literary novels perfectly while also delivering a compelling story. Jen and Eric come to life through their margin-notes and end up being a very likeable pair. I can’t even imagine the difficulty in putting this project together, but it works beautifully.

For today’s video, a cover of the much-covered Lorde song Royals that you should listen to even if you’re sick of the song:

City of Lights

I had the pleasure of spending a week in Paris with my best friend, Sean, and some other friends. It was more of a business trip for Sean – he was casting a StarCraft II tournament called Iron Squid. The goal was to see the tournament, do some sight-seeing, and eat a lot of great food, and I’m pleased to say we succeeded admirably at all three.

1/22

As some of you may know, I’m tall – 6′ 5 – and planes these days seem built for people a standard deviation below average. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to an 11 hour plane ride, especially given that Air France wouldn’t pre-assign us seats.

Loading the plane was itself an experience. We were flying direct from LAX, and the assigned terminal was at the edge of the airport. There were no planes there – from the terminal they loaded us into busses, which took us to a building in the middle of nowhere whose sole purpose was to load the massive Airbus 380.

The best part? The plane wasn’t even half full. We had four people to two three seat rows in front of each other. There was plenty of room to stretch out, use my laptop, even nap. I read the first half of A Memory of Light, had some great conversation, got in 2000 words of writing, and frankly had about the best time I’ve ever had on an airplane.

1/23

Thanks to the miracle of time zones, we found ourselves in Paris on the afternoon of the 23rd and took a taxi to our hotel, the Concorde La Fayette. The hotel was this super tall building right in downtown, part of the Palais du Congres and gave easy access to the number one metro line. Hoping to begin combatting jet lag immediately, we resolved to stay up as late as possible and set out exploring.

Paris in January, as it turns out, gets rather cold. There was actually snow on the ground when we arrived, and I believe the temperature that day was in the high 30s. This made the walk a bit more of an adventure than the others in my group might have preferred. I, being a hearty Mainer, actually enjoyed the temperature.

After lunch at a local French café (with incredible bread!), we headed to Notre Dame. What an awesome (in the most literal sense of the word) building. The layers of architecture, the way the different styles are built on top of each other, the absolutely astonishing stained glass windows, the gargoyles, and the immense size – it’s crazy to think that this was built centuries ago, without access to the technology we have today.

From Notre Dame the plan was to take the tower tour, but the wait was long and it was cold, so we eventually gave up and wondered to hot chocolate at Angelina’s, known for the best hot chocolate in the city. I can’t say I’ve tried enough to compare, but it was likely the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

1/24

Sean had business stuff going on all day, so a smaller group of us made our way to the Louvre. There we spent a couple hours wandering around, checking out the Mona Lisa (far less impressive in person), and the Egyptian exhibits.

The coolest exhibit we saw was Napoleon’s Apartments – an entire wing set up to mimic the style of the French emperor’s living quarters. Think rich red carpets, ornate furniture, lots of gold and silver, and elaborate chandeliers. Gorgeous, like stepping into an old-fashioned palace.

1/25

Not much happened Friday – we had a nice dinner with some of the people hosting Iron Squid at a fondue restaurant. I can’t eat much cheese, so I had to settle with dipping filet mignon in a pot of hot oil, a real travesty 🙂

1/26

The day of the tournament. I came early with Sean and got a backstage pass, so I could hang around in the lounge. I met some of the other commentators and staff.

The theatre itself was huge – around 4000 seats, and they’d all been sold. I’ve been to a number of StarCraft tournaments, and they’ve been fun and well-produced. But nothing at the level of this; with a live orchestra playing while the players were introduced.

This video gives a good sense of how it was all set-up. I felt like I was watching a show in Vegas. Incredible.

1/27

We went to see the Sacre Coeur, which sits on the tallest hill in Paris, and walked around a bunch. Lunch was at a really cute restaurant that served absolutely immense portion sizes. The Sacre Coeur was gorgeous,  as was the view of the city looking down the hill. Would have loved to see it at night.

1/28

My favorite day from a culinary perspective. We went to a restaurant in the Jewish distract called L’As Du Fallafel, which is pretty much what it sounds like – Mediterranean fare, with their namesake, shawarma, and so on.

What’s so special about it?

It’s absolutely incredibly unbelievably good. I don’t even like falafel! This was like the best thing I’ve ever had! Huge amounts of food – the shawarma was great, the falafel was unreal, the hummus was great, the sides were great, even the lemonade was great. I don’t care if it’s not French – if you’re in Paris, go here. You will not regret it.

After, we walked around and the brilliant idea to do tea came up, so we found a tea shop – and much like the Falafel restaurant, it was incredible. They had this menu with about 300 different types of teas, plus desserts. I got a black tea called Fall in Love, advertised as having vanilla and floral notes, that was on par with the best tea I’ve ever had, and made me wonder again why my own tea sucks so much.

1/29

We went to Blizzard Europe in Versailles and signed an NDA. It was a really cool day – I’ll be sure to blog about it when I can 🙂

1/30

We flew home! Unlike the flight to Paris, this one sucked – we were in the middle of the middle, the flight was full, and Sean wasn’t there. Still, I managed to sleep for about a third of it, which made it bearable – and I finished A Memory of Light, so I can’t complain too much.

It was a great and unique trip – I’d like to go again and do more touristy things, but the mix of business dinners / engagements and sight-seeing was engaging, plus I made some new friends. I came back home energized (at least, after the jet lag faded) and motivated, and managed to knock off my second draft of The Wildfire Crown last week, with progress already being made on the third. Very excited to see how it’s coming together, and can’t wait to start to share it with people.

For this post’s video, another fine effort by the Avalanches, and a really lovely example of the music video as a story-telling medium.

Like The Wind

I finished A Memory of Light, the final volume of The Wheel of Time, on the plane back from Paris.

As a series of books, The Wheel of Time has its flaws. But it’s far more than that; a story stretching nearly two decades of my life; characters as firmly rooted in my nostalgia as they are on the page; images, events, and characters I’ve known as a child; as a teenager; as a college student; and as an adult.

There was this beautiful line at the end that I thought served as an epitaph to the series.

“He came like the wind, like the wind touched everything, and like the wind was gone.”

I teared up when I read that line. I think it’s perfect.

I already spoke of some of my thoughts as to the series as a whole and don’t have a lot to add right now. Maybe I will later. For now, I simply want to bid it farewell.

Thank you, Mr. Jordan, for leaving the world with something wonderful, and Brandon, for making sure we all got to experience it.