Summer Vacation: Asheville

I spent a week in Asheville, and it was far too short a time. The next time I go there, I’m going with a car, hiking gear, and a friend who likes a bit of adventure, especially when it comes to the outdoors.

I still managed to pack in a lot. I met up with Jeff VanderMeer and Nathan Ballingrud for tapas and wine (mmm, so good), and then visited Asheville’s champagne bookstore. It is as it says, a bookstore that serves champagne and provides comfortable seating in cosy niches so that both champagne and literature can be properly appreciated.

I caught up on sleep and reading at a B&B which provided glorious three-course breakfasts. I met cool people and had interesting conversations and learned proper cartwheel technique from a pre-teen who had taken gymnastics (she, her sister and her mother are avid readers and we had a great time bonding).

I visited the River Arts District with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer near the end of my stay. It was like Albuquerque all over again, with all kinds of temptations from painters, potters and pastry cooks.

On the final day, we walked through downtown streets filled with people for the Bele Chere festival, and joined Nathan, Jeremy Jones, Robert Redick and Will Hindmarch at Malaprops for a multi-author event. Jeremy (director of Shared Worlds) did the intros and everyone else did a reading.

Special mention must go to Nathan, who read from his recently-published collection North American Lake Monsters, and that small excerpt from ‘The Good Husband’ left us speechless, chilled, and utterly in awe. Robert and I, who were scheduled to read after him, looked at each other in horror. How the hell do you follow that? Robert rose to the occasion with some brief and sincere words of appreciation for Nathan’s reading, and then held his own with a fascinating pair of excerpts from The Chathrand Voyage Quartet. Needless to say, I ended up buying both Nathan’s book and the first book of Robert’s quartet.

After the reading, we left for Spartanburg, and that, of course, is another post!

What I did on my summer ‘vacation’

Rather a lot, as it turns out!

I joined Samuel Montgomery-Blinn for a radio interview with the folks at WUNC 91.5, North Carolina Public Radio.

About a week later, I had another interview/discussion with Sam and the hosts of Carolina Book Beat.

I posted in advance about the readings at various libraries and bookstores and my week as Amazon Writer-in-Residence at Shared Worlds, but I have yet to post about how they went. Short version – brilliantly! Long version … that will take time and separate posts. I’m still winding down from all the travel, and I have to ransack my overstuffed memory to come up with a coherent and chronological account.

And it was a vacation, at least partly. I got to hang out with old friends and newer friends, and I also made new friends, some of them in unexpected places. I encountered children who love to read (and I owe two of them a list of recommendations!) and discovered new books and new authors in a wide range of age levels. I saw four states and several cities/towns and a whole lotta interstate. I ate a lot of good food, and drank good wine, beer and smoothies (yes, smoothies. Karen Burnham makes the best breakfast smoothies). I encountered a ridiculous amount of chocolate but kept in control (sharing is key). I packed, unpacked and lifted so much luggage that my right arm is now noticeably more muscular than my left. I learned to do a proper cartwheel. I listened to authors – they made me laugh, they made me cry, they gave me chills.

In time, in time. There is much to do here, but I will post again soon.

SF Crossing the Gulf, Episode 13

Our first full podcast of the second half of season two is up and available!

Episode 13: Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

We discuss the first book of a series, a book that has a lot happening, only some of which is resolved. However this approach allowed us to assess Wolfe’s worldbuilding and the structure and style of the story rather than focusing on plot and character arcs which would be better examined over the entire quartet (The Book of the New Sun). It is easy to see why this complex and enjoyable book is considered one of the classics of the genre.

Adelaide Writers’ Week: my second panel

My second panel at the Adelaide Writers’ Week is now available:

ABC Big Ideas: All Stories are Love Stories

Are all stories love stories?

There’s a fairly general agreement in answer to this question among this panel. All stories are pretty much love stories, no matter how dark, vengeful, bitter and thwarted or romantic and deluded.

There’s just a huge variation in the variety and the telling.

This is a sunlit panel featuring Charlotte WoodKaren Lord and Emily St John Mandel at theAdelaide Writers’ WeekCath Keneally moderates the session.

Fond memories of that panel. I think I was just starting to shake off the jet lag!

SF Crossing the Gulf, Episode 12a

It so happened that Karen Burnham and I felt that our podcast on Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis was lacking a little expert knowledge. We know that Lewis, as one of the Inklings, has been widely studied – his life, fiction and non-fiction. It seemed only sensible that one of his most mature and challenging works would have been analysed by persons far more qualified than us.

With the help of our designated expert and special guest, Beth Potterveld, we revisited the novel and illuminated some previously murky areas. The podcast is a supplemental, short and sweet, and a proper conclusion to the first half of our 2013 season.

Episode 12a: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. The Academic’s Cut

Adelaide Writers’ Week panel and other updates

Remember I mentioned that our panels at the Adelaide Writers’ Week were being televised? Well here is the first of mine where I discuss Redemption in Indigo with Dr Amy Matthews:

ABC Big Ideas Karen Lord: Redemption in Indigo

(Correction – Oxford was after teaching physics, not before.)

We also have a mini review of The Best of All Possible Worlds from Eric Brown at the Guardian (UK).

Finally, I now have a Wikipedia page thanks to participants in the Global Women Wikipedia Write-in!

SF Crossing the Gulf, Episode 12: Till We Have Faces

This week’s episode of SF Crossing the Gulf focuses on one of my favourite books: TIll We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I discovered it late, less than a decade ago, and it is often overlooked when readers talk about his books. I strongly believe it should not be overlooked. If you have any leanings towards reworked myth, many-layered stories and strong, complex female protagonists, this is a book you should read. And when you have read it, check out my discussion with Karen Burnham.

Days Four and Five: The Last Lap

My second panel was scheduled for Monday morning. I got to share the stage with two other authors: Emily St John Mandel and Charlotte Wood. We had not read each other’s works, but our chair Cath Kenneally had, and she wove it all together under the theme ‘All Stories are Love Stories’. We all used the term ‘love story’ broadly, and spent as much time talking about friends and family as we did about romantic relationships. I was the only speculative fiction writer, but Emily’s work sounds like an interesting crossover, literary but with a touch of noir that at times gets her categorised as a genre writer as well.

And speaking of reading other people’s works – so many books, so many cool authors, so little time! I began to feel a bit less smug about my minimalist luggage arrangements. There were books available to buy, authors present to sign them, and I had no space. Eventually, I made arrangements with Sean Williams to ship some books home (thank you Sean!) and happily went on a splurge.

I missed Justine’s second panel, but we both caught Scott’s reading, an excerpt about an alternate WWI which confirmed my desire to acquaint myself with the world of Leviathan. Then a group of us went off to have more good food (Japanese this time) and fun. That was my final day of Adelaide Writers’ Week events.

On Tuesday morning, I had a half-hour live interview with Richard Fidler, the last of the interviews set up by Tracey. I have to say, I was very impressed with the preparations for this interview. The pre-interview for this took place the previous Friday so that there was already a sense of what themes and topics would be interesting and relevant. We also had a brief chat before the actual interview and he put me completely at ease.

And that was Adelaide! I must say how grateful I am to the Writers’ Week staff for their excellent organisation and care. Laura Kroetsch, the Director, and Anna Hughes, the Coordinator, were present and accessible and amazing. Pan Macmillan publicist Tracey Cheetham and the Adelaide Festival National Publicist Prue Bassett were tireless, efficient and charming. There were many others, from staff to volunteers to friends, who were just lovely and made sure I had a great time in Adelaide. I hesitate to list names because I know I will forget someone, but some have been mentioned in previous posts.

My next grand journey will happen in summer, but that deserves a post of its own!

Days Two and Three: The Weekend

Good music, good food, good company, a black swan and some black ants, and other etceteras.

On Saturday, I again breakfasted with Justine and Scott, and had some laugh-out-loud moments because they’ve both got great comic timing. I was starting to feel better. Jet lag, especially jet lag after three flights, is no joke. It’s a fatigue so deep it feels like the marrow is draining out of your bones. Fortunately, Saturday was a relatively light day with two purely enjoyable items. The first was a coffee meeting with Dr Amy Matthews, who was to moderate my Sunday panel on Redemption in Indigo. She suggested we meet in advance and chat a bit about what to discuss. We ended up sitting on the grass down by the river in marvellous conversation for about three hours. There was a brief encounter with an oddly friendly, yet shy, black swan who approached us but when we merely stared warily and declined to offer it food, it sidled away with its head tucked into its back as if it was napping, or maybe just embarrassed. Swans are sizable birds. I do not mess with swans. Nor geese.

The Writers’ Week reception took place that evening. A group of us gathered in the hotel lobby to walk over to the venue. A cheerful, charming gentleman introduced himself to me as Tom Keneally. I was still insufficiently alert, so it was much later when I clued in to who he was and got him to sign my just-purchased copy of The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.

The reception was most enjoyable in a way that can only be managed when a room full of writers and other literary types get together and have conversations. Several of us got hauled aside by the Guardian (UK) for some photos. After the reception, because the night was still young, I followed Tracey (the publicist) and a few others to the Barrio where there was a live band playing some excellent music. Eventually it dawned on me … wait a minute! That’s Soul II Soul! Pure nostalgia, great music – which alas, I could not fully enjoy because before they finished playing their set I realised that there was not much keeping me upright but sheer willpower. I chose to be sensible and went to bed.

There are things I can’t quite recall. For example, there was a stunning fireworks display down by the river which we (Justine, Scott and I) witnessed up close (very close!) from the terrace at the back of the hotel. Was that Friday night or Sunday night? I can’t remember! And I forgot that I did in fact go out to dinner Friday after the opening night performance with Sean Williams and his wife, Scott and Justine, and Isobelle Carmody (one of those delightful people who only have to speak twice to make you want to rush out and buy their books).

One of the reasons it became so hard to keep track of the days was that I was taking (whenever I could) a long nap during the day and having a short sleep at night. There’s a 14.5 hour difference between Barbados and Adelaide, almost a direct day-to-night flip.

On Sunday, I went down to the Writers’ Week venue in the morning well in advance of my afternoon panel so I could do a radio interview on-site. It was Kids’ Day, and there were little ones running about in costume. It was a great family atmosphere, everything outdoors and the weather hot, dry and clear. And ants. I was sitting under the trees listening to a panel when I looked to my right and saw that the gentleman sitting next to me was covered in black ants. They were crawling up the plastic chairs from a broad trail on a nearby tree. I alerted him and helped brush him off; he changed chairs and moved away from the tree. I was twitchily viewing my own chair for ants for a while and just when I managed to calm my paranoia I looked to the row ahead and there was a woman crawling with ants.

The panel before mine featured Justine Larbalestier, and Isobelle Carmody. It was enjoyable and relaxing  (no, I did not nod off) and put all thought of black ants out of my mind. Most if not all of the panels were being recorded for television, which meant that later during my panel when I actually was stung by an ant, I had to make it look very casual, as if I was merely brushing my shoulder rather than slapping the life out of the little miscreant.

Sean Williams fortified me with a chocolate freckle before my panel, and rewarded me with a dark chocolate covered macadamia afterwards. Walking around with chocolate treats is apparently his ‘thing’. I’m not complaining.

The panel went really well, thanks in no small part to our preparation the previous day. I got an absolutely brilliant question, weighty with knowledge and perception, from a woman in the audience who, when I queried her, admitted to having been in Barbados just the year before. I’m happy the panel was televised, but especially for that question which gave me a new insight into the approach I chose for Paama’s brand of heroism.

Here I am, looking like I know what I’m talking about:

Karen Lord discusses her book Redemption in Indigo on stage

[Source]

After the panel, I had a fun time at the signing table, then went back to catch the second half of Sean interviewing Scott about Leviathan. That was fascinating, and I wish I could have heard the entire session, but it was enough to tempt me to buy the book (and Behemoth and Goliath). Well played, Mr Westerfeld.

Before I forget, I should mention that I also found out from Amy that Redemption in Indigo is on the reading list of an undergrad course at the University of Adelaide, so there were students at my panel and in my signing line – yay!

At the end of the day, we went and had dinner at a restaurant with a secret room hidden behind a cunning sliding bookcase. (Oh dear, I’ve said too much. Well, I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant at least.)

That’s what I can remember of the weekend! Strictly speaking, that was Day One and Day Two of the Writers’ Week but Days Two and Three of the Adelaide Festival … but nevermind. I’m numbering these Days according to the time I was spending there, not by their calendar.

Next, Day Four!