paradise lost.

I just spent a long weekend down in San Antonio, Texas, for the Paradise Lost 5 writing workshop. I was invited to be a guest lecturer at the event, and I took the opportunity to participate in the retreat track. 

San Antonio is a lovely city, and the company was fantastic. I met up with my old friends Claire, Katrina, and Jeff, reconnected with fellow Viable Paradise XII grads Steve and Tim, and made a whole bunch of new friends from other Viable Paradise years and different workshops.

I also got to meet these two goobers for the first time in real life:

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Chuck Wendig and Delilah S. Dawson, both Internet friends I’ve talked to for YEARS. You know how you have this picture of people in your head from talking to them online, and then you fear the possibility that they’re completely different in real life? Well, Chuck and Delilah are precisely like I pictured them from our online talks. They are smart, funny, goofy nerds, and hanging out with them was a lot of fun because I am also most of those things.

My lecture went over very well (I talked about self-publishing and various ancillary things), and people did not fall asleep or throw rotten fruit at me, which I will call a success. I find that the more talking I do in front of larger groups, the more I enjoy it. 

We had fruitful work sessions, and then we all goofed off and socialized. There were group meals on the riverwalk and at various local eateries, Cards Against Humanities sessions, liquor store safaris, rooftop writing sessions, and the consumption of ALL THE BOOZES. And I got to fly First Class for the first time ever, which was a REVELATION. This is how reasonably comfortable and relaxing flying commercial can be? Well, sign me right the hell up.

Paradise Lost: AAAA+++++, 10/10, would goof around with old and new nerd writer friends again.

In closing, have some pictures from lovely San Antonio what I took mostly with my pocket point & shoot Sony. Some of them turned out all right, I think.

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noo yawk city.

I’m in New York City at the moment, attending NY Comic Con, meeting up with friends, and doing a little bit of Big City Stuff. I haven’t been back in the city since maybe 2000, so it’s interesting to see how much has changed around here.

It’s kind of trendy to talk smack about NYC, especially among my conservative and libertarian friends, but I’ll risk being uncool by admitting that I do love this city. It’s the first place I visited when I first came to the United States as a tourist, back in 1990, the days before the Internet or cell phones. I had six weeks of leave saved up and $6,000 worth of AmEx travelers checks in my pocket. For a lot of Europeans, NYC is kind of the epitome of the picture of America they have in their heads. And as far as national business cards go, NYC is a pretty cool one. It’s full of energy and history, cool Art Deco buildings, lots of stuff to do and see, and everything else that comes with being in a place that is one of the world’s cultural and financial hubs. On a global scale, only London, Paris, and Tokyo can lay claim to the same sort of impact and influence. 

Now I’m off to the Javits for some more writerly business, and a slice or two of NY pizza along the way. Because I didn’t come here to sit in a hotel room and dick around on the Internet, even if it is a nice hotel room and a fast Internet connection. In the meantime, have a few snapshots from NYC.

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hey, look. it’s july already.

Wow, will you look at that calendar? Seems like we’re a week into July already. 

I’m still writing on the third Frontlines novel, which was TECHNICALLY DUE LAST MONTH. Erm. Let us not speak of this right now and continue on to other subjects. (I’ll be done soon, I promise.)

Team Munchkin Wrangler just got back from a  two-week trip to see the in-laws in North Carolina. The new Dogevan performed splendidly. Lots of storage and cargo space for all the clothes and gifts we ferried south, a built-in entertainment system to keep the kids happy on the 16-hour drive south, a built-in GPS system to keep me from having to rig my iPad up on the dash, and 280 ponies under the hood to gallop up a highway on-ramp and merge into fast-moving traffic without breaking a sweat. And the driver’s seat in the new van has electrically adjustable lumbar support, which is the berries for comfort.

The trip went well, but the environment at my in-laws wasn’t exactly conducive to productivity, to put it mildly. I got a fair bit written, but not nearly as much as I had hoped, so now I’m back on crunch time schedule at home so I can get this thing finished ASAP. 

Readercon is coming up next weekend, which is my main Nerd Social of the year. I get to see my friends and hang out with fellow SF/F folks. There is drinking and hanging out, attending readings and panels, and going out to the now-traditional greasy spoon breakfasts and barbecue dinners together. If you’re going to be at Readercon and you see me around, feel free to walk up and say hello. I promise I won’t try to hand-sell you any books or anything.

i done did a writing retreat.

I got back from my super-secret writing retreat late Saturday night, and now it’s back to work in the regular office in the back of the house, with no company except for the dogs. For an introvert, I sure like being around my friends.

A few related bullet points:

  • The Bose noise-cancelling earbuds are completely fantastic, and I’ll never step onto a plane again without those little technological wonders in my carry-on bag. The flights I took last week were the most relaxing I’ve ever taken, despite mostly being crammed into regional commuter jet coach seats. You hit that noise-cancelling switch, and there’s an instant acoustic privacy bubble around you. They’re really good at killing loud droning like that from jet engines–it won’t be totally quiet, but it cuts the noise from a roar to a distant whisper that goes away completely when you put on some quiet music. Six thumbs up, AAAAAA+++++, would splurge again.
  • Lake Lure, NC and the surrounding area are super-pretty, and the climb up to the top of Chimney Rock is a super bitch if you’re not used to climbing 1,000+ vertical feet via wooden staircases. It also helps to not forget one’s water bottle in the car when one makes that climb with one’s friends on a sunny 75-degree day. Lovely view, though.
  • I rented a KIA Optima and had a good time with it all week. Having driven a minivan since 2005, I almost forgot that driving can be a lot of fun. The Doge Grand Caravan is starting to have enough little annoying issues that this may be the year to shop for a replacement, and another minivan would be the sensible choice, but man, does that Optima make me want to get something smaller and more nimble. (Side note: the Koreans are making some pretty nice cars these days.)
  • I will now and henceforth call Detroit’s airport “Carl Sagan International (an Albert Speer design)”. it seems like a deliberate, cruel architecture exercise to remind us of the insignificance and inadequacy of the single human form in an inconceivably vast and hostile galaxy, with futuristic trams and lightshows thrown in. It took me TWENTY MINUTES of fast walking to get from my arrival gate to the departure gate in another terminal, and I think I may have passed through three time zones and five separate weather fronts.
  • Establishing traditions with good friends is fun. Making new friends who make you feel like you’ve known them for years is fun. Committing high crimes and misdemeanors with those old and new friends is fun. Fun is good, and we can’t ever have enough of it. Friends are good, and we can’t ever have enough of those either. A week goes by very quickly when you hang out with said friends for work and play.
  • When seven writers share a lodge for a week, one fridge is not enough, and beer consumption will be enough to necessitate a grocery run pretty much every day.
  • Using one’s iPad mini as a communal WiFi hotspot because there’s no Internet at said lodge may mean you have to bump your data plan up to the next tier twice in one week.

Anyway, the trip was a ton of fun (you may have gathered that), and we’re thinking about making it an annual event. On Friday, our last full day, we took a field trip into Asheville to see the new Godzilla movie (I’ll share some thoughts on that one later), and then go to the Wicked Weed for some beer and burgers. The weather obliged all week–it was beautiful in the western NC mountains every day except for Thursday, when we spent all day inside to get more work done anyway.

I didn’t finish the first draft of ANGLES OF ATTACK in North Carolina as planned, but I made a good dent, and I still have some time until the deadline, so it’s back to work for me this week. But the trip was good and necessary. I got a lot of work done, met up with old friends and made new ones, and got to spend some time in a lovely spot. Next up on my social/writing calendar is Readercon in July, but for now I have to get back to work and finish this novel so you all can buy it and read it. I can say that it’s shaping up pretty well, and that I feel it’s at least as good as TERMS and LINES, if not better.

All right. Back to work I go. More later.

that’s where they make those little sausages, right?

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I organized the digital shoebox and found some more shots from our visit to Vienna last year.

That was a really nice trip-within-a-trip. I want to go there again, with a little more time and a less busy schedule.

at least we didn’t fit naugahyde upholstery to the thing.

So Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to officially leave the solar system and travel into interstellar space.

Anyone else bothered by the fact that we sent a thing into space that contains a map to its origin planet and an open invitation?

“Hi, we’re a barely space-faring civilization that you could probably conquer and subjugate with your equivalent of a Boy Scout troop! Here’s a map to our home planet. Stop by anytime!”

Of course, the biggest issue is that we sent out Voyager 1 with an LP on board. We are intergalactic hipster scum.

“These are humpback whale sounds. You’ve probably never heard of them.” <derisive snort by Kurt Waldheim>

travel report, part the third.

When we scheduled the Europe trip, I intentionally scheduled the busy stuff toward the beginning of the vacation, especially the trip to Vienna. That meant we had the second half of the trip free for family business and shopping in the local area.

My family is from the Muenster area, and that’s where I grew up. Of all the cities I’ve lived in, I have the greatest affection for Muenster because I spent a great deal of my formative years there. Muenster is where I went to kindergarten and first grade, it’s where my grandparents lived, and it’s the city that kept drawing me back to it over the years.

A lot of things have changed there in the last sixteen years, but they’re all relatively minor changes—a parking garage where there used to be a huge parking lot in the middle of the city, new stores popping up and old ones closed or renamed, a clothing store in the old and now defunct movie theater where I watched Return of the Jedi when it came out. Overall, though, Muenster is the same city it was when I left, with the same distinctive character and culture.

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The Prinzipalmarkt in the heart of the city. Here’s where the oldest and most established shops have always had their spots. The facades all along the Prinzipalmarkt were reconstructed after World War II to look like they did before the war and all the way back to medieval times. The shop rents here are quite high.

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A view looking up the Prinzipalmarkt toward St. Lambert’s church.

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Looking upstreet from the north end of the Prinzipalmarkt. Note the red and white shutters on the windows of the Cafe. on the left. Most of the houses have lovely detail work on the facades.

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The old Rathaus (city hall) on the Prinzipalmarkt. The Peace of Westphalia was signed here in 1648. The original ornate façade from the 14th century was destroyed in World War II by the extensive allied bombing that turned 80% of the city to rubble. After WWII, the Rathaus and its façade were rebuilt true to the original.

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The ornate façade of the old Rathaus.

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Some detail on a gasthaus.

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Muenster Cathedral (St. Paulus-Dom) as seen from near the Prinzipalmarkt. It was built in the 13th century and houses a 16th century astronomical clock. Damaged in WWII, but restored completely in the years after the war.

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The fountain in front of St. Lambert’s Church on the Prinzipalmarkt.

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Jewelry store on the Prinzipalmarkt. It has been there for as long as I’ve been alive at least.

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Another view of the Prinzipalmarkt’s north end.

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Not everything in the old city looks medieval. This is the main branch of the Muenster Public Library.

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The Glockenspiel above the porcelain & housewares store has been chiming its little tune on the hour every hour since well before I was born.

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Muenster is the most bicycle-friendly city in Germany. Westphalia is pretty flat, and ideal country for bikes.

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“Gee, I just don’t understand why we get no walk-in business at all!”

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The cages on the steeple of St. Lambert’s church in which the bodies of the leaders of the Anabaptist Muenster Rebellion were displayed in 1535.

On this trip, I had both a good camera and enough time, so I went into Muenster on several occasions to do shopping and shoot lots of pictures. I have a lot of personal history there, so I’m obviously biased, but it really is a lovely city with a very friendly atmosphere. If you’re ever in Germany and your travels take you to or near Westphalia, you should definitely pay Muenster a visit.

(Part Four to follow, in which we take a little side trip to the state of Hessen to visit Robin’s relatives.)

travel report, part the second.

When last we checked in with our intrepid correspondent, Team Munchkin Wrangler had returned from their excellent little side trip to Vienna.

Back at my brother’s place, we spent the next few days with Family Stuff™. One thing that really worked out well on this trip was the way in which we were able to spread ourselves around evenly among the family so everyone could spend time with us and nobody felt like they got the short end of the stick. Robin and I went gift-shopping in Muenster and used the opportunity to leave Lyra and Quinn with my mother, who was more than happy to ply them with toys and treats all day long.

(When we came to pick them up, I asked my mom if they’d had nothing but candy all day long. She shook her head and asserted that OF COURSE they’d had real food. At McDonald’s.)

The kids had no problem at all being the center of attention and consuming their own body weights in German candy all day long at Oma’s place, and we got to stroll around Muenster without any complaints about hurting feet or boredom.

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Quinn, Lyra, and their Oma.

Lyra even got to spend a day at a German kindergarten with her cousin Janne, who is also five years old. You’d figure the language barrier would have been a problem, but at that age, it doesn’t seem to hold them back much when they can’t really understand the words coming out of the other’s mouth. When I came to pick her up, she asked to go again the next day. (“It’s a school just for playing!”) In Germany, kindergarten starts at age 3, so they don’t do all that much educational stuff in the mixed classes and mostly let the kids engage in free play.

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The sight that greeted me when I walked into the Kindergarten to pick up Lyra.

I took a little bit of time on this trip to visit some landmarks of my childhood. This time I had a DSLR in tow, thanks to my friend Oleg. For example, I went to see my old kindergarten in the center of Muenster:

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St. Ludgeri kindergarten in Muenster. I went there as a wee lad, back in 1976-77.

I also drove out to a small village called Ladbergen, where we used to live in the late 1970s. I’ve always had fond memories of that quaint little place, unlike some of the places we lived in subsequent years.

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Moeller’s Hof gasthaus in Ladbergen. My father ran the place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My sister Nadine was born while we lived here.

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The village bookstore, still in the same spot where it stood in 1978/79. I used it as my unofficial library quite a bit.

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Another gasthaus on what is Main Street in town. Also another family landmark: my little brother got hit by a car right in front of the place. (He was fine.)

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My old elementary school. I spent second and third grades here.

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The church and main cemetery, right in the town center. I played there a lot as a kid with my local friends.

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A closer look at the church and that ancient cemetery wall all around the place.

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Detail above the church door. It’s been in that spot for a while. The words are “Come; for all things are now ready”, from Luke 14:15-24, the parable of the Great Supper.

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Memorial in the cemetery, commemorating “our brothers fallen for king and fatherland” of the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars. Before the German Empire’s establishment in 1871, Westphalia was part of the Kingdom of Prussia.

I appreciated that the trip was unhurried enough for me to indulge in a bit of personal history sleuthing, going back to places I hadn’t seen in thirty years or more. If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re headed.

(Part Three to follow, in which I will show you around Muenster, my favorite city.)

travel report, part the first.

First off—our trip was pretty stellar. All the flights and trains were on schedule, all our luggage came along with us, and even though our schedule was packed from front to back, it was actually a pretty relaxing vacation as such things go.

We left on February 13th, the day before Quinn’s birthday. Our flights were booked on Icelandair, so we had a stop and plane change in Keflavik, Iceland both on the way to Europe and back from there. I have no complaints about the Viking long-planes or their crews. Food was optional, but reasonably priced, and the kids got lunch & dinner boxes for free (or rather, included in the fare). The Viking long-planes had personal touch-screen entertainment centers in the headrests from which one can stream any of the 50+ movies in the on-board catalog at any time. They also had a ton of kid flicks and TV shows, which did a lot to keep the sprogs occupied for the duration of the flights. (It was 4h 45m from Boston to Keflavik, and another 2h 30m from KEF to Amsterdam, which is the closest big airport to my brother’s place.)

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A Viking long-plane, the scourge of the European skies.

We were hosted by my brother and sister-in-law for the duration of the trip. Having a home base for recharging and keeping our stuff made this trip a lot more relaxing than the last one seven years ago, where we had kind of a wandering circus thing going on. In 2005, we stayed with various relatives and basically had to pack and unpack our stuff pretty much every other day to set up somewhere else. My brother has three kids, we brought our two, and their place isn’t all that big, so it was pretty….lively.

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Five cousins demolishing Quinn’s birthday cake. He turned eight on the day of our arrival.

We got in on Thursday, did the family thing Thursday and Friday, and then headed down to Vienna, Austria on the first weekend of our stay. Robin had wanted to check the item “Spanish Riding School” off her bucket list, and there was one performance scheduled in the time span of our stay, so off we went. Rather than driving a car for 600 miles in German winter weather, we opted to take the train, and it turned out to be a wise decision. We left Westphalia for Hannover on Saturday morning, got onto the ICE high-speed train to Vienna around lunchtime, and stepped off the train in Vienna’s Westbahnhof at dinnertime. Those things will move.

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A nap at 150MPH.

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Zippy train is zippy.

Vienna was all-around spectacular. Beautiful city, shiny new hotel (with the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever had in any hotel anywhere), agreeable weather, and easy getting around via subway. Alas, we were there mostly on Sunday, which means that we couldn’t do much shopping. We missed out on being able to buy fashionable shoes like these:

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Or these:

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So we limited our spending to Austrian restaurant food and the gift shop at the Spanish Riding School.

Ah, yes, the Spanish Riding School. One of the highlights of our trip. It’s located in a purpose-built baroque building that has housed the school in the center of Vienna for over three hundred years now. And it is flippin’ gorgeous, sitting as it does on Michaelerplatz, surrounded by all that old architecture.

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The Spanish Riding School on the Michaelerplatz (St. Michael’s Square).

If you’re a horse nut, you’ll know why the performances of the Spanish Riding School are so special. They represent the apex of horsemanship, and the venue in which they perform is known as the most beautiful riding hall in the world. Even for someone like me who knows roughly as much about horses as horses do about configuring WiFi network security, it’s a pretty impressive event.

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Before the show. Photography during the show is not allowed because the flashes irritate the horses.

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Lovely wife in the lovely Imperial Box, where we had our seats. Shitty iPhone photo because Genius Husband forgot the DSLR in Germany.

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The Imperial Box from a distance. Taken during the tour we booked afterward, which was well worth the money.

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And this is where the horses dance.

After the Hofreitschule performance, we did the touristy thing and took a Fiaker carriage ride through the Old City.

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After the ride, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Vienna and finding a local restaurant to have dinner. That too went really well except for the lapful of hot chocolate my daughter bestowed upon me, but even that couldn’t make a dent in my day.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel for a glass of wine or two at the excellent hotel bar before we made our way back to the nearby Westbahnhof for the train ride back to Germany.

(Just in case you’re ever in Vienna and in need of affordable high-quality accomodations, I can wholeheartedly recommend Fleming’s at the Westbahnhof. Brand new interior, friendly and helpful staff, a killer breakfast buffet, and a lovely bar with a great wine selection.)

For the ride on the night train back to Germany, we reserved a sleeper car compartment. The kids got the top bunks, we got the bottom ones, and everybody was able to sleep through the eight-hour ride back to Hannover.

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That was the main tourist-y part of the trip. The rest of the week we spent with the family and on various outings in the area around Muenster. I got to squeeze in some research for a YA novel I’m writing, and my mother got to spend a bit of time with her grandkids while we went off to buy gifts to bring back to the U.S.

(Part Two to follow…)

achievement unlocked: european vacation complete.

Annnnnnd we’re back.

Taking a DSLR to Germany turned out to be a wise decision. I took 1,174 pictures while I was there. Taking an extra suitcase to Germany turned out to be a wise decision as well, because that suitcase came back chock-full of German chocolate and candy.

The travel gods smiled upon Team Munchkin Wrangler—all the flights were on time, no luggage was lost, and a jolly good time was had by all. I’ll post some of those 1,174 pictures in the next few days. Right now we’re still busy getting Castle Frostbite and our schedules back to normal. It was a fantastic trip–Robin got to see the Spanish Riding School, the kids got to know their cousins, I got to see my family and friends again—but it’s nice to be home again.

More later…