Words, Books, and Other Magic

The Name Dropping Blog

In which I drop the famous names I saw this weekend.

This past weekend I attended Bubonicon. Bubonicon is exactly what it sounds like—the local SF/Fantasy con here in Albuquerque named after something New Mexico is famous for—the bubonic plague (we still have it fairly regularly here). I was honored to be on three panels and participate in the massive book signing they have. I always give away my books for NM tax reasons, unless someone has already bought my books at a bookstore (on site, so it’s easy to buy).

First let me just say it’s always nice to speak to and answer questions from people interested in my work—even if they come to hear someone way more famous than I. I was on a panel on Villains with SM Stirling, Caroline Spector, Joe Lansdale and Andy Kuhn. I love writing villains (which I’ve posted about here), and it listening and adding to the conversation showed me a few things as well. By the way, for me the most interesting book with villains is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Read it and find out why.

I then was on a panel on self-publishing and sat next to Rachel Caine (!). The panel also featured Emily Mah, Pari Noskin, Robert Vardeman, and David Summers. An interesting give-and-take here. My biggest take is that I have absolutely failed in creating a newsletter and email list, mostly because I hate those things myself so I don’t want to subject anyone else to them. Besides, I’m not so interesting.

The last panel I was on was called Good Writing: I Know What I Like. We spoke about what makes a story, what makes them good, and what our processes comprise. Big names here: Stephen Donaldson, John Maddox Roberts, Ben Bova, and Pari again.

My big name drop of the weekend though has to be that I stood in a conversation circle with Connie Willis, Melinda Snodgrass, Jeffe Kennedy, and Darynda Jones, and we were joined by George RR Martin (It pays to be friends with Darynda). Not that I said a word (I’ve also posted about my shyness here). He likes to laugh. I like that in a person. And he wouldn’t recognize me again. Not only did I not say a word, I had forgotten my name tag at home so nobody had a clue who I was.

The name tag I forgot with the cool lanyard donated by Rachel Caine.
The name tag I forgot with the cool lanyard donated by Rachel Caine.

But the absolutely highlights of my weekend were two tiny incidents. The first was Pari Noskin, who came up to me and said that she was so happy to be on panels with me because she loves my work and respects me so much. What an absolutely beautiful thing to say and I don’t think I can even express how much those words meant to me especially coming from a colleague. The second was at the book signing. A couple came up to me, having bought my book, and they told me that my words on the panel on writing helped them so much, and they thanked me for appearing. They had gone out to buy THE WISH LIST, which I gladly signed for them, but I also gave them a copy of THE STONE KEY. To have total strangers admire oneself is such a joy.

So that was my name-dropping weekend. No, I can’t tell you when George will be finished with his series.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch by JK Rowling (That’s right; German, baby)

Oh what a beautiful morning…

…Not. Okay mornings are beautiful, but that doesn’t mean I like them.

I am not a morning person. I do like the empty streets of predawn, the color of the sky as the sun opens onto it, the coolness of the air, but waking up for it is hell. I know what morning is like because I spent several years waking up at 4:45 AM to begin my morning routine for teaching, so I could be at work by 7:30 AM. Even at writers’ conferences, where a number of us are late night people, the workshops and meetings start at 8:00AM. I also have bouts of insomnia, like yesterday, when I wake up too, too early and my brain won’t shut up and let me sleep again. But let me be clear–only because the world seems to think that morning is somehow more morally upstanding do I even try to open my eyes before 10:00 AM. Those damn robo calls start at 8:30AM. (As an aside, who the hell thinks those things work anyway? I can tell you right now that I will never buy or sign up for anything if you call me first. I make the calls in such instances. And I don’t believe your lies either. Neither that you are from Windows Computers, or that “this call is returning your request about the back brace you saw on TV.” I got that one this morning. Guess what? I didn’t watch some commercial about a back brace, nor do I need one. Perhaps someday, but if I do, I will call first!)

Tell me this night view isn't lovely. I dare you.
Tell me this night view isn’t lovely. I dare you.

If I had my druthers,  I would stay up until 2:00 AM or later and then wake up accordingly. But the world doesn’t work that way, and I am a lone, insignificant individual who has no power to change it, so wake I must.  Crueler still is that I must drive The Youngest to work and her shifts often start at 6:00AM. This morning for example. As I was driving home from dropping her off, I noticed how many people were up taking advantage of the cool air. They were jogging, strolling, or walking their dogs. Good God. Even my dogs aren’t morning people. When I left the house, they were both still sleeping in their spots.

Worse, my mother is an early riser. I don’t care how old you are, your mother can do a guilt trip better than anyone, and she is firmly of the belief that anyone who sleeps in is lazy. I’ve tried to explain (since I was a teenager) that I work or do things into the night, so I’m not sleeping more than the early birds; my schedule has just shifted, but she doesn’t accept that.

So as long as the world insists that mornings are superior to the rest of the day, I will rise and grumble (as opposed to shine).

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass

Of Magic and the Sea by Addison Kayne

Movies

…or why I like to be alone

I saw Ghostbusters (the new one) today, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it funny and sassy with enough nods to the original that I felt like I was part of an inside joke. But it’s also two weeks after its release and it’s no longer number one at the box office. The new Star Trek is. Which I will see in about two weeks.

I don’t often see movies the day they come out for one main reason–I don’t like crowds (which is a bit hypocritical since I love Disneyland.)

Harry Potter World  soon after it opened--I had definite crowd anxiety, but Harry Potter! Need I say more?
Harry Potter World soon after it opened–I had definite crowd anxiety, but Harry Potter! Need I say more?

I know what you’re thinking: I should pick smaller movies, the independents, and then I wouldn’t face the crowds. Yeah, the problem with that is I like the big movies. I would rather wait a week or two and see a blockbuster than watch a critically acclaimed independent. (Heck, if you follow me at all you know my taste is the same in books).

There are drawbacks, of course, the first being that watching with a crowd is a more visceral experience. Especially with a comedy. When you’re in a group, you will laugh more, gasp more, and maybe even cry more because you feed off of what others are doing. In many ways we are herd animals. But I have also sat in relatively crowded theaters and been the only one laughing at a joke. When I watched Zootopia, (and I will claim that I had to take my daughter to it even if that is a lie. Well, I did have to take her, but I wanted to see it.) in Albuquerque, I was the only one who laughed at the Walter and Jesse joke. In Albuquerque (I know I said that already.) The lack of the crowd experience doesn’t ruin it for me. I still laugh out loud even if I am the only one laughing.

The other drawback is, of course, spoilers. I have discussed that here in another post. I don’t care about spoilers. I love spoilers. In no way is my experience diminished if I know the ending or the secrets of a plot. In fact I often look up spoilers before deciding to see a movie. I hear you gasping in horror, but there have been studies done on spoilers and they show that knowing the ending lets you take in more of the nuances and depth of the story.

I watched every season of Game of Thrones except this last one one year after they came out. I have glommed onto several shows after they have finished their run, or I’m several years behind (“Paging Dr. Who. Dr. Who, will you please pick up a white courtesy telephone?”). I have this behavior less with books. I was there at midnight for Harry Potter from book three on (Again, I’ll blame my kids, but we both know I’m not fooling anyone), and I’ve reread the Lightbringer series in anticipation for the fourth installment of the trilogy (that is not an error). There will be a fifth too. Sigh.

One of my father’s favorite things to do was to go to downtown L.A. I never understood why. I hated it. I don’t even go to downtown Albuquerque unless I absolutely have to. I become nervous, twitchy, and anxious. This crowd discomfort has been going on a long, long time. Worst part is, I am not made for a rural life either. I need my civilization. So I will continue to see my movies about two weeks late. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan

I Love Villains

Can we talk villains for a moment? I love villains. I mean I love a good villain to root against. I love the anger they rouse in me while I read, I love the sense of righteousness I can feel when I am against them, I love the comeuppance or repentance at the end. Come on. Who didn’t like it when Umbrage gets taken by the centaurs? Who didn’t like Darth Vader saving his son (but, of course, having to die for all the evil he did)? Who didn’t like the take down of Hydra, even if it meant that the good guys had to go into hiding?

I love having villains in my books. I love writing them. There is something so delicious about writing a twisted, evil character. My villain scenes have always been easy for me to write. They flow out of me. I can picture their mannerisms, their postures, and hear their words with little effort. I do like the “black and white” because the world isn’t.

Which brings me to a small rant. One of the criticisms I’ve received about THE WISH LIST was that the villain was easy to figure out. WishListnewFolks, I never tried to hide who the villain was. Honestly, it never occurred to me to hide from the reader who the bad guy was. I did keep it from my characters for a bit, but not the readers. It isn’t brain surgery. There are only nine bigger players in the book, and it was a romance. The villain wasn’t going to be the heroine or the hero; there is a child in the book—he wasn’t going to be the villain. There are the three godmothers—it’s not them. Now, I could have been tricky and made the hero’s best friend the villain, but it’s not that kind of book. That leaves two characters. One is the love interest of the best friend. Again, this is a lighter book. It wasn’t her. That leaves the villain. I didn’t hide it.

Okay, maybe I was unoriginal; maybe my books could have had more depth by choosing one of the other characters to be the villain, but I wanted a romp. Besides, the villain had to last through three books. You know who the villain is in the next two books in the series, so why hide it in the first?

I love mysteries, but I rarely write them. My villains are out there in the spotlight, and you know they are villains from the start. (Okay, in YOURS ALWAYS and THE SEA EAGLE under my Gabi Anderson name the villains are more hidden).

In my latest book, THE STONE KEY, the villain is the villain from the moment he appears at the beginning of the story, and when he shows up again in the novel, you know. And once again, he was so easy to write. Stone Key 750

Hmmm, maybe I should investigate how a goody two-shoes, unassuming, rule-follower like me finds villains so easy to write. On the other hand, my short stories seem to explore nothing but that side of my psyche.
–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Wild Cards edited by Geroge RR Martin
Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan

Costa Rica Part Three

…or sloths, sloths, sloths, and monkeys.

Day Six started with a drive down the mountain on its unpaved road and a trek to Manuel Antonio National Park. The hotel we booked was the nicest of our trip. The Costa Verde Hotel. They are the place with the 727 that’s been converted into a hotel casita. No, we didn’t stay in it, although that would have been interesting. It sure was pretty.

There was one event on the way to Manuel Antonio that I have to mention. Years ago, while doing the college tours, we took an airboat ride on the Louisiana bayou and had a close encounter with an alligator. It was about ten feet long and very frightening. I mention this because in Costa Rica, the crocodiles made that beast look puny. There is a bridge over a river just outside of Jaco, where crocs sun themselves on the banks. There was a monster there that must have been 16 feet long (the picture doesn’t do it justice) and there were at least 25 large crocs just hanging out. One of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.

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The big guy
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This wasn’t all of them

Anyway, back to Manuel Antonio. This place was amazing. When we parked at the hotel the trees were full of squirrel monkeys, the cutest little golden creatures with cute little whistles. Our hike through the national park showed us three sloths, three bats, two raccoons, two coati, lots of capuchin monkeys, an agouti, and a fer de lance. It was amazing. The beaches within the park were beautiful. They were open that day. Sometimes they are closed because crocs sometimes swim in the waters there. The monkeys, raccoons and one coati came onto the beach to steal food. We watched a raccoon steal an entire bag of chips despite the human playing tug of war with the tote that held the snack and using a slipper to discourage the theft. The monkeys came begging for food too.

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Yes, it was that close.

The afternoon, as we swam in the pool, an agouti casually took a stroll right by, and then later the most amazing thunderstorm and torrential downpour cooled us off(Hey, it is a rain forest). The next morning, we saw the sloth that makes the hotel its home. Just hanging around, right by the rooms.DSCN4830

All in all Costa Rica wasn’t a relaxing vacation, but we chose not to do the resort thing. We went for the jungles and the wildlife. Okay, so we didn’t see as much as a Nature special, nor did we rough it like true wilderness experts—hey, there is a limit to how many comforts I’m willing to forgo—but it was great. No tan, a few mosquito bites, wonderful people, and an experience unlike anything I’ve done before. The jungle is almost a cliché, but it was wonderful to experience it outside of Disneyland (“This is the rarely seen other side of water.”). I must say the humidity made me appreciate our dry New Mexico weather.

I’ve always said that adventure is overrated. Adventure usually means something’s gone wrong and you have to deal with it. So this was a perfect trip, the kind of adventure that means everything goes smoothly, the kind that gives you the chance to learn new things about the world and yourself.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

 

Costa Rica Part Two

…or a feat of determination that still amazes me.

DSCN4707Our tour of Tortuguero (see part one) over, we flew back into San Jose on Sansa Airlines, picked up a rental car (after receiving a long lecture on everything that might go wrong on Costa Rican highways and byways and making all of us nervous as butterflies), we hopped in the car and made the interesting drive up to Monteverde. Why interesting? Because the last 20km or so of winding road up the mountain isn’t paved. It’s gravel, and we saw evidence of several small landslides (very small—not blocking the road…okay maybe half the road in one place only) because of the rainstorms in the area.

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The cloudy view from our cottage

We had rented a rustic (very rustic) cottage a couple of kilometers outside of Monteverde proper, settled in after the long drive (see paved road above plus a stop at a local sustainability and conservation center from which we were renting the cottage) and enjoyed another torrential downpour. But coming from New Mexico, we love the rain. It was downright chilly, but felt so cozy.

The next morning, sunshine. We hopped into our rental car (four-wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder), and then promptly jumped out again as Robot Guy had a little trouble navigating the steep, steep driveway, and, frankly, I was terrified (We’ll get back to terrified later). The three sprouts also abandoned the vehicle, but we were able to find a better path for the wheels and successfully left the cottage.

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Monteverde National Park (and yes, I took this picture)

We drove to the entrance of the national park, and joined an early morning tour. Monteverde has become a major tourist destination in Costa Rica (yet they haven’t paved the roads), and the early morning tour allowed us to enjoy the park with fewer tourists. But that wasn’t the highlight. We hadn’t hiked more than a couple dozen steps into the park, when our guide stopped, set up his scope and said, “Quetzal.” That’s right. The pinnacle of any birdwatcher’s list is the quetzal, and I’ve seen one in the wild. It doesn’t look real. Bright red and green, with white, it’s part of the reason Monteverde has become a tourist mecca. We hiked several of the trails in this beautiful cloud forest. And the number and variety of hummingbirds we saw was breathtaking.

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Haven’t identified this guy yet, but I don’t think it’s a violet sabrewing. I might be wrong.

Back to the terrifying part. Youngest daughter was a trooper and never complained once, but we knew she wanted a different kind of experience. We found Sky Adventures, a local, well, not amusement park, but extreme activity center. Zip lining. But this wasn’t your glide over the canopy at a decent height zipping. Oh, no. These were eight zip lines, the longest of which was over half a mile long and the highest was 328 ft. (http://skyadventures.travel/skytrek/  ; Apparently they have an even longer and higher one at Arenal, but we didn’t go there, thank God. If you want to watch someone else’s video of the zip lines here you go. Yes, it was that loud, and it was a lot windier when we went. At 5:35 is where you really get a sense of the height.  My daughter filmed her rides, but I don’t have that footage yet.)  I closed my eyes for the first two lines that crisscrossed the canyon we flew over. I did peek for the third. When I finished the hour and a quarter session, I distinctly felt that I had accomplished something and was downright proud of myself. Youngest patted me on the back and said, “You conquered your fears. Good job.” She, by the way, had a blast.

Day six started with the drive down the mountain and onto our next adventure, which is the next blog.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

 

Costa Rica . . .

…or how I spent eight days in the jungle and lived to make you jealous of my adventures.

How do you write about an adventure of a lifetime? I just returned from a week in Costa Rica, a place so different from where I live it’s hard to take it all in, so I’m going to take it day by day.

Day one: actually day two because a pulled fire alarm in Dallas and weather prevented us from leaving Houston until the following evening. We were however able to spend time with family in Houston. Don’t get me wrong: I love them, but they weren’t worth missing a day in Costa Rica.

So Day Two and Three: We finally get to Costa Rica, and it’s warm. And humid. Something I’m not used to in New Mexico. We arrived late to San Jose, slept for a couple of hours at a hotel near the airport so we could catch a puddle jumper to Tortuguero National Park. You can’t get there by car, and plane was faster. DSCN4682It was my first experience in a small plane, and I have to admit, nerves aside, it fascinating. Half an hour in the air and we landed in the jungle. A large tortoise or turtle of some sort was greeting us at the end of the runway. Seriously. We get off the plane and there’s a turtle. Unfortunately we weren’t there in sea turtle season, the reason the place is called Tortuguero, but they do a lot of conservation work there for the turtles. The hotel was amazing (The Tortuga Lodge) but if you happen to stay there, don’t expect insect or critter proof rooms. We had two geckos in our room that we couldn’t catch. After several futile attempts, we figured they’d eat the insects for us.

A two hour hike through the jungle left me covered with mosquito bites, but not as many as I thought. Thank goodness for Deet. Nearly every five feet I saw a tiny strawberry poison dart frog. We saw macaws flying, and the biggest golden orb spiders. And at the end of the hike a group of howler monkeys called greetings to us from the trees. When we returned to the hotel, massive iguanas were waiting for us.DSCN4686

In the afternoon we took a boat tour through some of the waterways of the park. On the water we saw a sloth (more about them at day six and seven), a couple of caimans, a ringed kingfisher, a green kingfisher, great green macaws, and a group of spider monkeys.DSCN4694

What an amazing intro to the jungle. Tortuguero was the place I wanted to see most, but ultimately, I was more excited by the other places I visited (coming up in future posts). The rain delayed our flight into Costa Rica here in the states, then delayed our flight to Tortuguero, and despite rain, we were able to take off to return to San Jose and the rental car.

By the way, we ate everything and drank the water without a problem.

Next time, day four and five and Monteverde. Stay tuned.

—Gabi

 

Books I’m reading now:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

But What Does it Mean?

In which I look at the desperate neediness of authors, reviews, and status.

I get it. To hear from a reader who loves your book is a wonderful boost to the ego. But I don’t trust the system any more. I’ve seen too many ads for buying five-star reviews. I’ve heard author talk about paying for reviews. I’ve read too many articles on how to game the system. The worst part is that I completely understand why authors, including me, are so desperate for them.

Authors live or die by reviews—both self-pubbed and traditionally published authors. Some of Amazon’s algorithms, whatever magical and arcane formula they have, kick in after X number of reviews. Some major movers in the advertising biz won’t accept your ad until you have X number of reviews. Oh, and they must be five star (okay, we’ll accept four, but we don’t like it). Yes, I can personally testify to being told to review a book honestly, but if I can’t give it five stars (Okay, we’ll accept four stars), then don’t review it. When I read a novel (and I know the author has spent poured herself into it) that is amateurish, I can give concrete reasons why the book doesn’t resonate: character building, world building, dialogue, even grammar. I can point out where story structure has broken down, where they’ve used a deus ex machina to solve the conflict, where their logic has failed. Yet their reviews glitter with stars.

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My stars

And even if you try to have your book reviewed, many reviewers won’t respond to your request. They’re probably overwhelmed with requests because reviews drive the business. And it’s not just bloggers. The second book in my Wish series somehow never made it into the premiere review magazine for my genre. My editor swore it was sent, but they had no control over which books get reviews and which don’t. The first and third books were reviewed (very nicely), but the second never was. It made a difference in the success of the series. (It also speaks to my luck in this business). Since self-pubbing a few of my novels, I’ve tried to get reviews, but my efforts have been met with lukewarm success. Only half of the free books I’ve given out result in a review, and that’s with the stipulation I give you a free book in exchange for a review. I don’t even ask for five-stars. I want an honest one.

The “bestseller” achievement means little too. It’s too easy these days to hit the myriad lists. (Full disclosure, I haven’t.) You can find a lot of articles on how the NYT bestseller list is manipulated. And when someone isn’t happy about the list, they change it. Other authors got fed up with JK Rowling owning the list for years so they created a “new” category so they didn’t have to compete with her. Hit the top 100 on an Amazon list, however rare the category might be, the author slaps “bestselling author” on the cover of their novel. It’s certainly legitimate, but it doesn’t really mean anything any more. I’ve even seen an author use the title after their (plural pronoun used on purpose) book was the bestseller in a local bookstore. Their bookstore. The one they live near. The one their friends visit.

“Award-winning” is another designation that is tossed about so much it’s lost its meaning. (Full disclosure: I’ve used this one. I’ve won many awards for my writing.) If you’re savvy, you can find a contest to enter and win. Heck, there are some you can buy a win in. Some of these contests have more than a hundred different categories and charge a large sum to enter. Some give true bragging rights. In any case awards may simply reflect the opinion of one person.

So I’ve changed my mind. Go ahead and review if you want to, but don’t if you don’t want to. In the latest Time magazine, Kristin van Ogtrop’s essay, “The Amateur,” decries the need to review everything she purchases on the Internet (I’d link to the article, but it’s not available on line yet). The subtitle is “Don’t make me rate you: a plea to every business that has my credit-card number.” I feel the same way, including about books. I won’t review it. First, because I’m an author and I don’t think I should review another author’s books, and second, because no one wants honesty any longer.

I get it. It’s about business and the numbers. Am I whining? I don’t mean to. Am I grousing? Quite possibly.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson