May 2010

Pallindromic Birthday!

I’m 33 today! The same backward and forward. Life only grants you a couple of these–if current actuarial tables are to be believed, I can probably expect four more. Anything after that’s gravy, although we live in the future and all, so who knows?

It started on a slightly dour note, as I discovered that the coffee had gone cold and Kevin’s kids had used all the milk (and then replaced the empty milk jug in the fridge, as per pre-teen boy rules) but every crisis precipitates opportunity, and the failure of taste caused by re-heating the coffee was largely countered by adding all that whipped cream.

And I wandered around in the yard and found a female Spangled Skimmer dragonfly. So that was awesome.

As I already have an iPhone, there’s nothing much I want for my birthday–I’ll probably pick up some books, and there is a pair of shoes I have been coveting, (Dansko dark red leather clogs!) although I have to go up to Chapel Hill to get them, so it’ll probably be awhile. Other than that, I have pretty much everything I want. (Well, sure, I’d like the pond in the back yard to be done and the flower beds to be three feet bigger in every direction, but I only have so much manual labor in me at any given time, and I’d love a million dollars and for the negotiations on my book contract–currently at a rather unpleasant stage–to be done, but realistically, I have everything I want.)(Although if deer ticks could be reduced to a small but stable breeding population, preferably in Outer Mongolia, I wouldn’t complain….)

Anyway! I think I’m gettin’ sushi for lunch…

This is just getting silly.

Drove home from walking a mile around the local community college campus, reached the home row and there, in the middle of the street leading to my driveway, was a familiar shape.

I sighed. I stopped the car. I got out and picked up the box turtle. (Pink eyes, so possibly male, roaming the streets in late spring, so possibly female. Decided it was none of my business either way.) He was less immediately clammy-uppy than past box turtles of my acquaintance, preferring to engage in a little mild flailing and curious head waving.

He did not pee. You cannot know how happy that made me.

Since he was about a hundred feet from the house and headed in that general direction, I took him the rest of the way and let him loose in the wooded edge of the garden. (The sites on box turtles say that they like moist wooded areas with plenty of undergrowth…check.) Last I saw, he had tromped deeper into the woods to a nearby brush pile and was assessing it for hiding places. (The brush pile is perhaps the most overlooked bit of Useful Habitat in all of wildlife gardening…)

Whether he sticks around or is just passin’ through, he can get into the drainage ditches easily and there’s a fair bit of woods in most directions before he encounters another road. Hopefully he (or she) will find what he’s looking for without having to play in traffic again.

On the bright side, turtles I have successfully gotten off the road (3) now outnumber turtles I got to too late (2), which makes me happy.

I fear you, ancient mariner…

It was a very odd D&D session.

Ostensibly, all we had to do was get on a boat from point A to point B. There were lots of things to do on the boat. The module designer had written lots of them in. There were (apparently) illicit fights, war profiteers, and card games.

We saw none of these things.

Instead we wandered into the extradimensional Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe (you know the kind, it’s always run by an ancient Chinese man and sells things you can’t feed after midnight, except that Kevin can’t do a Chinese accent, so we wound up with an ancient Chinese man who had apparently spent some time in Pittsburgh. Given what the halfling crew sounded like, we didn’t press the issue, particularly after he’d gotten his wires crossed and we wound up with a Mexican-Norwegian bartender. “O, yah, yah, si…” We live in the most ethnically diverse fantasy world…)

So we wandered around the Shoppe, finding things from other realities, magical items from Oglaf, a Necronomicon for kids, the Hellraiser cube, Pokeballs, the things you can’t feed after midnight…

And then Kevin tried to come up with one more bit of flavor text from our collective geek backgrounds, and said “There’s a brown fuzzy thing with a huge mouth and little feet in a cage. It’s yelling.”

This was a tactical error.

I watched the Dark Crystal about eight hundred times as a child, and even if I hadn’t, my character is a paladin with a heart of moosh, and Kevin compounded his error by uttering the phrase “It looks sad.”

There was no way we were getting out of the Shoppe without liberating it. Fortunately for everyone, it was in Rooster the paladin’s price range, and we did not have to stage an armed raid that would get us throw off the boat.

The other characters did their best to dissuade him. “It’ll scream through our attempts at stealth!” “It’ll eat the horses!” “We’re in a dangerous line of work! We can’t keep pets!” “It’s from another dimension! We don’t know if it’ll be happy here!”

To which Rooster had the all-defeating argument “BUT IT LOOKS SAD!”

Never get between one of my paladins and a small sad animal.

There was a brief snag when it came out that, while not evil, the creature was technically demonic in origin (Kevin: “Crap, it failed its saving throw vs. being-a-demon.” ) Rooster, as it happens, belongs to a somewhat fanatical demon-hunting order. Did this dissuade him?

Of course not.

ROOSTER: Now it’s a business expense!

It was finally agreed that if the creature warmed to him (it did) and did not eat the horses (it didn’t) Rooster could keep it until such time as we found a demon rehabber going in the direction of the creature’s home dimension who could take it home. Which, in one of our campaigns, could happen. You never know. (I always thought monster-rehabbers would be a great campaign hook for the correct sort of players, of which I am one, but y’know…)

And so, for the fourth or fifth time now, Kevin is grimly writing up stats for what he thought was a bit of local flavor.

Meanwhile, Wilhelmina the gnome wound up at the bar with a hoary ancient mariner, who had a very strange story involving albatrosses, and kept buying him drinks, with the end result that poor Kevin had to read most of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in character, which he did with great style, except that the gnome wouldn’t let him stop.

GNOME: This is fascinating! Tell me more!
GM: Now you’re just fuckin’ with me…
GNOME: I need to know more! I eat more chips and buy him another drink!
GM (wearily): One by one, by the star-dogged moon…

This continued on until after 11 pm, whereupon we called it a night. And then Kevin pinned my arm and insisted on reading another half dozen stanzas at me, because he claimed to be suffering from poetus interruptus.

Gearworld Icon: Badger Skull

Well, look at that…a Gearworld painting! What are the odds?

Apparently all that Dragonbreath painting squeezed down on my brain…or else the bag of skulls that’s been sitting on my desk for WEEKS now is whispering to me, or something. The badger skull here is somewhat broadened to fit the composition I wanted, so we’ll just assume that Gearworld badgers are skeletally slightly different from their North American counterparts.

What the fish is doing there, of course, is anyone’s guess.

12 x 12 mixed media. Prints available, as always–original may or may not be, but drop a line if interested, and I’ll letcha know.


The Dreamlands are, simultaneously, both the easiest of the otherworlds to get into and one of the hardest.

Heaven is presumably harder to reach, but people tend not to come back, so you don’t get many firsthand reports. Hell, of course, is available at any crossroads or to anyone with a black goat and enthusiasm, and to get into the Dark all that you need to do is be extremely unlucky when you turn out the lights.

Faerie’s borders are rather porous, what with the fairy rings and the mounds and many of the borders stutter back and forth at twilight. Getting out again is the hard bit. Fairies themselves can pass back and forth with ease, but while there are rumored to be openings to the Dreamlands inside the borders of Faerie, the fairies don’t use them much. Fairies are vain, self-centered and above all controlling. Being in situations where they don’t have the upper hand itches at their skin like sandpaper and iron filings. They do not dream themselves, and prefer to be elegant, cool and amused at the bumblings of humans. The mysteries of Dreamland are too much larger, the beauties too strange and shocking, and no fairy anywhere has ever liked to be shown up by their surroundings.

So there is a very small Seelie-Court-in-Exile inside the Dreamlands, but they almost never go home again.

There are also demons in the Dreamlands, who have grown tired of Hell (this is less common than you think.) They are soft-spoken and polite here, and uninterested in souls. They are uglier than fairies, and make better coffee. If one offers to travel with you, accept.

The easiest way to get into the Dreamlands is the usual one that every dreamer knows–to curl up in bed and fall asleep. And dream.

This doesn’t always work. Actually this very rarely works. Not all dreams grant one access to the Dreamlands. Very few of them do. Sleep is a vast ocean, through which dreamers swim alone, and only a few ever wash up on the shores of the Dreamlands. (There are predators in that ocean, but they are fortunately few. Parasites are rather more common. The thing that follows you, and you fight it off and drop rocks on it and hit it with trains and it just won’t die? That’s a fairly common parasite of dreams, rather like a remora. You can kill them permanently with wormwood and salt, or absinthe if you’ve got it. They’re harmless enough, and hardly ever follow anyone back to the waking world.)

Most dreams are only what they appear to be–absurdly intricate mixes of experience and memory, manifestations of anxiety, bits of racial memory. The one where you’re late for class and probably naked? No one needs to go to the Dreamlands for that. The inhabitants are not that interested in seeing humans walk around naked anyway, so it works out better for everybody if you dream that alone in the unlit sea. And some dreams cross all boundaries–practically everyone has the nightmare where their teeth fall out, even species that have only the vaguest anatomical analog to teeth. (Birds dream of their feathers falling out, but it doesn’t seem to be related.)  But it doesn’t happen in the Dreamlands.

But all oceans have shores, and on the shores of this ocean lies a place much more real than sleep. And now and then a dreamer stumbles from the shallows of Sleep and up the wet sands (priests and poets leave no footprints, no one knows why) and into the great grim bulk of dreaming.

Time flows strangely here. So does space. There are places that are always the same, and places that are never the same twice. There are places that human dreamers are drawn to, and places they hardly ever reach. There are cities that are almost (not quite) like cities in the waking world, and landscapes that are almost identical. There is a stretch of desert, a saguaro forest, that is the same, stone by stone, as a place in the Sonoran, and as that stretch is eaten away by developers, the edges of the dream desert cease and become something far more unsettling.

Go up the sands into the city, the one easiest to find. It looks a little like Venice, a little like London, with bits of Kyoto juxtaposed in unsettling ways. There is a stretch of road that is definitely from Shanghai, except that the signs are written in Proto-Indo-European, which you speak fluently now, although you cannot remember it upon waking. The gutters run with rainwater–it has only just stopped raining, it has always only just stopped raining– and the water swirls over stones and old take-out cartons and the backs of bullfrogs.

These are large frogs. They eat mice. The local rats have a truce with them, more or less.

Go south down this street. Step over the puddle at the crossing and the suspicious-eyed frogs. Do not wait for the light. The light has never changed. Birds are nesting in it, a bastardized hybrid of house sparrows and firebirds. They do not immolate, but give off smoke. You can light your cigarettes with them, if you can catch one.

Avoid the alley to your right. It leads to a building with a room full of cages, where the animals inside are starving and have always been starving and it is always your fault. (That dream is real. Did you think it was just yours? There is another room in it, much harder to find, also full of cages. There are frogs in it as well, tiny tree frogs, green as bottle glass. They are breeding. You have not failed them.) The animals are not separable from the cages. They are made of the same stuff as the bars. You will not learn who owns this building. The address on the envelopes lead to a street corner with a statue of the Laughing Buddha. The bills are always paid on time.

Are you still dreaming? Good. Go down the street. It leads a long and winding way. Turn left at the shrine full of coins and bottle caps. Take ten steps, turn back. Follow the street again. It will lead out into the desert now, and the wind that touches you will taste like juniper.

What happens after that is up to you.

It’s a business expense!

It finally happened.

I succumbed.

I…I got an iPhone.

I absolutely could not afford one forever, but Kevin offered to put me on his family plan–an entirely new level of commitment, let me add, as we are now joined by paperwork, something we had so far evaded*–which meant that, after some phone-line hanky-panky on the part of the very nice guy at the AT&T store, my phone bill went away and Kevin’s went down. (I will nevertheless be paying for my share, but even that is like $15 bucks less than I WAS paying.) And since my elderly Razor was dying the slow death–the “I won’t tell you about your voice mail until a day later” and “occasionally I will not carry audio” death–I needed a new phone about four months ago, and now needed one Really Really Bad, and after all the huge discounts…

*sigh* Now I’m one of those people.

It’s a business expense, goddamnit. They have apps that let you take credit cards. I could do that at a convention. TOTALLY A BUSINESS EXPENSE. Yes. That’s it.

I signed up for Birdpost, which is a “post your bird sightings on Google maps” (a fantastically good idea!) and am contemplating the bird guides–Kevin likes the Audubon, and it’s a good stopgap, but I’m a Sibley girl, except that the Sibley app gets awful reviews, and I don’t want to lay out $30 for a crappy app. iBird is supposed to be pretty good, but their free demo isn’t really rockin’ my world.  Still, it would be lovely not to have to carry my field guide with me…

Any suggestions of awesome apps (free or cheap preferable, but for a good birding app, I will pay money!) welcome.



*We are also going to be putting me on his insurance soon. I think it’s serious.

Save me from the wee(ing) turtles!

So there I was, cruising down the highway at sixty-five, and there he was–a turtle stomping determinedly across the highway.

There is only ever one way this ends, and it is bad for the turtle, so I slammed on the brakes, pulled over, threw on my hazards, scurried across two lanes of (thankfully sparse) traffic, and pounced.

He* was a handsome yellow-eared slider, shell about the size of my hand, smaller than some of the sliders I’ve met. He expressed his gratitude for the rescue by hissing at me, flailing his sharply clawed little feet, and attempting to pee all over me.

Fortunately, I’ve done this a couple of times now, and I’m familiar with this trick. He missed my clothes, but there wasn’t much to be done about my hands, since I was holding his carapace in back, well away from the jaws. I sighed and waited for my next opening in traffic.

“You’re supposed to pull into your shell when you’re scared, dude.”

He hissed another chelonian obscenity at me and peed some more. The bladder capacity of a furious turtle is truly an impressive thing.

I got back to the car, and was faced with a dilemma. I could continue holding the turtle in my left hand, steering with my right, until I got to wherever I was going–undoubtedly soaked in turtle urine and badly clawed, assuming I didn’t have to do any sharp turns, in which case I was going to drop a furious turtle in my crotch–or I could let him loose in the car.

This wasn’t much of a choice. I dropped Turtle-Bob in the passenger foot well and started looking for a place to leave him.

Normally I would do my best to take him across the road to wherever he’d been going, or return him deeply enough into his home territory that he wouldn’t wander on to the road again. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good spot for it, and even if he got across the OTHER chunk of the divided highway, he’d find himself in road construction and not at all a good spot for turtles.

No help for it. Time to find Turtle-Bob a new home.

Fortunately there’s a large greenway behind the shopping center that I was coming up on, and I made for that. The turtle sulked around the footwell, considered climbing under the dashboard–“Oh god, no! Don’t do that!”–trundled under the seat a bit, and finally settled grumpily next to the passenger door, probably peeing on my floor mats along the way. Fortunately, this was an easy place to grab him. I parked (semi-illegally) in the greenway entrance, since it was that or leave the car at a blind corner with the hazards on, and took my turtle in.

He clawed me some more. “This would be easier if you were a box turtle,” I told him. “I rescued a box turtle a couple weeks ago, and he didn’t pee on me or anything.”

He hissed his opinion of smarmy box turtles and managed to shake a couple more drops out of his bladder.

It’s not the prettiest greenway, but it does have a couple of large water holding areas where sunning turtles congregate, and if you go back far enough, there’s an overgrown stream. I figured Turtle-Bob could probably find his own way, so once I was well away from the road, I set him down somewhere with wildflowers and dragonflies and long grass–the sort of place a human figures a turtle would like, and a turtle probably thinks is a lousy neighborhood, but you can only do so much.

So good luck, Turtle-Bob! I hope you adapt to your new digs okay.


*Actually, he was probably a she, since the females are generally the ones trucking around in late spring looking for a place to lay eggs, but in my world, reptiles are generally “he.”

Life List

A couple weeks ago, Kevin and I went out to Quail Ridge Books to sign some Dragonbreath, and I picked up a copy of a book called Life List.

I warned him, at the outset, that this book was going to make me cry.

It’s the story of Phoebe Snetsinger, the greatest birder in history, who saw over 8400 bird species in her lifetime. (At the time of her death, the number of species in the entire world was placed at around 9700. By way of comparison, I have just over 200 birds, of the 914 that occur in North America.)  It’s the sort of inspiring story that would make a great movie, if it wasn’t about something as incomprehensible to the average viewer as birding–she was told that she had terminal cancer and perhaps six months to live.  Given few treatment options and a near-certain death sentence, she decided to forgo treatment and to go birding around the world as long as her health would permit.

She lived for eighteen more years and was the first person to ever see more than 8000 birds.

That sort of thing would merit a little choking up anyway, but the story of her life made me cringe, in that there-but-for-the-grace-of-Betty-Friedan-go-I way.  She went to college in an era when women expected to go to college and still have all the jobs in their field go to men, whereupon they would marry one of said men and settle down to raise kids and be good housewives.

Undoubtedly a number of women found satisfaction and fulfillment raising said kids, and I don’t mean to claim that it’s not a perfect valid and potentially fulfilling choice for those who want it, but being one who desperate does NOT want it, the mere notion makes my tongue go dry and a kind of cloying terror grabs me by the throat, because oh god, I’d go quietly and desperately mad and they’d find me trying to chew my leg off like a rat in a trap and dear god if I’d been born just a few decades earlier, that would have been me.

Barring the bit with the leg chewing, that’s what happened to her. She had four kids and a degree and started quietly losing her mind. Either the writer was really good or something about the story really hit me, because…dude.

Honestly, I mostly take my absurd freedom for granted. Probably that’s the great triumph of feminism*–I just assume that of course I can be unmarried and childless and an artist and a writer and everybody takes me seriously (at least when I need them to, not, y’know, when I’m painting hamsters and making fart jokes) and had I wanted a job in the field of my degree, I could’ve gotten it, and other than some moderate griping about body issues in advertising and the endless abortion wars, it does not ever occur to me that I might get trapped in a life I hate and have so few options easily available to me.  So reading this description of this intelligent, energetic, restless woman going crazy at home with three kids in diapers and no outlets at all–and finding her salvation in the sighting of a Blackburnian Warbler (admittedly an awesome bird)–made me want to go crawl in the tub with a whole bottle of wine and shudder myself into semi-consciousness for how lucky I am, and–god!–by such a narrow chronological margin.

*cough* Clearly, this one really hit home for me. It had to be the birds, I guess. The birds made her real.

Anyway. Enough about my issues, Phoebe Snetsinger. She kept birding when she could, she became obsessed with it because it was the one time, she said, that she was herself and not so-and-so’s mother or so-and-so’s wife. She got good. She was depressed as hell, but the birds were saving her. And then, just as the kids were out of the house and she was thinking that she might be able to take more birding trips, she got cancer.

Determined not to die a horrible lingering death, she bought a gun, wrote a suicide note to be used in the event that the pain got bad, (this woman astounds me) and started taking birding trips to every corner of the globe with what time she thought she had left.

She saw everything. She hiked the Himalayas and Paupa New Guinea on treks that would kill lesser mortals (Me, say.) She camped on the floor of the Amazon and got malaria and got attacked by cassowaries and held at gunpoint in Ethiopia. She had some really really bad interludes while birding, including an assault in New Guinea (and went back three times, looking for more birds, because the birds were more important.) The cancer went into remission, flared up again, went into remission again, and she never stopped looking for birds. She became the top female birder, and then the top birder, period. She finally died as she had said she wanted to–instantly, in a remote corner of the globe (Madagascar, car accident) with her binoculars on, having seen more birds than anyone in history. Her last lifer was the Red-Shouldered Vanga, only described to science two years before her death.

Holy crap monkeys.

So yeah, I cried.

It’s a good book, but it’s a hard read. I don’t know if I recommend it or not. Unless you’re a birder, probably not. There’s a lot of bits that are just “And then she went here, and it was exhausting and saw the Orange-Wattled Bird of Paradise.” If you are, though–yeah.

And now I think I need that wine and the bathtub and maybe the phone numbers of all those people who told me when I was growing up that I could be anything I wanted to be and said it with sufficient conviction that I rolled my eyes because duh, of course I could. (That’s gonna be a lot of phone numbers….)

*And also the bit that makes some women casually dismiss it these days, ironically enough, and undoubtedly the reason I am not nearly grateful enough to all the women who kicked through those glass walls and ceilings and floorboards before me.


We have good news from the agent. I can’t get into details, because we don’t have any, but it looks like they definitely want more Dragonbreath. Bread Wizard is also positive, but they don’t want to slow the momentum of Dragonbreath, so it will most likely happen, but not immediately. (Apparently sales is convinced that other publishers are gonna be doing books in this particular style, in part because Dragonbreath is doing well, and is determined that they not be allowed to get out ahead of us. I will admit that once I finished laughing hysterically, I felt bad for the hypothetical artist of these hypothetical books. I would like to meet them someday. We could weep in each other’s arms for awhile.)

I hear back early next week with hard numbers on how many and how much, but hopefully I’ll be gainfully employed for another year at least.

It occurs to me that there may actually come a day when a publisher dangles a check in front of me for sums that break my heart* and I wipe the drool from my chin and say, in broken tones, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so very very sorry, but I cannot do another Dragonbreath or I WILL DIE.”

But hey, it’s not today! I still got a couple of those left in me at least…

*Mind you, it actually doesn’t take much to break my heart financially. Deep down, I am still living in a one bedroom apartment with $300 a month rent, eating ramen and Hamburger Helper and having to spend my birthday money on toilet paper.

Quail Talk

I am in that hellish authorial hinterland of Waiting To Hear How The Sales Meeting Went. This is the meeting that determines whether they’re actually buying more Dragonbreath, or the bread wizard story, or nothing, or everything, and thus whether I am gainfully employed through next year or at the end of this year, I am pitched back into trying-to-sell-the-next-book mode.

So I’m chewing my nails down to the quick and waiting for The Word.

In the meantime, there is art.

Click the image for print ordering info.

My original plan was to change up the colors and do the piece in red and violet-blue. After about six hours, I over painted most of it what I had in heavy Mars black, stamped “Art is Hard” on it white ink, and threw it into a corner of the studio, hopefully never to be seen again, and did this instead.

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