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Cool Stuff Series: The Wee Ceili Room

OK, so I have permission to share with you one of the best kept secrets in the local Irish music scene.

All right, not-quite-so-well-kept secrets. At the least, it’s a Cool Thing that most folks outside the inner circles of Irish music fandom haven’t heard about.

I present to you the Wee Ceili* Room.

Technically, it’s an enclosed porch in the back of the home of Irish dance instructor and traditional music promoter Sam Keator and his lovely and gracious wife Anne Doherty, but to call it an enclosed porch doesn’t do it justice. The floors and walls are a rich, polished wood, with windows and skylight. Most important, the acoustics are excellent.

This, my friends, is the location of some of the most incredible house concerts you will find anywhere. Don’t believe me? Google Andy Irvine, Noel Hill, Laurence Nugent, Hanz Araki, Golden Bough, and Molly’s Revenge. They, and plenty more, have played the Wee Ceili Room.

Calling the setting intimate is an understatement. Seating is for about sixty-ish, and if you are sitting in the front row you may have to tuck your feet out of the way if a musician gets up to change instruments. The atmosphere is one of utmost respect for the music— you will not hear people chatting in the audience or talking on their cell phones while the musicians are playing. Not that all is Serious with a capital ‘S’. The musicians generally bring stories to go along with the songs, and some of them will have you laughing until you can’t breathe. If you want to not only hear the songs and tunes, but also learn about their provenance and the historical events from which they arose, this is your place.

There is a casual potluck of desserts, snacks and libations before the music starts that picks up again with the set break. Don’t worry if everyone seems to know everyone else. Before the end of the evening, you’ll know everyone, too. And when you come back the next time they’ll be glad to see you again.

The Wee Ceili Room reminds me of something out of Charles de Lint’s Newford. I half-expect Geordie to play there some day, or to bump into Jilly in the audience. Outside the world of Story, we may not find shapeshifters or paintings that come to life, but the magic is real nonetheless.

(The Wee Ceili Room exists in the very real Washington County, about 45 minutes to an hour southwest of Portland. To find out more about coming events and to find out how get on the mailing list, check out www.IrishPDX.com. And while you are there, look at the info on dance classes, ceilis, the Community Concert Series, and other great things Sam has going. ‘Cause honestly, I could probably fill up the rest of my Cool Stuff blog with the events he has going on.)

*‘Ceili’, pronounced ‘kay-lee’ has come in this country to refer to both Irish Social Dance and to one of the dance socials where ceili dancing happens. But the literal translation from the Irish is ‘party’.

It Takes a Village. . .

Samhain-kitty here. Since writer person is neglecting this blog almost as badly as she is neglecting her poor, long-suffering cat, let me be the one to tell you she has a guest blog up at Here Be Magic. http://herebemagic.blogspot.com/2014/07/it-takes-village.html

The people behind the scenes who make books happen. Including you, readers!

Cool Stuff II: Arch Cape

Since I recently spent the long weekend in one of my favorite spots on the planet, I thought it time to share it with those of you who think Arch Cape is just another little green road sign between Cannon Beach and Manzanita.

Admittedly, that was all it was to me until I made the acquaintance of a wonderful couple who happen to own a historic cabin a short walk to the beach. I will be forever indebted to them, not only for many weekends of unparalleled hospitality and very fine Scotch, but for introducing me to one of the most magical places on Earth.

Arch Cape is so named for a natural stone arch hollowed out by the action of the sea. At low tide, you can walk under the arch, but know your tides! If you are on the wrong side of the arch when the tide comes in, you’ll have to scramble up the cliff and walk a couple miles down the road to return to your car or lodgings.

A bit further out is a natural monolith called Castle Rock, similar to the more famous Haystack Rock of Cannon Beach, but quite a bit smaller. Locals call her Queen Vic, an appellation given her by one of the first settlers to what is now Arch Cape, an English immigrant at the time that Victoria still sat on the throne. During winter storms, waves may overtop Vic, truly an impressive sight.

One of the marvels of Arch Cape is its solitude. During the off-season, you may well be the only one out on the beach. There are no big hotels, no shops, not even a grocery store, and, as of this writing, no restaurants or bars. (Plans are in place for one of the latter. The property has been bought and a chef hired, but the Orca Lounge still awaits permitting before it can get off the ground.) Bear in mind this means no public restrooms, so plan accordingly.

Narrow paths wind through native bushes from the town proper down to the beach, and it doesn’t take a writer’s sense of whimsy to imagine fantastical creatures hiding beneath the tangled growth. Many, if not most of the residences are owned by the occupants, which give the place a small town feel. The best illustration of the spirit of Arch Cape came a few trips ago during a solitary morning walk on the beach. A strange dog ran up to me and, without preamble, shoved a soggy tennis ball into my hand to throw. Because, of course, I had not brought a dog of my own, and so he felt the need to share his retrieving services for my entertainment.

An interesting historical note: the cannon for which Cannon Beach were named actually washed up in Arch Cape. It was one of the cannons from the Shark, a naval vessel that shipwrecked on a sandbar at a time when the border between the US and Canada was still in dispute. Two more cannons were discovered later, also at Arch Cape. They have been painstakingly restored and are now on display at a museum in Astoria. Arch Cape was originally called Cannon Beach, until the town just to the north stole the name. They also, arguably, stole the first cannon, but I’ll leave that story to someone else’s blog.

And on a literary note, Arch Cape makes a special guest appearance in Raven’s Wing, the sequel-in-progress to Ravensblood.

If you day trip, public access is down Leech Street off of US 101. I suggest you round off your trip by continuing south to Manzanita and having lunch or dinner at the Sand Dune Pub. Tasty pub food with generous portions at reasonable prices. There is outdoor seating in good weather, and well-behaved dogs are welcome in the outdoor seating.

First Blog in the Cool Stuff of Portland(ish) series: Mississippi Pizza and the Atlantis Lounge

OK, so I decided to try to break my blogging dry spell by doing a blog series on cool stuff in the Portland(ish) area. Figure half of the locals know about these things, but it’ll probably be a different half each time. So, for locals, some stuff you might want to check out. For non-locals, a glimpse into the cooler, geekier side of Portland and some stuff you might want to check out if you ever make it out here.

Ground Rules:
1) The definition of ‘cool stuff’ is up to my highly biased opinions and will possibly be highly slanted toward, though by no means limited to, Things to Do With Irish Music, Things to Do with Steam and Victorian Architecture and Things to Do With SF and F Geekery.
2) Portland(ish) area is very loosely defined as ‘within a day’s drive, more or less, of Portland.’
3) ‘Stuff’ includes places to go, things to do, things to see.
4) Cool stuff will appear in no particular order. I don’t take bribes, but if there’s something cool you think I might like and might not know about, feel free to drop me a line.

With no further ado: my first cool place is Mississippi Pizza and its Atlantic Lounge. Not the fanciest place by any means, but if you like very-thin-crust pizza, the food is good and reasonably priced. I’m not a huge fan of thin crust, but the sauce won me over. The attached lounge is pretty, with some lovely stained glass and attractive carved-wood paneling that reminded me of the interior of a steam-era rail car. I visited on a sunny Sunday, with the shadows of the trees outside dancing across the stained glass, very summery.

The best part of the Mississippi is their live music. All ages, no cover, and some of Portland’s finest acoustic artists have played there. I went there particularly to catch singer/songwriter/fiddler Kathryn Claire, who deserves a place on the Cool Stuff list all her own. (Irish trad and Americana. Rich, powerful expressive voice. Look her up on YouTube, and then at her website http://www.kathrynclairemusic.com.)

If you go, be aware that you will need to order your food at the counter at Mississippi Pizza; there is no table service. The line may be long, so pack your patience.

If you want great music on the cheap in a relaxed atmosphere, it’s worth checking out. (3552 N. Mississippi Ave, Portland http://www.mississippipizza.com/about/)

Interview at New Writer’s Interface!

I was interviewed by award-winning author Mary Rosenblum over here on her blog!  http://www.newwritersinterface.com/shawna-reppert-whats-working
(Mary was also my editor for Ravensblood)

Power of Healing– Symbols and Archetypes in Fantasy and Legend

My blog on the symbolic and archetypical power of healing in fiction and legend is up at Here Be Magic! Also check out the rest of the Healer Week blogs. . .they’re giving away a whole *bundle* of books for Win-a-Book Wednesday, not just one, and there’s still time to enter!

Blog tag!!

So today we’re playing blog tag. Thank you, Veronica Scott, for tagging me! http://veronicascott.wordpress.com/

I was given some questions to answer on my books and my writing process, and then I get to tag next week’ victim!

1) What am I working on?

Currently, I’m waiting to hear back from separate publishers on both a high fantasy male/male fantasy romance and a steampunk Victorian detective novel (with werewolves!) Meanwhile, I’m frantically writing Raven’s Wing, the sequel to my urban fantasy Ravensblood, both of which are set in an alternate-universe version of Portland, Oregon (though Raven’s Wing does take a side trip to the Australian outback.)

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Although the Ravensblood universe is very firmly rooted in the modern-day, it has a bit of a traditional-fantasy feel, probably because I also write medieval fantasy and fantasy romance. I tried to give Raven especially a sort of old-world gentleman feel to contrast with Cass and her very modern vibe. In Ravensblood I also wrote a universe in which the magic side of the world (Art and Craft) is fully integrated with the Mundane world, not hidden as it is in, say Harry Potter or The Dresden Files.

And although I use the terms dark and light magic, I very much like to play with the shades of gray. It’s not always clear where the boundaries are, and on one occasion practicing death magic is the lesser of the evils.

For my award-winning debut novel The Stolen Luck, I blended the elements of high fantasy and fairytale with a very realistic world. I wanted something that was clearly fantasy yet felt real. I had set out to write fantasy first, and when the romantic elements turned up, I was determined to make the development true to the characters and their situation.

At the risk of sounding dreadfully self-important, I’m less interested in writing fun romps that readers will rush through and forget than I am in writing the kind of book that readers will become absorbed with and think about long after they finish the final word. The Stolen Luck explores how far a good man will go to protect the ancestral vineyards he loves and the people who depend on him. Just because there are no easy answers doesn’t mean the writer shouldn’t ask the question. Maybe that’s even a reason to ask the question.

To me, the inner journey is just as important as the outer journey. In Ravensblood we saw Raven’s struggle to escape the world of dark magic he’d committed to as a bitter young man. In Raven’s Wing he has to come to terms with both his past and his ancestry and figure out his new place in the Three Communities and among the people who enter his life. The latter task becomes more difficult, of course, when he finds himself on the run, trying to find the stolen Ravensblood and prove his innocence.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There’s not just one answer to that. Usually it starts with a character that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go until I start writing his or her story. Then it becomes about my passion for the story itself and my desire to share it, to rock the reader’s world in the way mine has been rocked by the stories I’ve read and loved.

Of course, there are things I care about that show up in my novels. Bright and Dark (the working title of the fantasy romance I just sent off) is, among other things, an expression of my rage and sadness at prejudice and the wars it causes or allows. My steampunk has in it themes of class and gender oppression. But I think if you start off trying to write about war or discrimination or what-have-you, it leads to bad fiction. If you start off with story and write from the heart, the things you care about will come out in a way that touches the reader’s emotionally, and that’s far more powerful.

4) How does your writing process work?

My writing process is ever-evolving. I used to be very much a discovery writer. I had a beginning, and some idea of the end, and I just muddled through the middle ‘till I got to the end and then did a ton of rewrite to make it all work.
On one novel, I wrote the key scenes first (inciting incident, first turning point, dark night of the soul, climax, resolution, but not in order) then wrote the bits in between, not necessarily in order. It was an. . .interesting experience, and not one I’ll repeat. I think that novel holds my current record for Most Pages Discarded.

Writing mentor Eric M Witchey was the first one to make me write an outline. (He will insist he didn’t make me. Well, not in the sense of putting a gun to my head, but he gave me the assignment and I knew we would have to talk about it the next class.) Anyway, I realized that the ending I finally came up with was going to require a lot of set-up early on, and if I hadn’t outlined I would have been in a world of rewrite hurt. I’ve since found that by stepping back and looking at the big picture via an outline, I can find all sorts of neat ways to braid plots and sub-plots to make satisfying little echoes and connections that make the overall work more satisfying. Plus, when a reader or an editor asks you what you might have finished when, it’s a lot easier to answer with confidence if you know where the bloody thing is going.

Once I finish a draft, I’ll do a polish, then send it to my first readers. Once I’ve considered their responses, I’ll do another editing pass, and maybe one more to check for consistency and the overall feel of the thing. I’ve found in general that the more I write and the more I work on craft, the less revision I end up doing on each project. I’m making fewer mistakes that need to be fixed.

As soon as the final polish is done I start sending it out ding it to (or, for an indie project, sending it to my editor) and grab the next outline off the pile and start over.

And now for the fun part! I tag next week’s Monday blogger! Only one tag this week, but it’s a good one. Mary Rosenblum, award winning author of many SF and mystery novels published with New York publishers and overseas, as well as dozens of short stories that have been published in major magazines all over the world (and, not-so-coincidentally, my editor for Ravensblood.)

You can find her at http://www.newwritersinterface.com/

The TARDIS ROOM– pub review

So, went to the TARDIS Room in Portland, OR last night. It’s a part of a British-style pub known as the Fish and Chips Shop and devoted, as you might guess from the name, to all things Doctor Who.

Imagine if some teenage geek somehow got a liquor license and opened a pub in his parents’ garage, decorating it with his most cherished Whovian memorabilia. But I don’t mean that in a bad way.

This place is *fun*. Posters, cardboard stand-ups of the Doctor and a Dalek, Bad Wolf sprayed in appropriate graffiti-style on a wall. Clearly born out of sincere love. And having done a stint as a failed espresso-shop owner, I can understand not having the cash flow to do all you wish to do.

The staff is low-key, friendly, and genuine. Our waiter was attentive enough without hovering in silent pressure to order more.

Yes, the specialty drinks were on the pricy side, but very good, provided you like things sweet (as I do.) My friend and I sampled the 10th and 11th Doctors’ Sonic Screwdrivers. If I wanted to nit-pick, I could comment that they weren’t in Doctor Who tumblers as promised and only had one maraschino cherry apiece, rather than the promised two. Oh, well. Our worlds didn’t end.

I’m not a fan of beer, but my friend is a connoisseur and approved of what was on tap.

Other on-line reviewers have complained about the food prices, but I thought they were pretty much in line with other pubs, and you get a lot for the money. My friend couldn’t finish her fish-and-chips plate; my burger (done just as requested) left me very full.

Be aware that the Tuesday night trivia now alternates between Doctor Who and other shows. It was Sherlock, season one, episode one last night. Contest was fun and there was much laughter and camaraderie from fellow geeks at all the tables (If you go on trivia night, I recommend you go early-ish to get a good table. ) Host suggested if you didn’t know the answer, to put something down anyway, and granted points for wrong answers that made him laugh. You also get extra points in the contest for every team member wearing appropriate-to-the-show memorabilia.

Parking is on-street and can be tricky, but we found a spot literally just around the corner. If you are like me and organize your life around not having to parallel park, do what I did and get someone else to drive. It’s more fun with a friend, anyway.

If you’re looking for fancy, either in atmosphere or in food, give it a pass. But if you need a good dose of geekery in-between cons, I highly recommend.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Tardis-Room/281718518561925

Free Valentine’s Flash Fiction for Holmes fans

OK, so I’m a bit late posting. But here’s a free flash (short-short) story: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of the Heart-Shaped Box. Check it out! http://herebemagic.blogspot.com/2014/02/sherlock-holmes-and-case-of-heart.html

The Last Geek To Comment on The Hobbit 2 Has Her Say (With Thoughts On What Writers Can Learn From PJ’s Mistakes)

(Note: Contains very minor spoilers for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
OK, I’m not going to bother with a full review, since I’m sure by now everyone who wants to has either seen it or read other reviews. It took me a while to steel myself to go see it. I was pretty disappointed in the first movie, but liked the actors and the few actual Tolkienish bits. I went into the second movie with lowered expectations, and overall enjoyed it.

The dragon was wicked-cool. Well-rendered, impressive, and Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job with the voice. Martin Freeman is still the best person they could have gotten to play Bilbo, Ian McKellen continues to be awesome, and Richard Armitage once again rose above the material. The bits with Gandalf battling the Necromancer made my inner-teenage-fantasy-geek very happy. We’re not going to talk about what PJ did to Radagast because I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day, least of all my own.

I enjoyed Tauriel as a character too much to resent her non-cannon intrusion, especially as I’ve long since given up hope of PJ’s movies bearing more than a passing resemblance to the books. (What do you know? PJ can have a strong female character without finding some way to undercut her! Maybe he’s capable of learning and growth!)

Ditto the elf-dwarf romantic tension, which I had heard rumor of, was prepared to dislike intensely, and actually found quite sweet. I thought there was a nice, subtly complex triangle set-up there with Legolas. Tauriel is attracted to Legolas but knows she can’t have him. Being a smart girl, she accepts the things she cannot change and is open to moving on with someone (very) different. Legolas doesn’t like her enough that he’s prepared to defy daddy to be with her, but he likes that she likes him, and doesn’t like it when she shows signs of interest in someone else. (Of course it helps that Kili is as cute as a box full of puppies with a couple of kittens on the side.)

The whole digression into Laketown politics made me feel like I had wandered into another movie, but it wasn’t a *bad* movie.

The CGI-enhanced unrealistic elven acrobatics once again set my teeth on edge. The action sequences were still waay too long (I really wished I knew in advance exactly how many minutes I had, so I could get up and stretch my legs and maybe get a snack.) Which leads me to my take-away for writers.

Most (not all) of the action sequences were kinda cool, especially the ones under the Lonely Mountain with the dragon and all the gold sliding around like desert sands. If there had been half as many of them, and they had been half as long, this would have been a darned good movie, especially if PJ also tightened his narrative structure and put the Laketown politics stuff in another movie where it belonged.

Writers, this is why we need to ‘kill our darlings.’ Yes, that passage is beautifully written, and so is that one and the other, but when you put them all together, it’s too much and the reader starts wondering what’s for lunch. I’m talking to myself as much as anyone here. The next time I want to resist an editor’s suggestion to cut that gorgeously written passage for the greater narrative good, I will remember sitting in a movie theater, checking my watch and thinking about whether I wanted Chinese or a hamburger. (For the record, I usually bowed to the editor’s greater experience anyway, but I now feel bad about all the things I muttered under my breath while cutting the text.)