Today: Tubby and Coos, 4pm PT/ 6pm CT

In just a few hours, my first public event for SPEAR! I’ll be talking to Candice, the owner of Tubby & Coos in New Orleans, about all things Arthurian. Then I’ll read a juicy battle scene, then answer questions. So bring questions! Bring lots of questions! I love talking about my work.

Register here.

See you soon!

April 20, 2022 | 4:00 PM PT/6:00 PM CT		
VIRTUAL EVENT
Tubby & Coos Bookstore (New Orleans, LA)
In Conversation w/Candice Huber (Store Owner)
Platform: Streamyard to Crowdcast/FB Live
Info/Register

Spear adjective competition: Clue #10

Here is Clue #10 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a review by Gary Wolfe in Locus (it’s a great review!). The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a figure kneeling in the shallows of a river, leaning their weight on a sword. In the upper third of the image, the figure is framed by bleak, bare trees. Beneath her, under her knee and barely visible, there is the hint of another submerged figure. Below this is the figure’s reflection in the moving water—darker and sharper and violently spattered and streaked with loose brushstrokes that cascade down the rest of the image. Centred in white text, “Mesmeriszing… A lyrical bildungsroman drenched in the natural world. A marvelously concise epic entirely Griffith’s own.” And below that, in red-orange, “Gary Wolfe, Locus”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

For the rules, and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

DO CHECK OUT THE UPDATED LIST OF ADJECTIVES THAT HAVE BEEN USED MORE THAN FOUR TIMES! We have a couple more words that crossed the threshold…

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Spear is here!!

My author copies finally arrived! And I am thrilled: Spear is a very handsome book indeed. Obviously it looks fabulous—and I’ll talk more about that in a minute—but what really struck me is how it feels in the hand. First of all, the jacket has a seriously matte, tactile feel, with a little process on my name and title—not a lot; it’s subtle, just enough to feel substantial. But what’s really lovely is the size and weight.

When I was a teen I preferred reading library hardcovers; paperbacks were okay but they felt flimsy. Over the years, though, I’ve found my preference changing to trade paperbacks and I realise it’s a size issue. Many modern hardbacks are massive and heavy, too unwieldy for comfortable reading unless you have big hands, which I don’t.1 This book is perfect! I could hold it for hours—which of course I wouldn’t need to because it’s only 184 pages long.

Given its length I worried the book might feel too thin, but look: it’s beautifully proportioned. And the spine of the jacket is very attractive. (Whenever I hold it I just want to stroke it.)

We’re always told not to judge a book by its cover but, hey, we all do. But I can tell you, this book just gets better and better the more you explore.

The front flap is nice—nothing massively special but nice:

Ditto the back, and here I’m pleased by the colour coordination: Black and white photo with black end papers; red titles to match the red title and author name on the front:

But it’s when you start to take the jacket off that you start to get a sense of the glories within:

Just look at that foil stamping—see how it glows! You can see the individual rivets on the shield. The spine is shiny, too, but I couldn’t get as good a picture of it.

Then there are the interior illustrations by Rovina Cai: five altogether: the perfect moody complement to the text.

The whole thing is just very nicely designed: exactly what a hardcover should be. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed writing it.

Buy it anywhere books are sold. But if you want a signed, personalised hardcover, then order from Phinney Books, Third Place Books, University Books, Elliott Bay Book Company, or Brick & Mortar before tomorrow at noon. Anything after that—except if you get them signed in person—will be just a plain signature. But, as you’ve seen, the book itself is far from plain, very far…

IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk


1 This, apparently, surprises people. Perhaps because I have big shoulders and muscled arms people expect big shovel hands at the end of those arms, but, no; my hands are small.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #9

Here is Clue #9 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a review in Kirkus. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a great, Celtic-style hanging bowl over the flames with smoke and steam fuming up, forming images of a woman in the woods, a fortified wall, a horse and rider, and more. Centred in white text, “Griffith mines the Matter f Britain while turning tropes upside down. A fresh, often lovely take on Arthurian legend.” And below that, in red-orange, “Kirkus”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

For the rules, and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

DO CHECK OUT THE UPDATED LIST OF ADJECTIVES THAT HAVE BEEN USED MORE THAN FOUR TIMES! We have a couple more words that crossed the threshold…

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

The Legendary Tour!

Most of my events will be virtual—most (but not all!) in conversation with others. I’m doing two in-person events—both solo presentations: one in downtown Seattle at the Seattle Public Library’s Microsoft Auditorium, and one at Brick & Mortar, in Redmond. It’s been an age since I did a live event on the Eastside, so that should be fun.

Some of the virtual events (maybe all; I haven’t checked) require preregistration, so follow the links and then the instructions.

April 20, 2022 | 4:00 PM PT/6:00 PM CT		
VIRTUAL EVENT
Tubby & Coos Bookstore (New Orleans, LA)
In Conversation w/Candice Huber (Store Owner)
Platform: Streamyard to Crowdcast/FB Live
Info/Register

April 21, 2022 | 6:30 PM PT
VIRTUAL EVENT
Books In Common NW (Paulina Springs Books, Sisters, OR; Madison Books, Seattle, WA; and Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, MT)
In Conversation w/Nisi Shawl
Platform: Zoom Webinar
Info/Register

April 22, 2022 | 2:00 PM PT/4:00 PM CT
VIRTUAL EVENT	
Women and Children First (Chicago)
In Conversation w/Riva Lehrer
Platform: Crowdcast
Info/Register
				
April 23, 2022 | 4:30 PM PT/7:30 PM ET
VIRTUAL EVENT 
Charis Books & More (Decatur, GA)
In Conversation w/Ed Hall
Platform: Crowdcast
Info/Register

April 25, 2022 | 4:00 PM PT/7:00 PM ET
VIRTUAL EVENT	 
Harvard Bookstore and Third Place Books
In Conversation w/Alix E. Harrow
Platform: Zoom Webinar			
Info/Register

April 27, 2022 | 7:00 PT
IN PERSON EVENT
Seattle Public Library (Hosted by Elliot Bay Book Co)
Central Library, Microsoft Auditorium
1000 Fourth Ave
Seattle, WA 98104
Info/Register

April 28, 2022 | 7:00 PM PT
VIRTUAL EVENT
Mysterious Galaxy
Solo Presentation
Info/Register

April 29, 2022 | 6:00 PM PT 
IN-PERSON EVENT
Brick & Mortar Books
7430 164th Ave NE, Suite B105 
Redmond, WA, 98052
Info/Register

The following bookstores will have signed books for sale—personalised to order while you’re there (for the SPL/EBBC event and the B&M event) or already prepared if you’ve preordered (Phinney Books), or to buy later if you’re not there in person. Some will also come with enamel pins!

  • Phinney Books, Seattle
  • University Bookstore, Seattle
  • Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle
  • Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park
  • Brick & Mortar, Redmond

All other bookstores in the above list will have signed bookplates. They may also have enamel pins while supplies last.

I hope you come. I’ll be reading sometimes, sometimes not, and depending on my interlocutor talking about everything under the sun. I love doing these things—but what I love most is talking to readers. So come! Bring questions! Bring a friend! Or two!

See you soon!

Spear adjective competition: Clue #8

Here is Clue #8 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a review on Grimdark. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing someone in a grave, their eyes covered and a bloody knife on their chest, and surrounded by forget-me-knots and flying petals. Centred in white text, “Gorgeous… It blew my mind.” And below that, in red-orange, “Fabienne Schwizer, Grimdark”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

For the rules, and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

DO CHECK OUT THE UPDATED LIST OF ADJECTIVES THAT HAVE BEEN USED MORE THAN FOUR TIMES! We have a couple more words that crossed the threshold…

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Fab podcast interview!

In which—after Jason Concepcion and Rosie Knight say lovely things about HILD (1:06:00)—we talk (1:15:06) about SPEAR and HILD, my fantasy origin story & centring the Other, Talking Rabbits, nature & journeys, queer lit and #criplit, answering questions with hard work, guessing, and alcohol, MENEWOOD, and why for me writing is the best job in the world. Listen to X-Ray Vision here.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #7

Here is Clue #7 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a blurb by Hugo award-winning John Scalzi. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by Rovina Cai—also a Hugo Award winner!

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a silhouette of a woman on a horse surrounded by wind or smoke. Centred in white text, “There is magic in Nicola Griffith’s words. Prepared to be enchanted.” And below that, in red-orange, “John Scalzi, author of The Kaiju Preservation Society.”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

For the rules, and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Listen to an excerpt from Spear

I just found that the publisher’s Spear page includes a link to a five-minute audio clip from near the beginning of the book. A frightened mother is telling stories of the Tuath Dé to a nameless child…

Spear adjective competition: Clue #6

Here is Clue #6 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a blurb by Bruce Holsinger. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by the talented Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing in the upper left two women by a lake and, larger, in the lower right a menacing figure approaching with a spear. Centred in white text, “Just dazzling!” And below that, in red-orange, “Bruce Holsinger, author of The Gifted School”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

For the rules and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

SPEAR IN ONE WEEK!!!

Spear will be out in exactly one week. (One! Week! 7! Days! Holy shit.) I’ve been making all sorts of things like Zoom backgrounds for the tour—mostly virtual, but some in-person (and I won’t get to use them because, well, most of the virtual stuff will be on Crowdcast)—and nifty quote graphics, etc. for the competition. Now I’m also furiously writing essays and doing interviews.

I also made two very short videos, a combination of one of Rovina Cai’s gorgeous black and white interior illustrations, which she turned into a colour GIF, and a snippet of added narration. (For the story of that narration, see the first of this two-part post on Speaking Spear.)

I posted the first last week. Here’s the second.

Video description: Looped GIF of a black and white illustration with an overlying colour wash of blue showing someone in a grave, eyes covered and knife laid on their breast. The knife blade is red. The grave is surrounded by whirling leaves and cut forget-me-nots. 

Narration: “They took turns digging. She had chosen a spot where the trees told her they had no thick roots, and the badgers knew to be rich with worms, and well-loosened. And her mother was a small woman. It did not take long. Peretur climbed into the grave, laid her hands on the dirt walls, the floor—Come. Eat, grow, let all lives be one—then looked up to Lance. “Pass the ferns.” When she was satisfied with the green carpet, she said, “Now give her to me.” She laid Elen on the ferns and covered her in fur, then laid Talorcan’s knife in its sheath on her breast. Next to that went the spray of climbing rose. “This should have been your cup. I’m sorry. But we must keep it safe.”


Meanwhile, don’t forget there’s still 6 days to pre-order the hardcover, submit your receipt, and receive one of the very cool enamel pins created by Forensics and Flowers.

Image description: A grey jacket lapel with a round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #5

Here is Clue #5 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a blurb by Jo Walton. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by the talented Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a background image of someone in 6th-century armour, sitting on a stone blowing on a dandelion puffball. The seeds rise like smoke, hiding their face. Centred in white text, “Breathtaking. Nicola Griffith knows what she’s doing.” And below that, in red-orange, “Jo Walton, author of Or What You Will”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

Here’s what that lovely pin looks like, modelled by me on the lapel of my old but favourite jacket.

Pin design by Forensics and Flowers.

Image description: A grey suit jacket showing on the hand-stitched lapel a round enamel pin in the shape of a shield blazoned wiht fo rget-me-nots and overlaid by a spear. The pin is mostly red, with blue and green for the flowers.


For the rules and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #4

Here is Clue #4 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a blurb by writer Malka Older. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by the talented Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a background image of someone in a grave, eyes covered and knife laid on their breast. The grave is surrounded by whirling leaves and cut forget-me-nots. Centred in white text, “Mesmerizing, epic, and immersive.” And below that, in red-orange, “Malka Older”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

For the rules and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #3

Thursday I started a competition OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD AND NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

So basically this, plus the audiobook:

Image description: Two photos of the novel, ‘Spear by Nicola Griffith.’ On the left, the closed book showing the magnificent cover. The background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top in orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and fumes, and the fumes form images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds. Just below the author’s name is a quote from Maria Dahvana Headley, “Spectacular…I’ve been waiting years for this book to exist.” On top of the book is a round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear. On the right, the book is open to the title page, showing the lovely textured paper—again, topped by the enamel pin.


Read the first post, One adjective to rule them all, for how to enter. Please leave a comment on that post, not this, so I can keep track. To facilitate that, I’m turning off comments here.

Here’s today’s clue, taken from Nerdist’s April Is Here To Shower You With Good Books

Image description: square graphic in grey-blue showing silhouette of a woman on a horse surrounded by wind or smoke. Printed in white, “A magical fantasy, Spear feels both entirely familiar and vibrantly new” and below, in orange-red, “Rosie Knight, Nerdist.”

Spear adjective competition: Clue #2

Yesterday I started a competition OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD AND NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

So basically this, plus the audiobook:

Image description: Two photos of the novel, ‘Spear by Nicola Griffith.’ On the left, the closed book showing the magnificent cover. The background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top in orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and fumes, and the fumes form images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds. Just below the author’s name is a quote from Maria Dahvana Headley, “Spectacular…I’ve been waiting years for this book to exist.” On top of the book is a round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear. On the right, the book is open to the title page, showing the lovely textured paper—again, topped by the enamel pin.


Read yesterday’s post, One adjective to rule them all, for how to enter. Please leave a comment on that post, not this, so I can keep track. To facilitate that, I’m turning off comments.

Here’s today’s clue, taken from Buzzfeed’s All The Best Books Releasing in April:

Image description: square graphic in grey-blue showing faint ink outlines of two women by a lake and a menacing figure with a spear approaching along a distant path. Printed in white, “In this beautiful queer Arthurian retelling…every sentence sings” and in orange-red “Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed.”

Competition: One adjective to rule them all—Clue #1

Background

Quite a while before Hild was published I started to notice the astounding number of comparisons to other writers I was getting in blurbs, reviews, and critical discussions. This was not usual for me or my work, so I started keeping track. I totted up the totals, wrote a post, and set up a competition for readers.

Now, just eleven days before Spear hits the shelves, I’m seeing a slightly different trend: use of the same adjectives over and over.1 So for my own amusement I started keeping a spreadsheet of adjectives in trade reviews, blurbs from other writers, and booksellers. (I’m not including reader reviews on platforms like Goodreads—and, after publication, Amazon—because that would get overwhelming pretty fast.) Also, I amalgamated a few things—such as ‘new classic/should be part of the canon’ and ‘spellbinding/enchanting/sorcerous’ and ‘mesmerising/hypnotic’ and ‘genderqueer/fluid’—which mostly mean the same thing (and in fact reviewers often use a mix of these words in a single review). And I left out a few things that are used in almost every mention, words and phrases that are variations on themes like Queer and Queer retelling, or Too short/wanted more, or Gender/Genderbent retelling, or Old-bones-new-story/Makes-it-her-own, and so on.

From that spreadsheet I’ve extracted a list of words that are used 4 times or more:

  • Amazing
  • Beautiful
  • Breathtaking
  • Brilliant
  • Canon/Classic
  • Captivating
  • Compelling
  • Concise
  • Dazzling
  • Delightful
  • Dreamy/Dreamlike
  • Effortless
  • Epic
  • Flowing/Fluid
  • Fresh
  • Genderqueer/Genderfluid
  • Gorgeous
  • Humane
  • Inclusive
  • Intense
  • Lovely
  • Lyrical/Poetic
  • Magical
  • Masterpiece/Masterful
  • Mesmerising/Hypnotic
  • New
  • Original
  • Polyamorous
  • Rich
  • Sensual/Sensuous
  • Spectacular
  • Spellbinding/Enchanting
  • Stunning
  • Subversive
  • Vivid
  • Wonderful

Note: This list occasionally grows as another adjective crosses the 4-mention cut-off. And the list is alphabetical, not in order of frequency—that’s your job!

Competition

The Rules

Guess the adjective used most frequently to describe Spear and then guess how many times it’s been used. (Edited to add: You can enter once a day between now and the end date.) The finalists will be chosen from those who guess the right word and the winner will be whoever gets closest to the noted frequency on my list. Just in case we have some eagle-eyed geniuses out there, the tie-breaker will be how many of the other Top 5 most-used adjectives you can guess. To enter, drop a comment here on the blog or, if you’re shy, email me directly using the contact form. ANY COMMENTS YOU MAKE ON ANOTHER PLATFORM—TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM—WILL NOT COUNT AS AN ENTRY. Mainly because it’s just too hard to keep track. I’ll be dropping at least one clue a day here—but perhaps also on Instagram or Twitter—and of course there is the constantly-updated list of reviews on the Spear page. But it’s highly curated; I’m not including every review, and in fact only the tiniest snippets of the ones I do include

The Deadline

10 days after Spear is published, so 29 April. I’ll be updating my spreadsheet until then—so who knows what word might swoop in from left field and take the top spot. Not me! But maybe you do…

The Prize

Actually not one, not two, but three (3) prizes!

  1. A signed and personalised hardcover of Spear (one of my own Author Copies, so you’ll know it’s a first edition, first printing)
  2. A delicious, specially-designed enamel pin
  3. And the digital audiobook, narrated by me

There might be other things I can come up, but that’s it for now.

First clue:

Image description: Square graphic of a dark blue-tinted background showing the outline of a bubbling, steaming Celtic hanging bowl overlaid by, in white, “Humane, intelligent and deeply beautiful.” and below that, in red/orange, “Alix Harrow, author of A Spindle Splintered.”


  1. This I have seen before, with the Aud novels, where almost every newspaper review (back in the day when many newspapers still ran book reviews) characterised the books, the prose, or Aud herself as both ‘brutal’ and ‘beautiful.’ I don’t think the books are brutal at all; I think critics were just fascinated by the juxtaposition of Aud’s raw joy in her physical body, her use of violence as just one tool in her set, and the occasional lyricism of the prose. (‘Lyrical’ was another word used often.)

SPEAR is an Indie Next pick

Some pretty cool books on this list. I am pleased!

SPEAR IN TWO WEEKS!!!

Spear will be out in exactly two weeks. (Two! Weeks!) I’ve been making all sorts of things like Zoom backgrounds for the tour—mostly virtual, but some in-person—and nifty quote graphics, etc.

In terms of review quotes—from trade journals, booksellers, and blurbs from other writers—I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of most common adjectives. Every book of mine seems to acquire a different constellation. For the Aud novels, for example, the top descriptor was brutal (though I didn’t think they were, particularly). For Spear…well, I will say there’s one word waaaay ahead of the pack, but for more you’ll have to wait a few days. Meanwhile, if you want to start guessing, you could start with this highly-curated list of quotes on the Spear page.

I also made two very short videos. Here’s one, a combination of one of Rovina Cai’s gorgeous black and white interior illustrations, which she turned into a colour GIF, and a snippet of added narration. (For the story of that narration, see the first of this two-part post on Speaking Spear.)

Video description: Looped GIF of a black and white illustration with an overlying colour wash of blue-grey, and occasional spreading blood red. A figure kneels in the shallows of a river, leaning their weight on a sword. In the upper third of the image, the figure is framed by bleak, bare trees. Beneath her, under her knee and barely visible, there is the hint of another submerged figure. Below this is the figure’s reflection in the moving water—darker and sharper and violently spattered and streaked with loose brushstrokes that cascade down the rest of the image. The river moves back and forth (back and forth), and blood seeps into the water and is washed away (and seeps and is washed away)…

Audio narration: “As she got her feet under her, she shifted, and lifted her sword, and thrust down again, this time on the collar across his throat. She leaned her whole weight on the blunt and broken blade, leaned and leaned, gasping, holding on while he thrashed, holding on even as the water turned red around him and he went still, holding on even as she sank, exhausted, to her knees, still holding, still leaning, until Bony, limping, nosed the back of her neck and she fell against him, weeping, the blood running down her face mingling with blood from the ragged tear on Bony’s chest and running, with the river, away.”


The second will follow next week. Meanwhile, don’t forget there’s still 13 days to pre-order the hardcover, submit your receipt, and receive one of the very cool enamel pins created by Forensics and Flowers.

Image description: A round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear.

 

Speaking Spear, Part II

This is the second of a two-part piece about recording the Spear audiobook for Macmillan Audio. If you’re interested in how I find an accessible studio, preproduction—along with photos of marked up scripts, etc—read Part One here.

RECORDING

When you narrate an audiobook it’s not just you and a microphone. It’s you in a locked, soundproof room before a microphone, with an engineer in the mixing booth behind glass, and a director from New York on Zoom audio—with all three audio feeds mixed into your headphones. It is super weird to hear yourself in high fidelity and at volume right there, in your ears (I always have to get the engineer to turn down my part of the mix in the headphone feed so that I don’t sound any louder than I might to myself in real life).

The engineer for this project was Joel Maddox. He was very relaxed and competent. His job was to make sure I sounded good—to use the right microphone in the right position and hooked into the right interface at the right setting1; to point out and note on his iPad for the editor if he hears any extraneous noise—weird feedback, a belly growl, clicky mouth noise, a faint thud of my hand pounding on my thigh during an emotive moment (oops)—and to note, too, when I stopped an extra long time for a breather, or stumbled on a word and repeated it, or took a pause for a sip of water.

While the engineer makes the narrator sound technically good, it’s the director who makes the narration sound artistically right.

My director was Caitlin Davies. I think I was pretty lucky to get her. She’s not only an award-winning voice actor and narrator herself but also a theatre director and a very experienced audio director—her work has been nominated for and won a variety of awards. I learnt a lot. The book you will eventually hear will be orders of magnitude better than anything I could have done on my own.

The first thing we did was decide on method. There are two basic ways to record narration. One is free roll, where the narrator just reads, stops when they make a mistake, back up to the nearest clean punctuation break—a full stop, a comma—and starts again, all without stopping the recording. The other is punch and roll, which is to actually wind back the recording to the bad word/phrase (doesn’t have to be punctuated) and punch in to record at the right moment. One of the reasons to use punch and roll is that it saves editing time and therefore money. So it is the top choice of all-in-one providers: those narrators with home studios who supply finished audio rather than unedited. One of the reasons not to do that is it chops up the performance and it takes a much more laser focus to stop mid-flow, restart, then go back to where you were. As the money side is, frankly, not my worry, I plumped for free roll: it’s quicker, easier, and much less tiring.

Beginnings are always interesting. I’ve read from the book a few times already, and have the first couple of pages down pat. So on that first Wednesday, I began pretty confidently and we rolled along seamlessly—until Caitlin said, Good, now you’re in it. Let’s go back to the beginningGive me a storyteller’s voice. I thought I had been. I tried again. Faster, she said. And then *click* there it was: That smooth, warm, lean-in-and-listen note I realised had been missing. And now I was excited! This was going to sound awesome!

We cracked right along. Then we started getting to multiple character voices. I’d spent some time figuring out accents and tones and weights to differentiate people—only it turned out Caitlin thought some of it didn’t work, particularly the women. So I had to go back and work out different voices. It was a bit unsettling; I wasn’t sure these women sounded the way I imagined them. But Caitlin was the director with the vision, so I followed her lead.

The rest of the session went well (really well from my perspective) and Caitlin and Joel both seemed pleased. The only problem was the heat in the studio, or lack of it. By the time we finished—at 1:00 pm, ahead of schedule—I was frozen in place. My hands were purple and my leg muscles utterly spastic. I asked Joel to please, pretty please crank the heat early the next day so it would be warm when we began. (You can’t run heat during the session because of fan noise. Next time I’ll plan ahead and lug along a plug-in oil radiator.) I went home full of energy.

Thursday was hard. The studio was warmer, but every time I read a couple of sentences my voice would crack and scratch and I’d cough. It turned out the heat had kicked up dust and other particles. I’m wicked allergic to dust, also to tree pollen, and February is the start of pollen season. Day Two was sheer bloody stubbornness on my part, and patience and sympathetic-but-hard-task-masterliness on Caitlin’s. Again and again she said, No, go back to the beginning of the paragraph, and I would. Or, Now go back to the beginning of the scene, with more energy. And I did. The last page took fifteen minute because I could hardly manage a phrase without coughing. It was brutal. I can only guess it wasn’t that easy for her to keep making me do it again and again—I certainly would have found it hard to ask that of someone coughing and wheezing so pitifully. But finally we got to 1:00 pm and I was toast; I couldn’t read another sentence.

Because of a conflicting gig on Friday—delivering Opening Remarks for the Annual Historical Fictions Research Network Conference in Salzburg—we had scheduled a 3-day break from recording and planned to return on Monday and finish Tuesday.

Monday I went in wondering how it would go: brilliant, like Wednesday or brutal, like Thursday? It turned out to be brilliant: fast, smooth, easy, and exciting. It felt as though we’d hardly started when *boom* we were done. It was only 12:30. As I blinked and shut down my iPad, Caitlin warned me there might have to be a pick-up session once the editors had worked on it and found those swallowed words or odd noises the three of us in the studio had missed. But, woo hoo, I was done! I was tired but happy.

Me looking happy but a bit used because, well, I felt a bit used

It was lunch time, a glittery bright day, and Kelley and I decided we felt brave enough to risk going to the pub for a pint—my first pint of Guinness for four months. It tasted wonderful. So I had another. Which was so good I had to have one more. Hey, I deserved it!

A couple of weeks later Joel and I got together for a twenty-minute session to overlay the seven times I had mispronounced ‘The Eingl have taken Deverdoeu,’ the one time there was a belly noise, two missed words, one added word, and two places where the words ran into each other. And then I was really done. The book is now totally out of my hands. It can be in yours on April 19.

DETAILS

We had scheduled studio time for four mornings, 10:00 am – 2:00pm (roughly what we used for So Lucky, even though that was a shorter book), but even with breaks and the pickup session I ended up spending less than 9 hours before the mic. So everyone was pleased: me, Joel, Caitlin, the producer Katie, and no doubt all the Macmillan Audio beancounters.

Projected finished hours for the book is 6 hours and 15 minutes. It doesn’t include the Author’s Note—that was Macmillan’s decision—but a PDF of that will be including with the digital file, and if I get around to it I’ll record it myself at home and put it on my website for those who have a hard time with print. It will be interesting trying to figure out how to read footnotes, and it won’t be nearly the same quality, but it will serve.

At some point I’ll also put together a pronunciation guide for those of you who buy the print or ebook, and also repost the map for those who like that sort of thing. But that for the future.

For now, I want to thank those who made this audio book possible.

  • Jack Straw Cultural Center—the studio
  • Joel Maddox—engineer
  • Katy Robitski—Macmillan Audio producer
  • Caitlin Davies—freelance director
  • Levi Fuller—Jack Straw administrative coordinator

And for the audio geeks out there, here’s the gear we used:

  • Neumann U87 microphone
  • Avid HD Omni interface
  • HPF @ 70Hz
  • Gain +46

At some point there will be an audio sample to listen to and I’ll post a link. Meanwhile, preorder the audiobook wherever books are sold:


IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk


1. A Neumann U87 microphone (costs vary but usually over $3,000) with an Avid HD Omni interface, HPF @ 70Hz and Gain +46. It looked like a pretty spiffy pop filter too, but I forgot to make a note of that.

Speaking Spear, Part I

Jack Straw Studio and Cultural Center

This is Part One of a two-part post about the making of the Spear audiobook for Macmillan Audio. Part Two will go up tomorrow.


In February I laid down the narration for the Spear audiobook. It went well. It’s the second book of mine that I’ve recorded; while the process was similar to the first in some basic ways, it was very different in others. For those who want deep detail on the audiobook process, see my 2018 post about narrating So Lucky. From here I’ll assume you’ve read that post, and this one will build upon it.

Finding a studio

The differences between the two experiences began long before I set foot in the studio. For one thing, before I even signed the Spear contract I stated I would be doing the narration. Macmillan Audio hemmed and hawed, which surprised me. When I pushed them, it turned out that production costs for So Lucky had been outrageous and they weren’t sure they wanted to go through that again. But it turned out that was absolutely nothing to do with me as narrator, and everything to do with the studio we had used. Clatter & Din was the PNW’s leading post-production studio, used to dealing with famous bands and big-brand advertising, and charging accordingly: $250 an hour, a minimum of 8 hours a day whether you used those hours or not, plus markup for every single cup of tea and meal delivery. This is an astounding fee. No wonder Macmillan Audio had been unhappy. I expressed my surprise—why pay that much when this city is crawling with audio studios? Eventually Macmillan admitted that it was the only wheelchair-accessible studio in Seattle they could find.

Huh, I said. So if I could find a cheaper, wheelchair-accessible studio, would they be open to negotiation? Sure, they said, probably assuming there wasn’t one. Right, I said. Leave it with me.

It took weeks. I talked to engineers, studio owners, and producers all over town. While I could find studios charging as little as $70/hour, including the engineer, I could not find a commercial studio that was wheelchair accessible.

So then I talked to people about the cost of creating a permanent studio in my house—but given how big it would need to be to fit all the gear and a wheelchair it just wasn’t possible because a) we didn’t have that much room and b) we didn’t have that much money.

By now we were well into the pandemic, and it turns out Macmillan had started to work with narrators at home. They even had a person right here in the PNW who would come and set up a corner of the house as a studio on a temporary basis, along with all the equipment etc. Would that be okay?

I was tempted—until I started to seriously think it through. Not being able to use my office for a week? Trying to keep the cats out? Sound-proofing against the construction going on both behind us and one house up? Having an engineer in the house day after day? Plus—the real kicker—overloading our occasionally erratic bandwidth with two open Zoom channels, uploading massive chunks of audio, and ensuring the integrity of the constant work meetings Kelley takes all day? The answer was obvious: suboptimal. I didn’t say so immediately—I really wanted to record this book!—but started to ponder other avenues.

Perhaps I could apply for a grant to build something in the garden… Which reminded me of a grant I had considered applying for, years ago, to learn audio engineering at a community sound studio called Jack Straw. A nonprofit community studio. Hmm. I wondered if a) they were still around, b) they used professional-level gear, c) the studio would be accessible, and d) they would be willing to rent out to a corporate, commercial project.

So I hunted down their website—oof, it was an old and creaky site, very early 2000s, typical for a nonprofit1—found contact info for a man called Levi Fuller, and started talking. It turned out that Jack Straw Cultural Center had absolutely everything any professional could possibly need, would be delighted to work with Macmillan Audio on a book project, and held accessibility as one of their most cherished community values. I hope Levi will forgive me when I admit that initially I was sceptical about the accessibility. (Sorry Levi!) But after a series of questions it turned out he was not talking through his hat; the studio was perfectly, brilliantly, amazingly accessible to wheelchair users: level entry, button-push automatic door openers, wide doorways, spacious studios, and—joy of joys!—wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Not only that but the studio was less than 20 minutes drive from my house, and less than half a block from a parking lot with plenty of wheelchair van-accessible parking slots2 and an excellent, wonderfully smooth curb-cut sidewalk connecting the two. (There was also a mini-mart nearby selling coffee, sandwiches, and other deli, and upstairs at the studio a cosy room where Kelley could sit quietly and work if she wanted.) It was absolutely everything I needed. I was thrilled. And the best part? They charged an astonishingly reasonable $55 an hour, including engineer.

In pretty rapid order we had a producer, a director, a Jack Straw engineer, and dates on the calendar. And because Tordotcom, the publisher, had been so efficient with their production workflow, we had a fully copyedited and proofed ms. to work with long before we had to be in the studio. So, holy shit, we were a go—all sorted months before the recording would begin.

Preproduction

Which is good, because with a book like Spear there was a lot of preproduction work to do.

With So Lucky, set in contemporary Atlanta, I didn’t have to worry about pronunciations or (with one exception) accents. Spear, on the other hand, is set in 6th-century Wales, with Primtive and/or Old Welsh (standing in for Brythonic), Primitive and/or Old Irish, and Asturian dialogue, names, and general vocabulary, not to mention the Old French, Middle High German, and Old English words in the Author’s Note.

I decided early on that there was no point trying to figure out how real really early Welsh would have sounded, so I substituted modern Welsh. Ditto for Primitive/Old Irish to modern Irish. The Astures of northern Spain supposedly used a p-Celtic language very similar to Brythonic, so for that accent I just used a very light and precise version of modern Welsh (much as a northern Spaniard fluent in modern English might sound today). Then I made a list of words and phrases I’d have to get right; it came to 73.

I started by trying to figure it all out myself (I’ve spent my life figuring things out; I know how to use the internet). But here’s the thing—everyone on the internet disagrees about everything. So then I asked a friend, Cheryl Morgan, to help with the Welsh but, while she is learning to speak Welsh, she isn’t fluent, and we weren’t sure of quite a few things. So then I sent the list to the Macmillan producer and said, Help!

Three weeks later I had over seventy individual sound files of flawless pronunciation from native speakers. It was like facing a fifteen mile uphill trail in a crappy wheelchair and suddenly someone coming along and saying, No worries, I’ll give you a ride to the top. I grinned like a fool.

I listened to them over and over, until I was confident I could pronounce them correctly. Then (because I’m not familiar enough with the IPA—International Phonetic Alphabet—symbol system) I had to figure out my own system of writing them down phonetically.3 Here’s what that looked like:

Then I put them in order of appearance in the text. Then I started marking up the text itself.

Last time, with So Lucky, I worked from my own Word document on an old iPad Air—and I vowed that by the next time I did this I’d have an iPad Pro with Pencil so I could mark things up with my own notations in colour—the kind of thing I used to do when I first started performing my own work for live audiences, reading from paper. In a sound studio, of course, an iPad is better: you really don’t want to use paper—all that rustling—but working to annotate things with keyboard is tedious and seriously suboptimal.

But I’d had the iPad for a couple of years now, and had been experimenting with notations on PDF. It turns out the native Adobe app is rubbish, so I found something that worked: PDF Expert.4 Now I was happy as a kitten surrounded by string. I could read a paragraph, underline to emphasise, highlight places where I often stumble, add accents, jot pronunciations in the margin, and notes about what accent to use, and/or how heavy—or all of the above. And then I could look at it, realise I could now hardly see the actual text for all the markup, wipe it all away, and start again.

Here’s an example of the final markup of an early page.

Underlines of a whole word mean that’s the word to emphasise; of a syllable, ditto (usually—though sometimes it just means Pay attention to this bit because you tend to get it wrong); and of a consonant, alliteration, which is easy to stumble over. A wiggly underline means that syllable has a non-English pronunciation, like Lugh, which is pronounced something like LOO-ough, with the –ough being a kind of rolled-on-the-tongue wind sound (I’m sure there’s a better way to describe it but that’s how it feels in the mouth), or a rolled r—like the r in Peretur—or ll, which is pronounced something like a breathed-out chluh.

The early pages are heavily annotated because that’s where most of the names come up for the first time. As the manuscript continues, I tend to markup pronunciations only when they’re really difficult5 or the word hasn’t appeared for a while.

However, just because I know precisely how to pronounce a thing and actually relish getting it down pat, doesn’t mean that I should.6 To take a modern example, the French pronunciation of Paris sounds perfectly fine when a Frenchwoman in France is using it, but if an American pronounces it that way during a conversation in a sports bar it sounds ridiculous. And of course working folk never pronounce things the same way nobility do—every class has its own accent. How then would a 6th-century Greek quartermaster/military logician speaking Welsh pronounce something? Or a Briton with a northern accent? On top of that, I had to think about how to differentiate people of the same class, and then fold gender into the mix. It all took a while to sort out but by the time I arrived at the studio I was ready!

Except, of course, no plan survives contact with the director…

PART TWO—WITH PICTURES OF ME, TIRED BUT HAPPY, AND A CELEBRATORY PINT OF GUINNESS—FOLLOWS TOMORROW

Meanwhile, preorder the audiobook wherever books are sold:
IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk


  1. Now they have a spiffy website, very nice looking and easy to use.

2. My wheelchair van requires an 8-foot striped access aisle to extend and use the ramp. In Seattle, these are rarer than hen’s teeth.

3. My system wouldn’t work for others. For example I know in this context that when I write -alk, it means to use the guttural sound a bit like the one that comes at the end of loch, or the beginning of Hanukah—because /x/ wouldn’t mean much to me in the moment—though perhaps no one else would.

4. Other professionals recommend Notability but that’s not one I’ve tried; PDF Expert does everything I need, and it’s wonderfully stable and wicked fast.

5. The phrase ‘The Eingl have taken Deverdoeu’ was the bane of my life! For one, Eingl is pronounced like a cross between AIR-n-gul and EH-n-gl, and Deverdoeu sounds like d-verr-DOY-uh, which, coming after ‘taken’, is just plain tongue-twisting. There was one other phrase that I stumbled over three times but mercifully I’ve blanked which one.

Orcas Island Lit Fest, June 3-4—Early bird tickets!

If you live in Seattle you’ve been enjoying the gorgeousness that is spring in the Pacific Northwest. It won’t last, of course, but it will be back, and in two months we’ll be in the glorious beginnings of summer.

Now imagine that gloriousness in a peaceful place with farm-to-table organic food, mountain lakes so quiet you can hear the rustle of a swan’s feather, and inns dedicated to your comfort. Add a relaxing, forget-everything ferry ride, and top it all with a weekend of books, books, and more books, and you have the Orcas Island Lit Fest.

After a two-year absence, OILF is returning June 3-4, 2022. Please join me and other writers and readers and book lovers for a celebration of literature and community in a place of gorgeous natural beauty. Seriously, I love Orcas: the food is incredible, and the scenery is stunning—mountains, lake, forest, and beaches. Lovely. Peaceful. The minute I get on that ferry I start to breathe more deeply and my shoulders go down.

This is the fourth year I’ve been scheduled to be one of the festival headliners. In 2019 I had to cancel to go to my father’s funeral. In 2020 I cancelled because of Covid then the whole ting was scrubbed. Nothing happened in 2021 because of the pandemic. But now, finally, it’s on!

I’ll be there to hang out and talk and sign books, I’ll be doing a reading, being interviewed before an audience, and taking part in a panel, Hidden in History: Uncovering Women’s Untold Stories. It’s going to be a spectacular weekend.

Watch this video and get a sense of what’s on offer:

You have 2 more days to get an Early Bird ticket: $5 off festival passes between now and March 30. More info and tickets at EventBrite.

I hope to see you there!

ICFA: Good Times!

A couple of weeks ago Kelley and I flew to Florida, for two reasons. One, to see Kelley’s family in Stuart (recently voted the Number 1 Small Town to Retire To in America). Two, to see many old friends in Orlando at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts.

The visit with Kelley’s family was lovely—but I’ll let Kelley talk about that as and when she wants to. The travel itself is a whole other story, one I’ll be addressing in a separate post. What I’ll focus on here is ICFA, both my history with the conference and our experience of ICFA43.

I went to my very first ICFA in 1993. Or maybe it was 1994. Either way it was after Ammonite came out but before Slow River. My publisher, Del Rey, suggested I go—and even paid for it.1 Ammonite had won the Lambda Literary Award, was the runner-up for the Locus First Novel Award, had won the Tiptree (now Otherwise), been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA and others. In other words, although in early 90s Kelley and I were new writers with between us only a handful of short stories and a single novel, a few people at that first ICFA had already met us in person—Gordon Van Gelder, Ellen Datlow, Chip Delany, Brian Aldiss, and others—or, for a variety of reasons, knew of us.2 But most of the 300 or so attendees (then, as now, it was a small conference) were as new to us as we were to them.

I had a wonderful time. I gave a reading and was on a panel and spent many, many hours by the pool with a drink or in the hotel bar but, better, met many people who I still know and like today—academics, critics, writers, editors, and publishers—and, best of all, many people like me who do a bit of everything. As soon as Kelley and I were back in Atlanta, we decided we would go to the next one. We registered. Booked the hotel.3 Made arrangements for dinners and drinks with various people—even agreed to present someone else’s paper for them (she had a terrible fear of public speaking).

It never happened: that year I was ill. The next year we moved to Seattle. The year after that I was invited to something that clashed with the conference. The year after that, The Blue Place came out and I was busy travelling for that. And on and on. The conference moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Orlando. I would meet some of those we’d met i 1993/4 at other conventions and conferences and parties. We would talk about ICFA, I would get invited, I would want to go—but I was either too ill, or too busy, or too broke, or in another country.

Finally, in 2019 the planets aligned: we had the time, the money, and the energy to go. We registered. Signed up for a reading. Booked the hotel and flights… And my father died. We cancelled everything and flew to the UK.

But by now I was determined. So we registered, booked, arranged meetings—business and social—for the following March… And the pandemic happened. Kelley and I cancelled in February (I knew it was far too risky to be travelling) and the conference committee cancelled the thing as a whole just days before it was due to open. The 2021 conference was all virtual—I attended and did a reading from Spear—and just not the same. And then in September/October, the IAFA held a mini-ICFA: just 45 people and single-track programming. Kelley and I were vaxxed and boosted, Covid numbers were low, mask mandates and testing were in place, the Delta variant was in retreat, and we hadn’t been anywhere or seen anyone for two years. Also, it was a chance to see her family for the first time in nearly 3years. We went.

Out of those 45 or so people registered for the conference, at least 10 were old friends. We had a marvellous time. The weather was glorious; we spent a lot of time sitting out by the lake watching alligators and ibis and lizards. We went to a wonderful seafood restaurant one night, an okay-but-expensive restaurant two other nights, and ate edible food in the hotel the rest of the time—but fortunately we weren’t really there for the food. I convened and moderated the opening panel, with Maria Dahvana Headley and Gary Wolfe, on Once and Future Representation: how Arthurian legend is being repurposed to reflect us all. Mark, the book liaison, attended that panel—actually, I think everyone did—and was jazzed about Spear. Did I want it to be the featured book for the full-sized conference in 2022? There was one condition: I would, of course, have to attend…

I think I frightened him with the speed and ferocity of my acceptance.

In the years since we first attended, ICFA has grown considerably. Now there are multiple tracks, and too many attendees for any one to give more than one presentation—unless you’re the Scholar or Artist Guest of Honour. When you register you have to choose whether to do so as a Creative or a Scholar. In 2019 I had dithered—my PhD was fairly new, and I had an idea for a paper on legend and climate change—before finally deciding to read from So Lucky (which of course I never got to do because I was at my father’s funeral in the UK). But for 2022 it was a no-brainer: read from Spear, because just a month later it would hit the shelves.

The 2022 Artist GoH was to be Nisi Shawl—a friend from Seattle who we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. The Scholar GoH was Farah Mendlesohn—also a friend, and my PhD supervisor, and her husband Edward James is a fantastic historian whose brains I always like to pick. And of those writers attending, Kelley and I either knew well—some were our former students now teachers themselves, some we had known for over 30 years!—or knew of and wanted to meet, everyone single one of them. I knew all the editors and critics (I think) and a good percentage of the academics, and was absolutely itching to meet a score of the others. So I was pretty sure we were going to have a good time.

Reader, we had a great time. It felt like coming home.

I attended a few programme items but sadly most of the things I would have attended if I could were scheduled opposite other things (there was one time slot where 3 of the things I desperately wanted to see were at the same time on different tracks, tuh) but mostly I just hung out and ate and drank and talked. So much drinking, so much talking! The last night, Saturday, I finally paid the bar bill a little before 2 am, got to sleep about 3, and then had to be up early to pack, then go to a group breakfast, then do a video interview before getting on a plane. I was so tired at breakfast that it took me about fifteen minutes to string a coherent sentence together, but then the breakfast—with ten people—turned into one of those magical I-love-talking-to-those-I-know-and-I’m-so-glad-I-got-to-meet-the-others meals I would not have missed for the world. So it was worth getting only fours hours sleep.

ICFA truly is a community: generous, collegial, smart, interesting, and relaxed. If you like socialising and you like long conversations about the fantastic over a drink, I urge you to go. It is not cheap; you might have to save up and budget carefully, but if it’s at all within your range it will be worth it. I feel a great sense of belonging. I’m certainly planning to be there next year. And from now on I’ll be going as often as I can.

There’s some talk about moving the conference to a more politically hospitable state—somewhere without anti-trans and anti-queer and anti-abortion laws on the books. I would love that to be somewhere in the Pacific time zone—much easier for us to get to.4 In practise I assume that what that will mean is Las Vegas, because anywhere warm and sunny actually on the coast will be too expensive, and places like Portland and Seattle a) don’t always have direct flights from other cities, and b) are not warm and sunny—a great draw in March for those of us from northerly latitudes. You can get from anywhere to Las Vegas, and in March it’s dry and sunny but not too insanely hot. My guess, though, is that move won’t happen immediately. Right now I’m assuming next year will be in Florida—and, hey, it will be another opportunity to combine family and friends in one trip.

And if you attend, you’ll probably hear me read from MENEWOOD…


1 If Del Rey hadn’t paid we could not have afforded the flight or hotel or time off. I was on the kind of visa that did not permit paid employment, and I could not get health insurance—these were the days before domestic partnership, before marriage equality—so we were paying my considerable medical expenses out of pocket from Kelley’s small salary. We were young, had just used our very last reserves to buy a house, and were living pay cheque to pay cheque.

2 But that’s a story for another time, and preferably over a beer or three, nothing is written down, and I have complete deniability.

3 By this time I’d been paid for Slow River and things were looking good financially—good enough to be wroth taking a risk.

4 I love Seattle but it’s a crap city to travel to and from. Particularly if you’re in a wheelchair and every time you change planes there’s the risk your wheelchair will be lost or broken—but that will be one of the things I talk about in more depth in another post.

In the wild waste, a book, growing…

I’ve been amusing myself again with making pictures centred on Spear. Partly it’s a way to stay connected to the book, which will belong to me only for another month, after which it flies free and won’t belong to me anymore but to readers. Partly it’s a way to have fun while I learn my way around Photoshop. And partly, well, I just love making things—and if they include hedgepigs, trees, and brightly coloured lethal weapons, all with a hint of changing seasons, so much the better.

The title of this post is, of course, a reference to the beginning of the book. Here’s the first scene:

In the wild waste, a girl, growing. A girl at home
in the wild, in the leafless thicket of thin grey
saplings with moss growing green on one
side. In this thicket, the moss side does not face north but
curves in a circle with its back to the world, and, at its centre,
where the branches grow most tangled and forbidding, is a
hill. In the face of that hill, always hidden from the world,
is the dark mouth of the cave where the girl lives with her
mother.
          As far as the girl can tell, none on two legs but herself and
her mother has ever trod here. Her mother will creep from
the cave only as far as the gardens at the edge of the thicket,
and then only in summer when the leaves are cloak enough
to hide the sun-burnished bronze of her heavy-waved
hair, when the hard enamel blue of her eyes might be forget-me-
nots; but the girl is at home in all the wild. She roams the
whole of Ystrad Tywi, the valley of the Tywi who fled Dyfed
in the Long Ago. In this valley, where there is a tree she
will climb it; it will shelter her, and the birds that nest there
in spring will sing to her, warning of any two-legged
approach.
          In May, as the tree blossoms fall and herbs in the
understorey flower, she will know by the scent of each how
it might taste with what meat, whether it might heal, who it
could kill. From its nectar she will know which moths will
come to drink, know too of the bats that catch the moths,
and what nooks they return to where they hang wrapped in
their leather shrouds as the summer sun climbs high, high
enough to shine even into the centre of the thicket. Before
harvest, when the bee hum spreads drowsy and heavy as
honey, she tastes in their busy drone a tale of the stream over
which they skim, the falls down which the stream pours, the
banks it winds past where reeds grow thick and the autumn
bittern booms. And when the snow begins to fall once again,
she catches a flake on her tongue and feels, lapping against
her belly, the lake it was drawn from by summer sun, far
away—a lake like a promise she will one day know. Then
as the world folds down for winter, so too do the girl and
her mother, listening to the crackle of flame and, beyond the
leather door curtain, the soft hiss of snow settling over the
hills and hollows like white felt.

At some point I’ll collect all the graphics and videos I’ve made in one place and archive them. When I do I’ll link to it. And maybe readers will send in Spear-inspired art and pet pictures, as they did with Hild. That was lovely.

Meanwhile, you still have a month to preorder Spear and get a free enamel pin. Pre-order here:


IndieBound
 | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk

Or see this enormous list of independent booksellers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

ICFA 43, Orlando FL

Kelley and I will be at ICFA this week (March 16—20) to launch pre-publication jollity for Spear. Between us we have a handful of public events:

  • Thursday, 8:00—9:00 pm, Poolside bar. Spear book party. There’ll be a mini book party on Thursday evening by the pool, where I’ll sign books that attendees received in the swag bags, hang out, and drink. It lasts just an hour because I want to attend Nisi Shawl’s Guest of Honour reading at 9:15 pm.
  • Friday, 8:30—10:00 am, Vista A. Reading from Spear. I’ll be reading one of the most exciting scenes from the book at a group event with fellow authors Robert V.S. Redick, J.R. Dawson, and Matthew Sanborn Smith; hosted by Rick Wilbur.
  • Friday, 10:00—10:30 am, book room. Signing. Immediately following the reading, I’ll be in the book room for half an hour to sign anything that didn’t get signed the night before.
  • Friday 4:14 – 5:45 pm, Vista A. Kelley reading. If you’ve never heard Kelley read. you’re in for a treat. Not only is she the best SFF short story writer I know, she’s a great performer. Again, she’ll be reading with a group of writers: Will Ludwigsen F.Brett Cox, and Tenea D.Johnson; hosted by Matthew Sanborn Smith. I’ll be there, too, of course. (Kelley’s readings really are not to be missed.)
  • Friday, 5:45—6:15pm, book room. Immediately following her reading, Kelley will be signing for half an hour and I, of course, will also be there.

Before, during, and after these scheduled events, both Kelley and I can be found at panels and readings and lunches—we hope to make all the Guest of Honour events, because we both know and like Nisi Shawl (Creative GoH) and Farah Mendlesohn (Scholar GoH)—and by the pool with a drink, and in the indoor bar, also with a drink, just enjoying the amazingness that is talking, drinking, and eating with people we know, and perhaps a few we’ll meet for the first time.

If you’re going to be there, please come say hello!

Two years and 20 million dead

Just over two years ago WHO declared a pandemic. Their official count of global dead is 6,027,059.

The Lancet, however, suggest a much higher number of 18 million.

And the Economist has calculated what it believes is a truer estimate: 20 million.

Whichever estimate you trust, that’s a lot of people. Especially when you consider that cases are, once again, beginning to rise.

This pandemic is not over. Every time some local, regional, or national authority says, Hey, don’t worry about your masks, another tranche of vulnerable people will die, and another will sink further into bitterness and isolation knowing they have been moved to the Acceptable Losses column, again; that no one cares; that 99.9% of the nondisabled population of earth would, in fact, rather be able to go watch a movie without a mask than go to a minor inconvenience for two hours than help the woman with an impaired immune system who has been mewed up her tiny apartment for two years. Who now can’t even go to the fucking grocery store. Your two hours of trivial inconvenience versus two years of her life. Two. Fucking. Years. And counting.

People really piss me off sometimes.

Consider this, too. A significant percentage of those who get Covid—whether barely symptomatic or in intensive care; the severity doesn’t matter—will go on to develop Long Covid. How many? We don’t know. Why don’t we know? Because it’s only been two years and we don’t even really have a hard definition of “Long Covid.” But best guesses, trying to compare apples to oranges to fucking potatoes, suggest 10-30%.

Now, go look at those WHO numbers again, this time the left hand side; the official number of total cases of Covid so far: 452,052,304. And you know they are off by a factor of at least three. So rounding the WHO figures down to 452m (because frankly the calculator app on my phone won’t deal with long numbers), and going from super-conservative (using WHO numbers and only 10% get Long Covid) to deeply alarmist (multiply WHO by 3.5 and assume 30% will develop Long Covid) and the number range is 45.2 million — 546 million. And holy shit, suddenly we’re talking about 7% of the global population.

Now, just in case you haven’t been keeping up, Long Covid is a disabling condition. It’s not just a bit of tiredness, or a few aches and pains. It’s a multi-system attack: brain, endocrine system, connective tissue, heart, lungs, overall metabolism. We don’t yet know if for some people it gradually wears off, or whether after another two years you suddenly die, or at some simply mutate into a giant galactic tapeworm, but given other post-viral syndromes we’re aware of (some of us more intimately than others)1 my guess is that it will linger and linger and essentially be not only permanently disabling but also lead to a significant reduction in lifespan. We are walking towards a massive demographic bomb.

So, yeah, think twice, please, before you throw away your mask. And then think again.


1 In February of 1989 I went down with what felt like flu—but wasn’t—and was wickedly unwell for about 10 days. And I never really recovered. I got a diagnosis of post-viral syndrome, then myalgic encephalomyelitis, then chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, and finally multiple sclerosis. I have not held paid employment since 1989—m health and energy levels are simply too erratic. Then of course there’s polio and post-polio syndrome. So when I say ‘disabling,’ i really mean it.