About leemoyer

Lee Moyer creates original artwork, branding and design. His clientele includes: Film: 6 Laurel & Hardy classics, The Call of Cthulhu and Spiderman 2 Theater: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen King and Stephen Sondheim Music: Andre 3000, Tori Amos and John Mellencamp Book: Raymond Chandler, Iain Banks, and HP Lovecraft Web: BET, CareerBuilder and Paramount Pictures Game: Electronic Arts, Hasbro and Sony Education: McGraw-Hill, The National Zoo, and the Smithsonian Institution His work has been featured in Communication Arts, The Society of Illustrators, and the New York Times. www.leemoyer.com

Holiday Letter 2017

2017 was a dark year. We shed many tears and hurt our hearts in anger over the state of the nation, and it’s effect on the world. We actively engaged in more therapy and escapism than we have in the past and continued to create and live amid all of the suffering of our fellow Americans. This note is going to focus mainly on the joys of our year but everything below needs to be prefaced by saying we believe all people are equal, kindness is important, love wins, black lives matter, immigrants and refugees are welcome, disabilities are respected, women are in charge of their bodies, people and planet are valued over profit, and diversity is celebrated.

This year held a lot of interwoven travel, starting with Venetia heading to the East Coast for Arisia in Boston while Lee headed south down the West Coast for a skeptics convention, LogiCal-LA. Venetia joined forces with Lotus in rampaging through the city having all the fun. She got to speak on a panel about one of her favorite writers, Chuck Tingle, and hang out with all our dear Arisia friends.

Lee so enjoyed spending time with Celestia at the show, vending Small Gods, and meeting so many wonderful new people. After the show, Lee stayed with Bino, hung out with Shreya, was visited by Priscilla and Marcy. Before he left, he updated a sacred pamphlet solemnly passed on to him some 35 years ago while he was dressed as a clown (a long story) to share at the convention. As well as that New Yorker cartoon he’d always wanted to draw. Venetia’s earnest “Have you heard the good news about God?… Zilla?” as she passed out pamphlets might have worried people scarred by previous encounters with religious fanatics.

The Portland Women’s March was a huge success and we were glad to add our bodies to the mass of protestors. It was raining but everyone was in good spirits and we ended up walking almost all the way home because the buses were so full after the rally.

We had the good fortune to share our house briefly with the talented Jay Edidin as he moved from Portland to New York. We have long been fans of his work; despite having little interest in comics, Venetia adores the podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men and her Cyclops “Resist” pin has been a great comfort to her since Jay gifted it to her.

Jay’s fiancee Tea sent us the most amazing set of postcards that kept us occupied for hours: until the very last moment in fact that Jay climbed into the car to leave for the airport and Venetia had to run after him to ask for a clue to solve the message.

March brought some interesting mass sales to Portland. First, the Grimm Liquidation Event. Grimm had been filmed in Portland for many years and was finally ending so there was a weekend long sale held in a giant warehouse in NW Portland. The first day was rainy and we got there a few hours early… but apparently not early enough. The line wrapped around the entire block and then meandered down another block. About 30 min after the sale officially began, a very nice lady began the long trek down the line warning people that it might be another five hours or so before they got in, and that it was more likely that they would close the entire line down because only a certain amount of people were allowed in the warehouse at a time and they were at full capacity. We decided we were wet enough (it was pouring rain and even with umbrellas it was impossible to avoid getting damp and cold) that after a brief visit with Dan Garrison, we hit the road. When we returned again on Monday, the wait was a mere hour.

It turns out that they had so much stuff that there were new truckloads of items coming into the warehouse every day for the better part of a week – interesting props just kept coming. We got a styrofoam skull just because and Venetia found a whole stash of clothing that fits her, a handmade skirt and a set of colorful tank tops.

Then later in the month was the Ip Man Estate Sale. Venetia’s friend Phyro is a huge fan of Ip Man (who had trained the late great Bruce Lee), and so we went to see what kinds of gorgeous things were there. The shop was full of Asian men and women in business suits who looked like they knew exactly what they were doing. We were aimless dilettantes by contrast, especially when we saw some of the price tags or better yet, didn’t see a price tag and asked the floor manager for a price. He said he would get back to us and we gave him our contact info but as he never actually got back to us with a price, I’m guessing he thought it was out of our budget. He was probably right.

At the beginning of April, after a costume-filled Wondercon culminating in the biggest haul of pin-up dresses for the ladies, Venetia, Lee, Janelle, Hillarie and Priscilla all went across the street to Disneyland. Lee hadn’t been to this cluster of tourist trappings since the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention, and was astonished at Anaheim’s growth. It was even more surprising to see Portland poster artist Brian Linss at Disneyland as the day began! It was Venetia’s first visit to Disneyland (her first visit to Disneyworld was when she was 21) and she was enchanted. It was a beautiful sunny day and there was a special food festival going on with food carts of (extra delicious) themed foods. We got to see one of the rarer Disney princesses, Pocahontas. She was stoic when Lee suggested that the giddy ladies “say something naughty” as he took our picture.

We went on the Haunted Mansion ride first before the park became too busy. The fantastic Cars ride was way better than we expected. Ariel’s ride was adorable but unmemorable. Twirly high-up in the air ride. Roller coast was super intense and amazing. Didn’t get wet on the ride you get wet on. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was just as astonishingly bizarre and seemingly-un-Disney up as Lee promised. The Enchanted Tiki Room was much less palatable than either of us expected and – we hope – probably not long for this world considering the success of Moana, where Maui and company are treated with respect and at nearly 100% less colonial exoticism. And oh – the astonishing racial and ethnic slurs in the dancing mechanical birds section? Good heavens!

The park’s arrangement with the Dole company must be a fascinating one, and Venetia very much appreciated the Dole Whip. If the Enchanted Tiki Room does change, we’ll be fascinated to see the PR spin that Dole will put on it many decades of colonial rule…. Hillarie bought us all group pins and Lee wears his little mermaid pin everywhere.

Up the road in Simi Valley, we went out to dinner with Jason and Kemi and they introduced us to a wonderful concept: all you can eat sushi! There were three courses and Venetia was VERY disappointed not to be able to make it to the third course. She would be happy to try again any time. We spent a few days with Paul Komoda cleaning up his apartment and planning his website. We had fantastic IKEA adventures with him and even more fantastic adventures with Priscilla and the best gluten-free churros of Los Angeles. It turns out Weird Al also likes that particular taco stand and Priscilla got the best selfie with him.

We returned home to host our annual Bellydancer convention, this time two new ladies from Canada who had been recommended through the Winnipeg Bellydance community. Lee took them to our new favorite chocolate shop in town: Missionary Chocolates. You may have tasted their chocolate truffles if you’ve spent time with us this year. We worked with Melissa over the summer to start a newsletter and remodel the shop. Venetia got chai chocolate truffles for her birthday. Midway through the month, Venetia drove down to Eugene for the Western States Folklore Society which was being hosted by her graduate professor, Daniel Wojick. Venetia brought chocolate and got to catch up with old friends from graduate school and listen to some fascinating and interesting presentations. She hopes to crash the academic programming again in the future and next time wants to bring more science fiction peeps.

Lee was called in for jury duty this year and though not empaneled this time, the timing was a little stressful as he had been preparing for well over a year for an emotional presentation at the Mystery Box only to have jury duty scheduled on the same day across town. Happily, the folks at the courthouse were very kind, and Lee’s talk seemed to go over well with the assembled audience. One of Venetia’s goals this year was to participate in social and government programs more – and thus, jury service. Unfortunately for her, she had the shortest jury duty ever – about 10 min while a few names were called and then everyone else in the room was told to go home.

Another highlight of her birthday month was sharing it with birthday friend and all-around fabulous human Tempest Bradford. They went to the Japanese Garden together and had tea and it was absolutely lovely.

As the earth warmed up and the garden started growing in earnest we did some reworking of the back yard, we are slowly eliminating the grass and allowing the flowers and raspberries to spread. With the help of an expert gardener, Jackie, we formalized the growing patterns of the raspberries so that Venetia can walk between the rows to pick berries in the summer.

This year saw the final completion/publication of Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die. Elaine and Michael outdid themselves and the book shows their excellence on every page.

We both flew out to Arizona for Phoenix Comic Con. While Venetia stuck close by the ladies of Badali Jewelry (with whom she worked the convention itself), Lee stayed with Emma and Murray – epic storytellers and dear friends from Ambercon. And despite a traumatic start to the convention with the arrest of a planned terrorist attack, we had a great time with friends and authors. Lee drove down to Tuscon to meet up with friends and meet the brilliant family of Kellner, who he’d worked with starting last year at M.I.T. and whose family compound proved a marvelously relaxing vacation destination. Kellner’s younger sister had been a long-time docent at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and knowing Lee’s history as a Docent at the Smithsonian, she was kind enough to give him a tour. Tuscon was as lovely as seemed Phoenix seemed… well, unpleasant and untenable. And after the convention, for Lee’s birthday, we drove with Emma and Murray up to Flagstaff by way of Sedona, and saw many stunning mountains.

In June we had our annual lunch with the brilliant artist and leading talent of the McMenamin’s properties, Lyle Hehn. It was great to catch up and talk about art and life and inspirations. June was the month of yard sales, both the Tiny Circus House and the Laurelhurst Yardsale were this month. Venetia made out like a bandit getting many of Marysia’s clothes, and while we didn’t need anything from Laurelhurst this year, we still had lots of fun wandering through the beloved neighborhood on a beautiful morning enjoying the architecture and the people.

July and August are mostly summarized in the tale of Our Baltic Adventure: after San Diego Comic Con we flew to Europe for the Writing Excuses Cruise around the Baltics, were awed by the Art Nouveau architecture in Riga, and had a fun and successful Worldcon in Helsinki (where Lee’s body of work won him a very nice Best in Show ribbon, and where he was interviewed for Finnish National Radio)and a glorious five hours in the Blue Lagoon before heading back to the states.

Venetia continued on to Gencon and then Dragoncon while Lee hosted many guests back home. Gencon was definitely Venetia’s favorite convention of the year: she saw the premiere of Lee’s new game Cursed Court and met Mercedes Lackey for the first time. Lee viewed the eclipse from our porch with neighbors and our dear friend Dan Cottle but Venetia had to make due with the reenactment of the earth traveling around the sun via the Southwest airlines crew, as well as a rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart by a man and his dog.

In September our bellydancer super star Accalia came back to Portland from Winnipeg for another Rachel Brice workshop and a promise to return again. Although we didn’t attend Rose City Comic Con we had a great time meeting up with many people who did. Venetia has now introduced six people to the joy of float tanks (something she’d first encountered in Iceland) and hopes to bring even more people to that party in the coming year.

We headed down to California in October for Lee’s first Toastmaster appearance at Convolution (more Toasting to follow with Albuquerque’s Bubonicon in 2018). We stayed with fellow writer Chadwick and his wife Tanya from the Writing Excuses cruise and very much hope to have more travel adventures with them as they are delightful company.

San Francisco was a great adventure, a treasure hunt even – especially as Lee researches a novel he wants to write in the new year. We walked up and down the streets following the plaques for the Barbary Coast. Along the way we encountered a door stoop full of Heritage Auction catalogs (please ask us about them if you are at our house, we’ve got some really entertaining things to show you!). Though the Barbary Coast was once the “wickedest place in the West”, today the gentrification is so extreme that even this pure-profit Auction House was relocating, divesting itself of deluxe catalogues from auctions new on old.

Among work and travel, Lee still found time to join in for the Month of Fear. Each year, the Months of Love and Fear allow Lee to Art Direct himself, and do work that would otherwise not be done (or later used in collections like editor Stephen Jones’ The Art of Horror’. We very much enjoyed our visit with the Joneses in Helsinki).

Our sister-in-law Erin threw possibly the best party Venetia has ever attended: a birthday party for Lee’s mother Mary celebrated with a basket full of kittens. The woman is pure magic.

Lee’s Ambercon adventures are chronicled here. He also went to our local Orycon in November where he was absolutely enchanted to meet Sarah Clemens and her husband. We knew her work from years of convention-going, but had no idea about the stories she could tell. We had grand house full of people for Thanksgiving which is exactly how we love it. Janelle and Murray and Emma were all staying with us over Thanksgiving itself and went to a Melissa & Lee’s house for a stupendous Thanksgiving spread. Then Jaym and Dylan came down to throw us a second feast with the most tender delicious turkey we’ve ever had. And Murray put a wonderful end to the story he’s been telling at Ambercon for the last seven years.

At the end of the month Venetia applied for and was hired as a Powell’s City of Books seasonal employee. She’s been working there all of December, first as a cashier but now as a bookseller in the Gold room (the best room in Powell’s as it is where all the sci-fi fantasy books are.) For what is traditionally his slow season, Lee has had plenty of work to keep him busy. And lots of interesting podcasts to listen to while he works (see below). We hung up Christmas lights on porch (Lee barely kept Venetia from putting them up before Halloween) but due to an unfortunate bout of the flu did not get a tiny Christmas tree this year. However as the snow comes down, we are warm, well-fed, and ready for all the work to be done in the new year.

Lots of games with Jonathan Liu, Claire Crafting Parties, Brunches with Alberto, Venetia learned she loves to caulk, many wonderful walks around our neighborhood, pumpkin picking party with Alia Hazen, many dinners at our current favorite Portland restuarant: Eleni’s Philoxenia

Visitors: Jay, Alaina, Elsa Henry, Kristina Carroll, Janelle, Dan Cottle, Accalia, Jaym, Eric Vargas, Jenn and Matt

Movies seen: Guardians of the Galaxy, Rogue One, Wonder Woman, Blade Runner 2049
Plays: Murder on the Nile, Cabaret, The Language Archive, The Starlings, multiple Mystery Box performances
TV Shows: Mr. Robot, The Good Place, West World
Podcasts: You Must Remember This, Code Switch, Pop Culture Happy Hour, 99% Invisible, The Allusionist

Author events:Jeff VanderMeer and Lidia Yuknavitch, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Monstress creators Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Kate Elliott and Malinda Lo, Max Gladstone, and the delightful Fran Wilde

2018 – Where to Find Us:

Venetia with Badali Jewelry:
Emerald City Comic Con – March 1-4
Wondercon – March 23-25
San Diego Comic Con – July 19-22
Gencon – August 2-5

Lee and Venetia:
Norwescon – March 29-April 1
Miscon – Artist Guest of Honor – May 25-28
Wondercon San Jose – August 23-26
Bubonicon – Toastmaster – August 23-26

We are also talking seriously about another Writing Excuses Cruise in September.

And finally, huge thank yous to Abie, the amazing and talented model for our Christmas card this year and Brittany who took the original reference photos at Jonathan Tweet‘s house.



I’ve been tempted to write a long essay about spoilers for some time. And while this isn’t that long essay, I hope it will get my points across quickly.

IRONIC SPOILER WARNING:, the text below will contain spoilers (largely older ones that most of you will probably already be familiar with) as illustrations.


Repeat after me:
Spoilers SUCK. Knowledge is power. Narrative is magic. Context is everything.

The douchebag who left the opening night of ‘Alien‘ telling the assembled line for the next show that ”Ash is a Robot“ destroyed the viewing experience of many (if not most) of those who came next. Because they could gauge the actions of the character, as well as understand a technological facet of the world that was meant to be hidden, and (for those with the ability to put pieces together), the entire plot.

This is the most straight-up sociopathic spoiler I know about, but in a world where communal experience is ever-lessening (I go to a great Halloween party every year filled with lovely smart folks, but usually recognize only a couple costumes because our sprawling nerd culture/s are far more vast than I could ever have imagined), being able to destroy something communal and fresh becomes all the more important for the petty and the sad.

It doesn’t matter much if you know ”Rosebud” is a sled, that’s more of a red herring than a deep reveal (and then funnier once you know the Hearst/Davies conjecture). But many other films in my favorite genre (Memory/what makes us human) are badly damaged by spoilers. And as storytelling becomes more plot-driven, spoilers hurt a lot More. Hard to spoil ‘Blade Runner’, but way too easy to spoil its sequel (which I also really liked).

‘The Prestige’ is all about magic, and it uses film editing AS magic. Take away the magic and you remove the first viewing’s surprises, sort of collapse any future viewings into the first one. I looked at many Prestige posters – there are a surprisingly vast number of posters, and many of them directly relate to the deep themes of the film – before deciding to use the photo below:

‘The Crying Game’? Lyle Lovett on the soundtrack? Fantastic. But telling me the name of the song he sings before I see it? Well, there goes that soufflé….

Marvel (currently the smartest movie-making machine on the planet) spoiled a lot of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ for many of us by showing a key plot point (or 5) in the trailer. If I hadn’t known the Hulk was present, I would have been as surprised and delighted as Thor himself. And really, you want to show me Thor’s hammer destroyed in the trailer? Wow. OK.

I could go on and on, but I’ll end with the ending of ‘The Road Warrior’ – something I find especially beautiful (all the moreso for its unexpectedness). If it had been spoiled, that would have gutted its effect, and for all that many of us don’t like to think of it, film is about emotional power. Spoilers have the ability to lessen and recontextualize the great and the good – diffusing and commodifying. They spoil – thus their name.

No one can spoil a lame C-grade movie, because it‘s not worth spoiling.

To sum up: Spoilers suck. Knowledge is power. Narrative is magic. Context is everything.

Amber Account

‘And you’re shining like the brightest star, a transmission on the Midnight Radio’

Some came as the Denton Drama Troupe intent on staging their very… special version of RENT, others as orphans given homes by a hard-working Nazi Scientist. There were private eyes and ponies, revenge-minded Spanish swordsmen and monomaniacal mantises bent on animated intergalactic destruction. Sometimes Westworld, sometimes Austenworld, sometimes Deep Space Nine, but always McMenamin’s Edgefield – once poor-house and hospital, now our annual Halloween Hogwarts – replete with restaurants, rest and relaxation.

4 days, 7 game slots of varying length each with 20 games, and 140 or so people.
Another year, another Ambercon NW.

As usual, after the opening meet-up and t-shirt distribution, I opened Slot 1 with drawing.
And while I didn’t draw so much myself this year, I helped others (including many of the second generation of attendees) where I could. This year’s shirt design:

2: This marked my last year as a bit player in Mr. DeMille… er, Simone’s epic Amber game Court Dances. Andros was little more than background color amid a full-on Cosmic pageant, but I at least enjoyed the color.

3: May I please play the Man-in-Black in The Princess Bride game? I felt that this game was a risk – that it could have easily gone pear-shaped. But Ambercon-NW-newcomer Suzette Marioti’s direction was fabulous, and the players (Jason, JP, Chris) were too.

4. A game over two long slots is a major investment – essentially a full quarter of the convention when all is said and done. I’d never done it before, and may not manage again. In the hands of Children was absolutely horrible, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

“In a war-torn countryside, orphaned children scrape together a meager existence with begging and theft. Some of them accept transport to the isolated farm of Dr. West, where it is promised that they will be fed, clothed, and educated. These promises are certainly kept — for those who survive childhood. Those survivors are changed in ways their younger selves could not have imagined, and tasked with leading their countrymen to victory and power. No one — not these children, and certainly not Dr. West — could have foreseen the true cost of the work, and what was set in motion when the first child crossed his doorway.”

Poor Evelyn, Cora, Thomas and Henry. In a world where living was only marginally better than dying, these boys and girls got by as best they could.
And as horrific as this one was, it was only part one….

5. A Firefly game can be challenging to run at the best of times, but 9 players with two captains and 3 ships? Yikes.
While I was delighted to be captaining the Hunter, I was grateful I wasn’t running the show.
Happily, Monique had chosen a character in perfect harmony with my own, and the mechanics of rumor-generation were particularly entertaining (and nothing draws attention like a missing eye). My real-world knowledge of neuroplasticity got a surprising workout too!

6: Bloodshadows
A chance test-drive detective Sam Rivers, a character I plan to write more about (and from the point of view of). The places we end are always dependent upon the places we begin, and while this proved interesting in the short term, Sam is not really much of a team player. The long game will require a more starting point more in line with the SF earthquake and fire. And a lot more research.

Great turns from all my fellows – Amanda’s as a mysterious femme fatale, Jen as a Vampire Rights activist with an interest in salmons and grizzlies, Thaddeus’ Jazz player and Malcolm’s corrupt Irish Beat Cop were pure theatrical delight.

7: In the Hands of….Dr. West’s Nazi Super-Soldiers?

There’s a war on, and the Eidolons of Ian Tregillis’s astonishing Bitter Seeds are more threatening than anything else the children of the Reich could ever imagine.
And an alliance with a figure from Evelyn’s childhood nightmares is the key to a dark victory after the destruction of Paris. Gracie is the second suicide. Cora frees Dr. West and sets the Reichstag on fire. Henry punches Goering and collects long-lost Robbie in a telekinetic run to the Channel. Thomas and Evelyn remove their batteries. Enochian is sung by the children in Dover, and while the Eidolons are stymied, they will not remain so forever…..

A deep dark rich game that combined the players and characters of Nathan’s Blood Price game with Jennifer’s In the Hands of Children. When all was said and done, it was worth every moment of play, and it stays with me in surprising ways.

Baltics and Beyond

The Belated and Incomplete Record of Baltic Adventure

Illustrated with potentially interesting photographs and maps

In which Lee & Venetia travel (widely), encounter many delays (all compensated with fancy meals and rooms), negotiate with jet lag (badly), cruise the Baltic Sea (in the company of better writers), drive through former SSRs (but not Lithuania), spend a week in Helsinki at the World Science Fiction Convention (winning a pretty ribbon for Best Body of Work), share a delightful luncheon with a Presidential candidate (who lost), and finally, spend 5 glorious hours soaking in the Blue Lagoon (which looked green).


All the Travel

The first section of our travel was meant to be the Writing Excuses cruise of the Baltics. Venetia got home from the San Diego Comic Con after she and the fabulous ladies of Badali Jewelry absolutely won the convention. She took two days to clean and get all the last minute planning taken care of and then packed like mad on the morning of the flight. Lee’s Mom kindly ferried us to the airport and all was looking good until a mysterious mechanical malady put us 3 hours behind schedule – just long enough to put the kibosh on our carefully planned 2.5 hour layover. Our flight over Washington state allowed for amazing views of the forest fire smoke and an incredible sunset. We watched the Lego Batman movie carefully synced up on our individual screens – a ridiculous process, but easily Venetia’s favorite Batman. Later, while Venetia slept, Lee admired the astonishing moonlit view of Greenland’s ice floes.

We arrived somewhat bedraggled, dazed, and confused in Iceland. Because our delay was purely mechanical, Iceland Air put us up in a Keflavik hotel with fluffy white beds and after a brief period of necessary passing-out, we walked into the brisk ocean wind in search of food. During lunch (it was lunch, right?), we watched a slow but steady trickle of children and parents walk along the edge of the inlet below our hotel and disappear around the corner. After lunch, we followed not only the path of the children, but the footprints of a Giant – our hotel was located on the coast right above Giganta’s Cave!

Venetia was literally beside herself (see below):

We were enchanted by Giganta’s cave, so lovingly constructed for wide-eyed naifs (like us). Though we were somewhat alarmed at the Pacifier Tree. Apparently Giganta really appreciates used pacifiers….

In order to make it to our cruise on time, we returned to the airport in the small hours and were rerouted through Copenhagen, finally on our way to Hamberg. There, we found the cruise line’s bus and they drove us through the green and rain-streaked German morning on our way to Kiel. We arrived just in time. We looked up at the HMS Fantasia (not pronounced like the classic Disney film – they preferred “Fant-a-Seea”), showed our IDs, checked our bags, got in line, and boarded our first cruise ship after the inescapable (and inescapably tacky) photo-op.

We’d would like to say the first thing we did was find old friend Mary Robinette Kowal and gratefully borrow of her wisdom and serenity to navigate the ship. Sadly, that was actually the second thing. Instead, the moment we stepped onto the ship we were beset by the ship’s drinks sales team (yes, that’s an actual job description). As we do not drink, they found us to be a mystifyingly hard sell. “What about tea?” they asked in desperation. “Soft drinks? Hot chocolate?!” Finally they told us if we wanted to drink any water on the ship we would have to buy the drinks tickets anyway. So we did, but once we realized water was freely available everywhere on the ship, we got our strangely-expensive water passes refunded.

Due to the surprise additional day/night/day travel we arrived with a lot more jet lag than we expected. Our cabin was comfortable and possessed of a balcony overlooking the sea which we would later enjoy. But we fell instantly into sleep and stayed fast asleep until was time to practice the ship safety drills. This was our first opportunity to mingle with the other passengers in their crisp European shirts and light-colored pants. Our grungier more-American travel clothes seemed to stand out as much as Venetia’s haircut. That evening we discovered that our assigned dining room was in the most confusing area of the ship and that the only way to reach it was to go up to Level 6 then take the stairs back down to Level 5. Anything else resulted only in failure and hunger. Hardly the Oregon Trail, but counter-indicated on a behemoth fancy-pants European cruise ship.

Though Venetia found its glittering show stairway dangerously attractive, Lee continued to grumble about its other gaudy, gratuitous surfaces, which rendered signs (such as they were) illegible. Bad design is truly international.

The first new folks we met from the Writing Excuses group were our dinner companions that night, and they were fantastic. Writers make the best conversation partners, and we felt instantly welcome. We were very late to the Writing Excuses party, and not just because we’d missed our Icelandic connection. We’d asked Mary about the cruise belatedly, and were relieved that there was still a little room for us at the inn – though we missed a good deal of the pre-cruise conversation and arrangements. When we go next year (somewhere closer to home, no doubt), we hope to be more in sync from the start.

Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark

But!….we were just there! We inadvertently visited Copenhagen three times on this trip and that turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as we love the city. On this pass, we lucked out by joining Tempest’s group and finding that it already included Finnish writer Ninette Bahne and her husband, whose years living in Denmark had made them locals. The city was quiet on a Sunday morning, but though the real destination was the National Museum (see below), we encountered many quaint and cosmopolitan sites en route.

The Museum looked small from the outside (Lee’s decade as a Smithsonian docent clearly skewed his perspective), but housed a truly impressive collection, featuring countless local artifacts and even an Egyptian collection way up in its 4th floor attic, unlike any we’d ever seen. Oh the things we learned – from the importance of the iron-bearing meteorite in ancient Thule (sledged to Denmark the old-fashioned way decades back), to beard-braiding, to the almost intact Viking ship that had been sunk in a bog by the town that defeated it, to gorgeous gold jewelry, to rune stones, and (of course) to Disney’s two-bit Hercules figurines demonstrating what the vasty hoard of ancient figurines were really all about.

Our brains had become overwhelmed by new information, and our bodies by 10 hours of jet-lag, so we returned to the ship before our compadres. And of course fell fast asleep until it was again dinner time (this time at the table of Aliette de Bodard and her adorable family). I fear that we were too bleary to be good company, but happily we got to see the amazing Aliette later in the trip.

Afterwards, we went up to the game area to pass out Missionary Chocolates. Imagine our surprise upon learning that these unsanctioned foodstuffs were actually forbidden contraband! Strangely, for a cruise with masses of food always on offer, their policy was “No outside food or alcohol!” Happily, they never checked our luggage and we, who had joined the cruise late, had no notion of those strictures. For the rest of the cruise Venetia delighted in slyly carrying her big box of chocolates, furtively checking for any crew, and then offering contraband chocolate to our surprised new friends.

This was our introduction to bestselling author (and Writing Excuses instructor) Jasper Fforde and his wonderful wife Mari. Despite differing amounts of jet lag, Lee and the Ffordes often found themselves in the same places at the same time. Lee could wish for no better company.

Day 2: At Sea

In between bouts of sleep and scavenging for edible foods at the eternal but poorly-labelled buffet (we are so spoiled by Portland’s exceptional cuisine!), we explored as much of the ship as we could. Both of us wrote during Dan Wells’ hour of random writing prompts. Lee’s resulting story was a meta utopian mystery, Venetia’s a more diabolical tale of cults and other societal horrors. Later, Wesley Chu spoke about writing action scenes and the importance of conveying sensory information in combat, be it simple or complex.

That night, after dinner, we found ourselves on the main deck, watching our 20-story ship pass under Denmark’s massive Storebaeltsbroen (Great Belt Bridge). We didn’t have the best viewpoint, but it was a strange and unprecedented sight all the same.

Day 3: Stockholm, Sweden

We awoke to a beautiful and ever-changing view of the Swedish countryside. The sun rose behind us and the long shadows became shorter as we dined with David Levine, the Chus, the Ffordes, and many other people who came and went. In high summer, there seemed no more beautiful place than the Swedish countryside. We watched the ship dock, and then caught a bus into the city where wandered the water front.

We ignored the lure of the Stockholm and Tessin Palaces, and even the communal yoga in the King’s Garden. Instead, we chose to stray outside, basking in the glorious summer day – first to Skeppsholmen island and then, across another bridge, to Kastellholmen. The museums were closed, but the hostels and little cafes were buzzing. After a lovely idyll at the castle on the point, we wandered back off the islands and uptown into the city seeking sushi (which was absolutely scrumptious!). We saw very little, but loved the little we saw. Maybe one day we’ll return….

Back on the ship, Lee fell fast asleep while Venetia took in Mary Robinette Kowal’s excellent presentation on how to best critique other people’s work. Part of the attraction of this cruise was that we knew many of the worthies that were on it. This night we dined with Howard and Sandra Tayler – two of the very best. Howard had been a Writing Excuses podcast regular for ages, but we know him from many conventions past. Venetia is a long-time fan of Sandra’s blog.

After dinner we headed up to the deck with a huge crowd of writers. Just in time for the ship’s return pass under the Storebaeltsbroen. This time we wanted the highest view and climbed fore to as high a point as we could reach. Here again, we encountered the Ffordes – but this time they were already in good company – with Kelly. Lee had known Kelly when she lived in Portland, but she now lives quite near the Ffordes in Wales – the world may not be small, but it is wonderfully strange! Watching the ship’s lights illuminate the underside of such a massive bridge as it barely skimmed by underneath was remarkable (and yes, the extra height made a crucial difference to the spectacle). We were relieved that we were onboard only the 8th largest ship in the world. It seems that Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas has to lower its retractable twin smokestacks, ensure its ballast is correct, and that it maintains the correct speed, lest disaster strike. And that’s without considering the terrors (and higher waters) Global Climate Change will bring….

Day 4: Tallinn

Tallinn looked lovely in the distance as we surveyed it from the breakfast table at the back of the ship. But we knew that our travel plans would bring us back to Tallinn, and there were other things on our minds – mostly the group of hot tubs that dotted the main deck. It was a fascination that profoundly refused to pay off, and we were deeply disappointed to find the hot tub temperatures set at a mere 98 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not a hot tub! That’s a body heat tub. Even a tepidarium is less tepid than that. So Lee opted for a Thai massage instead. There was no denying the talent of the masseuse, and her ability to subdue someone twice her size was amazing to experience. While Thai massage was an interesting thing to try once, it proved a little too intense and he’s glad he’ll never have to try it again.

That night we traveled to the mystery floor for dinner as usual, but the room was so loud it was impossible to even hear our tablemates. We retired to the buffet and hunted food there. It was an early night as the combination of jet lag, age, and sheer noise took its toll.

Day 5: St. Petersburg, Russia or Why the Revolutionaries Had It Right

We hope to never return to Russia. It was beautiful but also… well, sort of awful. First, there was the quayside queue. And what a queue! It seemed like the majority of the 4000 people on our boat wanted to sightsee in Russia but first every single one of those people had to stand in line to stand in front of a Russia custom’s agent. This was not a quick or convenient check-in or trip through customs. This was 5-10 minutes per person. You may think we are exaggerating but no, a person in line with us timed it. We waited well over an hour to pass from one side of the dock to the other. There was a lot of typing and a lot of hand motion below the counter where we couldn’t see what was happening , and we suspect that the border agents were photocopying every page of each passport. Lee was asked about his time in the army. He was so startled by this ridiculous assumption that he laughed out loud and shook his head. That seemed to work well. They were less suspicious of Venetia (which is a funny thing if you know her desire to have been a CIA agent).

Once we were through the idiot line (some of our shipmates with real military service were not so lucky – they were held and questioned for another hour). This seemed all the more astonishing considering Putin’s arrangements with the non-Democratically-elected “leader” of the US, but more on him later.

While other members of our group traveled together on specific Writing Excuses outings, we were thrown into the general population of tourists. The bus we ended up on had an English speaking group and a French speaking group, each with its own tour guide. We were driven around for brief stops to take picture at various picturesque locations. Then there was the not-so-brief stop at the underground tourist trap/market where “Every doll is hand-painted”. There was no way to avoid it, once in, the trapped tourists had to walk the entire U length of the market to escape again. I wondered at the percentages paid, and if the guides themselves saw so much as a ruble.

* An important note about the Minions above: The Russians have only purchased the rights to the orange minion.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (AKA Church of Spilled Blood) was something we’d never heard of, but was hands-down the most stunning and extraordinary spot we visited. Venetia was charmed when a smooth local fellow put trained pigeons on her shoulders. Since we were in Russia such a short time, and had no cash or money, the pigeon handler decided to angrily castigate us. Apparently his charm was reserved for the birds….

The majority of our time (other than the tourist trap and our meal) was spent at the Hermitage which gave us an overly-adorned look into the Russian Royal psyche. We were not allowed to take pictures in the Gold Room, so called because it’s filled with objects made of gold – including the first known toy made out of gold and so many amazing archeological treasures. Contrary to the name, the Gold Room was not one single room, rather it was a series of rooms filled with more and more ostentatious objects d’art. The wealth got us down. Well, not so much the wealth itself, but the grotesque concentration of it. It only takes so many rooms of carefully crafted and bejeweled golden snuff boxes to understand that the Russian revolution had a damn good point.

Our tour guide proved another point of interest, mostly for how much we annoyed her and her desire to give as good as she got. She was very strict about us staying on schedule and moving along as a group but she also did not approve of us talking among ourselves or anyone not properly appreciating the priceless works of art she was showing. In our case, this meant that we got stern looks and scornful comments as we (and a similarly inclined Asian lady) took pictures of the wall paper instead of the paintings that hung on it, and marble stands instead of the the precious objects mounted there.

We were quite happy to leave at day’s end… until we discovered that the line to exit was just as long as the line to get in. What? By sheer dumb luck, we again picked the slowest line, a mistake that we only fully understood when we got to the counter and saw the same border agent who’d grudgingly admitted us hours earlier. She was unsurprisingly unamused by Lee’s “Lovely to see you again so soon!”, but she had no cause to keep us in Russia.

As we left the harbor we said a grateful goodbye to the giant phallic Gazprom Headquarters (recently moved west from Moscow) we’d first seen in the hazy morning light. Venetia thought it a rocket launcher and secret military fort, but Lee thinks it’s Putin’s middle finger to the West….

As we passed out of St Petersburg, Lee was enchanted by the odd islands, the ancient and decaying sea forts, the north/south highway that crossed the Gulf of Finland under our ship, and, most of all, the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral. Despite the wonderful viewing height that a giant cruise ship affords, Lee’s photos did it no justice. If you haven’t seen it, we recommend looking it up on a Google Image Search.

We met award winning author, translator and lawyer Ken Liu at dinner and though he was alone with Writing Excuses people at dinner, we were were utterly charmed by his wife and children when we met them later.

Day 6: At Sea

Jasper Fforde’s talk began with him reverse-engineering the opening to the Fall of the House of Usher, eventually letting us hear the original in its fulsome glory: “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” He talked about the importance of wordplay, and play generally – about how a writer’s curiosity and engagement with the world help shape how his readers engage with his writing. The talk was a delight from start to finish.

Growing throughout the cruise, but really crystallized today, was the realization that Lee has a story to write. We had talked about it many times over the years, fun bits of trivia and notes about how the story would go but for the first time, we sat down and said, yes we are doing this. It is going to take a lot of work and a hell of a lot of research but we are both excited and motivated to make this book happen. Note: If anyone reading this has interesting tales of San Francisco from 1906-1916, please let us know, won’t you?

Day 7: The Return to Terra Firma

We disembarked the boat to a peculiar triage, as each passenger waded through the pile of baggage the stevedores had assembled, that they might somehow find their own. It reminded me of something I’d not thought of in decades – a ski swap I once attended in Colorado – a room full of slightly stressed people seeking cumbersome objects in bright colors while trying not to get run over or run anyone else over. Once the bags were sorted we boarded the bus back to the Hamburg airport. Once there we…. waited. Every half hour or so, the airline sent new employees to tell those waiting that they, the employees, were also trapped and that they also knew nothing about where our plane might have gone. Happily, Ken Liu’s children provided us a gleeful distraction (though I suspect they proved less entertaining to their parents), as they awaited their flight to Santa at the North Pole.

Eventually, a plane from a completely different airline appeared and whisked us to Copenhagen. And for the second time in a week, we missed our connecting flight. This time, there was no Giganta to distract us, but there was a retrofitted 60’s hotel in a great part of town that we would never otherwise have been able to afford. And with it came the most delicious dinner and breakfast of our entire trip.


The following morning’s plane flight went off without a hitch and though short, the flight was beautiful. As the plane banked, Lee noticed a gently winding river that ran nearly parallel to the coast, meeting it just outside Riga. And on this strip of land a series of lovely looking buildings. Upon landing, and meeting up with old friend Eric Olive, Lee asked about the landmass in question and learned that it was called Jūrmala and that it was where Eric and his young family lived. Eric drove us from the the airport and as near to our our AirBnB in Riga as he could. Parking in the old town is difficult, and using rolling bags on the ancient cobbles is as silly as it is noisy. Eric took us out for food and a tour of the astonishingly beautiful town. We were in Riga partly to see Eric and partly because it had a reputation as the home of some extraordinary Art Nouveau buildings. Both parts proved a great success.

That night in our large bed in a very short loft in our charming old town apartment, we watched the Netflix show GLOW and added many mosquito hide trophies to those already on the ceiling above us. The place was wonderful, but wow. One can only imagine the bites previous tenants must have received.

The next day we explored, venturing out in different directions, down many different streets, never in danger of getting lost because the old city is truly (adorably) finite. We shot reference of buildings – not Art Nouveau, for they are in their own neighborhood, not the older part of the city- sought out the work of local jewelers, watched our fellow tourists, craned our necks to see the details on the high towers, and admired the masses of amber and wool that Riga has on offer.

Eric picked us up after we witnessed a sketchy drug deal (really the only conclusion we could come to) and drove us out to Jūrmala. The water was delicious to Americans like us, far more used to the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest. Lee and Eric sat down at a Latvian cabana bar on the beach and caught up with one another’s lives. They also talked talked politics – really, it would have been impossible not to, amid the mistresses and children of today’s Russian oligarchs). Venetia hadn’t brought a swimsuit, but that wasn’t going to stop her from spending a blissful hour dancing through the waves in her free Batman underwear. Now that one comes to write it, “free Batman underwear” sounds even stranger than it actually is….

Later, after a brief stop at the corner store, Eric took us home to meet his lovely wife Linda and new baby. The evening was clear and fine, if a bit chilly. Eric grilled dinner while Venetia enjoyed the hammock. Later, Eric’s teaching colleagues Jamie and Veronica arrived and we spoke about art, writing, and specifically the story of Jamie’s that Lee will be Illustrating in the book Eric is producing called ‘Deep Signal’ (which will also feature pieces from friends Stephen Hickman, Mw Kaluta, Ken Liu, Aliette de Boddard, and many others). It was a great night, and we loved talking about Hamilton with Jamie and Veronica as they dropped us back in the heart of Riga afterwords.

Tallinn Tours

We repacked our art show (now more awkward for a canvas printed in Riga and kindly delivered to us by Eric when we arrived) and made it to our tour rendezvous early. We had an entertaining time watching a surly bus driver smoke and pace and wondered if he was our tour guide. Thankfully a charming young man appeared right on the hour from the opposite direction and brought us over to his van. Venetia quickly claimed the front middle seat by virtue of being tiny and Lee got the front window seat. And we were off!

Venetia originally booked the tour with much skepticism as an alternative way to get from Riga to Tallinn (we found it strange that no convenient commuter train existed). But before the day was even half way over she decided it was the best tour she has ever taken. It might have been our guide’s description of the sport of Wife-Carrying, but it was probably his comprehensive knowledge of the area and its history. The first stop was the Soviet bobsleigh track, still used as a training course, though in the summer the skateboarders and wheeled-trainees take it over. We walked halfway down the amazingly long track, admiring its twists and scarps. Lee achieved a (previously-unrealized) ambition by passing the rest of the group running sideways up the wall. A location that had sounded silly in the trip description proved even sillier, but much more delightful, in person.

Later, we drove deep into the woods and walked amid the sandstone cliffs along the winding tannin-rich river below. The soft cliffs were inscribed with the names and symbols that numberless tourists had engraved in them (“feel free to add” said our tour guide). Lee found it an embarrassing embodiment of a saying he’d grown up with in the American West “Fools’ names, like fools’ faces, are often seen in public places”. Venetia picked and ate many tiny wild blueberries that grew everywhere in the meadow. She might well have continued her appreciation of nature for hours had the rest of us not threatened to leave her behind.

The restaurant where our tour guide usually took his people for lunch and his back-up restaurant were both closed, so we went a little out of our way to a beautiful countryside brewery and ate a gourmet lunch – astonishing to think it would be anyone’s third choice. We visited the small medieval fort and Cathedral in the ancient city of Cesis, and then (after we crossed the long border into Estonia) we visited the often built and too-often destroyed Pärnu – which these days hosts a jaw-droppingly large choral festival. We ended the day when our guide pulled us into a central square in Tallinn. And for all that we wanted to enjoy its sites and sights, we arrived too late and planned to leave too early the next morning. Like Stockholm, it was beautiful. And like Stockholm, we enjoyed it only in passing.

We eventually arrived at our Air B&B on foot, and were dismayed at its ramshackle appearance. It looked unsafe – all rotting timbers and peeled paint.

But when that night’s landlord arrived and let us in, we could not have been more surprised – it was completely up-to-date inside. And it featured a full BATH TUB. We stayed in that night, and bathed to our heart’s content, while considering how much our digs resembled the secret headquarters of some clandestine spy organization.

Helsinki and the World Science Fiction Convention

We took the ferry from Tallin over to Helsinki; a popular ferry, it turns out, for transporting cheaper Estonian alcohol over to Finland. We sat as far away as we could from the loud casinos and watched cartloads of duty-free alcohol pass by.

As we exited the ferry, Lee’s phone rang, and the call was coming from inside the house. Well, from inside the country really. An interview was set up for a few hours hence and we stopped by our delightfully cozy and comfy AirBnB (properly Moomin-bedazzled) before heading out to the convention hall.

Lee was especially vexed by the language. Unlike most other languages that share at least a small bit of vocabulary with the mad polyglot nightmare that is English, Finland uses the same letters but (as Steve Martin once said of the French) they have a different word for EVERYTHING! He’d have taken some comfort in completely different letterforms, but that’s just not how the Suomi roll….

The Worldcon proved a strange reunion for Lee, with no fewer than 6 members of his High School Science Fiction club in attendance! The Finnish art show was definitely a first for us, and a first for them! Apparently Finnish sci-fi conventions do not traditionally have large group art shows, and this was the first they had ever created. We were told that they don’t even have pegboard like we do (What!?! Is that even possible?) So instead, they created a gallery of pristine white foamcore (it was a beautiful and gleaming locale!) which we immediately marred by hammering nails into.

As soon as the art show was set-up, Lee met up with the man from the phone call and accompanying camera man to be interviewed. The interview seemed to go swimmingly, and after it’s completion the art show director said to Lee “I see you are interviewed by our national radio.” We had no idea.

This was a record-setting Worldcon for both us and the convention. Expecting to top out at about 3500 attendees, more than 7,000 people showed up – with many more turned away, due to the fire marshal’s regulations.

Because we had been warned after only a few hours at the conventions that it was difficult moving through the hallways on that first night, we arrived at the location of Lee’s Infamous Bad Book Cover Show almost an hour early and found the hall already packed with people. When the previous panel let out, only a few people from the room exited into the hallway, and others squeezed in as best they could. We made our way into the room using “I’m the speaker” privilege. Venetia immediately set to work on technology and when she was finished, there was still over a full half hour until the actual start of the panel. Two things seemed clear:

1. No one else was going to fit into the room.
2. No one seemed interested in leaving, despite the rising heat.

Lee said that he’d heard Finland was famous for its saunas, but suggested that the panel begin immediately. There was instant and sincere applause. All was going smoothly, laughter and groans abounding, when, five minutes after the time the panel was scheduled to start, the lights flickered back on and a convention organizer politely interrupted to inform Lee that there were still more than one hundred people outside the room wanting to get into the panel. He asked if we could possibly move to a new (and larger) room he’d arranged. Venetia quickly took the mic to tell him, yes, send the people outside to the new room but that Lee would in fact finish up his presentation here in full since he had started so early! After the first panel, Lee raised to the second, larger, room and did it all over again.

So, an interview on Finnish National Radio, a standing-room-only panel, and an immediate repeat performance of the now even-more-Infamous Bad Book Cover Show. Quite a day!

The whole convention was really great for us. Lee met with Stephen Jones and talked about art and the genius of Kim Newman. Stephen has licensed two of Lee’s paintings for his books so far, and his ‘The Art of Horror Movies’ just arrived this week.

After a panel on storytelling, Greg Manchess shared his only copy of ‘Above the Timberline’ with us. What a beautiful book!

There were many reunions with friends from earlier parts of the trip as many of the Writing Excuses writers were also at WorldCon. Eric Olive arrived and interviewed artists and authors for Deep Signal. We are very much looking forward to again listening to the conversation between Ken Liu and Aliette de Bodard which was so fascinating and so full of interesting data that Lee barely said a word! And those of you who know Lee will know just how rare such occurrences are….

Outside the main entrance to the convention hall were some extremely sexy blacksmiths (though Venetia argues, when are blacksmiths not sexy?) and it was always amazing to see what they were up to. When the extreme storm came through Helsinki their booth was smashed to smithereens but they rallied to rebuild with the best sign ever (and if anyone has a picture of the sign, please send it to us!) “Satan fucked us.”

The highlight of the convention for Venetia was seeing Daveed Diggs and his band Clipping perform live, just a few feet in front of her. She danced through the music and got to meet and hug Daveed afterwards. She was a little flabbergasted to be in total giddy fan girl mode, but he’d watched her dance throughout the show and seemed genuinely happy.

Outside of the convention, we found Helsinki to be a most civilized and beautiful city. By civilized we mean that all the modern conveniences that we admire were abundant: easy to use public transit, friendly people, easy to navigate menus for those with food allergies. Their elevation of the popsicle to gourmet status seemed peculiar – probably because we don’t (yet) have such a thing in Portlandia…. Our first trip into the city was to a grocery store where a bemused clerk got to share our joy at finding all of the lactose-free and gluten-free foods that we could eat. In fact every restaurant we ate at in Helsinki had clearly labeled menus denoting gluten and lactose. And the occasional rant against the backward views of certain grotesque Americans. We couldn’t agree more.

A perfect example of Helsinki was the restaurant we found on the water’s edge across from some park blocks. We had been walking for some time and were desperate to eat and it was the only location for blocks that wasn’t an ice cream shop. In the USA, such a prime tourist trap location would be expensive in price and cheap in quality but we didn’t have any other choice and at least we could sit and have a great view. We immediately realized our good fortune when we read the sign inside the front door which explained that this is one of the greenest restaurants in the world. The food was delicious and not any more expensive than any other place in Helsinki would have been. The view was indeed spectacular and we were well refreshed for more adventures.

Afterwards we had a surprising (and hilarious) Interview with a Vampire.
It seems that the handsome young man with the fangs and cape out wilding with his mates was not wreaking havoc on the locals. Instead, he was engaged in a sort of writing project in the form of a ‘Twilight’-themed rewrite for his young fiancée. Did we know this ‘Twilight’? Could we recall the actions of the book? Would we be willing to tell the young Edwardian vampire what came next (after the previous summation by another random person they’d encountered on the street)? Who were we not to do our part?

Iceland (This Time We Really Mean It!)

We stayed at the Dead Dog party as late as we could into the evening on Sunday because early Monday morning we were flying back to Iceland. After dropping our luggage at our hotel (the Northern Light Inn, chosen for it’s close proximity to the Blue Lagoon and its hilarious website text) we headed into town to meet up with one of our favorite authors, Andri Snær Magnason. When last we saw him, he was full of stories of his adventures and this time there were even more stories as he had recently run for President of Iceland. Sadly for us, Iceland, and the world, he did not win. But happily, his artistic output has remained fierce and prolific.

We had lunch with him and his wonderful and interesting friend. Iceland has a most amazing community of artists and we talked all through the meal about many projects and travels.

A nap was required afterwards because the jet lag never really left us and then we had one final adventure of the day: Venetia’s first float. It was a new addition to the hotel and we were both enchanted by the futuristic alien shape of the float tank. Floats, for the uninitiated, are large shallow tubs of water packed with epson salt that you can float in. Before marketers figured out how best to sell them, they were known as “sensory deprivation tanks”, and while that name is accurate – they are sound-proof, dark, and the temperature of the water is meant to be body temperature – “float tank” is just smarter. Though there was a painful period as her muscles fought not to let go of all the tension, in the end Venetia found it to be the best massage she has ever had. She now has a membership to Portland’s own Float On and can host guests. In addition to rooms and tours at Casa Moyer, we can now also offer discounted floats if you are visiting us and want to experience floating.

The last day of our trip could not have been more perfect. We got up early for breakfast, checked out of our room, and then bused over to the Blue Lagoon where we spent five glorious hours soaking in hot water. This time we discovered new regions we hadn’t explored on our last visit; Venetia in particular loved the sauna to warm up everything that was getting cold out of the water and Lee really enjoyed massage by waterfall. We tried multiple variations of mud masks and met a lot of interesting people.

We parted at the airport, Lee heading back to Portland and Venetia to Indianapolis for GenCon. We both watched Westworld on our separate flights and Venetia saw Logan as well. And thus ended our adventure. Of course, the adventure never really ends as evidenced by how long it has taken us to write this travel log! Venetia traveled with Badali Jewelry to Gencon then DragonCon while Lee hosted multiple house guests, saw the solar eclipse, and got a metric ton of work done.

In closing, an alternate map of our adventures from Venetia’s personal addiction: Civilization VI.

2016: Art Year in Review

Before we get too deeply into the new year and new projects (Month of Love is already on the horizon with Theater Poster season right on its heels), here is a brief summary of some of my work from 2016 (not including numerous logos and too many still unreleased pieces).

Another year of great theater, and with ‘Hamilton”s star still ascendant, I was especially excited by ‘1776’ and ‘Rock the Presidents’.

lakewood2016-2017nwct2016-2017I got to work with two of my favorite authors this year: Kate Ristau and Elliott Kay. Each has a couple series, and the design is always as much of a challenge as the illustration.

book-coversNaturally, Venetia inspired a variety of art:

bunnyadventuremonthoflove2pandafinalThe marvelous ‘Steven Universe’ was an occasion to gather some dear friends to model for this portrait of the Crystal Gems. Pearl and Amethyst were closely modeled on Claire and Marysia. Finding a model for Garnet proved difficult, so Venetia kindly stepped in. Reference is a funny business.

crystalgemsAnother year, another 1-hour live painting competition – this time against mighty practitioners William Stout and Heather Hudson. I added proper type later in Photoshop.

cosmicromance1I created art for the conventions at which I was lucky enough to be Guest of Honor. It was especially fun to put the sail I designed for my cousin Cathy’s sailboat into the Convolution cover:

moonmousexyz7csphinxminion2The 2016 Holiday card (based on the astonishing ancient Mayan bas relief we saw in Mexico City):

xmas2016Here’s something you don’t see every day. A full painting of Cardinal Richelieu taken from a typophotogravure by the great Maurice Leloir. It was meant for the front of Lawrence Ellsworth’s firth-ever English Translation of Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Red Sphinx’, but ended up on the back.

the-red-sphinxAuthors Ann and Andres Aguirre were splendid hosts on our sojourn to Mexico, and it seemed only mete to send them an original piece as part of our thanks. :)

peacockposterfinalThe Month of Fear was a highlight this year (as it is every year. My but I love the challenge!). This time the week’s prompts were (by row):
Wicked, Metamorphosis, and Doors.
Secrets and Darkness.

I’m now working on the lighter side of these ideas for Month of Love.

month-of-fear2016It was my great pleasure to work with Mamma Coal on the cover and design of her new record – an answer to Willie Nelson’s classic ‘Red Headed Stranger’.

mammacoal8RIP Leonard Cohen. While some might think this take (by way of the Austin Lounge Lizards classic “Leonard Cohen’s Day Job”) is disrespectful, I like to think it would have made him smile.

leonardcohen1Sultan, Washington boasts the neatest bookstore. It is still in the rebuilding stages, but heavens! What a beauty. Clearly the highlight of the region.

kts-finalAnother year, another delightful Ambercon, and another installment of Murray Campobianco’s sublime Face of Death game meant another day of drawing from its events. This time: the Bad Guys.

b6 amber2016mThe lovely Accalia was visiting from Winnipeg (for the yearly Rachel Brice Bellydancing Intensive. We’ll miss her this year), and posed for Allatu, a little-known Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld. And the always-fine Todd Lockwood gave me a few excellent critiques and suggestions at the end. How lucky to be doing this work with such fine friends to lend their expertise!


Holiday Note 2016


2016 was full of adventure and personal triumphs, but also a lot of sadness at the deaths of too many creative icons and the brutalization and gas-lighting of our country.

We started the year with Venetia’s debut as the Muse of Whimsy at Arisia.


Afterwards, we headed to New York City. We arrived just in time to be completely snowed in with Lotus and Michael in their cozy apartment. This was no hardship as they were well provisioned with food and video games and Lotus and Venetia spent the weekend killing things in Diablo.

Our first real Broadway show, kindly recommended by Jack Lechner, was The Book of Mormon. The actors were amazing, the lead pulled off an eerie Tom Cruise impression and Grey Henson playing the ‘ticking time bomb’ Elder McKinley was so perfect in his role that we fell in love with him instantly.


Our hopes that the snowstorm would depress out-of-town turnout, and that we might somehow score Hamilton tickets were dashed when the snow turned out to be so impressive that all of Broadway shut down. The next day our attempts to go up the new World Trade Building were similarly foiled by the vast sheets of ice sliding off the angled top of that giant edifice. Instead, we met up with Tina Segovia and took in the view from a snow-encrusted Brooklyn Bridge. But just because we didn’t see Hamilton doesn’t mean it hasn’t been in our thoughts and on our iTunes and, in this case, in the Month of Love.


Safely in Portland, Venetia traveled to Lakewood Center (for whom Lee has made posters for many years now) for a class in ‘How to Tell Your Story’. There, she wrote her first short story and met her amazing new therapist.

Yoga continued this year with Lee forcibly leveling up. It seems that the new instructors were not sufficiently briefed as to the geriatric origins of this group, and brought some intensity that had been lacking. Overall, it continues to be amazing.

Due to a fascinating convergence of bad fish, heavy asymmetrical lifting, and bad luck, Lee arrived at the ER with all the signs of a heart attack. Turns out if you are clutching your chest in pain and throw up in the garbage can while being checked-in, you get to the head of line pretty quickly! Lee was very chill throughout and meditated like a champ. FYI, he’s fine!


In the early spring, we prepared a full pin-up show for the Naked Winery in Hood River. The previous pin-up show had been two years previous, and it was a pleasant surprise to see how the collection has grown. It might be time for a book soon!

NakedWinery2016_05 copy

In March, Venetia did a trial-run with Badali Jewelry at Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con and loved it! In September, she joined them again at Dragoncon in Atlanta, Georgia (her first Dragoncon but probably not her last). While Venetia saw very few of these costumes (the dealer’s room restricts such unwieldily visitors) you might enjoy seeing some of the wonders created by the attendees.


Venetia’s birthday this year happened to be during a visit of author Richard Kadrey and after the reading, we went out together for an amazing birthday dessert.


In May we traveled to Wisconsin for waterslides and Wiscon, starting and stopping in Chicago. Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads and his delightful partner Baize joined us for the fun and we made it to not only 3 of the waterparks in the Wisconsin Dells but also a whole day of the House on the Rock and the Forevertron. Our first time at Wiscon was lovely – it was a warm, close convention with lots of love and heart. Also – killer dance parties! Many more details can be found here. Venetia got to spend time with Sarah and adorable children as well.


Lee’s summer trip to Boston was undertaken very much on the spur of the moment. While at M.I.T., he worked with folks from Lockheed Skunkworks, UTEP (the University of Texas at El Paso), and an amazing interdisciplinary band all of whom were nothing short of remarkable. He presented his work at the auditorium in M.I.T., a little ironic given that he hated the auditorium and spent a great deal of his time there redesigning it.


In addition to seeing friends old and new in Boston, he traveled to the wilds of New York state and the Hudson River Valley where it was his great pleasure to see and hang out with dear friends Elaine Lee (author of Starstruck and many other modern comic classics) and Steve Hickman (whose latest art book Empyrean is amazing). From there, Lee ventured to Providence Rhode Island where he got the full H.P. Lovecraft tour from Niels Hobbs. He was astonished by the jewel box quality of downtown Providence and has a much better understanding of Lovecraft’s own affection for it. That night, Niels and his wife Carmen hosted Lee amid their remarkable collection of relics and he learned more about Niels’ remarkable parents: the subject of documentary Alfred & Jakobine. He worked a couple more days upon his return to Boston (and on [and after] the plane ride home) and looks forward to whatever adventures in science and invention 2017 has to offer.


While we had many guests this year, we had a completely full house on three occasions. First, in March, we hosted Lotus at the same time as bellydancers for Rachel Brice’s annual workshop (as we will again this coming year.)


In July, our house was a hotel for Westercon and, along with the marvelous Alberto, we held a taco party for John Scalzi and Mohawk Dude. August brought guests for two events, the World Domination Summit and, concurrently, the Willamette Writer’s Conference. We utilized the classic Divide-and-Conquer Technique™ – Venetia going to WDS, and Lee holding forth on book covers at Willamette Writers.

Venetia took a surprise visit to Montana to spend time with Lotus and see Joanne’s new little girl, Sage. Immediately upon her return, we flew to New Mexico where Lee was the Art Guest of Honor for Bubonicon. Much more on this adventure can be found here and here. We brought home the most amazing work of art by the elusive Dawn Wilson:


One month later, we were back in the air on our way to San Francisco where Lee was the Artist Guest of Honor for Convolution, now celebrating it’s fifth year. We had been guests in their first year, and had fond memories. In part because it’s where we really got to know Jaym and first invited her to Thanksgiving, beginning one of our most cherished friendships. Unfortunately, this year Venetia got the flu and spent the whole week sleeping it off in the hotel room. Beyond that though, the show was such fun that Lee can’t wait to return next as Toastmaster!

After the convention, we drove down the beautiful and strange California coast to visit the Hearst Castle. Much like Rockwell’s Museum, we found the ridiculously over-reverent hagiography was more than mildly alarming. For example, when the tour guides kept repeating over and over again that there would never be another house like this, Venetia muttered that it was because rich American’s aren’t allowed to loot Europe any more. The tour guide’s response? “Well, if Hearst hadn’t taken those things, they would have been destroyed in the war anyway!”. When the National Park Service has been entrusted with mythologizing and lionizing rich Mama’s boys (lets face it, Hurst was born on 3rd base and was a Rupert Murdock-like tycoon of screaming headlines and propaganda) we should all be more than a little alarmed.

After a night and too-brief visit with Lis and Miko, we were off again to San Francisco. It was a picture-perfect day and we took in all the usual tourist sites (from the California Palace of the Legion of Honor to Coit Tower to Fort Point), and Lee did some extra China Town research for the Big Trouble in Little China game he was running at Ambercon.

At the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, Lee again participated in Pickman’s Apprentice – the live painting event (always Venetia’s favorite). This year the competition was fierce with the redoubtable Heather Hudson as well as artist Guest of Honor William Stout working hard. Here’s the result of his one hour of painting (he tweaked the type when he got the image home).


Ambercon was wonderful as always this year, and this was the year Lee won an Award for Best Line: “I’m sorry, I try never to kill a total stranger on the first date.” But he was even more delighted to be nominated in the category of Most Heinous Betrayal (for killing an emo vampire on a first date.)

On the worst day of the year, we were flying south to Mexico City and managed to spend almost an entire day in ignorant bliss as we were welcomed to Mexico by our wonderful hosts Ann and Andre Aguirre. However it’s only possible to stay off the internet for so long. But there was no better place on earth to recover than curled up and cozy with sweet loving animals, amazing food, and one of the best shows on earth: The Master’s Sun. We’re happy to tell you just how incredible this Korean (K) Drama is and Venetia will be happy to rewatch it with you –  if you have the requisite 17 hours to spend.

We are currently in love with Mexico and already looking forward to returning. The step pyramids of Teotihuacan blew us away and we were both incredibly inspired by the art and beauty we saw in the Museum of Anthropology. Lee, as a docent at the Smithsonian for 10 years, can affirm that it is truly one of the best museums in the world. So much of the art we saw has already started to influence his work (including, obviously, the card this letter accompanies).


Eventually, we did have to come home and we’ve spent the past month mostly staying indoors and hibernating. Lee has been rounding out Small Gods to an even 400 and finishing the nigh-unspeakably-complex painting on Starstruck. Venetia has mostly been cooking, cleaning, and listening to audio books. We’ve both played a lot of Civilization VI since our return – It’s definitely a team game, there’s so much complexity going on it’s a huge boost to have both our minds working on it at once. We have such appreciation for Ann and Andre for their kind gift!

Other things we did this year:

The more complete 2016 Art Blog will be forthcoming but some highlights of the year:

We visited (separately or together) Seattle six times this year. Still not as often as we would have liked but each trip was delightful.

This Thanksgiving through quirks of fate, Venetia cooked the whole feast herself for the first time, including the turkey! with advice and finishing touches from Liz.

We enjoyed learning many games with Etch-a-Sketch master Jonathan Liu, and continue to love Code Names, Legendary (We’d played so much that Lee remade the board for our ease of play – let us know if you’d like one and we’ll send you the file!), and the still-new-to-us Mystic Vale.

Guests included:
Alaina, Accalia & David and Miu, our surprise bellydancing guest, Liz and Mikey, Gail & Rod, Janelle, Pat Smith, Scott & Larissa, Kim, K & Tamra (and ferrets), Stacy & Eric, Dan & Noelle-Marie, Charlie Thomas, Rob & Lisa, Lotus

Venture Brothers Season 6
Steven Universe – for a good part of the early year if you came over to our house for a few hours or stayed for a meal, Venetia would insist on showing you Steven Universe. Lee’s homage to the Crystal Gems was created with help from Marysia and Claire and he did his first executive cosplay as Garnet:

Chicago_WI2016_WisconArtShowMore Marvel: Luke Cage, Deadpool, Captain America Civil War
We particularly enjoyed Mr. Robot. We would have enjoyed it more if it’s subtitle, “Democracy has been hacked” had not proven so accurate to our own country’s tragic “issues”. Below, Lee attempts to embody the face of the F*Society at Halloween.


New Music:
Jason Webley
Hamilton and Book of Mormon soundtracks

Where to find us in 2017:
Venetia will be in Boston again for Arisia and Lee in LA for LogiCaLA (among other things) in January
Lee at Norwescon
Both at Phoenix Comic con and Worldcon in Helskini
Lee Toastmaster at Convolution
Venetia accepted a job with Badali Jewelry and will be attending these conventions with them:
Emerald City Comicon (Seattle, WA)
WonderCon (Anaheim, CA)
Phoenix Comicon (Phoenix, AZ)
San Diego Comic Con (San Diego, CA)
Gen Con (Indianapolis, IN)
DragonCon (Atlanta, GA)

Also coming soon:


Dealing with this Crisis

Dear Friends,
We have a lot of work ahead of us in these next four years.
The GOP has for years railed about how Government is the enemy, and, through the tragic technicality of the Electoral College and the breathless abetting of the media, they’ve set out to prove it once and for all.
With this firmly in mind, we’ve compiled a list from several different sources of ways to help in Portland Oregon. 
If you are not sure where to start your activism, maybe the list below can serve as a starting point. 
If there are assertions you’d like me to add, please let me know.
At the bottom of the list I have included a guide for dealing with PTSD.  It comes from the internet but having spent time with Venetia and others (and now studied for years), every point seems right on. Please send me a private note if you would like more resources for PTSD.
Much love to the loveable,

• Hands on Portland
General purpose site for finding volunteer opportunities in Portland
• Willamette Week’s 2016 Volunteer Guide
A volunteer guide that lists several different organizations that use volunteers, categorized by cause.

 Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization
“IRCO’s mission is to promote the integration of refugees, immigrants, and the community at large into a self-sufficient, healthy, and inclusive multi-ethnic society.”
• Q Center
“Q Center provides a safe space to support and celebrate LGBTQ diversity, equity, visibility and community building.”

• Planned Parenthood (Portland)
“Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.”

• Oregon Food Bank


“Oregon Food Bank collects food from farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, individuals and government sources. We distribute that food through a Statewide Network of 21 Regional Food Banks and approximately 970 partner agencies serving all of Oregon and Clark County, Washington.”

• Standing Rock Donations

• SMART – Start Making a Reader Today
• Neighborhood Emergency Teams 
(NETs) are Portland residents trained by PBEM and Portland Fire & Rescue to provide emergency disaster assistance within their own neighborhoods. NET members are trained to save lives and property until professional responders can arrive. These volunteers are specially trained to help others without putting themselves in harm’s way.

 Solve Oregon
“SOLVE is a state-wide non-profit organization that takes action every day to keep Oregon clean and green. We mobilize over 35,000 volunteers and organize over 1,000 cleanup and restoration projects throughout the state.
Our mission: Bring Oregonians together to improve our environment and build a legacy of stewardship.”

• Old McDonald’s Farm, Inc
(OMF) is the only nonprofit in Oregon that combines farm animals, agriculture, gardens and natural resources to provide an educational enrichment program for all children including at-risk children and youth in a safe and secure farm setting.

• Growing Gardens
“Our Mission: To cultivate community through sustainable urban agriculture.
Our Vision: People experiencing a direct and deep connection with food, the land and each other.”

• Books 2 U
“Books 2 U encourages children to read for personal enjoyment and to become library users. Library staff and volunteers bring high-interest paperbacks to classrooms and other sites that serve children. During their visits, they present short, high-energy “booktalks” designed to excite children about the paperbacks. The booktalkers also register students for library cards and promote library services.”

• Community Friends Program
Lewis & Clark College has a great volunteer program called the Community Friends Program. In this, you hang out and do fun stuff with an international student who is studying at the College for a semester, a year, or longer. The time commitment is pretty minimal, a couple hours every couple of weeks, and you do your normal activities, but include an international friend in them.

• Meals on Wheels
“Meals on Wheels are hot, nutritious lunches that are delivered Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to homebound seniors age 60 and older.”

• Bark
“Bark’s mission is to transform Mt. Hood National Forest into a place where natural processes prevail, where wildlife thrives and where local communities have a social, cultural, and economic investment in its restoration and preservation.”
• Maybelle Center for Community 
To break social isolation. “We believe that no one deserves to live in isolation. We also believe that as people we have more similarities than differences and we each have inherent worth and dignity. And, we believe that the health of our community can be measured by how we care for each other.”

• Audubon Society of Portland
“The Audubon Society of Portland promotes the understanding, enjoyment, and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats.”
• Providence Medical Center for Medically Fragile Children
“We are the only pediatric skilled nursing facility in the Pacific Northwest, providing 24-hour long-term, short-term, respite and end-of-life care to medically fragile children and young people ranging in age from infancy to 21 years.”
• Basic Rights Oregon
“Ensure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Oregonians experience equality by building a broad and inclusive politically powerful movement, shifting public opinion, and achieving policy victories.” 
• American Civil Liberties Union
“The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
• Hacienda CDC
“Hacienda CDC is a Latino Community Development Corporation that strengthens families by providing affordable housing, homeownership support, economic advancement, and educational opportunities.”
• Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon
“The APANO is a statewide grassroots organization, uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. We use our collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing, and advocating with our communities.”
Copied from Pantsuit Nation,  advice on stress:
Citizens of Pantsuit Nation! I’m a psychotherapist (not actually Anita Hill, alas…) and I want to share 10 tips for processing the trauma of this last year / week and all of the abuse that is unfolding. When we’re in stress cycles, our executive functioning brains shut down. While some of these tips are common sense, I find the reminders helpful. Please pass it on to support others.

PTSD: some tips for processing stress and trauma.

1a) If you find yourself shaking, let your body shake. This is a natural mechanism of our animal selves to release stress. Humans are often embarrassed or scared by the shaking that may occur in stress so we shut it down. Try not to. If this process can unfold naturally, you’ll feel relief when it’s over and stress that might have been trapped in the body just goes away.

1b) Energy or tension in your fists/hands/arms/shoulders can be trapped from the “fight” response. In the legs/feet the “flight” response has been stalled– don’t be scared. Let the energy out. Punch a pillow or run it out until you get to emotion or exhaustion. If you start crying, let it out until is stops on its own.

2) If you find yourself going through cycles of cold / hot fever states from emotional stress, again let it happen. Your body is working to release stress. Try not to worry about it or make it go away. Like a fever with infection, it will pass on its own and leave you healthier and happier. (Of course, if this cycle continues for too long, check in with your doctor.)

3) Sleep as much as your body wants and as much as you’re able. Sleep and REM sleep naturally process stress. We don’t get enough of it.

4) Remember to eat good food and try to limit alcohol, sugar, coffee etc., all which can throw off the adrenal system and cause anxiety and more stress.

5) Get hugs and affection and provide the same with safe people. This is absolutely necessary for the management of stress and trust in safety right now. Same goes for talking and crying. If a person cannot hold your tears and feeling, don’t ever let them tell you you’re “taking things too seriously” or “being dramatic.” Find someone who can listen.

6) Find a therapist trained in EMDR — a very simple trauma processing technique that is highly effective and heavily researched. Even a few sessions can help to get to the root traumas that this whole horrible election cycle and loss may be kicking up. I know it has kicked up a lot for me. If you’re feeling “overly” reactive, it is likely that an underlying trauma is being triggered. (*If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist you find, find another one).

7) Walk walk walk. This is another natural way that humans process stress. Grab friends and walk together.

8) Laugh: find safe TV shows or comedy to just laugh and smile. Read Harry Potter — good for remembering the fight we’re entering! (Truly). Maybe find shows with good female leads…

9) Create: make art, make music, write, get your imagination moving. When we’re scared, the imagination contracts. Work to expand your sense of hope by giving space to your imagination. This is *useful* to society as well. Patriarchy tells us that only “practical” things are valuable. Don’t believe it!

10) Take 2 minutes periodically to breath more deeply. Lengthen your inhales and exhales. After a long inhale, try to swallow before exhaling. Repeat this 10 times. This simple practice can help regulate emotional stress very effectively.

T-shirts and Apparel

banner-palatino-944-pixelsWhen people ask if my designs are available on t-shirts or apparel, I have historically felt somewhat overwhelmed – where does one even begin? What images? How many? What in my vasty archive do people want to wear, not merely look at?

Venetia, having run an online store for many years, suggested NOT filling our house with all the stock of merchandise that she lived with when she was running The Tinker’s Packs and Worldbuilder’s in Wisconsin. Which means fulfillment through an online source and print-on-demand rather than handling it all ourselves. After looking through numerous sites we decided to go with Redbubble.

The shirts originally designed for Ambercon NW seemed the most obvious first step. And while on the topic of games, the illustrations for 13th Age done with the marvelous Aaron McConnell seemed an excellent Phase 2. Are there things you would like to see as Phase 3? If so, please let me know! It is an age of miracles and wonders and with proper information, who knows what we may achieve!

To view and purchase t-shirts please visit Redbubble through my website: http://www.leemoyer.com/store


New Mexico Adventures

We had a wonderful experience of New Mexico in the summer. Cool breezes, rolling thunderstorms, sudden downpours, and glorious sunsets.

Our journey was delayed at the car rental by a rather awful woman who tried to convince us that the car Venetia had booked for $142 was actually going to cost $333. Venetia countered this by canceling the whole reservation and booking a new one at the rental place at the next counter.  For $46. Mad Internet skills and Costco travel for the win!

We set off into the beautiful clear morning to my friend Dawn Wilson‘s home north of Albuquerque. I hadn’t seen her or her son Max (now a towering EMT and photographer) since they’d lived in Livermore, California during the big quake, decades back. Her large adobe house, surrounded by cacti and low brush, was impeccably stylish and beautiful. Venetia spent much of the time while we talked examining every single piece in Dawn’s mineral and stone bookshelf. Afterwards, Dawn showed us some of her wonderful jewelry, drawing and painting. We’ll do an entire separate blog about Dawn’s work sometime soon, but suffice to say it was more sublime than ever, and that we’re coming home with one of her very best pictures.

DawnThe lunch that followed was fantastic, exactly what each of us needed. Afterward we drove north through New Mexico talking and admiring the clouds. Meow Wolf and the House of Eternal Return was our first goal and we reached it just about at 1pm.

Meow2Neither Venetia nor I knew much about it other that it was an interactive art installation and that it came highly recommended. While I had thoughts as to what we might see, and how I would approach the creation of such a place, the actual experience (with so many other people from so many different backgrounds) was always surprising and delightful.

MeowWolfWe recommend it highly, but would hate to say too much more lest we spoil it. That said, major trigger warnings for anyone who grew up in an apocalyptic cult with a paranoid conspiracist father!

We took a break around 3pm when Venetia had a panic attack and checked in to our B&B. We arrived just before the heaviest downpour of rain and thunder, and Venetia curled up in the window seat with the local therapy cat.

Meow1After the requisite time for recovery, we headed back into the fray!

Meow3We finished up at Meow Wolf just before closing and headed to Santa Fe Plaza to get the lay of the land and do a little window-shopping (this proved a funny idea after-hours as so much expensive jewelry had been removed from the shop windows). We walked the labyrinth in front of the mission and were treated to an unbelievable sunset, replete with bright pinks and crisp glowing rim light. At twilight we headed up into the mountain east of town to Ten Thousands Waves for a splendid dinner – miso soup (Venetia’s ideal comfort food), steak and… amazing pickles. We well understood why the chef had been a James Beard ward nominee.  A perfect meal in a beautiful setting. Then back to the beautiful B&B to soak in the giant bathtub. What a day!

NeighborTuesday started gently (am I finally learning how to relax on vacation, or is the altitude simply too much?) Between binge-watching that season of Game of Thrones and not visiting every single museum in the city, this trip is the most mellow we’ve enjoyed in years. We googled a list of thrift stores in town and set out after breakfast. The first was out-of-business, the second – a Goodwill – was the same as any Goodwill in the US (save perhaps for the number of bright yellow shoes and full sets of ‘Left Behind’ books), the third featured a beautiful lounge jacket for Venetia amid its titanic furniture, but it was with the fourth, ‘Double Take’, that took the biscuit in its enormity and ridiculousness. When we admired the lovely dress just inside the door, we were instantly informed as to its important luxury designer provenance. Turns out that that corner of the building that was all brand names, but the store went on forever – a veritable TARDIS of questionable commerce. As we travelled clockwise through the madness, we passed through the jewelry zone, the cowboy boots, the leather jackets, and the unbranded clothing, before heading upstairs for the overpriced art and furniture. Amid this melange, I was astonished to see something familiar on the stairs – the work of fantasy artist Alicia Austin – a beautiful watercolor showing a Native American man painting birds to give them their colors. The upstairs was large enough to host Johnny Cash in one area and a collection of flaming Disco hits revolving on an ancient record-player in another.

While we were in the neighborhood, we lunched at Tomisina’s – Venetia concluded hers with the  spoonfuls of honey necessary to counteract their flavorful (but very-hot) chilis. As we walked around the block to check out the John Cocteau Theatre, we encountered a gorgeous mural of two dragons putting the Tromp in Tromp L’oiel as they broke out of the building. Afterwards, we went back downtown to the Plaza. Much (if not most) of the jewelry was…. well, let’s call it “ostentatious”. But here and there amid the appalling displays of wealth and excess there shone a piece where the artist’s own sensibilities showed through. Our favorite shop was Jett Jewelry – very modern but so simple and elegant.

We were repeatedly bemused by how many people loved and commented on Venetia’s shiny acrylic laser-cut unicorn earrings (by Geek Star Costuming! Check them out!) – especially when we were perusing the most expensive and ostentatious jewelry stores in Santa Fe.

We encountered not just “Buffalo Turquoise” (white stones, set in traditional Turquoise settings) but also “Boulder Turquoise“, whose traditional blue colors exist in cracks and fissures of larger lighter-colored rocks. These reminded us strongly of the “Matrix Opals” we’d seen in Australia – a wise (and to me, genuinely beautiful) use of stones otherwise not deemed jewelry-grade.

Our return to the Plaza also allowed us to peruse the work that independent artisans sell along the Plaza’s northern edge. Amid the small and comparatively-simple jewelry, the beautiful black-on-black pottery work that I so love was well-represented, as were enormous lapis belts, bracelets, and bolos. Having already overspent my budget on Dawn’s art, buying anything else seemed out of the question, until I saw this piece – simple and stylish in a way none of the other work we’d seen had been. The artist himself, Harvey Chavez, was charming and hard-working – the bracelet in question representing a couple long day’s work.

BraceletHow lucky to have such beauty available for such a reasonable price, transacted instantly by credit card over the Internet.  And how lucky I am to get commissions through email, and to sit comfortably at home and do my work in private, never needing to interact with the public in such a way. While I suspect that the licensure and bureaucracy must be appalling, I am curious as to the scheduling issues involved. Is there seniority at play? Are there fees paid beyond taxes? Is it allocated by means of lottery? Are some seasons vastly preferable? How many artists are allowed to display at a time? How many shift are there per day? Per week? Per year? In a world where exposure matters so much, such arrangements are the crucial.

From the Plaza, we retreated to the B&B where we wrote and napped. As evening fell, we walked out to a local Thrift Shop that benefits animal charities and on to dinner at a restaurant called Paper Dosa that Dawn had recommended. Dosas are wide flat crepes, crunchy on one side and soft on the other. Uttapams are a thicker pancake, embedded with other ingredients. They are made with a mix of rice and lentil flour. They are both delicious and gluten free. We had a lamb dosa, a mushroom uttipam, and a cashew calamari dish that just defies proper description. We had never enjoyed Southern Indian cuisine before, but now that we know how good it is we will seek it out.

PaperDosaDinnerAfter dinner we stopped at a stale and horrible CVS to pick up needed supplies (poster board to protect Dawn’s painting, and tape for the box of books). That night we packed it all up and fell fast asleep. The following morning we arose, ate leftovers for breakfast and hit the highway. Instead of the high-speed route we’d driven north on, we took a windier route through Madrid. The drive was smooth and we arrived back at the airport in plenty of time (a good thing since its signage is as bad as the rest of the airport is good).

For all that we managed, there were many things we missed out on. We especially hope to visit Chaco Canyon and other amazing locations with Dawn when the time comes.