2018 Year End Summary

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Dear Ones,

It was a pleasure to spend time with those of you we saw this year, and if we didn’t have that opportunity, let’s try again in the new year! As Lee is off social media and Venetia is limiting her time there, we are trying harder to connect in person, or via old-fashioned telephone calls.

As usual, we’ve compiled a variable but heartfelt summary of our entire year.
It moves in fits and starts. Some sections will be overlong, and others condensed to bullet points. And there will be links – because that’s one of the the unique beauties of internet communication.

Please do not feel as though you must soak in it. Scan it, ignore it, or pore over it as suits. There will not be a quiz later.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, lists of your favorite films, TV shows, podcasts, et alia. But we like you no matter your approach to our strange annual catalogue of events!

Cheers to you!
Lee and Venetia

NOTE: Lee is writing a first-person noir detective novel set in 1915 San Francisco. While his book will be set in and around the Panama Pacific International Exposition, events as disparate as the onset of the War to End All Wars, the Japanese conquest of China, the US Invasion of Veracruz, the life of aviator Lincoln Beachey, the rise of the KKK, the Suffrage Movement, the move to Prohibition, the end of the Barbary Coast, and even US monetary Policy are all things he needs to know a great deal more about before he’s done.

If any of you lovely people have expertise in any of these arenas, Lee would love to hear from you.

2018 Art Year in Review

2018 IN REVIEW

•  In January things were pretty calm. And cold.
Lee has been working with Andrew Kafoury for more than a year on Andrew’s graphic novel No’Madd. In that time, significant progress has been made. Lee gives some details about the process here: Storytelling In Comics

•  In February things picked up as they always do – thanks to the blessed arrival of Theatre Poster Season and Month of Love. This year’s Month of Love challenges were color-coded, and Lee applied himself to the strange spectacle that came to the US as “The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”, because in a year so filled with hate, abuse, intolerance, and racism, sometimes one just needs something ridiculous….

•  In March, at Emerald City Comic Con and Wondercon, Venetia had her first shows with the ladies of Badali Jewelry – proudly displaying the new rainbow NC (for Non-Compliant) necklace that Hillarie made her.

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Lee has been trying to branch out from merely speaking on panels about art and Norwescon in Seattle kindly obliged. There, Lee spoke about Sherlock Holmes (amd recommended Kim Newman’s audacious Angels of Music) to a room absolutely packed with fans of ratiocination and shipping*, and interviewed old friend (and this year’s Artist Guest of Honor) Galen Dara.

Happily, we also brought home our favorite piece of hers from the art show!

Arts

Claire and Sam invited us to participate in their PowerPoint Party.
The rules were simple – you must speak about something you’re passionate about and you must not go longer than three minutes.
If you do go longer (really when you go longer), you must drink a shot at minute 3, and another for each minute past 3.

Sam’s presentation began with the creation of the earth and ended with the recycling of plastics! It started things off with a bang (and a lot of drinking as his presentation ran to 16 minutes) and gave us so much information in a short time. Astonishing!

Lee adapted his popular “Elements of Illustration” essay to this format, making sure that each element only got 1 slide, and trying to keep it as straightforward as possible.
But even then, his essay ran to almost 5 minutes and he had to throw back 2 drinks. Since he’s never drunk liquor or taken a shot in his life, and even though the hosts allowed water to be substituted for hooch, this proved a challenge. But both the presentation and Lee’s attendant drinking problems were positively received.

PowerPoint

The other presentations were delightful – especially the one about the right and wrong ways of creating Miso.

•  In April Lee left Facebook forever, and wrote a long (and admittedly profane essay) about its inexcusable evils. He hopes that those of you who don’t know the extent of Facebook’s abuses may learn more about them here.

Lee had a show of his Pin-Ups at As You Like It in Eugene, Oregon. This proved a wonderful chance to see those who came out to the show and to play a Murder Mystery game as an unscrupulous British Music Company rep trapped in Woodstock at the height of its folk-rock charm.

John and Emily Wenderoth’s Wedding reception in Garibaldi was glorious – so many lovely people gathered at the finest house in town to celebrate their union with incredible food.

•  In May we left Portland on a spring day so glorious that we questioned our long-planned journey just a little. In a kind act of nature, four irises (the maroon/gold ones and the purple/violet ones) bloomed just in time for our viewing pleasure the morning we left.

Bounty

The drive was pleasant, though Venetia slept through most of it. The path through Eastern Oregon is always more surprising and varied than we remember: canyons and rivers and mysterious mountains appearing and then vanishing as we traveled East. Our impression of Boise was markedly different than it’s been in the past. We got off the freeway (Venetia driving at this point to enjoy the 80 mph speed limit) and found ourselves immediately in a historic area where the streets were lined with leafy trees and grand houses. We continued up to our hosts house nestled in the northern hills. Sarah was Lee’s first yoga teacher and one of the amazing people we are honored to have in our lives. She and her husband and German Shepherds Lux and Nora have a beautiful home and grilled us fresh veggies outside on their patio. It was absolutely lovely.

We got up early in the morning because even though Salt Lake City is only 4 hours from Boise by the freeway, Lee wanted to take a more interesting route. So at Mountain Home we took a decisive turn south to head straight down into Nevada (and strangely, back briefly into the Pacific timezone) crossing over the high mountains and into Owyhee and the Duck Valley Reservation.

The road south from there – over the pinnacles of the unfrequented pass – was breathtaking, some of the most beautiful land in the west. The whole trip we were utterly enthralled at how verdant and lush all of the land was. After a surf-themed lunch in Elko we turned east again and drove through the salt flats. The “graffiti” there was some of the best we’ve seen: words spelled out in rocks being both charming and a lot less environmentally damaging.

Eventually we rounded a bend and there was Salt Lake City. When we arrived at Hillarie’s house there was much squeeing and hugging. We got a tour and then Venetia appropriated Hillarie’s phone and we went out in search of food and Pokémon. We found both and delicious gelato to top it all off.

It seems we may have a new bucket list of visiting all the IKEA’s in and out of the states. (Having also made it to an Ikea in Winnipeg, Canada and Brighton, England not to mention various ones in the states.) This particular expedition was in search of furniture for Hillarie’s room and we drove home in triumph through a glorious lightning storm.

We spent another five days in Salt Lake City – finishing up Hillarie’s room and getting the grand tour of the Badali workshop.

Adventures

Sadly, Venetia proved highly allergic to pretty much every process involved in the making of jewelry, and her dreams of becoming a jeweler were crushed. We moved in with Janelle for another few days and helped her with her home renovations and the cleaning out of her remarkable closet (Fibber McGee had nothing on Janelle).

We bought The Good Place Season 2 so we could watch it with Janelle.

On a lovely windy day (the wind is important, we’ll come back to that in a moment) we drove out to Antelope Island Park to see the sights. At the front gate we were confronted with a scary sign warning us that 1) it was “no-see-ums” seasons and 2) they were all out of face nets. Thankfully the day was windy enough that we never saw or felt any tiny biting bugs and instead got to hike up and around the island seeing birds and bison and fully enjoying ourselves.

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We had an amazing barbecue lunch with Janelle in Ogden and then moseyed on to Lava Hot Springs. We took all the tiny country roads, enjoying the scenery and driving near but never quite under a huge thunderstorm that kept the day cool and breezy. The hot springs were just as good as we had remembered. Venetia tried all the different temperatures and finally found her place on the steps next to the 112 degree pool, going and in and out until she was in danger of passing out. Lee succeeded in securing greasy Thai food just as the nearby restaurant was closing. It proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered.

The first time Lee came through town, he was ten, and it was the lovely Sunken Gardens he remembers walking through. They are still there, but having been cleaved off from the pool complex, they are a little the worse for wear.

It was lunch time when we reached Idaho Falls. Unfortunately we were still in Mormon country and, on a Sunday, only national fast food establishments were open. We drove around downtown looking for somethign real and local when we spotted the beacon of an ‘OPEN’ sign at Diablas Kitchen. There were people inside and out and their food looked really good. We contemplated heading upstairs to sit down but the greeter suggested we sit at the bar where we could watch the food being made. And boy was that the best suggestion ever! Over the stove range was written “Tell us your food allergies.” We did and they designed most amazing lunch for Lee – A bed of arugula with a raspberry compote, steak cooked rare with soft blueberry goat cheese on top. Venetia oredered the baked caramel waffles and stole many bites of Lee’s lunch. We cannot recommend this place highly enough if you find yourself in Idaho Falls.

The next section of our journey was heading up to Yellowstone National Park through the West entrance. We arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge, checked in, and devoured a dinner of gluten-free bison spaghetti which we finished just in time to go outside and see Old Faithful erupt. We retired to our cabin pretty early, unexpectedly tired after such an idyllic day. The next morning we (as crossed the continental divide twice), we realized that even though the park is the crater of an ancient super-volcano, the overall elevation still really high.

Yellowstone

Leaving Yellowstone we took the road we’d never driven before. This turned out to be the road-construction route. It was still fun and each full stop on the single-lane gravel road gave us the chance to roll down the windows and enjoy the new summer scenery. We exited through the North Entrance and drove on to Venetia’s mom’s house. There we found a collection of Hamilton’s letters and writings which Lee read to Venetia and her mom (who knew nothing of this Hamilton musical we both so appreciate.) Hopefully she enjoyed the naughty innuendos in Hamilton’s letters to John Laurens as much as we did.

The rest of the day was spent at Chico Hot Springs. We soaked and met people and went inside for sweet potato fries then back outside for more soaking. Venetia’s friend Immanuela came out to have dinner with us and we invited her back to Portland (spoiler: she came a month later and had a great time!)

There are definitely ups and downs to Montana. On the plus side, Venetia’s purse was returned, phone and cash intact, after she misplaced it while we had lunch with her friend Patrick. On the downside, we ran head-first into Bozeman barbarous culture of barbering. Lee got the worst haircut Venetia has ever seen and while Venetia did eventually get a hot towel shave, it was stupidly frustrating. Really Bozeman? Barbering is not rocket science!

We stayed in Bozeman with Joanne and Trevor and their adorable baby. As always, Lee immediately found some home-work he could do – in this case, pulling down unwanted trim. Venetia went out for an interview and then spent time with her sister Tara shopping for graphic novels. Monstress is Venetia’s favorite graphic novel in case you were curious and you should definitely read it. We also met up with the owner of the charming local Country Bookshelf.

It turns out purchasing The Good Place Season 2 was a solid decision as we got to share it again, this time with Trevor and Joanne.

Then, as our hosts set off for Italy, we were off to the final leg of our trip: Missoula and Miscon! We’ve been hearing good things about Miscon for years from our friends, how friendly and comfortable and fun it is. We are pleased to report all of these things are true. One of the really delightful things is that because of the location and time of year, a portion of the convention is held outside. The hotel backs onto a park bordering the river and huge tents were set up and a roped off section allowed people to boff one another with foam swords and there was an aerial rig with performers and a VR trailer.

The convention kept Lee busy but we still had plenty of time to go out into the town, and on Saturday we enjoyed the outdoor market that was literally right next door along the river walk. We tried vegan cheese and gluten-free donuts and sampled lots of honeys. In honor of Lee’s birthday, the convention made a delicious gluten-free chocolate cake.

Venetia’s sister came up on Sunday and got a signed poster and comic by Rikki Simons, who is not just the the voice of Invader Zim’s Gir, but happily for Lee, a huge fan of Starstruck. She also got to see Lee’s Infamous Bad Book Cover Show, always worthwhile. Monday was the last day of the convention and after it was all over, Venetia found a matcha latte and sat by the river and wrote, while Lee hung out in the Green Room teaching his hosts how to play Cursed Court.

Cursed Court

The next day we drove all day to get home and rewarded ourselves with cheap and delicious conveyer-belt sushi as a welcome contrast to that one time we ate ridiculously-expensive sushi in Montana.

•  In June, the Laurelhurst Yard Sale provided more than its usual share of bounty (for us and for friends who’d shared their shopping lists with beforehand)- a solid oak desk, a Stickley chair, a metal bench, patio furniture, and – best (and least likely) of all – a new screen door. Probably really a very old screen door, but one that fit our front door perfectly (happily, Dan was visiting, napping at home, and amendable to being woken to measure our doorway. Thanks Dan! And thanks to Mary for loaning us her van – because almost nothing we bought fit well into our wee Honda).

Kevin came to attach the screen door properly and, much to our pleasure, also installed a proper stair rail to the attic after Venetia lovingly sanded down the cheese-grater texture of the stair walls. From there, the back steps got fixed, front steps and wide porch-beam replaced, the paint and the downspouts repaired, and the yard sorted out in wonderful ways. Elise and Jackie took the sad old plum tree in the back yard down, and planted a Pear and a Persimmon instead. And since there was so much to-ing and fro-ing in the basement, we decided to add finishing touches there as well – with 8 new overhead lights, trim, a new cabinet, new knobs and the removal of crumbling masonry. Paint is forthcoming, but we think it’s safe to say his house hasn’t been this safe or this well-appointed in decades. Nothing like kind and clever landlords (Thanks Aaron and Elise!) – we are so grateful and lucky to be here!

We visited with Rob and Lisa and their adorable new hound, Sammi Jo. Roo is missed, but Sammi Jo is a wonderful beast and we adore her.
From there we traveled to Jaym and Dylan’s where we consulted and helped improve the living room, kitchen and main bathroom.
The next day we went to (and below) Snoqualmie Falls (site of Twin Peaks). Then on to Sultan Washington to visit client and friend Jim Tinney and his remarkable Kiss the Sky Books.

Bookstores

From there it was a short hop to visit Tynley, Sean, and the lovely Bean girls. Delicious food was shared, and games were played.

Venetia saw (and ordered) these lovely silver feather earrings from Dawn Wilson’s Desert Talismans:

DawnWilson

•  In July, Lee got braces applied to his teeth. As he’d avoided them in youth, this was quite a novel notion for him. The novelty has since, of course, worn off, even as the braces seem ever more fixed. He hopes that another year should see them gone….

After years of anticipation, Lee had the great good fortune to re-team with Keith Baker on the new Eberron book. Given all the still-unrealized notions for Keith’s remarkable world, he hopes that still more will be forthcoming in 2019.

•  In August, we traveled (separately) to Indianapolis. Lee’s visit started slowly, with a too-long incarceration at Kansas City’s troubled airport.

Selfie

Venetia worked the floor at Gencon, and Lee popped in from time to time in support of Atlas Games’ Cursed Court. Lee stayed with his dear friend Katherine northeast of town – enjoying her hospitality, pinball, offspring, and food (especially the Ethiopian repast that ended their visit). He became with well acquainted with Katherine’s local barbecue joint and ferried foodstuffs every day to Badali’s crack troops pinned down on the front lines.

The day after GenCon, Lee joined the Badali crew on a trip to The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. Given that we both grew up in actual western states, we would have called this a “midwestern” art museum, but myths of “The West” run deep….

A few days after we returned from the Midwest, we hosted Venetia’s lovely sister Tara. We showed her about and the sisters spent some quality time together, as clearly shown here at PDX, Portland’s superior airport:

Tara1

The following day we travelled south to San Jose for the World Science Fiction Convention.

Months ago, when we were still planning this trip, Venetia made some calculations on money vs. pain. How much is it worth to alleviate a certain amount of pain? In this case, we decided that if we arrived early, the cost of a hotel room was worth more than the pain of avoiding a 5am flight the following day. We arrived in San Jose Thursday morning but by the time we checked in, and lugged a suitcase full of art through the midday heat, and then changed hotels the next day… we decided that for future similar endeavors, it’s worth the money to avoid the pain.

The fulcrum of the convention for us was Lee’s set of 4 panels on Creating a Book Cover. In front of a live audience, over the course of 4 days, he and author Elliott Kay, guest editor Heather McDougal, and photographer Richard Mann walked through the basic steps of creating a book cover from initial consultation to reference photoshoot to painting in front of a live audience to the final critique and line design. Elliott’s book is called Wandering Monsters, and you can find the cover here.

Worldcon

Venetia by contrast had no specific schedule and spent much of the convention meeting amazing people and going to parties and re-reading all of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan again. We were surprised and delighted by talented artists who came north (and in a couple cases, west) from The Mexicanx Initiative: Tehani Farr, Dianita Ceron, and Lauren Raye Snow.

After the convention, we visited the Body Worlds exhibit and Lee test drove an exciting new program from Adobe that mimics oil paints. While they have no plans to release it to the public anytime soon, Lee will buy it the moment they do. We then headed north to see (and stay with) our friends Tanya and Chadwick, whereupon we promptly collapsed on their couch for a few days, binge watching The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and entertaining their new kitten Alexia.

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Even though she was small enough to smuggle away in Venetia’s purse, Lee kept a stern eye out and the terrible crime of kitten-napping was forestalled (though, through our efforts, there was much actual kitten napping.)

Our dear friend Rina Wiseman took us on an intensive and magical tour of San Francisco, starting at the remarkable vegan restaurant Gracias Madre. There we had the best strawberry cheesecake ever, gluten and dairy free and tasting like some kind of heavenly ice cream. Our trip included Mission Dolores, the oldest cemetery still in San Francisco, and the Columbarium another palace of the dead. But it wasn’t all about dead people, there were the picturesque remains of the Sutro Baths and the tunnels thereby.

Sutro1

Then we continued on to the Palace of Fine Arts and finally, near to the old Anchor steam Brewery, the magnificent bookshelves of Tachyon Press. The tour was amazing!

The next day we had a delightful lunch with the lovely people at the Stoller Design Group in Oakland, then flew off to Albuquerque, New Mexico and our second Bubonicon in three years. Venetia was reminded at the pre-convention party how much she enjoys New Mexico’s green chilies and we got a tour of Patricia Roger’s amazing home and talked about the new additions to her collection since last we’d visited.

Lee was the Toastmaster at Bubonicon 50 and enjoyed his duties thoroughly – from providing the back cover of the program, touring people through the art show, sharing panels, and speaking. Beloved author Victor Milan had hosted the costume call for years, but after his too-early death, the convention organizers asked Lee to emcee in his place – an honor, but a sad one. He shared terrific conversations with authors Walter Jon Williams, Ian Tregillis and TED organizer Gordon Garb. He also had the great good fortune to handle the amazing original pulp artwork that Patricia brought in on the last day of the show – an Edd Cartier piece featuring an enormous black cat, and a heretofore unrecognized Virgil Finlay (an illustration for the first printing of Curt Siodmak’s classic ‘Donovan’s Brain’) and other pieces pulled unloved and ignored from a collector’s attic.

Venetia moderated her first panel on books for young readers. The art show was as every absolutely amazing and full of beautiful art. Peri Charlifu’s gorgeous celadon glaze was again a highlight and we were tempted by all of his things. The delightful Eric Velhagen
was this year’s artist guest and given his work’s popularity, we were especially glad we had secured a piece of his last time we were in town.

Bubonicon

Highlights of Bubonicon include late night auctions which Lee helped auctioneer. As usual, we kept a sharp eye out for values – including ARCs** of a couple Zelazny books with notes from author Fred Saberhagen. Lee enjoyed selling L. Ron Hubbard’s first Science Fiction story about “Scientology” to fellow-auctioneer Gordon Garb, and Venetia especially enjoyed bidding up personal Tuckerization*** in Mary Robinette Kowal’s newest novel. Quite a lot of fun for, and all for charity!

•  In September, after an emergency photoshoot to get Venetia some new branding via Roger Circle23 and Amy of BeeGirlMetal, we were bound for Dallas, Texas.

Photoshoot

Once we arrived, we rented a car and drove through miles of mini-mansions proudly displaying their belief in the loathsome Ted Cruz to the oasis of sanity that is Chez Dutton. After a tour of their new (to us at least) house, we headed out for good Mexican food, did a little grocery shopping, and watched movies – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Assassination Bureau– before getting into Art Directing their living room. It’s an amazing house, and Grey’s colossal French Lost Boys poster finally has the display it so richly deserves.

From there – seeking adventure – we drove to Austin in truly terrible weather on the truly terrible road through Waco (thinking of the Indelicates as we drove). After a day of sight-seeing, we met up with the talented Lauren Brown for dinner. The sushi was delicious and the conversation better. Though the roads were still dreadful, the sky on trip back to Dallas was clearer, and we could see the light pollution of Ft. Worth and Dallas from dozens of miles off….

After a lovely breakfast Dianita and a short goodbye to Grey, we again hit the trail – this time to Heather and Eric’s in Houston. There we at last met Beaker – their Bengal Cat. Lee was surprised to find this unusual cat so delightful, and eventually came to the conclusion that (maybe due to his less-domesticated genes), Beaker was more like a dog than a cat. We played with him endlessly and he seemed to enjoy it as much (or more) than we did. Their gorgeous downtown condo is filled with art (which Lee of course helped curate a bit). And Heather introduced Venetia to Mr. Sunshine – an amazing Korean drama about a crucial period in that country’s fascinating colonialist history.

The next day we headed to the hotel and met up with our fellow writers as anticipation built for the Writing Excuses Cruise which would set sail the following day.

Ship

Last year we had enjoyed the cruise of the Baltic, but mostly as a convenient taxi service, taking us to almost all the spots we wanted to gather knowledge and reference – from Copenhagen to Tallinn – and if some education about writing took hold, so much the better. But this year, Lee is writing a novel and Venetia short stories, so the cruise was far more about the writing. Lee boarded the ship with 11,000 words written. The excellent critique group that Mary Robinette Kowal led buried his prologue justly (if unceremoniously) at sea. Even so, he left the cruise with some 24,000 words written (among the top 10 wordcounts of his fellows).

Venetia’s group was led by the amazing Amal ElMohtar. Sadly, the xenophobic nonsense perpetrated by today’s racist GOP caused her (and her lovely mother) serious grief. But happily for Venetia, she led an amazing session that included the remarkable Erin Roberts. Their incisive critique left Venetia hopeful.

After three days at sea, the ship stopped at Roatan, an island off the northern coast of Honduras. From there we traveled a short distance via smaller boat to a private reserve where Venetia swam on a pristine beach, and was joyfully clambered over by tiny monkeys. Lee took a brief tour of the reserve before returning to the ship to write.

Roatan

The next stop was Belize City, where we journeyed by tender, by bus, and then by speedboat up the mighty Belize River to the ruins at Lamani “Sunken Crocodile”. We saw no crocodiles, but there were mosquitos, giant grasshoppers, and howler monkeys. In the middle of a giant meadow, Venetia held out her hand like a falconer and a giant grasshopper landed as though it had been trained to do so. Lee climbed the tall pyramid in the rain – falling once in the silica-rich mud (so slippery!)

The ruins were amazing, and the history of Belize, (formerly British Honduras) devastating. The idea that the British took possession of it for its wood and left none… well, that’s colonialism. We were glad we could share some of our tourist dollars with them.

Lamanai

The last stop at sea was Cozumel – a lovely island off the eastern coast of Mexico south of Cancun. Venetia got a little sun while she snorkeled. Lee got less sun because after a brief spin (the reason he is clean-shaven is that he learned years ago on the Great Barrier Reef that mustaches and snorkeling are a poor combination) he stayed on the boat above the Starfish sanctuary and wrote.

Cozumel1

•  In October, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival saw Lee win the Pickman’s Apprentice contest amid fierce competition. Historically, this live-drawing event can be…. ghoulish, but this year was unusually fuzzy as it involved a kitten and a zoog meeting in a Tiki Bar. It was created in front of an audience in 90 minutes and auctioned for charity.

Pickman

The Month of Fear gave Lee a reason to create a rare animation, to paint homages to Metropolis and Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and to express his dismay at Russia’s ongoing cyberwar on Democracy and the GOP’s ongoing exploitation of this country’s grotesque racism and exceptionalism.

•  In November, Laura (just one of our talented belly-dancer friends from Winnipeg) made her return appearance for Rachel Brice’s master class. She graduated with compliments and flying colors and it was delightful to host her. We look forward to seeing her (and the rest of our friends in Winnipeg) when Lee guests at Keycon over his birthday weekend next year.

Ambercon was delightful as ever, and this year’s shirt design went over very well indeed. And while Lee stayed for all seven games, Venetia and Hillarie headed north to meet up with old pals and go to a party.

After the unseemly (and unsafe) demise of our microwave, we got something the kitchen has long needed: A Good Stove!! (And a far better microwave.) This allowed us not to just to rearrange, clean, and polish the kitchen, but it ensured the ability for Jaym to work her Thanksgiving cooking magic.

•  In December, Venetia started working full time at Powell’s City of Books in the fast-paced Rose Room i.e. where all the tiny children run around and all the parents need to know what book to buy a 12 year old who hates reading. Thanks to Lee’s amazing client Drew, we visited the Allison Spa and spent a delightful weekend soaking in hot tubs and reading by the fire.

While Venetia toiled at Powell’s on Christmas Day (more fun than you’d think), Lee and his mom traveled west to his brother and sister-in-law’s riverside home. It was gorgeous and well-stocked with wonderful food, pets and presents as one could ever hope. Few things could have surprised Lee more than finding himself on the floor of the kitchen having been ambushed by an open cabinet door as he sought tupperware to Venetia her Christmas meal. Happily, he has recovered swiftly and looks forward to showing off his scar.

FunThings

 

MORE FUN

Game Nights with Jonathan Liu, Puzzle-construction with Mary, Game Days with Lee and Melissa, Dinners with Anneke, brunch with Alberto, Writing with Gregory, sharing Mystery Box shows with the lovely Stella, and Venetia securing a signature and original drawing for Lee from the amazing Claire Wendling, who was signing books near her at Wondercon in Anaheim.

 

PODCASTS

Lee was delighted to create portraits of Penda and Aethelflaed for The British History Podcast.

1 Penda full

One of the greatest things about this sort of work is getting to study (in this case, listen to) the subject. Lee recommends this podcast about the distant past as a window into the present – because exploitation, tribalism, and the challenges of progress are sadly eternal. Indeed the best podcasts of the year told us new things and allowed us to understand things that our own limited vantage points would otherwise never allow us to see; we recommend them very highly indeed.

Code Switch is possibly the best, most important podcast we’ve yet encountered. But just because its about the constructs of race and identity doesn’t mean it’s not also delightful. Some episodes can be hard to listen to (the trickle-down and hurricane abuses of Puerto Rico leap to mind), but there are amazing people doing good work (even in the same episode about Puerto Rico), and we think it’s important to understand this multifaceted and sometimes-thorny subject.

Invisibilia is pretty breathtaking – it fuses narrative storytelling with science, and it may allow you to view your own life differently.

The Memory Palace is a storytelling podcast about the past, conjuring forgotten moments. The episodes are small, but their impact isn’t. The show can make your morning walk, your coffee break, or your commute break your heart and blow your mind.

This Movie Changed Me offers an unexpected take on pop culture, transporting listeners inside the world of movies by celebrating our intimate relationships with them. It’s not a movie review podcast; it’s a conversation.

99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.

But Podcasts aren’t all learning and personal growth. Some are just good fun. In Lee’s case that most often means:

The Allusionist is a podcast about language.

Imaginary Worlds is a podcast about genre narratives and our attachment to them.

Pop Culture Happy Hour is a delightful tour of the latest movies, television, books, comics and music which we might not encounter otherwise. Glen Weldon’s taxonomies are a particular favorite.

You Must Remember This revels in the secret and forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. Learning about the business of show, and the extreme levels of abuse the puritanism, has been astonishing.

Filmspotting is a recent discovery for Lee. It is sometimes informative, but often hilarious to hear critics talk about the art of filmmaking.

Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men, because it’s about time someone did.

 

FILM AND TV

Lee enjoyed two Movie Nights with Molly – the first Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s unhinged Inherent Vice. The second, Sarah Polley’s remarkable documentary The Stories We Tell.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology of seemingly unrelated tales. It seems like the perfect venue for the Coen Brothers. Where something like The Big Lebowski seems inscrutable and untenable on first viewing, it’s partly the format – as we know that the proceedings will take a certain amount of time. And if it’s hard to get on board immediately…. well, it can be a challenge. We find second viewings to be almost always be better than the first. But an anthology can present a sentence (“Near Algodones”), a tale (“The Gal Who Got Rattled”), and a story (“The Mortal Remains”) side by side, and the fact that they’ve labelled each of these with the word I’ve just applied suggests full intent. Even if the current tale vexes you, a little patience will serve you well, and it goes from the ridiculous to the sublime, with a spot in the middle of the six tales (“Meal Ticket”) so dark that, had it ended there, I’d scarcely be able to think of it with anything but a shudder (despite it’s obvious satire and nod to the Warner Brothers’ classic “One Froggy Evening”.) Until now, Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton seemed the ultimate expression of American “heroism”, but Buster Scruggs takes that title walking (or flying) away.

Beyond to the aforementioned The Good Place, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and Mr. Sunshine (each of which features surprising and engulfing world-building), Steven Universe is the strangest little cartoon we know. And after more than 150 short episodes, possibly the richest.

Dramaworld, which loves the cinema of Master’s Sun and Mr. Sunshine even as it sends it up.

Homecoming King by Hasan Minhaj was a delight. And this video lead in to his Netflix show Patriot Act made us laugh.

Nanette by Hannah Gadsby has been written about so often there’s a guide to the essays in the NY Times.

We enjoyed John Mulaney in everything we saw this year: Kid Gorgeous, The Comeback Kid, Big Mouth, and even that bizarre Les Miz parody set in a NY diner

We both enjoyed Black Panther and Spiderman: Homecoming but only Lee went with Tempest’s posse to see Avengers: Infinity War. Venetia may consider it when it’s sequel undoes some of the carnage. For now, she is happy living in the world that Black Panther promises.

CONCERTS

Shows

Janelle Monáe

Jason Webley & Amanda Palmer

Frank Turner

BOOKS

BestBooks1

Venetia’s Favorite Novel of 2018:The Poppy Warby R.F. Kuang

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

Nightbooks by J.A. White

The Pros of Cons by Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar, and Michelle Schusterman

Like Never and Always by our friend Ann Aguirre (who we got to see briefly on her trip to Portland this year with her daughter!).

Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons (comes out in 2019)

Houseguests included: Tara, Jonathan, Dan, Immanuela, Jaym, Dylan, Carrie, Dan, William, Kasey, Sienna, Gabriel, Michael, Katie, PJ, Laura, Hillarie, and Brittany

 

Where to Find Us in 2019

Venetia’s Badali Convention Schedule:
ECCC in Seattle March 14-17
Wondercon in Anaheim March 29-31
SDCC in San Diego July 17-21
GenCon in Indianapolis August 1-4

Lee:
Norwescon in Seattle April 18-21
Guest of Honor at KeyCon in Winnipeg, Canada May 17-19

Lee & Venetia:
WorldCon in Dublin, Ireland August 15-18

 

footnotes

* Shipping is a term used to describe the action of wishing for two people to enter a relationship (whether romantic, sexual or, very occasionally, platonic) in books, movies, tv shows or real life. There are some very popular ships, some unpopular, as well as often lots of controversy between ships from the same fandom.

**ARCs began as an acronym for “Advance Review Copy” – these ARCs were given to people in the media industry so they would have time to review, reference, promote, and/or provide blurbs for the book ahead of its public release and are the intermediary version between the author’s manuscript and the final, finished book. But as time has gone on (and social media has become ever more important to the selling of books) the second type of ARC – the “Advance Readers Copy” has arisen. Sometimes it is all-but-final, with finished cover and blurbs in place. At other times, ARCs are clearly still works in progress – replete with typos, missing illustrations and truly boring covers. That said, we love both kinds of ARCs, and several of our friends collect them avidly.

*** Tuckerization (or Tuckerism) is the act of using a person’s name (and sometimes other characteristics) in an original story as an in-joke. The term is derived from Wilson Tucker, a pioneering American science fiction writer, fan and fanzine editor, who made a practice of using his friends’ names for minor characters in his stories. For example, Tucker named a character after Lee Hoffman in his novel The Long Loud Silence, and after Walt Willis in Wild Talent.

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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.

General
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.

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).

BalticBanner

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.

Riga

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.

San Diego Comic Con (E I E I O)

Among its many claims to fame, The San Diego Comic Con is a way to visit people I would never get to see otherwise. Jaime Carrillo and the lovely Ana were the first people we saw entering the hall, or at least the first place we went. Since I have only ever seen them inside the hall I made the daring suggestion that we go to dinner to see what we look like under different circumstances. It worked. They were not site-specific holograms after all.
Other friends live close enough to visit for Super Bowl Parties, however it took me until SDCC to visit Todd Lockwood to sign the paintings we collaborated on earlier this year. LockwoodDragonsThe Badali Jewelry booth was our sanctuary this year, the place we went when things became too overwhelming and we needed hugs. Not that they weren’t always swamped with customers (and selling out of fantastic new pieces) but they always had a moment for poor weary travelers. The busy Stacy ducked out of the crowds of people long enough to give me a hug and tell me the odyssey of getting the huge dragon on top of the Weta booth. We only ran into Brent Weeks once and that was at the airport where Venetia twitter stalked him. Venetia was able to spot Seanan McGuire from her glorious hair and we were lucky to see catch Amy McNally during her brief visit. Venetia also got to see her dear friend Sarah and fall in love with a new adorable baby. The Shiftlett Brothers were safely in their box fort and we admired their newest piece in progress this glorious barbarian/viking statue we wanted to get for Drew and Cat.

ShiftlettJohn Picacio was one of the stars of the show this year which meant we only got to talk to him and his lovely assistant Tara briefly but they were undeniably winning the con. Someday I hope to be so savvy. There was a panel about the upcoming Neil Gaiman documentary just brimming with lovely and talented people, including Cat Mihos and Les Klinger. Peter Beagle and the indispensable Connor Cochran were in Artists’ Alley and we spent enough time with them to ensure that we will indeed see them again soon, although Venetia has decided she wants to live at Peter Beagle’s elbow so that she can always listen to his stories.

If you’ve talked to Venetia or I about books recently, you may have heard us rave about Red Rising which is definitely the Next Big Thing™. I was suspicious at first upon reading it because I hate being pandered to but I quickly gave up and surrendered to enjoying the book. I especially always appreciate it when plot twists aren’t quite what I expected. Pierce Brown was doing several signings at his publishers booth and we end up standing in line twice. The first time was to meet him and get a book for a friend, the second time because we realized we have a lot more friends we would like to give his book to.

Also on the author front, I finally got to meet Sam Sykes in person. A most upstanding young ne’er-do-well, I suspected I would like him from the twittery volleys we exchanged and was happy to further appall Seanan McGuire with some punning conversation with Sam.

I also made one of my very rare purchases for authentic screen-used gloves and mask made by WETA Workshop used in the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008). Some prices (even at SDCC) are too low to be ignored.

PrinceCaspianAnd while Keith is an old friend, we met several of his compagneros ’round the fire pit Saturday night – including singer Marian Call and her posse from the great state formerly known as Seward’s folly!

Last, but certainly not at all least, we encountered an intriguing sign attached to a table of goodness that said that for $20, Bill Plympton will draw your picture. How could we resist! Venetia couldn’t stop smiling for her portrait, even after Bill said she could stop.

CartoonVenetiaWho IS this guy?

I am always astonished by the sheer volume artists whose work is on display and for sale – especially the really GOOD artists. Every year I take at least one whole day, and usually additional returns, to wander – not just through the designated “Artists’ Alley, but through the entire Convention floor. This year it was my great pleasure to “discover” the already brilliant and successful Viktor Kalvachev. His work does not fit into one style or description and his sketches are superb. His finished cover pieces contain many of the subversive elements I especially enjoy – the kind of art work you can study and think about but also can enjoy just at a glance for it’s aesthetic value.Circe_0011(Image: DC Comics cover for Men of War Vol2 by Viktor Kalvachev)

Viktor is the kind of person who knew his comic would make a great video game, so he started a company in France to produce it. When I commented on how good his blood stains were, he explained that the trick was to study the blood stain reference – the sheen, the shapes, the volume – and then draw his own.

Some links for more information on Viktor: a good interview with him about his work and another interview about Blue Estate and it’s look and feel.

Les Cités obscures

In 1988 I was thunderstruck in Paris by the giant (and hugely expensive) series of graphic novels called Les Cités obscures. On Thursday afternoon of this 2014, we walked into the vasty hall in perfect time to see its artist, François Schuiten, signing and drawing in copies of his newly-translated-into-English book, The Leaning Girl. Upon learning that I was an artist and a fan, he drew this picture – in ink, without any preparatory pencil work – in the front. Author Benoît Peeters also signed and Steve Smith, his devoted publisher captured the scene. It seems he had taken photos of the previously-drawn pages and not one was the same as mine of of any other.SchuitenYou don’t have to put on the red light

The local police decided to put on a show the second to last night of the convention. Twice, on successive street corners. This is how it “worked”: For cash money deposited in a clear box on a stand, any willing person could get themselves (pretend) arrested. But not just any arrest, no no. The sort of arrest that involves being manhandled and throttled with batons. What a… hoot? So, instead of keeping the bottlenecks madness of the night to a minimum, this bunch of jokester cops-for-hire made the traffic far worse. And like the train wreck it surely was, people could not look away. Either time. And the young fans getting their photos taken during mock arrests? What street cred! And the cops? It was a debacle on every level, but perhaps most of all for rule of law.

San Diego Zoo – How we do vacation

In order to combat the exhausting drone of the convention this year, we decided to make it our vacation and spend a few extra days in town. Venetia started a subtle and focused campaign for the zoo by saying the word “zoo” periodically throughout the weekend. We had a late but large breakfast to prepare ourselves and took the bus on the corner of our street straight to Balboa Park. We entered the zoo at a few minutes to noon which means I can say with certainty that we were at the zoo for 9 straight hours. I can only describe how much my feet hurt by describing to you how the bright red color on the soles of my feet radiated up along the sides of my feet as well. We saw almost every single exhibit in the San Diego Zoo with very few exceptions. Venetia’s highlights were the playful polar bears, the elegant and mysterious secretary birds and the flamingo disco party she was insistent on visiting at the very end of the day which firmly put our trip into the exactly 9 hours of zoo. After that, it was a relief to get on the plane for a few hours the following day just to rest our feet!

FlamingoDiscoPartyFake geeks

Many of us have read the inane whining and vapid protests of young entitled boy fans talking about “fake” geek girls. San Diego at this time of year is the adamantium melting-pot where law interns and all manner of European exchange students put on their geekiest to pedal wee thrones of Westeros, peddle tchotchkes they know little and care less about, or seat diners in fantastically overpriced restaurants. Heck, every mannequin is wearing a WonderWoman tiara and every shop is stocking Wolverine and Hulk merchandise it might normally sneer at. All of San Diego is a “fake” geek, because that’s where the money is. There are hostesses indistinguishable from casual cosplayers, and tattooed local drunks  who may or may not have any idea which gaming character they resemble.

Soaking in this debauch of 3-color lunacy for a week, and daily wandering through a convention where most of the founders of the feast are utterly unknown and where art dealers make multiples of profit on comic pages that netted their creators precious little, has led me to reconsider the protestations of the clueless. It’s not fake fans they should be concerned about, it’s the fake executives, the fake money men who pull the strings. Because those guys? They’ve never cared a jot for the material and they probably never will….

Final Notes

While nothing that happens in Hall H stays in Hall H, most of it gets to YouTube faster than it can move about the sales floor of the convention. It’s interesting to be so close, and yet so far (and, as a long-time fan, disappointing not to hear more of Doctor Strange and The Inhumans). I saw the Avengers posters at a distance on this, the last day of the convention. But heard no context about any of it.

The piece de resistance on the last night of the convention was on the TV in our hotel. It was the first Thor movie. Dubbed into Spanish. While the Norse Gods seemed marvelous to me growing up, and fun (if more than a little absurd in the hands of Stanley Lieber – I mean, c’mon he’s a fiery hard-drinking redhead!), seeing Rene Russo, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, and Chris Hemsworth in Spanish is just somehow… better?