Friday, January 29, 2021

January 2021 Doings!

Hey'a, all! It's the first Doings! of 2021, and we're off to a good start! Like last month, we're a little early, but I want to leave more Fridays open for February is Fantasy Month posts. (It's really nice to have a clear direction or theme for my posts for a month, and I want to take full advantage of it.) Also, there's only a few days left in the month, so . . . yeah. We'll be good.


  • So, I am still behind on the TMS sequel. That's less surprising in hindsight than you'd think; I am often not a good judge of how long things will take and how much time a particular unit actually is. So I may have been a bit overambitious in judging how much I could actually get done.
  • (The fact that my weekends consistently ended up busier than I expected them to also didn't help, for the the record. I had other projects that took more time than I anticipated.)
  • Nonetheless, I did write some. A fair bit, even. I'm currently somewhere around 66K words spread over 31 chapters, and I think I should only have a few more chapters to go. We'll be finishing close to the wire, but we will finish on time. Even if I have to call off a couple D&D sessions to get it done.
  • Speaking of D&D, that's going . . . reasonably well. Writing that project is also running behind, but my player tend to move slowly enough that it's not a huge issue. I should have enough material for the next few sessions, and if all else fails . . . well, I recently managed to run a whole session mostly by improv (like, about 10-15% of it was stuff I'd actually prepared), so I feel like I'll be ok even if I don't do as much prep as I'd like.


  • This was simultaneously a very light and very heavy reading month, in more senses than one. It was light in that I only read four and two halves books this month. It was heavy in that one of those half books was . . . this.

Image of Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

  • I started Rhythm of War on January 4, the day before I started work. I'd prepped a little by rereading Edgedancer (on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day, because that seemed appropriate) and by reading Dawnshard (which was a pretty excellent novel aside from the fact that I don't enjoy Lopen as a POV character in large doses). Those were novellas or short novels, and I finished them in a matter of a day. Rhythm of War, on the other hand, I still haven't finished, mostly because . . . work. Also, I've found out that reading it before bed often makes it harder to sleep rather than easier (because I am terrified for these characters; I know there's another six books, but that's not helping), so sometimes I read other things.
  • Like these:

  • Furiously Happy is another blogger biography, this one by Jenny Lawson (also known as The Bloggess). Much like Allie Brosh's biographies that I read last year, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this one. I liked it better on the whole than Brosh's books, but . . . sometimes, Lawson's sense of humor is more inappropriate than I really appreciate. Let's put it that way. (Also, while there are aspects of her philosophy on life that I can appreciate, there are other aspects that I very much don't agree with.) I still enjoyed reading it, and I think it was helpful to read, in a sense. But I don't expect I'll reread it.
  • We Never Talk About My Brother is an anthology by Peter S. Beagle, the author of The Last Unicorn (which I haven't read but am going to. Y'know. As soon as I finish Rhythm of War.) I picked it up for the first story, "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel," though I can't remember exactly why I was so intent on reading that story. It's been interesting. Not my favorite anthology I've ever read, but also not the worst.


  • I haven't really watched much this month, due to the fact that I've been, y'know, kinda busy. I'm pretty sure I only watched two movies this whole month. One, The Lemon Drop Kid, was in the first week of January, at the tail end of the Christmas movie season. I definitely hope to watch that one again next Christmas; it's basically what you'd get if someone crossed The Music Man and The Sting and then made it Christmas. So, naturally, I approve wholeheartedly.
  • The other movie I watched was You've Got Mail. A friend of mine really likes it (hi, Emma!), and since I watched Shop Around the Corner in December, I wanted to see the remake. It was a good movie, and I can tell why people enjoy it, though it wasn't a new favorite by any means. I mean, I would watch it again, but I wouldn't request it.
  • Other than that . . . I'm on Episode 4_ of Critical Role, slowly but surely plugging away. I'm basically done with the Avantika arc, at least, so I'm happy about that. And the last few episodes were really good. Even #45, which was looooong and had a guest player, which I . . . usually don't enjoy that much? And I was very uncertain about this new person at the start of the episode. But it wound up being pretty awesome.
  • (Also, I accidentally saw spoilers for Episode 122, and spent almost 24 hours in a mild panic over what had happened to my favorite character and what kind of bad life choices he had made. And then I caved to said panic and looked up spoilers. I don't actually feel bad about it because I came into the fandom already knowing a lot of spoilers, and I still maintain that knowing these moments and events are coming and then getting to actually discover the real context adds to the experience. But yeah. That happened.)


  • So, the big news at the moment is, of course, that I started a new job on January 5. That's obviously been keeping me quite busy as I figure out how to balance work, writing, family, fun, and rest. It's . . . more challenging than I expected it to be. I'm sure I'll get the rhythm of it before too long, but for now . . . Well, we're still figuring it out.
  • I am enjoying the job itself fairly well. It's interesting work, but not too difficult. There's been nothing in my work thus far that I didn't have a reference point for, so the real difficulty is in learning the people and the environment and adapting what I know to the current situation. That and getting used to spending almost an hour and a half in the car every day . . . there are much worse commutes out there, and it's a good opportunity to unwind with some good music, but it's still a very different situation from my last internship.
  • (I also ended up getting beset by technological issues pretty much as soon as the person training me left, which was . . . not ideal, since almost all of those issues effectively, in some fashion, prevented me from doing my actual job. And they were almost all linked, all but one, because the fix for the first caused the second, and the fix for the second caused the third, and in the end I spent all of Thursday and more time than I'd have liked on Tuesday and Wednesday either on the phone or in chat with tech support or else just sitting at my desk and watching as the tech support guy tried to remotely figure out what the heck was wrong with my computer/account/whatever. We are all very appreciative of tech support guy (aka Daniel), who is doing his best and is very nice about how frustrating it probably was to try to fix all the mess. Especially the bits that he called "extremely mysterious.")
  • On a happier note, I did finally finish the freelance design project that had been taking up a lot of my time in November and December. I'm happier with how the second half of the project turned out than the first, but in general I'm glad to be done. I had some ideas at one point about doing freelancing on the side in addition to working and writing, but I don't think that's going to happen.
  • Outside of work, life's been quiet. One of my D&D campaigns seems to be going on pause for a while because the DM is busy with other life stuff. But the other is progressing in some very exciting directions, and everyone's been getting some really great roleplay opportunities. So that's great.
  • One exciting thing that did happen this month: in keeping with my "year of finally," I have at last checked off two recipes from my "want-to-try" list! One is naan-type flatbread — it's not actually naan; that has yogurt in it; but it's similar. We used this recipe from King Arthur Baking, and it turned out very well. Then, the next weekend, I decided that I wanted a break from sourdough and instead made bagels! They had a noticeably different crust texture than store-bought bagels do, but I think they turned out well, and they were surprisingly easy to make. In many respects, it was really just a matter of making a thick roll dough, poking a hole in the dough-ball, and then boiling them before I baked them.
  • I think I also landed on a decent minimum-effort sourdough recipe that'll work for weekday nights. While I was very happy with the recipe I came up with back in November or December, it required me to babysit the bread dough for four hours, which isn't really feasible when I'm at work all day and like to get to bed at a reasonable time of night. The new, quicker version is less soft and fluffy than the four-hour version, but it's not as dense as the original recipe, and it has a good flavor. So I'm calling that a win.

February Plans

  • Obviously, the main non-work plan for February is to finish the TMS sequel as soon as possible. I'd like to get it written and then give it a thorough initial edit before I send it to Kendra. We may have to settle for a less-thorough-than-I'd-like edit, but that's fine. Whatever edits I have to do will be much less extensive than what I did for Mechanical Heart, and the TMS sequel is still shorter than Mechanical Heart was (and will be shorter still, since a lot of edits will be cutting words), so, yeah. We'll manage.
  • Aside from that, I need to finish writing, or at least finish outlining, the current D&D arc. I have all the things that need to happen in my head, but not on paper (real or digital). So that might be a good problem to fix sooner rather than later.
  • I would also like to finish Rhythm of War and then read books that are not RoW. It's a great book, don't get me wrong, but I'm realizing why other people are intimidated by these books and long books in general. (Also, I don't want to get behind on my goal to finish my LOTR reread/reread and read the WoT books.)
  • I don't have any big plans on the baking front, but we'll see what happens. I'm sure I'll make something delicious.
  • Finally, in the blogging sphere, we have February is Fantasy Month and Valentine's Day, so we should have some fun posts coming up. I'm excited.

How was your January? Any exciting plans for February? What are your opinions on going into a fandom knowing spoilers? Have you ever made bagels (or would you want to)? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!


Friday, January 22, 2021

Non-Fantasy Movies I'd Watch a Second Time


Guys, movies are hard. I'm not even talking about making them. That is, obviously, intensely difficult on a scale I don't think I really comprehend. I'm just talking about actually watching them. For me, at least. The only thing that decreases at a slower rate than the number of books on my TBR is the number of movies on my to-watch list — because, yeah, they're great, but (A) I have to commit to doing just one very static thing for two or more hours, (B) I often have to coordinate those two hours with at least two other people who I want to watch that movie with, and (C) because I'm watching with other people, I can't skim through scenes I find awkward/frustrating/overly dense or overacted like I can in a book. One of those problems on its own is fine. Two is manageable. Three is very difficult (which, for the record, is why I also have trouble staying focused during D&D sessions). So no matter how much I appreciate a truly epic action sequence or a beautifully cinematic moment, and no matter how nice it is to actually see the stories instead of just imagining them, it is quite infrequent that I actually watch movies.

When I do find the time to watch something though, I tend to pick either a film I haven't seen (in a futile effort to decrease my to-watch list a little faster) or a fantasy or speculative fiction favorite. Actually, most of the movies I'll watch not just once but multiple times (other than Christmas movies) are some flavor of speculative fiction, whether that's an animated Disney movie like Tangled or Big Hero Six, a superhero movie like the first Avengers movie, or, of course, an epic like my all-time favorite movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. There aren't a lot of non-fantasy, non-speculative fiction films that I'll choose to watch more than once. But there are some, and if you haven't guessed yet, that's what I'm spotlighting today.


Non-Fantasy Movies I'd Watch a Second Time

  1. Romancing the Stone. Yes, this name sounds like the name of a questionable romance movie. That's not what it actually is, though. Romancing the Stone is an Indiana Jones-style exotic adventure movie — except I liked it better than Indiana Jones. Part of that might be that the main character is a writer (who attempts! to use things from her books! in real-life adventures! and actually handles the reality of an adventure a lot better than a lot of fantasy heroines). Part of it might be that the romantic half of the plot uses some of my favorite tropes to excellent effect. But mostly, it's just a very fun and exciting movie with characters who don't actually annoy me particularly much.
  2. Charade. I have concluded that I don't much care for Hitchcock movies. Charade, on the other hand? I like this. It's got a treasure hunt and a mystery. It's got a female lead who can hold her own and a male lead who keeps you guessing but also who I couldn't dislike. It's got twists and drama and fabulous character dynamics. It's got a minimum of angst. And it never drags, which is a problem I have with a lot of movies.
  3. True Grit. My efforts to watch more Westerns haven't worked out very well so far — at this point, I don't have to say why — but True Grit is one of the few that I've watched, and it's certainly my favorite of those few. I suspect it'll remain my favorite Western even after I see more of the genre. Between the main protagonist (who knows what she wants and isn't about to let anyone stop her from getting it), the abundant snark, and the fact that it's a fabulous example of the “grizzled, cynical loner accidentally adopts small naive newbie-adventurer” trope, it really is an excellent movie. I'm not surprised it's a classic.
  4. Secondhand Lions. Speaking of grizzled, cynical loners . . . This one has more secondhand embarrassment embedded in the story than I'd usually enjoy, but it has enough heart that I really don't care. It's a family figuring itself out and remembering how to care — not quite found family, but almost — mixed in with enough mysterious backstory and swashbuckling adventure to satisfy a fantasy lover.
  5. The Music Man. We're rounding off this list with my favorite musical — because I first experienced it and have most often experienced it as a movie, even if it is also a play, and it's probably the non-fantasy movie I've watched the most times. (The Parent Trap, a runner-up for the list, might be close. But it's hard to say for sure.) I blogged about this story a couple years ago and how it's actually influenced my writing and my love of a particular set of tropes. But even if it hadn't played such a role in my storytelling, it would still be one of my favorites.

There were several other movies that almost made it on this list as well, and I feel like I should share a few of those. Where Eagles Dare and The Sting are both thrilling, twisty stories, but I spend far too much time while watching them trying to tell people apart and figure out who's who. (For the record, I'm a little bit face-blind at the best of times; when everyone's on a screen and wearing similar outfits, it's a real struggle to tell people apart.) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence is both thoughtful and exciting and has excellent character dynamics, but it also frustrates me at times. And My Fair Lady and Singing in the Rain are tied for my second-favorite musical — one I love the plot and character dynamics but want to rewrite so I can fix the ending, and one I get frustrated with certain bits in the beginning and middle but I'm immensely satisfied with the ending.

What non-fantasy movies do you (or would you) keep coming back to? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Winter Anytime Reads

 Hello, friends! As you read this, I have made it through my first two weeks of full-time work! But this post is not about that! Instead, is about something much more relaxing: winter anytime reads! This is the sequel to Summer Anytime Reads (which I did a few years ago) and Autumnal Anytime Reads (which I did three months ago), and it was much easier to write than either of them. There are a lot of books out there with a wintery vibe, even when you eliminate the Christmas ones. (And there's going to be quite a few more once the next few Arista Challenges happen!) ANYWAY. These books range from stories perfect for curling up with by a nice fire to books that reflect and redeem the darkness and coldness of these months, and they actually include some of my favorite books in the world . . . though, on a moment's reflection, that could be said for both of the previous posts in the series too. Apparently, the books I love best span all seasons. So, without further ado, let's go!


Winter Anytime Reads

  1. Sabriel by Garth Nix. I mean, it takes place largely in winter, and the major magic used in the book has a tendency to produce frost. So there's that. But, as a book very concerned with death and a season of dying and trying not to die, it's a thematically wintery book too. And it has the sense of rising a challenge and triumphing over death that you really need in this season. Also, it has a cat and one of the better father-daughter relationships in fiction (even if a lot of that relationship is shown in the way Sabriel thinks of and acts towards her father and how he acts towards her), both of which are much appreciated in this very dreary time of year.
  2. If you liked Sabriel, try: The rest of the Abhorsen series (for more of everything you loved in Sabriel — the series as a whole sits on the border between winter and spring reads) or Hexwood (for fantasy with an . . . unusual take on usual tropes, we'll say).
  3. Jackaby by William Ritter. You can interpret this as either the whole series or just the first book and it'll be true. It starts in winter, and it might be winter again by the time the series ends — I don't recall for sure — but while Jackaby is an excellent read any time of year, it's especially delicious in this particular season. It starts off with a murder mystery (excellent for reading under blankets and by fires), and it's quick and enthralling and will make you forget how cold it is.
    If you liked Jackaby, try: The Invisible Library (for fantasy mystery featuring lots of influence of legends and fantastic lore, among other stories) or Seraphina (also for more fantasy mystery, albeit with more dragons and fewer other fantasy beings).
  4. Illusionarium by Heather Dixon. All of Heather Dixon's books are actually excellent winter reads, but Illusionarium is the only one I don't associate with Christmas more than winter in general. Actually, I'd call Illusionarium a February sort of book. Steampunk is often a little dark, and the worlds in which this particular story takes place have been dark and cold and dying for a very long time, and it's ripe for renewal and rebirth. And the ending of the story is full of exactly the kind of hopefulness and warmth-despite-chill that you need during the coldest month of the year.
    If you liked Illusionarium, try: Entwined and The Enchanted Sonata (for more of Heather Dixon's delightful storytelling style and happy, hopeful endings), or Halayda (for steampunk stories of renewal).
  5. Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. Arguably the darkest book or series on this list, I don't think this should be much of a surprise. Again, the first book is wintery in setting, but both books are winter-appropriate in the darkness and intensity of the stories they tell. Also, I feel like the mixture of humor and darkness and snarky levity is very fitting for these months.
    If you liked Six of Crows, try: Mistborn (for fantasy heists and non-standard fantasy settings) or the Shadow and Bone trilogy (for more of Bardugo's writing and world — this is arguably more wintery than Six of Crows, but I like Crows better).
  6. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. It wouldn't be a winter reads list without a retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Jessica Day George's take on the tale is my favorite — it's short and sweet and satisfying, and I very much love the Lass's relationship with Hans Peter, her oldest brother. I also love the why the author gave for the whole situation, arguably the most important part of any fairytale retelling.
    If you liked Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, try: East by Edith Pattou (for another great retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon") or Beauty by Robin McKinley (for a wintery Beauty and the Beast retelling).

What are your favorite wintery reads? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 Hindsight and 2021 Hopes


Well, here we are! 2021! Finally. I know that changing the calendar doesn't fix the issues of 2020 — we're going to carry a lot of those problems and the behaviors that caused those problems into the new year, no matter what we say to the contrary. But at least it gives us a feeling of a fresh start and a clean slate so we feel more motivated to work on making things better.

I also will say that even though 2020 was a dumpster fire in many respects for many people, it actually wasn't a bad year for me personally. The part of my last semester that I was on campus for was really enjoyable! I've been able to keep up the college friendships that were most important to me (and the D&D campaigns we started) via online means. I wrote a lot, and I got to spend a lot of time at home with my family, and I got some time to rest and do creative work that didn't have a deadline. So, yeah. I have a lot to be grateful for.

As the joke goes, none of us had 2020 vision, and even 20/21 may be a bit much to hope for. That doesn't keep me from making goals and plans, though, and in some respects makes those goals more important (because you can't get pushed off course if you don't have a course in the first place). I'm hoping to incorporate a new approach into those goals, but I'll talk more about that later. First, it's time for some reflection on this past year — because, after all, hindsight is 2020.

(Ok, that was terrible. No regrets, though.)

2020 Hindsight and 2021 Hopes

The Hindsight:


  • My attempt to set and achieve a writing challenge eleven out of the twelve months of the year actually worked better this year than it did last year, I think. I did have some kind of writing goal or challenge to direct my writing going pretty much constantly. I set specific goals month-by-month until the 100-4-100 challenge started. Then I had that plus deadlines for various projects, whether "I need to have a session written for D&D this week" or "I need to edit The Midnight Show in time to publish it on the planned release date!"
  • I ended up with a total of 318,533 words written over several different projects (which I'll talk about in a minute) and 124,991 words edited. And that's . . . honestly a lot? It's just a bit over five times what I wrote last year, about the same number of words edited, and my combined total is about two and a half times last year's combined total.
  • Again, it helped that I had very little to do other than write for several months. But I was doing about half a NaNo event per month for most of the year, so that's very solid.
  • As for specific project goals, well, that went a little off course (though I wasn't unsuccessful, just successful in different ways).
    • I finished drafting Blood in the Earth. I didn't edit it, though, let alone publish it. I'm not sure exactly when it'll be published because it's going to need a rewrite, not just an edit.
    • I did not write either of my short story/novelette ideas for that world. That's mostly because BitE took so long to write, though.
      • Also, it took me this long to realize what the initials of Blood in the Earth spell, and I have to say, that's . . . kind of appropriate, given one of the fairy tales it retells.
    • I did write, edit, and publish a different, unplanned novella, The Midnight Show! Which was a super fun project that I'm really happy I decided to pursue! And I wrote about 60-70% of a sequel to that novel, which will, with any luck, come out next year as part of the Arista Challenge release.
    • I . . . sort of finished my D&D campaign? I finished it up to the point I originally intended to write it. And then people still wanted to play, so I kept writing. And technically I'm still writing it. And I started writing a second campaign as a just-for-fun side project, and I have plans to write one or two others . . . It just snowballs.
    • I did not figure out a publishing plan, though I did take some steps in that I talked to some other authors about their experiences and contacted UUP with some clarifications about what they're looking for and what they accept and so on. The fact that I'm tying pretty much all my books into one multiverse is going to make things interesting if I decide to pursue small press or traditional publishing with some of my other books, so I'll have to be careful about that. (That said, some are more closely connected to the rest of the multiverse than others.) I also have a pretty good idea of at least two, possibly three, of the next few books I intend to publish, so there's that!


  • I talked about this in my Best Of post last Friday, so go check that out for all the details.
  • But in summary: I achieved my goals and then some. I didn't achieve all of them in the way I expected to, but it still counts.


  • I did indeed graduate! And I more or less figured out my life for the moment. I've said this before, but I'm pretty chill with the fact that I didn't get a graduation ceremony. I have the credentials and the piece of paper that says I did all the work, and I didn't spend a week stressing out about how I'd probably trip on nothing and embarrass myself in front of eight thousand people, and that's all I needed. Finding a job took longer than I expected, but I did get an offer I felt comfortable (and even excited about) accepting in December, and that will start up soon.
  • I also started back up with German. And I've been pretty consistent with it, especially since I discovered the Duolingo story lessons, which make for a nice change of pace from the regular lessons. I didn't have as much success with Irish (I've more or less dropped it at this point), but I think German will be more useful. (Did the fact that my favorite Critical Role character has a German accent motivate me to keep up with it? Maybe at some points, just a little.)
  • I didn't get back into photography like I hoped to. I did a little bit in May, but for the most part, writing took precedence. I'm ok with that, though.
  • I also didn't start the side project I was thinking about last year. I did look into it, and I decided that it wasn't something I wanted to invest time and energy into at this point in time. I'm not taking it totally off the table, but it's definitely on hold for an unknown length of time.
  • Some stuff that happened that I didn't include in my original goals (because how would I know to?)
    • We finally got FIOS! I had nothing to do with this being accomplished, but we've been waiting on this for literal years. It's very nice to be able to do internet stuff like a normal person, without having to second-guess how much data I'm using or whether or not I'm taking up too much bandwidth just by browsing Instagram or so on.
    • I got my first taste of solo freelancing. And having had that taste, I have decided that I don't want to do it for my main income, at least not until I have some work experience under my belt — not just for what I can learn, but so I have that extra weight to back me up and give me confidence when I'm working with clients.
    • I attended two more weddings and almost attended a third, but it got rescheduled to a time when I couldn't make it. (It was going to be right in the middle of the two I did attend, which would've been awesome.) And in between, I spent a week with my roomie and her family and played a ton of Sentinels of the Multiverse.
    • I did not get COVID. I did spend a lot of the summer and fall torn between "I am so glad that I have an excuse to not be social" and "I have not seen non-family people in SO LONG and it might be making me go crazy." But I don't think that makes me special.
    • I started watching Critical Role and now I might be just a touch obsessed. The fact that I haven't been able to get further in the series makes me genuinely sad. And I maintain that it's helped me think more about how I make characters, how I play my characters, and how I run my games! (I think that's brought about improvement. I could be wrong. But I don't think I'm wrong.)

So. That's my 2020! All in all, a pretty solid year. Moving on, then, what am I aiming for in 2021?

The Hopes:

Year of  . . .

  • So, a few months ago, I watched a CGP Grey video about an alternative to New Years' Resolutions. His idea was to pick a "theme" for the year, a single word with a broad enough interpretation that it allows plenty of room for change and adjustment throughout the year but specific enough to actually provide some kind of direction. You can then use that theme as you think about how you spend your time, how you think, and so on.
  • (The video is here if you want to watch it.)
  • (It's kind of like a less-spiritual version of the whole "God giving you a word for the year" thing that some people talk about. You could probably actually combine the two if you really wanted. But anyway.)
  • Obviously, I already have my resolution alternative in the form of the goals that make up this post. But, I like to sometimes try new things and new methods as well! So, this year, I'm going to test having a theme that I'll use to direct some of the goals I set as well as how I approach spending my time throughout the year.
  • The theme I'm picking for this year is a year of "finally" in the sense that I want to try to do and accomplish things that I've been working towards or meaning to do for a long time but just haven't gotten to yet. This idea seems like it'll align well with things that are going to happen anyway, so hopefully it'll work out. I'll try to remember to reassess around spring and decide if the theme is actually helping, if I need to pick a different theme, and so on.

Writing Goals

  • Once again, I want to set and actively work towards monthly writing goals in at least ten of the twelve months of 2021. Even though I accomplished this last year at a harder difficulty setting, I'm dialing back a little for two reasons. First, as I mentioned already, I'm going to have a job and I don't know exactly what that's going to look like for my writing. Second, I want to make sure I build in time to rest when I need it.
    • My primary January goal is to finish writing (and start editing) the Midnight Show sequel. I think that another 20K words should do the trick. That's about 650 words a day or 5K per week, either of which is achievable. On an average day when the words aren't fighting me, I can get 600 words in a bit under an hour.
    • My secondary January goal is to finish writing the current arc in my D&D campaign. I know what needs to happen from this point out. I just need to take the time to write it down. But, of course, that's time away from my novel, so it hasn't happened yet.
  • Some other specific writing projects I'd like to accomplish this year — subject to change, as always.
    • I want to finish, edit, and publish the Midnight Show sequel for the Frosted Roses Arista Challenge. This feels like it should be doable, much more so than finishing Blood in the Earth did last year.
    • I want to decide if I'm writing something for the Broken Mirrors Arista Challenge and, if I decide that the answer is yes, I want to start and finish drafting it before the holiday season hits. I think it could fit in any of my established storyworlds or in quite a few of my unpublished worlds. The world of Mechanical Heart is currently the strongest contender (though it would be a very, very loose retelling), but that's mostly because it's the first idea I came up with.
    • I want to begin rewrites on Blood in the Earth. I'm not going to say finish rewrites, though that would be a nice stretch goal. (Actually, if I don't do Broken Mirrors, I probably could get through rewrites this year.)
    • In the D&D realm, I want to keep up with writing Defenders of Serys, finish writing my Portal-inspired campaign, and start at least one of the other one-shot/campaign ideas I have. That said, everything on that list except Defenders of Serys is a low-priority goal. I love D&D, but my regular writing comes first.
    • The last project for this list — and this is a stretch goal, though it's the one that most aligns with the Year of Finally theme — I want to start, if not finish, rewrites or edits on at least one of my backlog projects. The top contenders for this are Once Upon a Dream (a Sleeping Beauty retelling from the same world as The Midnight Show, but on a different continent and at lest half a century earlier; it's written but it needs edits), Dust of Silver (12DP/Rapunzel; currently in rewrites; I want to finish rewriting it and its sequel so I can get to the later books in the series), or Between Two Worlds (non-retelling portal fantasy; I'm halfway through edits but will probably have to re-edit what I have done anyway). All of these are stories I plan to publish when I'm done, but I'm not setting dates for a while yet.
  • Finally, I want to keep up with my blogging and author social posts as much as possible. That said, I don't know exactly how much time I'll have with the job, so I'm giving myself permission now to skip one Friday blog post per month if necessary. I'm also going to start working out other post types that will provide variety and will make it easier for me to get posts done during the week.

Reading Goals

  • I'm going back to my more conservative reading goal of 77 books for the year. Again, I don't know how much reading time I'll have, plus some of the books I'd like to read this year are on the longer side. I may reassess this in June or July and raise the goal then if I feel it's necessary.
  • Since I achieved last year's read-older-books goal, I'm amping it up a little this year and aiming to read 12 books published (or at least written) before 1975. I debated adding a further stipulation about genre or audience, but I don't think that'll be necessary given another goal on this list.
  • Also like last year, I want to read 12 books that are outside the speculative fiction genres. We're not amping this one up because it's a pretty solid goal as-is. And we're not adding further genre stipulations because, quite frankly, I'm a mood reader and would rather just see where my interest takes me.
  • We're adding on a new goal as well to go along with the Year of Finally: this year, I'm going to aim to read 1 epic-length Tolkien or Jordan fantasy novel every two months. I was originally going to make this broader and say "one epic fantasy novel not written by Sanderson with significant cultural significance," but . . . the point of this is to finally finish my LOTR reread, get back into the Wheel of Time books, and maybe read the Silmarillion, since I've been meaning to do all that for months or years.
  • Finally, despite what I said in my last post about tracking books, I decided that I'm going to try to track my reads in more detail for 1 month. The main reason I'm doing this is so I can easily check how many books I've read towards my publication year and genre goals. But at the same time, if tracking things in a spreadsheet or a Google form ends up being too much hassle, I will drop it at the end of January.

Life Goals

  • Obviously, the chief goal in this category is don't fail at the new job. And also figure out how to balance all the things. Those two things kind of go together. Again, I'm very excited to start working, but I'm also nervous for . . . pretty obvious reasons, I should think. And I am more than a little stressed about having sufficient time to write and spend time with my family and friends and keep up other hobbies . . . especially stuff like reading and consuming good stories in general, which directly affect both my mood and my writing quality. And, of course, I need to get sufficient sleep without just saying "I'll catch up on the weekend" because I won't.
  • I also want to keep up with practicing my German and learning more of the language. I'm a perfectionist and like my Duolingo streak, so this shouldn't be too hard? In theory? But at the same time, if I lose my streak, I have much less motivation to keep going. (I'm not even going to try picking Irish back up right now. Not gonna happen.)
  • Bringing back a goal from last year because it fits with the Year of Finally: I want to get back into photography. Will I have time to get back into photography? Hard to say. But my dad manages it, so I feel like I should be able to, even if it's just for an hour or two once or twice a month. (I'm thinking of rejoining the photo club I used to attend since they've moved online, on the principle that if I spend time around people who are doing it and talking about it, I'm more likely to want to do it. Also, contests are excellent motivators. I'm not 100% certain, though, because, again, time, plus I'd only be able to join for half a year at this point.)
  • And we'll finish up this list with some connected craft goals — three specifically:
    • I want to put the finishing touches on my cloak, which involves sewing in some extra stabilization pieces and adding another fastener.
    • I want to make at least one project using one of my "special" yarns, otherwise known as the nicer yarns I've been hoarding for the perfect project.
    • And I want to try at least one of the other crafts or art things I keep saying I'm going to try. I'm not sure exactly which one yet, but we'll figure it out.

What were the highlights of your 2020? What goals, themes, or resolutions do you have for the new year? Do you track the books you've read with more than just Goodreads? If so, any tips or suggestions for me? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020: Another Year, Another End-of-Year Book Freakout!

I don't know why I still call these round-ups "Book Freakouts." It was the original name of the question set, sure, but the original question set was a tag that I then co-opted and slightly modified so I would have a more interesting end-of-year book roundup than a Top Ten Favorite Reads post. (I mean, I still do a Top Five Favorite Reads post over on Light and Shadows, but it's nice to get a more broad look at the highs, lows, and surprises of the year, y'know?) But in any case, I very rarely actually, y'know, freak out over the books included. Perhaps, come 2021, I will rebrand.


Wait a minute.

It is 2021.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, Y'ALL! (Also, don't forget to check out my New Year's Eve story that I posted last night! And check back in a couple days for my 2021 goals post.)

Anyway. Back to the books! We'll keep that rebranding idea on the table, but while we're thinking about what that might look like, let's recap the highs and the lows of my bookish adventures in 2020.

(It occurs to me that if I rebrand, I will have to make new post banners for my recap posts. Though that might not be a horrible thing.)

As per the usual, let's get started with some statistics! I have read a total of 125 books and 36,384 pages this year, 66 of which were read since my Mid-Year Book Freakout. That beats my overall goal of reading 99 books this year by a very respectable amount. I don't have the exact breakdown of genres like some other people do (mostly because I can't be bothered to track everything on Excel/Google Forms and Goodreads), but I'd guess it's a more diverse spread than it has been in other years and that it particularly includes more nonfiction than usual.

As for specific goals, some numbers:

  • I beat my goal of reading twelve books outside the spec-fic genres with a total of 17 non-spec-fic reads (15 if you remove the book I was specifically required to read for a class and the Narnia cookbook that I skim-read). A solid fifth of those were some flavor of biography, and the rest were a smattering of mystery, classics, contemporary, science, and some theology/philosophy.
  • And for my goal of twelve books written before I was born, I read a total of thirty books that fit that category. Granted, ten of them were in the Redwall series, and a good two-thirds of them were aimed partially or primarily at a similar age group. But it's still quite respectable.

And now that we have the statistics out of the way, let's get specific with the question set!

2020 End-of-Year Book Freakout!

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2020:

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

It feels really weird to have a non-speculative-fiction book top my list, but A Morbid Taste for Bones was frankly amazing. As I said in my review, it's like someone distilled the vibes of Robin Hood and Ranger's Apprentice, poured it into a 12th-century monastery, and then added a heaping helping of murder mystery. I haven't read the rest of the series yet because I've been busy trying to work through my extant library stacks, but I'm very excited to.

And now, a few runners-up:

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

I've been meaning to read this book for quite a while, and I almost bought it at McKay's mid-way through the summer . . . and then didn't because I read the first chapter and wasn't sure if I'd love it. And then I got it from the library. And it was amazing. It's a clever twist on Sleeping Beauty set in an unashamedly, delightfully magical world. There's an emphasis on family and friendship over romance, and it's almost like a Penderwicks-style slice-of-life type story for most of the book (until you get to the end and things come to a head). It's excellent.

(And for those curious: I did find it again at McKay's several months later. So it now sits on my shelf ready to be reread whenever I like.)

The Dark King's Curse by Wyn Estelle Owens

My favorite of the Tattered Slippers releases, this is a delightful, fae-filled retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It has a very clever take on the seasonal courts and a lovely emphasis on friendships and family without taking the usual route of focusing on the relationships between the sisters. (We actually only really get to know one of the twelve princesses! Which is quite unusual.) The best part of the novel, of course, is Laisren, who is indescribably excellent — the best I can do is to say that he's a magnificent meddler, merry on the surface yet determined and loyal and unyielding beneath, like the best aspects of Mollymauk (Critical Role), Eanrin (Tales of Goldstone Wood), and Rook (An Enchantment of Ravens) all rolled into one and topped off with an actual sense of kingship and responsibility.

2. Best sequel series you've read in the second half of 2020:

I'm changing this question a bit because I didn't read many sequels in this half of the year that I wouldn't also want to mention the book or books that came before. (Or that weren't rereads; there were a fair number of those too.)

The Strange Planet duology by Nathan W. Pyle

I debated a bit about giving this the top spot because it's not really a story, just a compilation of comics. But there are some storylines if you look closely, and these were some of my favorite new-to-me reads of the year, so . . . yeah. Here we are. They're just very clever and enthusiastic and funny and sometimes insightful.

For something with an actual storyline:

The Magus of the Library series by Mitsu Izumi

I read a lot of comics and manga this year, but after the Strange Planet anthologies, this series was the best. It's got a non-European setting (specifically, Middle Eastern-inspired), a heartwarming narrative, and, of course, lots of love for libraries, books, and the magical librarians that tend them.

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

How have I not read these yet? It's called "it took forever for them to come in at the library," crossed with "When I finally got them in at the library, I was in the middle of other books" and a little bit of "When I am already emotionally drained and stretched thin and altogether too busy, it's not a good idea to start a book that, while amazing, will turn all of those things up higher." They're at the top of the list for this month, though. (There's a high chance that, by the time you read this post, I'll already be in the middle of Return).

4. Most anticipated release for next year:

Love and Memory by Kendra E. Ardnek

2021 looks like it's going to be a quieter year, so I don't have anything on the level of Return of the Thief or Rhythm of War to look forward to. I am excited for the Love and Memory release, though. It's going to be good.

Oh, and I'm excited for whatever Wyn Estelle Owens puts out. I don't know exactly what it'll be, but pretty much everything she's posted snippets of in the last few months sounds delightful.

5. Biggest disappointment:

It's a tie between two books in this category.

Crimson Bound by Rosamond Hodge

This wasn't terrible, but it definitely did not meet my expectations. It had a lot of potential and a lot of good reviews from friends, but it got bogged down in the middle by frustrating character decisions and romantic angst. The ending was great; the rest of the story . . . wasn't.

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern

I actually liked this less than Crimson Bound, but I had lower expectations. I'm not sure why I decided to pick it up, in hindsight — my feelings about the author's webcomics are mixed, after all. But I also usually like stories that make fun of common tropes. Just . . . not this one so much.

6. Biggest surprise:

The fact that I haven't read the books in question #3. Or, for that matter, either of the Invisible Library books that came out this year. Or W.R. Gingell's new Two Monarchies novel. But if you want an actual book, here's two:

Poison's Dance by Tricia Mingerink

I had lower expectations for this book going in (I thought I would probably like it, but strongly doubted I'd love it), but then I ended up really enjoying it! It has a nice twist on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and it's a nomance on top of that! So that was nice. Also, Tamya is just a really great character.

Runner-up in this category:

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

I mentioned this in my most recent Doings! post, but a friend recommended this to me around this time last year and I planned to save it for the Christmas season. Again, I expected to like it but not love it, but honestly, I enjoyed this enough that I'd probably buy it if I found it for a good price. It's fun and has a lot of emphasis on family and friendship and not letting go of what you have and recognizing what's really valuable and less emphasis than I expected on actual romance. (I mean, there is an actual romance in this one, and it's very cute and I ABSOLUTELY shipped it, but it's not 100% of the plot, nor does it overtake the parts of the plot that aren't it. The different themes and aspects support each other as they should in any good book.)

7. Favorite new-to-you author:

E. J. Kitchens! She wrote another of my favorite Tattered Slippers releases, Wrought of Silver and Ravens, and I'm very excited to read the rest of her books.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:

Allllllll the couples in The Dark King's Curse. Don't ask me to pick one; I can't. They are all delightful in their own wonderful and slightly heartbreaking ways.

(Also, the one that I probably would pick is the most spoilery of the bunch. So there's that. That's also why I'm not naming them all.)

9. Newest favorite character:


That is all.

Thank you.

(I also really love Siobhra, though. She's a close second.)

10. A book that made you cry:

The Wingfeather Saga books 3-4

Both of these have scenes that would make me cry if I cried at books. That's not a thing I generally do, though, as has been frequently established in these round-up posts.

11. A book that made you happy:

Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede

This is a really fun short story anthology, and I quite enjoyed pretty much all the stories in it! The last one (which involves an enchanted frying pan) is my favorite, but they're all excellent (and nicely bite-sized).

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this half of the year:

Little Women is arguably the only book-to-film adaptation I've seen this year that I've watched enough of to consider a favorite. But it would probably be my favorite even if that weren't the case. As I said earlier this week, it handles the source material very well and managed not to mangle my favorite characters' arcs.

13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:

A few picks:

14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:

Behold the beauty of the revamped Wingfeather Saga! (Technically I only bought the second two books this half of the year, but it still counts.) I have hardcovers of all four, but I don't feel like staging a new picture right now.

15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?

I finally read Diana Wynn Jones's Aunt Maria! I've been meaning to for years, since she mentions it very frequently in the essays in Reflections, but I never quite got around to it or got my hands on it. It was . . . interesting? It explores some clever ideas and concepts, and the villain is excellent and of a type not usually seen in fantasy fiction. I didn't quite love some aspects of the writing style, though, and it is one of those books where people are frustratingly non-communicative. I mean, it's mostly for magical reasons, but still.

So! There's my end-of-year book freakout for 2020! I may just switch over to calling it a reading round-up for 2021, but that seems a bit boring . . . well, we've got six months to think about it. We'll see what happens.

What about you? What were your favorite reads of the year? Your biggest surprises (or disappointments)? Also, do you also tend to get behind on books you're really excited for because you have to wait until you're ready to actually enjoy them? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Old Years' Memories; New Years' Visions [A Short Story for the New Year]


A bit late, but I couldn't let the new year start without a New Year's Eve/New Year's Day story! Hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. As a note, I did finish writing this rather late, so it may be a little less polished than the stories I normally post are.

Old Years' Memories; New Years' Visions

Item 5224022: Gold locket embossed with design reminiscent of a vine-wound clockface. Contains a single miazin crystal, a lock of tightly curled black hair, and a miniature pencil sketch cut to fit the locket. Pencil sketch appears to show a man and woman sitting side by side, holding hands. Faces are obscured by creasing and water damage, but female appears to have dark, curly hair, and man is wearing a top hat. World of Origin: Fuila (1-4), via naturally-occurring dimensional funnel in northern Chania, +55:-06, probably made between 3426 and 3428 P.C..
Collection: 1-4 Artifacts (Jewelry). Item 5224023: Thin, round-bladed 3.5-in knife made of silver with no crossguard and a single carmelian stone for the pommel. Hilt resembles a stylized Type E dragon. World of Origin: Fuila (1-4). Specific coordinates unknown. Likely from pre-600 P.C.. Confiscated from stash of noted interworld thief Elihu Glas. Collection: 1-4 Weaponry (Bladed).
Another box finished, its contents tagged and sorted and recorded in the archive log. This was hardly how Tamison had expected to spend his Turning Eve, but he wasn't about to complain. His recent assignment to the Interworld Archive was the best thing to happen to him in years. Forget adventure! Forget making a name for himself that would go down in history! People who went down in history only did so by facing off against werecats and mad mages and bears or by being so unbelievably, unbearably brilliant that they made normal people look like babbling infants by comparison. Tamison was honest enough with himself to know he wasn't the latter, and he'd had his fill of the former without achieving any degree of fame except the kind that comes from being thoroughly embarrassed in front of people he desperately wanted to impress.
But no more! This new year, there would be no more skin-of-the-teeth adventures. He wouldn't even have think about them except when he needed a good story to share at a party or over coffee with the other archive workers . . . especially with that pretty research wizard — Willow, her name was — who took breaks from her work at nearly the same time Tamison did and who was always happy for a chat. She was studying the way in which similar cultures tended to develop across different worlds, she'd told him, and expected to be based at the Archive for at least five years. She always appreciated his harrowing accounts from the last few years, whether or not he polished them up, and she never made him feel like a fool or yelled at him for doing his job, unlike some people.
Yes. This would be a nice, quiet year. Perhaps the start of a nice, quiet life. No more chasing around after once-lost wizard prodigies. No more deadly encounters turned to daring escapes. No more putting his foot in his mouth in the situations where it would have the most deadly consequences. It was just what he needed.
Tamison returned to his work table and opened up the next box of items to be sorted. A mass of paper expanded with a noise like a rustling sigh as soon as he opened the lid, and several pieces slid off the top of the pile and floated down to rest on the table. He double-checked the box for a tag. Miscellaneous pictures and photos received by anonymous donation, was all it said. Well, that was all right. It would be tedious to work through everything, but at least people tended to write dates on pictures. When you were lucky, they wrote other things too. And if you weren't lucky, well, paper responded well to tracing magic. With the slightest satisfied flourish, Tamison gathered up a stack of pages from the box's overflow, readied his pen, and set to work.
Item 5224024: Pencil sketch on thick woven paper. Heavily creased with one horizontal fold and three vertical and torn along the edges. Sketch shows a section of a rocky mountain range as seen from a significant height. A Type B or C dragon flies above the peaks about three-quarters across the page. The signature in the corner appears to read "Tessa F." An inscription on the back reads "Apl 462. DR Mountains from dragonback with Aunt R." Origin: Berstru (1-5). Specific coordinates unknown. Created in Apula (4th month) in 462 L.R. or 2679 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Artwork (Sketches, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224031: Photograph on glossy paper. Square composition with 0.5in white margin on top, left, and right side, 1.5in white margin on bottom. Photograph shows a rock carved with some form of carved letters or runes, partially entangled in vines. Cursive handwriting in bottom margin reads "Arrival at real rune-stone! Good to be home. Ish. 8/26/2013". Origin: Earth (1-3), +45.9476:-91.8330. Taken August 26, 2013 L.R. or 6015 P.C.. Collection: 1-3 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
The handwriting on the photo looked oddly familiar. Tamison picked up the photo to study it more carefully, holding it so his fingers touched only the thinnest edges of the paper. He couldn't quite place it. Perhaps it was the same as the handwriting on some of the letters he'd been sorting yesterday.
He slid the photo into its envelope and tagged it a bit more quickly than was strictly necessary. Once, he, like many others, had entertained a certain level of fascination with Earth, one of the few worlds with no natural access to magic of any kind except that which trickled in via portals. Now he couldn't think of the world without recalling that disastrous first meeting . . .
And, of course, she'd had to follow him here. She'd claimed it was unintentional and that she had to come here anyway to do what she believed she was meant to do. That it was just coincidence. Once upon a time in a daydream, he'd have thought she was secretly coming here because she wanted to be close to him. Now, he wouldn't be surprised if she secretly liked keeping him off-balance and on his toes. But she did have research to do, and it did make sense for her to do it here, so he had no grounds to ask her to leave.
Item 5224033: Replica of Morte Revenau's "Fall From the Tower". Oil on canvas. Origin: Fuila (1-4), +43.00149:-15.9847. Created in the sixth month of 3429 P.C., based on original painting from 3427 P.C.. Collection: 1-4 Artwork (Paintings, Masters Replicas)
. . .
Item 5224037: Colored pencil sketch on thick paper. Uncreased, minor tears on edges. Sketch shows the ruins of a stone building. A colonnade of Thetonic columns remains standing, leading to what was a large doorway that has fallen in. Tallest standing walls appear to be 20ft, but were clearly taller at one point. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads, "Remains of New Council Building. Clearly not so new now, LOL. Wonder what happened here?" Origin: Darachan (2-2), +23.0385:-50.2133. Created 7568 P.C.. Collection: 2-2 Artwork (Sketches, Non-Masters)
Tamison paused and traced his finger over the paper again in the pattern to reactivate the tracer. The same result appeared: this world, Darachan, some two thousand years in the future. Well, that wasn't entirely unheard of. Occasionally things slipped through the cracks of time as well as the gaps between worlds. But it was unusual for there to be a time-gap without a world-gap — unusual for items to fall back or forward in time without landing in another world as well.
He hesitated, glanced up towards the ceiling and the Archive towers and the laboratories and workshops in those towers, the ones reserved for those doing not just research but theoretical application, as many called it when they didn't want to acknowledge the risk of that application ripping non-mendable holes in reality or, at the least, killing the people doing it. Should he . . .?
No. She'd get along without it. They all would. He'd tell her later, if she asked. Or she could find it for herself in the archive record. He'd spent two years caught up in her life — initially thinking he would be her guide, her counsellor, and more, and gradually realizing his mistake — and he wasn't taking a risk on getting entangled again more than he already was. With a final shake of his head, he slid the sketch into a protective sleeve, tagged it, and placed it in the appropriate box.
Item 5224036: Black-and-white photograph. Grainy and marred by water damage. Photograph shows a person standing next to a Thetonic column, one of several in a row. The ruins of the New Council Building (see Item 5224035) can be seen in the background. Person is tall, relatively thin. Dressed in a Darachanian wizard's robe and an Earthan or Fuilan coat, hip length. Face/features too blurry to make out except for significant quantities of dark hair. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads, "By the ruins of the New Council Building." Origin: Darachan (2-2), +23.0385:-50.2133. Created 7568 P.C.. Collection: 2-2 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224043: Black-and-white photograph. Photograph shows a reception at the Chanian Royal Palace in Rivenford. The central figure of the photo is Prince Josiah Chambers, dressed in formal suit and crown, who speaks to a woman turned away from the camera. The woman is fair-haired and wears a wide-skirted dark ballgown and a crown or hair ornament with several points. Behind the prince, a short woman with equally short, curly hair walks away from the camera quickly enough that her figure is blurred. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads "Royal Crossings Night Ball, Rivenford." Origin: Fuila (1-4), +43.00143:-15.98467. Created in the fifth month of 3425 P.C.. Collection: 1-4 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224044: Grainy color photograph. Photograph shows two nearly-identical people fighting with swords in a forest. Both persons are female, young adult or older teen, and have features suggestive of some of the Old Families of Berstru. Both wear travel-stained clothing, one in green and brown and one in black. A second figure in black is just barely visible in the trees in the background, her face obscured by shadows. Leaves intrude into the edges of the frame as if the photograph was taken through foliage. Origin: Berstru (1-5), +31.33:+23.43 with an Earthan or Chanian camera. Created in 439 L.R. or 2656 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Anadimensional Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224057: Grainy color photograph. Photograph shows a crowd running to the left away from some kind of flaming structures. A somewhat blurred, dark-haired woman in a torn green dress or robe stands with her hands raised in front of the flames. Armored figures bearing spears run towards her and the crowd. Origin: Berstru (1-5), +43.97034:+27.01562 with an Earthan or Chanian camera. Created in 445 L.R. or 2662 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Anadimensional Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
A sudden shock of magical overflow rippled through the air and jolted against Tamison's skin, prickling and tingling as if his whole body had been asleep and had just gained feeling again. He dropped his pen and shook out his suddenly-leaden hands, flexing his fingers until they could move properly again. The Archive was warded with eleven generations of wizards each adding their own protections, layered one on top of each other. Nothing remotely dangerous could get in without being let in by multiple people — for so much as a person to enter was immensely difficult. But magical backwash from the experiments in the towers was something else.
It was probably Carrie's fault. Tamison scowled at nothing in particular. That would be no surprise at all. He had only the vaguest sense what she was working on — she'd told him once, but he hadn't listened — but he knew it was something complicated with portals. And anything with portals took — and released — significant amounts of magical energy.
Still scowling, Tamison gathered the papers the burst of magic had scattered over the table and picked up his pen once more. Magic overflow or no magic overflow, he had work to do. And maybe if he finished early enough in the evening, Willow would agree to welcome the new year with him and some good, strong eggnog.
Item 5224057: "The Shadowwalker and Victory" by Iela Morrow. Oil on canvas. Painting portrays the parade celebrating the Aralan victory over Vtillus Terian's forces in the Black Morning war. Origin: Aralan (1-7), -33.4743:+69.3021. Painted Fellthen 12, 1869 L.R. or 3894 P.C.. Collection: 1-7 Artwork (Painting, Masters)
. . .
Item 5224060: Photograph on matte paper. Photo portrays
Tamison paused with his pen held poised on the page. Ink began to pool at the tip, but he barely noticed. The photo held his gaze locked on the central figures in the scene: a bride and groom in traditional Darachan wedding garb — the groom in deep blue robe and white shirt, the bride in palest pink and gold. They held each other close on a crowded dance floor, leaning in for a kiss. The bride was mostly turned away from the camera, but the groom was nearly facing it — and that was what Tamison couldn't look away from. Though the image was poorly lit and slightly blurred, he couldn't deny what he saw. The face of the groom — that was his face. A bit older than he currently was, but his all the same.
He flipped the photo and read the inscription. Mr. and Mrs. T. Quercus, at last. Took them long enough! May their life together be long and happy. 8.30.79.
Quercus. That was the name that would be his to take once he was married. It wasn't a common name, by any means. But how . . .?
The handwriting. It was the same as many of the other images he'd sorted. And now he was beginning to think where he'd seen it before.
The last of the backwash prickled on his skin. He glanced upward again. Then, working on a hunch. He set the photo carefully aside and returned to the previous items he'd sorted.
The woman standing in front of the flames couldn't be identified. But the hair was certainly dark and wild enough, and the green dress . . .
And there, in the background of the photo at the palace — a woman, dark-skinned and wearing a gown that could be a shade of green, with dark curls escaping from her updo. She was in the crowd in the painting of the parade, and the woman by the colonnade could certainly be her . . . Again and again, she appeared, always just a bit out of focus, a bit obscured, whether she was the subject or merely a face in a crowd.
Tamison turned to the box again, skimming through as quickly as he could while still searching. She wasn't in every picture. But she was in enough. And hadn't Carrie been asking for anything that had slipped through time?
Then he found the photos — two of them, partially stuck together where the coating on the bottom paper had softened. In the first, Carrie — years older but still recognizable — stood by a brick wall stained with weather and paint and mold, looking over her shoulder at the camera. On the flip side of the photo, an inscription read, Back where it all began. Remember this?
And then the second: sepia-toned, grainy, taken from behind and just to the left of the subject. Carrie stood in one of the tower labs, her hand outstretched, her curls falling out of their bun. Her face was just visible, strained with concentration. Her fingers were midway through some process that made the air before her shimmer just enough to be noticeable . . .
Tamison flipped the picture. I think I must've caused the burst when I popped in to snap this. Sorry. Tam, I don't know it now, but I'll need your help in not too long. Hurry up — Room 34 — and you'll be just in time.
Tamison stared at me message. No. He had what he wanted. He liked the Archive. He liked his work and Willow and the peace and quiet. He wasn't about to give that up. Not for her. Not to go on adventures once again.
But if she needed him . . .
He looked again at the wedding picture. That had to mean something, didn't it? It meant he survived. It meant he found someone. It meant Carrie cared enough sometime to preserve a memory of . . . well, of an event that hadn't happened yet. But would. Or perhaps wouldn't, if he didn't do this.
"Oh, confound it," he muttered under his breath. He packed the unsorted papers, all but one, back into their box and scribbled a quick note for someone to find later if the worst came to worst. Then he slid the photo in his pocket and rushed out the door. He'd pause at Willow's office. Maybe she'd be interested in doing some fieldwork. If nothing else, he'd tell her what he was doing so she'd know.
And after that . . . Well. He'd see what new world awaited him in this new year.