Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hild II and III

From: Sara
What's your anticipated completion date? Why isn't it in my Kindle yet? Are you planning just 1 more volume, or 2?

I have not felt this way since Harry Potter.....
I've had a dozen or so variations on this question in the last month. So let me answer it before we move into 2015 and then I can just point to it when I get the same question.

Yes, after Hild II there will be Hild III. But there will only be three.

The working title of Hild II is Menewood. I have no anticipated completion date. I've been travelling way too much to properly get my head back in the writing, as opposed to publicity, game. For how different those two mindsets are, especially for the kind of immersive project that Hild is, read "Branding: It Burns," an essay I wrote last month.

I not only don't know when I'll finish the manuscript, but I don't know how long it will take to put the finished manuscript into production. I suspect it will be faster than last time, because I won't be working with a new-to-me publisher and publishing team. We all know each other better now. And Hild, the product, is a known quantity: the marketing ground won't need as much preparation.

So hopefully soon. Ish. Meanwhile I add a snippet of information on this blog now and again, and occasionally on my more research-oriented blog. Stay tuned.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MS as metabolic disorder, and diet

Welcome, all those who found their way here from Dr Terry Wahls' Facebook mention of my post on the metabolic hypothesis of MS from three years ago. 

Two brief clarifications about Dr Corthals' paper:

  1. It does not say that the immune system is not involved in MS—it is—but that the root of the problem is in the metabolism of lipids.
  2. It does not suggest that all animal fat is bad or that changing one's diet will cure any individual's MS.
In my opinion, diet will not cure anyone of multiple sclerosis. But I do think that it's a vital part of our MS treatment.

My diet, which is eccentric and tailored to my individual food sensitivities, is neither perfect nor medically supervised:
  • low on carbohydrates (I avoid grains, for example—especially corn/maize—and only eat very high (85%) cocoa chocolate which is relatively low in sucrose, and then only once a day, and only a bit, immediately after lunch)
  • very low on dairy (butter and cream are for high days and holidays only; I'm super sensitive to cultured dairy—cheese, sour cream, yoghurt—and so never touch it)
  • very low on legumes and pulses
  • low on fruit (I eat a bit of apple in salad, and berries sometimes after dinner—always fresh, never dried—and I avoid those fruits I know I'm sensitive to: bananas, strawberries, melons etc)
  • eggs less than once a day (I have no sensitivity, but lots of people do)
  • very low on omega-6 containing foods
  • very high on omega-3 containing foods (I make sure they're also low in omega-6)
  • high on animal protein—grass-fed rather than grain-fed (lamb and beef), or free-range (chickens that eat insects etc rather than grains) or wild (salmon, trout, mackerel)
  • high on leafy vegetables (cabbage and brussel sprouts, cauliflower, salad greens)
  • high on brightly-coloured starchy vegetables (carrots, rutabaga, beets)
  • zero high-fructose corn syrup
  • zero nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers etc)—this is a personal sensitivity and may or may not apply to you
  • two cups of caffeinated tea (no milk, no sugar) a day
  • lots of herb teas (and one decaffeinated Irish breakfast tea after dinner)
  • beer and wine before dinner every day, usually in very moderate amounts
Everyone tells me that this last is a Very Bad Idea for someone with MS. I'm sure they're right. Every now and again I spend a few weeks without alcohol, and it's, y'know, okay, but I'm simply happier when I'm able to drink. So that's my vice.

Generally, if I have to have sugar, I privilege sucrose over fructose (and in terms of fruit, the whole is better than juice). I aim for an overwhelming omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. And I avoid nightshades. 

I eat three meals a day. When I snack, I try to eat nuts (macadamia when I can get them, pistachio otherwise—raw, or home roasted).

I'll talk about exercise and dietary supplements and pharmaceutical treatment another time.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blowing shit up!

There's something about the earnest wishes of the media and populace at large that this should be a peaceful time of year that just makes me want to blow shit up. As this is regarded as an antisocial tendency, I have restricted myself to my imagination. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered the Action Movie app three years ago.

Cars are dangerous

Here's the very first short sequence I made at an intersection where everyone in Seattle was being very well-behaved, very polite. Well, I figure out how to fix that. Chortle.

But I have since moved on to the serious business of destroying Christmas itself. Particularly that symbol of super nice, the Christmas tree. Here's this year's crop.


This is one I've done before, but I like it a lot: like being able to pan and then focus the fire properly on the tree. Also, well, dragons!

Photon Torpedoes

This one was tricky. I tried it over and over from a variety of angles. In the end I couldn't hit the tree bang on no matter what I tried. But, y'know, the USS Enterprise takes out my tree. It doesn't matter if it's not perfect.

Hit it with a rock...

This might be my favourite. It always makes me want to shout with delight. Blam! It's so definite...

Missile strike

Simple, classic, lovely whistling sound...

Drones Annoy Christmas

They look so very harmless, almost cute. At first.

Hellfire Missile Takes Out the Tree

And finally, the video YouTube keeps trying to enhance because it's shaky. But it's meant to be shaky, YouTube. It's video of a mind-bogglingly powerful piece of ordnance shot high up at great speed. Tuh!

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ammonite: why in 10 years no one will notice there are no men

From: Scott Barrett

I just wanted to send you a quick note and let you know how much I enjoyed reading your two books Slow River and Ammonite. The SF Gateway collection Gollancz is producing is fantastic, and a great example of the Long Tail phenomenon working wonderfully for superb out-of-print books.

I literally just put down Ammonite. As I said, I did really enjoy the book, the cultures, and the women that you so richly created. It did leave me with one (fairly big) question however. The defining characteristic of Jeep was the virus. We discover midway through the book that it does fairly amazing things to the women who survived it. But the other defining thing it does is kill all men. Now perhaps that gave you the palette on which you wanted to paint the story of these women, and their relationships, and perhaps what a world without men might be like. But, when these cultures meet, and even become somewhat telepathic, men are never talked about. What they are, how they fit in, the fact that on every planet except Jeep the entire human race is made up of two sexes. Never mentioned, offered by Marghe, or discussed. For the entire novel.

Just was curious why. Was the omission intentional, or did you just not see the need to advance the story, or...?

Anyway, mainly wanted to let you know how much I did enjoy the books. Look forward to reading your others.
I'm delighted you liked them. I was sad when they went out of print in the UK. (They've been continuously in print here in the US. Ammonite alone has been through multiple editions and many-multiples of print runs. It still brings me useful royalty cheques every year. I'm proud of it.

Leaving out men was intentional, yes. I was tired of men always being the focus of attention and centre of gravity in fiction. I wanted to see what would happen if they were left out entirely—to find out if they were necessary to this story, to Story itself. It turns out they weren't, aren't. Even a bit.

When I finished the manuscript I sent it to three professional writers for their thoughts. One suggested no one would publish it unless I mentioned men, had my characters talk about men, have the women miss men. I thought, "No. Missing men just wouldn't come up in the story situations I'd imagined." So I didn't. And you know what? I had zero difficulty placing Ammonite with a publisher. None.

In my opinion, the novel does not suffer from lack of men, but the apparent hole at the novel's centre did startle many people (which frankly surprised me). And I've had a handful of readers (all men—but bear in mind this was 20 years ago, when the book first came out) accuse me of lying (these ones are always angry), obscuring the truth (puzzled), confusing the buying public (frowning, understanding they're missing something), and forcing them to understand the world from a woman's perspective (dazed and occasionally a bit frightened).

I responded to each and everyone one as patiently as I could (sometimes more successfully than others). They had just had their whole notion of the world fucked with, big time. They were angry/puzzled/dazed because they had been left out, and they had to face their own assumptions.

Let me give you two examples. 

At party, a man buttonholed me, angry because he'd just read Ammonite and "the publisher lied!" It turned out that what he meant was that the cover copy had used gender-neutral terms such as colonist and anthropologist and native and employee. So he'd leapt to conclusions and was horrified when he realised he'd been reading about...girls! "Did you keep reading?" I asked him, curious. "Well, yes," he said. "It's a good story. But they lied!"

And the day after, at a Georgia Tech class on Literature and Culture, a student told me he'd got a third of the way through the book and before being been struck by the fact that he'd encountered no men. He suddenly understood how it must be to be a female student at Georgia Tech, to be reading text books written by and venerating only men, to not be mentioned, to not have one's existence acknowledged, to feel, on some level, that one didn't exist, or at least didn't matter. 

So I told the class the story of the novel's very first review, in Locus magazine. The reviewer liked Ammonite and thought the main character, Marghe, interesting. But, "Oh, how much more interesting the book might have been if only the author had included the story of Marghe's brother!" (I'm paraphrasing; I don't have my reviews memorised.)  I didn't add any editorial comment. I just let the class work it out for themselves.

It astonishes me that nearly 22 years after that book was first published, people are still trying to figure it out. But the world is changing. It's my sincere hope that 10 years from now readers won't even understand initial readers' puzzlement; they will barely notice the all-women thing. After all, the point of the book, for me, has always been the story: finding out who you are and where you belong.
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Lovely audio discussion of HILD on Writer and Critic

Some of you might enjoy this in-depth discussion of Hild (starts around 12.5 minutes, run about 45 minutes) by Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond over at The Writer and the Critic. They talk about other stuff, too, like Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven, but I admit I didn't have time to listen to that. But for those of you who like while away a commute, or listen while you clean the house for the holidays (or whatever), I can recommend the whole thing. These are smart people with interesting perspectives.


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nuns and the Vatican

I've been following, on and off, the story of the Vatican's two investigations of American nuns. One of the investigations, the Apostolic Visitation by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL), which began in 2008 under Pope Benedict, came to a formal end on Tuesday with the release of its report, and a press conference in Rome.

You'll find a decent summary in Wednesday's New York Times, but here are my takeaways:

  • CICLSAL said nice things about the work US nuns are doing: for each other and for society.
  • Individual orders/institutions who aren't will be called in for a little chat.
  • The current pope, Francis, is saying hopeful but vague things about women in the church. "Many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church."
  • CICLSAL is being equally non-specific. "We will continue to work to see that competent women religious will be actively involved in ecclesial dialogue regarding "the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life."
  • Although this was initially interpreted as an confrontative move on the part of the Vatican, and so some nuns felt angry and suspicious, everyone is now anxious for the Visitation to see as routine, indeed rather helpful. Many are cautiously optimistic that Pope Francis has set a new tone and things are looking up.
  • Not everyone is buying this.*
  • No matter what your perspective, it's clear the overall situation needs some attention. The median age of the American nun is mid- to late-70s. They are getting old and fragile and they are not well funded.
  • Overall, US nuns, as represented by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and the less liberal Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, seem to think the report was a good thing, a signal of gratitude for and appreciation of the work women do in the Church, with some tantalising hope for the future.
The obvious gear-change on the gender stuff, the turning of "You women are getting uppity" into "Oh, gosh, we really, really need you. Like Mary, Mother of God, you nurture us all" is interesting. If you add it to the pig-in-a-python age situation, its consequences, and possible futures, it becomes fascinating. 

From the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, women—mostly white, mostly lower middle class (I have no hard data for this, just anecdata)— flocked to the church. I have some guesses as to why (but I want to emphasise that they are only guesses; this is not something I've spent much time thinking about). 

The end of World War Two coincided with women being encouraged to leave the workforce to make way for the men returning from the front. (And if they didn't leave voluntarily they were pushed.) Being a nun was a path out of poverty and towards rewarding work, visibility, and respect within a community. Those women who took that path are now ageing out, and few novices are signing up. Those who are considering taking vows today have different motivations. According to the report, they are more diverse, well-educated and older than novices of the mid-20th century, though the report gives no specifics (rather startling in this day and age). Apparently, these women are looking for ways to live in a visible community. Reading between the lines (oh, I want raw data!) it seems that women would like to live with other women, set apart from the laity by obvious cultural signifiers such as vows and habits. The church is no longer a path to education and away from poverty but instead a way to live a meaningful life, giving to the world at large while being part of a tight community with common values.

To me this leads to the possibility that if the Vatican plays their hand just right, the church could recruit a significant number of capable and financially secure women in the next ten years. Those women are used to being treated with respect, to getting things done, and to being subordinate to no one.

A lot depends, of course, on the other Vatican inquiry: the continuing investigation of the LCWR by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, as of September, was not looking too promising. We won't know for a while. But I always like to think smart people are in charge, and Pope Francis might be steering things in a better direction. I am not holding my breath, though. There are intriguing signals from the Vatican, but he is still a Catholic.

On the other hand, I'm seeing a parallel to the situation 1400 years ago, when another smart bishop saw a way to influence a whole new segment of society. All Francis has to do is be as smart as Bishop Aidan and find a woman as amazing and able as Hild to build and lead a new generation. This could get interesting...

* I like this roundup of video responses and reports from Global Sisters Report: input from a variety of perspectives.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Year in Review

I find I'm getting 2013 and 2014 confused: "I became a citizen this year!" I think. But, no, that was last year... Some might say that this is an age thing—that in one's 50s one's brain turns into a leaky collander—but in my case I suspect that huge chunks of the end of last year and beginning of this are blurred because of pain and heavy opiate use. But, chortle, that's all behind me now and I look forward to nothing but clarity and glee ahead. Except, y'know, for the age thing. But perhaps I'm not really ageing at all...

Another thing I could blame for occasional muddlement is travel. I've travelled a lot. A lot. (For me, that is. I'm sure some of you will scoff and think, Amateur!) Travel can make the world rather surreal, especially on 27-hour days that begin in the dark, driving on one side of the road, and end driving on the other, clutching an award in one hand and a bottle of Champagne in the other.

Places we've been this year, in chronological order: the UK; San Jose (for the Nebula Awards); Washington DC (to help celebrate Kelley's father's 80th birthday); the UK again (The North and London); Atlanta; Washington DC again (with adventures in the ER, sigh); Boston; St. Louis; and then the regional stuff: Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Port Townsend, and Leavenworth.

A lot of this year was about Hild, of course: the movie deal that collapsed, the award nominations, the reviews, the fabulous events, the UK publication, the US paperback release, the bestseller lists. (Notice how casually I said that. THE BESTSELLER LISTS. PLURAL.) It's been amazing. It was lovely to meet you all—a lot of truly fine people, some of whom I've been talking to through the ether for a decade or more—but I'm delighted to be in Seattle, to wake up in the middle of the night and know where to stretch my hand for the light, and which where to turn in the dark when getting up to fill a glass of water. It's not an exaggeration to say: I am very, very happy to be home.

The end of this year is going to be all about clearing the decks (that is, the drifts of papers—and journals and books and maps—in my office and living room; not to mention tackling the almost-at-the-day-of-delete-and-mass-apology length of my inbox). Then rest. Then picking up where I left off with Hild II (working title: Menewood but, eh, that will change, it always does). 

In terms of next year: all Menewood, all the time. Apart from perhaps another trip to the UK and my Guest of Honour stint at Readercon 26, which I'm looking forward to enormously, I don't plan to go anywhere.

The blog might be repurposed a bit. I have a bunch o' Ask Nicola questions that I'll get to but then I'm thinking of updating and re-posting essays about writing: its joys, its impact on readers and culture, my goals. And of course there's that almost-mythical redesign of my website which really will happen, one day. And when it does, the blog will migrate back where it belongs.

Meanwhile, there's a tree to decorate—and then, of course, blow up...

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Unselling books

Much to the horror of individual booksellers, I seem to have spent a lot of time in the last few months explaining to potential customers why, no, they shouldn't buy Hild for their eight-year old niece, or 10-year old daughter. Not because of the sex and violence—I don't write the kind of thing that would scar anyone for life—but because it would be a waste of money.

I think it very likely that anyone under the age of 14 would not understand enough of Hild to make it a good gift. Of course there may be very smart and well-read 12 year-olds out there for whom it might be just the thing, but they'd be the exception.

Hild is not a children's book. It's for adults. It might be about a child but it was written with and for an adult sensibility. It is not an adventure book for girls. Or boys. It is not about a plucky young thing we defies all odds and fights battles and is miraculously unscathed, physically and emotionally.

The first time I unsold Hild was five or six months before publication, at BEA. A bookseller wanted to get a signed ARC for his daughter. I asked how old she was. "Eight," he said. "No," I said. "I don't think she'd like it." But it turned out he had a niece who was sixteen. "Perfect," I said, and happily signed and personalised it.

Many people think I'm mad turning down a sale, but I'm a big believer in customer satisfaction. Those 1- and 2-star reviews are not good for business, and disgruntled readers—those who pick up the book thinking it's one thing only to find it's another—do not make for good word of mouth. Think of all those potential readers who won't try Donna Tartt whenever her next novel comes out: more than 55% of those who started to read The Goldfinch couldn't finish it.

I want to sell more of Hild II than Hild I. I want the right readers to spend their hard-earned money, the right readers to pick up Hild and give it a go. I will continue to unsell books where I think warranted.

Meanwhile, if you have a story of a young person loving and appreciating Hild, it would be good to hear it before I destroy my own sales...

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Truth: a writer's job

I did an hour live on "Global Griot" yesterday morning. It turns out that sixty minutes is a long time to be live on the radio, especially after getting up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday and having time for only one cup of tea...

I can't remember the last time I did this sort of thing. Even podcasts are usually streamed later. This was one of those delay-for-seven-seconds-in-case-you-spout-treason things—which, let me tell you, is incredibly disorienting to accidentally hear when you're trying to say something coherent! 

But when I did manage to hang onto my hat, coherence-wise, I talked about truth a lot: how a human being has to know her own truth, and a writer must know the truth of a book; how truth connects to phi, and phi to ammonites. Then how Ammonite is connected to Hild, and Hild to Whitby. And Whitby is connected to my beginnings as both an adult human being and a writer. And writing is about getting to a truth by dismantling the cultural master story, the cliché, by telling the story of a particular person in a specific situation; how I do that, how I slip truth deep into you when you're not looking. Oh, and the idiocies of arm-wrestling in bars before one's brain is fully formed, before one is really a human being...

Go listen. It's only up until December 27th.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Live on Sunday morning morning, KSER 90.7

I'm doing a live interview Sunday morning for KSER's Global Griot in Everett. It starts at 9 am. It's less an interview than a 45-minute conversation with the host, Mary Dessain, about storytelling: how it works, what it does to us as people, and how it's woven into every human endeavour. You can listen live, and then the recording will be available here. I haven't done live radio, as opposed to live-to-tape (most podcasts) and taped-then-edited (most national public radio) for years, so it should be...interesting.

A reminder that the Port Townsend interview I did with Chris Wilson on KPTZ is here (streaming—though if you follow the link you can also subscribe to the podcast and listen at your leisure). It's less than 30 minutes and goes away January 23.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

25 years in the US

Nicola & Kelley, May 2014, Seattle. Photo by Jennifer Durham.
Today is the 25th anniversary of me moving to this country to live with Kelley. (As opposed to the 25th anniversary of meeting and falling in love with her. Which we also celebrate. Carpe party!)

That day a quarter of a century ago was a hard one. I left my family and friends, my partner of ten years, the culture I knew and belonged to and came in on a tourist visa, good only for six months, to a country where I had no job, no health benefits, and no welcome (it was illegal to even enter the country as a lesbian). I was also ill with what was eventually diagnosed as MS and broke. Saying the move was stressful is an understatement.

But, hey, it turned out beautifully. We're married. We share a life built on shared work and love. And I'm now a dual citizen. Life is fucking good.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Going out with a bang! And a podcast...

Shamelessly stolen from Kelley's Instagram feed
The trip to Port Townsend took exactly 24 hours. Well, okay, 24 hours and 3 minutes: we left at 1:41 pm on Monday, and got back at 1:38 pm on Tuesday. That's close enough for government work. Though it did include a stop for beer and shepherd's pie on the Seattle side of the ferry. I don't want to pretend that I worked too hard.

My last Hild event was a truly fine way to end. It was at the Port Townsend Library Learning Center, and it was SRO (though no one stood--when we ran out of chairs people sat on the floor). It reminded me very much of my first Hild event at Hugo House in November last year. The room was a bit smaller, and there was no bar, and I didn't know anyone there--but the feel was the same: celebratory, relaxed, eager to have a good time. Writers, if ever you get invited to go, do it. These readers are ready to listen and talk.

Of course, it certainly helped that afterwards we went to a lovely wine-and-food reception where I got to talk to interesting people. (And stuff my face with olives and salmon and drink more wine than was strictly necessary.)

Port Townsend itself is a nifty place. I've been there before, in summer. It's small (pop. 9,210 per Wikipedia) but it has surprisingly fine buildings: Victorian mostly, I think. Certainly it has more robust (or perhaps I mean more familiar) architecture than, say, Wenatchee, which is more than three times the size. And I just liked it better.

While we were there, the wind was strong and the water choppy, a blue-green grey with white caps, that is almost exactly the colour of Hild's eyes. If we'd had more time I would have wrapped myself up against the wind and rain and sat out on the verandah of the beach house for hours.

But we had to come home. And when we got to Seattle, we found it was a shocking 63 degrees. In December. I don't know if that's a record, but after the freezing mountain passes on the way to and from Central Washington it seemed unnatural. But it's lovely to not be cold.

A week before I left, I recorded a phone interview with Chris Wilson, host of Book Lovers' Cafe, for Port Townsend's KPTZ. You can listen to the 30-min show, which includes two reading snippets, here.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Tonight: Port Townsend!

Tonight at 6:30 I'll be at the Port Townsend Library Learning Center, 1256 Lawrence St., to talk about Hild, and read a bit--and talk some more, and answer your questions, and sign books. This is both a celebration of libraries and my last public Hild event before I devote myself full-time to Hild II.

These things are enormous fun for me; I love to talk about my work. I'm especially pleased to be helping Port Townsend celebrate their library's 100th birthday. Libraries, especially inter-library loan, are what made Hild possible. Without them I would have been able to do much less research, which would have led to a lesser book. So much less, in fact, that I don't think I would have felt able to stand behind it. No libraries = no Hild.

So come and help me celebrate the wonder that is free information delivered expertly, that is, libraries. More info on the event here.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mountain passes in December

I'd never been to Central Washington before, never been through the passes in December. We were ready to do the tire chain thing. Here's how it looked on the way in:

As you can see, the road was pretty good, but I wouldn't have wanted to drive it two weeks ago, or two weeks from now (look at those ice cascades on the right). We were lucky.

After my first event at the Wenatchee Public Library, we found a lovely wee Italian restaurant. Wenatchee isn't very big, but they managed to provide us a delicious '96 Barbaresco!
The next day it was the Leavenworth Public Library. Leavenworth is, well, it bills itself as a Bavarian village. In Washington State. They have lights...
The next day we went back to Leavenworth and spent a couple of hours in their wonderful bookshop, A Book For All Seasons, where I chatted to customers and signed books.

Then it was time to head west through the passes again. And again, we were lucky. The chains stayed in their bag.
Tomorrow: Port Townsend! (Ferries, not mountain passes...) Hope to see you there. It's going to be a faaaabulous event!
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This week: Wenatchee and Leavenworth

On Thursday we venture through Snoqualmie Pass and head east: Wenatchee and Leavenworth. Here's the plan:

Thursday 4 December
Wenatchee Public Library
7 pm

Friday 5 December
Leavenworth Public Library
7 pm

Saturday 6 December
Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival

Do join us. I've never been to either Wenatchee or Leavenworth before, so I hope you'll show up (bring friends, bring family! get a book! get several--signed books make great gifts) and help us feel welcome.

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