Today’s post can be found at, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “On Writing: Character Dynamics,” and it is about developing relationships among our characters. I hope you enjoy it.

Birding at Radnor Lake

April 25, 2012

This morning I drove with a friend to do some birdwatching at Radnor Lake, one of the birding hot spots in the Nashville area. Nashville is about 90 miles from where we live, so this was no small undertaking. It turned out to be a quiet day. We saw a few things at the end of our walk — a singing male Prothonotary Warbler, resplendent in brilliant yellow; a furtive Northern Waterthrush, which is not an easy bird to find; a singing male Summer Tanager, bright red and very cooperative. But we had hoped to see more. This is the height of Spring migration, and Radnor is known for turning up rarities. We didn’t find any.

It would have been easy to feel that we had wasted the day and the long drive. But it was a beautiful morning, breezy, warm, sunny. There were Wood Ducks all over the lake. We saw thrushes and managed to find Scarlet Tanagers — common but gorgeous — Swainson’s Thrushes with their ascending, ethereal, flutelike song, Nashville and Blackburnian and Yellow-throated Warblers. I had some nice time with a good friend. And I was outside, smelling wild roses and the sweet scent of Sycamores.

There was nothing wasted, no reason to be disappointed. Sometimes adjusting expectations is the key to enjoying oneself. Today was a perfect example.

Today’s post can be found at, the group blog on speculative fiction that I maintain along with a group of over one hundred published authors of fantasy and science fiction. The post is called “Characters Striking Out On Their Own,” and it’s about those characters who surprise us by becoming more than what we as authors originally intended. I hope you enjoy it.

Spring bird migration has come early to the Cumberland Plateau. Usually mid-April is when birds start trickling in — swallows swoop and dart across fields, gnatcatchers and White-eyed Vireos scold from overgrown thickets just beginning to leaf out, the first warblers — Black and Whites, Black-throated Greens, Yellow-throated — sing from still-bare branches of oaks and poplars.

This year, though, is different. With the uncommonly mild winter and early spring, everything leafed out early — most of the flowering trees are done flowering; nearly all of them have leaves. My wife’s garden is weeks ahead of where it normally is. And the birds, somehow sensing this on their wintering grounds in Central and South America, have already started streaming through in earnest. Tanagers and orioles, grosbeaks and buntings, thrushes and several species of vireo — all are here. And in the past few days the warblers have arrived in numbers. Hooded, Tennessee, Nashville, Yellow, Cape May Palm, Prairie, Blackburnian; Ovenbirds and Waterthrushes. I’ve seen more than twenty species of warbler already this year. No doubt more are on the way.

If you’ve never seen a warbler, you owe it to yourself to look for them, or at least Google “Blackburnian Warbler” (as a for instance) and look at the photos that pop up. These are gorgeous birds, decked out in smart suits of yellow and black, blue and gray, green and brown and red. They winter in the tropics and even the dullest among them look exotic. They are tiny — each could fit in the palm of your hand. And their songs — they offer a repertoire of trills, sweet whistles, chips, and bouncing melodies that, for me at least, is the true herald of spring’s arrival.

But this is a limited time offer. The birds pass through on their way to their breeding grounds in the northern forests of New England and Canada. So look for them soon, or wait until next year.

Happy birding.

Today’s post can be found at, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “On Writing: Characters to Love, Characters to Hate,” and it is about finding the right balance between “too nice” and “too dark” in our protagonists. I hope you enjoy it.

Today, Nancy and I took our daughters and two of the younger daughter’s friends to see Mirror, Mirror, the new Snow White interpretation starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins.  It was good; not great but good.  Certainly it was worth seeing, although if I could have seen it in our local theater (which charges $3 per person) instead of in one of the big theaters in Chattanooga for $7, it might have felt like a bit more of a bargain.  Julia Roberts is wonderful as the evil queen.  She is biting, coldly charming, and just desperate enough to be believable and somewhat sympathetic.  Lily Collins was very good as Snow White.  She is stunningly beautiful, and she brings strength and backbone to the role, which is very refreshing for those of us who still shudder at the sappy weakness of Disney’s old animated Snow White.  In the final scene she looks just like a young Audrey Hepburn, at least she does to me.

Armie Hammer, as Prince Alcott, and Nathan Lane, as Brighton, the queen’s lackey, are both good as well, and the dwarves, with their odd stilts and quirky personalities give a nice twist to the old story.  There are some pretty cool effects — the mirror in particular, and also the puppet attack (see the movie; then you’ll understand) — and the costuming is very, very good.  On the other hand, it is at root a somewhat silly story, and even the modern touches can’t disguise that completely.  As I say, it’s good, but it’s not brilliant by any stretch.  That seemed to be the consensus among our group, at least.  I don’t like to reduce movie descriptions to numbers on a scale or stars, or anything of that sort.  But on a scale of one to ten I’d give it a 7.5; or, put another way, about three and a half stars out of five.

My younger daughter, who is in seventh grade, is playing middle school volleyball this year.  She is quite an athlete.  She’s a truly gifted swimmer, and has been playing soccer since she was four years old.  But this is the first year she has played volleyball, and frankly I didn’t know what to expect.  I played volleyball in high school; I always enjoyed it.  When my daughter started working with the team, she and I spent some time working on technique.  But until this afternoon, I hadn’t seen her play in a match.

She was awesome.  She serves overhand, with a little run-up and jump.  And her serves are powerful!  She digs out hard shots from the other side like a pro, and she even had a couple of really nice spikes.  It’s not that I didn’t think she had the potential to be good at volleyball.  The truth is, she’s good at just about every sport she tries.  (When she was in fourth grade, she won her school’s Punt, Pass, and Kick competition and then took second place in the second round that covered this section of our state.  All this despite the fact that at the time she won the local competition, we didn’t even own a football.)

What gets me though, is that I didn’t know she could do the things I saw her do this afternoon.  I had no idea.  She blew me away.  Her team lost a very, very tight match, and she was there at the end, a leader on the team, consoling the girl who let up the final point — that might have been the most impressive thing I saw her do, actually.

She’s the younger of my two kids, and in some ways I still think of her as younger than she is.  That’s a mistake that will be much harder to make after what I saw today.

This evening I’m a proud papa.  Actually, I am most evenings…

Today is book release day for my wonderfully talented friend, Mary Robinette Kowal. Her second novel, Glamour in Glass, is out today from Tor. And oddly enough, if you buy the book soon enough, you have an opportunity to own an instant collector’s item. Yep. Mary explains here. You see, Tor, in one of those strange and unfortunate convergences of circumstance that sometimes mar the publishing process, printed the first run of Mary’s novel without some final corrections, and without the novel’s first line.

Even so, this promises to be a terrific book. Mary is a Hugo and Campbell Award-winning author whose first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, earned critical acclaim and several award nominations in its own right. Glamour in Glass promises to be one of the most important releases of this year. So pick up a copy, and own a collector’s item.

Today’s post can be found at, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “The Writing Life: Fear, Want, Dissatisfaction, Defiance,” and it is about the roiled emotions that drive me to work and write. I hope you enjoy it.

Green With Envy

April 7, 2012

So I’m having a great time at Marcon.  I’ve gotten to spend time with Faith Hunter and Lucienne Diver, I’ve met some terrific people, and had a few fun and interesting panels.  But I have to admit that I have one strong regret about being here instead of at home.  My wife and daughters got to see Alison Krauss and Union Station tonight in Chattanooga, and had I been home I would have gone with them.  I love AKUS and though I’ve seen them in concert a few times before I still would have enjoyed seeing them again.

Anyway, tonight I get back to my hotel room and check my messages and there on my Facebook page is a photo of my two daughters standing with their arms around AKUS lead mandolinist and singer, Dan Tyminski, the voice behind the version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the movie Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou.  I kid you not.  I KNOW there is a great story behind this photo.  I can’t wait to hear it.  And yes, I am totally jealous of my kids.