Friday, February 24, 2012

My first foreign rights sale!

Today I got the go-ahead from my agent to share some exciting news: Polish publisher MAG has bought the Polish-language rights to The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City!  Man, it is both totally cool and a head trip to think of my books being translated into another language.  Just...wow!  Really, all I can do is bounce around and make incoherent noises of glee.  That, and wish I knew Polish, so I could see how the translation comes out!  (I love languages and find questions of translation fascinating.)  I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that Russian or German rights sell someday, since those are the two foreign languages I actually know.  But in the meantime...yay Poland!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Fourth Recess Lake (Sierra Nevada, CA)

You may have noticed that I'm better about posting these Thursday adventures than I am the Monday book recs.  Part of that relates to my day job work schedule (I work a full day on Monday and this year seems like Mondays are always kind of frantic).  But really it's because when given a choice between sighing fondly over pictures of mountains vs. doing...well, just about anything else other than actually hiking in them!...I choose the mountains every time.

Today's picture is of a place particularly special to me, because I visited it on my very first backpacking trip to the Sierra Nevada.  I was a student at Caltech, working at JPL that summer, and one of the engineers there invited me and my boyfriend of the time on a weekend backpack from the Mosquito Flat trailhead into the Recess Canyons.  I've talked elsewhere about the life-changing moment when I first saw the jagged pinnacles of the Sierra looming above the Owens Valley.  The beauty of the Recess Canyons only sealed the deal.  Gorgeous blue-green lakes, so clear you can see every pebble on the bottom, under shining white cliffs...oh man.   (Sadly, pic was taken with teensy little point-and-shoot camera, so doesn't do the area any kind of justice!)  Colorado lakes are pretty, but I tell you, it's just not the same.  Lakewater here tends to be much murkier and not nearly so blue, and the mountains are far less rugged.

Lake in Fourth Recess Canyon, Sierra Nevada

The pic is actually from a much later trip to the same area, this time with my husband-to-be. I wanted his first experience of the Sierra to be as beautiful as mine, so we backpacked into those same canyons, scrambling up trailless cirques and lazing by the lakes.  (Afterward, we climbed Mt. Whitney via the mountaineer's route and spent the night stargazing on the summit, but that's a topic for a different adventure post.)

The picture's also serving as motivation for me right now: it's inspired the setting for a scene very late in The Tainted City.  Can't wait to get to that point in the book, and see if I can evoke for readers some of the same beauty that I experienced while camping in the Recesses.

     

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Quandary Peak (Colorado)

As usual I'm busy, busy, busy writing on The Tainted City, but I thought I'd take a few moments away to share a couple pics from another 14K peak nice and close to Denver: 14,265 ft Quandary Peak, in the Tenmile Range outside Breckenridge.  Quandary is a lovely summer hike, only 6.75 mi round trip with 3,450 ft elevation gain.

Me hiking the trail up Quandary, in late June
Of course, on a peak so easy and close to Denver, there's no such thing as solitude on the trail in the summer.  But there's a nice little side benefit to that: Quandary is home to quite a few mountain goats, and they've gotten so used to the crowds that they'll practically come right up to you.  Hiking in early summer, you even get to see adorably fuzzy babies scampering up the rocks with their mamas.
Mountain goat on the trail
Baby goat playing near Quandary's summit
If you hike the peak in the early season, you can even spice up the trip a bit by glissading down the Cristo Couloir instead of hiking back down the trail.  Glissading, for those not in the know, involves sliding down a steep snow slope on your butt, using an ice axe as a combination rudder and brake.  Quandary's Cristo Couloir is a classic - you can zoom down to the base of the peak in 5 minutes flat, instead of 2 hours' hike on the trail. But the steeper the slope, the more mandatory the ice axe - you must know how to self-arrest safely, or risk slamming into rocks at the snowfield's bottom.  (You don't want to miss the arrest & flail like this guy.) An unfortunate number of people in CO have gotten badly hurt or even died while glissading because they don't take it seriously enough.  

I speak from quasi-experience here, having had my own "dumbass glissade" moment on Quandary, many years ago when my husband-to-be and I were first hiking together.  He'd never glissaded anything steep and was dying to try the Cristo Couloir.  We'd spent a day practicing self-arrest techniques on a much less steep snowfield, and I'd dutifully checked the avalanche conditions for Cristo and found the danger was low, so I thought we were set.  At Quandary's summit, I gave Robert a last set of safety instructions, speaking from my oh-so-vast experience (a couple years of peak climbing + having completed the Colorado Mountain Club's mountaineering school).  He zoomed off down the slope, whooping all the way, until he passed out of sight.

I followed, a bit more cautiously.  The top section of the couloir is quite steep and you need to avoid some rocks poking through the snow.  I dug my heels into the snow a bit as I slid, thinking to help keep my speed under control.  Big mistake!  One foot promptly plunged deep into the snow, and momentum kept me sliding right past it.  I spun and ended up dangling upside down on the slope on my back.  The snow around my trapped foot had set like cement, and I couldn't get my leg free, even chopping at the snow around it with my ice axe.  (Nothing like doing a vertical sit-up while wearing a heavy pack and waving an ice axe.)

I wasn't in any serious danger, but talk about embarrassing.  There I was, the so-called experienced one, stuck like a bug in a flytrap.  Thankfully, after some twenty minutes, another glissader came by and dug me out - and then braced me on the mountainside while my newly-freed leg cramped up with the mother of all agonizing charley horses.  I finally got down to the base to find a very anxious Robert about to start snow-climbing back up to look for me.  Moral of the story: when glissading, NEVER dig your heels in - bend your knees and skate your feet on top of the snow!  And don't get cocky. ;)




Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Rec: The Daemon Prism (Carol Berg)


This week’s rec is for The Daemon Prism, released last month, the third (and final) novel in Carol Berg’s wonderful Collegia Magica series.  So hey, all you epic fantasy fans who are leery of reading series until the final book’s out, run go buy all three Collegia Magica books: The Spirit Lens, The Soul Mirror, and The Daemon Prism.  

I could rave all day about the twisty plots and wonderfully detailed worldbuilding, but really, it’s Berg's characters that truly hook me.  She does such a stellar job of writing characters that feel utterly real – and then putting them through hell to explore the deepest parts of their psyche.  Each of the Collegia Magica books is told from a different primary first-person narrator’s perspective (though in this third novel, the primary perspective is mixed with perspectives from previous narrators as well).  The narrators are hugely different people, both in personality and background, and Berg handles their different voices with aplomb.  

I was particularly excited for The Daemon Prism since it’s largely told from the POV of a character who’s been a bit of an enigma in the preceding two novels.   It’s a terrific conclusion to the series, full of adventure and tension and pitch-perfect emotional moments.  It kills me that Berg doesn’t have a wider readership in fantasy circles, especially given her steady output of excellent novels like this one.  If you like fantasy and you haven’t read her novels, you simply must give them a try.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Larry Canyon (Utah)

My husband first introduced me to canyoneering (or canyoning, as it's called in his home country of Australia), having descended several of the narrow sandstone gorges in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.  Of course, the wet, lushly vegetated canyons of the Blue Mountains, full of waterfalls and glow worms, are quite different than the arid, sculpted slots of the American southwest.  But the idea is the same: you start at the canyon's head and work your way down, rappelling down any drops too steep to downclimb, squeezing over and under obstacles, and thrashing your way through "potholes" still holding water from the last flash flood.  Utah and Arizona have countless remote, beautiful canyons with slots so narrow you have to turn sideways to squeeze through, where the rock has been sculpted by erosion into a fantasia of swirled patterns and knife-edged fins. 

For today's adventure I'm sharing a few pictures from a trip my husband and I did with a friend to Larry Canyon, deep in the remote Robber's Roost area of eastern Utah.  (One of the wonderful things about southwest canyoneering is how remote and wild many of these canyons still are.  You can stand under a fiery sunset looking out over a twisting maze of canyons, and know yourself the only human for miles; feel the vast, ancient silence of the desert, that's as inspiring as it is humbling.)  Larry is one of those canyons with a wonderfully surprising start: one minute you're slogging along a broad, sandy wash, wondering when it's going to get interesting; and all at once, the ground drops away into a deep, narrow slot.
Me rappelling into the slot of Larry Canyon

Then you've got a whole series of mini-rappels, downclimbs, and chockstones to chimney over.  
My husband Robert setting up a rappel
Eventually the canyon widens out into a cathedral-style, sandy-bottomed slot with towering walls.
Deep in Larry Canyon

There's one last optional set of rappels before the canyon broadens out to become a simple hike.
Robert and our friend Jason setting the final rappel
Once in the broad section, you get to climb out the slickrock back up to the plateau above, and find your car again.  (I used to mock people who used GPSs.  Navigation just isn't that hard in the mountains.  But oh man, a GPS is so useful for finding your car again in the undulating maze of slickrock country.)  
Me and Robert climbing out of Larry Canyon
If you want to see any more pics from the trip, you can visit my photo gallery at http://www.courtneyschafer.com/2006_larrycanyon/index.htm

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Real Coloradoans Spend Superbowl Sunday

Want to know one of Colorado's skiing secrets?  Superbowl Sunday is one of the best days of the year to ski at the resorts close to Denver.  Usually Sundays mean crowded slopes and skier traffic on I-70 so horrific it turns the 1.5-hour drive home into 4 or more. But not Superbowl Sunday!  Like magic, the crowds disappear by noon, leaving the skiing to those of us smart enough to enjoy it.  (It helps that my husband and I have zero interest in football.  As an Aussie, he thinks US "gridiron" is for wusses - "what's with all the padding?  And why do they stop all the time, are they too fat to keep playing?" he says.  Me, I just prefer to DO sports, not watch them.)  

This Superbowl Sunday was particularly awesome, because for the first time ever, we put our 2yo in ski school and my husband and I skied together, instead of taking turns.  Let me say it again: SKIED TOGETHER.  OMG it has been 3 years since we last did that.  We skied at Beaver Creek and the snow wasn't that great - the front range has been having a dry winter this year, and the so-called extreme terrain was a bit more extreme than usual thanks to all the rocks, stumps, skier-eating log traps, etc - but I did not care.  It was awesome.
The couple that skis extreme terrain together, stays together
Because of that skiing, no book rec post today - I'm behind on my writing schedule and must forge onward!  But oh, it was well worth it.  Because there's no better way to spend a Superbowl Sunday than this:
I've got the mogul slope ALL TO MYSELF, wheee!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Skiing Aspen Highlands

Sorry there wasn't a book rec post this week - I just returned to work after taking some time off (so I could squeeze a few precious full days of writing in during the 3 days a week my son is in preschool), and that's always a recipe for an insanely long task list.  Looking out the window at work, I can see the snow-covered high peaks of the Rockies...and oh, how I long to ski them!  In my pre-baby days, I used to rack up 30 ski days a season.  Right now I'm lucky if I manage 5.  (Believe me, that will change soon as my son is old enough to be enrolled in ski school.)  But since it's the heart of ski season and I'm jonesing for a day on the slopes, this week's adventure showcases pics from a ski trip I did a few years back to Aspen Highlands in central Colorado. 
View of Pyramid Peak (left) and the Maroon Bells (right) from Aspen Highlands
Aspen Highlands is one of the four major resorts near Aspen, CO (Ajax, Snowmass, and Buttermilk are the other three).  The views of the Elk Range are spectacular, especially of the famous Maroon Bells peaks that often are used to symbolize Colorado (they're on the CO state quarter).  For a skier like myself that loves the steeps, Highlands offers a great opportunity for what they call "in-bounds backcountry skiing" (how's that for an oxymoron!).  Basically, the resort provides avalanche control and allows skiers to hike to the summit of 12,392 Highlands Bowl to ski wholly ungroomed natural terrain.  The hike is steep but short (only about 30 minutes, though it feels longer when you're kickstepping in ski boots and hauling skis on your back!), and the steep, powdery north-facing slopes are well worth the effort.  The steepest run has a pitch of 48 degrees - steep enough you can touch the slope with your hand while standing up straight.
Me (in front), my husband (next), and friends hiking to the summit of Highlands Bowl
Aspen Highlands isn't my favorite Colorado ski resort (that honor goes to Telluride) or even the steepest (that would be Crested Butte), but the terrain and views are both excellent and the mountain is far less crowded than the resorts closer to Denver.  Soon as our son is old enough to really enjoy a ski trip, my husband and I plan on going back.

My husband Robert charging down a slope