That time I got stuck in England…

So you might remember we had a global pandemic which affected a lot of travel plans. One of those plans was a family transatlantic cruise from Southampton to New York–or, as my mother repeatedly described it, “the Titanic route.” That trip was eventually rescheduled for April of 2023, and so last month we flew to London, visited some tourist sites, and then hopped a train to Southampton.

En route, I checked my phone and realized our train journey wouldn’t make it. The final leg was shut down due to an accident (someone had gotten onto the tracks). I worked to re-route our party, knowing we had a countdown to board the ship. But as we prepared to disembark early and find an alternate route, another message came in: our cruise was canceled, less than an hour before boarding began, due to a technical issue on the ship. (Later information revealed that it was an engine/scrubber problem.)

Well, then.

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Review: Les Misérables (with a Z)

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago on a plane en route to ClickerExpo, but I forgot to finish and post it live. Here we go!

Les Miserables playbill

I had the opportunity to see the new tour of Les Misérables this week, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it.

I came awkwardly to my Broadway nerddom. When young Laura told my piano teacher I wanted the learn the “Phantom of the Opera music,” I meant Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and I was honestly boggled when she gave me the title track to Lloyd Webber’s show, which I’d never heard of. Then that stage passed, and I came of theater age during the heady early ’90s. This of course meant Les Misérables was a key influence.

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Typo Bounty Program!

I self-publish, and I publish traditionally. My work may be read by one editor or a half dozen. I’ve read it myself 5 or 25 times before it goes to press. And still somehow a typo can occasionally slip through.

Bert knows this is wrong.

It doesn’t happen a lot; I work hard to put out clean manuscripts. But I recently found an error in a story I’d sold (published elsewhere), and then this week a glitch ate some layout code and spat up paragraph break errors among hundreds of pages, all of which must be found and fixed manually.

Sometimes it’s human error. Sometimes it’s software. It’s always frustrating, even if they’re generally uncommon. But one advantage of independent publishing over traditional is the ability to correct that stray typo sooner rather than later (or not at all).

Announcing the Typo Bounty Program! /perky kazoo music/

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Laura’s Big Guide to Conference Networking, or, How To Meet People in Mutually Beneficial Ways Without Feeling Like a Salesman or Wanting to Chew Your Eyes Out

I see a lot of writers stressing about talking with other writers at events. The stereotype, of course, is that writers are writers because they would rather sit in a dark room by themselves than interact with other people. And yes, it’s true, I spend a lot of time with my imaginary friends.

But writers are not only capable of socializing like normal functional humans, it’s essential that they do. Publishing is too big to go alone; you’re going to need to take along some colleagues, for everything from critique partners to comparable marketing to moral support.

I’ve been attending 2-5 conferences a year (except in 2020) for writing and my day job for the last couple of decades. I’ve done a lot of conferences. Here are some things to keep in mind and to try!

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Edinburgh Fringe!

So I went on a trip. Almost an impulse trip, really; my sister Alena and our friend Mark were going to Fringe and asked if I wanted to come.

Edinburgh is home to the original Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a theater arts event that has been running annually for three-quarters of a century. All those Fringe theater events around the world are spinoffs of this OG. It is the largest arts event in the world, and possibly the third largest ticketed event in the world (after the Olympics and the World Cup). In the words of the festival itself, it features “theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.”

Also street food!

This year there were over 2200 official ticketed events (and more unofficial). The Fringe program book is literally larger than the phone books of some places I’ve lived (back when phone books were a thing). The entire city becomes a city of theaters, with over 300 official venues comprised of existing theatrical facilities, rented rooms, churches, pubs, classrooms and lecture halls, temporary structures, and converted spaces. There are also unofficial venues, which can be even a gap left in a crowd or a nook between food trucks. An acrobatics performance broke out during our lunch one day.

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2020 Part Deux, Vacation Edition

My husband and I (along with family and friend) are on a cruise. It’s been much fun, and our daily update included the fact that we had no known cases of COVID-19 on board in either passengers or crew. That made sense, as we were all vaccinated and everyone tested negative to board. Yay!

Then Jon had a runny nose for a day and a half. Just a runny nose, nothing bad. But he did a COVID test and turned up positive. The cruise ship machine kicked into gear — he was the first known positive — and they escorted him out among disposable scrubs, masks, shields, and a guy following him with a Ghostbusters backpack that misted disinfectant everywhere he walked.

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Giftmas 2021: The Thrilling Conclusion!

Giftmas 2021

You might know that every year I join Rhonda Parrish and a coterie of authors for Giftmas, a blog tour to raise funds for the Edmonton food bank. This year we have a goal of raising $1200 CAD, which will provide 3600 meals through the exponential leverage of bulk non-profit purchases. And if you’re donating in USD (or Euros or many other currencies), your donation is even more powerful!

By this time I’m sure I don’t need to explain how vital food banks and support efforts are for individuals and for society as a whole. It’s been a hard couple of years for many; let’s work together to help.

We’ve done many things on the Giftmas blog tour, but this year we’re trying something new: an exquisite corpse story! And before you cover the kiddies’ eyes, it’s not what it sounds like. It’s a method of collaborative storytelling in which each author writes a section with no plan, no outline, and no discussion with those writing before or after. Each author receives a story in progress, adds to it, and passes it to the next. It’s fun, and it’s challenging, and you can find the start of ours here.

And you can find its end here below!

But first:

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The Tale’s End

“But I want to find Sir Eldrick, too,” Clover protested as Cherie adjusted her legs to accommodate his spreading wings. “Can’t the snowmen wait?”

“As you supposed, the answers I found in the tower were as much for me as for the two of you.” Cherie settled the flamethrower into a more comfortable position. “This world really is like the real world—I mean, the world I think of as mine. And it really is connected. I just need to practice and build my confidence: if I can strike a deal with Santa to restore a polluted stream and get a flamethrower in my stocking, then I can make real changes at home, too. If I can fight carnivorous snowmen, I can fight for watersheds at home. And if things get tough”—she gave a little test spurt of fire—“then there’s always a Plan B.” She paused. “Besides, I think Agnes will be more successful with some space.”

“But we need you here.” Agnes glanced about, eyes flicking as if in search of something.

“Great-Aunt Agnes, you are the boldest and most competent woman I know—aside from your roofing skills, but we needn’t quibble. You have a magical talking snow fox to help you. And you’ve known the answer all along, haven’t you?”

Agnes opened her mouth, hesitated, closed it.

“You left that doorknob on the outside of the portal—in an attic, where it couldn’t have dropped from the door by the living room fire. You were waiting for me at the footbridge, though you couldn’t have known I’d gone looking for Giftmas decorations. You wanted me to come.”

Clover looked at Agnes, who nodded slowly.

“You and Clover tried to get into the tower. You did not ask Septimus to break into the tower, though it would have been far simpler for a size-shifting magical fox. And Septimus has owed you a favor, or several, as I heard when you asked him to carry us ahead of the snowmen.”

Agnes shook her head. “That’s enough. You don’t have to say more.”

“I do,” Cherie protested gently. “Because Clover deserves to know. Even more, Septimus deserves to know.”

“Agnes.” Clover looked down his long face and whuffled softly. “What happened?”

“He was poisoned,” Agnes said. “By the pollutants. Magical pollutants needed a magical cure, and I made a deal to save his life.”

Clover’s head jerked upward. “That’s—is it…?”

She nodded. “Septimus is Sir Eldrick. He remembers only some of what happened.”

Clover’s wings flexed uneasily. “But a deal to save him in another form… There’s only one with that kind of magic.”

“And it’s not very Giftmas-y to talk about him,” Agnes said quickly. “So let’s not ruin the holiday mood.”

“But Agnes, when he comes to claim—”

“Then he’ll come.” Agnes’s voice was firm, final, and sad.

“Fortunately, I’ll have leveled up on a few dozen snowmen by then.” Cherie slapped the flamethrower. “New year, new me, new fire toy. Leave a peppermint stick for old St. Nick and flick it with your Bic. I did say I wanted to make some real changes, didn’t I?” She twisted a hand into Clover’s thick mane. “Let’s ride.”

Thank you for joining all of us on the tour! And tune in tomorrow for Rhonda’s big finish.

Cards on the way

Every year I send Christmas cards to readers who want one (and now to my Patreon fam too). I design a new holiday postcard and send it to anywhere in the world it’s requested (barring current USPS international restrictions, thanks DeJoy). It’s fun!

stack of cards, top signed "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Laura VAB"

It is, however, a lot of signing. Every card is handwritten. And, as I mentioned, each year I design a new card. This year, I started signing and realized about 80% of the way through that the phrase I’d chosen to write on the back of the cards was the same as what I’d included on the front of the cards. /facepalm/ Oh, well, at least I’ve emphasized the seasonal message!

It’s fun to see where the requests come from and where the cards go. The United States and Canada receive the bulk, with the UK and Australia coming next. And then there’s Peru, South Korea, South Africa… I think we had 9 countries this year, if I recall correctly. And now I’m getting cards back from readers, which is delightful! This beautiful specimen was the first to arrive:

Christmas card showing Bethlehem, star, and text "A Christmas Prayer"

The process was assisted this year by my new thermal printer. I acquired this to help with shipping, and it’s amazing. Here it is running one stream of address labels:

They’re already in the mail, so watch for your card soon!

If you missed the signup to receive a card, I’m sorry! I do mention it in my newsletter and on social media, and you can watch for the announcement every November. Or if you’re a supporter on my Patreon, it’s automatic, no need to sign up.

If you want to give me more chances to play with my nifty thermal printer and justify my investment, you can order books and swag here directly from me, and I’ll ship it directly to you, signed and everything.

(If you’re wondering what printer I’m using, it’s here.)

The Last Monarch

While that sounds like an epic book title /makes note/, in this case it’s referring to a monarch butterfly. (Who is also pretty epic, as they’re about to make the massive migration journey to Mexico, which is a long haul for a little butterfly!)

First, let me share this cool shot of a final-stages chrysalis. They turn black and then give a translucent peek at what’s to come! I took this shot last week:

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Forgot to grab a seasonal read? SonOfAWitch!

With the equinox, we’re officially heading into autumn here on the northern half of the world, and it’s time to break out those seasonal stories!

If you want to go light on the spooky and heavy on the fun, you’ll probably enjoy a collection of stories about magic going horribly, hilariously wrong.

No one is perfect—not even a witch. Witches have amazing power at their fingertips to do unbelievable things. That magic can come in really handy sometimes too. They can make someone fall in love, poison an apple to enact a sleeping curse, banish an enemy to an alternate reality, or just conjure up some Nutella when there is none in the house. But what happens when those spells go horribly awry? 

SonofaWitch! contains six humorous contemporary fantasy stories of magic spells gone wrong by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Sara Dobie Bauer, Lissa Marie Redmond, Frances Pauli, Mara Malins, and Adam Millard.

SonOfAWitch! is currently on sale right here through Halloween for your reading pleasure. Get it signed to your favorite goblin.

If you want something with just a bit more chill for your spine, consider the sister anthologies Corvidae and Scarecrow.

Need a quick gift for that bookish friend (or yourself)? I still have some collectible Gen Con Pin Bazaar enamel pins, and they’re adorable! This clever pendragon will gladly protect your bookbag or lanyard—and he’s discounted when you buy with a paperback!

A quick read of a spooky story? Try The Lonely Frost in the Kitsune Tales series. Or read about Robin Archer’s Halloween perils in Circles & Crossroads.

And of course you’ll want snacks with your stories, right? Try dozens of s’more variations you’ve never thought of. (If you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read it for free, or it’s available to buy on Amazon.)