For Those Who Loved Susan Bloom

Dear Susan,

You were one of the caretakers of my life. The moment you saw me, you recognized me as one of yours and brought me under your wing. What a big wing it was—you brought so many people under there. I found some of my best friends under your wing, where you were sheltering them, as you sheltered me. We were all lovers of that “impractical” thing, children’s literature. Until I came to Simmons and met you, I didn’t know there was a place where people like us could go.

I think—I hope—I told you, before you died, that I have the best job in the world for me. It’s not possible to be happier about one’s daily work than I am about mine. Do you know who held the lantern and lit my way to this work? I would not be here without you. You changed my life, enormously. Do you have any idea how many women and men are thinking about you right now and saying to themselves, “She changed my life?”

You were so unique. You were a person who could never, ever be mistaken for anyone else. If faced with a line of your clones, it would’ve take me the briefest glance into your expressive, thoughtful face, the slightest sound of your careful grasping for the right words, for me to know which one was you. I would recognize your hug, too. I would certainly recognize your skirts and your earrings. I think I would recognize your perfume. After I got married last summer, you surprised me at tea. (Thank you, Cathie, for arranging that marvelous surprise.) You and Cathie gave me a bouquet that contained a beautiful flower and a beautiful umbrella (because you knew how much I love umbrellas). I brought them home to Kevin. As I showed the umbrella to him, trying so hard to express how much it meant to me, I exclaimed, “It smells like Susan!”

Last weekend, I was in Vermont by myself when I got the news that you’d died. I spent the day sitting on the porch of the cabin, looking out over the mountains, watching for hummingbirds, and reading a mystery novel by A. A. Milne. But really, I was thinking about you. I wondered if you knew that A. A. Milne wrote mysteries. I bet you did know that. I would’ve liked to talk to you about it. The story I read was just exactly the smart, funny (and annoyingly man-centered) sort of mystery you would expect A. A. Milne to have written, though Pooh is better. I wanted to know what you would have thought of it. You would’ve offered some perspective it wouldn’t have occurred to me to have. I would’ve gone to my friends, the ones I found under your wing, and told them, “Listen to what Susan said about this mystery by A. A. Milne.” And they would’ve laughed, delighted, then said, “That’s so Susan.”

While I was thinking about you, a hummingbird landed on my foot. It’s less surprising than it sounds; I was wearing pink and red socks with flowers on them. I thought to myself, “I hate that I can’t show this gift to Susan. It would have delighted her.” Like Edna St. Vincent Millay in her poem “Dirge Without Music” that was read at your service yesterday, I am not resigned to your death, and I do not approve. The best was lost when you died. “More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.”

And now I’m writing this letter because you are gone, and I don’t know what else to do. How else can I express what you meant to me? I’m writing it to myself, and for all the people who loved you. I think—I hope—it helps to share grief, and to hear one’s own gratitude expressed. There’s no tidy way to wrap things up when someone dies, so I’m not going to try. I’ll just say thank you, Susan, for that place under your wing. I love you, I miss you, and I’m not resigned. I will never, ever forget you.

Susan Parker Bloom, 1938-2019

For Susan.

Teeny Books for Christmas

This December, I discovered the Etsy shop Ever After Miniatures, which offers DIY printable miniature books. You buy the templates, print them out, then cut, fold, and paste the sweetest little openable books, which have readable pages inside.

This sort of project is made for me.

Most evenings, I would work on a few. I made them as gifts, mostly.

We have a small secret drawer at the end of our dining room table. I kept my project in there when I wasn’t working on it.

At a certain point, Kevin pointed out that they would make good tree ornaments. So I started adding strings and ribbons to a few of the covers. :o)

I got a little obsessed with this idea.

Here’s one of my favorite pages of Pride and Prejudice.

After they were dry, up they went!

I have loads more Arctic pictures to share, and will do so as time permits. Hope you’re all having a nice January! As I type this, it’s sleeting in the Boston area, and our temperatures are expected to be close to 0°F tonight, which is about -17°C. Svalbard-worthy temperatures!

More pictures soon, when book-writing permits.

Novel-Writing in the Arctic

My title is disingenuous, because I didn’t do any novel-writing in the Arctic. However, I thought and plotted and observed and learned with intensity, such that in the two months since my return, I’ve written an entire third of the new novel that was my primary Arctic project. This writing pace is unheard of for me. It’s partly because I’ve had some clearheadedness lately, unrelated to the Arctic. But it’s also largely because I got so much hands-on experience on the ship!

Since most of my work in the Arctic was happening in my head and my heart, it’s not going to be possible to show the entire process in pictures. But I can share some of the experiences that helped me make progress.

My novel takes place partly on a tall ship, where my main character is learning a lot about the work the sailors are doing.

Therefore, it helped me to learn to haul lines, and to watch others do so. (On a ship, ropes are called lines. It takes 60-ish lines to operate the rigging on the Antigua!)

(The Antigua is a barquentine. That’s a tall ship with three or more masts that has square sails on its foremast and fore-and-aft rigged sails [sails that stretch from front to back] on its other masts. This sail configuration gives it power and maneuverability, but also makes it possible to be operated by a small crew.)

On the occasions when we could turn the engine off and just sail… I was SO HAPPY. These were my favorite moments of the entire trip, which is saying an awful lot. It was silent, and graceful, and our movement felt so good in the water. It taught me a lot about my character and how she feels, too. 

The main character in my novel spends time lying inside a rowboat on deck, watching the sailors raise and lower the sails. So I did the same, curling up in one of the Zodiacs :o).

Photo by Dawn Jackson.

I did a lot of thinking and observing from that position. The masts swung back and forth above me as we moved through the waves and I got a lot of ideas! I also had the best views.

My main character also climbs the mast. So… in the picture below, our captain, Mario, gives me help and support as I make my first attempt.

John Hirsch took this picture, and the further-back one below, because I shoved my iPhone at him before I started :o)

Barbara Liles took this picture. As I climbed, the ship was moving through ice.

I’m on the right in this photo.

 Climbing was a thrill. Each time I tried it, I got up further. I knew it was safe, because I always wore a halter, but the ship was moving a lot and it was very, very cold up there, and sometimes slippery… and the places where your hands and feet went were not always intuitive… I learned a lot about my character’s experience from that experience.

By the way, it’s probably time for me to introduce our sailing crew — our captain, Mario; first mate, Marijn, and second mate, Annet! I’ll have more to say about them in future blog posts. They kept us safe, taught us so much, and were so patient whenever we “helped”!

That’s it for today’s Arctic chapter, but there’s more to come. Hope you’re all having a cozy December. :o)

Starcom: Nexus, and What It’s Like to Live with an Indie Game Developer

Today Kevin’s game, Starcom: Nexus, releases in Early Access on Steam. It’s a thing of beauty, and also a lot of fun. If you like games that take you into outer space where you get to explore mysterious worlds, build a powerful ship, and explode bad guys, you should buy it, and play it, and let your gamer friends know about it. Yes, I’m biased, but reviewers and streamers  – who are not his spouse  – also love it :o). (FYI those last two links go to youtube streaming vids.)


Conversation at the dinner table:

Kevin: How was your day?

Me: Okay, I guess. I still can’t figure out how to get this girl to accidentally set her house on fire, then cause an explosion and get stuck in a window grille.

Kevin: I believe in you.

Me: Thank you. How was your day?

Kevin: Okay. When my enemy ships get within a certain distance of each other, they spontaneously explode.

Me: Oh!

Kevin: It’s not supposed to happen. It’s a bug.

Me: Oh.

Kevin: I can’t figure it out.

Me: I believe in you!


There are a lot of similarities between the work Kevin and I do. We both create complicated worlds with characters and plots. We’re both entertainers.

Meet your commander.

We have some processes in common: for example, we both study the books/games we love, then try to learn from them. We both think about the things we don’t like in other books/games, then try to come up with alternatives we prefer. We both know how to wear the creator hat; then switch to the reader/gamer hat, reading/playing our own project with a critical eye; then go back to the creator hat to fix what isn’t working. We’re both extremely familiar with the phenomenon wherein you change one little thing, then a ripple effect passes through the entire work, complicating/breaking things in ways you didn’t anticipate.

Meet the Ulooquo, an underwater alien race.

We can also get similarly overwhelmed by our own projects. I’ve talked a lot on the blog about how a book has many parts, and writing a book involves many jobs. Well, a game has SO many parts. It has music and art, visual effects, numerous interfaces, plot and character, mysteries and rewards. It must be able to support and absorb the choices of individual gamers, over which the creator has no control. It has SO many (literally) moving parts!

We also both work by ourselves for years on self-directed projects… then put our creations out into the world, hoping they’ll find the people who will love them.

These similarities are deep. They help us to understand each other’s frustrations and joys, and support each other meaningfully. This is awesome. However, I want to talk a little bit about the differences, which are many.

For example, in my writing career, I have an agent. She connects me to an editor who helps me craft the right words. Then, my editor works with my publisher to create a beautiful physical book, publicize and market that book, and sell that book for me.

An indie game developer, on the other hand, does everything himself, in an extremely saturated market with a lot of roadblocks. He can hire other people to help. Kevin hired a composer and an artist, to help him with his music and his characters (like the Commander and the Ulooquo above). He hired a marketing consultant to do a few things too. But he worked closely with those people, because he knew exactly what he wanted. And everything else has been the work of his own hands. He’s done SO much marketing and publicity work on his own that’s made me appreciate my own marketing and publicity departments even more than I did before. Self-promotion in a saturated market is really, really hard. It’s also stressful for a guy who happens to be humble and was raised with the good-old New England ethos of not bragging about himself :o).

Here’s another big difference: Kevin can release his game while it’s still in production, then use the feedback from early players to shape it and make it better. He can write code into the game that allows him to see how long players play; where they decide to drop out of the game; which options are being chosen more often than others. (He receives this information anonymously, in case you’re starting to worry that he can actually tell what you’re doing inside his game!) As a writer, I definitely don’t know where someone decides to abandon my book. Nor do I want to know, because once people are reading my book, it’s final! If everyone is bailing at a certain point, there’s nothing I can do about it. The words in my book are not going to change. Kevin’s game is more of a living, growing creature, even after it releases, and based on player reactions.

Another big difference is that while I am a wordsmith, Kevin is a programmer. A lot of the time, when I step into his office, he’s working with programming language on his many screens, and I don’t understand the smallest bit of it. My readers read my actual words. His gamers play a game built on a framework of programming that looks and feels very different from the actual game. He also works with a lot of complicated software (like, for 3D modeling) and does a lot of math. He uses trigonometry to [I just asked him to explain it and he said something about spaceships shooting at each other, vectors, and cosines. ???]. I can come home and tell him practically everything I struggled with at work that day. A lot of what he does is too technical for me to understand—though he is really good at creating analogies and explaining things to me when I ask (and when I’m not rushing to finish a blog post!).

Another difference is that he is a visual artist. For example, he created Entarq’s Citadel below, which is one of the worlds his gamers get to explore.

Here’s another.

Another difference:  I can do my work anywhere. All I need is my notebook and a pen. Kevin needs his fancy computer and his big monitors. So he works from home. Home office and self-employed means he’s working most of the time. Most mornings, he’s working by the time I get out of bed. By the time I leave for my office, he’s put hours in. I come home and he’s making me dinner; after dinner, he works for a few more hours. I go away on trips without him; he works while I’m gone! I always thought I worked really hard. I have a new standard now.

And now his work has created this beautiful, fun game that’s getting really positive attention from gamers and streamers :o). Today, you can buy it in Early Access, and become one of the players who contributes to what it will ultimately become.

And that’s my little explanation of what it’s like to live with an indie game developer. Check out the links if you’re interested! The trailer is below.

The Arctic Circle: A hike from Lloyds Hotel to Lilliehöökbreen

Here is our trip log from Sunday, October 7:

Sunday 07.10 – Day 7

Lloyds Hotel – Lilliehöökbreen – North

-3/4°C Celsius, almost no wind in the morning, clear sky, beautiful sunrise. More wind in the evening going from WNW 2, to N 2-3 and later NW 4.

09:30 – Morning landing Lloyds hotel – Hike to Lilliehöökbreen.

11:15 – Anchor up Lloyds Hotel.

13:30 – Anchor down Lilliehöökbreen.

14:30 – Hikers back on board (Piet still smiling).

16:30 – Afternoon zodiac cruises Lilliehöökbreen.

19:00 – Going North.

Our leader, Sarah Gerats, kept this log for us throughout the trip… And October 7 was one of my favorite days. I woke that morning and, as happened most mornings, came out on deck to a view I’d never seen before.

If you take a close look at the middle of this picture — maybe click on it to make it bigger and more detailed — you might see an orange rectangle. This is a hut that’s been decorated and painted orange. It’s called Lloyds Hotel, and it is definitely the fanciest hut on Spitsbergen — though maybe more of a tourist destination then a destination for any anyone actually seeking shelter. You can read more about its history here.

We climbed aboard the zodiacs and crossed onto land to visit it.

I, for one, was less interested in the evidence of human activity inside the hut, and more interested in the COMPLETELY GINORMOUS polar bear prints outside the hut. They were fresh, for this was new snow.

This sight — evidence of a polar bear (or three or four) recently shuffling through — was quite common on our journey.

This time we got a special treat: evidence that it had lain down and rolled around :o)

I think it’s time to introduce you to our wonderful, kickass guides, who always knew how to read the prints in the snow. Emma, Sarah, Åshild, and Kristin were our guides and guards, our organizers, our friends, our helpers, and our protectors. Any time we went on land, they were there with rifles, ensuring our safety in the land of polar bears.They had so much to share about the landscape, the environment, the animals, the history. They were wonderful storytellers and guides! And of course, Nemo was very, um, helpful as well. :o)

After exploring Lloyd’s Hotel, we split into two groups. Some stayed put, working or enjoying the scenery, then returning to the ship. The rest of us set off on an 8km (5 mi) hike across the base of the fjord where we’d landed. See the little arrow I drew on the map below? That shows where we hiked, in this northwestern section of Spitsbergen.

Click here to check this out on Google Maps and see more details about where we were.

As we moved away from shore, we saw the Antigua sail off — abandoning us! Not really. The ship was circling the fjord to pick us up on the other side. Even knowing that, though, it was strange to see her go.

We hiked through spectacular terrain. Click on any of these to make them bigger and more focused.

The snow was pretty deep, but also very, very dry. It made for easier hiking than a snow-free terrain, for we were on a rocky moraine of loose stones much of the time. The snow evened out the terrain for us.

The sun was low behind us for the entire hike. If you see the sun in a picture, I’m looking back.

Our way was mostly flat, but every once in a while, we climbed a steep hill. The light was brilliant, everything white and blue! And lavender, pink, gray, if you looked closer.

At one point, Nemo was sorely tempted by this duck, who taunted him as he tried to walk out onto the thin ice and grab it. Sarah, Nemo’s person, could not get him to desist. So we all took a little break and enjoyed resting, eating snacks, and watching the show :o). (The duck was fine. The duck was in charge the whole time really.)

Our path skirted the frozen edges of two beautiful lakes, this one crossed with the tracks of an Arctic fox.

I included the picture below because in the foreground, you can see what I mean about the terrain of loose stones. It’s exactly the same backdrop as above, actually, but I’m standing at a higher point, so the sun is more visible.

Near the end of our hike, we climbed a steep ridge…

And there below us was another fjord, a glacier, and, waiting for us, the Antigua. Such a beautiful sight on a freezing day, after a long walk. I stood and stared, breathing fresh air, for a long time. As I watched, I heard her anchor fall — a familiar metallic clicking that was SO much louder on our ridge, echoing around the fjord, than it ever was from inside the ship.

And that was our hike from Lloyds Hotel to Lilliehöökbreen! If you’re curious about the place in the log where it says “Piet still smiling,” well, you may remember from a previous post that Piet was our chef. And we got home very late for lunch :o). But he fed us a delicious feast anyway.

I’ll post another adventure soon! Maybe those zodiac cruises mentioned in the log, or maybe an explanation of some of our exciting activities on deck.

A Wedding Gift for the Jane Readers Among You :o)

I have another post of Arctic pics lined up, but I wanted to change to the subject for a moment to something closer to home. Here’s something we received from some of my dear people at Penguin after we got married.

 Umbrellas, magical worlds, and joint adventures! My editor, Kathy Dawson, found the card, and my artist and mapmaker for Bitterblue and Jane, Unlimited, Ian Schoenherr, revised it :o). Jane, Unlimited readers will hopefully understand why.

My mouth fell open when I saw it, and I promptly burst into tears. Thank you to those involved — you know who you are :o).

More soon!

The Arctic Circle: Inside the Antigua

You might be wondering what it was like to live inside a ship for two weeks as we explored western Spitsbergen. For a sense of our day-to-day inside lives, here are some pictures from inside the Antigua. Please keep in mind that it was HARD to take these particular shots, because all the spaces are small and strangely-shaped, no space on a ship is designed for easy photographing, and also, the ship is never, ever still. It’s tricky to take in-focus pictures when the floor is moving!

See the door in the middle of this picture, with the circular window? Let’s step inside.

First thing you encounter is the Very Narrow Corridor With Too Many Boots. In the picture below, it is way more tidy than normal. We didn’t wear our outside shoes inside the Antigua, so every time you stepped in or out, you did the awkward and time-consuming boot-transition thing.

To the right are teeny bathrooms and the door to the engine room; to the left is the entrance to the kitchen, shown below. I didn’t want to go in there and take pictures, because people were working hard in there, making our delicious meals. So I took this weird snap from the doorway.

Now let’s walk straight ahead. To the left is the stairway down to our living quarters, but we’re going straight on into what was the heart of the ship for me — the lounge.

This is where we ate our meals and had social time. (The ship was fully heated inside.) Some people tried to work here sometimes, but in reality there was no practical work space for artists on the ship. We made do.

The lounge had a left table, a right table, and a higher, back table. The booth seats are so comfy, and were the scenes of many naps :o). Especially when the ship was moving so much that it was hard to keep upright.

The lounge includes this teeny, beautiful bar, with a service window into the kitchen.

The pole below is in fact one of the masts…

but we knew it as our notice board :o).

This is Janine climbing into a hole in the floor of the lounge, under some of the seats, to retrieve some of the food. Everything under your feet in a ship is a storage space, an outlet to the water system, or something!

Our food was delicious, warm, and plentiful at every single meal. Good thing, because we were spending hours outside every day — sometimes 8-10 hours — in below-freezing temperatures, so we were burning a lot of calories and needed a LOT of fuel. Here’s some birthday cake.

Our chef, Piet, was a genius, and the kitchen staff beyond wonderful. No meal was ever repeated. We ate stews, pastas, foods of many cuisines, delectable desserts. Sometimes our guides would tell us to eat a good dinner, but not too much, because it would likely be rough later, and I would stuff myself full anyway, because it was too delicious not to :o).
Here are the beautiful people who kept us so well fed.

And now, ready to go downstairs?

The stairs were really narrow, and in a moving ship, you quickly learned to cling to the banister.

Welcome to our corridor, which I always found to be a little redrum, if you know what I mean.

Sometimes you’d arrive in the corridor and the rug would be up, the floor open and a man sticking out. I think there were water pipes down there or something. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture!
My cabin, which I shared with my lovely roommate Dawn Jackson, was HUGE. Others had bunk beds in a veritable closet. We lucked out.
We kept it very tidy, as you can see. My bed is on the left.

In our defense re: the clutter, we were on the run practically every moment of every day (more about that in a later post). We did what we could :o).

In the picture, below, the head is behind the wall with the blue coat. I didn’t take a picture of it. It was a tiny room with a toilet and shower.

Dawn could peek out through her porthole from her bed :o).

The picture below was from a day when we were full sailing (no engine, just sails) and the water was sloshing all the way up to our portholes. This was NOT an easy picture to take — the floor was moving so much and it was hard not to fall over! I tried to wait until we were in the very trough of a wave, then snap the picture in that instant of lull, before the ship jumped up again.

So, that’s pretty much our living space inside the ship. There are other interior spaces in the Antigua — like the wheelhouse, for example, shown here from the outside…

But that was the space of the crew, staff, and guides, in addition to the ship’s most important passenger, Nemo…

So I didn’t take pictures in there. But I’ll be telling you more about our crew and guides, and more about life on and off the Antigua…

very soon!

The Arctic Circle: A few landscapes to set the mood!

In the coming weeks, I want to blog about a typical day on board; tell little stories of routines and big stories of adventures, in pictures; introduce you to some of the characters from my journey; familiarize you with the beautiful Antigua; and talk a little about my writing work on board.

I want to start, though, with a simple series of landscape photos, just to give a sense of atmosphere. For two weeks, with the exception of one day when we docked at the research station in Ny-Ålesund, we were alone on both land and sea. At the beginning of our trip, on October 1, we had about 10 and a half hours of daylight. As the trip progressed, we began to lose daylight steeply, as much as 40 minutes per day, such that when we returned to Longyearbyen on October 15, we had about 6 and a half hours of daylight. Can you imagine such a change, over the course of two weeks?

It made for some dramatic and moody skies.

Notice, in these pictures, how often my camera would reach for the Antigua in the distance :o). While I took these pictures, I was cold, in a remote and vast place where wind and ice were the only sounds. Often I was on land, a Zodiac-ride away from the ship, for hours. The Antigua in the distance meant warmth and home.

I’ll start with the map of our route around the western and northwestern coast of Spitsbergen. I won’t be identifying locations in this post — forgive me, but it would add a couple of hours to this posting, and I don’t have that tonight — but I do want you to have a general idea of where we were. Please do click on the pictures to embiggen and also see them in higher resolution/better quality. These pictures are insufficient to express the range of what we saw — but I will fill that out more in coming posts!

Hopefully, if you embiggen this, you’ll be able to make out our route, numbered along the black line.
A day of still waters.

One of many glaciers, glowing blue.

Artists dotting the landscape.

Sailing through sea ice in the north.

The sun was always low.

Ridges, glacier, ice, snow.



Clouds creating a matching formation with the peaks below.

Not much light, on one of the short days near the end of the trip.

The Antigua is tiny in this picture, can you find her?

More coming soon! :o)