Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mystery of the Big Bird

I have a friend who had a family of raccoons living in her rafters. She had to call animal control, twice. Apparently, the attic was a desirable loft apartment with good schools, and the raccoon community heard the previous tenants had recently vacated. Robin and I once had a squirrel in our chimney in Raleigh. It died there. I like to think it passed away in its sleep, curled up in bed with loved ones offering support, but I doubt that now given how they left the body until the stench required a chimney sweep.

Truth is, many people have unexpected visitors from the animal kingdom come to visit and refuse to leave. Rats and mice, that can enter holes the size of a quarter, live in the walls just like in cartoons. Chimney swifts will create nests on flue liners, while sparrows build homes on chimney dampers. Bats, well bats, can squeeze through a half inch crack in the mortar to take up residence and never pay a dime in rent. 

In our cabin in the valley, we don’t have a traditional chimney. We heat the place with a  lovely pellet stove that’s so efficient it doesn’t need but a small vent. This has eliminated the temptation of a high-rise critter condo. We also don’t have an attic. The cabin has an exposed-beam heavy timber roof, so there’s no place for squirrels or raccoons. The exterior walls are 8" thick solid logs, so Mighty, Mickey, Stuart, Jerry, and Fievel have no room at the inn.

Wall of Glass
We do have windows. The front of the cabin is a full two-stories of bird-seducing glass. Just in the United States, as many as a billion birds can die each year from disagreements with windows—they insist there are no such things—the glass begs to differ. Collisions of this sort rank in the top three human-related causes of bird death, our secret alliance with cats, and the our Ferngully-style habitat reduction, fill out the lethal trio. What’s worse is that over fifty percent of all window strikes are fatal. Even if the bird gets up and flies away, odds are they will die later from hemorrhaging.

Our personal mammoth wall of avian death has, to date, only resulted in one known death, a small songbird. This, while sad, wasn’t nearly as awful as the bluebird who lay unconscious on the deck while its mate waited on the rail. She risked her life sitting exposed for a good twenty minutes. Luckily the injured bird woke up and the two flew off. I refused to tell my wife about that incident until I could report a happy ending.

This last autumn a Northern Flicker (a good size woodpecker) rammed the window and lay for about an hour on the deck.

Northern Flicker after hitting the window
Northern Flicker after about an hour
I went out to see what I could do, and it fluttered drunkenly under the porch, where I imagine it may have died. So maybe that’s two.

Most of the time, the birds just argue with the windows.

But once, a bird (prior to my ability to identify them) spent a whole day fluttering and repeatedly slapping against it. It did this so hard and so often, that Robin, who was working in the loft couldn’t concentrate—and this is a woman who can’t sleep without the television on and often works with the tv and radio playing simultaneously. Turns out, the bird and the glass might not have suffered from a metaphysical argument at all. During mating season, birds are known to become excessively territorial and will try and drive off intruders—even the unwanted advances of their own reflections.

And then there are the drunks. Birds, I’ve learned, can become intoxicated from fermented berries. And if you think drunk driving is bad, flying under-the-influence isn’t even for the birds.

None of these encounters, however, is what prompted me to write this post.

It’s what happened last night.  My wife took our grandpuppy, (my daughter’s puppy, who was staying with us for the week), out for that final stroll before bedtime when out on the porch arose such a clatter… Shouts, followed by barks, and finally Robin and Ruth, burst back into the cabin flummoxed and disheveled. “What was—” I started.

“A bird!” Robin shouted. “A big bird. It’s living in the eaves, up near the peak. Freaked the dog out. Nearly ripped my arm off. It was huge.”

For a moment I was picturing some sort of mythical Roc, and it took me a second to realize it was the dog attached to her arm by the leash that nearly took Robin’s arm and not the bird.

Being a newly minted birder, I was instantly intrigued. A huge bird living in our eaves, one that was active at night? Owl? My daughter and I, who are still engaged in a vicious contest to see who can spot the most species of birds by Thanksgiving 2019 (she’s at 46, I’m at 44), would both kill to spot an owl. You just don’t see them unless you’re wandering the forests or a neighbors barn by night, and I don’t know if I want to invest in military-grade night-vision goggles or risk buckshot just to log a Great Horned or a Screech. But if one is living on my porch!

I went out and looked, but the bird was long gone.

I went to bed that night disappointed at the near miss. While, our grandpuppy slept soundly between Robin and I, a blustery wind blew down the length of the valley, ripping up everything that wasn’t nailed down. The Shenandoah Valley is usually as sheltered as Rivendell, and most bad weather leaves us alone, but when it lines up just right, the valley can act as a funnel creating a wind tunnel. That night, long about three in the morning, I was awakened by the creek-slam, creek-slam sound of a metal door swinging open and crashing closed. It came from right outside the bedroom window.

I got up, and disturbed the dog who yawned and looked at me as if I was nuts for climbing out of the covers in the middle of a cold night. Robin was already awake by then and on the couch in the loft, face illuminated by the glow of her laptop, television on, but ignored.

She looked at me like I was a bear coming out of his cave in January. “What are you doing?”

I believe I eloquently explained the severe annoyance of the swing-slamming metal door just outside my window, and how I intended to go out into the night armed with a flashlight and a twist-tie to rectify the problem. There’s also a good chance I simply growled at her.

Grabbing my coat, hat, scarf, flashlight, and trusty twist-tie, I headed out into the wind-ripped night. I found the culprit. The gray junction box door that never had a latch. I secured it with the metal wire recycled from a bread wrapper. Then I headed back to the porch.  Flutter. Flutter. Flap.

I had the porch light on which let me see it. A big bird.

It flew to the left just under the porch roof, and then back, then it grabbed on to the wall and hung there like a bat.

What kind of bird of that size clutches on a vertical wall?

I hit it with the beam from the flashlight.

This was not a bat, and it was big.

About a ruler or more from claw to head, it had the hooked beak of a bird of prey and striped wings. The face had distinctive vertical dark-line markings. Mostly it was black and white but the wings were a reddish brown.

For a moment I thought it was an owl, but that was just wishful thinking. This wasn’t an owl. Just three weeks before I had spotted a kestrel in the tree that was twenty feet away. The two bore a remarkable resemblance, same size, color and pattern—at least on their backs, but this one lacked the distinct blue colored wings.
Male kestrel in the tree next to our cabin
This was a female kestrel, I realized, likely the mate of the other one I’d seen before. She fluttered and hung above the door, then pushed off and came right at me.


This bird was no sparrow. This was a falcon and came equipped with sharp talons. If she indeed had a nest in the eaves over my head…well mothers tend to be protective of children. She also couldn’t care for the feeling of being trapped beneath the porch roof, with a bright light shining on her.

I ducked.

The bird flew over my head.

Beating wings out into the night, the kestrel disappeared into the darkness.

Then I started thinking how’s that gonna work out for the not-an-owl? Birds don’t have headlights.

I pictured her pulling a Northern Flicker and ramming headlong into a tree trunk, or parked mini-van, but as they can see better than I can in daylight, I assumed they could also manage better at night.
American Kestrel Painting – Male and Female
by Bryce W. Robinson 

The good part of this story is that the kestrel survived both encounters without any window debates. The sad part of this story is that not being an owl, and being the second kestrel I spotted, means I’m still at 44, and my daughter is still beating the crap out of me. The cool part of this story is that, sure some folks have raccoons, some have mice and rats, or squirrels or bats, but how many have a falcon living on their porch? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Age of Legend Progress Report

Hey all, Robin here. As Michael promised I'm here to give an update on where we are with Age of Legend with regard to deadlines.
  • The beta read started January 16th with 21 people participating. We already have 5 people done and Michael has incorporated a number of changes based on feedback that came in. Feedback was originally due by February 17th, but I ended up sending out the beta in 4 parts (a trip to Michigan got in the way of me doing some "stitching" between edits of mine and changes from Michale, so we'll be extending that a little.
  • While the beta readers are going through the book, Michael and I have been working on line edits. I do the first pass, send it to him. He does some changes of his own (sometimes reverting my changes) and it comes back to me. For any sentences we disagree on -- we duke it out. Seriously we've spent 20 minutes on a single sentence sometimes going through multiple versions, and rewrites. 70% of the book is done and we're hoping to have the line edits finished by February 3rd (which will include all the beta changes that we've received by then).  At which point we'll be formatting and printing ARC copies.
  • Both copyeditors (Laura Jorstad and Linda Branam are standing by. Laura will get hers February 5th, and additional beta changes will be sent in a highlighted version on the 25th. She HAS to have her copy editing pass done by March 2nd because we start recording on the 4th!
  • Yep, March 4th to the 8th we'll be in New York recording with Tim - always a highlight of a book's production process. This date was "set" ages ago as studios and narrators get booked up, so this has been the "unmovable deadline and the book has to be finished. That said, sometimes in the studio, there are are some minor corrections made.  For instance, sometimes Tim will read a piece of dialog "wrong" but it is exactly the way it "should" have been written, so we make the change to the master document.  So in that way, the recording dictates the print rather than the other way around.
  • Linda and the gamma readers will get their copies right after the studio recording. At this stage, there is mostly just commas being addressed or typos that were read correctly but are wrong in the manuscript. Ideally, this would happen BEFORE recording but the schedule just doesn't allow for it this time around.  If anything big comes up (that for instance needs a new paragraph or a greatly changed paragraph, we can always have Tim re-record that area.  He'll have to do re-records anyway because sometimes there are things that we all missed when in the studio, and so there are always retakes that happen post-recording.
  • Book layout will start while the Gamma readers and Linda are doing their work, and then we'll "drop in" the final manuscript which, (given the changes are minor) won't change page flow. Once the book is in the final layout it has to be proofed to make sure there wasn't some unintentional page breaks or bad reflows.
  • Once the book is done being proofed and it is 100% locked down. We can get select and schedule the printer. It usually takes 4 - 6 weeks to print and it might have to wait a few weeks for the press. So that means they should be ready by mid to late May. Once they get to Ingram's warehouse the various retailers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc) need to get them into their warehouses and that can take another 2 - 3 weeks.
Now, for those that don't know.  There will be a Kickstarter for this book so people can get copies before anyone else and their printed copies will be signed. I'll probably launch the Kickstarter in early March for 3 weeks. And we'll make an announcement here before it goes live (because there are limited numbers of units sold at "early bird" pricing where people who sign up fast get a discount. All levels include an ebook version, and Kickstarter backers will get theirs as soon as the book is proofed and locked down. We'll start shipping the physical books to the Kickstarters the second they get off the presses, which should mean people will get them at least a month before the rest of the world.  

For people who want the book but don't like Kickstarters, pre-order pages are already posted. If you are looking to get the hardcover anyway, please purchase now. You can be assured that if the price drops (which it will if the book is seeing lots of orders) you'll be charged the lowest price after your pre-order was made. Pre-ordering will help us (a) get greater interest from the retailers so they will promote the book more and (b) help determine the size of the print run.

So, as you can see we're pretty busy over here and the deadlines are tight. I know for you all, it seems like July is a million miles away, but for us, we already feel like we are at least 2 months behind!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Age of Myth Sale $1.99 (Regularly $9.99)

So, the mass-market paperback of Age of War has just hit the street. Driving the price on that book down from $12.99 to $9.99.  But to help get people into the series my publisher (Del Rey) is putting the first book (Age of Myth) on sale for just $1.99.  That's a huge saving - 80% off!

I've seen the sale price on  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, &  Apple, but I suspect the other ebook retailers will be price matching to it soon. I'll update the post if it does become available elsewhere.  I'm not sure how long the sale will be in effect (I suspect 1 week). So get it while you can. Oh, and if you know someone who hasn't yet started reading the series - now is the perfect time to have them start!

Friday, January 25, 2019

For those waiting on hardcovers of Riyria

I've been getting a lot of panicked emails from people who fear they missed their window for ordering the hardcovers, I just wanted to assure you that you haven't.  None of the pre-order invitations have gone out yet, and when they start, I'll post it on this site.

The issue is Robin and I are on a tight deadline regarding Age of Legend. And yes, I realize its release isn't until summer and we're still in the middle of winter.  But there are dates set in stone that can't be missed (mainly because they involve people's schedules other than our own) and so that has to be our highest priority.  Bottom line, we are 100% consumed with that book, and as such everything else is taking a back seat.

Tomorrow I'll make a post about the status of Age of Legend, to fully explain where we are at, and what's left to do. But in the meantime, I wanted to do a quick post so that those that are concerned about the hardcovers can rest easy.   More coming soon!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Storming the ConFusion - Dearbon MI Jan 17 - 20

Hey all,

I don't travel often, but when I do, I like to tell readers where I will be in case you want to come out and say howdy, grab a drink, or whatnot. This weekend Robin and I will be traveling to Dearborn Michigan for Storming the ConFusion.  I'm not an "official" participant so I won't be in any sessions, but we are staying in the hotel, will be hanging out in the bar, and even playing some board games and stuff in the lobby. 

Current plans are to arrive around 11:00AM on Friday and leave in the morning on Sunday. So if you need a signature on a book, or just want to sit and chat drop me an email (michael (dot) sullivan (dot) dc (at) gmail (dot) com and we'll set something up.

Hope to see you there!

Oh, and why ConFusion? Robin and I grew up in the Detroit area, and we both still have family there. My brother's birthday is on Saturday, and I don't get to see my 97-year-old mum often. We also have some friends in the area and hopefully we'll be seeing them a well.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

It's Stabby Time!

The /r/Fantasy sub of reddit is one of the best communities I've seen for fantasy. They are up to almost 500,000 member,  and I joined it back in December of 2011. I'm also proud to say I've won a stabby, and have been a runner-up a number of times.

If you've not checked out the /r/fantasy community you really should. It has a great group of people and even a few authors (like myself) that hang out there and it's just a great scene to be a part of.

This year, I'm nominated in a few categories, but this post isn't a plead for your vote. Please, vote for whatever you liked from 2018, and if that happens to my posts or my book, well great, but there are plenty of great nominees and I'm thrilled just to be part of them.

Voting is open until January 7th, and you can vote here. 

I'm also going to include links to the various categories. To vote, click on the link then click on [show replies], then click the up arrow for as many entries as you'd like (downvotes have no effect on the voting.
So check out the nominees, and vote for your favorites. And if you're not a regular at /r/Fantasy consider joining us. It's a great group of people.