Trip Report – Santa Fe

The decision was made immediately after Kari-Lise and I got our first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine back in May. TRAVEL. Travel was calling. Call it a spontaneous trip or revenge travel, we were hungry for the world. Like everyone else, we’d spent last year social distancing and sticking close to home, doing our part to stop the spread. Now, on our way to being fully inoculated and assured we wouldn’t unknowingly spread the virus to others, we craved a change of scenery—something opposite from the verdant mountains of Western Washington. We plotted our vaccine schedule, figured out the timeline, and booked a trip.

It’s been a decade since we visited Santa Fe, and it’s no surprise the city called to us once again. It’s an easy trip in non-pandemic times and was a place we both wanted to revisit. In May we weren’t sure how everything would play out, but we decided to roll the dice and plan for a trip of a few days exploring the town and the surrounding landscape. It was well worth it. Like any instance of travel, I came away feeling invigorated and creatively inspired. After a year at home, it was good to get away, breathe the thin desert air, and visit a place so unlike my daily experience. As the pandemic recedes in here America, everyone is still feeling out public behavior. But even with the mild awkwardness, the results were a trip comprised of fantastic food, incredible art, and surprising exploration.


The Food

It’s not going to be possible to share this trip without hitting on the copious amounts of delicious food we devoured. New Mexico is the land of the chile, and red and green varieties show up in every menu across the state, no matter what cuisine. When ordering, one is often asked if you want red or green chile—you can also opt for both by ordering your meal “Christmas.” (Yeah, it sounded corny the first time I said it as well. But the place is called Santa Fe. *rimshot*) Neither are particularly spicy despite the many warnings for tourists, but both are complex and flavorful. Trying different combos is worth the effort there’s no wrong choice here. Choose what works for you and enjoy.

Standout meals include the tacos from El Chile Toreado (arguably some of the best tacos I’ve ever had). The Short Rib Birria from Paloma, probably the fanciest dining we experienced on the trip. Solid enchiladas from The Shed (a return visit). And a strange little chile dog from the Taos Ale House; a mess to eat but incredibly delicious.


The Art

The third-largest art market in the United States is an artery running through the heart of Santa Fe along a street known as Canyon Road. (At this point it has spread well beyond Canyon Road, but posterity likes a metaphor.) The narrow lane is lined with over a hundred art galleries and studio spaces full of a variety of art. Everything from contemporary to traditional art, sculpture to jewelry, couture clothing to leather goods is offered somewhere along the route, and it’s easy to lose yourself for half a day or more.


These wind sculptures were quite relaxing.

Much had changed in the decade since our last visit, as one would suspect. Couple that with a receding pandemic and Canyon Road felt like a place awakening from a long slumber. In some spots, masks were optional for the fully vaccinated. Others were still being cautious and requiring masks and social distancing for all guests. We were happy to oblige and spent many hours wandering through the galleries discussing art and finding new favorites.

The standout for me was discovering the work of Grant Hayunga at his own recently opened gallery. His work varies but what stood out were his mixed media pieces that sat somewhere between paintings and relief sculpture. Made of various materials, calcium carbonate, crushed marble, beeswax, Hayunga creates fascinating pieces that explore humanity and our relationship with nature. My favorite from this series is fur trapper a recent piece from this year. He also creates these stunning neo-traditional landscapes, one of which—2016’s Asleep—enthralled both Kari-Lise and me. It’s all beautiful work, easily my favorite of the whole Canyon Road experience. You all need to buy more books from me so I can get one of his pieces.

“fur trapper” 2021, hanging in the Grant Hayunga Gallery

Meow Wolf

Canyon Road wasn’t the only artistic experience of the trip. When we last visited Santa Fe, the art collective known as Meow Wolf was still in its infancy. In the decade since our visit, they have experienced significant growth. Their permanent home in Santa Fe is a former-bowling alley funded by some local guy named George R. R. Martin. It sits near the southwestern edge of the city as is home to their first large-scale interactive art experience House of Eternal Return. It’s amazing. The whole thing plays out like an interactive X-Files episode.

I can write a thousand words on what is inside, but it’ll never do it justice. Even photos don’t really capture the magic. You begin outside a modest home oddly enclosed in a warehouse (the reason why is eventually explained). After you pass through the front door (it’s open), you’ll soon discover a rich story told through journals, newspaper articles, videos, and photo albums, pictures on the wall, toys in the bedroom, and much much more. It all ties the family that resided there and their experiences to the surreal worlds you’ll interact with as you move beyond the House itself. I don’t want to go into too much detail on the experience since the House gives back what you bring, and spoilers remove that sense of wonder. (I even consider not sharing pics.)

I came away feeling inspired by the whole thing and thought it’d be great to someday recreate a corner of Lovat for readers to explore in person. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. My “Old Haunts” project is a small attempt at capturing some of that, and while I love them, being able to do it in person would be so rich and satisfying. Imagine standing outside Russel & Sons with rain dropping down around you, muffled jazz blaring from somewhere above, and the smell of spicy noodles cooking from a push cart down the street. Rad idea, right?

House of Eternal Return isn’t Meow Wolf’s only project. They have another installation that went live this year, and more experiences are planned for the future (Denver and eventually Washington D.C.). We’re already looking at a trip to Las Vegas for one reason: visit Omega Mart. Think cosmic horror as a grocery store chain, and you’d be on track. (Check out some of their ads.) It all sounds as creepy and weird and wonderful as I’d hope. I am excited to explore its aisles in the future.


New Mexico Highlands

On a whim, we decided to leave Santa Fe behind and head out into the country. We did this a decade ago, heading northwest toward Abiquiú and the Ghost Ranch. This time we headed northeast toward Taos. Early-summer storms were sweeping across the land, and you could watch enormous dark clouds trailing tails of rain and shadow for miles. For some reason, I expected more of the high desert environment like what I saw ten years previous. But the land toward the northeast was very different to that of the west, it rose suddenly. As we left the desert behind, we found ourselves in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains. I’ve grown up among the Rocky’s most of my life. But driving north along highway 68 and looking across the vast Taos plateau and seeing the gorge carved by the Rio Grande was utterly breathtaking. I’ve seen deep valleys before, but never one carved in such flat and open land and from such a height. I still find myself reflecting on that view. Seeing the ground opened up that way was like staring into the vastness of time.

The Río Grande Gorge from the Taos Overlook, off State Road 68 near the “horseshoe.” Photo from the Taos News.

Instead of continuing East across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, we decided to loop up into the mountains. We found ourselves in Carson National Forest, taking the High Road to Taos scenic byway back to Santa Fe. This is proper mountain country, think tall trees, deep valleys, tiny communities tucked away into hollows, and vast untouched stretches of forest for miles and miles. It all felt closer to home. Beautiful, but not at all what I anticipated.

So Much More

Santa Fe and the surrounding land can be a bit surreal at times. Modern art and interactive art experiences exist alongside deep history. The Palace of the Governors, erected in 1610, is the oldest public building in continuous use in America. Just down the street is the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States. Outside of Taos is the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, originating sometime between 1000–1450 A.D. and not discovered by Europeans until the sixteenth century. And that only scratches the surface of what you can find in this small section of the state. This doesn’t even begin to cover other places in New Mexico we were unable to visit, locations like White Sands, Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock, Trinity, the burning of Zozobra, Los Alamos, and so much more. There is a density of wonder here and New Mexico doesn’t hold back and is very much worth your attention.


Advice & Tips

  • You’re going to want to rent a car, this is big country. That said when in town, be willing to walk. There’s so much to see in Santa Fe, and unexpected places are often found on foot.
  • Eat everything. Try new dishes. Explore New Mexican cuisine. Fear no chile. Don’t be put off by location. Sometimes the smallest trucks tucked into the quietest corners can have the best tacos.
  • Scenic byways are your friend in Western States and New Mexico is full of them (High Road to Taos, Turquoise Trail, Santa Fe Trail, among many many others). While slower than major freeways, these routes will give travelers glimpses into a New Mexico easily missed by tourists. The extra time is worth it.

This was my fourth trip into New Mexico, my second to Santa Fe, and easily my favorite of the bunch. Each time I visit, the trips get a little longer, and each time I return I wish I had stayed a few more days. The name “Land of Enchantment” is a fitting one. The terrain there is haunting, rich in history and legend, and it calls to the traveler to take time and explore its wonders.

I’m not going to lie, it’s weird to travel right now, even fully vaccinated. People are rightly nervous, business hours are funky, and what we thought of as “normal” has changed significantly. Traveling at the end of a pandemic requires a lot of patience and copious amounts of kindness and empathy. We’re in a transitional period, and those can be both interesting and weird to navigate. However, it’s still worth it to get away for a time, and allow oneself to experience the world again. It was good to return to New Mexico, and a shame to have waited so long to return. Here’s hoping our next visit comes sooner rather than later.

Raunch Reviews: A Song of Ice and Fire

Raunch Review: A Song of Ice and Fire

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.


Raunch Reviews: A Song of Ice and FireThe Author: George R. R. Martin
Work in Question: A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones
The Profanity: “Seven Hells”

It’s easy to dismiss George R. R. Martin’s epic as just another fantasy. After all, it has all the trappings. But Martin likes to ground these in a grim reality that make the struggles and conflict on the page feel real—almost historical. This is especially incorporated through his in-world religions as well. From the strange faces of the old gods carved into the sides of weirwood trees, to the Drowned God of the men of the Iron Isles, and to the Andal’s Faith of the Seven—with any faith, oaths generally follow. So it’s no surprise Martin went with “seven hells” as his inworld mild-profanity replacement.

As a mild oath, it’s fine. Seven kingdoms, seven gods, seven heavens, seven hells—it makes sense. Likewise, it doesn’t stray too far from English’s own oaths, so there is a recognition factor that comes into play. The familiarity of this profanity is understandable, as in his writing Martin tends to stick reasonably close to actual real-world history and mythology in his work. That makes his bleak world feel more adjacent to our own which works in its favor. All that said, while this is recognizable, it’s not especially original. But it’s not a word to pull you out of the story. Instead, it allows you to glide right past one grim tragedy and onto the next.

Score:  (3.0)

🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews


Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.


Your Fav is Problematic—That's Okay

Your Fave is Problematic—That’s Okay

My favorite character from A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic, is Jaime Lannister, the heir to the Lannister family, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and an all-around terrible person. No, really. There are forum threads dedicated to his awfulness, and I don’t disagree with anything they say. He is awful; that’s not up for debate. But I don’t care; I still like him. There is something about his wit, his tenacity, his strange sense of honor, and his odd drive to do right by his family that draws me in as a reader. He’s my favorite.

In his Banquet Speech, William Faulkner observes good writing as “the human heart in conflict with itself.” I adore that line. As a character, Jamie embodies that for me. There is so much to loathe but a lot to like. It makes him complicated, and it makes him human. However, in some circles, my statement draws ire. How can I enjoy reading about someone so terrible? After all, he is someone who symbolizes the opposite of many values I hold dear. To those people, it doesn’t make sense; it feels two-faced and hypocritical.


“...the human heart in conflict with itself...”


These voices are nothing new. I remember hearing them as a kid from conservatives, and I’ve heard them as an adult from progressives. Recently they’ve become particularly pronounced on social media, shouting down and hunting those who dare explore life through the lens of problematic fiction. Over the last few years, I’ve seen several authors attacked—on social media, within articles, in reviews, and on blogs. Fans have gone after them for the problematic circumstances, events, and behavior of characters within their novels. It’s not surprising; it’s an extension of the same attitude we have seen play out in the social sphere. In addition to holding real-life humans accountable, fandom is now trying to hold fiction accountable.

In 2016, the internet was in a frenzy over one of the questioners from the second presidential debate, Ken Bone, a power plant operator from Illinois. Overnight, he became an internet sensation. He saw endorsement deals, a “Bone Zone” T-shirt line, appearances on ESPN, and was satirized during a Saturday Night Live cold open. But like all people, Ken Bone was human, and soon his heroism was tarnished. Afterwards, Katie Rogers of The New York Times wrote an excellent article exploring his rise and fall from fame titled “We May Be Leaving the Ken Bone Zone.” The article discussed the depth in which people investigated, and eventually exposed all of Ken Bone’s history-both positive and negative. Within the article, there was a line that struck me regarding the fragility of the internet. One I found myself mulling over and over. That line? “The echo chamber doesn’t do nuance.”


“The echo chamber doesn’t do nuance.”


Within some fandoms and genres[1], there is this strange narrative forming that our heroes, and largely our fiction, need to be morally and ethically pure. It leads to the belief that fiction shouldn’t have flawed characters, or focus on stories with plotlines that wrestle with difficult themes. And heaven forbid those characters don’t get their comeuppance, and those themes don’t get resolved satisfactorily. That sort of nuance doesn’t play in the fandom echo chamber.

This leads back to Rogers’ statement: She’s not wrong. The echo chamber doesn’t do nuance. The internet, in particular, abhors it. Nuance is challenging. Nuance requires you to read the whole article, not just the headline. Nuance wants you to put aside your initial emotions and reflect. It forces you to observe the entire character, rather than their action at a particular moment. It loves to do nothing more than draw lines in the sand and force others to step over and pick a side. You are this, and I am that. You’re bad; I’m good.

In early January, Fonda Lee, the author of Jade City (Go read it; it’s good.), had a great little thread on Twitter separating fiction into “the world as it is” or “the world as you wish it to be.” We can call these the mirror and the beacon. The beacon, as Lee says, shows us the world as it could be. It’s aspirational, the shining city on a hill[2]. While the mirror forces us to wrestle with the ugliness of reality and its contradictions, it also takes Faulkner’s approach to fiction—it forces the heart to go to war.

If you’ve sat in on any of my panels, you might have heard me mention that one of the reasons I love genre fiction is that it allows us a place to explore difficult—and often challenging—ideas. Books can be closed and put away. However, that doesn’t mean the themes and ideas held within the pages won’t be disturbing. It also doesn’t mean characters won’t say vile things or perform despicable acts. Often both will happen, and sometimes the results might not align with the reader’s worldview. Here be dragons, after all.

I think grappling, as both a reader and a writer, with challenging ideas, plots, and characters are necessary for a vibrant fictive landscape[3]. It’s also faithful to humanity; human history is rich in dichotomy. Nothing with people is ever black and white. People let you down as often as they impress you. That’s what makes them people. That’s what makes love, love. Love goes beyond the faults. It forgives in spite of transgressions.


“It’s about good people doing bad things for good reasons, and bad people doing good things for bad reasons.”


Lately, when someone asks me what my manuscript Coal Belly is about, I often have a simple answer: “It’s about good people doing bad things for good reasons, and bad people doing good things for bad reasons.” I want that complexity in my work. I want people to like a character, yet struggle with their decisions. I want to explore the gray. It’s why fiction like The Lord of the Rings[4] or The Chronicles of Narnia never drew me in the same way as other fantasy novels. The villains were too villainous, the heroes too heroic. The points made were too explicit and too heavy-handed.

That works for some readers. They’re both fine examples of the beacon, and some people want that in their escapism. However, to me, it comes across as patronizing and quixotic.

Mikey Numan, in his review of the Miyazaki film Princess Mononoke, described its cast of characters thusly: “No villains; only viewpoints.” This means that within the movie, “evil” or the concept of “bad” becomes a byproduct of the characters’ behavior; even the good, well-intentioned characters say and do problematic things[5]. In reality, villains don’t see themselves as villains, and heroes aren’t always heroic. I am more intrigued by stories willing to take this stance, stories that ask difficult questions and force me—the reader—to decide rather than go out of its way to hammer home a particular point.


“No villains; only viewpoints.”


Some people aren’t keen on being uncomfortable. What is an engaging plot point for one person might be disturbing for another. That’s okay. Fiction is like food; not everyone’s tastes are the same. However, that doesn’t mean that we should restrict one set of narratives in favor of the other. Nor does it mean that challenging fiction is inherently bad. The existence of characters and circumstances that are problematic aren’t excusing harmful behavior. Neither are they praising or glorifying the legitimate evils of the past. They’re merely an observation. Good fiction interweaves those challenges into its prose. Sharing points of view, circumstances, and experiences[6] through fiction gives us a place to build both empathy and sympathy. It can help to expose us to other walks of life, and it lets us explore the viewpoints of others—viewpoints that we might not have access to in our everyday lives.

For many readers and some fandoms, it seems that, unless the writer features a Jim Halpert, who slowly turns and stares at the camera as punctuation for what is absurd or offensive, we’re unable to parse it for ourselves. It was funny in The Office, but I loathe it in my fiction. I’m not into passive consumption. I don’t want or need my hand to be held as I read a book. I want the challenge. I want nuance. I want to struggle with my emotions about characters. I want to be offended and shocked. I want to be pushed and made uncomfortable. I want a place where the world’s imperfections are mirrored and explored. I want problematic fiction, with problematic circumstances, filled with problematic characters, experiencing problematic viewpoints. I want to get out of my small echo chamber and explore the vastness of humanity—warts and all. Within the mirror, reconciling those things isn’t easy and isn’t supposed to be. This is why we have fiction. This is why we tell stories. This is what fandoms and the echo chambers need. This is why Jamie Lannisters exist. So, let our hearts be in conflict.


Let our hearts be in conflict.


1 Most notably, Young adult and New adult but it’s bled into Sci-fi and Fantasy. Also, soapbox moment here… New adult features protagonists ‘between the ages of 18-30.’ Look, I’m 36 right now, so this is an old-man-shaking-his-fist-at-clouds thing, but at 30 you ain’t a new adult.

2 Thanks, Gipper.

3 Also for emotional maturity, but more on that later.

4 There are a few exceptions here, most notably: Boromir, he is an incredibly complex personality, and arguably the best character in the series. Yeah, I went there.

5 It’s a great review and a pretty solid film. I say this as a guy who is not a fan of Miyazaki movies.

6 And discussing them. Please, discuss away! Dialog is vital and important. You could argue that discussion is why complex fiction exists. It wants to be talked about.


[Note:] I originally published this article with the title “Your Fav is Problematic—That’s Okay.” While either is technically correct, I have since changed the “Fav” to “Fave” to closer align with the Problematic Fave meme.


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Yes, It’s Happening in Books

For a while now, in light of the recent string of tragedies we’ve seen in the world, I’ve watched fellow authors make a particular comment. (Most of the time on social media.) It can be paraphrased as such:

“None of the things happening in the world right now are happening in books.”

Okay, I can understand where they are coming from, but such a blanket statement feels a touch fantastical. Yes, the violence, destruction, hatred, and bigotry in books have little impact on the real-life lives of people, and yes, there is a solace there. But, to say those things don’t happen in the pages of fiction feels a little naive. Fiction deals with challenging topics all the time. Look at many popular book series on the market today; nothing is off-limits.

Take J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which began as a children’s book; it danced with bullying, bigotry, racism, and the aftereffects of murder. Harry Potter himself suffers, at the very least, mental abuse at the hands of his aunt and uncle (you could probably argue physical abuse as well.)

The world of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, a darling of the YA genre, is horrific. The children of an enslaved populace are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of a wealthy, hedonistic society and its corrupt government. It’s not a pleasant place.

George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, which is the most mature of these examples, deals with the consequences following a myriad of tragedies. You name it, and it’s there: violence, rape, murder, torture, war, slavery, incest, rebellion, terrorism, bigotry, regicide, patricide and on and on and on and on. The novels are laden with grim events.

That is how it should be. It is what makes fiction so great. Fiction is a safe space that lets us confront those problems; fiction lets us experience both the beautiful and the terrible. It allows us to see different perspectives that we may never face in our daily lives. That kind of intellectual experience hones us as people. It makes it possible for us to build up generous amounts of empathy, so when real-world problems confront us (and they will, believe me), we will have the tools to face them. As Neil Gaiman so eloquently explained in his essay Little Triggers,

“There are still things that profoundly upset me when I encounter them, whether it’s on the Web or the word or in the world. They never get easier, never stop my heart from trip-trapping, never let me escape, this time, unscathed. But they teach me things, and they open my eyes, and if they hurt, they hurt in ways that make me think and grow and change.”

It does a great disservice to hand-wave away the terrible and sometimes disturbing themes of fiction. If anything, I believe that they should be celebrated. The personal value brought on by these perspectives is unmeasurable to us as a society, and thankfully—unlike real life—if a book ever gets to be too much, we can always close it for a little while.

Friday Link Pack 04-04-14

A Matter of Electric Sheep
It’s time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know!

Writing:

The Shapes of Stories, a Kurt Vonnegut Infographic
Designer Maya Eliam recreated Vonnegut’s classic Shapes of Stories into a rad infographic—if you’re unfamiliar with Vonnegut’s presentation make sure you watch this video. It’s well worth your time.

JUST WRITE IT! A fantasy author and his impatient fans.
“The online attacks on Martin suggest that some readers have a new idea about what an author owes them. They see themselves as customers, not devotees, and they expect prompt, consistent service.”

What Killed It For Me #4: Clichéd Characters
Great article about how to go beyond a list of positive or negative traits to break away from cliché when it comes to writing engaging characters.

Tracy Hickman’s Sobering News for Aspiring Writers
I debated including this link this week. However I feel it’s important to show all sides of the disruption in the book market. What can you take away from this? Well, as the old way of book marketing crumbles around us those who don’t adapt to the new paradigm risk being left behind.

Random:

How History’s Biggest Thinkers Spent Their Days
Great graphs showing how some of the most famous people in history spent their time. I couldn’t get over Balzac’s 50 cups of coffee a day.

Medieval Castle Anatomy 101
From barbicans to the portcullis—Setus over at Katana Pen posted this really handy guide to all the random terms for the different parts of a castle.

A Matter of Electric Sheep
One of the coolest Blade Runner theories I have read in a long time.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

Polaris
Into the north window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light. All through the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there…

Farewell Gif of the Week:

#swag

Arya & The Hound

Arya & The HoundLove this piece draw by illustrator Willie Real of Arya Stark and The Hound from George R. R. Martin‘s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. It was to adorable not to share. I figure if you read my blog you’re probably a reader of GRRMs work as well, and if you’re not you should be.