Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Virtual Members' Nights (and Day)

One of the many family traditions we weren't able to perform this year was visiting the Field Museum for Member's Night. This event is normally held in May over two nights (usually Thursday and Friday) and allows members to see some of the research being done at the museum and learn how new exhibits are designed. Fortunately, the Field Museum came up with a new way to participate this year: virtually over Zoom. They set up three sessions last week, each with several short presentations on different topics. I attended all of them, though I didn't watch every presentation. (My husband had to work during the presentations. I did share the Zoom link with my son, though I don't know if he watched any of the sessions on his own.) Here are a few of the presentation topics:

Totem poles (cleaning and imaging)

Hats and headgear (ancient hats mostly from Asia)

Green River fossils (see below)

Gems (Victorian household items made from gems; we got to guess what they were used for)

Artifacts from Kish, one of the oldest urban areas

Meteorites

Fossil prep (we got to see two of staff members actually doing this at their homes)

Fish specimens (we saw some of those at Dozing with the Dinos in March)

Dinosaurs (of course!)--the oversize collection

Some of the presentations I didn't get to see involved birds, moccasins, and mummies. There were a couple of presentations from Thursday night that aren't coming to mind at the moment.

The presentation I enjoyed the most was the Green River fossil presentation, which focused on ancient bird fossils. They showed a very nice fossil of a 155-million-year-old bird with impressions of feathers visible. Dr. O'Connor, Associate Curator of Reptile Fossils, explained that contrary to what you might expect, they found evidence of soft tissue preservation in these fossils. By demineralizing and staining a sample from another ancient bird fossil, they were able to find evidence of ovarian tissue in the fossil. Most birds have only one ovary (probably an adaption for flight), so this work showed that the ovary reduction happened very early in bird evolution. I thought that was fascinating work that could change how other fossils are studied, which would allow us to learn more about prehistoric life.

We did visit the Field Museum when they reopened in July, but unfortunately, the Chicago museums had to close down again last week. It was good to reconnect with The Field again, even if it was just virtually. Hopefully next year the whole family can attend a Members' Night in person. In the meantime, please support your local museum(s)!


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Pushcart Prize Nomination

 

I'm thrilled to announce that World Weaver Press has nominated my short story, "A Shawl for Janice," for the Pushcart Prize. "A Shawl for Janice" was published in Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters in January. (Anyone still remember January 2020? It seems so long ago....) The Pushcart Prize honors writers of poetry, short stories, and essays. Each small press can nominate up to six entries per year. I'm honored that World Weaver Press not only chose to publish my short story in their anthology but decided it was among the best stories they published this year. You can see the announcement on their blog here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Drafts and Layers

 I thought it would be an interesting to discuss how authors might work on different parts of their story in different drafts. When I start a first draft, I generally have a sense of where I want to start and end and maybe a few bits in the middle. I still tend to discover most of my scenes and plot points as I write. (I guess no matter how much I try, I'll never be a full-on plotter.) In my first drafts, I tend to focus on story and dialogue. Description may be scant in the first draft. Since I'm a pantser, my second drafts often require a lot of work. I may change the scenes I initially wrote if I come up with something better. Often, details about the characters may change as well. I'm trying to be more mindful about the emotional aspect of my stories, both in developing character emotions and reader responses. Sometimes my work needs additional drafts before I feel it's solid. Then at that point I can focus on improving my sentences and word choices. The final pass is dedicated to removing typos and fiddling with the story until I get tired of it.

I think I write the way I do because it's easier for me to work on certain aspects of the story than others. I tend to be sparse in my descriptions because I feel more uncertain about them (in that I may make a mistake). I feel more confident about my dialogue, however, and it flows more easily for me. Hopefully as I keep writing and improving I can juggle more story elements in the first draft. I'm certainly more aware of them than I was as a beginning writer.

Do you feel that your first drafts focus more on certain story elements and others require more development? What are your story element strengths and weaknesses? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

 



Wednesday, November 04, 2020

IWSG: Why I Write

We made it to November 2020, everyone. By the time this post goes live, the election will be over, though we may not know yet who the next president will be or what Congress and the Senate will look like. I expect the coming winter to be tough, but hopefully next year we'll have a vaccine for Covid-19 and will be able to start rebuilding. In the meantime, best of luck to everyone participating in National Novel Writing Month! I have one novel to edit and three other projects to write, so I'm not starting anything new this month (I hope). Speaking of writing, let's talk about the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Here are links to their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Our hosts this month are Jemi Fraser, Kim Lajevardi, L.G. Keltner, Tyrean Martinson, and Rachna Chhabria


Here's our question for this month: Albert Camus once said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Flannery O’Conner said, “I write to discover what I know.” Authors across time and distance have had many reasons to write. Why do you write what you write? 

I write for lots of reasons. I write to create the types of stories I want to read. I write to explore ideas and work out their implications. I write to make a mark on the world and hopefully nudge it in a better direction. I write to connect to other people. Yes, I would also like to supplement my income with my writing and gain recognition, but I think I would write even if no one else ever read another word I wrote. I write to give myself a sense of purpose and to escape the problems and monotony of everyday life. Writing has helped me cope with the crises of 2020, and I hope my stories have helped other people take their minds off their problems and find some enjoyment.

If you write solely for fame and fortune, you'll most likely be disappointed. You have to commit to writing for personal reasons. No matter how frustrating writing can be at times, I find it sustaining. 

Anyway, enough blogging about writing and back to actual writing/revising. If you'd like to share your reasons for writing, feel free to do so in the comments.



 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Writing By Hand

 I'm not sure if October is giving me tricks or treats when it comes to electronics. Last week, my laptop's sound suddenly stopped working. When I tried troubleshooting the computer, it died. It was nine years old (I got it the week I published Lyon's Legacy), and I'd already replaced the hard drive on it a few years ago, so it wasn't worth trying to repair it. Fortunately, I'd started saving up for a new computer last year and had enough for a mid-range computer (still a step or two up from my old one). I ended up purchasing my new computer from Costco and even got it on sale. Of course, I had to wait a couple of days for shipping, plus a couple of extra days before I received the notice I could pick up my laptop. 

What does a writer do when her main writing tool breaks? I have a netbook as a backup, but it runs on archaic software and is very unresponsive. Even if I wiped its memory and tried to restore it to factory settings, I don't think it would work with Windows 10, and I might not be able to use whatever version of Windows it originally came with. So I went old-school and satisfied my writing urges with pen and paper. Although I have a printout of the first draft of Murder at Magic Lake, I decided I didn't want to revise it manually, especially when I need to add new scenes. I ended up starting a new story in the Season Avatars world, one set after Summon the Seasons.

 Writing by hand is much slower than typing. My cursive is hard to read, and my printing isn't much better. (I'm left-handed, so that's my excuse.) I used a legal pad, and my goal was to write at least one page every night. The words came fairly easy, considering sometimes I struggle to find words when I'm typing. Each hand-written page was about 200-250 words. When I finally received my computer on Saturday and transcribed my story with a few minor edits, it was about 1,100 words. It doesn't seem like much for several day's work, especially when some writers can manage a thousand words an hour, but it's still better than not writing at all. The experience makes me wonder if I would have been a writer if I lived in a time when computer's weren't available. Of course, many other aspects of my life would be different as well.

How do you feel about writing stories by hand? Does it make a difference in your story flow? Do you find handwriting or typing easier physically on your hands? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Fall/Winter Projects

 As COVID-19 cases start climbing again in my region, I'm anticipating a fall and winter where we stay close to home. Our family hasn't trooped live since March (though I've done a couple of video and Zoom troops), we've cut way back on our normal seasonal activities (some of which were cancelled), and it's unlikely we'll spend the holidays with family. At least I have plenty to keep me busy.

Writing--Currently, I'm focusing on editing my first cozy mystery book, which I'm calling Murder at Magic Lake. The first draft was only 50,000 words, so I'm adding a new subplot to flesh it out. When I'm done, I'll see if I can get feedback from a few beta readers before getting ready to publish--probably either in January or February. I'm about halfway through Book 2 in that series (working title is Restaurants and Revenge), but I need to go back and change something before I continue. I also have one short story making the rounds of pro markets and am considering writing another for an anthology. Meanwhile, my urban fantasy trilogy and my Season Avatars series continue to simmer on the back burner. I usually end up taking a lot of vacation at the end of the year, so I will use some of that time to update my website, update my back matter in my books as necessary, and formatting my manuscripts.

Crochet--I'm planning to crochet blankets for my son, my husband, and myself. Currently, I'm working on my son's blanket, which will have red and black stripes. It's narrower than I expected it would be, but it can be as long as he wants. I'll probably make it between five and six feet. I still have to figure out patterns and colors for the other two blankets. Plus, I still have to finish making a fuzzy coat for a big Baby Yoda. I haven't made any crocheted characters for a while, so I should work on those again. I'd also like to make myself some slippers and maybe a sweater. 

Reading--I finally finished my hundredth book for the year. I changed my original goal of 150 books to 120, but I'll probably end up somewhere in the middle. I'm not sure how many books I currently have on my "For Later" shelf at the library, but it's more than enough to get me through 2021!

Other--These aren't really creative projects, but I'll probably continue to help my husband play through his extensive board game collection. It would be nice if my son was interested in joining us, but he has his own ways of staying busy. I plan to have him help cook our family dinners so he gets more experience in the kitchen. I'll also continue to experiment with nail art, bake scones and other treats, and hopefully learn more about birds over the winter. And if I really get bored, there's plenty of things in the basement to be sorted and gotten rid of.

I'm pretty good at finding things to do at home, even without the TV. In fact, about the only time I watch something is when I'm crocheting. What about you? Feel free to share your hobbies in the comments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Book Apps

 This weekend, after over three and a half years, I finally upgraded my phone. It had very little storage, and even adding a SD card didn't help much. The screen was so badly cracked I could feel it through the screen protector. I'd also been having issues with the GPS for a while, and the phone was finally starting to have some connectivity issues as well. The main reason I held on to it for so long was the cost of upgrading, but some mid-grade phones just came out that made it more manageable. The customer service representative at the store tole me I could get six or seven years out of the new phone, but if I can manage at least four, I'll be content.

Now that my phone has more storage, I can download more apps. Of course there are a lot of entertainment apps for movies and games. However, I can also download more books for my Kindle app and can now use multiple library apps, such as Hoopla and Cloud Library. I also have an Audible account, but I personally use it for lectures more than audiobooks. Books are available in other apps too. Google Play offers them (I finally managed to list most of my books on their store this summer), as well as Apple Books and Kobo. I'm not sure if Barnes and Noble has an app, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. There are also apps that offer free books, but I'm not sure if all of those are available legally, so I'll avoid those.

Do you read books on a device other than a dedicated ereader? If so, what apps do you use, and would you recommend them? Feel free to share in the comments.

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