Wednesday, December 31, 2008
And the lyrics:
A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving
Oh the days go by so fast
And it's one more day up in the canyons
And it's one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven
I wish you would
(Na na na, etc. yeah)
The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl
And it's one more day up in the canyons
And it's one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California
I think you should
(Na na na, etc. yeah)
Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after 2 a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower
About the things you could not show her
And it's been a long December
and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass
And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood
It's been so long since I've seen the ocean
I guess I should
(Na na na, etc. yeah)
Here's hoping that for all of us, next year will be better than this one. (Not that it's been a bad one for me, but the state of the economy and other current events have been disturbing, to say the least.)
Friday, December 26, 2008
1. I want a character I can relate to. In practice, this means I would rather read about a woman than a man, though I don't mind reading about men. I also prefer reading about characters close to my age, even though I enjoyed the Harry Potter series; Hermione was my favorite character. But the main reason I started reading Madelyn Alt's Bewitching Mysteries series is the heroine. Having lived in a small town, I can understand what it's like there. I also know what it was like being a single thirty-something woman, the way Maggie is, and I can empathize more with someone who buys her clothes at Walmart (though I prefer Target) than with a chick-lit heroine who buys designer labels I never even heard of before.
2. I want a competent character. While I like to see a character grow psychologically over the course of a novel, I also want her to have a core skill set and be good at what she does. A lot of urban fantasy these days features kick-ass heroines, as in, they are combative. I'm all for tough women, but I like variety in my reading. I'd like to see women who have unusual talents. I recently read a book called Clockwork Heart, which features a woman who is an icarus, a messenger who flies with wings made from lighter-than-air metal. Her flying skills are crucial to the plot, and when she confronts the villains, she defends herself in a way true to her character.
Going along with this, I also want a character who doesn't make dumb mistakes just to advance the plot. It can be hard to be patient with a character when you realize something fifty pages before she does or if she doesn't use common sense.
3. I want a likable character. This may seem to go along with Wish #1, but here I'm concerned about personality. While reading about a perfect character would be boring, I find it hard to root for a character whose flaws outweigh her virtues. I read a book last year (I won't mention the title or author here) which featured a lead female magician who apparently believed the ends justified the means. However, early in the book, there was a scene where she did something not nice (I don't remember exactly what) to her assistant. I lost any sympathy I had for the character at that point. I did finish the book since it had some interesting ideas. The protagonist did eventually come to the aid of her assistant (after first sending him off on a tough mission with a magic item that could hurt him as well as help him), but I was never able to get past that first impression of her. I haven't bought any of the sequels, and I probably won't, despite the interesting ideas this author brings to urban fantasy.
These rules aren't set in stone, even for my own works. One of my books features a male character, and another WIP has a character who's a bit of a ditz (to contrast with her stronger sister). I tend to emphasize my characters' flaws at the beginning of a book to set up an arc of character growth, but sometimes this approach makes readers dislike them. But these rules are a place to start, both in my reading and in my writing.
Have a happy 2009, everybody! We'll be back to the regular blog chain next year!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The morning started out OK. I took Alex to the library for a playdate. After an hour or so, he seemed hungry, so we had lunch in the library's cafe. Alex had been a little off this week: not eating dinner, coughing a lot, appearing to be teething, and worst of all, a blowout. (You don't want that described in detail.) But he had a good appetite at noon. I ordered things I thought he'd like, such as cheese pizza and peach yogurt. He ate both of them heartily--and then threw up. Luckily, I had an extra outfit for him in his diaper bag. But I have a feeling we should avoid the cafe for a while; I hope their carpet isn't ruined!
I still have a couple packages to send, so I wanted to go to the post office after the library. By the time I got there, Alex was asleep, so I drove home. He woke up when I tried putting him in his crib, so we went back in the car and drove to the grocery store so I could pick up my prescription and a few other things. He was still awake when we returned home, so I drove back to the post office. Yes, he fell asleep again, so I never had a chance to mail the packages. At least he stayed asleep the second time I transferred him to the crib.
I didn't get much done today; I never do with a toddler. Alex did do better after his nap. As for the snow and ice, it still hasn't arrived yet, but it's supposed to overnight. How ironic that after rescheduling things to avoid the storm, I might still be affected by it tomorrow. I may even stay home all day tomorrow with Alex, even if that means missing his concert. At least I have next Tuesday off. I plan to drop Alex off at daycare and spend my day cleaning and cooking for Christmas Eve. Do I know how to use my vacation time or what?
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I started out by discussing how our secret (or not-so-secret) desires influence what we choose to read or write.
Abi was next, and she agreed wish fulfillment was behind all fiction. She also wanted to get lost in the stories she read, a desire of many of the people in the blog chain.
Elana mentioned that she wanted to escape her real life.
Terri wants her readers to feel transported to a different place and time--one where men do housework! (Ok, not quite, but that does tie into her post.)
Heather talked about how writing gave her a sense of control over her fictional world.
Although Mary doesn't believe writing is completely about wish fulfillment, she did discuss how wish fulfillment ties into Freud and dreams.
Kate provided some famous examples of writers who wrote because they couldn't find the stories they wanted to read.
Archetype had a very simple wish: to be published.
Finally, Michelle talked about how her characters had parts of herself in them. Although she doesn't want to experience what they do, their stories provide excitement for her and her readers.
I'm sure there's much more that could be said on this topic; I think it would make a great panel at WisCon next year. Perhaps I should make it my Christmas wish, since I can't wish for a better family than the one I have.
With the holidays fast approaching, we Blog Chain members are taking a bit of a break from our traditonal chain to do a Jingle Bell Chain next. We will be linking to different people, and we will each get to choose our own topic (if I understand this correctly, that is). I haven't picked my next topic yet, but hopefully it will be something people will enjoy. We'll be back with a regular chain next year!
The first one was Friday evening, and it was for my mother-in-law's party. Alex needed some time to warm up to the new surroundings, and he started crying a few times when it got too loud, but he knew other people there, which made it easier. We also got to see some friends of ours who had a littler girl earlier this year. It was the first time we'd seen her. It was good seeing our friends again; hopefully we can have them over sometime.
Last night was my company's holiday party at a restaurant downtown. Unfortunately, our reservation was lost, so we weren't able to order from the private menu we had selected. At least I got couscous with my entree; that's one of Alex's favorite foods. Again, he had some issues with noise, so Eugene had to go around with him at times. We also had a gift card drawing; I got a Nordstrom one (not the Barnes and Noble one I'd been hoping for, but I'll still get some use out of it), and Eugene got a gas card.
We spent the night at a hotel. Eugene probably got the most sleep out of all of us. Alex had a super-late bedtime, took only a few sips of milk, and woke up at 3:00 a.m. to finish his sippy. It was my night to put him down, so I took care of it. Alex woke up early, but Eugene got up to hold him while I stayed in bed a little longer. We tried to have breakfast at the Walnut Room in Macy's, but the wait was too long. Instead, we went to a deli we've gone to before. We were going to take Alex to Navy Pier, but he fell asleep on the way there, so we just went home. I have to admit I'm glad I'll be able to stay home tonight, cozy in sweats and slippers, drinking tea and packaging cookies, instead of being outside in this windstorm. I just hope the driving isn't too bad tomorrow.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
It's an odd argument... that if there is a genetic benefit that is more relevant to daughters than to sons, the drift will result in more daughters born than sons (and therefore that attractiveness is more important to pass on to daughters than to son).However, this argument makes an awful lot of assumptions:... that attractive parents will have attractive children... that attractiveness is not valuable for boys... that a phenotypic benefit automatically results in genotypic changes
Ding ding ding! That's what the authors of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters (no, I am not typing out the rest of that long title) claim: traits that are more beneficial to one gender over another tend to be linked to having more children of that gender. (I left the book at home, so that's a paraphrase.) Let's face it; youth and beauty generally make a woman more attractive to men. It's not PC to say so, but our genes evolved long before we even had the letters "P" and "C." On the other hand, women tend to want high-status males (i.e., rich and powerful) as mates. This isn't to say that women are unappreciative of a man's appearance, but it's not as important to them. (And yes, Heather, the authors of this book do specifically say men in general are less attractive than women.) So it does make sense for beautiful people to pass on that trait to daughters, not sons, or for tall people to pass that on to sons instead of daughters. Of course, life isn't always this neat and determined, and the environment affects how these traits develop. (For example, a women with genes for clear skin may contract a disfiguring disease, or malnourishment may stunt a child's growth.) But as a science fiction writer, I find it fascinating to think about evolutionary psychology. It gives me ideas for developing aliens who are just as affected by their biology as we are by ours.
Thanks to Heather and Russ for playing! Heather, please send me your address; I'd like to package up some cookies tonight. Russ, don't worry; we'll put extra cookies in your box too. And I guess the next time I run a contest, I'll have to choose a topic with greater general interest.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion....
Monday, December 08, 2008
Sunday, December 07, 2008
"Well, why should I?" you might ask.
Would you do it for two dozen homemade cookies?
That's right, I'm running my first contest on this blog. The first person who posts in the Comments section of this post the reason according to the book why beautiful people have more daughters will win an assortment of two dozen homemade cookies cheerfully shipped to you. If no one gets the exact answer, then the winning answer will be the one I find funniest or most clever. Feel free to go to the bookstore to look up the answer. If you do, please buy a book while you're there--if not this book, then another one. The publishing industry needs you! (See the new "Don't Panic" graphic I added to this blog, courtesy of H.L. Dyer.)
You may answer more than once. Feel free to answer the question seriously or humorously.
Please answer by midnight (CST) Wednesday, December 10. I will announce the winner on Thursday, December 11, at which time I will privately ask the winner for a shipping address. Alex permitting, I will try to get the cookies shipped by Saturday, December 13.
The cookies will come out of the cookie inventory we have on hand by that day; the winner may request a certain type of cookie if we have it, but I'm not planning to make any more cookies this week. (So please don't ask for something I would have to make.)
Some of our cookies came from our Cookie Exchange yesterday; I will not take responsibility for the taste, freshness, or integrity of these cookies.
If you have any questions, please ask. And please participate! If this contest is successful, I may do it again sometime.
As a woman, I was disappointed that they didn't discuss achievement in women to the same extent that they do for men. The only thing they did say was that women don't peak the same way men do; their age-genius curve is broader and flatter. I guess that's good news that my best work isn't necessarily behind me. And while there may be some truth to what these authors suggest, I think there are more factors here that they aren't considering. Life experiences, including success, may affect one's creativity. After all, once you've reached the mountain top, where else can you go? Sometimes you just have to find a new mountain so you can have the thrill of challenge all over again. That's one good thing about writing--every new book is a different challenge.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
We had about twenty people over for the cookie exchange, since people brought their husbands and children. Another friend of ours also sent in some cookies. It took a while for the party to get started, and Alex was very cranky and kept crying/screaming. But I think people had a good time anyway. There were all types of cookies--shortbread, sugar cookies, buckeyes/snowdrops, and a decadent cookie topped with a Recees (sp?) Pieces. I was too busy to take pictures, sorry. We wound up with plenty of extra cookies left over. As for Alex, we finally got him to sleep early. I just hope he doesn't get up early too!
Monday, December 01, 2008
That's right; this blog chain topic is about wishes, or wish fulfillment. What is the role of wish fulfillment in fiction? What personal wishes do you want your stories to fulfill? Are they the same ones you want to read about? How do our fictitious wishes affect our everyday dreams?
(Note to the Blog Chain members: feel free to answer to answer just one of these questions or as many "as you wish." My intent here is to make this topic broad enough for everyone to address, not to stress anyone out. The holiday season can be stressful enough as it is!)
First, a quick definition. When I say "wish fulfillment," I'm talking about the secret wishes that drive us to read one type of book over another. For instance, people may want to have some supernatural power, such as the ability to do magic or live forever. It could also be something more down-to-earth, such as the chance to achieve justice by identifying criminals or fighting evil, to travel to exotic locations, or to find true love (or just hot sex).
Some of my wishes come out in my fiction. For instance, I tend to be a solitary person, but I desire close friendships with people who understand me. This is expressed in my earlier novels. My Season Lord series is about a quartet of young women magicians who must work together to save their land. Their relationships with each other drive the plot just as much as external events do. In Across Two Universes, my hero, Paul Harrison, is very close to three other teenagers (his best friend, his girlfriend, and his sister) who grew up with him on the spaceship Sagan. They have shared experiences no one living on Earth could understand, so they stand by each other no matter what. My current novel is about sisters, not friends, but although they are opposite in many ways, they are still close, even though one of them is several years older than the other.
I think the ability to fulfill a reader's desires is the key to making readers become ardent fans of an author and her world. When I first really got into science fiction and fantasy, one of my favorite authors was Mercedes Lackey. I think she does a good job of understanding what teenagers want and giving it to them. (Of course, now that I'm much closer to middle age than I am to adolescence, her books don't speak to me the way they once did.) Worldbuilding is also important. Although we authors are encouraged to make life as hard as possible for our characters, the worlds I most enjoy are the ones that are comfortable. For instance, who wouldn't want to live in a Hawkbrothers' Vale, with the beauty of nature carefully tended to, weather control (I'd be very happy to do without snow!), hot springs for soaking, and intelligent lizard-like creatures who anticipate your needs? Hogwarts also has a great deal of charm, despite Snape and Voldemort.
Although successful books give us the wishes we desire, are these wishes the ones that will make us happy? For example, many of the urban fantasies I read these days feature a strong heroine who has several hot men lusting after her. And although I haven't read the Twilight series, I hear Edward is supposed to be the perfect boyfriend. But do perfect boyfriends and sex partners make good husbands? Maybe, or maybe not. Personally, I've been in a relationship with the same person for so long that I am more interested in reading about long-term relationships, not short-term ones. In that respect, I found The Time-Traveler's Wife more fulfilling than some of the other books I've mentioned.
I could go on, but that's enough for one post. I'm more interested in hearing what Abi and our other Blog Chain members have to say. I'll be back in a couple of weeks to wrap up this chain.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Maria Zannini--for her professional approach to writing and marketing.
Autopilot--I enjoy his sense of humor and his political analyses--even if at times I can't follow them.
Carrie Harris--Another very funny writer.
Don't Think Twice--For your posts on autism and "Dora."
And finally, Shrinking Violet Promotions for realizing writers may be introverts and have a hard time promoting themselves.
I could have picked more, but I figured I should stop here.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It didn't take me long to realize that a group of people who are interested in dragons might be interested in reading about dragons, especially the Firestorm of Dragons anthology. When I set up my dragon, I named her after a character in my short story, and I based her profile on that short story too. I did mention the anthology on the forum, though I did so in a thread devoted to dragon books. And tonight, when I earned enough gold to buy a custom title, I chose "Firestorm of Dragons." I wanted to make it "Read Firestorm of Dragons," but it didn't fit. I don't know if this marketing will have any effect, but I figure it's my best chance at turning the game gold into real cash.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I'll share four little gems with you today. The first is the Chinese rejection letter. I don't remember exactly where I first saw this; I think it may have been in a book, which I then copied and saved. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I still have the paper. Luckily, I did some Googling and found this link, which explains the Chinese rejection letter and offers an example. (I think my version was more poetic, but that's the price you pay for convenience, I suppose.)
The second example I'd like to share with you is Nancy Fulda's "Let There Be Write," published by Strange Horizons in 2005. To respect her copyright, I'm simply providing a link instead of quoting the text, which is a writer's version of the Creation myth. I think most of us will agree with the ending.
If you're a fan of Whose Line is It Anyway?, then you can probably picture Colin Mochrie saying, "As long as there's been writers, there's been songs about writers. The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Sting--these are just a few of the artists who threatened to sue us if we mentioned them on the air." But I couldn't resist throwing in this video:
Finally, I'll end with a personal ancedote. In the early days of my con-attending, I'd dress up. No, not in costume, which would have been fun; I'd dress up in blazers and slacks and skirts, hoping to impress an agent with my professionalism. (These days I just dress casually, since so many of the pros do anyway.) One year at WindyCon, as I was attempting to enter the con suite, someone sitting in the hallway must have thought I didn't fit in at the con. He challenged me with the question "What is the meaning of life?" I responded, "If you have to ask, you'll never know." He acknowledged that was a good answer and let me pass. What does that have to do with writing? Well, if you have to ask, you'll never know. ;)
Anyway, I'm sure the others in this chain have plenty of other gems of their own to share, so I'll turn you over to Kate. I'll be picking the topic next time, so please check back December 1 (I'm sure I'll blog before then, but that will be my next Blog Chain entry) to see what we're discussing next!
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Also, Alex made up for his long nap yesterday by waking up early from his nap screaming. I gave him Motrin, and Eugene calmed him down. But I didn't get to take him to the library to play again. So it turned out not to be one of the most fun or productive Sundays we've had in a while. At least Eugene did get to put up some floating shelves in Alex's room and the study. We've had this house for almost a year; it's about time we decorate a little.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
We stopped first at Linens N Things, one of the victims of this economy. Their bankruptcy is my gain. I took advantage of the reduced prices to replace the seat cushions for the kitchen chairs (the old ones originally tied onto the chairs, but the strings came off years ago) and get new towels/area rugs for the half bath downstairs. I even got Alex some iced animal crackers.
I placed my bags in the car, transferred Alex to the stroller, and headed to my next store on the list, TJ Maxx. This store tends to be hit or miss for me, but today was a good day. Since the owner of our company is stopping by next week, I need some dressier clothes than jeans. I bought myself a pair of black slacks and two wool sweaters, plus a new wallet. I also found a couple of outfits and several books for Alex. While I was browsing through the children's clothes, I noticed he looked very tired. The next time I looked at him, he had fallen asleep, despite the cookies I had given him. He stayed asleep while I finished shopping, transferred him to the car seat, drove home, and brought him upstairs to the crib. He wound up taking the longest nap he's had in a while: about four and a half hours. I was able to get most of the laundry done and pick up around the house a little, but I worried a little about him. He had fallen asleep earlier than normal, and I hadn't been able to remove his coat. It also seemed that he stumbled more often than normal this morning. I heard him stir from time to time, but when I went in there to check on him at one point, he had flipped over but was still sleeping. By the time he got up, it was too late to bring him to the library to play there and return some materials. He ate, read books with me, and got poop on my jeans when he sat down on me as I was changing his diaper.
We were supposed to go to an improv show tonight; unfortunately, my parents had to cancel babysitting Alex because my dad hurt his back. We were all disappointed, but since we couldn't find anyone else to take our tickets, I guess next time I shouldn't order them in advance. We wound up returning to Linens N Things to buy more items for our house, including floating shelves, artwork, new pillows, and a couple of kitchen gadgets. When it comes to spending money, "Yes, We Can!"
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
If you haven't voted get, go out there and do so. I went to my polling place twice, actually. I was up early thanks to Alex, so I drove over to the school around 6:50. The line was out the door, so I turned around and went home. I took Alex to daycare and then returned. The lines were shorter this time, but due to a snafu I still waited for over an hour. It's still worth it to have my say, even if I'm only one voter among 130 million. We'll see how much of the election coverage I watch tonight--sugar is no substitute for sleep!
Monday, November 03, 2008
As a sidenote, whenever I hear "angst," I'm reminded of Evard Munch's The Scream:
One of my classmates in grad school had a blow-up doll of the Screamer (I kid you not), and her license plate was "ANGST." G., I hope your life is less angst-full now, wherever you are.
Anyway, when I read Archy's post, I was reminded of my patron muse, John Lennon. John had a traumatic childhood. John's father was a seaman, and while he was away, John's mother became involved with another man. When John was five, his father returned and attempted to make him choose between his parents; John initially chose his father but then returned to his mother, who turned him over to his aunt and uncle so they could raise him. John's mother sparked a love of music in him and gave him his first guitar, but she was killed in an accident when he was 17. All of this family drama remained inside of John for years, resurfacing after his primal scream therapy in his album Plastic Ono Band, particularly in the song "Mother."
John's emotions are so intense on that album that I find it hard to listen to it, even though it's good.
So, in John's case, his angst did fuel at least some of his work. In fact, Paul McCartney also lost his mother as a teenager, and this commonality helped establish the bond between them.
Does angst also inspire writers? Yes and no. Yes, in that I agree with Michelle that writers need to tap into strong emotions to bring their stories to life, and dark emotions like grief or anger tend to be powerful. Also, unlike painting or songs, which can be purely joyful, stories are all about conflict. Reading about someone who has no problems would be uninteresting, so writers often pile obstacles and raw emotions onto their characters. When I was just starting out as a writer, it was difficult for me to place characters in conflict, but I can do so now, even if I feel with them.
On the other hand, like Archy, I agree that too much angst in a person's life can be overwhelming and make it impossible for someone to write. However, moderate emotions can be sublimated into writing. For example, if I feel angry at someone, I might use that anger when writing a scene. This is a positive way to deal with emotions.
Ultimately, I think writers need to handle a variety of emotions when they write. Some of the darker emotions may drive the writing at times, but under all of them (for me, at least) is the desire to connect with someone else through writing, and that's a positive thing.
That's all I wanted to say on this topic, so I will extend the chain to Abi. I know she's feeling a little angsty about this topic, but I hope that will ultimately inspire her for her post.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
November 1 (Authors and Characters Interview) Time with Tannia www.timewithtannia.tripod.com
1 (book Information) Tree Lady http://tree-lady.livejournal.com
3 (character interview) The Book Connection http://www.thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/ 3 (Information) Interview Joy in the Journey www.teresaslack.blogspot.com
5 (summary) Brenda Weaver http://brenda-weaver.tripod.com
6 (Summary) Kim Richards on Live Journal http://kim-richards.livejournal.com/
6 (summary) Kim Richards on My Space http://www.myspace.com/kim_richards
6 (summary) Kim Richards on Blogger http://kim-richards.blogspot.com/
10 (character interview) The Book Connection http://www.thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/
13 (Kim Richards Interview) Bibliophile's Retreat http://bibliophilesretreat.com
14 (Review of Anthology) Bibliophile's Retreat http://bibliophilesretreat.com
15 (summary) Cathi's Chatter http://cathischatter.blogspot.com
16 (review) Cathi's Chatter http://cathischatter.blogspot.com
17 (character interview) The Book Connection http://www.thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/
20 (book trailer) Cathi's Chatter http://cathischatter.blogspot.com
22 (Bios/book information) Books and Authors http://joyceanthony.tripod.com/blog
24 (Karina Fabian and Vern Interview) Bibliophile's Retreat http://bibliophilesretreat.com
25 (Sandra Ulbrich Interview) Bibliophile's Retreat http://bibliophilesretreat.com
Thank you to all of the blogs featuring us this month! Please go check them out.
It all started Friday, on Halloween. This year, Alex had two costumes: a dinosaur and a little devil. He wore the dinosaur outfit to daycare, where they had a little parade and a party for the kids. I don't have the pictures from that yet, but here's Alex earlier this month:
And here's his devil costume:
Notice he doesn't like wearing the caps that come with his costumes.
I left work early on Friday to get ready for a trip up to Madison. After I had most of the packing done (I admit I overpacked, but with a toddler, you need to be prepared for anything), I picked up Alex and took him trick-or-treating to a few houses. Most of the kids came later--and there were lots. I bought five bags of candy; we would have run out if we had stayed for the entire trick-or-treat time. Although Alex wanted to go outside when he saw all of the kids, he was excited enough to hold the candy and wait at the door. At one point, a little girl in an angel outfit came. Eugene said, "Devil, meet angel," and the girl's father replied, "Devil, stay away from my angel." Too bad I didn't get a picture of them together.
We drove up to Madison Friday night and checked into our hotel, a Holiday Inn. This one featured a whirlpool bath in our room (which only got used for Alex's baths, alas) and a water park that we didn't use either. Unfortunately, we didn't have a suite, so when Alex woke up in the night, he could see us, and that made it harder to calm him. We wound up having to bring him into our bed--something we don't plan to do in the future!
On Saturday, we went to the Farmer's Market. I don't have any pictures from there, but Eugene took some. Instead of getting food, we bought a personalized piggy bank for Alex and a toy parrot for a friend's son. I browsed through Wintersilks but didn't find anything, and with Alex needing a nap, we skipped a trip to the Soap Opera. We let Alex sleep in the car while we took turns visiting Borders (one of us stayed in the car with him). We picked up lunch at Whole Foods; Alex woke up and ate a fair portion of a Honeycrisp. Later, we visited our friends for our annual Faux Thanksgiving reunion with our college friends. The food was good, and we enjoyed talking with everyone; unfortunately, I don't have any pictures. All of the kids are growing up, though.
We didn't have a chance to have brunch with our friends this year, since we were supposed to meet my family for lunch at a Polish restaurant. We did stop at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens briefly. Although we lost track of time, it was neat seeing the Thai Pavilion:
Finally, we left Madison to celebrate my grandmother's 94th birthday with my mother's side of the family:
Luckily, at this point, it was a relatively short drive back home. It was great to go, but it's good to be back. Even with an extra hour today, I still have a lot to catch up on.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Other than that, we've been getting ready for our annual Thanksgiving dinner with our friends in Madison. Plus there's the usual work and taking care of Alex. I saw two deer this evening as I was heading over to his daycare. The deer were in someone's back yard. I didn't realize how close this subdivision was to forest area. It would be neat sometime if the deer actually came up to the daycare so the kids could see them.
I'm not doing National Novel Writing Month this year; instead, I'm focusing on rewriting my draft from last year. It's tough going, and the only time I've had for it is on my lunch hour. Today I was too busy answering interview questions to even write. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
This topic reminds me of a Passing the Pen essay I wrote five years ago for my website. It's called, "I Me Mine: Writing and the Ego." In this essay, I discuss the various ways in which writing can help or hurt the ego, as well as help you move past your own sense of self when you're actually writing. But I owe you my current thoughts on this topic as well.
One of my conclusions in my earlier essay is that the best way to keep the frustrations of writing from hurting your self-confidence is not to let your self-confidence depend on your writing. I think the level of confidence you have in your daily life is a major component of your confidence in your writing abilities, and I think feeling competent in some part of life helps improve your confidence. Whether it's being good at your day job or a hobby or parenting, a skill in some part of your life will make you feel more confident about tackling other hard tasks, like writing.
I have to admit I was overconfident at first when I started writing. I wasn't so foolish as to send out my very first draft--I rewrote it completely after taking a writing class--but my first novel was about 170,000 words long with about seven different POV. I did get some interest from a couple of agents, but it never got past the partial stage. An editor at Tor did look at the full manuscript, but I never got the suggestions he had for it. It's been so long he's no longer there, so even though I never got an official rejection, I consider that book dead there.
My confidence in my writing has varied over my career. There are times when I read my work and think it's great; then there are times when I can barely get a sentence to behave. (Or, as I like to put it, you can't write your way out of a paper bag with a sharp knife.) There are times when I read a book and am so impressed by it I feel I can never world-build or describe something as well as that author does. I've had some modest successes, such as an Honorable Mention in an international competition called the UPC Science Fiction Awards. (This was enough to get my name in Locus, the newspaper of the science fiction field.) My short story, "A Reptile at the Reunion," was published earlier this year in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. Still, I want to sell a novel and see it in bookstores. It's a tough goal to accomplish, given that only a small fraction of books make it out of the slush pile. Are my books ready for that? Perhaps not quite yet, at least that's not how I feel now that I've been reading Flogging the Quill and Miss Snark's First Victim. I still need to capture with words the hook that makes people want to read on. But I think if I keep learning and writing, I will learn that skill, and someday I'll achieve my goal--if not with one of my current novels, then with another project.
So that's my conclusion: confidence is not a fixed quantity. Although it may fluctuate, you can maintain your confidence if you think of yourself as a student of writing. Every new project will teach you something different. If you're always learning, you can encourage yourself by realizing how far you've come but not get too confident and think you know everything.
Before I extend the chain to Abi, I'd like to leave you with a quote from William Blake:
If the Sun and Moon should doubt, they'd immediately go out.
Keep writing, and keep your dreams alive.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
It all started a long time ago--1995, to be exact. I was working as a technical writer up in Madison, and as much as I love the city, being there couldn't make up for my dislike of my job and the separation from my then-boyfriend, Eugene. But that November, the Beatles Anthology aired on TV. I was just a casual fan at best, but I was interested enough to watch the first episode. At the end, the song "Free as a Bird" priemered. Although some diehard fans dislike this song, it stuck in my head, especially at work. I watched the rest of Anthology and soon found myself listening to more Beatles music and learning more about the group.
Early in 1996, I lost my technical writing job and had to move back home while I looked for work. My Beatles fascination kept me going through this time. At one point, while reading about the four-fold synergy of the group, I came up with the idea of having a quartet of magicians working together in a similar fashion. That was the beginning of Day of All Seasons, the first novel I finished and submitted to agents. I got a few requests for partials, but ultimately nothing came of it--not surprising, given the book was over 170,000 words. I would still like to pull that one out of the trunk someday and revise it. But in the meantime, I moved on to other stories, including some that had a direct link to the Beatles. And I've been writing ever since. So thanks, John, for helping me become a writer.
Speaking of writing, I submitted the (revised) first two sentences of Across Two Universes at Miss Snark's First Victim today. Reactions were mixed, though I got some useful feedback. Thanks to all of my reviewers! And if you found this blog through one of the comments I left, I hope my comment was useful.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Mary chose the topic this time: What kind of quirky habits or rituals do you have regarding your writing? (or regarding anything else, if that is more fun.) We've had people discussing everything from Panera sandwiches to alphabetizing spices (the latter is courtesy of Michelle, my precedessor in this chain).
This is supposed to be a fun, "getting-to-know-you" topic, but in some ways it's more difficult for me than the previous topics. Yes, I'm a non-conformist in many ways, but they don't all translate into quirks. Perhaps I should translate them into quarks, but for some odd reason many people don't like to discuss quantum physics. Is that a quirk?
All kidding aside, one of the quirks I have is one I share with my husband. While on our honeymoon, we got the idea from a couple we met to take pictures of a stuffed animal. Since we were on an Alaskan cruise, we bought (on sale) a stuffed orca named Oscar. Since then, he's been joined by Big Oscar and Baby Oscar:
Oscar has his own page on my website to chronicle our travels. He's been to Canada, London, and Las Vegas, which is where we got Big Oscar. Baby Oscar came from The Soap Opera in Madison. (Baby Oscar is actually a bath toy and can squirt water, albeit not through a blowhole.)
During Alex's first year, Big Oscar and the original Oscar posed with him every month, even in the professional pictures.
As for writing quirks, it doesn't matter to me where I write or what my desk looks like. Most of my writing these days is done on my lunch hour at work, actually. The only quirk I could think of applies to the end of my projects, not to my daily writing. Every time I finish a draft, I type the following:
The Very Very Very End!
A Book Report on Peter Rabbit
A kudo to the first person who can identify these lyrics and their source. And yes, they do come out during the editing stage.
My son just woke up, so it's time to end this post and pass the quirkiness to Abigail. Tune in again on October 19th (sooner if you wish) for another exciting post in our Blog Chain!
P.S. In response to Terri's request for me to show my true wierdness, I'll post a bit more on Thursday about another of my writing quirks--my muse, John Lennon.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Four goals I have in the next 5 years:
Get a novel published and in bookstores
Go on a cruise to celebrate our 5th anniversary
Finish with pregnancy/childbirth--either by having another child or deciding that we're done
Add a deck or patio to our house
Four places I will visit someday:
Liverpool, the Mecca for Beatle fans
Four of my favorite foods:
Macaroni and cheese
Four jobs I've had:
Crew person at McDonald's
Teaching assistant in grad school (in the English Department)
Two places I've lived:
Two places I'd like to live:
Four things I'd do with my spare time (if I had any):
I will inflict this meme on Russ, Sara, and Maria. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
It started Sunday afternoon. We took Alex on a play date to Chuck E. Cheese, and he did OK. However, he woke up from his nap with a fever. We took him to Urgent Care and found out he had yet another ear infection. It was a long afternoon at the clinic and getting his prescription filled. Since Alex had a fever, we couldn't take him to daycare on Monday. Eugene and I split the day, with each of us watching him part of the day and working the other time. Alex did OK for a while, but he relapsed in the evening, so we took him into Urgent Care. Alex didn't do too well Tuesday morning, so I stayed home with him. He perked up for a while, but then he had some reactions to the antibiotics. I wound up bringing him to a third doctor, who said his ears were now fine. At least today Alex was consistently well, well enough to go back to daycare.
It was a good thing Alex was better today, since I was scheduled to go on a once-in-a-blue-moon business trip. Eugene had somewhere to be this afternoon, so in case Alex had to leave daycare early, I made arrangements with my parents for them to take my car and pick him up. Happily, that proved to be unnecessary. The trip was not without misadventure, as Chicago traffic was even worse than usual due to a truck that leaked hazardous chemicals onto the highway, shutting off the route we originally planned to take. (Good thing we saw signs and altered our course.) Even so, we were still forced to pass the accident--more like inch past it. "Are all of your business trips this much fun?" I asked my coworkers. What was supposed to be a 10:30 meeting turned into a lunch meeting. Luckily, things worked out, though we did get back a little late. I'm just glad for a chance to relax now.
Monday, September 29, 2008
I got my first royalty payment today for my short story in the Firestorm of Dragons anthology. It's quite a heady feeling, though I won't be quitting my day job anytime soon. And considering Alex has been having some rough times today due to his ear infection--not to mention he's currently Resisting A Rest--it's good to have something good happen today.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
We were done picking in about half an hour, just in time to catch the next wagon back to the main farm. I tried buying some apple butter and honey, but the lines in the main store were so slow they were stuck. Someone said they had been having computer problems; someone else said the delay was due to a shortage of donuts (appaprently they could only make two dozen at a time, so people were paying for them and then waiting). I finally gave up so we could leave and let Alex take his delayed nap. Despite those problems, I think we'll be back next year.
Friday, September 19, 2008
I was on a residential street headed toward the highway. Normally, when you see squirrels in the street, they're half a block away, and they're smart enough to look around before attempting to cross. This one just jumped right out in front of me, only a few feet away. I don't think there were parked cars blocking its view, but it all happened so fast. Maybe something was chasing it. I knew as soon as I saw it that I would hit it, and sure enough, I heard it hit my the underside of my car. Glancing back in the rearview mirror, I saw it curled up in the road.
I drove on--what else could I do?--but I felt a bit shaken up by the incident. At least there doesn't seem to be any damage to my car, and Alex and I were unhurt. I'd rather hit a squirrel than a deer. Still, I felt bad again when I came home and saw the squirrel still on the road. I know there are plenty of squirrels in the trees, and they can be pests, especially when you're feeding birds. But it never feels good to see something die so senselessly.
Monday, September 15, 2008
The previous poster, Archetype, focused on the laws of fantasy and science fiction worlds. I'm going to continue discussing science fiction; specifically, I'm going to talk about creating future worlds. My novel Across Two Universes has three major worlds: the world of mid-21st century New York (about 60 years ahead of us), the world of the spaceship Sagan, and the world of 1980 Earth, where my hero, Paul, meets the man he was cloned from and attempts to change the fate of that world. Everything in ATU is set up to make that meeting possible.
When I came up with this story world, my initial idea was to send someone back in time to hear the Beatles play at the Cavern in Liverpool. I then had to figure out her motive for doing so, and it turned out to be to clone John Lennon. (The original versions of my novella "Move Over Ms. L." and the first few drafts of ATU did use John Lennon and other real people; there's no denying that. I'm currently changing them, though.) So I had to set up a world where time travel was possible and figure out how that worked. I started with a few Writer's Digest books devoted to time and space travel. I decided that the best time travel method for this story would be to have the time traveler pass through a wormhole into another, younger universe. She would need a spaceship to do so, not to mention a wormhole. I don't want to go into too much detail about the origins of the wormhole, but I will say it's not natural. But I also needed a society capable of making a spaceship, so in my future world, cold fusion is possible and used to power the ship (which still isn't capable of faster-than-light travel, so it travels relatively short distances). The ship itself is used to collect genetic samples and other treasures of the 1980 Earth and bring them back to the 21st century.
In designing the Sagan, I focused more on how people live in it than its technical specs. Although the ship is well-stocked and maintained every time it returns to the 21st century Earth, it has to be able to supply its residents with food independently. I therefore gave it a salmon tank and a hydroponic garden. It also has a psychiatrist to help people cope with space travel and little cubicles where people can seek privacy. Since passage through the wormhole is rough at best, passengers are required to strap themselves into their bunks.
To come up with other technological wonders of my world, I read Scientific American. My heroes wear "smart clothes" that can keep the wearer warm and spidersilk armor that can stop bullets--things already being discussed today. I also extrapolate uses of the technology; holographs aren't just used to replace TVs but to create costumes for actors. I also think about how current events would affect the future. In my world, global warming has caused severe flooding in New York City; the city was saved by building levees.
Research and imagination can help you create your world, but it's the way you use them that makes your world authentic. Instead of telling my readers about my world, I show it to them as Paul would see it. The story starts with Paul using his autoholoprojectors during a play. On the Sagan, he meets with his girlfriend in the hydroponic garden and in a private cubicle, interacting with the settings and experiencing them through several senses. I don't lecture the readers about flooding; instead, Paul mentions in bypassing how he was an extra in the documentary The Floods of New York.
It's time for me to pass the blogging baton to Kristal, but I'd like to sum up in three points: when creating a world, make it multifaceted. Think about the implications of your decisions on other aspects of the world. And don't forget to show it to the reader with sensory descriptions and telling details. No matter what world you write about, the details will make it real.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
More to come later....
Thursday, September 04, 2008
This is a list of the top 106 books most often marked unread by LibraryThing users.
bold = ones I've actually completed.
italic = ones I've started and never finished
plain text = ones that I've never read
underline = ones you had to read for school.
CAPS = ones that I really really WANT to read. (what do I do for a maybe read?)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (might like to read)
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Ulysses (maybe read)
Madame Bovary (not sure if I finished it or not)
Pride and Prejudice
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel (great book!)
War and Peace (I read this over a week while I was sick)
The Time Traveler’s Wife (great book!)
Emma (can't remember if I read this one)
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway (I think I read this one, but I'm not sure)
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (I may have read this one)
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons (one I never want to read!)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Gulliver’s Travels (I wrote a term paper on the final section)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Sound and the Fury
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Neverwhere (I may have read this one)
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (good book)
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values (one of my all-time favorites)
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
The Three Musketeers
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Before I start discussing characters, I'd like to discuss briefly the relationship between fiction and reality, as this topic has inspired me to mull about that. We read fiction for various reasons; sometimes we want a mirror of our own reality, and sometimes we want to escape from it. (I've lived in Midwestern suburbs for most of my life, and although the Midwest is my home, there are times when it's so mundane I need to escape from it mentally. That's one of several reasons why I love science fiction and fantasy.) But when we read or watch movies or TV, we want to believe in them, at least as long as we're actively engaged in them. So perhaps it's more important to find out what makes readers believe in the reality of characters. Since writers generally start off as readers, and since both writer and reader are needed to bring a story to life, I'll talk first about the writing side of the equation before going into the readers' perspective.
As Heather pointed out in her own entry on this topic, writers almost always feel their characters are real to them; otherwise, the writers wouldn't feel inspired to write about the particular characters in the first place. I haven't tried to obtain Social Security numbers for my characters and claim them as dependents on my taxes, but they still feel like real people to me, perhaps citizens of the universe next door. My characters have strengths and weaknesses, like anyone you meet on the street. They have their own dreams and interests, even ones not relevant to the story. I also have a fairly good idea of what happens to them before and after the beginning of the book.
As for how much I know about my characters, it changes over time. Although I do get to know my characters in my head before I start writing, I generally don't write out a full-blown character sketch for them before my first draft. Even if I do try to create a mini-biography of the main character, it's often incomplete on paper, as I hold more details in my head. Other things come to me as I write. For instance, I have two incomplete trilogies, one fantasy and one science fiction. In both series, after I finished the first book, a secondary character who already had a love interest "told" me that he or she was bisexual and in love with the main character as well. Talk about a plot twist! I worked that into my fantasy series, but I'm still not sure how I want to handle it with the science fiction series.
Although at times my characters will rebel as described above, at other times, I'll come up with a plot twist that feels right for them. I can change the details from draft to draft, but the end result stays the same. In Across Two Universes, Paul's mother is murdered at the beginning of the story, though I've changed how and where it happens. But I could not start afresh and save her; that would be a different book. I do other cruel things to him in the sequel, enough for me to shed real tears over him. Paul may not be a real person, but he inspires real emotions in me.
This brings me to my final point: no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. (Edit: this line isn't from me; it's from Robert Frost. I should have Googled first before quoting.) How do we convince our readers that our characters are real? I think part of it has to do with the telling detail, using all of the senses to bring the world to life. Small details about the characters, like quirks or favorite things, can also make them seem real. But for me, what gets me involved with my characters is their emotional lives, and those need to be portrayed realistically as well. If you can convince your readers that yes, someone would really react a certain way in a given situation, then they too will start thinking of your characters as real.