Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Been Busy

I've mentioned before that Firestorm of Dragons will be participating in a book tour in November. I've been busy the last couple of days finishing up interviews for different blogs. It's tougher than you'd think, but I think I managed to fill out all of the interviews. (There were three total, but I overlooked one of them until yesterday--and of course the deadline for finishing it was today.) I'll keep you updated with links to the host blogs once I learn what the schedule is.

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

Three Things I Never Thought I'd Say...

1. I need Twinkies.

2. They're for work.

3. I looked all over the grocery store and couldn't find them.

We now return you to your normally scheduled Internet.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back on the Blog Chain: How Do You Manage Confidence?

I promised you another Blog Chain post on the 19th, and here it is. This time, Kate chose the topic: How as a writer do you find the balance between being having too much or too little confidence in your work? We've already had some wonderful insights from Kate, Archetype, and Michelle. Feel free to read their posts, as well as the other members of our Blog Chain. As always, links are on the side bar to the right.

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's Johnny's Birthday....

and I promised my Blog Chain partners I'd share more quirks with them and discuss why I consider John Lennon my patron muse.

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

Back on the Blog Chain: Quirks

Yep, once again I'm participating in a blog chain. We've had some changes in our membership since my last blog chain post; a couple of people left, but we had some more people join us. You can check out the links in my sidebar to find the blogs in the chain.

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 End
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.


The three of us went to a picnic today. It was hosted by an online group we belong to. Although not all of the members have kids, many of them do. Eugene made one of his mile-high apple pies (he got the recipe from Paula Deen) last night, a task made harder by Alex's refusal to go to bed. It was Eugene's turn to put Alex to bed, but Alex wanted to play, leave his room--anything but sleep. Eventually I had to go in there so Eugene could bake. Even so, Eugene didn't finish baking the pie until almost 1:00 a.m. Good thing Alex wound up sleeping in.

The picnic was in the middle of a forested area. We were the first ones to arrive; we were early, but we were surprised the picnic organizers weren't there yet. But soon people started arriving with their families and pets. The main course was chicken from Popeye's and sandwiches from Subway. There were also side dishes and desserts, including a Snickers salad which probably can be classified as both. Too bad I didn't have a chance to try that one!

Alex slept a bit in the car on the way over. He woke up on his own, but he was very Eugene-clingy for a while. He also didn't eat much, although he did help himself to a sugar cookie. It took him a while to warm up to the point where I could carry him or even let him go down on his own. He never did run around as much as the other kids did, but I think he's just going through a stage where he feels more secure with us close by. We should probably enjoy it while it lasts.

We got to meet some people we only knew online, including a couple with a baby and a Great Dane. At one point, the mother had to use the bathroom, and Eugene offered to hold her little girl. As soon as Alex saw that, he started to cry, and Eugene had to give the girl back to her father. Sounds like Alex isn't ready for a sibling any time soon.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Both Eugene and Alex are sleeping right now, so I suppose I should relax too--or at least get ready for my Blog Chain post tomorrow.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I'm It?

Apparently I am. People are fighting to tag me in the latest meme to infect our blog chain. Heather meant to get me first, but Michelle beat her to it. So I guess I'd better post my answers:

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
The Philippines
Vienna, Austria

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)
Technical writer

Two places I've lived:
Delavan, WI
Rockville, MD

Two places I'd like to live:
Madison, WI

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

A Hard Day's Half-Week

Sometimes I don't blog when the day has been too ordinary to inspire me. And sometimes I don't blog when too much is going on. This week has been more like the latter than the former.

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.

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