Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Long December...

I thought this song (by Counting Crows) would be appropiate for today. Embedding has been disabled for this video, but you can watch it here.

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

Jingle Bell Chain: My Wish List for Characters

We Blog Chain members are celebrating the holiday season with a special Jingle Bell Chain. (sings, "Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell chain, I don't like the snow, but we don't need the rain...") We are posting whenever we want, linking to different people (I'll be linking to Elana and Terri), and choosing our own topics. The blog chain starts with Mary, if you'd like to read through the chain in order. So for my topic, I thought I'd discuss what I like to see in protagonists when I read.

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

I Took Vacation for This?

A couple of days ago, we had a terrible snowstorm here. The roads were so bad it took me over an hour to get to Alex's daycare; I arrived ten minutes before closing, the latest I've ever been. Although Alex wasn't fazed by my tardiness or the crawl home, I didn't want to repeat that drive any time soon. So when I learned we were supposed to get an ice storm this afternoon, I decided to take the day off. Even with all of Alex's illnesses this year, I had enough vacation time remaining to do so. (In fact, I think I have to use up some of it since I can't roll all of it over for next year.) I also took tomorrow morning off so I could attend Alex's winter concert at daycare (which was supposed to be tonight but was rescheduled due to the weather).

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

Back on the Blog Chain: Topic Wrap-Up

Almost two weeks ago, I started a blog chain on wish fulfillment in fiction. As promised, I'm here to wrap up the topic.

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!

Party Weekend

This weekend, we had two company parties to attend, and we wound up bringing Alex to both of them. It was a little rough, but we all survived.

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

We Have a Winner!

As the final moments of the contest ticked down, Heather snuck onto my blog and posted this:

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

Don't Forget!

The contest mentioned in this post ends tonight at midnight! Why do you think beautiful people have more daughters? Let us know! Right now, there's only one entry, and let's be honest; Russ is on the cookie list anyway (though we presume you'll share them with Dora if her Mami permits, right?)

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion....

Sunday, December 07, 2008

So...Why Do Beautiful People Have More Daughters? (CONTEST!)

If you read my previous post, which is about a book called Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do, then you might be wondering about the title. According to the authors (Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa), yes, beautiful people have more daughters, and there is an explanation for that. But can you figure out what it is?

"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.)

Other rules:

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.

The Age-Genius Curve

I recently finished reading Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do, by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. It's a short book (though it is longer than the title) explaining why our drive to reproduce is behind everything we do. Apparently, even our desire to create is fueled by the need to procreate; the authors speculate that the need to impress women is behind both creative and criminal behavior. To support this claim, they point to the age-genius curve in men. In many endeavors, men peak in their early twenties and start losing their edge after they marry and have a child. Of course, taking care of a child is very time-consuming, but the authors suggest that once a man has succeeded at reproducing, he doesn't need to compete so intensively anymore.

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

Cookie Exchange

This year, Eugene and I added something different to our annual bakefest. We invited some of our friends to exchange cookies at our house. We started our baking last week, over Thanksgiving weekend. We asked the participants to send us their recipes ahead of time so we could print them out on cards. We then mounted those cards on colored backings and stamped them with a gingerbread cookie stamp. We prepared over 100 of these cards last night, along with doing laundry and cleaning. Actually, I did some of that earlier yesterday, since I was home with Alex. (He woke up with a fever, and he had vomited in the crib. I brought him to Urgent Care, and he had an ear infection. Surprise, surprise.) We were but late, but Alex woke up early today. Eugene got up with him. Although Alex is taking antibiotics, it's going to take a few doses before he gets better. In the meantime, he had a fussy day and didn't even want to nap. We did get him to nap briefly in the car, but every time we tried to move him into his crib, he woke up. We still had to finish cleaning, shop, decorate, and cook some hot food. Alex clung to Eugene more than he did to me, so we divided the tasks accordingly.

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

Back on the Blog Chain: Wish Fulfillment

Well, as promised, here I am to start the latest Blog Chain! Here's the teaser video I used to give the other Blog Chain members a hint to the latest topic:

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.

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