Monday, November 29, 2010

For George Harrison

George Harrison passed away nine years ago today, but in my world he'll be forever fab.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Traditions

Well, Thanksgiving is over, and soon NaNoWriMo will be over too. (I expect to finish on November 30th.) So it's time to start indulging in some holiday traditions. Here are a few things we did this weekend.

Since our son is a "trainiac," we went to the Wonderland Express exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden Saturday afternoon. This is the winter version of their garden train exhibit. Chicago landmarks are recreated out of natural materials, and model trains run beside them. I would show you some of the pictures, but they're not loading to the blog properly. The pictures can't really do justice to the snow falling down (they made it with water and a small amount of vegetable oil) or the way they managed to give the cityscapes such detail and depth.

Today, we made our annual trip to Kristkindlmarkt in Chicago's Daley Plaza. The weather was warm for once, and since we went early, the crowds weren't too bad. Alex insisted on being carried most of the time, which made we wish we'd brought his stroller. Since I was carrying him much of the time, I wasn't able to take pictures. We bought glass ornaments, little houses for our Christmas village, and a Christmas present for a friend. We also indulged in potato pancakes, fried apple fritters, chocolate-covered fruit on skewers, and nuts. We checked out the windows at Macy's (formerly Marshall Fields), where they told the story of the Virginia who wrote to the newspaper editor and asked if there was a Santa Claus. While the sets were elaborately crafted out of paper, only a few windows were devoted to the story this year, which was a little disappointing.

Finally, before we put Alex to bed, we listened to Christmas music. Only my husband pulled out his Twisted Christmas CDs, and we listened to some of the more child-friendly songs, like "Toy Shack." Alex put on headphones (much too big for him), and we danced. It was a lot of fun.

What are your holiday traditions?

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Black Friday Comes....

I like to play this song:

But this year, I decided to try going out early in the morning, since I naturally wake up early anyway. I checked out some ads and decided to visit two stores: Target (for the deals they had on board games) and JCPenny.

I woke up (again, on my own) this morning at 5:00. I debated if I really wanted to go, but after a few minutes, I got up, took my medicine, dressed warmly, and left. I got to Target about 5:40. The parking lot was full (the one I went to was next to a Best Buy), but luckily I saw someone pulling out and got a decent spot. The stores weren't too bad--probably because the die-hard shoppers had already been there and left. Unfortunately, the board game I wanted for Alex was sold out, but I found several other things. Only one was on sale, and I found a DVD cheaper on Amazon, so I'll return it later. But I did get $10 off and a $10 gift card, so that helped.

Then I went to JCPenny. I was there shortly after 6:00. I wandered around for a while, checking out basic clothes for my family. I had better luck here with the sales and was able to get some of the items I'd noticed in the ad. Here, I spent less than $100 but saved well over $100. It was a pretty good deal, though I've had similar savings there before. I was too tired by this point to want to do any more shopping, so I went home, arriving there after 7:00. I was surprised to see my family up at this point, since my son had gone to bed late.

I plan to take my son bowling in a little bit, but we may stop at another store, even though we'll miss the best sales.

My husband tried to unlock a Toys'R'Us deal through Borders, but it was only available to 200 people, and it sold out before he got it.

Do you shop Black Friday, either in the store or online? If so, what are your tips?

Enjoy your weekend!

P.S. I forgot to post the song lyrics I heard as I was leaving the house. From John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels," I heard, "People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing...." 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Historical Fiction and Gratitude

In addition to plowing through the complete works of William Shakespeare (I'm over halfway through!), I'm also reading a book a friend lent me. It's Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The story follows the fortunes of two Chinese girls living in Shanghai just before World War II. They are forced into arranged marriages to Chinese-American men by their father shortly before the Japanese invade. They flee the city, and, after much hardship, arrive in America to be reunited with their husbands, only to find that they must work hard to build a future in America.

Historical novels can give us the experience of what is was like to live in a certain era, but these aren't always pleasant ones. The sisters endure poverty, assault by soldiers, confinement for months on Angel Island while their immigration status is questions, and problems with their in-laws. They also experience discrimination from other Chinese for being women and discrimination from white people for being Chinese.

Reading books like this reminds me of how much I take for granted in my daily life. I've never had to lack for food or proper medical care. I've never had to endure the horrors or war or the daily struggles with poverty. And while there are still some ways in which women are not equal to men (such as pay and personal safety), I have opportunities and rights far beyond those of the sisters in See's book. When our basic needs are met, we're not content but strive for higher things on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I guess today is a good day to look downward, not just up.

Are there any historical books you've read that make you appreciate your current situation more? Do you feel that our lives are better or worse than our ancestors'?

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, thanks for stopping by today, and enjoy the holiday! After NaNoWriMo finishes up next week, I'll return to blogging more frequently.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: Books Are....

I have to admit I've been so busy with NaNoWriMo that the blog chain snuck up on me this round. (I also have to admit my week off hasn't been as productive as I thought it would be--too much other real life stuff to keep up with.) I'm over 30,000 words, which is where I need to be as of Thursday night (which is when I wrote this post). I hope to have a good session Friday afternoon after taking care of yet another chore.

Anyway, this round's topic is literally open-ended, as Kate wants us to fill in the blank in the phrase:

Books are __________

That's it!

I'm second this round, so I've had very little time to consider this question. After some thought, here's my answer:

Books are other worlds.

Of course, as a science fiction/fantasy writer, I do write about other worlds--alien, alternate, or completely imaginary--but that's not the only thing I mean when I say that books are other worlds. Books can give us insight into another culture or a person whose life experiences or attitudes are much different from ours. Even non-fiction books can present us with history (one can argue that the past is another world much different from ours) or alter our own worlds with information.

It's time for me to dive back into NaNoWriMo, so I'm going to direct you over to Eric's blog for his take on the question. Enjoy your weekend -- the last one before the holiday season starts!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers."

T.S. Eliot.

P.S. I wonder what he meant by that--and I hope I never find out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo Update

It's the halfway mark today for those of us participating in National Novel Writing Month, and I'm pleased to say I passed 25,000 words today. Or, as Bon Jovi would sing, "Oh, we're halfway there..."

(Or, if you're not even close, then I guess you really are living on a prayer. ;) )

I'm using some of my vacation time this week, so I'm hoping to write at least 2,500 words per day. But I'm doing other things too to avoid burnout. I indulged in a spa appointment this morning, and I'll run other errands this week. I also plan to attend my son's Thanksgiving dinner (or lunch really) at preschool and enjoy a date day with my husband. NaNoWriMo may be crazy, but I have to retain some sanity during this time, at least for my family's sake.

Anyone else care to post their NaNoWriMo status? Are you going all-out, or trying to keep some balance?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Thoughts of Shakespeare

In addition to the writing marathon of NaNoWriMo (about 18,300 words so far, though I still have to start writing today), I'm also in the middle of a reading marathon. I'm reading the complete works of William Shakespeare on my Kindle. Unfortunately, the Kindle dictionary doesn't handle archaic terms well; this is one place where paper books with footnotes are better. On the other hand, since this is portable, I'm actually reading it instead of letting it gather dust on the shelf. Currently I'm about 30% of the way through. Here are some things I've noticed so far:

1. A lot of the "low" comic characters are funny because they keep using the wrong word. They were dropping malapropisms long before Mrs. Malaprop.
2. Shakespeare reuses names from play to play. So far, I've seen several Antonios and Sebastians. Rosalind also gets mentioned a few times.
3. Pericles is my least favorite play so far. Shakespeare only wrote half of it, the second half. It's written in a very "telling" style, and I find one of the main plot points highly improbable according to human nature.
4. My favorite heroines so far are Portia from The Merchant of Venice and Rosalind from As You Like It.
5. I remember the movie or stage versions of the ones I've seen as I read.
6. How come there are no public highlights of famous quotes? Normally I see them as I read. I highlight (and share on Facebook) some selected passages, but I wonder if public sharing was disabled for this version for some reason.
7. Men are much more inconstant in their loves than the women.
8. Some of the same-sex friendships are described as being very close; so close as to make a modern person wonder about the sexuality of the characters. I wonder how these relationships were viewed in Shakespeare's time? Some of his sonnets were addressed to a man, so there's speculation about his sexuality too.

How do you feel about Shakespeare; do you love, loathe, or ignore him? Which plays have you seen performed?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Science of Science Fiction--Fish Out of Water

I came across this interesting article on ScienceBlog the other day about mangrove fish. Mangrove fish can survive out of the water for two months, thanks to their special skin. Their skin is covered with special cells, called ionocytes, that regulate the amount of water and salts (ions) that pass through the fish's skin. Normally these cells are found only in the gills. By being spread over the entire body, ionocytes allow fish to function on land the same way they do in the water. (Lungfish, which can also survive being out of the water for extended periods of time, have to alter their physiological state to do so.) I think this would be a neat trait to give to an alien race; they could live mostly in the water but be able to go about on land to gather resources or do other things.

Here are a few other recent news articles from ScienceBlog that are worth passing along:

Are you interested in quantum computers? This article states that it may be easier to work with them than originally thought, though we have yet to unlock their full potential.

From last month, this article on the brain shows that we can consciously regulate the activity of individual neurons in our brains. Patients in this study were even able to manipulate computer images with just their minds. Perhaps the brain-computer interface is closer than we think. We may even literally carry internet networks on us by means of sensors, according to this article.

Reading articles like this always reminds me that the future is closer than we think.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

Back On the Blog Chain: Where Do Characters Come From?

This round, Abby wants to learn about our characters:

Where do your characters come from? And once they've been introduced to you, how do you get to know them?

Kate posted before me, and Eric will post tomorrow.

Unfortunately for me, if there's such a thing as a Characters'R'Us store, I have yet to find it. I would say for me, characters tend to start with the original idea I get for a story. For example, when I came up with the idea for my novella "Move Over Ms. L.," I wanted to write about someone listening to the Beatles perform at the Cavern Club before they hit it big. I wanted a SF twist, so I came up with a time traveler from the future. I then started asking myself questions, such as "Why was this person go then and there?" and "Why was she in particular chosen for this mission?" Gradually, as I turned the idea over in my mind, the character of Joanna Lennon, the great-granddaughter of John Lennon who preferred science to rock'n'roll, came to mind. I don't often develop a character through directed questions the way I did for this particular story; more often, I look for people who might be involved in the particular story idea I have in mind and go from there, pre-writing in my thoughts as I think about characters and possible scenes for a story.

Another important source of characters for me is other characters. I've mentioned before in a previous blog chain post how my story ideas turn into family sagas. So after my first set of characters have their adventures, fall in love, and start families, I have to find something to do with their kids. My current projects, Across Two Universes and the sequel Catalyst in the Crucible, involve children of characters in "Move Over Ms. L." (I've de-Lennonized these books, so they're not direct sequels at this point. If I ever publish my novella, I'll have to decide if I want to use the original version or alter it to fit the other stories.)

I don't have a formal process for getting to know my characters. I don't normally write character sheets (I keep all that information in my head, though I did prepare a few character sheets as part of NaNoWriMo prep) or interview them. I get to know them as I play with them in my head, then as I write and revise. Sometimes they change considerably from draft to draft. I do feel part of me has to go into each character for me to make him or her authentic.

The phrasing of this question reminded me of the song "Getting to Know You," so I'll end this post by sharing this YouTube video from The King and I:

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Two of Us

Some traditions are too sacred for anything, even National Novel Writing Month, to interfere. One of them is Faux Thanksgiving, our annual get-together with our college friends up in Madison. Unfortunately, there is one thing that trumps Faux Thanksgiving, and that's Continuing Education for my husband. He had to attend a conference this weekend, but this was the weekend that worked best for everyone else. So I decided I'd go anyway, bringing Alex with me.

We drove up Friday; I timed the drive to coincide with Alex's nap time. Our hotel was near West Towne, so after relaxing for a while, we had dinner in the Food Court. Then we had some gelato, played in the Play Area, and customized a stuffed wolf for Alex (the wolf was costumed as a train driver, naturally.)

Alex did much better sleeping in the hotel than he had in the past. Perhaps he wasn't so bothered by the noises outside, or perhaps it helped that we were in the same room and not in a suite. I'd made sure to get a room with a refrigerator, since I brought along food and snacks for him. He enjoyed eating Froot Loops for breakfast; I hope he doesn't start asking for them here.

Saturday we visited the Children's Museum. This was our first time visiting it in the new location. I think Alex enjoyed the train running in the stairway between the first and second floors the best, though he also enjoyed building with blocks in Possibile-opolis. I went to one of my favorite stores on State Street but didn't find what I was looking for. We drove around for a bit so Alex could nap before the big get-together. He was still groggy from sleep when we got there (I had to wake him up), and for some reason he kept bringing my things to me. He didn't eat much (though he kept taking cookie bars that I'd brought), but by the time we left, he was in a good mood.

We were supposed to attend a Sunday brunch with our friends, but Alex wanted to go to the bookstore instead. So I took him, and we wound up getting him a couple of toys. (I have to admit it's nice that they're distracting him from some of his other toys. He has some cheap model trains that won't stay coupled and have parts that keep coming off; they're frustrating for both of us.) Then I reluctantly left Madison and drove to my parents' house so they could have some quality Alex time. Alex wound up falling asleep on both legs of the journey home. Eugene was happy to see both of us again, and he'd set up a huge track layout to keep Alex and his trains busy. It should be interesting to see how well Alex sleeps tonight, especially with the end of Daylight Savings Time.

Although the trip was a bit demanding at times,  Alex did pretty well overall. I even managed to write when he was asleep, both staying up late and getting up early. Even so, I'm about twelve hundred words behind where I need to be for today. Hopefully I can catch up.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Under Pressure

First, here's some theme music for this month:

Although I'm at 5,000+ words (which is where I should be today), I haven't written the full 1,667 words yet today, even though I've been home all day. The main reason is that I've been home with my son, who was sick this morning. (He's doing much better now.) Like any three-year-old, Alex is high maintenance. But even when he was napping, it was hard to focus. I've actually done much better on my lunch hours at work the last two days, banging out over a thousand words in an hour. It's my prime writing hour, so I know I have to focus and produce if I'm going to meet my daily quota. When I have longer, I take longer--and take more breaks. Does anyone else suffer the same problem?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: A Movable Literary Feast

I hope you had a good Halloween and that if you're participating in National Novel Writing Month, you're off to a good start. (Good thing I was able to write this post last night.) This round, Michelle H. asks us

If you could dine with any author, and I do mean any whether alive or dead (yes, we're going into the realms of time travel - but hey, we have science fiction writers on this chain so we can always ask for them to write up the time machine specs), who would you want to dine with? And if you can ask them for advice on one writing element you feel you might be struggling at, what would it be?

Kate answered this question before me, and  Christine will finish off the chain.

Well, as a science fiction author, I certainly feel able to use time travel here. But there are so many authors I'm interested in that I can't choose just one. So I decided the best way to answer this question was with a movable feast, spending each course with a different author.

For an appetizer, I'd start with John Lennon. Yes, in addition to writing songs, John also wrote stories and published three collections of them. He was a master of wordplay, so I'd ask him about language. However, John also enjoyed the surreal, so I'd have to tilt my mind sideways to be able to follow him.

The salad course makes me think of the line, "My salad days, green in judgment." This would inspire me to share the salad course with the author of that line, William Shakespeare. Since our language has changed so much since his day, I'd ask him about how he created such memorable characters.

Moving on, the entree course requires a meaty topic, something of substance. I think worldbuilding, particularly for creating alien races, would be a good choice. And to discuss that topic, I choose Julie E. Czerneda.

Finally, for dessert, I choose someone with a poetic style, someone for whom words flow as sweetly as chocolate. That would be one of my favorite authors, Patrica McKillip.

After such a meal, both my stomach and my mind would be well content. But may I keep John and William around, or would that destroy the space-time continuum? ;)

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