Saturday, April 30, 2011

A-Z: Zaniness

After a long month of blogging and commenting, I feel we all need something zany to celebrate completing this challenge. When it comes to zaniness, who can match the Marx Brothers? Here are a couple of scenes from A Night at the Opera. Enjoy!

Thanks to all who have visited my blog this month. I'm taking next week off from blogging to catch up on my myriad other obligations, but I'll still be reading other blogs and commenting when I can. I have some great things in store, so come back on May 7th to check them out!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: The Speculative Mindset

I had my A-Z post for today prepared several weeks ago, and it doesn't fit well with the blog chain this time around. So today I have to double-post. Margie asked, "How do you get in the mindset of your genre? Do you research people or facts? Do you just reach into the recesses of your mind for events that would make a good story? Something else?”

Kat posted before me, and Kate comes afterward.

My genres of choice are science fiction and fantasy. Since both of them involve events that don't or can't happen in the world as we know it, it may seem difficult to get into the right mindset to write them. However, as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) knew, doing so requires practice:

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

(This quote is from Through the Looking Glass.)

I'm always on the lookout for interesting ideas or facts for my stories; they pop up when you least expect them. For example, I had to drive to St. Charles, IL on Monday for a CPR/First Aid class. While I was there, I noticed a house with three gargoyles on the roof. What were they doing there? Were they just guarding the house, or did they have another purpose? As if one house wasn't enough, on my way home, I noticed another house with three dog statues by the entrance. The two houses were in different cities, but what if they were next to each other? What if the two sets of statues were enemies? I may use this idea as the basis for a story someday, or maybe the statues will be part of a setting. Maybe I'll never use this idea. The point is no matter where you are, you can gather ideas from your surroundings if you look for unusual things and then allow yourself to speculate about them. I also like to look for ideas in science news or in other books.

In order to get into the speculative mindset -- or the mindset of any genre -- it's important to continually read in your genre and connect with others in your field. Doing so will show you what's already been done and what others are currently doing. Once you know where the genre has been, you can help decide where it needs to go next.

A-Z: Your Sweet Summer

This is a villanelle I wrote either in high school or college. Even back then I was fond of semicolons. You can find this and some of my other poems here.

Your Sweet Summer

The sun has set too often in the sky
And banished now the days of burnished gold;
My love, even the sweet summer must die.

Once, passion burned me fiercer than July;
Beloved, your lack of heat left me cold.
The sun has set too often in the sky.

Having learned that my love was based on a lie
Has destroyed the small hope I tried to hold.
My love, even the sweet summer must die.

Heartbroken so long, without tears to cry
Out my pain, I cannot be brave and bold.
The sun has set too often in the sky.

To your cruel flirtations I cannot reply;
My rejected love was too often told,
“My love, even the sweet summer must die.”

Understand this, then, when too late you try
To win me back; I’m past those days of old.
Your sun has set too often in my sky;
My love, even your sweet summer must die.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A-Z: X Saves the World

I'm sure many A-Z bloggers have been dreading this day because we're on the letter X, but I'm not one of them, since it's my birthday. (Humm, perhaps I should start dreading it.) My birthday actually ties in with the letter X, since I'm a Gen Xer. That's why I read X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking last year.

I'm going from memory for this post. The author, Jeff Gordinier, spends much of the book discussing the baby boomer and millennial generations as well as Generation X. Unfortunately, all three generations are reduced to stereotypes. I don't consider myself a typical Generation Xer; I'm far more interested in the Beatles than Nirvana. In fact, I'm more familiar with Weird Al's "Smells Like Nirvana" than I am with "Smells Like Teen Spirit," so Gordinier's peans to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain don't resonate with me. (I hope I don't get expelled from my generation for admitting that!) However, this book did introduce me to the "Cooler King" moment from The Great Escape, an unorthodox way of seeking one's freedom.

Toward the end of the book, Gordinier discusses how Generation X can save the world, or at least parts of it. To quote,

On the surface, yeah, I suppose a proposition like “X saves the world” is preposterous. I like it because it’s preposterous. I think it makes a bizarre kind of sense—only a small and quiet and marginalized demographic has the will to preserve things that are small and quiet and marginalized in the world.

His proposal, as I understand it, boils down to individuals making their local environments better through various means and independents standing up to monoculture. I don't think this idea is unique to Generation X; however, what Generation X has done is taken the Internet and used it in ways to give the average individual opportunities he/she might not have otherwise. For example, Gen Xers came up with YouTube, a website that lets everyone make their own videos. Sure, some of them are very amateurish, but others are entertaining and/or informative, and sometimes a viral video makes an ordinary person an instant celebrity. Perhaps indie publishing is part of the Gen X spirit, then. If I do decide to go this route, I just hope my Cooler King moment doesn't end with a crash.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A-Z: Connie Willis

If you haven't read Connie Willis, you're missing a treat. She combines science fiction with screwball comedy. She's probably best known for her time travel series, which includes Doomsday Book, "Fire Watch," To Say Nothing of the Dog (my personal favorite), and last year's Blackout/All Clear. In these stories, time travelers from Oxford journey to various time periods, including the 14th century, the Victorian era, and World War II. (The stories are mostly set in England, although I think a few scenes in Blackout and All Clear were elsewhere.) However, the travelers don't always arrive when they expect to, and they're not always sure what their roles are.

In addition to the above books, she's written many other novels and short stories, discussing topics from remaking old movies to the significance of near-death experiences. She's won the Hugo and the Nebula multiple times for her work.

I saw Connie Willis at a panel at ChiCon 2000. I took a couple pictures of her, but I don't have them in digital format (sorry). I wasn't able to get her autograph either. Perhaps if I'm able to make it to ChiCon next year, I'll see her again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A-Z: Vienna

Although I've been to Austria, I didn't have the chance to visit Vienna. It's one of the places that's on my bucket list. Instead, today I'd like to share with you a video for Billy Joel's "Vienna," as a reminder to everyone else out there juggling multiple roles that sometimes it's necessary to slow down and take care of yourself:

Monday, April 25, 2011

A-Z: Ulbrich

At last, the final week of the A-Z Challenge! How's everyone holding up?

My original post for the letter "U" was going to be about unicorns, but I figure my maiden name would be a unique topic.

In the 1990 U.S. Census, there were nearly 30,000 people in the country with the surname "Ulbrich." I haven't been able to find any statistics about how common the name is in Germany, even though it's a German name. I've seen variations such as "Ulrich" or "Ullrich." It can be used as both a first and last name, although I suspect that's more common in Germany than here.

I've heard different meanings for this name. When I was a teenager, I was told "Ulbrich" came from the words "Adel," meaning noble, and "Brecht," meaning brilliant. This baby name site lists different words for the origin, but the meaning is pretty close. There's more information about this history of the name at this coat-of-arms website, along with a picture of the crest. I'm told that a few generations back (perhaps in my great-grandfather's time, though I'm not certain), we used to have a "von" prefix, which indicates nobility. My uncle is older than my dad, so he would be the titled one if we were still considered noble. (I think he has the family crest on display at his house.) Since I'm adopted, I probably wouldn't be considered "noble," but I find the history of my name interesting anyway.

As I grew up, I encountered many mispellings of my name. Most often, people will try to spell it with an "O" instead of a "U." It's also hard to pronounce. I normally pronounce it something like "Ol-brich" with a long "o." The German way to say it is more like "ool-brich," where the "u" sounds like the double o in "pool." Even though my maiden name is hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and comes near the end of the alphabet, I'm still fond of it. That's why I kept it when I got married. (I just added my husband's surname to my name, so I have four names.) My short story was published under my maiden name, so I wonder sometimes if I should keep using that name for my writing or use something like "Sandra U. Almazan" instead. I think it would confuse readers if I used both surnames, but I could use a different variation of my name if I ever wanted to switch genres. Those of you who use both your maiden and married names, how do you handle it?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A-Z: Trains

My son (who turns four next month) is obsessed with trains. He wears striped overalls and a striped cap every single day. His favorite things to bring for show-and-tell are model train catalogs, and he gets upset if one of the other kids tears a page. At home, he likes to cut the engines and cars out of the catalogs and tape them all over the walls and furniture. (I finally took down the ones in the living room, but there are still some in his bedroom.) He knows the difference between steamies and diesels, and he also recognizes the various types of freight cars. As you might expect, he has a ton of Thomas the Train toys, and he's also showing interest in Chuggington. However, he prefers "trains with no faces," such as the G-gauge freight train set he got for Christmas. Luckily, we live near the Illinois Railway Museum and the Chicago Botanic Garden, so we take him to those places, hobby train shops, and train shows. Here are a few of the exhibits we saw last year:

Every year, the Chicago Botanic Garden sets up an outdoor model railroad exhibit featuring American landmarks. Here's one of the trains.

My son riding in the Zephyr at the Illinois Railway Museum last year.

Here he is posing with his favorite train at the Railway Museum, a Baldwin Steam Locomotive. It doesn't run, but Alex talks about fixing it when he's old enough. I wonder if he'll still be as much of a trainiac at twelve as he is now.

We're actually taking Alex to a live Thomas the Train show tonight, so I wonder how he'll like it. While he does watch the show occasionally, he's more into other shows like Curious George--especially episodes involving trains.

Although train fascination seems to be a boy thing, I have written about trains in my stories. The final volume of my Season Lords trilogy was supposed to include a train trip, although I don't think I got to that part. There's also a train ride in Twinned Universes.

Are there any other current or recovering trainiacs out there?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A-Z: Science

What does science mean to me?

Science is a way to study the world. It means not taking everything at face value, but questioning, observing, experimenting, and drawing conclusions based on evidence. The answer to one question can inspire more questions. It's a way of constructing a web of knowledge tying together everything in the universe. It's awe-inspiring to look at the night sky -- the universe writ large -- or a photograph of a molecule -- the universe writ small -- and think about how we can study both extremes. It's also amazing to consider something something such as the human body and peer into the various levels--organs, tissues, cells, organelles, molecules, and atoms -- that make it up.

I'd adopted. When I was a teenager, I studied genetics in the hope I might be able to learn about my biological parents. However, I soon became interested in the discipline for its own sake and planned to become a geneticist. Although that didn't work out, I still read about science. I've looked into joining some amateur science projects, but I don't have the time right now. Perhaps that's something I can do when I retire.

When you look at little children exploring the world, they experiment to figure out how things works. If we're all scientists when we're young, what happens when we grow up?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A-Z: The "R"s of Revision

1. Start with a Rough draft.
2. Relax for a while so the story can "Rest."
3. Return to the Rough draft and Reread it.
4. Remove the parts that don't work, including any Redundancies.
5. Retool the good parts until they glow like Rubies.
6. Recruit Reviewers and Receive their advice graciously.
7. Repeat until the story is Ready!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A-Z: Questions

Why are questions so important?

Could science advance without questions?

What about fiction?

Is it more important to answer every question--or question every answer?

What's your favorite question?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A-Z: Patricia McKillip

One of my favorite authors is Patricia McKillip, noted fantasy author. I just finished reading her latest book, The Bards of Bone Plain. I think I first discovered her with the Cygnet duology (The Sorceress and the Cygnet; The Cygnet and the Firebird), though it could have been The Forgotten Beasts of Eld too. I have several of her books in hardcover, which is a sign of how much I value her books. She was a guest of honor at WisCon a few years ago, and I not only got to hear her read but also have her autograph a copy of Harrowing the Dragon, her short story collection.

Why is she one of my favorites? Her writing is poetic, but that's not all I admire about her. Her plots are original, and her books still inspire a sense of wonder in me with the way they make magic feel truly magical and otherworldly. It's also impressive that her more recent books are all stand-alones. One of her books inspired me with an idea for a fantasy novel, but I'm still in the research phase and don't have a lot of details fleshed out yet. My style isn't anything like hers, and I don't think I could ever match it. But she's worthy of study. I recommend her work to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A-Z Blog Chain: Off-the-Cuff Writing

Eric wants to know When was the last time you just sat down and started writing, with nothing but a whisper of an idea to guide you? Did you find it easy to do or did you find yourself struggling for a more organized story?

Let me call this off-the-cuff writing so I can combine the blog chain and the A-Z challenge again.

Sometimes I feel that many of my blog posts are off-the-cuff. Actually, thanks to my blog, I can figure out the last time I tried this with fiction: March 9. I came up with a short story idea while I was thinking about the topic, and I started writing it that night. Unfortunately, while the story opening was compelling enough to get me started, I wasn't sure where to take it, so I only wrote a page or less before faltering. The problem is I didn't give the story enough time to marinate in my mind to give me a solution or an ending. I haven't given up on it, and I'd like to get back to it when I finish my current revisions.

Other people on the blog chain have commented that the pantsing method requires many revisions, and I've found that to be my experience too. However, the key is being able to get through the first draft, no matter how messy it is. I've found for me that I need a beginning, an end, and a couple ideas of scenes along the way to get started. I've also found that while I can win NaNoWriMo, my momentum screeches to a halt on December 1st. Maybe I wear out my desire to finish the story by forcing myself to write at such a fast pace.

For more on off-the-cuff writing, check out Kat's and Kate's responses.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A-Z: The N Authors

My original topic for "N" was night, but I find myself uninspired by this topic. So instead I'll briefly discuss a few science fiction/fantasy authors with "N" surnames. They're all represented in my book collection.

Garth Nix: I've read his Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) and really enjoyed the setting. A new book in this series is supposed to come out next year.

Jody Lynn Nye: I met her up in Madison at a bookstore signing. She was very encouraging when I talked to her about writing.

Andre Norton: I remember reading Moon of Three Rings when I was a teenager and couldn't resist buying it years later. I haven't read anything in her Witch World series; I'm having problems finding the first book in the series.

What other "N" authors can you name?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A-Z: Madison

We're at the halfway point of the A-Z Challenge! Congrats to those who are still participating. For those who had to drop out for various reasons, I hope you can try again next year.

Ah Madison, Wisconsin, my home away from home. I fell in love with Madison at first sight, when I came up for State Forensics in spring of my sophomore year of high school. Since then, I've spent four years at UW-Madison; I returned in my mid-twenties for about eighteen months for my first post-grad-school job. I know that living in Madison isn't all Farmer's Markets at the Capitol Square and hanging out at the Memorial Union Terrace. I think it was my sophomore year when seventeen inches of snow fell in one day, leading to classes being canceled. Still, we go there about twice a year, in May for WisCon and in the fall for our annual Thanksgiving dinner/reunion with college friends. It would be nice if we could make it up there more often.

Here are some of Madison's attractions:

Vilas Park Zoo--it's free!

A Thai temple at the Olbrich Botanic Gardens.

A view of the Capitol building from the children's museum.

There are many other favorite spots in Madison, like State Street or Picnic Point, that I haven't included because I either don't have digital photos or just can't find them. I still like to visit them when I have the opportunity.

I don't expect my son to attend the college there, but when he gets old enough to understand, Eugene and I will have to show him around campus and tell him how important the city is to us. After all, if we'd never met, Alex would never have been born.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A-Z: Lilacs, Lily of the Valley, and Lavender

Two of my favorite types of flowers are lilacs and lilies of the valley. I love their scents, and the fact that they only bloom around here for a few short weeks in the spring makes it imperative to seek out and enjoy beautiful new blossoms at every opportunity. That's why we drive out to Lilacia Park in Lombard every year and take pictures. My profile picture was taken there, as was this close-up:

Sometimes when we go to Madison (tomorrow's topic!) for WisCon, I'll buy a bunch of lily of the valley at the Farmer's Market and carry with me from panel to panel. It's a shame the flowers don't last very long once plucked. If we'd gotten married in the spring instead of fall, I would have included them in my bouquet.

Ironically, we don't have lilacs or lily of the valley in our yard, though perhaps this year might be the time to try introducing them.

Another "l" flower with a wonderful scent is lavender. I am actually growing them from seed for my garden; I started them a few weeks ago. I do have seedlings at this stage, but they wouldn't make an impressive picture.

Any other flower fanatics out there?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A-Z: Kathleen Massie-Ferch

I was originally going to blog about my Kindle for the letter K, but I've done so several times already and couldn't come up with a new angle. Even sharing the contents of my "To Be Read" collection didn't sound interesting, especially when there are twice as many titles as there were last time. Instead, I'm going to share with you a tribute I wrote to my writing mentor, Kathleen Massie-Ferch. She died of breast cancer in 2002, but she's still missed. This essay is taken directly from my website:

There are times when you read the subject of an e-mail message and already know what it will say -- and that it will be bad news.

Last night (July 20, 2002), I received a digest of e-mails from my BroadUniverse discussion group. Each digest lists the messages and their subject lines at the top, and the name of Kathleen Massie-Ferch, my writing mentor, caught my eye. I scrolled down to confirm what I immediately knew: she had lost her battle with breast cancer. She was only 47.

I first met Kathy in the fall of 1997, through a writing class conducted through the student union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I'd been inspired the year before to start writing again and had actually managed to finish the first draft of a fantasy novel (Day of All Seasons), which I proudly hauled with me to class. Every Tuesday evening for four weeks, I drove up from Beloit, WI, where I worked; grabbed a quick dinner at home in Janesville; and drove another forty miles up to Madison for class. After a three-hour session, I had to drive another forty miles back again and then get ready for work the next day. It made for a long day, and before committing to something like that you'd want to be sure it would be worth it. I knew it would be, though, because the instructor's name sounded familiar. Some quick research revealed she was a published author and that I'd already read two anthologies she'd edited. Feeling reassured, off I went.

Kathy turned out to be a 40-something woman with long brown hair. I mentioned during the first class that I'd read her work, and she seemed pleased. We reviewed a lot of information in our four class sessions, everything from the difference between fantasy and science fiction to market guides for stories and other resources. Many of the things she taught us were points I'd already read about in writing books, but it seemed to make a difference being able to discuss them with a professional writer. The last class was a workshop where I and my other classmates shared chapters or stories for comment. Everyone had a chance to comment on all the drafts, but I remember Kathy suggesting to me that I slow down the opening a bit to introduce the characters and setting before plunging the reader into events. I not only took her advice, but I went on to completely rewrite that story. And in the process of rewriting that draft, my writing reached a new level. I'm sure Kathy's class helped me improve my writing, along with her comments. I also learned that she'd taught this class before and that several of her students had formed a workshop. Unfortunately, I decided the drive was too long and too late at night to commit to regularly.

Luckily, that wasn't the last time I saw Kathy, though. She recommended in class that we attend science fiction conventions, so the next year I took her advice and went to WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention held every Memorial Day weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. While I was there, I met Kathy again. She not only remembered me but was pleased to hear I'd kept up with the writing. We met several times at other WisCons and other conventions -- a couple of WindyCons in Schaumberg, Illinois; ChiCon 2000, the World Science Fiction convention held in Chicago two years ago; and OddCons in Madison. She was a panelist at all of these conventions and signed books at some of them. Whenever I saw her name in the programming, I'd try to attend at least one of her panels so I could talk to her afterwards. We also sat together when we attended other panels and had lunch/dinner together a few times. She introduced me to other people she knew, and I became friends with another writer when I learned he was also a former student of hers. At last year's WindyCon, she and her husband Tom treated me to lunch and said I could treat them when I sold my first book. I wish I'd been able to return the favor.

Kathy and I also e-mailed each other sporadically. I asked her advice about submitting my work to publishers and how to follow up when they didn't respond in a reasonable time. She cheered when I received good news from agents and when "Move Over Ms. L." earned an Honorable Mention in an international contest; she also offered comfort when I received rejections. You may have noticed that I've had a link to her site for a few months. Earlier this year, I suggested we meet for lunch, but sadly the cancer and chemo had already sapped a lot of her energy. She seemed especially tired when I saw her at OddCon in April, but she seemed to be doing a little better at this year's WisCon.

Kathy was involved in more than just writing and teaching writing. She had degrees in astromony, physics, and geology and geophysics; her primary profession was as a research geologist. She was also interested in ancient Egypt, and several of her short stories use that setting. (Her interest in geology also showed up in her work.) She was also the former first lady of Verona, Wisconsin and supported her husband's work with local government.

Kathy's legacy in science fiction and fantasy is larger than it might appear to be if you simply consider her work, though she sold several short stories in addition to her two anthologies. She taught her writing seminar for several years; I don't know how many students she had, but there must be a few dozen at least. But perhaps her most far-reaching and enduring legacy will be the one coming from a panel she was on at WisCon a few years ago, when the panelists wondered if women writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror could have a group to support them the way women writers of westerns and mysteries do. That panel led to the founding of BroadUniverse, a non-profit group dedicated to promoting fantasy, science fiction, and horror written by women. Today their online discussion group has over 200 members and makes appearances at major cons across the country. At WisCon this year, I bought a couple of buttons to support them and gave Kathy one. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that it was through BroadUniverse that I learned of her passing.

Although I say on my "Passing the Pen" page that I'm proud to consider Kathy a mentor, I don't think I ever told her directly. I hope she knew, though. I plan to dedicate my first published book to her .

Kathy, if you can somehow see this from wherever you are now, I'd like to thank you for your advice and friendship. I hope you'll be accepted into the membership of HeavenCon with wide open arms.

List of Kathleen Massie-Ferch's Work (Taken From Her Website)

Anthologies (Editor):

Ancient Enchantresses, DAW Books, 1995

Warrior Enchantresses, DAW Books, 1996

Short Fiction

"A Touch Through Time," Past Imperfect, DAW Books, 2001

"An Admiral's Obsession," Future Wars, DAW Books, 2002

"Traces," Far Frontiers, DAW Books, 2000

"Gifts of Wonder and Darkness," New Amazons, DAW Books, 2000

"Touched By Moonlight and Sunshine," Merlin, DAW Books, 1999

"Moon Hunters," Moonshots, DAW Books, 1999

"Nine Springs," Sword and Scorceress XVI, DAW Books, 1999

"Warrior of Ma-at," Warrior Princesses, DAW Books, 1998

"The Cast of Cards," New Altars, Angelus Press, 1997

"Ancient Enchantresses of War," Ancient Enchantresses, DAW Books, 1995

"United Powers," Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Number 33.

"The Living Walls," Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Number 6.

"Prayers on the Night Wind," Romance and Beyond, Summer 1998

"To Dance the Music," Romance and Beyond, Spring 2000

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A-Z: John Lennon

I've blogged before about what makes John Lennon a compelling person, but I don't think I've discussed why he's my favorite Beatle.

I think I first bonded with John when I learned he was a writer. He wrote poems and short stories which were gathered into collections (In His Own Write, A Spaniard in the Works, and the posthumous Skywriting By Word of Mouth.) He often illustrated them with his own doodles. I have to admit that sometimes the only way I can follow his surreal puns is by tilting my mind sideways. Still, even if I can't always understand what John said, the fact that he wanted to write his ideas down too gives me common ground with him.

While my own childhood wasn't anything like John's, he felt different from anyone else around him--something I felt too. As I discussed in the post linked above, John had a complex, at times contradictory personality, which makes him a fascinating character study. John was also quite outspoken; I don't agree with everything he says, but often his words inspire further thought on a subject.

One of the things I've noticed during my years as a Beatle fan is that fans who have the same favorite Beatle often have similar traits in common. While I have friends who admire Paul and George (my husband says Ringo is his favorite), many of my fellow Beatle friends are also John fans. You can actually find Beatles personality tests online like this one, though results can vary.

Of course, I must post a video. This is "Dear Prudence," one of John's most beautiful songs:

Monday, April 11, 2011

A-Z: Indecision

After blogging about Hamlet on Saturday, it seems natural to discuss indecision. ;)

I don't consider myself an indecisive person. When I went shopping for my wedding dress, it only took me one session at one store to find it. I had gone there looking for a specific dress I saw in a magazine, but when I tried it on, it didn't suit me. After a few more dresses, the salesperson brought me a dress with light blue crystals that laced up the back, and I immediately knew that was the one. I tried it on, liked what I saw, and ordered it. I didn't regret giving up my first favorite dress, and I didn't second-guess myself by paging through more bridal magazines.

Trying to decide what route to take with my writing career is a more difficult choice. Twinned Universes is in the hands of two crit partners from the online workshop I belong to. I'm hoping they won't find too much to change, because I'm at the point where I've taken it as far as I can go on my own. I need to get it out of the door and move on to a new project. However, I've also written a novella-length prequel to Twinned Universes; I'm currently revising it to make sure they're consistent. I think that story is worth sharing too, but so far, I haven't found many potential markets for it. Even if I did sell it, I'm not sure how that would affect Twinned Universes. Would the audiences overlap? Should I just try to find an agent for my novel and then worry about the novella? Would it be worth using the novella as a teaser for the novel? Or should I self-publish both? Are they really ready for submission or publication?

Weighing the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing could be a separate post in itself. With recent examples of authors who move from one format to the other, the two types of publishing are no longer mutually exclusive. (Of course, that may be more true for best-selling authors than mid-list ones.) Ultimately what the choice comes down to is deciding what I really want from my career and which path is most likely to get me there. I'd like to say that finding readers who appreciate my work is most important, but is that enough? It would be nice too to get some validation from the general speculative fiction community, and that's more likely to happen if I go with a traditional publisher. Each side has strengths and weaknesses, and I need to weigh them carefully before I can move forward with confidence.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A-Z: Hamlet

I've been working on Twinned Universes for a long time, and it's undergone many revisions and title changes. But one thing that's been constant from the very start is its links to Hamlet. In fact, the first version of this story was called To Thine Own Self Be True, which is a line from Hamlet. I decided early on that my main character was an actor, and playing Hamlet seemed like the ultimate goal for his career. Plus, just as in Hamlet, a relative is suspected of killing another relative in my book.

I've done several things to strengthen the ties between Twinned Universes and Hamlet. In the current version of my novel, my main character, Paul, is actually appearing in Hamlet as a minor character at the beginning of the book. He gets inspiration from the play and quotes lines from in on several occasions. I've even borrowed some names from the play for one of my characters, although I've tweaked them so it's not too obvious.

As for Shakespeare's play, I've read it several times, but I don't recall studying it in my college Shakespeare course, and I've never seen it live. I have seen Kenneth Branagh's version on DVD and enjoyed it very much. Humm, it's only ten bucks on Amazon now. To buy or not to buy, that is the question....

Friday, April 08, 2011

A-Z Blog Chain: Get a Life!

I'm interpreting Cole's question a bit loosely so I can combine the Blog Chain and the A-Z Challenge into a single post. She asked us:

What hobbies, tips, or techniques do you have for keeping your writerly battery charged?

In other words, how do we get a life outside of writing?

I have to admit that what with work, taking care of the house/daily chores/my son, and writing, there's not much time left over for other hobbies. I've already discussed my Beatles obsession and crocheting for the A-Z challenge, so I don't want to do that again. I don't think playing Facebook games counts as a hobby either. However, my family does make sure to drag me away from the computer. I take Alex to the park or playdates, and when we're home, we read or play with his toys. My husband likes to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden or other attractions in the area. This year, I plan to plant a flower/vegetable garden in the backyard, though I'm a little worried that my thumb may be black instead of green.

Cole asked her question in the context of taking a break from the Internet. I admit I find the Internet too useful/entertaining to take a complete break from, but I try not to let it take over my life. For example, I don't use Twitter because I find it too difficult to keep up. I also plan to take a blogging vacation the first week of May; I think I'll need one after finishing this challenge!

Although it takes a lot of sitting down at the keyboard and banging out text to become a good writer, sometimes it's necessary to get out and live a little so that you have experiences to write about.

To follow the rest of the blog chain, check out Kat's and Kate's posts.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A-Z: Freedom and Fellowship

Readers, what are you looking for when you read a story? Is it escape, love, exotic adventures, or something else? Writers, what wishes are you trying to fulfill with your fiction?

There are two themes I see over and over in my work: freedom and fellowship. What can be more precious than the freedom to choose your own work, your love, your destiny? I think this theme is most developed in my Lyon's Line stories ("Lyon's Legacy," originally titled "Move Over Ms. L.," and Twinned Universes, which I've also referred to here as Across Two Universes.). The protagonists of those stories are burdened by being descendants of a legendary musician. Everyone else expects them to pursue music too, even though they have their own interests. The theme shows up in other works too. In my Season Lords trilogy, a young woman must free herself from her father's repressive culture. One of the reasons shapeshifters interest me is that their abilities give them a special kind of freedom.

Experiences are more fun if they're shared, and stories are more interesting if the protagonists has companions to share his/her trials. Sidekicks can serve many functions in a story: they can help or betray a hero, add comic relief, or even just give the heroine someone to talk to. I've written two different stories, one fantasy and the other science fiction, in which a group of four has to work together to solve a problem. The groups are different; one is a quartet of four young women with magical abilities, while the other is a mixed group in which only one person has a special talent (though he needs the help of the other three to fully use it.) Although there's conflict among the people in each group, each quartet is like a close-knit family. (And yes, if you read my Beatles entry on Saturday, the groups are inspired by the Fab Four themselves.)

Freedom and fellowship are two needs people must fulfill to be happy. While books aren't a substitute for real life, I hope my stories will one day help others feel more complete.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A-Z: Eugene

Who else could I use for the letter "E" but Eugene, my husband?

I met Eugene when we were college sophomores. I knew his roommate through chemistry class, and through him I met Eugene and several other college friends I still keep in touch with. I'd go to their dorm for late-night card games, and Eugene would walk me back home. We used to have three-hour phone conversations; good thing dorm-to-dorm calls were free. He got the nickname "eugenol" from a chemical found in cloves. One time, to get back at him for not responding to my puns, I hid cloves everywhere in his dorm room. He saved some of them and put them on my birthday cake.

Less than a week after that, after talking in the dorm hallway all night, Eugene asked me to go out with him. I gave him a definite "maybe."

It took another fourteen years, many of them long-distance, before Eugene proposed to me. (It was at Cloudgate, or "The Bean" in Chicago, after we'd seen Spamalot and had dinner at the Berghoff.) I made him wait for his answer, and it was a pretty definite one. ;)

We joke sometimes that no one else would have taken either of us, but that's OK. I think we suit each other just fine.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A-Z: Door to Door Organics

If you like organic food and want to support local farmers without leaving your house, then Door to Door Organics might be for you. They are a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) active in five U.S. regions (see the website for specific details). Each week, they bring a box of organic fruits and vegetables to your door. You can choose the size of the box and what you want (fruits, vegetables, or both). They also allow you to make substitutions. We've been using their service for a couple of months now and like it. The quality is good, and the price seems reasonable. Since it's not possible to grow some types of produce year-round in the Chicago area, some of the food does come from California or even Mexico. I expect that we'll be getting more local food in the summer.

Every month, I get five referrals to give to friends so they can get their first box half off. If you live in one of the supported regions and would like to try this service, please leave your e-mail in the Comment section below. First come, first served.

Monday, April 04, 2011

A-Z: Crocheting

Thanks for all the comments and follows so far! I'm slowly working my way through the list. I've only visited about 50 sites so far, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Please be patient.

Anyway, today's topic is crochet. My mother used to crochet when I was a girl. She tried to teach me, but since I'm left-handed and my mom's right-handed, we couldn't figure out how to do it. In my twenties, I taught myself how to crochet from books. Ironically, since all of the patterns are written for right-handers, I figured it would be easier to crochet right-handed. Over the years, I've made sweaters, baby presents, slippers, and more. I even made the ring-bearer's pillow for my wedding. That was the first time I used crochet thread (which is much thinner than regular yarn), so it was a challenging project; I had to redo parts of it. Here are some other things I've made:

This is my first afghan.

This is the layette set I made for Alex. I think he wore it once for pictures, but he only fit into it for a very short time.

Currently, I'm making a steam engine for Alex. It's out of crochet thread. I'm crocheting each piece separately, and they'll be assembled around a canvas frame that'll be stuffed with fiberfill. I hope he likes his "yarn train" when it's done. Unfortunately, some of the thread was the wrong gauge, but I didn't realize that until I was nearly done with the first piece, so I had to start over. I currently have all the parts for the frame crocheted (though I still have to sew them to the canvas frame), along with the smokebox; now I'm working on the boiler. I'll post a picture of the engine when it's finally done.

Does anyone else out there crochet?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A-Z: The Beatles

The Beatles are an obvious "B" subject for me. (Of course, there's always that great song of theirs called "Letter B"...oh wait, that's Sesame Street.)

Most Beatles fans I know became fans as teenagers. Although I do remember listening to Sgt. Pepper at a friend's house during high school, my "conversion" happened later, when I was twenty-five. At the time, I was working at a job I didn't enjoy very much, and Eugene and I were in a long-distance relationship. Although I'd written a novel during my internship, I wasn't actively writing at the time. Then the Beatles Anthology aired during the week of Thanksgiving. I'd heard there would be a new song, so even though I was only a casual fan, I watched the first episode. "Free as a Bird" stuck in my head, keeping me company at my dreary job. I watched the rest of the series, and before I knew it, I was hooked.

I've been a fan now for over fifteen years. In that time, I've become friends with other Beatles fans, written stories inspired by their four-fold synergy, collected three shelves' worth of Beatle books, memorized dialogue from the movies, seen Paul and Ringo perform, laid flowers in Strawberry Fields in Central Park for John, grieved for George's passing, and had my picture taken outside Abbey Road studios. I've played their music to cheer me up when I've down and to celebrate special events, such as my wedding. John once sang that he didn't believe in Beatles, and I realize though they were very gifted, they were also human. But they helped me reclaim my writing, and I am forever grateful for that gift.

Of course, I have to end this post with a song. Here's one of their more obscure ones that deserves more airplay:

Friday, April 01, 2011

A-Z: Alaska

Welcome to April, the A-Z month on this and many other blogs! Here's hoping April won't be the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot said. I'll be skipping Ten Word Tuesdays and the Week in Science for the duration of the challenge, but I plan to participate in the Blog Chain, even if I have to sneak in extra posts to do so. I would also like to thank Rachael and the other judges for voting my alien restaurant critic the runner-up in the Second Crusader Challenge. Congrats to Bess, the overall winner!

To start the A-Z Challenge off, I thought I'd share some pictures I took on my honeymoon. My husband and I cruised to Alaska. We saw bald eagles, whales, and glaciers; learned how they fished for crabs (and ate some); panned for gold; rode along the White Pass train route; and more. I had a brand new digital camera, and not all my pictures turned out well. Here are some that did.

This house used to be a brothel during the Gold Rush. (I'm sure my parents were thrilled when they got the postcard from me saying I'd been to a brothel.) I think this was in Ketchican.

My husband after panning for gold near Juneau. Despite his elated pose, we didn't strike it rich.

I had to include this one for my son. This is the train we rode through the White Pass. My son occasionally likes to watch the DVD we bought of the trip.

Here we are on one of the old cabooses.

Mountain scenery.

Has anyone else been to Alaska? If so, what were your impressions?

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