Welcome to my blog!

I'm a divorced mom with a teenage daughter and two pre-teen sons. Writing is my first love. When I'm not writing or working or playing taxi to the kids, I also toy with photography and baking.

So, basically, my camera rarely sees the light of day and my mixer stands in the corner in permanent time-out.

To see some samples of my writing, you can check out my website: www.csrickard.com

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blogging Down Time

I know I've been absent from the blog the past month and I apologize. I'm in some crunch mode with both work and writing until mid-April. I'm also hoping to have my website re-designed by then. When that happens, I plan on moving my blog to my website, so everything's in one place. I'll post when I'm about ready to transfer everything so that you all know.

Thanks for being patient!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amazon Response

Amazon posted a response to the reaction of pulling MacMillan's books. While I'm not convinced on what the price for e-books should be, I do think that the market should decide. What is expensive to one person, could be reasonable to another and cheap to someone else. A major fan of an author is more than willing to pay a few more dollars to read the e-book version when it's released than waiting several months for the price to drop. The choice is theirs. Like everything else in a free market society, the price paid on newly released items are ALWAYS more expensive than the price on that same item months later. This happens in every industry, whether it's books, cars, clothing, movies. It's expected. Amazon makes it sound as if charging more for a new release is somehow duping the readers. If the readers don't like the price, they don't have to pay it. They can wait and buy it cheaper, like they do with every other item in every other industry. This is not about looking out for the customer, it's about a threat to Amazon's market share on e-books.

John Scalzi wrote an absolutely beautiful summary of this past weekend. I laughed from point 2 through the end. You've got to read it!

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/01/all-the-many-ways-amazon-so-very-failed-the-weekend/


Below is the quote from Publisher's Weekly:



Amazon Answers: "Ultimately....We Will Have to Capitulate"
Could publishers have triumphed so quickly with their strategy to use Apple's entry into the market to move to an agency model for selling ebooks? (Note that the etailer says "ultimately." Immediately after posting this "announcement," disabled Macmillan buy buttons had not been restored yet.) Early Sunday evening, The Amazon Kindle team has just posted this to a forum on their site:



Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

As reported previously here, other major publishers do in fact have plans for pursuing "the same route," so this may be just the first chapter.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good-bye Amazon

I have been an Amazon customer almost since they were on-line. I signed up for Amazon Prime membership the first month it was offered and have had it on automatic renewal ever since. I also own a kindle. Yesterday, however, I was shocked and angry at the bullish tactics Amazon used when MacMillan wanted to alter the pricing structure of its e-books. The New York Times has a summary of what happened here. Publisher's Lunch carried a letter from MacMillan explaining what had happened.

Essentially, Amazon yanked all MacMillan books, which includes Tor, in both e-book and paper formats from their website. However, they do still allow third party vendors to sell these books through Amazon.

There has been a flurry of blogs and responses by authors as a result. Here are some of my favorites:

http://www.sfwa.org/2010/01/why-my-books-are-no-longer-available-on-amazon-com/
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/01/30/a-quick-note-on-ebook-pricing/
http://jaylake.livejournal.com/2042910.html
http://suricattus.livejournal.com/1200903.html
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/01/amazon-macmillan-an-outsiders.html

I think John Scalzi and Charlie Stross' posts sum up my thoughts on this matter quite nicely.

In a free market society, Amazon has the right to pull or sell whatever they want. However, their goal has been to monopolize e-books and eventually force publishers to sell their books to Amazon on Amazon's terms, not the other way around. From my understanding, all of their e-books priced at $9.99 are sold at a loss to them. They have been taking this financial hit to sell more kindles and garner the largest market share in that area. The kindle, unlike most other e-readers is DRM (restricted format). With enough market share, they could turn to the publishers and force them to lower their prices to meet Amazon's model.

With Apple entering the picture, Amazon has a viable competitor where it really didn't before. Whether you like Apple or not is irrelevant. The point is Apple has a huge following and is capable of bringing more pressure to bear on Amazon than Sony or B&N.

Also, MacMillan was willing to keep the old pricing model they had with Amazon. Their only caveat would be that they would not release the e-book version until several months after the hard copy version (meaning paper or hardback). In this way, the $9.99 e-book price would not divert from the revenue generated from a new release.

Amazon didn't like it because doing so would allow people who wanted to buy the new release to pay full-price for the hard copy and not an immediate discounted price for an e-book.

This is no different than any other industry. It is not only accepted, but expected, that new releases will ALWAYS cost more than the same product purchased later on. You see this with movies, cars, televisions, everything.

Authors and publishers have a right to make a living as best they can. Amazon's efforts thus far have been to turn books in the equivalent of drive-thru creations. Demeaning the time and talent it took to create the books.

Just as it's their right to sell what they want. It's my right to take my business elsewhere and it's the publisher's right not to give in to Amazon's terms.


I gave Amazon the benefit of the doubt during the Amazon Fail fiasco (in which gay/lesbian books mysteriously vanished). While I didn't approve of their method, I did understand their reason for removing copies of 1984 from kindles when that occurred. I've watched as publishers fretted of the lower and lower prices of new releases while Amazon, and later WalMart and Target, got into a pricing war. Like everyone else, I love to save money. However, one of the best ways to save money in a free economy is through competition. Let supply and demand set the price. If people think it's too expensive, they won't pay. But if they are never given the choice, then you'll never know what the price could be. Amazon's decision to drop MacMillan because they didn't want to test the market by altering e-book pricing was the last straw. Amazon has lost my business. For those interested, I cancelled my Amazon Prime membership as well as the two pre-orders. Instead, I purchased them through my new account at Powells.com.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fantasy Novels and the Next Generation of e-Readers

I just read Nathan's post about Apple's iTablet. His one comment had my mind racing with ideas:
Who will be the first author with an animated cover? Will people crave enhanced e-books or do people want their e-books to remain static and moving-part free? 
Personally, I buy books to read, not to 'play' them. However, with the advent of color graphics and Apple stepping in to the mix, the future of e-readers does provide some really interesting possibilities, particularly in fantasy. Many fantasy fans love their maps. Having a map in a book doesn't make me like it anymore. I read it for the story and a map is nice to glance at once in awhile. Perhaps because I deal with maps for a living I'm a bit jaded by their allure. Regardless, with the use of a sophisticated e-reader, a fantasy author could really expand on their appeal to readers. Many fantasy fans love role-playing and gaming. I could easily envision and interactive world map on some fancy, new e-reader.

Wouldn't a fan love to be able to click on a city in the map and see the type of beings native to that region with links to a glossary of which characters in the book are this species? Perhaps with a pop-up explaining the environment, political system, dominant export, alliances, etc of the city in question.

And instead of a fan constantly flipping back to a map, what if every city and region in the novel had a link that, when selected, would produce a pop up of that part of the map?

The map itself could also get enhanced with rivers flowing and waves crashing against the shore. How about some transparent mist hovering over some mountains or fields of tall grass blowing in the wind?

And what about the characters in the book? What if the end of each chapter had a map that would expand to show each of the characters in that chapter and where they physically are on the map? How far had the made it and how much further do they have to go? If the scene included a battle, would the reader like to see the slain enemy lying behind them on the trail?

I realize this type of 'book' muddies the line between novel and game, but they are still distinct. The book would become interactive, but not open-ended. The reader is limited to following the author's goal and focus. They cannot alter the story in any way. It's simply a matter of animating parts of the book.

This type of novel would also create some new revenue streams and job opportunities. No longer would artists be restricted to cover art. They would need to create images of every species in the book as well as one for each specific character. I don't know enough about graphics and artists to know if the same artists who design covers would also be able to do these new drawings. For something like this, a gaming designer/artist may be better suited. There is also the software needed to animate the graphics and link to the relevant passages, words, chapters within the book.

This, of course, will not appeal to everyone. The nice thing about this is that the e-book could be offered in two versions: standard or animated. The price would need to reflect the difference, but what an opportunity?! As depressing as publishing news has been in recent years, there are so many exciting new changes that I'm really happy I'm writing at this point in publishing history.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Everyone Writes Differently

I've been working on my novel for several years now. Most of that time was half-hearted effort as my job, house and kids took up so much of my time. As I mentioned in this post, for the first time I can remember, I now have time to myself. I wasted quite a bit of last year trying to figure out what to do with myself (don't laugh, it's not as easy as you'd think). However, towards the end of the year I started getting the hang of it. Most of my free weekends I now spend on my novel. I've had the time to actually look at and evaluate my writing process and I've discovered a few things.

I have tunnel vision when I write. What I mean is that I get so focused on the action of the scene from the characters POV, I have a difficult time backing out of that POV to create the visuals. For example, when I'm in my character's head and moving through a scene, I only see what they see. I write what the character is doing or saying, showing as much as I can remember to do, but the scenery remains barren.

Once I finish writing a scene, I then need to go back and go through it all again. This time, I don't write from the main character's viewpoint. Instead, I step back and describe the details of what's surrounding her. I've repeatedly tried to write both simultaneously and I simply can't do it. I know what's there, but it doesn't come out in words when I'm in 'character mode.' At least not yet. Perhaps, with practice, I'll be able to switch back and forth, but for now, I sink so deep in the character, that it simply isn't possible for me to go back and forth between the two.

Another thing I've discovered is that I'm pretty good with dialogue. It's definitely my strength. Speech is something that I've always had an ear for, as they say. I took French in high school and college and that language always came natural to me, if that makes any sense. I don't get the chance to speak it very often and have forgotten most of the grammar and vocabulary, but when I do converse with a native speaker, they almost always think I'm a native speaker or compliment me on my accent. Of course, if I have to say more than a few words, then it's obvious I'm not French! My point, however, is that I've always been able to listen to a native speaker of another language and duplicate very closely what they said. I've done this with many languages. I think whatever it is that let's me here small changes in intonation or accent is what allows me to write good dialogue.

It's nice to know there's at least one thing I don't have to work too hard at when I write!

There are also more than a few areas in which I'm weak. The big one is senses. I do okay when describing visual scenes, but I struggle when incorporating the other senses. Usually it's because I forget to do it. Regardless, this is one area that I've noticed the tunnel vision I described above, doesn't happen to that degree here. I do tend to focus just on the scenery and images, but when I remember to expand beyond sight I can write the other senses in that same frame of mind. It's just a matter of forcing my brain to make it a normal function of writing instead of an afterthought.

With these new insights, I've decided to try a different approach to writing this year. At least until I can determine whether or not it works better for me. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I completely re-wrote chapter two, about 17 pages, in a day. All of that writing was in what I'll call character mode. Tonight I'll go back through it and fill in the scenery and background images. I think taking a two pronged approach will work much better for me. It allows me to get the scene written without fighting myself every few paragraphs to write descriptions. Yesterday was the most I've ever written in a day, and I did staying completely in character mode. I felt better about it. The story unfolded easily. I actually had a few more details creep in that I hadn't thought about as I let my character take the reins of what she wanted to do.

If this works out like I hope it does, it shouldn't take 2 years to finish the book, which is what I'm estimating based on my old process. I'm certainly not going to rush it. I want the book to be the best that I can make it, but if I can do that and finish early...oh yeah!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Creating Fantasy Worlds

I love the creative process. I really do.

I can't convey the high I get when I'm writing or thinking through a scene and all of a sudden my mind takes off! It focuses on one, little kernel of information and sprints through a maze of thoughts morphing, merging and creating new variations or themes until it finally stops. Heart pumping with anticipation, I grab the new thought before it vanishes, then stand in awe at the evolution of that one little kernel that started it all.

I find it an absolutely amazing experience.

The process of writing is a fascinating one. Many people outline scenes or create one-line statements per chapter to keep them on target. I simply can't do that. If I did, my mind and creativity would whither and blow away.

I definitely fall into the second category. Those who sit down with a blank screen (or paper, depending upon your medium of choice) with a general idea. In my case, I knew the overall story I wanted to tell, and I knew how it would end. In fact, I had the end clearly envisioned in my mind before I wrote a single word.

Writing the first draft was like test driving a new car in a new country. I didn't know the roads, but I knew how to drive, where I wanted to go and generally how to get there. Along the way I found which roads were dead-ends, which ones were really windy and took me too far out of the way, and which ones took a bit longer, but the scenery was beautiful and well worth the extra travel time. I met some wonderful people on those roads as well as those I'd rather forget.

The first revision I thought would simply be an effort of cutting out the dead-ends and wayward routes and focusing on the direct path with a few scenic detours along the way.

That isn't all that's happening.

As I revise, images and details are emerging in my head that didn't exist before. I'm discovering a depth to the cultures I'm writing about. A history is emerging I wasn't aware of, along with some interesting myths and beliefs. The more I write, the more solid my characters become. I'm noticing quirks in them that I don't remember creating. Attitudes and prejudices are becoming more substantial.

They are becoming real.

But now I wonder...isn't hearing a bunch of voices in your head called schizophrenia? Maybe that's only if you aren't a writer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Emotional WWII Experience Through Sand

Yesterday my mother sent me a link to a youtube video. Her comments were, "this is amazing!"
I read the intro included with the link and then watched the video. I am posting this to tell you that my mother's assessment was grossly understated.

The topic is WWII, and below is the intro text to read before watching the video. The artist is so engrossed and passionate with each move she makes and that intensity carries over into her art, easily moving the audience to tears.

I realize my focus is writing speculative fiction, or fantasy, but I would love to elicit this kind of connection with my readers. I think the ultimate achievement of any artist is to be able to touch someone deep inside through their work; to have that person walk away with a piece of your art forever in their hearts or minds. What greater compliment can there be?

Below is the text that introduces this artist:

"This video shows the winner of " Ukraine’s Got Talent", Kseniya Simonova, 24, drawing a series of pictures on an illuminated sand table showing how ordinary people were affected by the German invasion during World War II. Her talent, which admittedly is a strange one, is mesmeric to watch.


The images, projected onto a large screen, moved many in the audience to tears and she won the top prize of about £75,000.

She begins by creating a scene showing a couple sitting holding hands on a bench under a starry sky, but then warplanes appear and the happy scene is obliterated.

It is replaced by a woman’s face crying, but then a baby arrives and the woman smiles again. Once again war returns and Miss Simonova throws the sand into chaos from which a young woman’s face appears.

She quickly becomes an old widow, her face wrinkled and sad, before the image turns into a monument to an Unknown Soldier.


This outdoor scene becomes framed by a window as if the viewer is looking out on the monument from within a house.

In the final scene, a mother and child appear inside and a man standing outside, with his hands pressed against the glass, saying goodbye.

The Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Ukraine, resulted in one in four of the population being killed with eight to 11 million deaths out of a population of 42 million.  



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who needs profanity?

It amazes me how much we take for granted when communicating. I knew writing fantasy would require world building, and I knew that would mean creating worlds, religions, creatures, even languages if I wanted to get really fancy. What I hadn't thought through was the impact of words within culture.

Yes, words, not language.

Our use of expressions and slang link us to a culture, region and sometimes even a city. They give us the ability to express strong emotions using only a word or phrase. Sometimes the word used not only announces are feelings to those around us, but helps ease the intensity of emotion.

The most obvious example is profanity.

How many times has something bad happened and you simply said, "shit!" 

With one word, everyone within hearing distance instantly knows something went wrong. They don't need any more information than that one word. What's more, the anger and frustration that had built up until you said the word has now lessoned a bit. Had you ever noticed that? Swearing aloud has some kind of cathartic release linked to it. Whether it's the word itself, or the emotions we attribute to the word's use, once said, those emotions go with the word. Not all of them, of course, but there is an immediate drop in tension within your body.

How and why does that happen? Or, more to my current dilemma and this post, how do I make-up words or sayings that can create that same kind of impact in my world?

Creating new swear words isn't as easy as you'd think. I've been play around with words and phrases a bit the past few days. At first, I thought the power of the word was purely what we associate to it. However, after trying out a few words, I've discovered that the anatomy of the word is equally as important as the meaning it represents. Words and phrases have a flow to them; a feel that matches the emotion. I'm not sure how else to discribe it as I find it very subtle. Regardless, just randomly throwing some letters together and calling that a swear word simply doesn't work. It sounds just like what it is: random letters thrown together to create a new word. There is no impact with it. No power in it's use.

A few of the phrases I've created are linked to the world and I like them. I like they way the sound and the way the feel when said. However, swear words a much more difficult. I can't rely on multiple words that I can link to something negative in the world. I need to create power where it doesn't exist, from a world that doesn't exist, and make it real to the reader. They need to feel the emotional buildup prompting them to want to say the word. And they need to experience the emotional release when they read the word and hear it in their head. Not an easy task.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm in a cooking mood!

I recently purchased the Conscious Cook, by Tal Ronnen. It's a gourmet vegan cookbook and boy do I love it. Santa also gave me two Le Creuset pieces for Christmas this year: a 3.5 quart dutch oven and a 10 inch skillet. I've been using them quite a bit so far and love the look and feel of them. I got them on sale at the outlet store. They're expensive, even when on sale, but from what I've read, they are well worth the money. I'm planning on adding a saucier for next Christmas.

The first dish I tried was the chicken piccata. It called for Gardein chicken scallopini breasts. I couldn't believe how quick and easy this dish was to put together. I had it finished before my baby blue potatoes were done roasting! And the taste was fantastic. I can't wait to make this for my kids.

I made the Paella over the weekend and it turned out amazing. I used oyster mushrooms sauted with ground, toasted nori sheets to give it some seafood flavor. I was excited because I rarely see fresh oyster mushrooms, but Sweetbay had some so I snagged them for this dish. They were so tender and juicy.

Yesterday I tried a vegan version of boeuf bourginon. I used a meat-based recipe, but substituted Gardein beef tips for the real beef. I guessed on the cooking time since I didn't need to cook my 'beef,' but it still came out very nice. I used the recipe from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It included her recipe for sauted mushrooms, which I could have eaten right out of the saute pan. They were that good. The one thing I'll probably omit next time is the bacon. I used a vegan bacon sauted in butter, which I think is meant to impart a smoky flavor. However, since going vegetarian, I can't stand the smell of real bacon and can tolerate the vegan version in small doses. I'll drop that from the next batch I make, and reduce the cooking time to only an hour or so. That should make it about perfect for me.

I also made a vanilla bean panna cotta with orange sauce for dessert. I was so tickled with how that came out. It was rich and creamy and vanilla-y (yes, that's a word). And it was totally VEGAN! I've really missed my custard style desserts.  I'm going to play with a vegan flan recipe today or tomorrow.

I absolutely love to cook. If only I had enough people to eat what I make! Oh well, that's what kids are for, right?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One Year Anniversary

It's been one year since I seperated from my ex-husband and moved into my own house. Sometimes it feels like so long ago and other times it feels like I just got here! Even after a year, I still find myself stopping on the stairs or maybe in the kitchen and simply smiling.

I am so much happier now.

One of the counselors we saw before I decided to get a divorce asked me if I could live without a husband. She said most woman immediately say yes, but really don't understand what it would be like. I was thoroughly confused by the question and statement.

I had been married for 17 years (and engaged for 2 years) and the bulk of my ex-husband's contribution to our relationship was a paycheck, although I made almost as much as he did before starting my own company. This isn't a bashing post, nor do I intend for it to read as such. Rather, I've learned a lot this past year and the only way to appreciate these lessons learned is by understanding my experience.

I am an enabler. I suspected this only two years ago, but didn't really see it for what it was until this past year.

My enabling experience started as a child of an alcoholic father. I learned early on to make sure nothing went wrong when my father came home as his drinking tended to accentuate his already short temper. My mother wound up on the receiving end of most of my father's jokes and chiding, although she always took it well and never seemed to mind. I never heard her complain or defend herself.

My father didn't do any housework. That was a woman's job. The fact that my mother also worked full-time was irrelevant. One time I ruined a batch of ice tea I had been making. I remember my father's exact words, "what kind of wife are you going to make if you can't even make a batch of ice tea?!" I never responded with what I wanted to say. You never "back-talked" to my father. Instead, I swallowed my reply, dumped out the burnt tea bags, washed the pot, and started all over again.

Equal rights has always been a point of contention with me, I suppose because of my father. My sister still makes fun of me when it comes to gender stereotypes and behavior. For example, my daughter never owned a barbie, although both of my nieces had them. As far as I'm concerned, Barbie is a man's play toy. My daughter did, however, have a baby doll. She received it for Christmas the same year she received a fire truck. Yes, both were from me.

Being the oldest meant I was responsible for everything my brother and sister did while I was in charge. I started being in charge in fourth grade. If they did something wrong and I couldn't fix it before my father got home, whoever did it and I were both punished. I always hated that. Unfortunately, it taught me to do everything myself.

Obviously, my perception of marriage was far less than ideal. As an adult I shoved away everything I wanted from a marriage, thinking I was completely selfish, and instead settled for what I thought a marriage was supposed to be like. My ex wasn't an alcoholic, although he did have a temper to match my father's. He was well educated and good looking. We met the month I turned 20. At the time, I felt lucky that he even liked me.

I think it was his temper that triggered my enabling instincts. Or maybe they just never went away after going to college. Whatever the reason, I soon settled into a routine whereby I did my best not to get him angry. He rarely got angry at anything I did, but would often come home upset at something else. Whenever he did get angry, he usually took it out on me. He never hit me or anything, but he would yell and sometimes throw things. If he seemed to have a bad day at work, I wouldn't risk setting him off by asking him to help out with the housework. Yes, I was a wuss. It's odd, because I've stood up for other people's feelings and rights numerous times, but when it comes to my own, I cave faster than you can blink.

My problem quickly escalated to include all aspects of our lives: housework, meals, finances, home/car maintenance, etc. I handled everything related to our lives. Everything. Until our last year together, he didn't even know how many bank accounts we had. He had only ever cooked a handful of meals in all our years together. I used to try to discuss things like retirement plans or new car purchases with my ex, but he was never interested. It was simply easier for me to do it all. And he was very content to let me.
 
This past year I've had to walk him through ordering phone service to his house, setting up new services on his wireless account, and explaining to him who to talk to about his life insurance. The last half of 2008 and the first three months of 2009 my stress level was through the roof. I didn't know how to unwind and let go. I kept worrying if the kids were okay at his house. Were they eating? Did they make the bus? Is he dropping them off at school too early? Did he check the boy's homework?
 
It took a long time for me to finally let go.
 
Now, I enjoy the weeks I have with my kids, but I also enjoy the weeks they are at their dad's. It's the first time I can remember that I have time to myself. I can now pick up and do something and not have to worry about schedules and kids. It's liberating to realize that I am a mother, but I also have a life of my own. Of course, now I have to actually make a life! (that's the goal for 2010)

The guilt of not missing the kids when they're at their dad's is gone. The guilt of not being there to ease my ex into his own life is gone as well. Now there's just my life and what I want to do with it.

The year taught me that I really did do far more than I should have in my marriage. It wasn't a good relationship for either myself or my ex. I knew before the divorce that I could live without a husband. What I have to learn now, is how to live with one.

The other thing I learned is that I won't settle again. I may not need a husband, but I won't settle for someone who isn't my best friend and lover. Finally, it took me 20 years to realize that wanting a caring and supportive mate is neither selfish nor unrealistic. It is also something I deserve just as much as the next person.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TGIF

I am SO glad this week is just about over. It's been worse than usual, and I didn't have any holiday shopping I was trying to cram into it either! I mentioned that this past weekend was the first baking I've done this month. I had intended to spread the rest out over the evenings and have it all done by Thursday.

Well that didn't happen.

As it turns out, my kids conspired against me. Sean and Jess double whammied me within 30 minutes of picking each of them up from school. First, Sean announced that his science fair project is due this Friday. This is the same project about which I've asked at least twice in the past six weeks (yes, that's 6 weeks) and was told it's not due "for a long time." We had to run to Target to buy him a black outfit (dress shirt, pants, socks and dress shoes) for his handbells and chimes concert Thursday evening. Target didn't have the two things we needed for his project: magnets and a spring scale.

Then Jess informed me that we needed to run to her Dad's Monday evening to pick up her band shirt because she needed it for the concert Tuesday evening.

"Concert? What concert?!"

"I forgot to tell you. We have a concert Tuesday night."

"Great." This week was going downhill fast, and it was only Monday!

Wednesday Richard had his last track meet and they all had a half day of school. (Why they need a half day of school two days before leaving for a two week holiday is beyond me.) He's also assistant senior patrol leader for his boy scout troop and had to attend a planning meeting Thursday evening, right before Sean's concert.

We ended up with packed evenings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. I had client work during the day and couldn't sneak out to get anything done till Thursday. I spent Thursday morning making three different kinds of breads: cranberry-orange, pumpkin-chocolate chip, and white chocolate-raspberry. I also made the final batch of truffles: dark chocolate-raspberry.  I went out over lunch and found a bunch of holiday boxes discounted and snagged about 20 of them. I also found a store that sold magnets for Sean's project, but they and everyone else were out of spring scales, so Sean borrowed one from his teachers. We were up till 11:30 doing his project. I'm not one of those parents that does my son's work for him. He had to do everything himself except type it up. He wrote the words and I typed it up for him just because he can't type yet.

I got up this morning and loaded eight gift boxes for Jess and Sean to take to school. Got home and filled another seven for Richard to take to school. When Richard got out of the car at school, I let out a huge sigh. Finally, time to breath!

I'm feeling the stress again just writing about this week!

With any luck, work the next two weeks will be slow and I can get caught up on my writing. (fingers, toes, arms and legs all crossed!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's been how long since my last blog post?!

Two weeks? Sheesh. Sorry!

The odd thing is that I actually start Christmas shopping in August and try and get most, if not all, of it finished by Thanksgiving. The theory behind this is that by December, I'll be able to relax and enjoy the month as opposed to running around the stores and internet like the majority of frantic holiday shoppers. Of course, my theory was established before my kids started having lives of their own. Now with band, track and boy scouts on top of regular work and school functions, I find that my December is just as busy without the shopping.

Last weekend was the first time this month I've had the opportunity to do some baking. I made sandtarts and sugar cookies with my sons. Sean helped me with the first batch of truffles, but quickly bailed when he realized how time-consuming they are to make. That didn't stop either of them from adding to their list of people for gift boxes though. Jess and Sean combined only need 7 boxes/tins of goodies to give to teachers, coaches, bus drivers, etc. Richard can't just pick a favorite teacher or two. He needs to give them to all of his teachers. And since he's now in middle school with a different teacher for each subject, that means he needs 7 boxes/tins for gifts. Oh joy!

I've got to keep an eye on my truffle count though, as Jess has been known to sneak into the kitchen and snag one from the fridge. She's also been hovering over me the past two days asking when I'm going to make the breads. She loves the white chocolate raspberry mini-bread loaves I make. She doens't seem to hear the part of my reply that includes "they're for the gift boxes."

I don't mind. All of this is what makes holiday memories.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A travel blog by my car (it wasn't happy with my destination)

When my owner decided to visit her sister in Pennsylvania, I thought I'd enjoy the miles on the open road. She took me to the dealer where I was well oiled, lubed and washed before the trip. She even bought me new wiper blades!

We left Tuesday morning at 6:20. I handled the roads and traffic as smoothly as I always do and we arrived seventeen hours later. The weather was cold, but I could handle the weather just as well as any of those northern cars. I noticed right away I was the only hybrid around, not that I was counting or anything.

Pulling into the  gravel driveway was when my dream of a relaxing vacation bit the dust. My owner parked me under a huge tree with a bunch of big leaves. This looked nothing like the friendly palm sitting beside my garage back home. I think the tree was diseased or something. All of its leaves were different colors. Not brown or green, like you'd expect, but instead yellow and red and orange. Whatever it had, I hope it isn't contagious to cars. I lost the count of the number of colored leaves that fell on me while I was parked there.

As if freaky colored leaves weren't enough to worry about, some animal kept prowling around me all night long. It was dark and because my owner was asleep in the house, I didn't have my headlights on and couldn't see it clearly. I just knew it had fur and didn't make a sound when it walked. At one point I felt it drop onto my hood. If I had a voice I would have screamed! It walked all over my clean hood and up my windshield. I could just feel the dirty little paw prints it left.

I had to sit there and endure diseased leaves and freaky little creatures for two whole days before my owner even remembered she brought me along. Finally she decided to use me. She drove her sister to some stores Friday morning. I didn't care where we went as long as it was paved and didn't have any animals crawling on vehicles. I had finally relaxed with the errands until she decided to drive me up a steep hill that was supposed to be a road. It was barely wider than a parking space and very poorly paved. Muddy shoulders covered in clumps of brown leaves followed the little path (I refuse to acknowledge it as a road) around a bend at the top of the hill. Then she drove me through a mud puddle into another gravel driveway. A MUD puddle! I couldn't believe it. I could feel dirty water dripping off my undercarriage and mucking up my wheels. And what is with all the gravel driveways?! Haven't these people ever heard of concrete?

When she parked me back under the diseased tree, I let out a sigh. Then I realized I was actually glad to be back under the tree. I knew at that point we had to leave for home soon or I was going to go mad. Luckily she heard me (or at least that's what I want to believe happened) because she loaded me up Saturday morning and we left for home.

I don't ever want to see another colored leaf, gravel driveway, mud puddle or untamed cat again in my life! What a nightmare!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Musically ingorant

I haven't quite figured out how it happened yet, but I somehow ended up with three kids who all love music. Not just listening to music, but playing it. This is strange because I have no musical talent whatsoever and neither does their father. Elementary schools now teach kids how to read music. This was something they didn't do when I was a kid. In fact, I still can't read music.

Our musical journey began when Jess was in sixth grade and wanted to play the flute. She has since expanded to play alto sax and baritone sax. She's also the drum major for her high school band. Then there's Richard who took a year of violin lessons in elementary school before switching to handbells and chimes for two years. He hasn't had music yet in middle school, but is looking forward to it. He still hasn't figured out which instrument he wants to play though. Sean has been begging for a drum set for several years. If you knew my youngest, you would understand that he doesn't need anything else to beat on to make noise. He also wanted to try violin, but I didn't believe he was mature enough to take care of the instrument. This year, he's finally calmed down enough that I'm letting him do handbells and chimes and he loves it.

Raising kids who know more than you do about a particular subject can be interesting. I enjoy learning from them and I think they enjoy knowing something that mom doesn't. Of course, it also has it's amusing moments.

Jess came home one day very excited about a new piece she was playing. It was more difficult than any she's played before. Jess normally talks fast, but when she's excited, I always have a hard time understanding her. I caught about every third word rushing from her mouth as she waved a piece of sheet music at me. I took the paper and looked at it.

"See how hard that is?!"

"Jess, this looks like a bunch of ants crawling on a page to me."

She grabbed the paper and rolled her eyes. She proceeded to point and explain the complexity of the notes and the piece as a whole. I didn't understand most of it, but was pleased she really knew what she was talking about. It's since been a running joke between us. If there are a lot of 'ants' in clusters on the page, it's usually a difficult piece.

Earlier this week when something similar happened with Sean. Driving home from school two days ago, he started talking about handbells and chimes practice.

"Guess what? We have a retard in music."

I shot him a look. "Sean Brendan! What have I told you about calling names?"

"No mom, I wasn't calling names. We really have a retard in music."

I shook my head. "Well you don't call them that. It's not nice. You know better."

"No, mom. It's not a person. There are retards in music."

I glanced at him out the corner of my eye. He nodded.

When Jess came home after school I decided to find out what Sean was talking about. "Jess, Sean tried explaining to me that they there are "retards" in music."

She laughed and shook her head. "Not retards, mom, ritards. It's spelled with an "i" and the accent is on the second syllable."

"Oh." I make it appoint to acknowledge whenever I make a mistake and immediately apologized to Sean for snapping at him about name-calling. Although, in my defense, Sean was never able to explain exactly what a "retard" was, so I didn't feel that bad about my behavour.

His response was typical of my kids. "Told you."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tapas Night!

Last night I decided to have a fun dinner. I declared it international tapas night. The kids had no idea what  tapas were (rolls eyes). I decided to try some dishes that they knew, like potato skins and chicken quesadillas, but also wanted to expand their tastes. I included Shanghai dumplings, calzones, samosas, and egg custard tartlets.

The tartlets were the first things gone. All three kids loved the custard.

The dumplings tasted just like the dumplings I get in restaurants, which surprised me as I've never made a Chinese recipe that tasted like a restaurant dish. It was all the more surprising as I didn't use pork, but soy sausage (I'm a vegetarian.) They came out wonderfully and I served them with a plum sauce.

I tried to cheat with the calzones and used store-bought pizza dough. That didn't work out exactly as I had hoped. The pizza dough wouldn't roll out completely and ended up being a bit thick for the calzones. The calzones were filled with green pepper, mushroom, and soy sausage.

The samosas were probably my second favorite dish. The filling was comprised of simply potatoes and peas with some cumin, coriander, and salt. I had used a phyllo dough to make them. I think next time I'll use something like a pie dough. I thought the phyllo came out too puffy for the samosas.

I still have plenty of leftovers, so it looks like Monday night will be tapas night again!

LOL...I'm using the dictation software that I bought the other week. Every time I say 'tapas,' it types out 'topless.' I have three kids in the house, so don't get excited. I'm totally G. rated.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Recieved my talk-to-type software

I'm trying this one more time. My Dragon NaturallySpeaking software arrived in the mail the other day. I use windows XP and it installed without an issue. The microphone seems to work fine and I played around with it using MS Word, the software I'm using to write my manuscript. I took some time and entered all the made-up words in my fantasy novel. Entering the words into the custom dictionary was fairly intuitive. I simply typed the words and then recorded the way they sound. All of the words entered without an issue except for two. I tried repeatedly to record them but I kept getting an error for both. My dishwasher was running in the background at the time, so I suspected that interfered with the sound. However, it should have affected all of the words not just those particular two. I moved to another room and tried recording those two words. This time they entered without a problem.

I'm frustrated because this is the second time I've written this blog entry. I'm using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate the entry and I had three paragraphs written the first time. I noticed that it does not capitalize the first word of the first sentence automatically. However it will do that after each period. When I put my mouse back up to change the first letter of the entry to a capital the backspace button acted as a carriage return, putting the text on the next line. When I hit the delete button to try and get it back up, it ended up going to a new blank post and deleting everything that I had already typed. That's never happened before, so I'm not sure what's going on. It doesn't make sense that the dictating software would affect those two buttons, but I'm not sure what else could have caused it as I hadn't said anything while doing it I simply used the keyboard.

This time it seems to working fine. Perhaps it was just a fluke. Regardless, I'm looking forward to using it to work on my manuscript this weekend. Finally.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My hands are killing me

I've been seeing a massage therapist for about three years now. I mentioned in a previous post that I had been telecommuting for 13 years, well all of that time has been spent on the computer. You don't realize how messed up your body can get when you sit in front of a computer all day long, five days a week, for years on end. That is, until you arm starts getting a tingling sensation that runs from the shoulder down to the middle two fingers. And your neck is constantly tight. And more and more frequently a strip running down your hand will go numb.

Fun times!

When I told the therapist that I worked all day long on the computer and had for years, she nodded her head like, "yeah, heard it before." Then she touched my shoulders and froze. "You were really serious about how much time you spend on the computer." Apparently my muscles tell the story for me.

The sessions with her really help. I can't stop working on the computer, but she's taught me some stretches that I do along with visits to her. So the tingling and numbing sensation in my arms doesn't appear anymore (unless I get a huge project and get stuck working 12 hour days for a week).

The workload hasn't been too crazy lately, but it has been consistent. And the consistency has been taking a toll on my hands. I find my palms and fingers achy from repetitive strokes to the point that, I just can't sit down after working all day and work on my manuscript. It's been extremely frustrating.

However, after doing some thinking and research, I decided to buy a talk-to-type software called Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's supposed to do all kinds of stuff like open applications and send email, purely on voice command. I'm not interested in any of that stuff. I just want something that I can install and then dictate to my computer and have the software type the words on the screen. I was hesitant at first, as I have quite a few made-up words in my manuscript. The software is supposed to allow you to say and type out any new word not in it's dictionary and then remember it the next time you say it. The reviews range from so-so to great, but overall it seems to be the best that does this stuff. Most of the negative comments were for launching apps and other 'advanced' features that I don't care about, so I'm pretty confident it will work for the basics that I need.

It's supposed to arrive sometime next week.So, with any luck, I'll be able to start working on my manuscript again without doing more damage to my hands. YEAH!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Self-reliant authors

Holt uncensored had an interesting post about publishing spending and mid-list and debut authors. They used Seth Harwood as an example of what the 'next generation of authors' may look like, out of necessity.

While I don't see myself mimicing Seth's path to publishing, several of the things he did to get published I view as beneficial and necessary to debut authors. I also agree that given the trend at the publishing houses, it will be incumbant upon the author to essentially market themselves. Of course, that means dipping into personal funds to help get the word out.

You have to spend money to make money.

When I sign a contract (yes -- the power of positive thought), I am not anticipating much in the way of an advance. Whatever I do receive will go completely to marketing the book. I still have 2-3 years before I'll have my manuscript to the point where I'm ready to query an agent, but in the meantime, I'm reading and studying everything I can on marketing books.

I don't like going into things ignorant. I also don't like waiting till the last minute to understand something. While I enjoy my spontaneous weekend jaunts occasionally, I'll admit that I'm a planner. Writing is my dream job. I intend to do everything within my ability to make it a real job.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The snake loves me!

Now, for the continuing saga of Sean and the classroom pets...

I picked Sean up from school yesterday afternoon and his mouth went a mile-a-minute about his day. When it finally slowed down to a normal pace, he proudly announced, "Saturn wrapped completely around my body today and squeezed me, gently."
"Really? Isn't Saturn a boa constrictor?"

"Yeah."

...."um...honey...boa constrictors squeeze you because they think you're food, not because they want to hug you."

"No, mom, she squeezes Mrs. B all the time. That's how she hugs you."

Grumbles to self, "and how they eat you."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do you need to do research when writing fantasy?

I've read of the importance of research in many places and for many genres, but had naively assumed that I wouldn't need to do any when writing fantasy. I mean, I'm making everything up. Why do I need to research, right?

Wrong!

About a year after I first started writing, I realized that there were some things that I wasn't sure about. Yes, I'm making up the world, but I want it to be believable. The only way I can achieve that is to determine the natural laws of that world, which will be similar to ours in several ways, and then make sure I don't break any of them! In order to understand some of these laws, I need to do some research.

I'll be honest, science was definately not my forte in school, so I have no problem researching any time I want to double check a fact or better understand a relationship.

One of my research issues was related to weather and geography. I needed to better understand weather patterns, specifically precipitation, so that I could lay out the geography of my world realistically.

Additionally, one of the species in my novel is the tiger, but they aren't quite the same as tigers in this world. They look the same, orange with black stripes, however these creatures are sentient beings and can speak both verbally and telepathically. They are referred to as the 'warrior race' within their world. They have their own personalities, and naturally have a social structure and interpersonal skills that tigers in our world don't have. However, I still wanted to make sure that I didn't make them do something completely inconsistent within both worlds. I needed to better understand their behaviors in this world so that I could intelligently mimic or change those behaviors in their world. This particular subject brought me to the round of research I did over the weekend.

I'm fortunate to  have access to Big Cat Rescue, the world's largest accredited big cat rescue sanctuary. They are located about 45 minutes from my house. Their website has some wonderful information on tigers. They also provide guided tours of their facility. I still have several questions that I couldn't find answers to either on their website or several others that I searched, so I'm going to take a guided tour sometime this week. This will give me the opportunity to observe the tigers closer than I've ever done before as well as speak directly with a specialist of the species. I'm taking my camera along too. I love photographing wildlife and nature, this should be amazing!

Another example of research is geography and species compatibility. Are the species you're creating suited to live in the area in which you place them? With the tigers in my world, I had originally intended to have them live in the desert. However, after reading about them, I discovered that they actually live anywhere with dense vegetation. Can I change that in my world? Sure. Can I do it and make it believable...maybe. I think this comes down to necessity. Do my tigers need to live in the desert? Not really. However, now I have to find another place for them to live. If having a species live in the desert is a necessity to the story, then I would need to either make another species or alter my tigers  in such a way that they are equipped for desert life.

It all comes down to research and believability. Even in fantasy, you need to research your facts so that your world and it's creatures become real to your readers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Am I a cruel mom?

I woke this morning to water droplets on the windows and a thick fog smothering the neighborhood. The houses across the pond from my backyard look fuzzy and veiled in mist. The only thing visible beyond the first row of houses is the blanket of fog. Perfect setting for the post I've been contemplating the past few days.

I was going to name this post: Is struggle and hardship a bad thing? However, the real point isn't so much about struggle and hardship as my perception of myself for thinking it isn't. So the title became what it is: Am I a cruel mom?

Sean had begged for several years to get a pet bird. I kept telling him he was too young. When he turned ten, I told him if he wanted a bird, he'd have to earn the money, not just to buy a bird and cage, but he would have to keep earning money to buy the food. The bird would be solely his responsibility. Sean being Sean jumped in with both feet and earned the money in a matter of months.

Of my three kids, Sean is the only one I don't worry about when it comes to surviving financially as an adult. I know he can, and will, do any job necessary to survive. My other two, however, are total job snobs, but that's a seperate story.

After purchasing Whistles, a green parakeet, Sean decided he needed a friend and bought Jack, a blue one. Sean was pretty good at taking care of them early on, but like most kids, the habit got old, fast. He made sure he always had food in the house, just not necessarily in their cage. After the divorce, the birds switched houses with Sean, so two weeks at my house and two weeks at their father's. Whenever they were at my house, I always checked on them each morning after Sean went to summer camp or school to make sure they had food and water. If they were low, I would remind Sean to check when he got home that day.

As the months wore on, my reminders started falling on deaf ears or he would reply that he just did it (when I knew he hadn't). I would let the birds go a few days while commenting once each afternoon about their food or water. When nothing was done, I would do it and then tell him what I did and why. The transition to mom taking care of the birds prompted several conversations about the benefits of giving the birds to the zoo or someone else who wanted them -- because mom didn't. His first reaction to those conversations was to take better care of the birds. Of course, these always came in short bursts of activity that quickly fizzled to nothing.

When the kids switched houses three weeks ago, Sean walked into my house without his birds. I noticed right away, but said nothing. I wanted to see how long it took before he remembered he left them at his dad's. As fate would have it, I had to stop at his dad's that Thursday because Sean left his hat there and it was hat day at school on Friday. Sean noticed a feather on his hat and then remembered his birds. I told him right then that this couldn't continue. With practically no effort on my part he agreed that it would be better to give the birds away. We decided they'd do it when he switched back to his dad's house the following week.

Unfortunately, the birds were out of food and neither Sean or his dad realized it. So Jack died the following week and Whistles died two days later.

Sean was in complete shock that they had died. I had warned him several times that they could die without food or water, but I don't think he really believed it would happen. At one point when he was crying, he said it was his fault and it should have been him who died, which is the whole point of this post.

As much as I love and respect all life, part of me was glad the birds died. Sean is a very reactive individual. He is very focused and intent, but he has no appreciation for his actions or their consequences. He never has. Hearing him say those words, and knowing he meant them, made me think the entire experience was well worth it. As bad as this was for him, I truly think it will stay with him and make him a better person. Things like this are never pleasant, but I truly believe they are necessary in shaping who we are, hopefully for the better.

Two days later, Sean dug a grave in his dad's back yard and the three of us buried Whistles (dad had already gotten rid of Jack's body by then).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is the Day Job a Problem?

The other week I posted about finding inspiration for writing. This week, I stumbled across an article that touches on a similar theme. The Millions posted an article called Working the Double Shift.

Here are a few excerpts that I particularly liked in the article:

"[An] element to the way we all think about the conflict between a day job and writing full-time is that even us writers sometimes fall into the fallacy of thinking of writing as a romantic hobby. A hobby isn’t a job, it’s not work – it’s “recreation.” This is why when we say, “I’m going to quit my job and write full-time,” it sounds so romantic and idyllic. It carries images of getting out of bed late, drinking large mugs of tea or coffee, sitting at a desk in your pj’s, staring at the trees through the window, and playing with your muse… But if we match the language to the reality, the phrase would actually read this way:

“I’m going to quit working and work full-time.”

That doesn’t sound romantic at all does it? And, if you talk to full-time, un-famous writers they’ll confirm just how unromantic writing full-time is."

I completely understand this statement. However, I think the author misplaces this experience solely on writers. The fact is that this can be experienced by most people who work from home, regardless of their profession.

I've been telecommuting for over 13 years now. I stumbled into it before it was considered an option for employees. (One of the perks of having a unique set of skills that your employer really doesn't want to lose!) Every time I tell someone I telecommute one of two things happens. Either they look at me as if it isn't a real job and probably some kind of part-time hobby thing. Or their eyes glint with wistful affection at the possibility of it happening to them. In both cases they are mistaken. My job is work. My work-day runs from 8-5, longer if I have the rare project that requires over-time.

When I first started telecommuting, working very long hours was easy and seductive. We all know that there's always something else that needs to be done at the office. When your office is in your house, you can hear the silent whispers issuing from the darkened room at the end of the hallway. Pleas to finish a certain project. Cajoling about how much better you'll feel when it's done. After all, everything you need to complete it is right there. All you have to do is walk into the room.

Don't do it!

I learned a great deal about myself and self-discipline early on. I also discovered that many people do not have the self-discipline to work from home. You need to determine what hours you intend to work and commit to them. There is no slipping off to the couch to watch television or do something else. No sneaking back in the office after dinner to finish 'just one more thing.'

However, I will disagree with the earlier statements of the quote. I routinely start my day either in shorts and socks or sweats and slippers, depending upon the weather. I rarely wear shoes while working. I don't do anything except boot up my computer until I have a mug of hot tea in hand. I also tend to keep the hot tea flowing till about noon. (LOVE my hot tea!) And when thinking over a current problem with a project, I always stare out my office window until I figure it out. Once solved, I turn back to the computer and work away.

I find the process of writing very similar.

"At a dinner some months ago, I found myself discussing the problem of earning a living with a couple of other writers. One of them—a mystery writer who writes full time—said something that surprised me: when he wrote his fiction, he said, he felt that he was drawing on experiences that he’d had before he’d quit his day job thirty-five years earlier.

There was a note of wistfulness in his voice that struck me. My sense was that his life as a writer was somewhat isolated. It was interesting to think of work as something that might help one’s writing, rather than as an uncomfortable but unavoidable impediment to it. What secret purposes might our day jobs serve, aside from the obvious advantages of being able to put dinner on the table?"

Again, I can totally relate to this. Telecommuting worked well for me for several reasons. First, my husband at the time had just accepted a job offer in Florida, so remaining in DC wasn't an option for me. Second, I have three kids and wanted the flexibility of being at home for them after school. That was actually very important to me. When my kids were younger, I had no choice but to use day-care because I simply couldn't commit my full effort to either them or my job when I tried to keep them home with me. I decided that when they hit school age, they wouldn't be in day care any longer. And they weren't. It also allowed me some flexibility to help them with homework after school and make sure they didn't pig out on junk food before dinner.

This arrangement worked wonderfully for me as someone who had to work full-time but also wanted to be there for her kids as much as possible. However, as with everything in life, there are always down sides. In this case, the biggest draw-back was lack of socialization for me.

While I telecommuted from FL, my company had offices throughout the US: NY, DC, TX, CA, WA, and IL . I also had clients across the US and several countries, but rarely visited any of them. My work was all done remotely from my home office. My colleagues all worked either in company offices or at client sites as I was the only employee who telecommuted. And none of them worked nearby. So, what's the downside? I didn't experience the camaraderie of co-workers. There was no going out to lunch together or hitting happy hour after a long meeting. I also had little opportunity to meet people unless they were parents of my kids friends.

I had thrown myself full-time into work and my kids and didn't make any time for myself, not even to write. I can honestly say that even today, the only person I can think of to call up if I wanted to go do something would be my mom. Yes, I know, beyond pathetic. Yet it's true. I'm not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination. I've never needed a lot of friends. My best friend lives in CA. I have another college friend up in NY. I know several moms in the the area, but not to the point that I'd call them friends.

I think my particular situation isn't solely the result of telecommuting for so long, rather a combination of that and my own personality. The consequences are that my experiences from which I draw on for writing can seem distant and veiled because I don't experience them regularly. This brings me back to the relevance of my post two weeks ago on finding inspiration.

The Millions article raises several points that I think would interest people not accustomed to working in solitary situations. If you are considering writing full-time, I suggest you read the article and do some research on telecommuting. It is a very solitary career choice and one that you need to work at, literally.

Friday, October 23, 2009

e-books and publishing

Nathan and Eric had great posts on the e-book price war that started this week.

I abhor WalMart. I never, ever shop there. I do like Target for common household items, but I don't shop there for groceries or other 'specialty' items, like books or DVDs. My big gripe with trying to cram something of everything into one place, is that you have to forgo variety. And I LOVE variety!

I have never bought a book from a Target, grocery store or anyplace other than a bookstore, whether brick and mortar or online. I wish I understood more of the implications of the pricing war, but my initial sense is that WalMart realized it didn't offer the cheapest items in the area of books and decided to stick its feet in the pool. Of course, Amazon, being the big fish in that pool, retaliated in kind.

At present, the price reductions haven't effected the profits to publishers or authors, but plenty of people worry that it will. Again, showing my ignorance in the business side of things, as long as there are multiple places through which to sell books, I don't see how Amazon or WalMart have any bargaining power to try and force publishers to reduce their costs to match the below-profit prices these guys have been offering. My only hope is that it won't last long enough to force the remaining independent booksellers out of business. I don't see how they could compete at all in this type of environment. Of course, the fear is that WalMart or Amazon will force so many out of the field that they will then have that ability eventually.

Along those lines, the ABA sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation into the pricing war. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

With all of the focus on e-books and online purchases, there are still those naysayers that think e-books are a fad or won't last long. And there are those on the opposite side touting the beauty of e-books to the doom of paperbacks. I think both are wrong. I love e-books, but I love paperbacks as well. I still buy both and see the value in both. I think they complement one another. I also think online sites like e-stores, author websites and blogs offer a wonderful marketing opportunity for both paper books and e-books.

There was also an article by LibraDigital regarding the marketing power of free online chapters. Here is an excerpt summarizing the results:

“We know that allowing readers to preview book chapters before buying has a positive impact on both print and eBook sales,” said Russell P. Reeder, President and CEO of LibreDigital, Inc. “In the case of one well-known book publisher, one in three people who browsed decided to purchase the book online. As a result, leading publishers are increasing their use of online previews when planning promotional campaigns for both new and existing book titles.”

I fully intend to offer my first chapter free online. Even before this article came out, I instinctively knew it would help, probably based on personal experience. This year I read first chapters offered on websites of authors I'd never read before, and ended up buying about 6 books as a result. Four of those were e-books, the other two were paperback.

I think paper books and e-books will both be around for a very long time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tips on Writing from Annie Dillard's class

Moonrat posted a link to this article on writing by Alexander Chee, based on a class he took with Annie Dillard. The content wasn't necessarily new to me, however, the way it was written made me think of my own writing on a much deeper level. Below are excerpts from the article I found most relevant:

"In her class, I learned that while I had spoken English all of my life, there was actually very little I knew about it. English was born from low German, a language that was good for categorization, and had filled itself in with words from Latin and Anglo Saxon words, and was now in the process of eating things from Asian languages. Latinates were polysyllabic, and Anglo Saxon words were short, with perhaps two syllables at best. A good writer made use of both to vary sentence rhythms."

"If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel."

"The passive voice in particular was a crisis. “Was” only told you that something existed—this was not enough. And on this topic, I remember one of her fugues almost exactly:

You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging. No. Don’t do it. The verbs tell a reader whether something happened once or continually, what is in motion, what is at rest. Gerunds are lazy, you don’t have to make a decision and soon, everything is happening at the same time, pell-mell, chaos. Don’t do that. Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don’t need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?"

"Your unique perspective, at this time, in our age, whether it’s on Tunis or the trees outside your window, is what matters. Don’t worry about being original, she said dismissively. Yes, everything’s been written, but also, the thing you want to write, before you wrote it, was impossible to write. Otherwise it would already exist. You writing it makes it possible."

"She spoke often of “the job.” If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel.

We were to avoid emotional language. The line goes grey when you do that, she said. Don’t tell the reader that someone was happy or sad. When you do that, the reader has nothing to see. She isn’t angry, Annie said. She throws his clothes out the window. Be specific."

"After the lecture on verbs, we counted the verbs on the page, circled them, tallied the count for each page to the side and averaged them. Can you increase the average number of verbs per page, she asked. I got this exercise from Samuel Johnson, she told us, who believed in a lively page, and used to count his verbs. Now look at them. Have you used the right verbs? Is that the precise verb for that precise thing? Remember that adverbs are a sign that you’ve used the wrong verb. Verbs control when something is happening in the mind of the reader. Think carefully—when did this happen in relation to this? And is that how you’ve described it?"

"You can invent the details that don’t matter, she said. At the edges. You cannot invent the details that matter."

"Talent isn’t enough, she had told us. Writing is work. Anyone can do this, anyone can learn to do this. It’s not rocket science, it’s habits of mind and habits of work. I started with people much more talented than me, she said, and they’re dead or in jail or not writing. The difference between myself and them is that I’m writing. Talent could give you nothing. Without work, talent is only talent, promise, not product."

"If I’ve done my job, she said in the last class, you won’t be happy with anything you write for the next 10 years. It’s not because you won’t be writing well, but because I’ve raised your standards for yourself. Don’t compare yourselves to each other. Compare yourself to Colette, or Henry James, or Edith Wharton. Compare yourselves to the classics. Shoot there...Go up to the place in the bookstore where your books will go, she said. Walk right up and find your place on the shelf. Put your finger there, and then go every time.

In class, the idea seemed ridiculous. But at some point after the class ended, I did it. I walked up to the shelf. Chabon, Cheever. I put my finger between them and made a space. Soon, I did it every time I went to a bookstore.Years later, I tell my own students to do it. As Thoreau, someone she admires very much, once wrote, “In the long run, we only ever hit what we aim at.”"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finding inspiration

I realize I'm probably going to sound a bit strange admitting this, but one thing I love about going some place, even some place as mundane as the grocery store, is the possibility of finding new sensations and thoughts to incorporate into my writing. This past weekend was loaded with them. On Saturday, the trip to Epcot offered some wonderful new observations. The interactions of strangers, the types of people walking in the park, what they did, how they moved, all very fascinating. The beach provided some wonderful sensations like the feel of saltwater in my eyes, sand and salt drying my skin, how tender my feet are when walking on hot sand or rough shells. I've experienced these before, but memory fades when you don't do something very often. It's nice to not only experience them again, but be aware of the experience. Soak it in. Watch it. Feel it. Revel in it. Then happily tuck it away in your memory for later.

All of these experiences expand my choices in creating and describing actions in my novel. It's like working all day and getting a bit tired, then chugging a Coke and feeling the instant burst of energy. It's a breath of life, refreshing and revitalizing, into a store room of vacuum sealed experiences.

The next time you venture out into the world, try not to focus solely on your goal. Instead, take a moment and look around you. Sniff the air. Feel the sun on your skin. Watch the people walking by you. Listen to their conversations, their concerns, their interests, the way they phrase things. You'd be surprised how much this helps you show instead of tell your story.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Epcot's food and wine festival

My sister and I spent the day at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival yesterday. I've never been to one, but thought it would be a fun girl's thing to do. We got a bit of a late start, as I had to drop my daughter off at SAT testing and then we had to drop off my sister's rental car at the airport. When we arrived at Epcot at 11:30, we were both ready to start eating...and drinking. Can't forget drinking.

The lines were fairly long at the first few kiosks, so we decided to sit down and eat lunch at a restaurant. Once we had some food in our bellies, we could spend the afternoon grazing and drinking. Neither one of us wanted to drink on an empty stomach.

We had lunch in France. The outside wall of the restaurant was all windows so we watched people walking back and forth with various plates of dishes and glasses of wine or beer. Several times I saw someone with a long champagne glass containing something deep red and bubbly. It looked really good! I told Lori that after lunch we needed to find out what that was and where to get some.

France didn't have it, so we walked around to the other countries. I also scanned the area for anyone with that drink. As luck would have it, I couldn't find the drink anywhere.

Finally, passing Italy, I spied two woman sitting on stone steps sipping the drink I was looking for. I walked up to them and Lori started laughing at me. They were both nice and told me it was called Rosa Regale and pointed at the door to our right and said they got it in there.

Great!

We waited in line and saw half of the people getting the Rosa Regale. There were also several people getting shots of Lemoncello in addition to the Rosa Regale. I'm not a big alcohol drinker, so I kept to a glass of the Rosa Regale. Lori decided to get one of each. I tasted the Lemoncello...and made a face that had my sister laughing. It had a nice lemon flavor with just a touch of sweetness, but it was a liqueur. I don't like liqueurs. It was like drinking syrup. My sister loved it though. She didn't chug it, like two of the woman ahead of us in line. She sipped it, savoring the flavor.

We left with our drinks and found a demonstration tent where we caught a pasta making demonstration as we drank our Rosa Regale, which was very good. They had given us a piece of dark chocolate to eat as we drank. I had scoffed at the thought of chocolate improving the taste, but I was very mistaken. The Rosa Regale was good without the chocolate. But when consumed with the chocolate...WOW! Absolutely wonderful.

We visited each of the countries in Epcot and all of the kiosks in between. We didn't get food and drink everywhere, as not everything sounded good to us, but we had fun with what we did buy. There also wasn't anything we bought that didn't taste good. We sampled some crema catalana from Spain, a plum and green tea cocktail from China, Grilled lamb chop with arugula salad from Australia (I think), salad with pita bread and baklava from Greece, mango yogurt cooler from India (I think) and a few others. The only downside for me was that most of the dishes contained some form of meat, which meant I mainly munched on the desserts.

We ended our visit with one last stop in Italy where we each bought a bottle of Rosa Regale and Lori also bought a bottle of Lemoncello.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cooking and singing

I got hungry for okra so I made a pot of gumbo tonight. The odd thing is, every time I make either jambalaya or gumbo, I always start singing: jambalaya...crawfish pieee....file gumbo...

You know the song? I have no idea who sings it. I don't think I've actually heard it played since I was a kid. Yet I cannot say either jambalaya or gumbo without that song popping into my head! Talk about frustrating. And, of course, I only know a few lines and they keep repeating over and over in my head as I'm cooking. Do you know how long it takes to cook gumbo and rice? About 30 minutes. Do you know many times you can repeat the same four lines in 30 minutes? Far too many for any sane person to want to hear.

Thankfully, the song ceases to repeat once I sit down to actually eat my dinner.

What can I say? I'm strange.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Planting herbs...in the fall

I have finally gotten around to picking up some potted herbs from Lowes and Home Depot over the weekend. I've been wanting to establish a small herb garden for awhile, but just haven't had the time or opportunity till now. Yes, I know it's October, but when you live in Florida, you can pretty much plant stuff year round. I would much rather be living further north where I would be walking around to the sound of red and gold leaves crunching under foot this time of year. Unfortunately, I live in a state where our leaves go straight from green to brown in December/January. Sometimes you can catch a few rebel leaves brazenly sporting some yellow or, if you are really lucky, a bit of red, but that doesn't occur often. So until I can move, I've decided to make the best of it. That includes planting some herbs in the fall.

After a few emails with a friend of my from the UK, I realized I was a bit disappointed that my development, which is deed restricted, doesn't allow vegetable gardens. I would like to have a small veggie garden as well as an herb garden. I had resigned myself to simply putting my herbs in long rectangular pots on my lanai (what Floridians call a screened in back porch), when I stopped. Couldn't I also grow a few veggies in pots on my lanai?

Hmm...why not? So I headed back out to Lowes and Home Depot and picked up a few potted veggies: three types of tomatoes: cherry, yellow and red; four types of peppers: green bell, sweet orange, poblano, and mucho nacho (that's what the tags called them); some butter lettuce and brussel sprouts. Okay, okay, the brussel sprouts weren't planned, but I always have a hard time finding good, fresh brussel sprouts.

Pleased with my sneaky way of getting around a ban veggie gardens, I dove back in to re-potting my herbs and my new veggies. I got half way through transferring the plants to the pots I purchased when I read the smaller print on the bag of organic vegetable garden soil I was using to re-pot. It said, "in-ground use only."

So, what? It doesn't work when used in containers? This made no sense to me. I had also already purchased two large bags and was over half way finished re-potting. I really didn't feel like buying something new and starting over again. Besides, soil is soil, right?

Of course, I have no idea if any of the plants will grow. I don't really have a green thumb. My sister and mother are wonderful with gardens. Plants seem to let me walk into gardens, but if I even look like I may lift a hand to actual do something, they automatically start to wilt.

Hopefully this time the plants will live long enough for me to see some fruit for my effort, literally.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Male logic

I saved up my money this year to pay for bamboo flooring to be installed in my living room/dining room combo. I had been excited to get this done. Most of my house is in berber carpeting, which is okay, but I want to gradually install bamboo in most of the main rooms and halls. As I have a severe allergy to debt, I don't get anything installed that I can't pay for in full when I place the order. Simply put, it will take me a couple of years before I'm finished installing bamboo.

I had originally wanted to install the bamboo myself since it looked pretty easy to do. I mean, it's tongue and groove, how hard could it be? Alas, the company informed me that the 30 year warranty that came with the wood would be void unless it was installed by a certified installer. (don't you hate fine print?)

The installers came out on Monday and laid the sealer over the concrete flooring, and boy did that smell! Tuesday they returned and had both rooms completed by mid-afternoon.

Yeah!

The kids are at their dad's this week, but I pick up Sean and keep him after school since he's too young to stay at his dad's alone till his dad gets home. After I picked Sean up from school, we went to Home Depot and then Lowes looking at area rugs. Sean sat in the back seat thoroughly confused about what we were doing.

"Mom, I thought they put the bamboo down?"

"They did."

"Then why are we getting a rug?"

"Because I want some color in the room and I think a rug would look nice in the center of the room."

"But I thought you liked the bamboo flooring?"

"I do."

Sean was clearly exasperated at this point. "Okay. Mom. You rolled up the carpeting that was on the floor, had some guys come and install bamboo flooring and now you want to buy a rug to put on top of the bamboo?"

I glanced at his expression in the rear view mirror and came to the realization that male logic is even annoying when coming from the mouth of an 11 year old boy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My sister doesn't like me anymore

It's been a running joke for years that I gave birth to my sister's daughter. My sister and I look a lot alike in the face, but as kids, she had blond hair, blue eyes and dimples. She also got really moody once/month. I have dark hair, green eyes and no dimples. I also rarely have mood swings...like once every few years. Jess is like my sister in a lot of ways, including a strong tendency towards spiteful behavior. I lost count of the number of times I yelled at Jess when she was a toddler, calling her Lori by mistake.

As fate would have it, my 8 year old niece, Kaylee, doesn't look like me, but her personality is closer to mine than her mother's. Kaylee is the only liberal in a rather conservative immediate family. She has no idea what a liberal is, but she naturally takes after me, who is somewhere between liberal and libertarian and some other political mutt mix.

My phone rang as I sat down to dinner. My sister. "Hey!"

"I really don't like you."

I grinned. "Cool! What'd I do now?"

"You're a bad influence on Kaylee."

I hadn't spoken to my niece in awhile. Kaylee doesn't like to talk much on the phone, but she's quite verbal face-to-face. I instantly guessed what had happened and laughed aloud. "She's going vegetarian!"

Lori paused. "Yeah," her voice as unenthusiastic as humanly possible.

I punch a fist in the air. "Way to go Kaylee! I knew you had it in you."

"Oh shut up."

I laughed. "I never said anything to her about that. Ever."

My sister sighed. "I know. She's never really eaten meat. I mean she'd eat it sometimes, but never very much. Last week she decided she didn't want to eat meat anymore."

I couldn't stop smiling. I never mentioned my diet decision to my nieces. I think they remember I don't eat meat, but it was never a big deal to me, so I never really discussed it. I'm enjoying the irony of Lori having to deal with a daughter like me while I had to deal with a daughter like her.

Being a vegetarian probably doesn't sound like that big a deal, but my sister's family is very meat and potatoes. My nephew even hunts. So having a vegetarian in the family is quite funny, if you ask me.

World Building

One of my favorite parts of writing fantasy is world building. I love playing in my imagination. As a kid, my sister and her best friend referred to me as a dreamer. While I like doing things and being active, I can be just as content staring out the window for hours on end.

At first, my world building was focused on the basics, like how does the world function, what people populate it, how is it divided geographically and demographically, what types of plants and animals live there, what is the technology, what is the current political situation?

This all gave me a broad brush stroke of the present day world, but I want to create a world with depth and richness. So I started going back and creating a history for each species and kingdom. I'm also developing several conflicting religions along with the power struggles that go within each. While these are fun, what I find myself pulled towards lately is folklore and mythology. Every culture has some, so I wanted to create a few for my world too. The challenge: whatever I create needs to be critical to the lives of the respective cultures.

I've developed one myth thus far that I really like and it plays into the end of the story. I'm working on a few more, but a big part of the fun is simply imagining...thinking up various things and letting them play out in my mind to see if they work.

I wish I could instill this love of imagination in my children. I would love to get them to 'unplug' and just go inside themselves once in awhile and see where it leads them. I can get them to turn off all electrical equipment to play cards or a board game with me without trouble -- they enjoy playing, but they never willingly do it just to dream.

I sometimes wonder if we're losing something with all the sensory overload we expose ourselves to day in and day out. We've become so immune to it, our senses need more and more to feel any stimulation at all. Kinda reminds me of drug or alcohol addiction.