Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adopting Stories

I received a form rejection today. No big deal, and it won't be my last, but it might be my last for 2009. That makes me grin.

We didn't just talk about rejection at the master's class. We went through an exercise that helped put us, briefly, on the other side of the editor's desk. Once I'd been through that I wanted to stand up and shout louder than ever before, "Don't take it personally!" Seriously.

This has been said many different ways. Here's one way I look at it. Plenty of great stories are rejected not because the editor didn't like them, but because they didn't quite fit, or there wasn't enough space for them, or they didn't fill enough space. Think about that. Editors reject stories that they enjoy all the time. Every day. They even reject stories that they love. If they let it hurt too much to let those stories go they'd never survive as editors.
Lately I've been likening it to going to your local humane society to adopt a kitten. There are lots of really lovely kittens, any number of which would be great to take home. There are some wonderful cats there too, and dogs, but you're not shopping for those. They're there anyway, tempting you with those beautiful big eyes and soft faces. You pass them by and look at the kittens, and there are, out of the hundreds, four that you really, really want. You take the one that you think the rest of the family will like too (as an editor picks what they think their audience will enjoy the most.) And you take it home.

Imagine doing this every month. You'd have to learn to quickly let go of the ones that you can't adopt and focus on the ones you do. And you couldn't spend lots of time trying to comfort or say sorry or goodbye to all those other kittens that you won't adopt. It's not just a matter of time expenditure, but emotional energy.

Makes those personal rejections that much more special, doesn't it?

For those who haven't seen it yet, a fun little video that demonstrates how not to respond to rejection:

I couldn't embed this video because that ability was disabled.

Happy New Year everyone! May you be successful in your endeavors.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Silver Thaw

I'm working on a story with silver thaw in it. We don't have any right now, so I'm working from memory. I've decided I don't like working from memory as much as I used to. Making stuff up is harder now too. Why? Because I'm aiming for specific rather than generic or false details. It's tough! I think my writing has improved hugely since I took the master's class, but it's harder now too. Oh sure, I get immersed in the writing and everything. But I spend a lot less time typing when I'm in the midst of a description, and more time with my eyes shut tight, trying to squeeze the right details out of my brain.

So much easier to look around and see and smell and feel. I'm in the library right now in a slate blue corduroy chair with tan piping that supports me like firm flesh--cozy and creepy at the same time. A totem pole towers against the pale yellow wall, ignored by library patrons studying their laptops. The wood and varnish scent have faded back to almost nothing under the smell of the carpet shampoo they use around here. Everyone is in a cushy chair except a lean man in a black and green windbreaker with a beat up old Mac. His finger pushes wrinkles up his forehead and I wonder how can that be comfortable, bracing your head on one finger. He looks like he's working and that things aren't going well, but he's calm, determined, the kind of guy I'd want fighting to protect me from bad guys. I bet he has scars from all his battles both real and cyber.

It's so easy compared to trying to remember the scent in the air from a silver thaw, and how the ice looks at night, and the sounds--I want to say it kind of crackles, but I'm not sure anymore. Maybe it only does that during the day when the pale sunlight focuses through it like a lens and warms the branches underneath.

Challenging, but doable. I sure wouldn't mind a silver thaw coming along, though. It would really help me out. I can't wish for it because it causes too much trouble for folks lucky enough to have a job right now. If it just happens to happen, then I'll squee.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Thirst

New Year's Day coming up, with a whole new year to look forward to ahead. It's not quite time for a recap, but I do look back with a grin on my face on my DH's homecoming, Ireland, high school plays, the master's class, and other fun stuff. The grim stuff is there too. It all mingles together into the potluck stew of life.

My stress level is really high. I'm hoping this will give me lots of creative energy to draw from. Yeah yeah, I know, stress usually kills the muse, but I killed my muse and ate her a long time ago, so I'm on my own anyway.

Stress has given me fun dreams, including one last night where I'd started taking fencing lessons from my kids' instructor in a huge underground gym that was partially sectioned off for tennis. In the dream I was super flexible. I could do full splits and lay my body flat against my leg at the same time. I woke up all inspired to work out rather than write, but I'll manage to manipulate that energy over to writing somehow.

The icy wind pushes cars around on the freeways and the wind chill is pretty interesting. We're dried out, parched even, and what little standing moisture we have near our house is frozen solid. It's easy to forget to drink water in this weather--the sensation of thirst is suppressed--so I plan on keeping water and tea near at hand while I write.

Ice, a fire in the hearth, tea and big dogs curled up in the living room. Sounds like a cozy winter. The only thing that keeps it from being a completely classic moment is that I'm working on a laptop rather than being curled around a book right now. Later. I've got some books I'm really looking forward to: Oxygen, The Forever War, Machete Season, The Company, some history books relevant to the Masks time period, and Chosen by a Horse which promises to tug on all the heartstrings I've got attached to mustangs. Reading and writing. It's a good life, but if I had a holiday wish, I'd wish for gainful employment that has health insurance benefits. Well, I take that back. I'd wish for a great future of health and happiness for my kids. I can handle a challenge or three.

Or maybe they could stand for challenges too.

I don't know! Fine. No wishes. It's too complicated. Have a Happy New Year. I'll see y'all on the other side of December 31, 11:59, if not sooner.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beyond the River

I love traveling to eastern Oregon. Beautiful country, wonderful people.

There's a roughness to the soil and to the bark of trees in the high desert. The quality of the greens speak of thrift and toughness. The rivers are wild, liquid gems--not just beautiful, but much more obviously precious because of the dry all around them. Juniper, sage and pine lend an incense-like perfume to the air. And this time of year there's a sharpness to0--the clean cold. To me it doesn't seem to go deep as fast as the same temperature in the wet regions, but it's fierce and wakes up my mind. Coming into that cold from a warmer, wet area, I'm startled when I step outside or crack the car window, but I warm right back up when I'm sheltered again.

I'm snuggled up right now, with gorgeous hand-knitted socks on my feet (thank you J!) My belly is full, and I'm quiet in my heart. I'm glad we made the trip.

Like any other life experience, travel can inspire writing. I don't think it's essential to good writing, but it sure helps to have direct knowledge of ecosystems and cultures beyond the places you live and shop and go to the dentist. Going from suburb to urban, urban to rural, across the railroad tracks, across the state line, across the nation border can not only provide a foundation for writing about new places, but lend a new perspective on your regular stomping grounds. Even when I write about home, I have a sense of what's just a few hours of driving away, beyond the river in view of mountains strange and wonderful to my eyes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snap, Crackle, Pop, Click

Still no chocolate for me.  I haven't made as much progress as I'd wanted to on the ms, and today won't push my word count as much as I'd like--I have some photos I need to take for another book project (not mine.)  

Photography is a lot of fun, but it's a lot of work and can take huge blocks of time.  The digital advances have made it tons easier both to learn (you see your mistakes almost immediately) and to execute, but it's still a difficult art.  

My challenge is to try to take non-cheesy martial arts photos.  The favorite options for setting are dojo/gym, studio and urban.  Lighting is always an issue, with each setting having its own particular problems.  Fortunately most of the images I'll be taking, if not all, will be converted to b&w so I don't have to obsess about things like skin looking too yellow or orange with the influence of indoor lights.  It's also not terribly sunny today, so I won't have to worry as much about over-exposure/glare or sharp shadows interfering with the subject.  But overall light quality is an ongoing problem, especially indoors since I don't have any umbrellas.  Even if I did, I would solve some problems but then create others--I would probably have to reposition the lights for each series, and that would extend the shooting time.  

We need four specific images today.  That'll probably translate into 60-80 pics taken.  I'll also look through the selection from the previous shoot and see if any sets are thin due to a high number of out-of-focus shots or shots with weird lighting, etc.  I'll add to those while we're there, and maybe take some artsy mood stuff while the guys play.  The editor will want a wide selection to choose from.  BTW they want uncropped, undoctored stuff--that's for the art director to mess with, not me.  Which makes me nervous.  I look at what I've done and I know what I was aiming for, so I have a feeling for what direction to go with a particular image.  I bet the art director has a much better eye than I do and will do wonders with them, but I have this little voice inside my head that says he'll take one look at the sets and think my gawd, these are a mess!  I can't do anything with this.  What a crappy photographer.  But I don't have time to wait for more so I'll just polish this turd as best I can ...

So I'm all insecure and I want to take more pics in different locations ... the issue, as it almost always is, is time.  And resources.  Not everyone wants to have their mug in a book for all to see.

Ah, the joys of martial arts photography.  At least the guys will have some fun.

Snap.  Crackle.  Pop.  Click click click click.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Will Type for Chocolate

After a couple of months of not exercising, I'm on day 3.  Oh.  My.  Gawd.  I alternate full and light workouts, and so yesterday's workout wasn't so bad.  I'd even be willing to put in writing here and now that it was fun and pleasant.  But the soreness!  I get to giggle at myself all day long, especially trips up and down the stairs when my legs start whining.

C.S. Cole has observed, and I agree, that exercise helps hugely with creativity.  A friend of mine just got a Wii, and her painting exploded.  (No, not literally--sheesh!)  When I took the master's class, our instructors spent some time talking about how physically demanding writing can be.  (Seriously, it is.)  Think of it as a reverse-toll in terms of cardio-vascular health.  To head off potential problems with blood clots and stroke, and to keep weight from ballooning, writers need to eat right and get some aerobic exercise.  Also, to keep the mind sharp, no drinking alcohol before or during writing.  (Makes sense to me so I've adopted this habit or rather non-habit, though I do miss sipping wine while writing in the evening.  I've also added no snacking during writing.  Not only does snacking make my keyboard gross, but it leads to mindless eating--lots of calories with no enjoyment because I'm not paying attention to the wonderful experience of eating.)  Writers also have to have some serious strength and endurance in their hands, wrists, neck, shoulders and lower back.  It's good to have balanced fitness, but weakness in these areas in particular can literally end a writing career when, after a hard push, the writer suffers a catastrophic failure or an overuse injury.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is just the tip of the iceberg.  Try writing while flat on your back in constant pain, or without the use of one of your shoulders.  It can be done, but would you produce as much?  Might you perchance develop a monotone of subject matter, or plot, or characterization if you were in constant pain?  

Stuff to think about.

So I have a date with Jillian today (oh Jillian, how I love to hate you.)  I'm also depriving myself of chocolate until I get my Nano novel written to The End.  This has been remarkably motivating.  I knew I consumed some chocolate every day, but I had no idea how much.  Trader Joe's brick pieces.  Chocolate-covered raisins from Costco--accept no substitutions.  Hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.  Ice cream with chocolate chips or chocolate cups; we're now out of vanilla ice cream.  I think by the time I finish the novel, I'll have dropped a few pounds from lack of chocolate alone!

Chocolate, chocolate, how you torment me ....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Muppets Bohemian Rhapsody

Because sometimes you just gotta be silly.

I love The Muppets. Yay Muppets!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Emotional Settings

One of the things I had emphasized to me over and over again at Kris and Dean's Master's Class is the importance of setting. I had that lesson taught to me once again, but from a different source.

I read for the Endeavor Award. When I read a really good book, I may give a review on my blog if I'm so inclined, but generally I don't review books. First of all, reading is a very subjective sort of thing. What one person may enjoy, another may loathe. I'd much rather be accused of singing praises of a book everyone else hates or doesn't get, than be slamming a work that may be perfectly enjoyable to the vast majority of folks. I'd be hurting the author's feelings for no good reason--I'm not a paid critic so it's not my duty to point out a particularly putrescent piece of fiction--and I may deprive someone of a good read if they take my advice and avoid something they might have enjoyed. In other words, I'd rather err on the side of encouraging folks to try something I liked than go the negative route and tell people to stay away from reading no matter how bad I think a book may be.

But I digress.

This last book I read lacked setting and visceral details almost entirely. People and clothing were described on a fairly regular basis, and dripping blood, but other than that, the characters lived entirely in their own heads. Maybe that was the point. But it wasn't a very gratifying read. The action fell flat because no one felt or reacted to pain, unless it was emotional pain. The characters have scenes set all around the world, but I didn't hear turns of phrase change, and the landscape--they might as well have stayed in the United States. Any details about England, France, Wales, Russia, Italy ... I had to fill in myself based on my knowledge and experiences.

I don't want to fall into this trap.

Dean told us that he used to have a problem with too little setting in his writing. After being admonished about this many times, he finally got mad and overwrote setting in the opening of his next work. The first reader response? He nailed it.

They also reminded us in class that many of our favorite books on the class reading list were extremely setting heavy books. I remember the feeling of being in a southern swamp while reading one of the books and loving every drip from the moss and every whine from a mosquito. All the while the author had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Why?

Because the book engaged my senses while injecting opinion into every detail. I loved or hated the character's surroundings based entirely on whether the author wanted me to love or hate them. I was along for the ride.

So despite the weak book's best efforts through (overwrought) dialogue and action-packed scenes (in which people froze or ran or used telepathy a lot) I was bored and feeling like I was watching a poorly written, plotted, choreographed and filmed movie. And despite the strong book's pages-long lovingly-described scenes with little dialogue or action, I was never bored. In the weak book I was told that a character's eyes gave people chills. In the strong book, a look from a suspected killer from across the room gave me chills.

Note to self: Make every description count, and don't be shy. Setting can make or break a story.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Silver Jewels

We had a nice silver thaw (aka a silver frost) last night. I love the way the ice turns every blade of grass, every limb, every fallen leaf into a jewel. Although the skies have turned platinum and slate now, for much of the morning our land basked in sunshine pouring through a huge blue well above our house.

As the day wore on, these ice wrappings around the limbs began to melt and fall off the limbs. Icicles dangling from the eaves shrank and some shattered on the frozen deck. Juncos, sparrows, towhees, jays, chickadees and finches, swarming the bird feeders, dodge the falling ice as they feed beneath the trees. A couple of times now a red-shafted flicker has landed on the window frame, his tail propped on the glass, and peered inside the house with guarded suspicion while pecking away at whatever is interesting him in the siding. (We have a few mushrooms growing there, and/or there might be some bugs trying to overwinter in the cracks.) Normally I'd say ack, btw, but he's not drilling. Whatever he's eating, he's picking out very delicately.

Incredible morning, lovely afternoon, and as the afternoon wears into evening, an expectation of everything that melted turning into a solid sheet of ice. Again.

I like to include this kind of stuff in my writing, but I bear one thing in mind. As lovely as this is to look at through my window, it would be pretty miserable to deal with if you had to be out in the weather. I think it's too easy for many writers, in their climate-controlled (or at least not out in the open weather) to forget that being snuggled up inside a cloak on horseback in winter weather wouldn't be anywhere nearly as comfortable as sitting in a cushy chair in their house in a house coat, even if their office was a little chilly.

I remember, in particular, freezing my buns off within three feet of a substantial fire inside a stone building. Freezing. Could see my breath cold. That fire had no hope of overwhelming the very high rafters and the draftiness of the place, never mind warm up the ice-cold stones of the floor and walls that sapped the heat from the very air and any body part unlucky enough to be in even indirect contact with them. About all I managed to get warm was my hands and face.

So I'm happy to enjoy this lovely weather from within my nice, warm house and on brief, fun-seeking stints outdoors followed immediately by hot apple cider or hot chocolate with extra mini-marshmallows. My characters in this sort of weather ... not so happy. I'd even hazard they'll be downright miserable, though the more poetic of them might have to admit that it is beautiful.

Stay warm out there!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yet Another Writer Beware Post

To be clear, I'm not posting this because of a specific recent incident. I was doing some research and the never-ending threads about rotten publishers started to get to me.

Sometimes I feel sad for people who get so excited about publishing that they don't do their research when they get an offer. Actually, they should do their research before they even submit, but even so ...

Always, always know what you're getting into when you publish. Maybe you want to self-publish--if so, look for the best deal: highest quality for lowest cost, and be prepared to work your buns off being your own distributor. It helps to have connections in the industry or a niche of some sort. It's my understanding that the Christian fiction market is more accepting of self-published books, for example. You may, as a private individual, possibly get books on the shelf with a phone call. You can also sometimes convince stores (not necessarily book stores) to sell your book on a commission basis. A book about flea market buying and selling, for example, may sell well alongside your other wares if you have a flea market booth.

But I digress.

Even if you do get pulled in by a bad book publisher, all is not lost. Writers write. If it turns out that the publisher wants you to buy your books and sell them yourself, ignore the publisher. If your contract requires you to buy a certain number of books (ack!! why would you even think about signing a contract like that?! ... well, people don't know what they don't know) then buy the minimum quantity at the maximum discount you can negotiate and be done. Write the next book and don't work with that sort of publisher again.

If you're reading this, you have internet access. Use it. It's true you can't believe everything, or even most things, you read on the internet, but here are a couple of tried and true resources for writers I use as my points of initial inquiry:

The Absolute Write Water Cooler (Beware, major time sink zone! This is a fabulous community and it's easy to make friends and spend lots of time here. Great search engine, free registration.)
Preditors & Editors (Wonderful free resource. Donate if you can--they have legal fees that arise when businesses that feed off of writers sue after having their unethical business practices are revealed for what they are. They also have lots of other handy info for writers like agent information and forums.)

I also like to Google the name of a business in quotes and add scam. Sometimes the complaints people make about a business have no foundation--there are lots of people who complain about unfair treatment who are actually making unfair and/or unreasonable demands of that business--but sometimes I discover some very interesting stuff.

Practice safe publishing out there, and happy writing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Yays Galore

A gratuitously adorable kitty and girl pic.

Congratulations to INK member C.S. Cole for her first short story sale! More announcements about that at the appropriate times.

Also, our household had money fall out of the mail the other day. It's great to get royalty checks, especially right now.

More yay as far as the upcoming weekend weather--we should be warming up. Right now it's colder here than in Juneau, Alaska, where the temperature is around 27 degrees F. Compared to us in the teens and smaller twenties. I'm very grateful that the winds have calmed down substantially today, and I'm looking forward to Friday, when the temps will start to rise. Of course as they rise we're supposed to get some incoming dampness. Or the incoming dampness will warm us up. Either way we may get snow or freezing rain, but that'll be fun, too, since none of us really need to go anywhere or do anything important. I'll have to remember to stock up on fresh meat Friday morning, in case we can't get down the hill for the next little stretch.

At some point we'll take advantage of our relatively wind-free, sunny weather and cut a few trees. Which, even more yay, we can add to our firewood stockpile, a pile that is looking pretty scary-small. Yeah, I know, it's sad to cut trees, but these trees are bad. Actually, they're not bad, but ... We have a couple of very dense patches of volunteer douglas fir and the remaining trees will grow much taller, faster, and fuller/healthier with a few of their fellows gone. Mother Nature thins trees at a much slower pace, a combination of chemical warfare and suffocation/smothering that really doesn't seem any less cruel than converting the ones that will get choked out anyway into fuel to help keep us warm. Yay to being warm, especially if our power goes out and we're snowed/iced/snow-iced in. Then the dead trees will be our only source of warmth.

I guess that we're helping the tree bullies win, but it doesn't make horticultural sense to help the weak, possibly already dying trees survive and cut down the healthy ones. Alas, the laws of tooth, claw, branch and root. But, as a gardener, I'm used to the cruel realities of both the natural and the cultured plant world. I've slaughtered thousands of weeds, heartlessly, even gleefully, and pile the corpses to convert into soil for new garden beds.

Now I'm creeping myself out.

Last yay for this entry, I now have 15 manuscripts out in the mail looking for homes. A while back I had ten, the most I'd ever had out in the mail, ever. I'm aiming for at least one new manuscript out in the mail every week for the foreseeable future as part of my new commitment to put my typing where my mouth is. Or something like that.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for more blog posts as weather allows.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Winter Musings

Brrrr ....

This is the kind of weather (below freezing, wind chill sending us into the realm of unnecessarily cold, having to put warm water out for the barn animals twice a day) that inspires me to write a simplified life book. More on that in a sec, because --

What is it about the dumb, persistent myth that warm or hot water put out in the weather freezes faster than cold water? I heard this again the other day from someone and I was so dumbfounded that I couldn't bring myself to correct them. It defies the laws of thermodynamics, folks. If nothing else, consider that the warm water is cooled by the environment down to a temperature that qualifies as cold water, right? And that this takes time? And then, presumably, this now same-as-the-initial-cold-temperature water will take, what, less time to freeze employing what mechanism? I believe this fallacy must have come from some high school physics course in which the instructor explained calories and heating water and how much energy it takes to heat frozen water as opposed to liquid water. I'm not entirely sure but I suspect that someone took that data and extrapolated it incorrectly. The other thing that might be going on is that it's true that warm or hot water evaporates more quickly. Less water, less time to cool it down. However, I doubt that the evaporation rate reduces the amount of water overall (unless, possibly, you have a really small container) enough to increase the freezing rate.
Rant mode off.

My next project, after I'm done with the YA I'm working on, will be House of Goats. I proposed this at Kris and Dean's master's class and I've had very kind reminders ever since then that I have to write this book. Although I'm not basing House of Goats on my life, you can bet that all my Skunky stories will be included. And of course there will be dogs, and cats, and rodent infestations ... all the gory details of life on a small farm when you don't know exactly what you're doing and learn everything the hard way.

Well, not everything. Learning to make homemade blackberry pies wasn't hard at all. But then pie is notoriously easy.

The puppies have been enjoying life inside the house. They spend a few hours outside every day during the warmest part of the day, which they use for chasing each other around the yard and lazing in the sun, but the remainder of the time they're indoors napping in our living room chairs. The vacuum is my friend. Despite the added work, and the additional fuzzy people always getting in my way and underfoot, it's wonderful having them in the house with us. Aside from occasional forays into the litter box, they're really well-behaved animals.

No more sleeping on the bed, though. They take up more than half of a king-sized futon. The wedgie allotted to me when they're there is warm, but a little too cramped for comfort.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Beast as a Young Man -->

When I think about Beast, "Marley and Me" comes to mind. My DH and I didn't have the kind of relationship things going on, and I haven't had a problem finding myself--I'm always right here. But the dog. Oh yes, the dog ...

We adopted Beast and his sister Angel from the SW Washington Humane Society not too terribly long after we moved into our current house. We wanted Nikita's help raising the next generation of dog(s), and we were ready to celebrate our new open spaces with dogs that could cavort and run rampant around the property. Also, the kids were tiny when we got Nikita and Frey, so they lived with them as part of a pack, but hadn't been involved in training dogs. Nikita and Frey were family. We thought it would be fun for the kids to have best friends. We saw the dynamic duo, named Fred and Ginger by the staff, and decided not to break up a winning team. Little did we know that these two had probably escaped from a yard much like Beast would later turn loose the Sea of Unconditional Love again and again and again ....

As is the way of the world, all grand plans fall apart within the first couple of steps. Beast was the smartest stupid dog I'd ever known, and he proved it within a week. He learned to lift the latch on the gate, probably by watching our kids leave for the school bus that morning. He and his sister Angel got loose a short time after the bus had left. I watched our kids get on the bus through the window and had no idea Beast was so smart. In a few tiny seconds after I moved away from the window they got to the main road, and Angel was struck by a car.

I remember hearing the squeal of tires and the yelp, and the wash of disbelief pouring through me. I'd just seen them out there, safe inside the yard and the gate was closed. It couldn't be.

But it was.

I ran out, thinking 'please don't let it be Beast ..." I don't know why I connected with him more deeply in the beginning. I felt like such a bad parent, but as my heart stopped and stuttered back to life and I saw his shaggy face full of terror and confusion, relief soothed the red hot grief I felt as I gathered Angel in my arms. Beast had been a very smart, very bad dog and I'd been a very bad mommy for not predicting the need to clip that latch down so he wouldn't be able to lift it. We bonded hard in blood. The kids learned an entirely different lesson--the price of a moment of recklessness.

Did that make him mindful and obedient? Hell no. I can't count the number of times he opened that gate if we forgot to lock it. He'd watch for it. If anyone--stranger, kid, one of the adults, a house guest--neglected to clip the latch into a locked position he'd nose it up the second the coast was clear. He knew to wait for the front door to close and away he'd go.

He knew sit, and down, and come here ... if there was something in it for him. I had to learn the lesson that first-time airedale owners learn the hard way. Airedales are single-minded. Born for the chase. Born to run. To get an airedale to obey you have to make whatever it is you want him to do much more fun than running.

Beast knew how to find joy and hang onto it. If you weren't part of the joy, you were part of the problem, not part of the solution.

One time he chased a deer off a cliff and went missing for five days. Another time I lost control of him--he bashed past me as I went through the gate--while trying to recapture escaped goats.

Did that annoy me? No. Weirdly, I felt proud of him. He had a truly indomitable spirit. And he loved us completely. When we let him in the house he'd tear around the place looking for opportunities for play--teasing the cats, eating kitty tootsie rolls out of the litter box, snuffling every surface for food or something expensive to chew. (He got an irreplaceable remote on an older tv once--we had to recycle the tv and get a new one. Yargh.) But eventually all that destruction and chaos would get boring and he'd settle on (not by, on) my feet, sleepy contentment smooth on his face.

Everything active was his favorite, so I can't really say that jogging was his favorite thing, but it was. The other dogs couldn't keep up with us, even the younger ones. Sure, he'd be a little weary on the way home, walking slightly behind me instead of beside or ahead of me during the cool down, but he'd be ready to go again in a hour, easy. We'd play the sit-for-the-passing-car game which was great for him. He knew he'd get ear rubs while he was sitting on my foot, braced against my knee so I couldn't go anywhere without him.

This last summer we went to the river to cool off quite often. This was the first year he actually swam. Water to him had been a necessary evil, and he wouldn't go in deeper than his belly unless forced. But this time he followed me in until his feet left the sandy ground and I'd swim with him back to shore over and over. We walked together afterward, drying off in the luxurious sunshine, his clean, wiry coat perfect and shiny in the golden light. From that day on the river was his favorite walk.

I'll always remember that he experienced joy on a level far beyond that of any dog I'd known. He really knew how to live. He focused his entire being on the hunt, the chase, the run. Watching him run was like watching exquisite art in motion. The emotion of it was more like Olympic ice skating or ballet, so much more than getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. And he knew how to drink in love and accept it fearlessly. In fact he demanded it shamelessly, a big grin on his face, knowing he deserved no less.

You deserved no less, Beast, my monster. Blessed be.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Words Keep Coming

I'm still not moved into my office, so posts will continue to be sporadic and uneven, like life.

I've been writing like crazy the past few days, adding a lot of words to my Nanowrimo. I've also finished writing a new short story and will start on another short here pretty soon. My DH and I went a little crazy yesterday morning and came up with an alien biology that screams to be written about. More details as they emerge, skittering, from my flesh.

I love it when a good idea comes along and grabs me by the throat, but I don't actually need an idea, per se, to write. Like most writers I can go on and on just fine thank you about the human condition in all its dimensions--love and suffering, hate and pleasure, victory and lust, etc. There's plenty to write about in the regular, everyday world, just like there's plenty to paint all around us. It just requires a way of looking, the infamous artist's eye, to figure out what to write or paint about. It takes some practice but once the skill is there, it doesn't go away. Still, it's nice to have an idea take on a life of its own. It makes the writing that much more fun.

So I'm writing and settling into a post-convention routine that involves reclaiming my house from the Aaaaargh! Rats! and maybe even painting for Radcon. I haven't shown my watercolors in a while and I think it would be good for me to try to make that art show a deadline. I sold something at the last show I participated in, so I'm rather fond of Radcon's art show. They have the coolest stuff.

In other news, the puppies had a bath and spent the night in our bedroom to dry off (they have very thick coats this time of year and it takes a long time to dry out.) They tried sleeping on the bed, which worked out great for them (they took up over half of it) until they overheated. I was grateful when they decided the floor worked better.

It was nice to get a lick on the cheek to wake me up in the morning.

I'm still missing Beast very much, and so are the puppies. Lots of sad eyes and hearts looking for him, even seeing him for fleeting moments as memory intersects wanting. I got that song "Snoopy Come Home" stuck in my head for a couple of days. I've started listening to music while doing chores again to keep from slipping deeper and deeper into the pit of what-ifs that might have saved his life.

Last but not least, first hard frost this morning. We've had some good cold weather before this, but this is the first time I woke up to everything being white. Even our garbage bags outside had little white pebbles all over them--frozen dewdrops. Inside one of our metal posts, the ice formed a chaotic, delicate, criss-crossed stairway leading down into darkness.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Soon now, before we know it, the longest night of the year will be upon us, and we can begin to welcome the hope of longer days to come.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Early this morning, after rushing Beast to the emergency room at St. Vincent's Hospital for Animals, we lost him to cancer. He had multiple tumors on his spleen and two of them began to bleed. We weren't aware he had anything wrong with him until he collapsed from weakness--he'd been frolicking and running about with his usual boisterousness all last week. The vet fought hard to save him, and he fought hard to stay with us. He survived the surgery, but succumbed to weakness and crashed while the vet closed his incision. After a long attempt at CPR, the vet recommended that we let him go, as his EKG suggested he'd already gone.

Beast was only six years old. We had a really great summer--that's what I'm holding onto right now.

I'll write more about this later when I'm able.

Beast, we miss you so much. I love you, my jogging buddy. I hope you and Angel and Nikita and Frey have all been reunited, and that you're having lots of fun playing with your beloved sister and pack mates.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Of Mice and Millers

We're still dealing with the never-ending vermin project.  Because my computer with online access is downstairs, I don't have much time to post these days amid the muck and yuck even if I wanted to.  But I've had plenty of time to write ...

The tropical plants are all officially indoor plants again.  I'm sure they'll whine and complain--they far prefer real, live sunlight as opposed to the pale stuff that comes in through the windows.  My blood orange is already protesting, and it's only been in a few hours.  But it was shivering out there.  There's really nothing for it.

As if this wasn't enough going on around here to distract me from my real day job of writing fiction, we've had some sunny, dry weather.  For us gardeners, having non-rainy days this time of year is a huge boon.  I've been weeding like a madwoman, and refreshing garden paths with mulch.  The ladybug in the pic loved one particular lavender, a Grosso in the border of my grape arbor.  I moved him to other plants twice, but he kept coming back, so I snipped the wand he'd parked on after taking this pic and left it in the plant.  He seemed happy with that arrangement.

Garden note:  Yes, you can mulch with your leaves, but (and this is a big but) you will be helping garden pests, especially slugs, overwinter right where they can get at your plants.  So.  Don't mulch on top of your perennial crowns.  Evergreens and large shrubs or trees can take a few pests, especially if they're native.  Also feel free to mulch garden paths with leaves (but shred them first with a lawnmower or they'll just blow away.)  If you want to suppress weeds with fallen leaves as mulch and you can't lawnmower them, do what European gardeners do--put down a layer of newspaper or cardboard first, put the leaves on top, and then put your pruned branches on top of the leaves.  Evergreen prunings work best, but if you're in a relatively sheltered area, even a pretty spare deciduous branch can hold those leaves down pretty good.

Orycon 31 is this weekend.  If you're in the Portland, Oregon area and you're interested in genre literature, check us out.  We have media and comic stuff as well, but our focus is books and writing.  We have some great guests this year.  See the Orycon 31 website for more information, including a schedule of events on the programming page.  The convention is right by the Lloyd Center Shopping Mall, so you can have fun at the event and do your holiday shopping too.  Rates are:  $60 for the weekend, $25 for a Friday or a Sunday day pass, and $35 for a Saturday day pass.  Day passes are good until 10am the following day except for Sunday--Orycon shuts down at 4pm.

After OryCon, vermin or no vermin, I will be posting more regularly.  I may even post updates during the event, as I'll have a bit of free time here and there starting Saturday afternoon.

I hope to see some of you there!  Now, back to writing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Support Your Local Kids

We have some seriously creative kids at our local schools. You probably do too. Check out your local high school drama and music productions!! Mine aren't in this following video, but we went to this performance. It was a ton of fun, dirt cheap, and more entertaining than a lot of mainstream stuff I've been subjected to lately in movie theaters, etc.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Sorry about the lack of posts. We're still in iffy territory as far as internet connection and my office. We're working on it. I've also got a rotten cold of some sort. Bleh.

Anyway ...

I keep telling myself, it's not nearly as bad as last time.

But still.

We're finally tearing down the ceiling downstairs to rid ourselves of our ongoing vermin problem. In the middle of this (of course) the power went out in half the house. The half with my office.

Never fear! The good news is that I don't lie awake at night wondering if the house is going to burn down because a rat or mouse chewed through an electrical wire. Well, not too often, anyway. Turns out the wiring all looks pretty good except for one small spot that had nothing to do with the power going blink blink out. Turns out the power went out because of an overload on one of our breakers, now fixed. Yay!

The boo part is that we still have more ceiling to take down, and one of those rooms is my office. So there's really no point in setting up the computer in there, only to take it out again to make sure falling debris doesn't pop the screen (again.)

Blogging, email, everything computer-communication related is pretty much toast on the home front until we finish tearing stuff up and cleaning out icky mouse nests and making sure the wiring is safe and sound. Then I'll set the computer back up to its designated line and we'll be limping along at blinding (as in sometimes I think I'll go blind waiting for pages to load) dialup speeds. Because of line noise on our main line (yes, I've tried a noise reducer and it doesn't help that much) we have limited incoming email capability, no outgoing email (it times out) and very limited ability to look at web pages. Sorry.

My DH took point on the ceiling tear down. Have I mentioned lately he's my hero? Now, we didn't find bags and bags of dog food and rice like the last time I had to do this (in the boy's room, which is still blissfully clean.) But it's still disgusting to have that stuff raining on your head and arms. The ick factor doesn't shower off all that easily. Oh sure, the dirt rinses right off but the heebie jeebies need some serious scrubbing and the bleck bleck bleck requires toothbrushing, gargling, and then a second shower before it comes off. And of course we have a new influx of eeeee! spiders! that have until now lived all content and happy between the ceiling and floor.

We got the family room/library done in a day. Hopefully it'll only take a day to do the bottom of the stairs (there's a mousie spy hole there--they know we're coming and probably setting up ambushes, but they never man up to ever follow through,) my office and my daughter's room. We hauled off 840 pounds of gross stuff to the transfer station. Unfortunately that day or two won't be immediately forthcoming--we need a good combo of weather, lack of cold/flu stuff, and uninterrupted hours. It's bad to start a ceiling tear down and stop mid-way.

Where will we go from here? We have a cunning plan for what to replace the ceiling with. Details will come out after we've tested the system. Wish us luck!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Don't Look! Writing w/o looking at the screen

... still writing ...

... still working on Orycon programming ...

... still working on website ...

... but at least my website,, is live and updated.  It's just a little thin at the moment.  Let me know what you think.  Really.  I don't mind negative comments at all, especially if they're richly deserved.  Besides, it's not like I'd be stuck with teh suk if it does stink.  I can make changes all by my lonesome, without any webmasterly help (for the most part) so it doesn't cost me money, or very much time. I plan updating it fairly often, so your comments may be put to use pretty darned soon, especially if they point out something particularly heckle-worthy.

Bear in mind I may ignore your advice.  I'm mean that way to everyone, so don't take it personally. 

**A big thank you to S. & C. for your help in getting my website back!  That change of software really threw me.  Now I have control over my website again.  Yay!**

My Nano is coming along.  I'm averaging about 3600 words a day, with over 18,000 words written as of tonight.  But I haven't had much time to put together a short story this week.  I'd like to do that tomorrow, and get it sent out in the mail by Monday.

For all that I'm writing along at a decent pace, my DH is rather easily staying ahead of me.  This while only being able to type with two fingers.  Seriously.  I could trot out some excuses, but actually, it's a matter of dedication and speed of thought.  A couple of times now I've had to step back from what I'm writing and play in hot water for a while, whether it's dishes or taking a bath or whatever.  I've also done some gardening (thank you utility dudes for the free chipped pruning debris!) as that gets me out into fresh air.  Fresh air and exercise help keep my writing from getting foggy and inbred.  Working upstairs on my laptop helps too but I've already developed a favorite spot (on the loveseat) so I haven't changed perspectives very often through the device of changing sitting position and changing what I'm staring through when I look up from the keyboard.

Speaking of looking up from the keyboard ...

One of the things I learned about my own writing style in the master's class is the disadvantage of reading what I'm typing.  The advantage is that I tend to read somewhat aloud what I write as I type, just as I read aloud silently in my head when I read.  (This is a slow way of reading, but I get to enjoy the sounds of words on the page that way.)  People sitting close to me while I write will sometimes hear me vocalize deep (and quietly) in my throat, talking out the words on the page as well as reading them.

This is good to help me capture the sounds of words, but ...

But the flow of my writing stops and starts depending on things like typos.  I also get distracted by the look of the words on the page.  I worry, independently of how the word flow feels, about things like paragraphs being too thick or thin.

Visual appearance and typos are important, but allowing those little pixels on the screen dictate my writing to me while I'm in creative mode isn't always the best way to get at the right words.  When I mentioned this to Kris, she smiled and let me know that she often doesn't look at the screen at all.  Her gaze will wander around the room, and she'll be seeing in her mind's eye.  This, I believe, lets her tap more deeply into her imagination.

I gave that a try a few times during the class, and I think I'll give a try here at home from time to time too, especially during very visual moments in the story.  I just have to make sure my fingers are on the right keys, otherwise I won't be able to read what I just wrote!

I hope all my fellow Nanoers are doing all right out there!  Keep writing!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Writing as Chess

... working on website ...
... working on Orycon programming ...
... writing ...

I'm doing Nanowrimo again this year.  That's National Novel Writing Month.  The minimum is fifty thousand words to get a certificate of completion.  That's about the right size for a YA--you'd want to almost double that for a fantasy, and have 20-30k more for romance, etc.  

Anyway, to watch the drop out rate of Nanowrimo is to see for yourself the difficulties people run into when they sit down to write a novel.  I can compare it to chess.

Beginning chess players just know how the pieces move.  (Most writers have heard and read stories all their lives.  They know how the pieces are supposed to move.)  So they start out moving their pieces any way they can.  Most of them get lost after the first few moves as far as what to do next.  They know that they have to get a checkmate, but that seems impossibly far away.  If they've chosen a challenging situation (multiple point of view characters, an elaborate plot, a demanding genre such as mystery or historical where the readers have particular and high expectations) they will wash out literally in just a few pages.  They give up.  

If they've kept it simple, they'll get to the muddle in the middle.  This is usually the next big wash out place.  The story seems to take over and keep secrets from them.  Characters 'don't behave.'  They start losing track of story elements, character names (heck, I've forgotten character names in the middle of short stories!) and they seem to run out of 'things to do.'  In chess, there are just so many pieces in the active part of the board, the beginning chess player doesn't know which one is the right one to move.  In fact there may be several right ones to move and all would be well, but often they're so overwhelmed they just pick what seems easiest, or least dangerous.  Beginning storytellers do that too.  It's called choosing the low-hanging fruit, and the story becomes predictable, or characters are forced to do dumb things that no one who put five minutes of thought into the problem would do, etc.  

Sometimes, though (we're talking about just a few survivors at this point) the writer makes it through the muddle in the middle.  It's a mess to be sure, and they've usually put themselves (in chess terms) in a bad position.  They may have lost many of their best attacking pieces, or opened up pawn files (lost minor characters) that turn out to be quite important.  But they're still alive ...

Only to lose in the end.  They can't figure out an ending.  The ones that are really determined persevere, but often, even when it looks like the goal is in site, beginning writers find themselves out of the muddle in the middle with 45,000 words or more behind them and can't think of 5,000 more (the length of a short story) to pull it all together.  Suddenly the laundry becomes terribly important.  Or they just want to write "and they lived happily ever after" knowing that they're missing something critical.  That's the satisfying part of a satisfying ending.  The checkmate.  To learn it, you have to do it, and beginners just haven't gotten to the ends of things often enough to learn this skill.  Like a beginning chess player who somehow makes it through the complexities of the end game with a chance to actually succeed, they don't know how to force their opponent into a situation from which s/he can't escape.  

When the king topples--sometimes requiring a sacrifice--the game is over.  Easy to say, hard to do as many beginning chess players find out, chasing the opponent's king all over the board and never quite catching it.  In writing terms, they don't know how to wrap up the story in such a way that the ending wasn't dull and predictable, yet somehow feels inevitable based on all that has come before.

These 'beginning' problems never actually go away.  They just become easier to deal with, given experience.  The focus can turn more toward the actual game (story) instead of trying to get past these various obstacles.  Getting that experience, though, is tough.  The only way to get it is to write the novel.  To the end.  Whatever it takes.  Those first ones are messy and probably won't read well.  But the brain learns.  The mind discovers what works and what doesn't and does better the next time.  

That's the value of Nanowrimo, that and writing a novel in a month hones other skills.  Writing to deadline.  Daily writing.  If you're an outliner, adapting or going off outline or reworking an outline when the story inevitably takes a surprising turn.  Planning for and working around holidays is also a very valuable skill, and is one of the reasons why Nanowrimo is purposefully scheduled in November.

The support system is amazing.  There are people from all around the world on the forums to help and commiserate with.  If you've ever toyed with the idea of writing a book, this is the time and place to do it.  It's only day two.  You can do it!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Looking Over the Rail: Life Course Changes

Not much progress on the website. I'm a writer, not a webmaster!

Oh well.

Back to stuff about writing. One of the tough things about any kind of work or really anything is how to enact necessary changes. Dean Wesley Smith put it very nicely in the master's class--life is like an ocean liner. It can't turn on a dime. My corollary--you personally can turn on a dime, but it'll involve jumping ship. What does the ship represent? Family. Job. Home. Financial and social obligations. Your life as you know it, and all the ties that connect you to the world around you. The more you're willing to give up, the faster you can change.

A fast change isn't necessarily a good one, though, and it may not be lasting. In fact, you may crash and end up managing nothing but the damage you've caused yourself and others (if they don't abandon you entirely--and financial institutions will of course haunt you.) You'll have escaped into a storm, not the future you wanted. Going back to the jumping ship analogy, you have a moment of freedom--freefall--scary and exhilarating and, if you're that sort, fun. Then you hit the water. Slam. Culture shock, as in your own personal culture is no longer accessible and you're a stranger in a world completely alien to you. Shock from damage. Damage you cause yourself, financially, emotionally, maybe even physically (but I thought living in a cardboard box would work--why am I having to deal with frostbite?) Shock as you realize that big change is hard, and that now you have to swim. Staying afloat isn't a stasis situation anymore. Or, if the ship was sinking, at least it was sinking slow and now ...

Some people deal with shock better than others. They can run away to Europe and start hitchhiking, just getting by, and never look back on their old lives. They can ignore their family and work sixteen hours in their office every day, only surfacing for junk food, and not suffer from the resentment, or ensuing divorce, or the guilt if a child gets hurt and they don't notice for three hours. Each course change a person sets has positive and negative effects, foreseen and unforeseen. The bigger the change, the more effects there will be. If you can't deal with those side effects, you may try to climb back onboard. But the ship may have already gone on its way. Even if it hasn't, it may not be possible to get back on unless someone throws you line. And if you do make it, you can bet your status on that ship will have changed.

I'm not saying if you need a big change, don't jump ship. But consider how much you can handle, and whether or not you're willing to lose everything. A slow change may be more manageable, and more sane, and you may be able to adapt more easily to those unforeseen circumstances as they come up.

Sometimes there isn't a choice. Sometimes a lifestyle change is what you need to save your life, or to give yourself a shot at a future you want to live to see. Maybe those two things are the same. And maybe your ship has run aground and the only way to move forward is to get off. Anyway, as a model this works really well for me. I'll look at my decisions in a whole new way. Maybe it'll make me a more effective writer, and a more effective human being.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crazy-Making Website Update

Now I'm totally confused. If my site goes down for no apparent reason ...

well ...

there's a reason.

It's because I am an ftp amateur.

Pity me.

Crazy-Making Website

I've been working on my old website. I don't have anything new up yet--it's going to take me a bit of offline gymnastics to figure out how to upload the work I've done over the past few days. Watch out for that last step, it's a doozy ...

One of the things that I found particularly difficult was working up each page so that it fit the subject matter but also connected in some way to the home page. I don't think I was successful. There are things that I could do if I was working on Word that I can't seem to do with the themes in this program, like adjusting fonts. I can't adjust fonts on this thing or that thing? Really? And why is it that if I have access to this background here, it doesn't show up on the menu there?

It can be crazy-making.

The sooner I finish this, the better, is all I can say. I'll let y'all know how it works out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Master's Class: Kidnapped by Pirates

When you've been through a life-changing experience, it can sometimes be hard to convey what happened, what's different now that you're back home, etc.

I happened to stumble on a metaphor in the middle of class that makes the explanation child's play.

Remember Hook, the movie starring Robin Williams? Peter Pan's son and daughter have been kidnapped by pirates, and the kids are instructed to write some things down. The daughter refuses, and Captain Hook instructs Smee to give her an F. Which he does. "F?!" she cries. "You gave me an F?!"

The real problem, of course, is not that she got an F but that she's been kidnapped by pirates. And that's what the master's class was like. For a while I focused on the mechanics I didn't have and where I failed as a writer. "F? Zero out of ten points on my revision paper?" Oh my gawd. I thought they'd send me to the remedial class before I could proceed.

Luckily, I figured out that some score on a revision test didn't matter at all. What I really had to pay attention to was that I'd been kidnapped by pirates. And I wanted to be a pirate. Er, writer. I finally began to look at what I did right, instead of what I was doing wrong. From that mindset I could then think about what I left out of my writing (not what was wrong, but missing) and commit to including that piratical, er, writerly stuff.

Suddenly, I began to sail the high seas, battling storms, tasting salt on my lips, deafened by the thunder of waves against the hull that shook through my very bones ...

I didn't give a rat's tail if I got an F on some grammar-related test thingy.

And that, ladies and gents, was what I came home with, and why I view writing, and life, in a different way than I did before the class. Wouldn't you, if you'd been kidnapped by writers?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Appearances Matter: Story Setting

What does every story need at it's very beginning? A character, in a setting, with a problem. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived an old woman who was so poor she didn't have enough money to buy bread.
At the master's class, I learned, (and I wasn't alone) that I had a lot of problems with setting. Characters came through okay, problems percolated in the evil coffee machine, but setting? Not so much.
I just read a story for a workshop (not for the Lucky Labs) where all the errors I'd been guilty of with setting were amplified. A character arrived at home at twilight. Um ... home? What's home? A ranch? A mansion? A cardboard box? Is this in a neighborhood or a cottage in the woods with wolves howling in the distance?
If writers don't supply the details, the readers will fill in their own. The problem is, every reader has a different home in mind. When a Persian rug appears in the living room on page three, this may fit the reader's mental image, or it may shove the reader out of the story. After all, a Persian rug doesn't really belong in the Frank Lloyd Wright house they imagined.

The class really brought home the fact that writers are building a world, whether it's a familiar one or an alien one. Shorthand very seldom works. I can officially stop envying urban fantasy writers. Because, thinking about it, it's just as difficult to describe an urban landscape well as it is to drop the reader into an alien one. Maybe moreso--in an alien landscape, the reader isn't busy filling in false details. They wait for the writer to let them know what color the trees are, and whether those trees have tentacles or not.

The fall colors this year, speaking of colors of trees, are incredible. That's what you get when you have a really cold previous winter. Our view of the Gorge takes my breath away, and the light filtering through stormy clouds runs the full array of autumn gold to cold, pale, winter light, depending on the time of day. I'll have to post a pic soon, and pics of the happy dogs playing Don't Catch. Finn, btw, had actually begun to play actual fetch while Brian was away. Brian quickly reminded him of the rules, and now everything's back to normal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brian is Home!!

Yes, our wayward wandering dog has come home. For those of you who've read Benji, this'll sound familiar:

Apparently Brian spent several hours hanging out with dogs downhill from us. There were two puppies and the owners noticed that he wasn't hounding the chickens, so they didn't mind and figured he'd go home when he was good and ready. They called him Bear.

Brian didn't go home, but wandered for a couple more days, going further north and west. He ended up wandering back south again toward the road, where he came upon Windy Ridge, where Mary found him. Mary had given me, the kids, and our groceries a ride home when our car broke down one day, so she knew us but didn't connect Brian to our home.

They loved Brian. Her boys became very attached and named him Wesley. They didn't see any signs and didn't have time to go door to door (it would be an enormous task anyway! I don't expect that sort of thing) but they did call two separate humane society branches. For some reason the humane societies didn't connect the dots, possibly because she described him as a Newfoundland (black dog) retriever mix and perhaps the person on the phone didn't hear 'white' in the description.

Mary has a ton of wonderful animals, including horses and llamas, and is in touch with our animal hospital. So the next time she went there she checked the boards and realized she had Brian. She called immediately.

The boys were crushed, but we're elated. The DH and I put together a huge gift basket and brought it over as a big thank you. And we all lived happily ever after.

Beast and Finn were a little puzzled when Brian came home, btw. He smelled completely different, so they followed him around and checked him out to make sure he wasn't some weird dog that happens to smell a little like Brian. For his part, Brian is happy to be in his old dog house again, and slept in it all night. I think he's a little confused, but not about us. He was so happy to see me, he ran right into my arms.

Physically he lost some weight, which will turn out to be actually good for him. He was turning into sausage dog and it was hard on his hips. I'll try to exercise him more so that he keeps that weight off. He's in excellent shape now. Rapid weight loss (which he no doubt experienced while he was wandering around for about four days with no food) is *not* recommended, btw. Do not fast an overweight dog. We'll be keeping a close watch for any health problems, but since he's been fed for 2 1/2 weeks and seems active and happy, I'd say that any danger he might have been in has long passed.

Thank you everyone for your ongoing support. We're very happy campers. A big hurray and thank you to Mary and her boys. You guys are heroes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Things I've learned

Thoughts for the day:

Competent work employs the first workable idea.  A competent craftsman will have practiced his skill up to a certain point such that his work, on first perusal, will leave nothing to offend the eye.  He will use the materials most easily available to him that will get the job done.  And he will put just enough thought into his work so that it's clearly a unique product.

A good craftsman will think deeply to get past the early ideas to find an elegant one.  He will trust that his skills are competent and focus on expressing his ideas and himself through his work.  He will use materials that inspire him and others without being overbearing or gaudy.  And he'll know he's achieved something true to himself when the results of his labor surprise him, not because his work is bizarre, but because his work of art taught him something he didn't know before, and perhaps reveals to others what they didn't know about themselves.

I plan to apply these principles to writing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Polishing rice to a mote

One of the things we went over in class is polishing a manuscript to death.  It seems I've been doing that.  

I should have known.  I know better than to turn my paint into mud, so why in the world would I do the same with words on the page?  Going over a work is fine.  Going back to fix things that need to resonate with things written later, no problem.  But I've been playing with sentences, even individual words, trying to get that perfect lightning/lightning bug thing going.

At least with my process, that may need to happen on the first draft, because work that I turned in that I thought was some of my best work couldn't hold a candle to the stuff I wrote overnight for the class.  And you know what?  That was true for everyone in the class.


Just think of what we could do with a longer deadline so we could really think things through and no rewriting?

I firmly believe that learning to rewrite words on the page is critical--at a certain stage in a writing career.  Those are important skills, at least in my opinion, if for no other reason than it would be good to be able to respond to an editorial request without falling apart.  On the other hand it seems I've gotten past that stage.  My revision skills went from productive to destructive somewhere along the line.  

My classmates shared that trait.  We are Borg.  (We all had similar problems, and we even came up with similar story ideas until K&D started handing us completely different news articles to write from.)

So it's back to Heinlein's Rules for me, and with a confidence I didn't have before.  I've now had complete strangers, over a baker's dozen of them, tell me my writing is better when I don't polish it to death.  I may write a little more slowly and be more considered with those first word choices as a result.  Or not.  I'm not sure what it'll do to my writing speed.  I'll be interested to find out.

In other news, no news about Brian yet.  We'll be going to the humane society again in a bit to see if he's there.  I suspect he isn't.  They called when a dog matching his description came in last time.  They'll probably call again when another comes in.  But we'll look just the same.  Maybe they haven't had time to give us a ring and he'll be there, fanning his tail and looking very apologetic.  

That would be incredibly wonderful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Glory in the Details

I'm home.  Still feeling overwhelmed, in a good way, about Kris and Dean's master's class.  

We didn't just learn about writing at this class.  We learned about different aspects of a writer's life, from budgeting to marketing, writing pace to contracts and all kinds of stuff in-between.  Some of the more valuable lessons I learned came from watching Kris and Dean react to new information.  They're learning all the time, and voraciously investigate anything having to do with writing craft, business, or their other interests.  

I try to learn about stuff, and I thought I'd done a pretty good job.  Well, sort of.  My sources of information about things like writing craft have been pretty limited, unbeknownst to me.  I'd forgotten a big, very important source of information.  Direct experience.  That means reading (for pleasure first) and then dissecting writing, among other things.  That also means listening to my senses, even if it means snorting dandelion pollen and then sneezing for two days afterward to get a description right.  

I get away from my office from time to time; I've even posted about escaping my desk to write, hopefully not with a note of superiority.  But it's literally been years since I've gone downtown to check out architecture, or savored a hot chocolate with raspberry sauce and extra whipping cream specifically to imbed the sensory information into my head in a way that I can later access for writing.  Taking notes helps.  I'm sure the wonderful staff at Mo's restaurant in Lincoln City thought I was nuts, but I took four pages of notes about the food--how it tasted, smelled, felt, the clientele, the view ...  When I sat down to write the story, I didn't even have to look at those notes.  The memories were right there waiting for me.

And of course there's writing practice.  Writing with a specific goal in mind--to get an effect, or to deliberately include scents on every page, or to express an opinion through character voice without actually stating what that opinion may be.

The different ways to get direct experience are still percolating in.  Until then, I've got to write with what I've got.  Tonight, in fact.  I'm pretty pooped but I could stand to write something that isn't an assignment, as fun as those assignments were.  (Some of them I have to say were ~fun~ assignments rather than fun fun, but I ended up enjoying the results anyway.)

It's good to be home.  I'll miss my writing buddies, but I missed my family lots and I'm all grins right now.  If Brian comes home that'll be even more beautiful.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Before the Long Drive Home

I've had a fabulous time at Kris and Dean's master's class. What an incredible experience. I'll be spending the next few weeks (or years) assimilating all the information I got here and making it part of my writing process.

Actually, I'm still here, technically, but in about three hours I'll have graduated from this particular asylum and can carry on wreaking havoc out in the world at large. Dinner first. And maybe a glass of celebratory glass of champagne.

Later I'll post a blog entry with a list of folks who were here who wouldn't mind a little shout out. I've been privileged to work with some really amazing writers; talented, dedicated, creative, intelligent, and almost as crazy as me though not as dopey unless they want to be.

One of the things that's going to be on my mind will be my writing style. I can't imagine that I could have changed a whole lot in two weeks, but at the same time I feel like I'm living in a completely different universe.

It's always kewl when you get thrown off a cliff and manage to fly. Flap awkwardly, in my case. They say there was a nice warm pool of water to catch me down there, but I didn't want to find out the hard way.

I will go over some of the interesting lessons over the next bit, but I don't want to throw anything out there before I know what I've got. 'Cause, I may think I'm throwing a bouquet of flowers and y'all might run screaming spiders! spiders! and then I'd be all embarrassed right before I started dancing around doing my Kami freaking about spiders dance. Followed by Kami realizing she'd touched spiders and doing the boogety woogety shudder I touched a spider dance.

No word on Brian, btw. I think having him missing has been easier on me than the rest of the family since I've been here all sleep deprived and busy. If it hits like a ton of rocks when I get home, I may whimper about it here. You're all forewarned.

I walked on the beach today. My whole body feels clean but imbued with a living perfume. Incredibly beautiful day today. Pouring rain, sunshine, damascus steel sky. My hair flew around my head and the ocean thundered and sand sizzled down the beach. Five pelicans ghosted through sea spray whipped up into the air by northerly wind.

My DH will be driving in today. I've really missed my family, especially him. I feel like I've got a whole lifetime of words (here's where he'll let out a groan) of words and ideas that I want to share with him.

That's what long drives home are for.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Signing off, sadly

Last post before I head off to Kris and Dean's master's class on the coast.  This is not the departure I thought I'd have.  Brian is still not home.  Going to the shelter and stopping by local vets with fliers hit me again and again with the fact that an animal I love is missing, possibly hurt, possibly worse, maybe hypothermic and lost and scared and there's not a damned thing I can do about it.
The rest of the family will be on the lookout while I'm away.  Who knows?  He might turn up overnight, or tomorrow morning.  Every passing moment is another moment that Brian might find his way back to us.  
Adding to my grim feelings is a dream I had of Brian coming home.  I had similar dreams for every pet that's left this world.
This blog will be silent (or whispery at best) until October 18th.  I should have some interesting writing-related blogs when I get back.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Three Doofuskateers

The dogs escaped today, and very weirdly, out of the three, the two who are usually gone the longest are the ones who came home first (after making me sweat for about three hours or so.)  Brian the Poopyhead, Mr. Loves His Comfort, Sir "Too Far, Will Lie Down Now" is often, after an escape, not only the first to come home, but the one who comes home after less than an hour away.  So, I'm quite worried.  Beast is exhausted and muddy, having gone way past the fun and into the misery part of traveling cross-country.  Finn is in better shape, but looks very concerned and often lifts his head from being curled up (they both got soaked in various downpours, so curling up is the best way to conserve heat until he dries off) and searches for his brother as far as his line of sight allows.

It was awesome to see them, three dogs at the firepit--except one of the three was our neighbor's dog, Sammy.  Sammy's daddy was away so he didn't know Sammy had gone on a little excursion with his best buddies across the street.  I think the muddy coat will kinda give him away, but he has a little time to clean up first.

I'd like to think that the soreness and sadness will teach them a lesson, but I know better.  These dogs, given a chance, would roam the many hundreds of acres that comprise the hills we live in again tomorrow, and would return only for food and perhaps a game of don't catch.  Don't catch, btw, is where we throw an object and they all run to get it, one picks it up, drops it again, and they all run back to us.  Throw is fairly loosely interpreted, so recently when I dropped a can of tonic water, Brian grabbed it and carried it off, and when I asked him to come to me, he dropped it and came very obediently.  I told him to go get it, and he did, and picked it up, and I asked him to come, and of course, once again, he dropped it and came over.  Don't catch.  A way for humans to get as much exercise as the dogs.

Anyway, earlier in the evening we heard some rifle shots.  This happens around here.  People sight in their rifles for hunting and such, and sometimes even practice.  It's just the timing and location of the shots that leave me even more worried about Brian.  

He'll turn up, and he'll be wet, and he'll feel sad and worried because maybe mom and dad will be mad and not love him anymore.  Brian, wherever you are, as long as you come home, mommy will be happy.  Honest.  But, you might get a bath.  You have to admit, it's a fair price to pay.  And don't forget, after every bath, there's always the head/towel game.  Sweet!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Classy Way of Learning

Classes and seminars, like the master's class I'll begin next week, are an excellent way for writers to get educated, if they're taught by good people who get results.  Assuming you've done your research, you can expect results.  

Part of  the reason these things work is the focused time on learning.  Reading books on writing is all fine and good, but there's no guidance, feedback, nor deadlines associated with reading.  Receiving feedback from an instructor, or just knowing you'll be graded, will push writers to improve.  In away-from-home classes, you commit the commute time, and while you're in class (in theory, anyway) you'll have few or no distractions from the subject at hand.  Also, good instructors will carefully link reading assignments, writing assignments, and connect those to real world applications so that they align to prove a point.  Like a good story, good classes have themes.  If it's a long class, it'll have sub-plots with their own themes and counter-themes as well.  

Writing retreats can provide some of the same benefits as a class as far as the focused time, but they lack the academic element.  Some retreats do have evening lectures or debates over dinner.  These can be very beneficial, but lack the overall experience of having formal instruction.

Bad instruction is out there.  Be careful what you sign up for.  Also, even very good instruction can damage your writing.  (See Dean Smith's article about this very thing here.)  Among other things, if what's being taught doesn't fit the way that you work, it can undermine a system of writing that works for you.  

Most savvy instructors are aware that there are many different ways to write and do their best to support a given writer's process, but there are two pitfalls I can think of off the top of my head.  

When there are tight deadlines, a slow, deliberate writer will be forced to rush and perhaps fall on his/her face and decide that s/he is a terrible writer because all the feedback on the stories is bad.  

Also, the authority of an instructor can be dangerous to impressionable students.  For example, even when an instructor acknowledges that he outlines but that not everyone outlines, the student may decide that the real problem is that she outlines and everything will be better if she starts doing that.  But if she's a non-outliner like me, she'll find that it'll feel like she's already written the story, and there aren't any surprises left for her--she'll have killed her inspiration to write, and her prose will become as lackluster as her enthusiasm.  (BTW, it's not true that outlining means there aren't any surprises--even very careful and thorough outliners find the story escapes them and surprises them all the time.  They still have plenty of fun.)

Writers who want to please their peers and teachers are particularly vulnerable.  The ego-laden writer is in no danger (and will probably never learn a thing in a class except s/he may decide that everyone is an idiot.)  Writers who have no sense of the worth of their own work may totally ruin it trying to write it to answer everyone's comments.  Better to chuck the story and start again than create such a monster just like Dr. Frankenstein.  And writers who seek praise and hope that their darlings will be received with enthusiasm and demands that they be published immediately will be crushed.  (The evil part of me says rightfully so, but really, these kind of writers need to be educated, not destroyed, and a class is not where they'll learn what they need to know to avoid this particular pitfall.)

Cautionary tales abound about writers going through a class, seminar or workshop and they never write again.  Though part of me (the evil part) quietly rejoices that the slush pile will be that much smaller, honestly, I don't want a writer to stop writing because of a class.  I'd rather they stop writing because it's not as important as other things, or some other reason, like publishing sounds more like a recipe for heartache than an opportunity to share stories with the world.  Do not stop writing because of a class.  If you think you might, don't take the class.

Before you take a class, have a few things clearly in mind:

*If the work load is notoriously heavy, are you a fast enough writer to keep up?
*What are the stated goals for the class?  Is that what you really want to learn?
*What is the teacher's reputation?  Is s/he (or are they, if there are multiple instructors) published, and if so, do you respect their work?  Or are they editors or agents, and if so, are they teaching what they know?  (Not all editors or agents are qualified to teach writing (some are)--but experienced ones can certainly talk about what they're looking for and offer great advice on how to present yourself professionally.)
*What is the reputation for the class?  Do people often wash out?  Is there a reasonable number of people who come out as better writers for it?  (BTW, even a very good class won't have 100% excellent results, and there are always people who don't do well in a given environment so don't let that discourage you--just be aware.)
*Is the cost comparable to similar classes of similar length?  If not, is it worth the disparity in cost if it's more, or if it's less, are there additional costs (like finding your own lodging or buying expensive textbooks?)
*Can you get college credit or a certificate or does the class have some other tangible worth in the publishing community?

Before you take an expensive class that requires you to be away from work a long time, try something smaller scale, like working with a critique group, a community college extension class that meets once or twice a week, or going to a convention (like OryCon!) where there will be writer-related activities and classes (hopefully for free.)  Willamette Writers often has writing-related activities.  If you're not local you may find similar groups, or online groups like Longridge Writers and RWA who can give you a taste of learning under the guidance of other writers before you take the plunge for bigger things like Viable Paradise, Clarion, or Kris and Dean's classes.  Don't take my word for it--check credentials before you sign up for any of these or other courses.  Writer beware: even the most reputable courses may not be for you.

Happy Writing!