Friday, February 26, 2010

Aw Kittehs

we haz cuteness u r slaves now

Teh housework, it was full of ick, but it's all better now. I wasn't able to put away the hand towels, though, because the kitties ... well, you can see for yourself. Their cuteness grows daily. Soon they will rule the house! I have a long video of Carey (the gray fluff) grooming Veronica (litt'l white kitteh.) It goes on a bit so it's one of those things that only a kitty mommy could love, so I probably won't post it on You Tube (ha, see how I act as if I know how to do that?) but I'm sure you can imagine.

Add purring to both this image and the unseen video and you have a pretty complete pic.

I haven't had two cats get along this well since, well, Chi Chi (the first) and Missy. Chi Chi was also a gray kitteh, and fluffy, found as a stray kitten. My father put his foot down. Absolutely no kittehs in the house. My mom let her in during the day while he was at work and fed her. One day she hid, and he came home, and she crawled up onto his chest, purring like mad ... and we ended up with our very first cat ever. Chi Chi was already a middle-aged kitteh when we adopted Missy, a short-haired gray and white thing. Something similar to the pic above was the result.

I love these sweet memories and moments.

The House, She is a Mess

I looked around in despair yesterday at a living room completely dripping with clutter sauce and a kitchen that had either crumbs or something greasy or both on every surface, including the stove. Gaaaah! The kids and I started cleaning up a bit, so it's better, but it's not good. I still flinch when I look around, but I can actually do something in those spaces other than run away screaming or start cleaning with a crazed look in my eyes.

I will have to clean some more, not just for my own peace of mind but so that I can concentrate on work. I used to have a higher tolerance for clutter. That tolerance is wearing thinner and thinner the older I get. The good part is that overall, our house is nicer. The bad part is that if I fall behind on cleaning, my writing pace really starts to fall off until I get my housekeeping act together. Fortunately I don't put off housework so long that it's a clean-by-diverting-a-river kind of situation anymore (most of the time, ahem) but like now, I do sometimes ignore it for long enough that the clean up will take a not-insignificant amount of time to rectify. Ugh.

It's that time of year to wash windows, too. The recent profusion of sunny days has revealed the quality and quantity of dirt on all my exterior glass surfaces. If I don't do something about it soon, all the windows in my books and stories will be grimy, dusty, cobwebbed things.

I just want to dance in a circle chanting ick ick ick ick ick! I wonder if it's possible to train cats to clean.

That should be enough whining for now. I think I'll go write about someone with a really bad housekeeping problem.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


My DH and I have put up (most of) a shed. Like a mushroom, it sprouted practically overnight, and we put the roof on it just before the rains came, as in it began to rain only minutes later. My wheelbarrow, some tools and building materials are currently sheltered underneath, nice and dry. I'm giddy with power. Mwa ha ha!

Soon, soon now I will also put up a larger structure as a kind of studio. Some of you may remember that I planned to create a kind of sun room under our deck and use that as a studio. The thing is, to do that right I would require some things I don't have on hand, and I have just about everything I need to build a garden structure. I may need a 2x12 and a couple or three 2x6s and some 2x4 studs, and I'll need about a yard of gravel and some bags of pre-mix cement, but other than that, I think I can make due with what I've got.

It's all very exciting.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the seeds I planted to come up. Except for a couple of new varieties I'm making room for (or will when we have dry weather again,) I don't plan on adding rows of veggies until I see me some leaves.

A few minutes ahead of me, a bunny went checking out the garden also. He didn't find anything worth snarfing yet either. Sigh.

But there's been progress.

I made progress on House of Goats too. Ah yes, memories of puppy escapes. I swear this book is writing itself. Good times, my friends, good times ...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's a Dog's Life

The rains are a' comin' so here's a sunshine-y puppy pic just for y'all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cowgirl Up

I don' wanna work I wanna lay on the beach w/my handsome young cat Wiz-dom.

Crazy work day today. I finished a couple of stories and sent out a bunch that had come back. That added up to seven (I think) submissions that went in the mail today. One included a rejection my DH found in the mailbox just as we left the house to go to the PO.

Keeping stuff in the mail can be tough for me sometimes. I'm a writer, not a mailer! When I get a rejection, the temptation is to deal with marketing later, say, during the next Ice Age. Or maybe on the night of the next blue moon.

Realistically, though, it's part of my job. It must be done. (Note the passive voice in the previous sentence that neglects to include someone doing the 'it'.)

I suspect every job has some aspect that's a real chore. Some artists groan at having to stretch canvas or watercolor paper, while others loathe the finish work on animal fur. Some writers despise grinding through a first draft, while others put off the review/revision or editing process. Some secretaries hate answering phones while others will tidy endlessly in the hopes of putting off filing or going to the office supply store to restock their work group's materials. And I bet it's a real pain for some of those CEOs to have to bend over to place their golf ball. Seriously, that's gotta be rough!

Anyway, the answer is, if you can't afford to hire someone to do your icky stuff for you, then you gotta cowgirl up and just do it.

I'm feeling all puffed up with cowgirl virtue now.

Stories out: 23
Currently reading: Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (tee-hee-ing-ly recommended)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chiron Business Logo

I created a logo for Rory's business. I hope to have more refined versions, but hopefully this one is good enough for T-shirt pocket-sized patches and business cards and such. I know I need to move the left (his left, my right) chest line up. I'd also like to have a cleaner sword. This will involve enlarging the image and playing with some nicer pens--this one was done with a G2 gel.

Overall, though, I like it enough that I'm not ashamed of it. Thank goodness that I only have to do this type of illustration a couple of times a year. It's really time/creativity intensive for me, far more so than writing or painting in watercolor. Probably because I'm not as practiced at it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rolling with the Weather

I had a good time at Radcon, but I'm more than ready to get back to work.

In the works:

More short story writing
More writing on House of Goats (and I have a first reader now! Yippee!)
More gardening

We've had incredibly good weather. After a few days of rain, we're back to sunny weather. My test-run of snow peas came up, so I'm going to go ahead and plant a half row of them. The fava beans also started coming up, so I'll plant those, and more garbanzo beans, which didn't come up for some reason still unknown to me. I'll check the seeds before I plant the new ones--it just may have been too cold for them to finish coming up, or something might have gotten to them. I also, as of yesterday afternoon, have a half row of spinach, and I'll be putting in some carrots, lettuce, and possibly some scallions.

This is the wrong time of year to put all my eggs in one basket, so the planting will remain conservative. I'm not going to put all my seeds in the ground, despite our incredibly nice early weather, because we've had snow on April Fool's Day before. All my plantings could still freeze, not to mention we'll lose our fruit crop because our peaches are starting to bud, and the other trees won't be far behind. All we can do in that case is just look forward to next year.

So much of life involves rolling with the weather, be it the stuff outdoors, or economic, or health or what have you. So far so good. I just hope we can hang on and have a really good year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tissue Repository

Every year I've been to Radcon, I've been offered a chance to go on a tour to a facility of scientific importance. This year I went to a tissue repository where a team of international scientists are studying radiation in the human body.

I think one of the most important things I learned was how much we don't know about radiation and its effects on the human body. Some very dedicated people, in spite of difficulty obtaining proper funding, are trying to determine basic information like what it means to get a certain dose of radiation. Radiation exposure isn't like walking through a room filled with flour and you get some on and inside of you. Science is acquainted with things like the amount of energy emitted by a given amount of radioactive material, and has some information about where various kinds of materials 'like' to deposit in the body, but I got the distinct impression that not very much is known at all about what that means in the long term.

Some people are aware that radioactive substances and radiation are part of our natural environment. A few people are even aware that life developed on this planet during a time when there was a lot more natural radiation flying around. I don't think that many people know that cancer rates are higher for people who live in areas that have very little local radiation, though if you think about it, cancer cell sensitivity to radiation makes this a natural conclusion. If you have a single cell of cancer form in your body and the local natural radiation takes it out before it can divide, well, you don't develop that cancer. So what's a good amount of radioactivity to be around? Funding is required to investigate. What if your friend Bob got exposed to radiation while helping clean out the debris from a really old toy or watch factory when he accidentally knocked over an old, unmarked container of radium? What kind of long term risks can he expect? No one knows.
It's not all about funding. In order to study radiation in the human body, these research facilities need folks who have been exposed to radiation to donate their bodies to the project. Some people might think that after radiation exposure, people just keel over very quickly from cancer and then their bodies can be studied. In reality, most of the people the project studies die from some other cause, like heart disease. Now, it may be that there is an increased risk of heart disease after radiation exposure, but they don't know. They'd need funding and subjects to study in order to find out. Either way, folks tend to live long lives seemingly unaffected by their exposure (with the exception of people with really high exposures from serious accidents, as have happened in Russia and Japan.) The number of people who have been exposed to radiation in the workplace are relatively few, and they have to renew their commitment to donate to the project on a frequent basis, so that's also a limiting factor. Having said that, a remarkable number of people have come forward to further this research, people I personally felt very grateful toward. Theirs isn't a small gesture--and the scientists treated the remains throughout ever stage of inquiry, including when we toured the building--with respect. There doesn't seem to be much breakdown on that side of the equation. It seemed to me that, overall, the project had far more issue with grant money than anything else.

Anyway, they're trying to study stuff that is of extreme importance. Whether we need to use this information should there be a dirty bomb attack somewhere in the world, or to help ensure the health and safety of power plant workers, or suggest better ways to treat cancer through radiation, or to answer questions most of us don't even think about, this isn't some idle point of scientific curiosity. I hope they get better funding soon, in the interest of furthering medicine.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Radcon 2010

Here I am at Radcon. I have a schedule, and it's a very nice schedule ... I just don't have it in hand right now. I'll most likely comment on some of the panels I'm on and the panels I manage to go to sometime after this weekend, as I have in the past, rather than at-con. In the past I've been too busy to post while I'm here, and I doubt it'll be any different this year.

So far I've run into lots of great people and I'm only half out of my mind trying to prepare for my panels.

I'll be reading with Broad Universe, so if you want to hear my work and you're in the area, pop on in. I believe we're reading at 2pm on Saturday. I probably won't read the one that makes people cry, although that one will be my default if I panic at the last minute.

Now for some last-minute research.

BTW, first thing in the morning I'll be going on another kewl Hanford tour. This tour will cover the tissue repository. Important scientific stuff. I suspect I'll come away with lots of info and a few story ideas. The very existence of this facility is a story unto itself. I don't want to get too far into its purpose until I've had the tour, but I will pose this: what should a society do with radioactive materials when they're of human origin?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Will Work for Seeds

I'm putting in my seed order today. I recommend Territorial Seeds. Good folks growing good stuff, and they have very quality seed.

Unbeknownst to most folks, the seeds you get in the seed packets at the store are usually low quality seed. The reason is that the seed companies don't make much money off of those seed stands, and if someone complains and asks for money back, it costs them a negligible amount. Compare that to farmers, who will buy many pounds, instead of grams of seed, and if the germination rate isn't great, they'll go to another seed company and spread the word. Some seed sellers who sell to farmers give them the good stuff and put what's essentially iffy or waste seed into the packets for the general home owner who buys from their grocery store.

In come the specialty seed producers and growers. There are lots of things to look for to determine how seriously they take seed sales to us folks buying small potatoes (so to speak.) I look for companies with a variety of packet sizes--everything from under a gram up to selling several ounces or even selling by the pound. I look for germination rates listed in their catalogue. I look for trial information--either on their own site, or other sites. I look for in-house varieties (things that the producer developed through breeding on their own grounds,) and statements about where the other varieties they carry came from. I also like seeing information on disease resistance, not just a hardiness number or recommended planting times that may or may not be variety specific. Good seed producers usually also include the approximate number of seeds per gram or ounce.

BTW, it's easy to just slap the same information on, for example, all carrots, but carrots widely vary as far as what time of year is best to plant them. Some do poorly in summer, some can be overwintered, some love the heat. This is why it's such an advantage to go with a seed producer that actually pays attention to that sort of thing. The difference in price, if you're talking about a backyard garden, will be anywhere from ten cents to three dollars more per packet for some of the really exotic specialty seeds than what you'd find in the grocery, hardware or general store. The difference in quality and the chances of success far and away offset that. All that time and anticipation, anywhere from 20 days from the fastest growing radish to the length of a human pregnancy for overwintered veggies ... to me it makes no sense to get something at the cheapest price and then have nothing come up, or come up only to die or have something else entirely come up after all that waiting ....

On the other hand, if you haven't prepared your soil very well, don't have a pest management plan, or are simply inexperienced, I wouldn't recommend going with a bunch of really pricey, top-quality seeds your first few times around. It might be a good idea to go to a garden center, though, instead of a store that sells only the usual nationwide brands of seeds. Look over the racks that feature local or organic seed companies, and pick a few inexpensive things, both ornamental and edible, that you're interested in growing. Find out what's very simple and fun to grow from the employees.

Some suggestions for first-time from-seed growers:

Radishes--grow fast, very easy sprouters. Pick them as soon as they're ready because we have pests in the soil that mar the skin. The cooler the weather, the better because fewer pests are active in cool soil.  Plant a couple dozen seeds every two weeks and move your planting site around the garden.  Radishes do well between rows of other veggies or even in-between annuals in your ornamental garden, as long as they get enough sunlight.
Zucchini--these will famously grow anywhere for just about anyone. Don't plant all the seeds all at once! Plant two groups of three about 2-3 feet apart, see if they come up. If they don't, try again. (If they don't, it's just as likely that the soil is too cold or they got hit by pests. Try to figure out what happened before you replant.)  Zucchinis don't usually get bothered by birds or slugs but sometimes mice will get them.
Sunflowers--protect them from birds and slugs! Cover the seeded area with netting or crop-covering fabric. Cheesecloth might work fine too. Uncover the seedlings when they've got a true leaf if you're using light-permeable fabric or netting, sooner if you use cheesecloth or other light-blocking fabric.
Oregano, mint or catnip--The seedlings on these are extremely delicate. I start them in ordinary garden pots, planters, or leftover plastic trays from annuals from last year and then transplant them when they're a couple of inches tall. Keep catnip covered or out of reach of cats until its established. Once catnip gets going, a cat can roll around in it and crush it flat and it should come back. Be sure to thin the seedlings to the proper spacing--they'll do much better. You can add the thinned plants to your recipes.  Catnip makes a nice tea.

Pictured: Sweet peas. Sweet peas are extremely fun to grow, and very fragrant. Timing the planting of sweet peas can be tricky, though, for the best show. If you want to try them, space out your plantings about a week apart. Make note of which ones came up best and which ones bloomed the longest.  Large, solid seeds like sweet peas, snow peas, and beans sometimes benefit from eight hours (or less) of soaking prior to planting.  Unless you have very depleted soil from over-farming, you don't need innoculant for your peas.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Short Form

I've been working on my novel 90% of the time lately. Much as I love that, I do miss working on short stories. I'll probably try to put one together here soon.

Short stories are tough. In a lot of ways, I think they're tougher than novels. Once I've got a novel idea, I just sit down and work on it every day. Sometimes I'll get stuck in the muddle in the middle, or I'll have to rework something from the beginning, but for the most part, when I get up in the morning I know what I have to do, how to do it, and then, well, I do it.

Short stories involve some of the same processes as novels, but the focus shifts to the idea of the thing, and a kind of super-efficiency or super-clarity that grants substance inside of a very short space. In novels I can develop tangents, work on deep themes, have characters of all kinds march on and off stage, and build a complex world in which the happenings combine into something that makes sense of life.

It's much harder for me to make sense of life in a few scenes. It's harder for me to convey the richness of human (or inhuman) experience and how that ties into the world (or universe) around us when I've got only so many pages to do it in.

My DH checked out some P.G. Wodehouse for me, so that's been my main reading material between fits of writing. Those fun stories may seem trite and something just about anyone could write with two minutes to think about characterization and setting, but I know better. It's the deceptively simple things that people dismiss until they actually sit down and attempt to do it. Wodehouse, to me, seems like the word-master equivalent of a sumi-e painter who makes his living writing comics for the funny pages. Seemingly simple, but actually extremely difficult. These are the kinds of things that people readily poo poo as trivial. And so they may, and should if it's not their thing, but no one should fool themselves into believing that it's easy.

There are folks that find the short story form easy. I'm not one of them. I have the deepest admiration for people who've mastered the short form. I don't know that I've mastered the book length, but it's a heckuva lot easier for me! I'll keep working on those short stories, though. There's something compelling about being able to say a lot in a little bit of space. I think once I've broken past some of my weaknesses in the short form, the novel length stuff will improve too.

It's all good, worthwhile-to-work-at stuff.

And if you haven't read P.G. Wodehouse, give him a try.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Waiting For Inspiration

Waiting For Inspiration

The House of Goats now has about 25,000 words in it. For those non-writers out there, that means I'm roughly 1/4 done, assuming this doesn't turn into a doorstopper, or abruptly wraps up below the typical 60,000-120,000 word range (the lower end being for young adult, the upper for fantasy, 100,000 words being a fairly safe word count to aim for in any genre except YA) editors like to see. Skunk was just attacked by a cougar/mountain lion/puma and there's about to be a kitchen fire.

Ah yes, the good ol' days.

The DH and I spent most of the day writing. We took a break to do some chores outside the house and lo and behold, I'm doing writing at the library too.

I had a question from a post office worker the other day that I want to briefly address here.

"Do you go to the beach to write?" she asked. "Put your feet up, smell the ocean breezes, that sort of thing."
"Well, uh," I replied (not particularly brilliant, I know,) "whenever I get the chance, sure, but I try to write everywhere. The library, at home ... sometimes I take my laptop with me when I've got appointments and stuff too."
"So you write whenever inspiration strikes you."

And I nodded but I wanted to say no no no! Writers write all the time. Inspiration, sminspiration--if I waited for inspiration, or had to write only in certain places or certain times, I'd be doomed. I've noticed this is true of artists too. People who paint paint all the time. If they're stuck on a project, they set it aside and work on another, hoping that eventually they'll get unstuck and be able to finish the first one. Yes, there's pacing, and staring at the screen, and talking to yourself while in the bathtub, and in the grocery store with people looking at you funny ... all that. That much of the writer myth is true, but it's just a tiny piece of the writing life. If I spent most or all of my time doing that, I'd never get anything done.

Or to put it as my brilliant DH put it after we walked out of the post office, "So, does she need to be inspired to work at the post office?"

It's a job. It's an awesome job with some great perks, but also some real down sides. Until a writer treats it like a job, with all the work ethic stuff that goes along with it, making a living as a writer will be difficult, if not outright impossible. It would be easier to win the lottery, so the muse-reliant writer might as well buy lottery tickets while waiting for inspiration to strike.