note to self: about summer

One would think that summer would be a time of awesome productivity for me. After all, it’s school vacation!

One would be wrong.

And I’ve finally decided to adjust my expectations to take into account that I get very little writing done in the summer.

For one thing, summer is not a creative season for me–at least not for writing. My stories are ice flowers–they blossom in the darkness of winter nights, the grey chill of a fall day, or in the bluster of an early spring wind. Summer is too big and gorgeous and golden; somehow the overgrowth of vines and weeds, the bloom of showy roses and peonies, sap my creativity rather than inspiring it.

It’s strange, I know, but it is what it is.

Two, the very lack of school-imposed structure, the daily and weekly march of education, works against me. With a summer full of vacations, camps, and swim lessons, every week looks different from the next. The mental adjustments of getting one kid to swim and another to camp, of coordinating pickups and dropoffs, of making sure I have the right kinds of snacks for camp lunches–all of these take up a lot of headspace.

Three, what creativity I have is taken up with planning the upcoming school year. So far, I’ve pored over catalogs, checked a gazillion samples online, scanned through pages of reviews, thought and pondered and talked at poor David, and finally, finally, ordered our books for next year.

And four–my house. Summer is the time to reorganize the pantry, straighten out the school room, go through toys and books and clothes. You know, all the stuff I’ve been avoiding all year, becausewell, school.

Four, it’s nice to just relax and have lazy days. To be plain Mom instead of Teacher Mom. To play five games of Forbidden Island in one day or work on puzzle of a dragon on a rock or the Oxford Skyline.

When I start pining to go back to school (feeling that way now), when stories start sneaking into my head, when I feel the loss of creating something with my mind and hands, when summer is sliding fall-wards, then… then I know it’s time to write again.

6 days at disney world

In early June, we took a fabulous vacation with the in-laws down in Orlando, where we spent 6 days taking in the sights and sounds and experiencing the thrills and chills of Disney World. It’d be a very long post indeed if I tried to cram in all that we did, so I’m going to focus on just six highlights from our time there.

From Wikimedia Commons

From Wikimedia Commons

“It all started with a bang”: The Fireworks

We got front-row seats for the light and fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom one night, but we were also fortunate to catch the fireworks from the ferry one night and from a bus another rainy evening. All in all, these were very impressive fireworks, including the ones that burst into heart and star shapes!

Evenings at the Magic Kingdom

From countless loops around the Speedway to meeting Rapunzel, Aurora, and Cinderella to catching the Electric Parade, evenings at the Magic Kingdom were a lot more tolerable than the heat of midday. The kids were too excited to go to bed at their regular bedtime anyway, so we kept them out late and counted on them to crash into deep sleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows (a good thing when you’re sharing a hotel room!).

“I’m in the movies!” at Hollywood Studios

Sir I. and David got up early one morning to sign Sir I. up for Jedi Training Academy. By the time the rest of us trickled into the park, Sir I. and eleven other young padawans were on stage receiving instruction. After their training, Darth Vader appeared on the scene in heavy-breathing-glory to tempt the young Jedis-in-training to the dark side. Each padawan fought in single combat with Darth Vader, and with their combined use of the Force drove him and his storm troopers away.

David, not to be outdone, volunteered to be an extra at the Indiana Jones stunt show, which was full of explosions galore.

Chillin’ at Blizzard Beach

The water park was the undisputed hit with everyone. From the one-acre wave pool to the lazy river that ran all around the park, it had something for everyone to do. Our family started off the day with a group activity–the Team Boat Springs. But the biggest hit of all were the Runoff Rapids, which we did several times, either in pairs or singly. The ten or so flights of stairs that we had to walk up while carrying our inner tubes failed to dampen our enthusiasm for this water slide.

“I’m flyyyyying” at Epcot

Our favorite rides at Epcot were Space Mission (simulation of a shuttle launch and Mars landing) and Soarin’ (simulation of flying in a glider over the California landscape). We did Space Mission twice, but Soarin’ was so popular we got to it only once.

Eating our way around the world

Our last day in the parks, with still several meals and snacks left on our Dining Plan, we proceeded to eat our way around the world at Epcot. We ate crepes in France, black forest cake and apple strudel in Germany, and orange chicken and lychee ice cream in China. The day before we ate dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada. The filet mignon was heavenly.

Have you been to Disney? What are your Disney vacation highlights?

Balticon 2013

David and I attended our first Balticon this past weekend. We were there for two out of the three days, and had a blast. I’ve attended a writing conference (Pikes Peak) and a writers’ workshop before, but this was my first convention. It was a very different experience!

The People

What I loved about this con was that it drew in readers, movie/TV fans, costumers, artists, and film-makers, as well as writers. We met a guy in a steampunk Tigger costume, a retired mailman into historical re-enactment, and a woman who’d sewn an Inara costume for a Firefly-themed wedding. I LOVED meeting people with these kinds of passions and skills.

(And, I also got to meet Linda Adams, although briefly. Hi, Linda. *waves* Update: Check out Linda’s thoughts about the con in Tidbits from Balticon)

(Also, this was the first family-friendly writing-type thing I’ve attended. We’re thinking about bringing our own three next year.)

The Panels

Most of the panels I attended had to do with self-publishing (social media, podcasting, marketing, business) which fell in the New Media track (and so many of those were in a room tucked all by itself in an end corridor, hmm *wink*). There wasn’t much there that I didn’t already know–and when the panelists touched on anything new, it was in a cursory way, making me go, “Hmm, I’d better go research this when I get home.”

(I believe that cons are all-important for meeting people and getting that valuable face-time with them. Information you can get in spades online, usually in more depth and detail than can be crammed into a 50-minute panel.)

Things that I learned/need to look into:

* Google + for writers. There was an entire panel on this, but most of the panelists admitted they didn’t utilize this as well as they could. If you’re a writer using Google + extensively, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also–I’d like to do a Google hangout sometime. Anyone interested?

* Podcasting fiction is a LOT of work. I think I’m better off hiring narrators down the road.

* At some point, I need to look into setting up a LLC.

* Why you need a business plan: So that you can gauge whether an opportunity is worth pursuing or not. Will this opportunity take you closer to your goals, or off in a different direction altogether? (Thanks to Gail Z. Martin for this insight).

* Advice on shopping around rejected stories you wrote for a themed anthology: Other writers are inundating the market with their rejected Machine of Death stories, so wait a year for the deluge to die down and then submit.

* Note to self: Science presentations are awesome. Attend more of them next time.

Special Events

The highlight of my weekend was the Steampunk Ball (and yes, David and I attended that in costume. We had hats and everything!). Susan de Guardiola, the instructor, was awesome. We did line dances and circle dances, and quadrilles, and much fun was had by all.

It’s amazing how being in costume can help you meet people. They will naturally stop by to comment on the costume or–in a few cases–ask to take your picture. Also, doing something with other people (like everyone failing to learn a dance) is a great ice-breaker. The next day, when you run into them again, you have something to chat about. (Though you might need to remind them who you are. They may not recognize you without the hat/goggles/hooped skirt.)

 

Have you attended science fiction & fantasy conventions? Which was your favorite?

 

quartz episode one…

… went out to Inboxes all over the known universe early this morning!

Rafe Grenfeld, diplomat and spy, has problems. His entire embassy’s been arrested, he’s stuck in a hostile foreign city with police looking for him, and he’s been hiding in a smelly cramped dumpster for far too long. And that’s just the first two paragraphs! To find out more, go here.

Episode Two goes up on Saturday.

***

In other news, I have the nasty cold that my boys passed around this past week. And just as I was beginning to think I’d escaped the winter sniffles that have plagued my entire family these last few months…

Here’s hoping to resume writing and blogging regularly SOON.

How are you all?

 

a tap shoe and an owl statue

Today I drew a tap shoe and an owl statue.

My creative (non-work-writing) goal for February is to draw every day–though at the rate I’m going, it’s more like Draw Every Other Day.

I didn’t draw much as a kid. Actually, I hated art class. I didn’t have an abundance of natural artistic talent. The disconnect between the picture in my head and the one on my page frustrated me. My Bs and Cs in art dragged down an otherwise stellar report card–which made me rather cross.

And I was slow. My art pad was filled with incomplete projects since I always ran out of time. (I’m that way with all hands-on work, including labs. I was always the last one out of lab, one of the reasons I didn’t minor in chemistry. I never finished my wooden-spoon doll with the paper mache head nor my embroidery sampler in Handwork during elementary school. And yes, it still galls after all these years!)

I would’ve rather done extra math than painted a still life.

But, secretly, I always wished I could draw well.

There were two things I didn’t understand about art when I was a kid. I don’t know if it’s because no one ever told me, or that I didn’t listen (I was stubborn, too, as well as being a loather-of-art-class).

First, you can learn art. What I thought of as talent is mainly skill. A teachable skill. No one ever taught me things like how to use my art materials, how to create depth, or the proportions of the human face. I didn’t realize that one could take art skills and break them down into smaller steps, and that an ordinary person like me could learn them.

Second, because I had it in my mind that being good at art was an innate talent–either you had it or you didn’t–I never bothered to practice it. One art class a week was not enough to make up for my lack of giftedness. If I wanted to draw well–and yes, I wanted to, still do–I should’ve been practicing.

Twenty years later, with a writing career and homeschooled kids, I’m finally squeezing it in. It’s not much, it’s not going to be consistent, but it’s still keeping the dream alive.

How about you? Do you have something that you secretly wish you could do well? Something that’s always appealed to you, but that you’ve never tried?

you can keep your Mr. Darcy

I have nothing against Mr. Darcy, really. Like almost every woman out there, I enjoy the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice  but Mr. Darcy does not set my heart aflutter. I’m sure he and Elizabeth Bennet will deal very well together, but I don’t envy her good fortune. Sure, he’s rich and handsome and responsible and devoted–but perhaps a tad too boring?

No, I’d rather take a man of action, such as a dashing naval hero, like another one of Austen’s leading men: Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth.

I prefer the other adaptation of Persuasion, but this Captain Wentworth is handsomer. Yes, I'm shallow that way.

I prefer the other adaptation of Persuasion, but this Captain Wentworth is handsomer. Yes, I’m shallow that way.

Darcy inherited his wealth, but Wentworth, born with fewer prospects, earned it. And there’s just something adventurous about a man in uniform.

But a ship’s captain is bound to be away at sea for long periods of time, so perhaps one should look at self-made men in other professions. Such as North & South’s mill owner, Mr. Thornton.

Especially if he is played by Richard Armitage.

"North & South" is my favorite period drama. You should watch it. Even Richard Armitage thinks you should.

“North & South” is my favorite period drama. You should watch it. Even Richard Armitage thinks you should.

However, Mr. Thornton needs to be financially bailed out by heroine Margaret Hale at the end. Perhaps one should look at independently wealthy men again–and while we’re aiming high, how about a Duke?

Like, maybe the Duke of Salford, the titular character of Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester. Like Darcy, he is rich, well-born and insufferably proud, but he does have a great sense of humor. And the adventures he and heroine Phoebe Marlow have are laugh-out-loud funny.

Some handsome actor really needs to play Sylvester in a movie version.

Some handsome actor really needs to play Sylvester in a movie version.

However, one really doesn’t know about these literary heroes. They might have drinking problems or bad dental hygiene or rather outdated notions of what women should or should not do.

No, no. They may look good in paper and on screen, but what about the parts that were edited out? I’d rather choose a real good guy, one I can trust. Like this one:

REAL Handsome Guy with Adorable Kids

REAL Handsome Guy with Adorable Kids

Oh, wait! I already did!

To my White Knight, Chief Cheerleader, Tech Support Guy, Co-parent of three gorgeous, smart, and crazy kids, Fixer of Pipes and Broken Toys, Reacher of Objects on High Shelves, and Companion for Life–you’re the only romantic hero and leading man I want.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

me, my kids, and Harry Potter

Several weeks ago, our family listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a long (long!) car trip. We followed that up with a viewing of the movie adaptation. For several days thereafter, the children’s play was full of Quidditch matches and House Sortings: “Hogwarts, without Harry Potter”, as my six-year-old put it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

And it occurred to me then that my kids will never know a world without Harry Potter, without his complete story. They will never know the building buzz, the anticipation of the next release, or the speculation over how it would all end.

And even more than that, they will never have the experiences that shaped–long before Harry came on the scene–the way I view the series.

I first saw Harry Potter in my college bookstore, and was instantly attracted by its cover and blurb. It drew me in not because it was something new and different, but because it sounded so comfortably like other British children’s books.

Otherwise known as the Books I Grew Up Reading.

The too-horrible-to-be-believable Dursleys reminded me of Matilda’s terrible family in the book by Road Dahl. The whimsy that characterizes so much of the wizarding world is reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones’ charming and delightful books. And the whole boarding school aspect–stripped off its magic and co-education–is a lot like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s school series

Blyton’s boarding schools, like Hogwarts, include the stereotypical Good but Stern Teacher, the Nasty Teacher, and the Timid Lacking-Classroom-Management-Skills Teacher. The headmistress is a an awe-inspiring, remote figure, who appears to dispense wisdom at the end of the book, rather like Dumbledore. Blyton’s boarding school girls tread the halls at midnight to have illicit feasts, while Harry’s  illicit midnight trips are to the Restricted Section of the library. A chapter or two of a Blyton school story is nearly always devoted to lacrosse matches in the same way Rowling spends time describing Quidditch games.

But Hogwarts also shares elements with my own school experience, sadly, though, without the magic.

I didn’t go to a British boarding school, but I did go to one that had been founded by the British for the education of their young in colonial Karachi.

We didn’t have houses with names like Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, but we did have houses called Frere, Napier, and Streeton (all men who extended and strengthened the British Empire’s hold on India–make of that what you will). And yes, we did earn points for academic and athletic achievement, and a House Cup was awarded at the end of the year.

We didn’t have a singing Sorting Hat, but we did have a school song. (It began with “O God whose mercy long has kept/Our school from age to age”). I still know the first two verses and the chorus–some things you never forget. Lyrics available upon request. ;)

We wore uniforms and had prefects. In fact, I was a prefect my last year of school, and I wore a badge and a black gown. Our main job was to keep students in orderly lines, check for uniform violations, and make sure there was no unseemly giggling/talking during Assembly.

Fast forward fourteen years, and here are my young, homeschooled children, who have no experience with this kind of school system. Who can’t help knowing major plot points of Harry Potter because they live in a world with Harry Potter (just as my 8yo who has only watched A New Hope knows the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader). Who will read Diana Wynne Jones and Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton after their exposure to Harry Potter, not before.

My kids, who will bring their own, very different experiences to the story of the Boy Who Lived.

2012: the year in review

Last year was full of changes in both my personal life and my writing career. Here are some of the notable aspects of 2012.

From Vermont to Virginia

Up until last year, I’d spent pretty much all of my adult life in one area, encompassing parts of both Vermont and New Hampshire. I went to college there, I got married there, my husband and I bought a house and had three children there.

And then we moved to Virginia. It was a huge change for all us, but I learned that I still had to contend with the old me.

Some of the things we miss about Vermont (besides leaving many of our friends behind): Smoke-edged, leaf-crisped fall days. The farm stand down in town. Strawberry-picking and jam-making in the summer. A continual supply of real Vermont Grade B maple syrup. Snow! (At least, my children do).

Some of the things we like about Virginia: Living close to work, church, and activities. A great neighborhood. Level sidewalks for new bikers. An awesome library system. Warmer weather for longer in the year (children might disagree–see above).

Brave New World–Online

I took Kristen Lamb’s blogging class, We Are Not Alone, early in the year and recommitted to consistent blogging. Through the class, I met a great group of fellow bloggers-writers that I hang out with on Facebook and Twitter. I learned to tolerate–if not love–Twitter and finally got the hang of hashtags. I also had a brief, passionate, and unhealthy affair with Pinterest but decided we were better off being friends (which is working out well so far).

I also spent time in the dark side of the Internet and read a book that caused me to think deeply about my relationship with instant connectivity.

The Write Stuff

I hit a writing milestone when I went away to my first-ever writers’ workshop! It was taught by David Farland, and I got five days of great teaching, helpful critiques, and lots of time with other writers.

I’m terrible at keeping track of my wordage, but last year I worked on three novellas, wrote a handful of short stories, and started two novels. I also wrote my first-ever collaboration with my good friend Jo Anderton, and was delighted to have it accepted for publication. Look for the news of Sand and Seawater’s release some time this year!

Reaching Readers

Last year, for reasons enumerated here, I self-published two collections, one short story, and one novella. I received my first fan email (that sent me over the moon). I got lovely reviews from bloggers like Tehani Wessely, Sean at Adventures of a Bookonaut, and Ivana at Willing to See Less–not to mention the thoughtful reviews left by readers on Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites. Because of my self-published work,  I received an invitation to submit to an anthology.

I got a lot of support from my family, including my husband David, who beta-reads and e-formats my books, and my sister-in-law Robin Cornett, who also gives me story feedback, makes my website pretty and functional, and designed my first three covers. Later in the year, I had the opportunity to work with cover designer Ravven, who did an awesome job with my novella covers.

But most of all I’m thrilled that my stories are being enjoyed by real, live, actual readers!

Small Joys

We started our fourth (fourth?!) year of homeschooling this fall. I watched my middle child blossom into an independent reader. Raising children is both a joyful and terrifying experience–and never boring.

Did you hit any milestones or experience big changes in 2012?

a belated merry christmas!

Hope you all had a lovely holiday! I didn’t intend to be late with a Christmas greeting post, but one does not think about blogging while catching up with family, eating awesome food, and–most importantly of all–playing Angry Birds Star Wars.

Angry-Birds-Star-Wars

All the cool kids are playing this

On the way back home yesterday (long road trip, complete with cold rain, traffic jams, and boys gone wild in the backseat), I was thrilled to see these lovely reviews of Rainbird at Shelfspace Needed and Willing to See Less, both of which went immediately into my I-Don’t-Suck file.

Also, don’t forget that Rainbird is on sale till the end of January!

Rainbird Winter Sale

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Now back to work for me. Current projects include a novella set in Blackburn, the setting of Out of Shape, featuring Thad’s secretary Amanda; a short story set in Highwind, the world of Mourning Cloak; and a Secret Project that I’m not going to talk about yet *hugs it close*.  I also need to finish planning the next term of homeschool, and get my blogging schedule back in order. The time away was great, because I am excited to do ALL these things.

I love this time between Christmas and New Year’s. I love the quiet, the introspection, the comfort of the old, the excitement of the new.

What are your plans for the rest of 2012?

the christmas blues

Sometimes holidays are just hard.

You might be wound up so tight from stress that the smallest setback will snap you. Or you’re so overwhelmed with the the stuff you have to do that the days go by in a blur. Or you feel sad and lonely. Perhaps, this year, Christmas leaves you cold. In spite of the festive air, the cheery music, those perfect, smiling T.V. commercial families, it’s not a merry, calm, or joyful season for you at all.

Maybe you’re worried about money: your job hours have been cut or you just can’t make the dollars stretch as far as they used to. Maybe family conflict is stressing you out.

Or perhaps it’s because it’s so dark so early in the day. Or it’s too cold, or not cold enough. All you see outside the window is brown dreariness with no hope of magical, wonderful snow. Perhaps you moved after spending more than a decade in one place, and you’ve lost the rituals you’d built around where you lived.

Maybe it’s because you picked out the perfect gift for your child, only to have your order canceled because of a ‘technical difficulty’–and then find the item is out of stock everywhere else. And then you’re angry at yourself for getting all worked up over one stupid toy, and maybe you should go spend time with said child instead of being so wrapped up (ha! pun intended) in the finding of presents.

Maybe it’s because you’re not doing enough. You feel you *should* be decorating, instead of only thinking about dusting off the Nativity Set you got as a gift eons ago. And then you go look at decorating sites for ideas, only to get depressed again because you have neither the skill nor the inclination to do any of that–but still feel you ought to, for appearance’s sake. You feel you *should* bake holiday cookies even though you hate it or buy presents for your children’s teachers and the mailman and the guy who changes the oil in your car, because it’s expected.

Or you’re determined to focus on the “meaning of Christmas” but you forgot to get/make the Advent calendar and haven’t cracked the Christmas songbook yet this year. You’re determined to be content and cheerful, to pray and reflect, but that falls by the wayside ten minutes later when you’re confronted once again with the awesome Lego set you’d love to get your child but can’t afford, or the toddler breaks yet another ornament.

We try so hard to make Christmas perfect. And often all that does is make us tired, stressed, angry and sad.

When I get the Christmas blues, I know it’s time for me to slow down and step away, and keep things simple. To reflect on the gifts and blessings I already have, instead of focusing on my To-Do list. And learn to enjoy my imperfect Christmas.