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?

Cover Reveal: The Adventure of Creation

I’m thrilled to be part of the big cover reveal for The Adventure of Creation, a Think Sideways anthology presented by Holly Lisle. I’m honored to have my short story, Restoration, included in this collection. Here’s what the editors of the anthology have to say about it:

In May, the moderators of Holly’s Forum (that’s us), approached her with the idea of an anthology. With the 5th anniversary of “How to Think Sideways” drawing nearer, it seemed a good idea to match the release date with the anniversary. Holly agreed to the idea and even added a monetary prize for the top stories. After a very, very difficult selection process, we settled on thirty-five stories. It’s a pity that we couldn’t take them all. The scores were so close, we had lengthy discussions and finally went five stories over the 30 story limit we had planned.

With the stories selected and in Holly’s hands to pick a winner, we are proudly presenting to you:

The Adventure of Creation

The Think Sideways Anthology #1 presented by Holly Lisle

 

The Adventure of Creation cover

35 marvelous short stories by gifted new writers

 Follow a girl to the Below-World to slay the Sharkshadow, or help a timid girl to overcome the destructive criticism of her art teacher. Witness a solitary drone on Mars or a naive homunculus struggle to become human. Sew with a mother who lost her daughter in a quilt, defeat super-villains in a bank robbery with an unlikely superhero, or join a great mage in the fire.

In thirty-five imaginative stories, emerging authors present the diversity of their creativity. Each author found a different angle for the unifying theme: The Adventure of Creation. Witness the talent nurtured by writing teacher Holly Lisle. For the 5th anniversary of her first big writing course, How to Think Sideways, this anthology features the best of her talented students in a great variety of genres.

The eBook and print book will be released on the 24th of July. Help us spread the word. If the anthology is successful, we might do another one next year.

3 Self-Publishing Mistakes I’ve Made

A little over a year ago, I published–with much fear and trembling–my broken fairy tale collection, Shattered. (I felt sick to my stomach after I clicked the Publish button. If it hadn’t been for the fact I’d had other people working with me on it, I’d have unpublished it within the first few minutes.)

Since that time, I’ve gone on to self-publish a few more books and made some mistakes along the way (which I did so you don’t have to!). So, without further ado, I present my top 3 self-publishing mistakes (cue the trumpets).

The Downside of Diversifying

Earlier in the year, I talked about putting my eggs into lots of little baskets rather than the one big one (*cough* Amazon*cough*). To that end, I’ve started serializing my science fantasy novel, Quartz, and written short stories for specific anthologies and magazines. Unfortunately, this meant that I haven’t published an e-book since the launch of Mourning Cloak, at the end of January. Once Mourning Cloak fell off the recent releases lists on Amazon, sales dried up (Ouch, April. Ouch.)

Solution: I should be publishing an e-book (novel, novella, short story, collection) every 2-3 months. Right now, I’m working on a follow-up to Shattered. The fairy tales I’m breaking? Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid.

Scared of Sequels

I’m not a sequel writer.

There, I said it.

I know, I know. I’m a fantasy writer. But still.

I write a novel or short story or novella and instead of reusing my world or my cast, I simply move on and build another world and cast from scratch. Barring a handful of short stories featuring the same character, I don’t do sequels.

But readers like sequels. They ask me for them. I’m thrilled that they’re so invested in my characters that they want more of their story, but I’m terrified of breaking the first story or disappointing my readers’ expectations.

That’s a block I need to get over.

Solution: I wrote the first draft (zero draft) of a follow-up novella to Mourning Cloak. I’m determined to get Ironhand into shape and out to the world by late summer/early fall. After that, I’m going to write Flare, the sequel to Quartz. Once the sequels are out of the way, then I’m going to give myself permission to play in a new world (looking at you, Riven!).

Low Productivity

It’s a rare author who hits it out of the ballpark with their first book. In the indie world, especially, most writers are successful because of their big backlists.

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I was tracking my raw first-draft numbers. They aren’t impressive.

Look, I’m going to be brave and post them up here:

  • January: 5,661 words (really pathetic)
  • February: 16,683 (much better)
  • March: 13, 817 (okay, why’d I backslide here??)
  • April: 15, 533 (and this after being sick and undisciplined for the first half of the month!)
  • May: 10, 548 (better than January, in spite of going to a con, testing for school, and getting ready for vacation).

Ideally, I’d like to write 25K worth of raw first draft words a month (a half-NaNo).

Solution: All right, this is the tricky part, isn’t it. Sure there are all sorts of motivational tricks to get you writing, but what it all comes down to is this: How much of my other activities am I willing to give up to make this happen? How much is writing worth to me right now?

Is it worth giving up sleep over? Worth giving up the time I spend researching, thinking about, and doing school with my children? Worth giving up my RSS feed and Dr. Who episodes for?

It’s a decision that’ll be different for everyone. For me–well, I’ve done NaNo. I know what it is to breathe, eat, sleep your story. I know what it’s like to have it spin through your head constantly and how hard it is to emerge from the story zone. And that’s not what I want in my life right now. I have young kids who deserve a mom who’s not checked out for most of the day. I can give a few hours a day to writing, but I can’t let it take over my life like that.

Simply put, writing isn’t my day job. Mothering/homeschooling is. It’s within these limits that I need to work on increasing my productivity (which I’m not doing too badly with now that we’re back from Disney and it’s summer vacation).

What about you? If you’re a self-publisher, what mistakes have you made? What mistakes have you seen other self-publishers make?

5 favorite fairy tale retellings

It’s no secret that I love fairy tales and am endlessly fascinated by how they inspire other people’s creative work. I enjoy many retellings, but these are my top 5 (I also include movies in this list):

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty_Robin McKinley

Richly detailed, with a strong, scholarly protagonist, this upper MG/YA retelling of Beauty & the Beast is on my keeper shelf (and I’m waiting patiently for my daughter to grow into it).

Disney’s Tangled

Tangled

I was unimpressed after seeing the trailer, but I ended up LOVING the movie. I adore Rapunzel’s sunniness, determination, vulnerability, and innocence. Mother Gothel is a great (evil-great, that is) villain, and Flynn a very different kind of “prince”.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted_Gail Carson Levine

A clever and fun take on the Cinderella story.

Ever After

Ever After

In spite of a few cheesy moments, this Cinderella retelling gets a thumbs-up for grounding the story in a historical context.

“Stronger Than Time” by Patricia C. Wrede

Book of Enchantments_Patricia C. Wrede

 This beautiful, melancholy retelling of Sleeping Beauty never ceases to make my heart ache. You can read this short story in the anthology, Book of Enchantments.

 What are your favorite fairy tale retellings?

Also, check out my favorite fairy tale picture books here.

Wordle-ing my story

Today’s WANAFriday blog prompt is: Share an image from Wordle. For those of you who don’t know, Wordle is a web gadget that generates word clouds (that is, lovely patterns of the most used words) from text that you input.

I created this image from the text of A Crackling of Thorns, a short story from my upcoming broken fairy tale collection (click to embiggen):

Wordle: A Crackling of Thorns: a broken fairy tale

Updated with links to other wordles:

Deborah Koren talks about her passion for opera

I’m delighted to have writer Deborah Koren guest posting here today. She’ll be talking about her passion for opera–an art form that I have little familiarity with. Deb blogs over at Sidewalk Crossings, a fantastic blog where she shares her love for old movies. Welcome, Deb!

Rabia asked me to write a bit regarding my passion for opera.  It is a deep and long-seated passion.  I’ve been listening to opera since I was a baby, as both my parents are opera lovers.  Well, my dad was (as was his dad), and, after he married my Beatles-loving mother, she quickly became as big a fan of opera as he was!  So, I do have a lifelong history with opera.  My parents would play records growing up, we’d listen to the Met matinee broadcasts every Saturday (still ongoing, and still a part of my Saturday routine), and we would go to see live operas whenever we could.  I met Luciano Pavarotti backstage when I was in single-digits.  I remember my arms were not big enough to go around him when he gave me a hug!

Opera is one of those things in life I never get enough of.  Why?  Part of it, of course, is that I was raised on it.  But beyond that, my dad taught us to value and appreciate beauty, and the music in opera can be so beautiful that it gives me chills and goosebumps just thinking about it.  It is also music that thrills me and revs me up.  It is music that makes me cry.  Or laugh.  Or simply sing or hum along.

Everyone looks at music differently, depending on what type of music you enjoy, and most importantly:  depending on why you listen to music.  For me, music is an emotional, passionate thing, and nothing evokes emotions quite like an opera.

Opera is like taking a movie and magnifying all the passions of it a hundred fold.  Take a tragic romance story (ie:  Puccini’s La Boheme).  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl is dying of Tuberculosis, boy loses girl.  Very sad, but rather straightforward…  but when you add in Puccini’s musical component, it is no longer ordinary.  It becomes something amazing.  You’re not just watching the story unfold, you’re hearing it too, with music that is so beautiful, so emotional, that it grabs your heart and squeezes.  And when those last few measures of the opera hit, when the music swells, and Rodolfo cries out Mimi’s name, it is utterly devastating.  I admit, I cry at a lot of movies, but I don’t know a single sad movie that touches the sheer emotional power of an opera like La Boheme.

Opera is like a movie on steroids.  And given how much I love movies… yeah, of course I love opera.

Opera also combines many other art forms into one.  You need a writer, a composer, singer/actors, set designers, costumers and all those needed to create a staged performance, dancers (many operas include ballet), an orchestra.  And there are all kinds of operas.  Some of the best music ever written is opera.  Some of the worst music ever written is opera.  Even the best opera can be ruined by bad singers.  I personally love Italian and French opera.  The lyrical, beautiful stuff.  Wagner, Strauss, Berg, Britten, modern stuff… I can’t deal with that.  Wagner has some of the coolest stories ever, particularly with his Ring Cycle, but I cannot sit through his kind of music.  It’s like torture to me.  On the other hand, I used to work for a lady back in college whose primary opera love was Wagner.  She didn’t like Italian opera.  We were pretty much polar opposites in the opera world.  Which just goes to show you, there’s something for everyone!

The good thing is, nowadays, opera productions have evolved.  In the older days, there was a lot of “park and bark.”  You can guess what that means.  Lots of standing around on stage singing, not much movement.  Oh sure, there were some good actors out there, but there are even more nowadays.  Now you have singers who are great actors.  They don’t stand around and sing, they become their characters and engage the audience throughout the performance.  There is also a whole crop of young, fit, good-looking opera singers these days.  There’s even a blog dedicated to the good-looking opera baritones and basses of today, called barihunks!

opera guys

Pavol Breslik, Simon Keenlyside, and Mariusz Kwiecien

What makes a good opera?  For me, it’s watching/listening to singers I love, singing music I love, with a story and characters I love.  Just like I’ll watch movies solely to see my favorite actors, there are certain singers I adore, and I’ll watch and listen to nearly anything they’re in.  From the older generation that is now mostly retired:  Sherill Milnes, Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo (who is not remotely retired and he still sounds amazing) are my favorites.  From the singers active today:  Simon Keenlyside, Matthew Polenzani, Pavol Breslik, Mariusz Kwiecien, Marcelo Alvarez, Carmela Remigio.  My top five favorite operas are Tosca, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, The Elixir of Love, Turandot.  I love both the music and the stories/characters of those.

If you’re interested in experiencing opera, I’ve introduced quite a few friends to opera via filmed movie versions.  There you get exciting visuals to go with the music, in a more familiar format.  It’s hard to go wrong with Puccini, and I would recommend Madame Butterfly.  La Traviata is another opera with a brilliant movie version.  Those are both tragedies, but there are also plenty of lighter operas (Barber of Seville, Elixir of Love, Daughter of the Regiment) where no one dies and there’s a happy ending.  The Metropolitan Opera also currently runs HD broadcasts throughout their season at movie theaters across the country.  I’ve gone to a few of these and have really enjoyed the experience of seeing an opera up close-and-personal on the big screen.  I’ll be attending several HD performances in the upcoming season.

However, there is nothing quite like experiencing a live opera, nothing like the sheer power of a live orchestra and live singers in an opera house.  There are almost always supertitles projected so you get the translations of the language they’re singing in.

Two samples:

From my favorite opera, Tosca, by Puccini, the first 1:30 of this is one of my favorite tenor arias of all time.  It’s very short.  The tenor is reassuring his jealous girlfriend that there is no one else in the world for him, just her (singers: Jose Carreras/Montserrat Caballe).



“Ô vin, dissipe la tristesse,” from Hamlet, a lesser known opera by Ambroise Thomas.  Yep, based on Shakespeare.  There’s quite a lot of Shakespeare in opera!  Not a bad thing… In this version from the Met, Hamlet is sung by baritone Simon Keenlyside.

video

Movie Trailer for Ender’s Game

Anyone else looking forward to this in November?

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?

 

WANAFriday: Books I Can Read Over and Over Again

My blogging group recently started doing weekly blog prompts to get our (collective) creative juices flowing. This Friday we’re posting about the one book we can read over and over again without getting bored. (Note: For this post, I’m sticking to fiction).

This prompt is a hard one for me because–as my husband well knows–I’m not much of a re-reader. (With my TBR pile as high as it is, I can’t afford to be!). But sometimes I just crave a comfort read, a chance to return to an old friend who I can rely on to entertain, uplift, and transport me into another world. All my favorite re-reads have some things in common: they’re set in locales far removed from my here and now, they bubble over with wit and whimsy, they have sympathetic characters, and they leave me with a smile on my face.

So, without further ado, here are three of my favorite re-reads (no, I couldn’t pick only one):

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

When self-deprecating oldest sister Sophie is transformed into an old woman, she sets out to seek her fortune as cleaning lady to the horrible wizard, Howl. An all-around funny, touching, and romantic read.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

An impending marriage proposal from Sylvester, Duke of Salford, causes Phoebe Marlow to run away from her home into the teeth of a snowstorm. However, circumstances throw them together again, much to the amusement of all. An unusual heroine, comic situations, and a cast of fun characters make this a charming read.

Anything by L. M. Montgomery (yes, I cheated again)

But if I had to pick: Anne of Windy Poplars and The Blue Castle.

The Blue Castle

Everyone’s familiar with the red-headed Anne, but I love many of the lesser-known Montgomery books. In The Blue Castle, downtrodden 29-year-old Valancy learns that she has only one year left to live. For the first time in her life, she decides to say and do exactly what she wants, and discovers adventure, love, and beauty along the way.

I noticed two other things about my list of re-reads:

1. They all have romantic plots or subplots.

2. They are all books I first read as a teenager (back when, I suspect, I was more open to falling in love with books than I am now).

Updated with links to other participants:

book cover monday: middle grade covers

It’s been AGES since we last had a book cover post. Time to rectify that with some super-cute and stunning covers of middle grade novels. This is a post I’ve wanted to do for a while!

Let’s get to it!

Tuesdays at the Castle

The cheerful yellows and the spunky, bookish heroine of this cover never fail to make me smile. I really like the blue title font against the golden spiraling staircase, and the use of symmetry, height and light in this illustration.

Deadwood

A much more ominous color, though the illustration style gives away the genre. Love the way the title is incorporated into the tree and the way it pops out from the dark background.

The Time Travelers

I love the movement, the way the children are floating down, and the color contrast between the golds at the top and the blues/greys at the top. There’s a mystery in this cover that pulls me in.

The One & Only Ivan

Aww! Cute baby elephant! Spotlight effect! Bold title treatment, set off by decorative swirls. An eye-catching cover.

The Kneebone Boy

Deliciously creepy cover!

*

Do you have any favorite middle grade covers to share?

**

Check out my other book cover posts: