Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

Well, my husband and I are back from Christmasing with my side of the family. The visit was in many ways just what I was hoping.

My biggest hope this Christmas was that my super fantastic homemade present of awesomeness for my brother would come together and be appreciated for what it was. Here's the story on the gift:

A little background first. One of the quirks in my family (my dad's side of the family specifically) is a tendency to hold entire conversations in movie quotes. I'm not entirely sure how this trend began, but I'm sure it's mostly because of my dad's love of movies.

Now one of the movies most often quoted is an old family favorite, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. If you've never seen it (or heard of it), it's a crazy sci fi movie from the 80s. It's also infinitely quotable.

As for the other piece of background info... well, my brother is in a stage of life where he's had a lot of major decisions to make this year. And big choices like that are often difficult.

So in thinking about what to get for my brother, the most appropriate thing to come to mind was a Magic 8 Ball. But while I liked that idea, the idea that came to me immediately after was much better: I'd get a Magic 8 Ball, and then I'd take it to pieces and customize it with my very own answer ball... and on that answer ball I would put quotes from Buckaroo Banzai.

Well, as you can probably imagine, this wasn't particularly easy. I came across pitfall after pitfall. Eventually I succeeded with an X-acto knife, a wooden answer cube, and a whole lot of aquarium sealant, but the process took a lot of time and a lot of trial and error.

But my brother's reaction to the gift was priceless. I had wrapped the ball back up in the original packaging, so he had no immediate reason to suspect that I had made any changes. Then he asked it a question and shook it and looked for the answer... and I watched as his expression went from confusion to disbelief to delight. He quickly shook it again and again to see what other answers it might provide. I think those were my favorite few minutes of Christmas day.

But there were other wonderful moments too. There was the moment I opened my new Kindle and the moment I discovered my stocking was full of more dark chocolate than I thought could exist in one place. (I'm trying very hard not to eat it all at once.)

There were several moments throughout the day when my cousin was reading my book (I finished the second draft before Christmas and gave it to my mom) and she would start laughing or gasp or make some other sound that indicated she was thoroughly engrossed. That was music to my ears.

And there were many moments both on Christmas and throughout the weekend when I simply enjoyed being around my family.

All in all, I have to say it was a pretty fabulous Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2009/2010 Top Books I've Read!

About a year and a half ago I started keeping track of the YA books I was reading. Here's the list of all the YA books I read in 2009/2010. My fifteen favorites are starred. If you're curious about any of these books, I'm happy to answer questions!

Top Picks by Category:

Top 5 Authors:
Diana Wynne Jones
Sharon Shinn
Scott Westerfeld
Meg Cabot
Rosemary Clement-Moore

Top 5 Books that Appeal to Boys:
Un Lun Dun
Percy Jackson
The Graveyard Book
The Hunger Games

Top 5 Books that Appeal to Girls:
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Teen Idol
The Splendor Falls
Summers at Castle Auburn
Wicked Lovely

Top 5 Classic Fantasy:
Poison Study
The Safe-Keeper's Secret
Sabriel (Abhorsen Series)

Top 5 Supernatural Fantasy:
The Splendor Falls
Ink Exchange (Wicked Lovely series)
The Iron King
City of Bones

Top 6 Books to Make You Think:
Life of Pi
The Hunger Games
The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Life as We Knew It

Full List:

Laurie Halse Anderson
*Speak [rec]

MT Anderson

Dave Barry
Peter and the Starcatchers

Hilari Bell
The Prophecy

Ann Brashares
*The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series

Herbie Brennan
Faerie Wars 1, 2 & 3

Meg Cabot
*Teen Idol [rec]
Pants on Fire
When Lightning Strikes

Isobelle Carmody
*Obernewtyn Series

Kristin Cashore

Cassandra Clare
City of Bones, City of Ashes

Rosemary Clement-Moore
Prom Dates from Hell
Hell Week
*The Splendor Falls [rec]

Suzanne Collins
*The Hunger Games Series [rec] [Mockingjay rec]

Charles de Lint
The Blue Girl

Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book

Michael Grant

Diana Wynne Jones
*Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, House of Many Ways [rec]
Dark Lord of Derkholm, Year of the Griffin
Deep Secret
The Game
Chrestomanci Series

Julia Kagawa
The Iron King [rec]

Julie Kenner
Good Ghoul's Guide to Getting Even, Good Ghouls Do

Mindy Klasky
The Glasswright Series

Phoebe Kitanidis

Melissa Marr
Wicked Lovely Series [rec]

Yann Martel
*Life of Pi [rec]

Robin McKinley
Spindle's End
The Hero and the Crown
The Blue Sword

Stephanie Meyer
Twilight Series

China Mieville
Un Lun Dun [rec]

Brandon Mull
Fablehaven 1 & 2

Garth Nix
Abhorsen Series [rec]

Christopher Paolini
Inheritance Series

Mary E. Pearson
*The Adoration of Jenna Fox [rec]

Susan Beth Pfeffer
*Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone [rec]

Tamora Pierce
Beka Cooper
Magic Steps

Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass

Rick Riordan
*Percy Jackson Series

Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Angie Sage
Septimus Heap Series

John Scalzi
Zoe's Tale

Sharon Shinn
*The Safe-Keeper's Secret, The Truth-Teller's Tale, The Dream-Maker's Magic
General Winston's Daughter
Summers at Castle Auburn [rec]

Maria V. Snyder
*Poison Study [rec]

Maggie Stiefvater

Heather Tomlinson
Toads and Diamonds

Scott Westerfeld
*Uglies Series
Midnighters Series [rec]
Peeps, The Last Days
So Yesterday

Gabrielle Zevin
*Elsewhere [rec]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Life Form!

I've been working steadily on draft two of the novel and (more recently) on a creative Christmas gift for my brother, so I haven't had much chance to update here lately.  But this was just too good to pass by without linking, particularly after this post:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I tried out a new recipe for chocolate zucchini bread today.  Most of the cooking will happen tomorrow, but I wanted to finish this much today.  I haven't sampled it yet, but it smells amazing!  So excited about tomorrow.  Hope you all have a wonderful holiday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Editing: Beginnings and Endings

Due to a killer cold last week, I was too loopy to get any good editing done. I've been hoping to have draft two done by Christmas, so I'm going to have to work a little harder now to make that happen. Still doable I think.

Right now I'm struggling through the two hardest parts of the book: the beginning and the end. Anything can happen in the middle of a book. That's where all the freedom lies. But the first and last chapters don't have that flexibility. The first chapter has to introduce characters and setting and enough back story to ground the reader (but not too much!), and above all it has to kick start the plot in an exciting enough way to make sure the reader won't put the book down. The ending has to tie up all the characters and plot points and come to a satisfying conclusion.

At the moment I have the second half of chapter one, but no first half. This morning I had two endings, neither of them quite right.

The rest of the draft is in relatively good shape. There are a few overall sorts of edits I need to take care of: once through to address a broad critique from ArmadilloCon, and once through to cut out as many unnecessary words as possible.

But today I wanted to focus on that pesky ending. It was time to write ending number three, and I was really hoping that the third time would be the charm.

I think it was. I spent all afternoon wrestling with it, but I think I've gotten the ending I want. At least for this draft!

Not bad for a Monday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter Tribute

Hey everyone. You know what today is? It's HARRY POTTER DAY! I'm soooo excited about the movie coming out. I've heard so many great things. Can't wait to go see it myself!

So today, instead of my usual Friday book recommendations, I'll be doing a tribute post to Harry Potter, or more specifically to three characters Harry could not have done without.

I'm not going with the obvious choices of Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore. Of course Harry needed his best friends and his mentor, but I wanted to talk about three others who, while not appearing on every page, were nevertheless vital to Harry's ultimate success.

Molly Weasley

Mrs. Weasley's virtues are numerous and transparent. She treats Harry as her own son: she feeds him, watches over him, stands by him through the darkest trials. Without her Harry might never have known what a real family should look like. Without her Harry wouldn't even have found the train to Hogwarts in the first place.

But I think the full extent of her influence is more subtle than that. While Mrs. Weasley is giving Harry everything he has been missing in his life on a personal level, she is doing something deeper on a story level: she's showing Harry what it is he's fighting for. That can't be overstated. A hero needs a constant reminder of what he is fighting to save. I think Mrs. Weasley fits that role. She is everything that is right and good in the wizarding world.

Just try to imagine Harry Potter without Mrs. Weasley. There were several times throughout the series when Harry got fed up and could easily have said, “That's it! I quit!” He never did, but I think he might have if he hadn't had a good reason to keep going, if he hadn't had one thing he could point to and say, “I'd rather die than lose that.” And I think that thing he was pointing to was the home that Mrs. Weasley provided.

Neville Longbottom

I don't think I've ever met anyone who disliked Neville. It would be impossible for me not to root for the guy. He's the underdog in all of us, and yet he is able to be the kind of hero that we wish we could be. His moment of triumph at the end of the seventh book (which, incidentally, was a vital step to Harry's ultimate success) was completely satisfying.

But enough about my own admiration for Neville; what about his role in Harry's story? I think that just as Mrs. Weasley gives Harry something to fight for, Neville gives Harry someone who will fight for him. But what about Ron and Hermione? you might say. What about Sirius? Yes, of course they fought for him... out of love. But Harry didn't have the same kind of relationship with Neville. They were friends, but Neville wasn't the person Harry told all of his secrets to. Neville didn't always know the whys or the hows, yet he was consistently loyal to Harry's cause.

I think a hero needs people who will believe in him, not just because they love him but because they believe he is fighting the right fight. A hero needs followers. People like Neville remind heroes like Harry that morality is at stake. Without that kind of reminder, Harry's moral compass might have gotten irreparably bent along the way.

Severus Snape

And now for the man we love to hate. Snape is one of JK Rowling's very best characters. He has so many layers, all hidden beneath that greasy exterior. I imagine each person has his or her own unique reaction to Snape, depending on the ways his complexity intersects our own personal complexity. He is truly a character worth reading.

And he is necessary to Harry's victory for multiple reasons. Certainly Harry would not have come through the final book without Snape's interference. He provided precisely what Harry needed in order to make the right decisions.

But his influence throughout the series was far broader than that. He provided Harry with a tangible villain. Voldemort is a fantastic absolute villain with a lot of his own complexities, but he's absent for so much of the story. Without another villain to fixate on, Harry might not have had the motivation to be better or fight harder. As long as Snape was in the picture, Harry couldn't forget that there was an enemy he must eventually face. Without that constant push, I don't think Harry could have been the hero he needed to be.

So those are my three picks for vital characters Harry couldn't have achieved victory without. What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

And now I can't wait to get to the movie! I'll be wearing my black and yellow scarf! Woo!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Life of an Amateur Composer

Good afternoon Blogeers and Blogettes! How are you all?

We've had a string of lovely days here—very few clouds, which means lots of energy for me. And a lot of that energy has gone into making music... the topic of today's post.

I believe I've mentioned before that I've been composing music for an indie video game. The theme for the game is “space cows” (a play on the ubiquitous “space cowboy”), so the music was supposed to be “space western.” Well, the space part kind of got cut, but I've managed to keep the western part pretty much in tact.

Now I am by no means a professional composer, but the music I put together is good enough to put in the game, and I'm having fun with it... and learning a lot.

The hardest part is writing battle music. I kept thinking I'd gotten a good tempo with lots of punch, only to be told over and over that it's too slow and ho-hum. Now maybe that's because the majority of my musical experience involved playing clarinet in band and orchestra. It's not quite the same thing as saving the world with a rousing battle tune.

What about you? Have any of you ever tried to write battle music?

Well, I knew I had to find some inspirations. I needed to keep the western style, and I needed it to be fast and exciting. So I set about trying to merge music along the lines of Megaman with something like, well, this:

See the challenge? In fact, if you're looking for something to do on a rainy day (and you happen to have some sort of music composition software—I use Finale PrintMusic), try your hand at combining the two.

I think I've managed to come up with some passable pieces. (Along the way I gathered a few pointers from listening to the instrumental version of Lady Gaga's Poker Face, of all things.) It's been fun.

Though I am looking forward to doing something besides western music for the next game. As much as I've grown to love the banjo over the past few weeks, I'm ready for a change.

And how are all of you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Iron King

Meghan Chase was six years old when she watched her father disappear. Now ten years later her brother goes missing as well, and this time she's determined to get him back. She follows her brother into the Nevernever, the world of the faeries, bringing her best friend Robbie along with her. But surprises wait for her there: not only is she half faery herself, but she has been lured to the Nevernever to play an important role in the upheaval of the faery courts. To save her brother she must survive the perils of the faery world, while juggling the affections of both her best friend and icy prince Ash... who might just as soon kill her as kiss her.

I first became aware of The Iron King when I saw Patrice Sarath's recommendation of it. I was intrigued and put it high on my to-read list. Recently I had the chance to dive into it.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Julie Kagawa delivers an exciting plot and interesting characters. Meghan is strong-willed, passionate and loyal. Robbie and Ash are great foils for each other: Robbie is easy-going, Ash smoulders; both are steadfast, though their devotion shows itself differently in each.

But my favorite character is probably Grimalkin, the Cait Sith. Grim embodies all the things I love about Julie Kagawa's faery world: he's mysterious, potentially dangerous and definitely devious. (He's also so very feline, and being a cat lover I couldn't help but like him.) In the Nevernever actions have consequences, and bargains come with a heavy price. Grim is a master at bargaining to his own advantage, and something tells me that Grim's intricate plots will play a key role in the next book...

Because the story isn't over. The sequel, The Iron Daughter, came out in August, and now that I've read the first book I am itching to snatch up the second. If it's even half as good as The Iron King I know I'll love it.

And on a side note, the cover is lovely.

Now go read!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Recommendation: Teen Idol

So I have a confession: I only just read my first Meg Cabot book. I'm not sure what excuse I can give for waiting so long except maybe to say that at first glance her books never looked like the sort of books I enjoy. (Yes, I know, I judge books by their covers. Naughty me!) So she wasn't really on my radar until lately, when I kept hearing her name over and over from all different sources.

The first thing that tipped me off to her awesomeness was realizing that her book The Princess Diaries was in fact the inspiration for the movie by the same name and not just a coincidental title. I love the movie, so I figured the book must be even better.

Well, I still can't speak to that directly as The Princess Diaries wasn't the book I picked up at the library last week. But I can say that Teen Idol—the book I did choose—is super cute and fun to read. In fact, I could hardly put it down.

Now usually I don't stay up late to read through feel-good books set in high school, but I made an exception for Teen Idol. I loved the characters, and the situations that Meg Cabot put them in were all very interesting. I really wanted to know what they would do next, and that's a big win for any book.

Teen Idol is about an ordinary girl named Jenny whose world gets turned upside down when a movie star enrolls at her high school and she's entrusted with keeping his identity secret. The story is sweet and romantic and totally satisfying.

I might just have to read it again.

And I certainly plan to pick up more of her books in the future. If the rest are even half as good as Teen Idol I know I will enjoy them. Meg Cabot, I'm an instant fan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


National Novel Writing Month is coming up!  I wrote the following as a reply to a post on another blog and decided I wanted to share it here as well.

This is my NaNoWriMo story:

In 2004 I was a senior in college.  The major that I had designed for myself (Natural Language Processing) was falling apart, and I wasn't convinced any more that it was what I wanted to do anyway.  I ended up falling back on my math major, but that wasn't really what I wanted to do either.

I'd been writing a little over the years--nothing very serious--but as all of my other plans were coming down around me I realized that the one thing I kept looking forward to was writing.  But I wasn't sure I could *really* be a writer.  I'd never tried before, and besides, I was a science person, right?

That's when I heard about NaNoWriMo.  It sounded like fun, and at that point I was really up for a challenge.  So I participated and by the end of the month I had written 50,000 words.  But more than that, I realized that I had enjoyed writing more than anything else I had done over the previous four years.  Right away I signed up for a creative writing class for my final semester.

I graduated in the spring and got married in the fall.  I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again in 2005, but for whatever reason (lack of focus, being a newlywed with the responsibility of writing out hundreds of thank-you notes, who knows) I didn't write more than a few thousand words.

Fast-forward to November, 2006.  I'd been part of a critique group for a few months (and it was doing wonders for my growth in writing), but I'd also recently gotten a new job and didn't have as much time to write any more.  I was starting to doubt whether I'd really be able to make this writing thing work after all.  When November came around I realized I needed to prove to myself that my writing aspirations were still possible.  So I did NaNo and for the second time I won NaNo.

Since then I've been writing steadily.

In 2007 I thought about trying NaNoWriMo again, and I may even have started working on a novel, but I had other projects that were more long-term and more important.  I didn't need NaNo.

In 2008 and 2009 I visited the NaNo site to participate in the forums--those were always one of my favorite parts of NaNo--but I didn't attempt the 50k word challenge.

And now this year I've finally put away NaNoWriMo for good.  Without it I wouldn't be writing, but it's a crutch that doesn't help me any more.

But because of what NaNoWriMo has done for me I am 100% in favor of it.  For some (like me) it's the first step.  For others it's proof that (to quote Back to the Future) "if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."  Some people need to discover that.  And for a lot of people NaNoWriMo is a fun way to get in touch with their creative side... and *everybody* needs that sometimes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Abhorsen Trilogy

I'm taking a slightly different tactic this week in recommending a series instead of a particular book: the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. Why? Well, for one because the whole trilogy is fantastic, but also for a more practical reason: I read the first two books several months ago, and only the third is really fresh enough in my mind to address.

Book 1: Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, the man responsible for standing against necromancers and any dead who seek to return to life. But when Sabriel's father goes missing she must assume his responsibilities and face one of the greatest threats to the world of the living in generations.

Book 2: Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr, those who see into the future, and yet her own Sight never comes, even though the gift has never been known to skip over any Clayr girl. Then the Clayr see a vision of her in the thick of the latest trouble facing her world, and Lirael sets off to discover her true purpose and help restore the balance of living and dead.

Book 3: In Abhorsen Lirael continues her journey to stop the Destroyer from consuming her world. Sabriel, Lirael and their friends and family must join together if they are to save all life before it's too late.

There are several things I love about this series. The world that Nix has created is divided into two sections: The Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre—the land of magic and the land of science. Most of Ancelstierre believes there is no such thing as magic, and that the accounts of magic in the Old Kingdom must be the reports of simple-minded folk who don't understand the true scientific explanations. But in the Old Kindom magic is very much alive, and Ancelstierran technology is useless. Nix uses both worlds adeptly, and the setting is the perfect backdrop for this story.

In particular I love the creativity that Nix put into the idea of the Abhorsen. In Nix's world the barrier between life and death is thin and not permanent. Most of those who die are content to traverse through the gates of death to their final rest, but there are some who fight to get back to life. The Abhorsen's job is to prevent them, using seven bells that command any who hear them. The bells each have a particular use, and even a personality, from the smallest bell Ranna, which brings about sleep, to the largest bell Astarael, the sorrowful bell that sends all who hear it deep into death.

The characters are fun too, particular the Disreputable Dog and Mogget, the little white cat, both companions of Lirael and her friend Sam.

If you're looking for a creative fantasy adventure, this is a great series to try.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You know you're a writer when...

I had a dream last night that I was a star in a major movie.  It was a fun movie, too, though I have no idea now what it was about.  But while all the accolades I was getting were nice, my biggest concern in the dream was whether or not all the new publicity from the movie would give me greater chances of publishing my book.

Yes, even as a superstar, all I wanted was for my writing to succeed.  Go, little book, go!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Editing: Structure

Warning: lots of writing process babble ahead.  Proceed with caution...

Well, I've taken the editing plunge.

The idea of editing is always a little overwhelming at first. I have a vague idea in my mind of all the things that need to be changed, but I start out not entirely sure where to begin. I have several little editor voices in my head all saying things like “This bit over here needs to be cut,” or “These lines don't belong here,” or “That's not the right way to present that plot line,” or “This scene just isn't working—figure out why!” or “Do you seriously think you can get away with that opening hook?”

And of course, being a perfectionist, I want to fix all of these things at once. But that can't be done. So eventually I come to the obvious conclusion that I should start with the structural issues first.

So that's how I spent yesterday. I went through the first section of the book and made a chronological list of all the scenes, chapter by chapter. (The process was complicated by the fact that I had three different versions of chapter 1.) That way I could piece together where all the scenes should be, and after writing out the new order I set to the task of copy and paste.

Scene reordering is a lot more nerve-wracking than it may sound. There's the constant fear that I'll delete something and forget to put it somewhere else and thus lose it entirely. Or that I'll lose my place and get so muddled in where I am that I'll end up creating twice as much work for myself. Maybe it's a control issue—I feel that if I'm not holding both the current order and the correct order in my head at all times I'll get swept away in a river of homeless scenes all looking for their place in the story.

But happily, the copy and paste is mostly done now. (I say mostly because there are a couple small bits that might still need reorganizing.) Now comes the fun part: making the new order of scenes flow together. Well, fun for me, but I like that sort of thing.

And then will come the other big-picture edits: fixing flawed scenes, making sure characters are behaving appropriately, cleaning up major dialog errors that take the story off track... things like that.

And then mid-sized edits: descriptions and character reactions... the typical weak points of my first draft.

And finally the nitpicks and the “how many unnecessary words can I find and cut” game.

Two bright sides to the structural work I've just done:

1) There are three distinct sections of this story, so the structural complexity isn't nearly as insane as it could be.

2) I only have one POV character. So much easier to figure out the order of things when I'm juggling just one time-line instead of two.

Now back to work for me!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest Post

I've got a guest post up today at Down with the Author!  DwtA! is a new blog for characters.  My character Annie has been invited to make a few appearances there.  Today she's talking about Happy Endings.  Go check out the blog, and get in touch with the admins if you're interested in contributing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Dead and the Gone

The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the companion novel to Life As We Knew It, which I have also read and loved. I recommend both: they are each strong stories.

What would happen if an asteroid knocked the moon closer to earth?

The answer is even more nightmarish than you might think. Survival is against the odds, and those who do survive must overcome nearly insurmountable challenges: flood, famine and worse. How long would you last in those conditions?

The Dead and the Gone follows a New York City boy named Alex during the aftermath of the asteroid, as he struggles to care for his two younger sisters. Time and again he must face situations that require the utmost resourcefulness.

The book is very hard to put down. Pfeffer leads her readers through heartache and triumph with expert skill. Every moment feels all too real. More than that I'm reluctant to say; I don't want to spoil one single moment of the suspense and surprise.

But I will say this: the story has everything—smooth writing, sympathetic and believable characters, and an engrossing plot. Every page is a blood-pounding thrill.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing News and Vacation

Well, it's been a month since I last posted, and I have news! The primary reason for my absence lately was a new-found focus on finishing up my first draft of Olympus Gate, and I am pleased to report that I have now graduated from first draft into editing mode. I'm really excited about this novel, and I'm even looking forward to the editing process. I think Olympus Gate is already the best work I've ever done, and once it's cleaned up maybe it'll actually be something I'm willing to start submitting. In the meantime I'm enjoying my character and her world and getting psyched about how much better the story will be once I make the necessary changes.

The other reason for my absence was a vacation to Florida over the past couple weeks. My husband and I went down to Orlando to spend some time at Universal Studios for our anniversary and then visit with his grandfather, who lives in the area. We had a fantastic trip. I really enjoyed a lot of the rides and attractions at Universal, and I particularly loved the new Harry Potter world. Aside from the overpriced merchandise it was everything I had hoped for.

And that is all there is to tell at the moment. I hope the past month has treated you well!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

And Another Link

Here's another link found while blog hopping the other day, all about what makes Taylor Swift such a great artist.  Interesting comments, and in general I tend to agree.  Plus the post got me thinking about some of the relationships in my own stories.  Worth checking out if you're into such things.


So I keep seeing all sorts of hype for Firelight by Sophie Jordan.  I think I may have to get my hands on this book.  It sounds great!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Splendor Falls

As I mentioned a few days ago, one of my instructors at the ArmadilloCon workshop was Rosemary Clement-Moore. I had read one of her books already last year and was excited about being in her group. She very kindly spent some time chatting with me outside of the workshop as well, and I discovered that not only does she have really good writing advice, she's also brilliantly hilarious. In fact, she could probably host her own tv show, but then she wouldn't be writing books any more, and that would be our loss... because her books are fantastic!

I picked up her most recent book, The Splendor Falls, at the con and read it on the flight home from Texas. The title is based on a Tennyson poem, which I read after finishing the book and found to be wonderfully appropriate, so be sure to look up the poem in conjunction with the book.

The story is about a girl named Sylvie who gets shipped off to Alabama after a broken leg ends her dancing career. She finds herself in an old house, rich with her family's history... and with the lingering echoes of her ancestors. Then she starts seeing things, things that shouldn't be there.

The Splendor Falls is one of those rare books that I truly enjoyed being in, instead of feeling the need to rush through. The difference between other books and The Splendor Falls is sort of like the difference between taking a quick shower and luxuriating in the bath; the former is about the end goal and the latter is about the experience. I loved the experience of this book.

One of its greatest strengths is its capital-A Atmosphere. The setting is so real, the history vibrant. I had no trouble believing I was stuck in Nowhere, Alabama. The house, the town and the surrounding landmarks were all easy to picture. And the Civil War era family was infused into the pages of the book, in every detail from the scent of lilac to the apron strings disappearing around the corner.

I loved that this was a ghost story with the feel of magic, not the feel of keep-the-lights-turned-on horror. True, Sylvie got creeped out a few times (as would anyone), but my own reaction was the thrill of well-designed magic, not the chill of terror. I got drawn in and lost myself in the fantasy.

And part of what set the compelling tone of the book was the romance. I found myself cheering on Sylvie's love life from the very start. Every page had just the right amount of tension, and the ending was so very rewarding.

All in all I think this story may become a classic for me, one I return to when I start feeling the need to escape. So thanks for such a great read, Rosemary!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

ArmadilloCon Recap: Panels

I went to quite a few panels at ArmadilloCon, but a few in particular stand out in memory.


The opening question on the technology panel was this: since science is hard to get right consistently in our books, can we tell an interesting story while still following the dictates of science? Will readers stick with a story that isn't completely accurate?

Nancy Kress, who was moderating the panel (and is very well-spoken), had an insightful comment: there is a spectrum of stories, all the way from hard sci fi on one side to whimsical fantasy on the other. Readers and writers both have comfort zones along that spectrum. What's important is to recognize where your story belongs on the spectrum and write it accordingly.

Another panelist (Adrian Simmons I believe), said that more important than accuracy in the details is understanding the rules and implications of the technologies that appear in the story. When coming up with a new technology, always ask “What other uses could this technology be put to?” Then think about what can go wrong. Stories are all about messes that need to be fixed.

Great advice!


I went to a similar panel last year, but I still got a lot out of this one. Cities are a large part of world-building, whether they are real cities or not. All cities have their own unique atmosphere, and the characters in a story should feel that atmosphere.

One of the major points on the panel was the fact that cities aren't built in a day—they grow and develop; structures come down or are buried under other structures; styles change. When describing a city we must give the impression that the city has existed for years and will continue to exist into the future.

The comment that really stood out to me was that the writer should know the city well enough that the reader feels like the city is truly built of stone and mortar, not cardboard props. The reader should believe that if the character happened to take a wrong turn down an alley, the alley wouldn't contain wooden set pieces but a whole new living, breathing scene.


I was excited about this panel since it deals directly with an important aspect of my current project. Unfortunately I was so caught up in the discussion that I didn't take very good notes, but I here's some of what I remember:

The panelists brought up several important aspects of mythology: the usefulness of mythology to explain natural, cultural and psychological phenomena; the importance of mythology for passing along the morals of a society; the archetypes that show up in mythology and that resonate with us still today.

Several of the panelists felt strongly that writers should at least be very familiar with the myths that their stories are based in. Some stories based on mythology ignore the culture of the myths and leave out important details. Sometimes writers will use mythological characters as props instead of fleshing out real people.

After attending the panel I feel very motivated to get back into working on my own mythology-inspired novel.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

ArmadilloCon Recap: the People

One of the best aspects of ArmadilloCon was the friendliness of all the people. Writing is a pretty solitary endeavor, so getting out to talk writing with other people is a bit of a high for me. Everyone I spoke to was super enthusiastic—I felt right at home among them.

The people I was most looking forward to seeing were the other three people in my critique group who came to the con, and in that respect the weekend most certainly did not disappoint. We had a wonderful time going out to dinner on Friday night and spending time catching up at other moments as well. Ico, Kendra and Steve—you guys are great!

I was also excited about catching up with Patrice Sarath, who was one of my instructors last year. I've read her two books (Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge) over the past year, and I'm really hoping to see more of her writing soon, particularly after going to her reading on Sunday.

I met some fascinating new people this year. Katharine Beutner was on the Mythology panel on Sunday morning, and she was kind enough to spend the hour after the panel chatting with me about her book, Alcestis, and about some of the mythology I'm using in my writing.

I also got a chance to meet Anne Sowards, senior editor at Ace/Roc, who, in addition to being a very interesting person to talk to and working with awesome people like Jim Butcher and Steven Boyett, also wins the award for best accessory at the con—her purse made of seat belts was seriously fun. (Unfortunately my picture of it doesn't quite do it justice.)

Runner up for cool accessories would have to be Julie Kenner with her cute purple glasses and soda tab bracelet. I met Julie last year and was flattered to find that she remembered me. I read her YA Good Ghouls books after meeting her at the last con and really enjoyed them.

And finally (for this post, though there were quite a lot of other people I met and really enjoyed spending time with), I chatted a bit with Stina Leicht. I'm a little in awe of Stina and all the hard work she puts into making the workshop happen. I've said it before, but I can't say it too many times: thank you so much for what you do, Stina! And congratulations on selling your book!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ArmadilloCon Recap: Workshop

I'm back from ArmadilloCon!

Wow, was it ever an exciting whirlwind of an experience: three full days of critiques, panels and meeting lots of interesting people.

I'm still in processing mode, so over the next few days I'll summarize some of the highlights of the con. Today's highlight: the writing workshop.

For the workshop I submitted the first chapter of my current WIP. A few weeks ago four other first chapters/short stories showed up in my inbox, and I critiqued those before the con. Last Friday our group of five got together with two professional authors, who had also looked at our work. Then we spent a few hours chatting about how to make our stories better.

I was super excited about the two pros assigned to my group: Rosemary Clement-Moore and Phoebe Kitanidis. Both are successful YA authors and fabulous people. They had great comments for all of us.

And the other people in my group had smart things to say too. All of the submissions I critiqued were strong—great group of writers.

There were mixed reactions to my first chapter. One fellow student wanted me to make next to no changes; another had pages of notes. A third said the chapter had made her cry—I think this is the first time in my life I've been genuinely gratified to know I've made another person shed tears.

The pros had some great advice, which I have been mulling over. Rosemary had the same comment for all of us: show the characters internalizing the things that happen to them. She even has a great video to go along with the advice.

Overall I was very encouraged by the workshop and eager to get back to writing. At the moment I'm two thirds of the way through the first draft of the novel. Just about to start into the home stretch!

In the meantime, here's a big THANK YOU to Rosemary and Phoebe and the other students in my group.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mockingjay Release!

If you follow YA lit news or are a Suzanne Collins fans, you probably know that Mockingjay—the third book in the Hunger Games series—came out yesterday. I was at the bookstore as soon as it opened to get my copy and finished reading the book yesterday evening. Now I've had a day to digest the story.

I was absolutely blown away. No spoilers, so I might be a little vague, but here are my thoughts:

This was a totally intense book. Each book in the series has been more gripping than the last, and this finale was a complete thrill ride. I didn't see any of it coming. Suzanne Collins has a knack for telling precisely the story her readers were never expecting.

And that's even more of an achievement than it may seem at first glance. Collins isn't afraid to take giant risks. She doesn't follow prescribed story patterns; she follows her character's hearts.

That's what I love most about Mockingjay. It's believable. The plot doesn't come together all nice and pat; it's messy like real life is messy, like war is messy, and yet within that chaos is a work of genius. While there were plenty of scenes that left me in anguish, there was never a scene that left me thinking, “no, you should have done that this way,” because the characters acted exactly according to what made sense to them at the time.

Which is not to say that the ending wasn't still excruciating. (No spoilers, as promised.) Yet despite that, the ending was right. So often I will feel an odd emptiness at the end of a book because the final events are marked by mixed emotions—beauty and tragedy both—and yet the conclusion wraps up the story like a pretty pink bow, leaving me feeling strangely disconnected. Mockingjay does come to a conclusion, but it's a multifaceted conclusion that requires the reader to think, even do some soul-searching.

So if there is one young adult series that you read this year, make it the Hunger Games series.

And if you have read it, tell me what you think—“real or not real?"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is an insightful novel by Mary E. Pearson about the possible future of medical technology.

Jenna Fox has just woken up after a year and a half in a coma. She remembers nothing of her life, her family, or herself. How own body sometimes feels strange to her. And her grandmother acts as if she's someone else, as if Jenna Fox has died and she's an imposter in Jenna's skin.

When I first read a review of the book with a brief description of the plot, I thought I had the story all figured out. I sometimes (perhaps unfoundedly) pride myself on being able to work out plot twists well in advance. But the idea of this book sounded interesting, so I decided to pick it up when I had the chance, even though I thought I knew what to expect.

I'm happy to report that I was wrong. I discovered pretty quickly that my initial expectations based on the review weren't quite right, though I formed other expectations right away about the “big reveal” that I could see coming.

And then the reveal came and went and there was still more than half the story to go! I wasn't even close to prepared for the plot twists still to come. Pearson handled me and my expectations as masterfully as she handles everything else in this book.

The pacing is spot on. I never felt the story drag, and in every circumstance Pearson feeds her readers just the right amount of information. In the background I can't help thinking “hurry, Jenna, hurry” right along with the voices in her head, even though I don't yet know what it is she's hurrying toward.

The character dynamics are rich and intricate. Every one of them adds something to each scene. Each of the characters develops in some way, and I enjoyed watching those changes unfold. The relationship between Jenna and her grandmother was particularly rewarding.

The writing is near flawless. It never got in the way. There were some great subtleties to it, particularly in the way the first person style changed over time. The language evolved as Jenna's mentality evolved, from impersonal and almost stilted, to fluent and engaged.

This may well be the best book I've read in a while, and I've read a lot of good books lately. This is one you won't want to miss.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


What's your favorite superpower?

I've had this conversation with a lot of people. The question is almost always the same, even down to the wording: “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

I've always had a hard time answering. In part that's because there are a lot of great superpowers to choose from. Who wouldn't want to be able to go invisible or conjure flame or breathe underwater?

Or fly? Wouldn't that be great? Of all the typical superpowers I've always thought this would be the most fun. Sure it's not necessarily the most useful for catching villains, but I think everyone daydreams at least on occasion about floating through the sky. I imagine flying is a lot like swimming—go through enough clouds and you'd probably even get just as wet. But there's something irresistibly romantic about flying.

The main reason I have trouble answering the superpower question, though, is that the power I'd really want isn't on the superpower A-list. It isn't in any comic books or superpower movies I've ever heard of. For the longest time I couldn't even describe exactly what it was.

I have a name for it now: it's the Velveteen Rabbit power—the ability to make things real. But it wouldn't just be about bringing stuffed animals to life; I'd be able to make the characters from my favorite books real, and give life to the people in my head, and even turn games into reality. So I suppose this superpower is more of a combination of the Velveteen Rabbit, Inkheart (which I loved, by the way), and Jumanji... only with a little more control over what becomes real.

And maybe that's the main reason I write: when I'm writing I'm giving as much life as I possibly can to the things I most want to be real.

What about you? What power would you choose?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Recommendation: Speak

Starting high school is stressful enough, even when you're not an Outcast, but for Melinda the beginning of freshman year is a disaster. An Event at the end of summer leaves her entering high school as the pariah of the freshman class. Even her best friend hates her; nobody understands the real story of that night.

But Melinda doesn't know how to share what really happened, and she's caught in a downward spiral of social anxiety, bad grades, and depression. She can't even admit to herself what she's gone through, much less Speak up to someone else. She locks herself away, mentally and physically, where she can't get hurt again.

In Speak, the story of one girl's struggle with acknowledging the truth, Laura Halse Anderson addresses issues that plague many teens all over the country. This book is useful both to those dealing with the aftereffects of trauma and those trying to understand what they are going through.

Speak is a truthful book. Melinda is a totally believable character. Anderson's portrayal of high school is honest and accurate in so many details, from “the first ten lies they tell you in high school” to grading Lunch and Clothes right along with Biology and Spanish. Whatever your high school experience, you will probably recognize Merryweather High as if it were your own.

The pacing in Speak is spot on as well. I could hardly put the book down. The truth unfolds little bits at a time, just enough to make me want to read “one more chapter” over and over. And I would gladly read the whole story over again.

I highly recommend this book.

Friday, July 30, 2010


I just found out that there will be a 13 District Blog Tour leading up to the release of Mockingjay!  Sounds to me like some great hype for this book.  I know I'm excited!

The blog tour starts here:

More information on the Hunger Games Facebook page.


Great article today on Voice over at Rachelle Gardner's blog.

As she says, voice is difficult to master.  It's one of many aspects of writing that I can see improving in my own work, while at the same time I know I have a long way yet to go.

I think one thing that helps is finally starting to narrow down what I want to say.  Having a unique voice comes in part from having unique goals, and I think I understand my own goals much better now than I did five years ago... or even one year ago.

Annie (my current character) was born out of meditating on the things I want to say and the ideas I want to explore, and I think of all my characters she has the most unique voice yet.

A big thanks to Rachelle Gardner for the inspiring post!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


What is it about time that so fascinates us?

I was thinking about the idea of time yesterday and realizing how many of my story ideas include plots or sub-plots having to do with the manipulation of time. Some involve time travel, others involve places that exist outside of our time, and one was about infinite worlds moving in different directions, each on its own time line, and intersecting at key points to allow for jumping between worlds. (This last also had vampires, which is probably why I haven't seriously planned to write it—there's a bit of over-saturation in the market already.)

Then I realized that so many of the stories I love play with time. I grew up watching Back to the Future. I always wanted to go to Narnia, and while time isn't a huge factor in the majority of the Narnian plots, it is a big deal when traveling between that world and ours. And then, one of my favorite Harry Potter books is The Prisoner of Azkaban, which uses time travel very effectively.

Turns out the book I'm reading right now (Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones) has a great deal to do with time as well.

So I'm not alone in my interest for the subject. I think perhaps I feel drawn to write about time manipulation precisely because it is (at least as far as I am aware—I'm no physicist) totally impossible. The business of the writer is “what if.” With time, there are so many “what ifs.”

I remember back in middle school lying awake at night trying to understand higher dimensions. Because we can't easily visualize a fourth dimension, we often speak of time as a line. I imagined the three dimensions we know best shrinking to a dot on that line. The fifth dimension spread out in front of me in my mind's eye: the plane in which our time line lived—a whole collection of alternate realities.

That's a lot of “what if” to play with.

Perhaps one day I will get tired of thinking of time as a changeable aspect of a story, but until then I plan to enjoy manipulating time. Is there anything you want to see an author do with regards to time?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hello Again

Well, I'm back.*

The hubby and I have moved, and moreover, we have settled in. I LOVE the new place. It's quiet, it has sunlight, it's pretty and not run-down.

The only downside: though it has more square footage and more rooms (and thus more walls), somehow there seems to be less space. I'm not quite sure how that happened. All I know is that there is one round table that refuses to fit anywhere. Also, the kitchen really is smaller, but I've found ways to work around that. Helps that the kitchen is much more open than in the old place.

I'm happy here. And of equal importance: the hubby and the kitty are happy too.

Question of the day: How do you know you're an incurable book lover? Answer: When moving to a new town you get a new library card at the local branch before seeing to any other change-of-address business. I've already gobbled up two of the four books I borrowed on Thursday.

Speaking of libraries: Old Spice Guy!

Now on to other news:

I have found over time that there are certain classes of objects that seem to break whenever I come near them. I noticed this first with watches. I have been through countless wristwatches. They never fail to fail. Either I get them wet and they stop working, or the strap breaks, or they just die, or in the rare case where they don't actually break, they end up pinching uncomfortably and I get rid of them. I couldn't keep a wristwatch if you paid me good money to do it.

Unfortunately I'm finding a similar trend with computers. I have a vampiric touch. Perfectly good, working machines become bloodsucking, rage-inducing monsters under my hand. And it's not even my fault!

Remember when I got a new computer a few months ago? I was very excited. I loved everything about it. Being that it was store built instead of home built I hoped that all the pieces would work well together and not be prone to spontaneous crashes.

But no. It would seem that is not the case. After the latest windows update the crashes began. Then the antivirus software had a fit (and not because I had a virus) and when I tried to reinstall the antivirus the crashes got worse until the computer was mostly unusable. So I decided it was time to reinstall the whole OS from scratch, and somehow in the process the computer eroded even more. And now it won't turn on at all.

I've had this computer for four months. I've already had to replace the video card. Now I'll be getting the motherboard and memory replaced as well. At this rate there will be nothing left of the original computer come fall.

Oh well. At least I can still get some writing done on the laptop or my hubby's computer. This book WILL be written. I will not accept the alternative.

Anyway, what's been going on with you this past month?

*The final line from The Lord of the Rings is always an appropriate greeting.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Can We Panic Now?

Hey look: a blog post!

So here's an overview of the past week: a fun and informative book signing; more packing; ArmadilloCon preparation; music writing; and trying not to panic.

On Saturday I went to a book signing for Melissa Marr.  This is actually the second of her signings I've attended (so nice to live relatively near a fabulous author!), so I was looking forward to going.  She is a really wonderful, genuine person.  She's so personable, and gives the immediate impression that she truly cares about other people.  So not only is she a great writer, but she's a great human being as well.

Unfortunately the state of the highway on Saturday meant that it took an hour and a half to go 30 miles.  I had left a little early, but not early enough apparently, so I missed a little of the first bit of Q&A.  But the signing afterward more than made up for it!  I was at the end of the line and got to chat with Melissa for about 10-15 minutes.  She had some really excellent advice on querying, along with a list of agents and websites to check out.  Thank you, Melissa!

Also on the writing side, I've revised the first chapter of the WIP based on some recent critiques, and I last night I sent the revised version to the ArmadilloCon writers workshop.  I'm SO excited about the con.  Several of the other people in my critique group will be attending as well, and I can hardly wait to get together with them.

The WIP is going well overall.  The critiques on the first section have been really encouraging in addition to having some good advice.  I'm continuing to plug away toward the finish before doing any further revision, though.

As for the rest, I've completed a new piece of music for the two-stick shooter in production at GeeQ.  I'm pleased with it.  Hopefully I'll have some time to do a little more music in the coming weeks.

But of course, a lot of that will depend on how the packing goes.  The move is only a few weeks away!  The bookshelves and china cabinet are all packed up, and I can't believe how many boxes are filled just from doing that much.  Still a lot to do, and we won't even have time this weekend since we'll be out of town, so that'll leave most of the packing for the July 4th weekend.

What was that about not panicking?

Well, as you can see, life hurtles forward.  I've managed not to drop any balls yet, so hopefully that trend will continue.  All the best to all of you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Birthdays and Moving and Blog Silence

I feel like I've been pureed.  Monday mornings are usually no fun, but this morning was particularly brutal.  I'd say I feel like I'm getting old, but I'm not anywhere near old, so really I just feel pathetic.

The hubby and I spent this weekend out of town celebrating my grandmother's 80th birthday.  I was really glad we were able to make it down and see lots of family and make ourselves useful so they didn't have to do all the set-up themselves.  It's been a while since we visited with that side of the family, so it was a good time.

But somehow I must have overdone.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep from the heavy rain while we were staying out in the camper.  Maybe it was the extreme heat yesterday that sapped my energy.  Maybe it was the repetitive motion strain I got in my shoulder from measuring out endless lengths of streamers for decorating.  (I kid not; it still feels bruised to the touch.)

I know... pretty pathetic, right?  I could barely keep my eyes open before bed last night, and this morning isn't much better.  Hard to believe I was pulling all-nighters just over five years ago.

Well anyway, it was still a good weekend, despite feeling partied-out this morning.  Congratulations to my grandmother on 80 good years.  And thanks to all the family for a great weekend.

In other news, I neglected the blog all last week because I've been making some great progress on the newest book.  I'm excited about how it's coming together.  I'm about a third of the way through, and I'm still feeling the energy of it.

My postings over the next month and a half will probably continue to be more sporadic.  We're moving next month, and that means lots of packing, packing, packing.  I'm really getting excited about the move, though.  Our new location will mean far less traffic and much easier access to a lot of great people and places.

So while all that's going on I may simply have too much to juggle to keep up regular posts.  I'll try not to be totally silent, though!

In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Recommendation: Life of Pi

The first time I heard of Life of Pi I thought it had something to do with math like the book Flatland.  I was interested in reading it but never had the opportunity.  Then one day I noticed it in the bookstore and discovered that it was NOT in fact a math story but a survival story.  Feeling that I had read all the miraculous survival stories I cared to read, I lost interest.

Then this weekend while visiting my family I found it on my brother's bookshelf, and in a few spare moments while waiting to leave for church I started reading it.  I was immediately impressed with Yann Martel's writing.  The words stay out of the way just enough to allow me to focus on the content of what they're saying, but the language is also so skillfully weaved together that what I do notice is lovely.

But of course, what really drew me in was the story.  Pi Patel is intelligent, thoughtful and in love with the idea of faith.  His story walks the fine line between being completely unexpected and outside the realm of my own experience, and being entirely recognizable in its universality.  I learned so much—about the ocean, about animals, about the fight for life—and at the same time I went on an emotional journey that allowed me to connect deeply with circumstances I will hopefully never see myself.  Ultimately that is what a good story should do.

In the end the nagging question is “could I do what he did?”  Could you survive out in the ocean for 200+ days in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger?  I seriously doubt that many could.  But though that is the most obvious question, it isn't the only one.  Could you also keep your sanity?  Could you fight as hard as he did to stay alive, even without the tiger?  Could you (if you have faith) keep your faith, even see the timely occurrences that help keep you alive as miraculous gifts?

Life of Pi is a soul-searching kind of book.  But I don't think it would be nearly as effective without the skilled description throughout.  Granted some of that description makes sections rather graphic.  (If you are squeamish about animals killing one another painfully, well I won't say not to read the book because you still should, but do be forewarned.)  On the other hand the description truly helped me to connect with Pi.  I remember particularly stirring moments when Pi is afraid or jubilant; the description of both the mental and physical manifestations of those emotions had me riveted.

This is a book worth reading if you ever have the chance.  You'll be glad you took the journey.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Last year I heard some excellent advice from Melissa Marr at a book signing she was holding.  She said to read something from every section of the bookstore, not just the section that is most obviously related to one's own writing genre.

This month that advice took me to the “inventions” section of the library.  I pulled out a giant book on ancient inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe which is conveniently called “Ancient Inventions.”  The book is all about the technologies, medical practices, agriculture, etc of ancient cultures around the world.

It's fascinating stuff!  Did you know that in the last few centuries BC the Hindus were perfecting rhinoplasty?  Or that the Incans built a suspension bridge of twisted plant fibers that lasted 500 years?  Or that the ancient Chinese already knew how to make magnetic compasses for navigation?  Or that anthropologists have found evidence that people in Baghdad created the first batteries millennia ago?  I am truly amazed.

And of course, all of this has got me thinking.  How might cultures develop differently on another world?  Earth's technological history is already written (at least to this point), but reading through this book I could easily imagine that history might have turned out differently had people used their inventions in slightly different ways.

Which leads me to wonder how I might design the cultures in a fictional world according to believable technological advancements that are nonetheless different from any recognizable period in earth's history.  So often the worlds we design are created out of genre paradigms.  Take epic fantasy, for example.  There is no written rule that other-world fantasy must occur in a medieval setting, and yet nearly every such fantasy follows that trend.

I think this is what makes Steampunk so interesting to some people: the whole concept is based on manipulating the technology of the Victorian age.  And yet the idea has been used so often now that even Steampunk has become set in its ways.

So what can we create that is completely unique?  Reading this book has given me a few ideas (and I'm only three chapters in!), but I'm sure doing even more research will lead in new directions.  How about a city in the jungle that has a vast system of cables and pulleys and wooden gears and operates on steam power?  Or what about a desert community that harnesses electricity for lights and distance communication but that has little else in the way of advanced technology.

I know I would love to read about cities like those.  Maybe other people would too.  What sort of cities would you want to see?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Weekend

Well I just finished up a whirlwind of a weekend.  I returned home last night, and I still don't think I've recovered, even after a good night's sleep.

But it sure was a good weekend!  It began Saturday morning with my sister-in-law's high school graduation.  Her school had a very nice ceremony, and her class was very small, so it didn't drag on.  We had a great lunch at Applebees afterward.

Sunday was the wedding of a dear friend of mine.  She was absolutely stunning!  The wedding was outside in the mountains, overlooking a valley and more mountains—very beautiful.  The day was rather hot and humid, but again, another lovely ceremony.  I'm so please for her and her new husband.  They are remarkable people.

And then yesterday was family time.  My dad and step-mother prepared a fantastic Memorial Day lunch.  Wow, was it good.  For dessert we did puzzles (we were all way too full for any more food).

Now I'm back home and back to worrying about all the little things that need to be done... as well as the big thing—packing for our move NEXT MONTH.  I can hardly believe it's already June.

But before all of that I want to take a moment (since I wasn't around my computer yesterday to do it then) to thank all of those who serve or have served in the military.  You give so much, and because of you we have so much.  Thank you.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!  Now back to the grind...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Recommendation: Howl's Moving Castle

I have a very short list of books that I reread on a semi-regular basis.  Watership Down is one of them, and it gets better every time I read it.  A more recent addition to the list is Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  I discovered it only in the past year, and I loved it so much I've already moved it to the short list of favorites.  I reread it this week—just now finished it—and I still find it absolutely delightful.

The story is about a girl named Sophie Hatter who believes her life will always be dull because she is the oldest of three sisters (it's always the youngest that lives an exciting life, after all).  But one day she is turned into an old woman by an evil witch, and she decides if she's old she might as well go out and seek her fortune after all.  She heads to the one place where the curse on her might be broken: the ever-moving castle of Wizard Howl, whom she believes to be a heartless, girl-eating monster.

To me the best part of this story is its characters.  Each of them is terribly flawed, and yet quite lovable.  Sophie is grumpy but entertaining, and she has the one kind of magic that I always wished most I could have.  Howl is self-absorbed, fickle and an absolute mess, but he's terribly sweet underneath it all.  Michael, Howl's apprentice, is easily disgruntled, but he can be very thoughtful too.  And Calcifer, the fire demon whose magic keeps the castle moving, is sulky and overly dramatic, but he really does care for those who befriend him.

Their adventure together is witty and whimsical.  The story puts me in a very good mood after I've read it.  The world feels just as it should be.  In fact, I think all of Diana Wynne Jones's book have this quality.  I will happily read anything she has written.  I think everyone should read at least one of her books, and Howl's Moving Castle may well be her best.  If you haven't read it yet, go out and find a copy right away!

Now if I could just get my hands on the movie adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle.  I've heard so many good things...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I've had several friends over the years who have done reenacting of one sort or another, whether of the Civil War variety or as members of the SCA (or even other sorts that I don't really know as much about).  Maybe it's a girl/guy thing, but honestly I don't always understand the appeal of the fighting, particularly in the Civil War reenacting.  I don't think I would enjoy dressing up in layers of costume and marching out in the sweltering heat to pretend to shoot people.  Not really my thing.  But I do understand the other side of it, where all the women get to make fun crafts and then go buy them from each other.

Crafts are fun, plain and simple.  There are a lot of creative crafting techniques I wish I knew, but I just don't have the time to learn them all.  Can't be good at everything, I guess.

The one that I do know well is crocheting.  When I was in middle school my grandmother taught me to crochet.  The challenge was that she's left-handed and I'm not, so I had a little difficulty following her steps in reverse.  Even now I'm not sure my stitches are all correct.

I find it dreadfully difficult to follow a pattern too.  Not really sure why—they are generally straightforward enough.  I prefer to make up my own though.  That's the fun part for me.  Instead of hunching over the instructions, trying to make sure I'm doing exactly the right stitches, I get to sit back and design my own.

Over the past few years I've gotten into the habit of making baby blankets for all my friends and family who have had babies.  (I didn't really know what I was getting myself into at the time—I didn't realize just how many of my friends at church would be bringing little ones into the world this winter/spring.  I've been in the middle of a crocheting frenzy.)  But now that there's a bit of a lull in the baby production I'm still wanting reasons to work on blankets.

Lucky for me a friend of mine came up with a very nice idea.  See I've been feeling a bit bothered lately by the fact that I don't make the time to do as much volunteer work as I feel I should.  I would like to go help serve meals at the homeless shelter, but it's too far away to be practical right now.  I mentioned this to my friend who does go serve, and he said that the shelter would probably appreciate having blankets to give out to the people staying there.

Yay!  Solution!  I can keep crocheting and do something useful at the same time!

Anyway, as you can probably tell by now, this post has nothing to do with writing.  But I did mention crocheting in my last post, so I felt like elaborating on the subject.  I'll leave you with a few pictures of the blankets I've done lately.