Thursday Book Questions: Part 3

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week, we were split down the middle on e-readers (with feelings ranging from "No, thank you" to "can't live without it"); favorite books were typically in the YA fantasy (Twilight and Artemis Fowl) and classics (works by Austen, Tolkien, and Lewis) categories; a couple of very popular authors got thumbs-down on specific books (even though we like the rest of their work) and it turned out that most of us, despite our best intentions, wind up reading numerous books at once.

This week's questions:

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
(answer here)
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
(answer here)
13. Can you read on the bus?
(answer here)
14. Favorite place to read?
(answer here)
15. What is your policy on book lending?
(answer here)

What are your ways, oh readers? I can't wait to hear.


Currently Reading: The Princess Bride

Prince Humperdinck was shaped like a barrel. His chest was a great barrel chest, his thighs mighty barrel thighs. He was not tall but he weighed close to 250 pounds, rock hard. He walked like a crab, side to side, and probably if he had wanted to be a ballet dancer he would have been doomed to a miserable life of endless frustration. But he didn't want to be a ballet dancer. He wasn't in that much of a hurry to be king either. Even war, at which he excelled, took second place in his affections. Everything took second place in his affections.

Hunting was his love. Once he was determined, once he had focused on an object, the Prince was relentless. He never tired, never wavered, neither ate nor slept. It was death chess and he was international grand master.

Author: William Goldman

Synopsis: "Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles." [Goldman's words, not mine, in case anyone wonders. Sure, that quote is not precisely synoptic—but you've all seen the movie anyway, right?]

Notes: Reading this book, I was pretty sure that William Goldman had entirely made up S. Morgenstern (and most of the information about himself, too). That story is as well told as the "good parts" of the supposed classic, so I had to at least make sure Wikipedia corroborated that belief before committing to it myself.

That little meta-feature—the book's telling a made-up story about a made-up story—worked beautifully. Goldman's asides to Morgenstern's text, including commentary on satirical novels, were often as much fun as the swashbuckling tale itself.

There's often an element of disappointment in reading a book if one has watched the movie first (though perhaps not as often as when the case is reversed). I expected to be disappointed, and wasn't. The book tracks closely enough with the movie for comfort; it just includes more of everything.

Disappointment is also common when numerous people recommend something as absolutely hilarious, especially if they've quoted all the best parts to you in the recommendation. The above snippet, then, is not the one that made me laugh the hardest (although if I had been able to find that online, I probably would have posted it) and I'll try to refrain from expressing just how funny I found the tale. But if you want a laugh, I should think you have a good chance with this one.

Recommendation: Read it in a silly mood. I think that would be hard to beat.


Tasty Tuesday: Tips for a Successful Omelet

Tasty TuesdayI've had a few cooking failures in my life, but the first to occur after I got married was in making omelets. I tried cooking them on my electric griddle, and the eggs ran right off the cooking surface and into the grease tray.

It has honestly taken me most of these two years to learn to make omelets that I can enjoy. Granted, eggs and I have an iffy relationship. But as it turns out, attention to a few little details can help a lot. Here they are.

Tips for a Successful Omelet
  1. Use a skillet with sides. (Although my father-in-law seems to manage perfectly well with his electric griddle. I don't know how he does it.)
  2. Pre-heat the skillet. Then heat butter or bacon grease before adding eggs.
  3. Forget about going low-fat. Cook the vegetables in bacon grease.
  4. Beat a little cream (half-and-half or heavy cream, not milk) into the eggs. I use about one tablespoon to two eggs.
  5. Coat the whole egg surface with cheese before adding the meat and vegetables, so it has time to melt.
  6. Fold carefully. I have no good shortcut for this, but if you've preheated the grease, the eggs shouldn't stick. There's no way I'm trying that whole-pan-flipping thing that professional chefs do, but if you're more coordinated than I am, feel free.
  7. Salt and pepper the top upon completion.

As for what to put in it, you're only limited by your imagination and the produce and meat departments. Bacon, ham, sausage, steak; mushrooms, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, olives, peppers.... all right, now I'm hungry. I'd better go make dinner.


A Fable and a Manifesto

Mr. Pond last week, being busy, wrote a fable on blogalectic day. It made me laugh. Now it is my turn to write, and I am short on time too, and chances are it would take me longer to write a fable of any sense than a post on writing, so I made a hunt through my documents this morning for something to write about. A link, pasted months ago into a list of things to consider blogging about someday, caught my attention.

Today I give you Maureen Johnson's manifesto on social media. I read this back when she first posted it and found myself wanting to cheer all the way through. I read it again today and thought yesthis is where I stand. Apparently it works like a manifesto is supposed to. :)

More conversation about writing, story, and related ideas next Monday. In the mean time, if you blog, tweet, Facebook, Myspace, shoot pictures of yourself for Dailybooth, try to get all your friends to ask you questions on Formspring, etc.—especially if any of that is related to the constant pressure upon artists to have a web presence—I recommend Maureen's piece. I think you'll enjoy it.


No Computers for Jadis and other stories

If you haven't taken part in the Thursday Book Questions, and you'd like to, don't be put off by the word Thursday. You can still answer. I've loved reading every comment I've received these two weeks, and it's fun to find the various commonalities we bookworm types often have.

* * *

This week's battle with my novel (in a bottle... with a paddle... on a noodle-eating poodle...) has been: Is it middle grade, young adult, or adult? All because one blogger commented that broader save-the-world-type scopes are usually middle grade (but my protagonist is the wrong age, and with reason) and then another made an offhand remark about semicolons adding to the sense of adult voice. And I like semicolons.

But after several rewrites of the first section of Chapter Five, I feel like I'm gaining some momentum. There's victory on one front, at least.

* * *

It's been awhile since I posted about stargazing, mostly because it has rained a lot. To my interest, though, the sun reached its autumnal equinox yesterday morning. I couldn't tell you what that looked like, because it rained most of yesterday. Does tracking what the sun does count as stargazing?

* * *

Which Narnia character are you?

According to the results page (minus several spelling errors): "As Mrs. Beaver, you may be a bit ditzy, but you are caring, sensitive, and loyal. Just make sure there isn't a sewing machine around in times of danger."

Haha. I can see myself being the one taking too long packing and then saying "I suppose the computer's too heavy to bring?... I can't abide the thought of that Witch fiddling with it, and breaking it or stealing it, as likely as not..."

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Rachelle Gardner's brief post "What is Success?" Because it's a question we all need to answer.

* * *

Cool link of the week: Exact UTC time. My computer clock was only ten seconds slow this morning. Now it is about seven seconds fast; setting the clock's time to the second is harder than it looks.

* * *

Funny of the week: Okay, I get a kick out of snarky Venn diagrams. This one, for instance.

* * *

Lou's sisters are visiting for the weekend (hurrah!), Maia is sick (poor little kitten), and I have a house to clean plus a short story and a novel to write, so... that's all from me today. Have a great weekend, everybody. :)


Thursday Book Questions: Part 2

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Week Two! Here are questions 6-10:

6. Do you have an e-reader?
(answer here)
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
(answer here)
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
(answer here, if applicable)
9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
(answer here)
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
(answer here)

Can't wait to hear from you! This was so much fun last week...


Currently Reading: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

I didn't want to speak up and draw attention, but I wished somebody would decide something. I was really thirsty, and I didn't care much whether we went right or left over the roof. I just wanted to find some unlucky people who wouldn't even have enough time to think wrong place, wrong time.

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Synopsis: The title says most of it—Bree, the young 'newborn' vampire murdered by the Volturi in Eclipse, tells her post-vampirism story.

Notes: First, the negative. I can list off a number of reader-friends who will not want to read this book, mostly because either a) they find vampire novels too dark (and even people who did not find Twilight particularly dark—I didn't—will feel that way about Bree Tanner) or b) they don't like Stephenie Meyer's writing (more on that later.)

It was dark. A heck of a lot of people die in this book, and the non-vegetarian vampire's first-person perspective was awfully blasé about it. That made sense, character-wise, but it sure felt weird to read.

My primary problem with it, however, apart from a personal dislike of extreme violence in fiction, was that it blasted some holes in Meyer's own canon. Certain conversations in Breaking Dawn just don't logically coexist with events in Bree Tanner. As a writer myself, I can only be so harsh on canon failures; after a couple of major revisions, it gets hard to remember things like what got struck from an earlier draft, what you thought about changing and didn't, what you included on a whim and may or may not have gone back to remove. I totally understand. That, unfortunately, doesn't make the reader's experience easier.

But I didn't hate the book. A lot of people find Meyer an unbearable writer, either for her pedestrian and sometimes repetitive prose, or for her tendency to miss out on scope (I've heard the Cullens' car choices criticized, for instance—BMWs and Porsches apparently aren't the ultimate in the automotive world). I enjoy her, though; she's an emotive writer with a talent for suspense, and somewhere behind the slightly overpowering glitter of Edward and his world, her instincts are good. She gets at a place in the heart where some of the deepest longings and coldest fears come from.

Bree's progression back toward humanity interested me, and though it felt like a tale of interrupted repentance—ending Bree's life before she could become a Cullen—it leaves the reader with something to hold onto. The world isn't completely meaningless. There is value in being something more than selfish, and even a monster can choose rightly, moving toward a more human and loving existence.

For me, there was hope that after the end, the murdered Bree opens her eyes to peace and freedom from her painful thirst, and perhaps even to Diego and his secret handshake. I think Diego looked forward to that when he gave Riley the message for Bree. Diego, after all, also sought the light of truth.

Recommendation: Read it in broad daylight. And you might want to stay off the Washington State ferries for awhile afterward.


Tasty Tuesday: Creamed Cucumbers

Tasty Tuesday
Busy days call for simple recipes (and short blogs, unfortunately! Here I am getting this up while it's still Tuesday...) This is about the quickest salad possible short of buying a bag of mixed greens and pulling out the blue cheese.

Creamed Cucumbers

Slice 1 large cucumber (I usually peel it as well).

Throw in 3/4 to 1 tsp sugar.

Add a dash of salt from a shaker and a pinch of fresh or frozen dill.

Add enough mayonnaise to cream well (about a heaping tablespoonful).

Mix, and adjust quantities to taste.

I've heard adding a little vinegar is good too, but I haven't tried it. Maybe next time.


In Concert With

In response to Mr. Pond, That Bottle
"Creativity is solitary whether we like it or not... Creativity isn't solitary, whether we like it or not... Creativity cuts to the deepest paradox of being human. We are alone, everyone an individual. We are never alone, everyone a community. We share life with everyone else, but we live it ourselves. That’s how creativity works. That’s what creativity is."
Mr. Pond actually has the word 'paradox' in the name of his blog. I'm not certain whether that comes from being a Chesterton fan, or whether being a Chesterton fan is a side effect of an innate appreciation of paradoxical concepts, but I became a Chesterton fan myself in part because the great writer explained something I'd long believed: that bouncing back and forth between extremes is not usually a good way of discovering truth. Truth, it seems to me, has a way of transcending opposite notions and pulling what is good and right and noble and lovely from both ends into one multi-dimensional union.

Otherwise known as a paradox. So I agree with Mr. Pond. We live and create alone, but not alone. As individuals, and as inextricable from community. Both sides of the paradox are absolutely necessary for good art.

This post on Slate discusses the surprisingly communal nature of creativity, even showing how the quintessential recluse Emily Dickinson did not create in a purely individual void. Here is one of the parts I found most powerful:
"The eminent psychoanalyst and social theorist Erik Erikson acknowledged that his wife of 66 years, Joan Erikson, worked with him so closely that it was hard to tell where her work left off and his began.... He is among history's most famous social scientists; she doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry."
Fair? Hardly. But common, I think. Pop music packaging, for instance, has always seemed a little weird to me. Jimmy Superstar sings and maybe plays the guitar. But somebody else plays the drums, the bass, the keyboards on stage; another person plays each of them for the record. He has a sound man for concerts and an engineer for the studio. He poses for the camera in full makeup and his name goes on the front cover of the album, but somebody else designs the cover art. Does the cover art guy have a Wikipedia entry?

Why is Jimmy Superstar the one guy who gets his name in lights?

Should my book be published, it could feel a little weird to just have my name on the cover. Yes, I wrote the prose—every line of it. I structured the novel and designed the characters. But so much of the worldbuilding, the nuances and the concepts, have been shaped in conversation with Mom and my sister Beth, who therefore deserve some acknowledgement.

What about pre-submission readers, or agents and editors—all of whom put so much of their time and energy into helping a writer think through and polish a manuscript? The ratio of creative involvement to recognition doesn't seem entirely fair (not that recognition is the usual fate of the author, either...) As I understand it, it's hard for a debut author to even get an acknowledgments or dedication page included. Those things cost money to produce, after all. But without something like that, how does an author recognize those without whom the finished product would have been, at best, forever unfinished?

Those who are known for creating—for putting hundreds and thousands of solitary hours into art—do so in concert with family and friends and fellow artists who hear the original idea and say things like "Oh, I love that! Had you thought about [insert suggestion here]?" The others' creation is perhaps indirect, but it is still creation.

In times gone by, I might step away from my story document and return to find that my sisters had stopped by to help me write it. I'd know because all of my characters would be having a fistfight. Nowadays—well, I still wouldn't put it past those two, given the right opportunity, but their ideas are usually more to the point. And they, with everyone else who helps me decide how best to tell a story, are contributors to the work of art.


The Perils of Dating Writers and other stories

 * * *

Chapter Five. In the throes of Chapter Three, I feared I'd never get this far. Three still needs work, but I'm on Five and feeling like I might actually finish someday. Maybe these early chapters went slowly during the first revision too; that's probable, since they're the ones I've had to do major re-creation for.

Hard. Freaking. Work. I'll get there eventually.

* * *

My mom and sister took pity on me this week and offered to take Maia's favorite poisonous plants for me. I drove the lot down on Monday and am grateful: first for the peace of mind, and second—well, the cat's favorites were also mine, so now at least I sometimes get to see my long-lived poinsettia, the beautiful peace lily I rescued after a severe leaf-hacking, the dragon tree I raised from a little $2 sapling, and the Mexican Breadfruit that was so happy in its corner.

In their place I have a sword fern, dug from my parents' land, and a non-poisonous palm tree that Maia just loves. She has already shredded two of the bottom fronds. But that plant is nearly four feet tall, so it'll take her some doing to completely annihilate it.

* * *

I think I'm obligated to link this, because it just went viral on YouTube and it puts my hometown on display... but this just might be my least favorite kind of music ever. Even worse than the racket my neighbor is playing right now, even with the other neighbors hammering in the background. Gah. Hip-hop is just not my thing. But I will admit that the two young stars of this video perform it very well, and it was fun to see all the familiar places. And hey, they even got local celebrity Ryan Stiles to make a cameo. :)

* * *

Something beautiful from the week: A couple of shots from our Sauk Mountain hike. Perhaps it would have put you in mind of Middle-Earth, as it did me.

* * *

Here's a thought that helps me keep my introversion from becoming outright crankiness... sometimes.

* * *

Writerly link of the week: This. Just because it's so hilarious. I can't speak for everyone, but this writer just needed someone who would be perfectly comfortable sitting side-by-side for hours, working away on laptops. If there had ever been any doubt that Lou was my soul mate, that would have resolved it.

* * *

Funny of the week: Apparently International Talk Like A Pirate Day is coming up. Now you can type like a pirate, too.

* * *

I'm off to make dinner. Happy weekend, everybody!


Thursday Book Questions: Part 1

I came across a long set of book-related questions on the blog Booking through Thursday and immediately thought it would be fun to run over here as well (it's from weeks ago there.)

It did seem to have a small problem: at 55 questions, it's far too long for quick and easy reading of even one person's answers all the way through, and I wanted to hear from all of you. Ergo, I'm splitting it up. Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing so it's all fair and stuff.

Here are questions 1-5:

1. Favorite childhood book?
(answer here)
2. What are you reading right now?
(answer here)
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
(answer here)
4. Bad book habit?
(answer here)
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
(answer here)


Currently Reading: The Clan of the Cave Bear

"You know, Creb," she said thoughtfully. "Sometimes I think Durc isn't just my son.... Everyone feeds him. He reminds me of a cave bear cub, it's like he's the son of the whole clan."

Ayla felt a great outpouring of sadness from Creb's one dark, liquid eye. "Durc is the son of the whole clan, Ayla. He's the only son of the Clan."

Author: Jean M. Auel

Synopsis: After her family is killed in an earthquake, a five-year-old Cro-Magnon girl is rescued by a clan of Neanderthals. The clan's medicine woman and magician take her in and raise her, trying to help her adapt to the difficulties of living among people who see her as different and sometimes hate her for it.

Notes: Special thanks to Erin and her mother-in-law, Anne, for the recommendation. I took the book huckleberry picking to read on the long drive, and it had me sneaking spare moments to turn pages.

This book reminded me forcibly of the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Ugly Duckling. When Iza adopts Ayla, the protagonist, most of the Clan members are suspicious. Ayla is taller, slow to mature, and, lacking the Clan's built-in sense of ancient rules, often does things that the others consider out-of-place or even wrong. The reader understands, though, that Ayla has more intellectual capacity and finer physical skills. She is also—despite being thought unattractive by the Neanderthals—what we would call beautiful. But lie the misplaced cygnet, she believes the Clan when they tell her she is ugly.

Ayla has a little more fight to her than Christiansen's baby swan, however, and hard as she tries to fit in, she can't quite quell her sense of injustice at some of the things she is asked to do or not do. Nor can she resist her desire to test and refine her broader skill set. The Clan reacts, and her life is often jeopardized.

Here I must point out that this novel is adult in nature, not something I pulled off the YA shelves: Clan practices include abortion, infanticide, "cursing with death", a bizarre cannibalistic rite which Auel describes using the word "communion", secret use of herbal contraception by the medicine women, abusive male domination, and rape (there is one especially brutal rape scene).

That disclaimer aside, the book has its merits. Most notably, there is no way to review this book without some sort of paean to Auel's research. Medicinal plants, wilderness survival, how to kill and preserve a mammoth, making rudimentary weapons and hunting with them—it all makes for fascinating reading. And my favorite part (by far the most speculative, but incredibly well thought-through): the way the Neanderthals were themselves portrayed. They had human emotions, with the strengths and weaknesses thereof; they had human—if limited—cognitive abilities, but with ancestral memories that suggested animal instinct.

Ayla's differences will make her sympathetic to anyone who has ever experienced feeling like an outsider (haven't we all?); her plucky will to survive and her love for her new family make her lovable.

Recommendation: If you're not a feminist, read it with a grain of salt. If you're not a Darwinist, read it with a tablespoonful. If you like your historical novels well-researched and believable, even when they drift into fancy (and they all do), read it with interest and pleasure.


Tasty Tuesday: Sweet Chicken Salad

Tasty Tuesday
First, big news: I have turned off my word verification for comments. At least one person has told me that the little image doesn't always display on iPhones (thanks, Briana!) and everybody finds them annoying (myself included.) Blogger has a new spam catcher, so I'm trying it out.

Mom made this chicken salad yesterday and I liked it so much that I made it for myself and a friend today. Enjoy.

Sweet Chicken Salad

1 cooked chicken breast or 1 can chicken
1 small apple, minced (halved grapes also work splendidly)
About 1 tbsp onion, minced
2 eggs, hardboiled
Mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste

Mix. Yeah, it really is that easy. It makes a great sandwich, especially with a few slices of avocado.


Worlds Crossing Paths

[Image from 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. I'll let you guess what the censored word is.]

In response to Mr. Pond, Grey Boxes

Another happy hobbitish adventure: Hiking to the top of Sauk Mountain on Saturday. That might sound like a solo or small-group pursuit, but I went with five other adults and four children.

Despite the number of us, it did turn out to be an introverty sort of get-together. Navigating the narrow, rocky trail took a lot of concentration and most of us adults were of the quiet sort, so conversation happened with reasonable rarity, and... okay, confession time: I began by pretending I was Heidi from Johanna Spyri's novel, until the difference between my legs and a hardy Swiss eight-year-old's became too much for my imagination, at which point Anna was so kind as to reference Tolkien. After that I was an Elf. Yes, I still play those games, and the small boy who kept running into me on his imaginary scooter along the down-climb was going my speed, as it were.

The scenery helped. Though I had doubted the power of the view to compensate for the time and effort invested, the drifting fog, the deep blue mountain-lake and the steep, lush hillside absolutely captivated me. It felt very removed from the world, very elfy. Plus, the granola bars Will handed around at the top had a flavor much like what I would expect from lembas. (Nature's Valley, Roasted Almond. Very good.)

What does all this have to do with writing? Well, for starters, we writers are mostly a bit nuts. But perhaps that's not new information. For seconds, then, writing is something of a solitary pursuit, and it's amazing how possible solitude is around other people. For thirds, getting into the mind of a very different creature from myself—while not necessarily writing, in the sense of putting words together, is working an important part of the writing faculty. For fourths: even as an Elf, I had two different novels and a blog intermittently borrowing parts of my brain.

Mr. Pond's post last Wednesday talks of the fact that, nice as it is in theory to take breaks from writing, we never really do:

"Writing is a way of life. It’s a way of thinking. We can’t really take breaks from being ourselves, at least not without grave epistemological implications. The process of writing can be nearly continuous. Our subconscious—or, worse, our dream consciousness—continues to create, to explore, to develop, to rephrase."

He's right. We can never fully turn off that part of our brain, and sometimes writing happens in awkward places. Someone speaks to me, and it takes me half a minute to realize they're talking and by then I've missed half of what they had to say. I'm lying in bed with the light off, supposedly drifting into dreamland or praying, but I have more ideas for that beautiful dadburn story than I've had in three weeks and I just. can't. stop. I'm with friends, having a perfectly good time being inattentive to anything but my own head, and if the above demotivator is right, I'm a... well, you know.

There is something to be said for putting aside one's own drifty-headedness and behaving according to social rules. There is also something to be said for the fact that Instant Solitude Anytime Anyplace is an integral part of the way some of us are made. God help us helpless nutty writer-humans trying to work out that there is a time for being absent and a time for being present.

Most of us don't mean to be horrible. I don't even know that most of us think it will make us better writers. Perhaps most of us just can't quite help it.

As an Elf, I forgot Twitter and cell phones and paved roads and the fact that normally I don't care much for the cold and the damp. The beautiful green mountainside with its autumn-red huckleberry bushes and marmots and the secret lake that was clear enough to see right to the bottom from hundreds of feet above it—that was home. I walked a little straighter than I might have, bore the family knee curse as best I could, and let the silence and beauty cast their strong healing spells on my mind. The chorus of Enya's "May it Be", with its Quenya lines, ran through my head. And I realized that I will never write anything more beautiful than Tolkien's Elves with their languages and mythology and immortal consciousness and sorrow—and I was all right with that. The creation of beauty is an art learned from the masters, and shooting at stars is every writer's work.

At any rate: Next time one of your writer-friends vanishes into abstraction when you're trying to talk to him, pardon his weakness and feel free to call him into the present reality. Don't take his rudeness personally. Worlds cross paths at odd times and places for us, and getting lost in another world is sometimes our way of getting found.


Autumn on Time and other stories

What is it about September? Surely the weather doesn't watch the calendar (at least, I wouldn't think so, since summer didn't kick in till the second week of July this year) but there's something about this month's name that wouldn't quite feel right without cooler temperatures, a little more rain and wind, and color in the trees. And every year we get it.

I would have foregone the feeling right part to have three full months of summer, but I've got a kitty sleeping next to me and my lion blanket to keep the house-chill at bay. And much as I adore summer, I can never quite feel bad about fall. Fall means beautiful colors, cozy things, routine, and holidays. It's hard not to love it.

* * *

This morning's two straight hours of novel-writing gave me my most productive day in weeks. I'm almost through Chapter 4, not thinking about how much work still needs doing on 2 and 3, and feeling great. Maybe this revision will conclude before NaNoWriMo after all.

* * *

If I'm ever a mother, I am clearly going to be a paranoid one. I couldn't find Maia this morning, and wound up digging wildly all through the wardrobe, trying to find out if she'd eaten shoe polish or pulled camping gear down on herself, before I discovered her watching me from behind. She had this "Hey, I was sleeping" look on her face.

I've been Googling every little thing she does, too, including searching for something like "kitten sleeps a lot should I worry." Apparently even an adult cat sleeps about sixteen hours a day on average, more than any other mammal except opossums and bats. Good to know.

* * *

Writerly link of the week: Courtesy of Mr. Pond, who sent this to me sometime last week. It's awfully true, and funny to boot.

* * *

Also courtesy of Mr. Pond: Potter fans, you'll want to go read his beautiful fan fic poem from Dumbledore's perspective.

* * *

Funny of the week (it took me a few pagedowns to get the point of this LOL meme): Happy Chair is Happy. I like the corkscrew one, though. :)

* * *

I'm off to Facebook and then to see if I can't do a little more writing. Happy weekend, everybody!


Introducing Maia

For anyone who didn't hear this already through Facebook: We have a new family member.

We've called her Maia, because a) it's pretty, b) it's a star name (the eldest of the Seven Sisters) and c) it was used by C.S. Lewis in Till We Have Faces. What's not to like? Besides, it's incredibly easy to call across the house when we don't know where she's hiding.

As the daughter of my parents' mouser (yes, she's one of these), she spent the first four months of her life out of doors, where the chickens decided to give her a rough time of it. She has taken to being an indoor kitty very cheerfully, with only one problem: her favorite place to be is my big Mexican Breadfruit plant, and—after an extensive Google search when she started playing with it—I've learned that those are toxic to cats. I keep having to chase her out of it. It probably won't kill her, but if she eats it, it certainly won't do her any favors.

So far, it's mostly just a place to play. Big leaves, perfect for hiding behind or attacking... long runners, great for pouncing upon... branches big enough to climb around in... she can pretend she's a baby tigress in there.

Crazy plant lady has problems, though, in the form of an even more toxic peace lily, dragon tree, and poinsettia. I may have solved one issue accidentally today by knocking over the vacuum onto my six-year-old poinsettia, breaking off over half of the plant (if I wasn't so worried about her eating it, I'd have cried) but the remaining plants have me a little paranoid. Those plants are big and old and have been with me forever, but I don't want to risk her health. Should I keep them around and just watch her when she has the run of the house, as I have been? Or give away the potentially dangerous ones and find a new way of decorating my living room? Cat owners disagree.

Aside from the breadfruit plant, she likes the toy I made her with an old sock, a rag and a broken shoelace. Likewise, her catnip scratcher, the old chair, the wrist strap on the camera (trying to take pictures of her is challenging), the cursor on my computer screen, and my hair. I'm still waiting for her to discover toilet paper.

But my favorite thing is how she comes and sleeps beside me sometimes when I'm working on the computer. It usually means typing one-handed because she'll drape over one arm, but goodness, it's cute.

Lou likes her, too, which makes me feel better about not only begging him for her but getting him to talk our landlord into allowing a kitten. The landlord's original words had been "A mature cat might be all right." But he was magnanimous. And we are grateful.


Currently Reading: Catching Fire and Mockingjay

"As bad as it makes you feel, you're going to have to do some killing, because in the arena, you only get one wish. And it's very costly."

"It costs your life," says Caesar.

"Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life. To murder innocent people?" says Peeta. "It costs everything you are."

Author: Suzanne Collins

Synopsis, Catching Fire: Katniss Everdeen, having survived the Hunger Games with her supposed boyfriend and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, discovers that the Districts are gearing up for revolt against the Capitol—a revolution for which she has become the symbol. And the Capitol's President Snow will stop at nothing to punish her for the rebellious act which saved both her and Peeta's lives, including sending both of them back into the arena.

Synopsis, Mockingjay: Katniss works with District 13 in open rebellion against the Capitol. But as Peeta is mentally hijacked and District 13's methods become increasingly brutal, Katniss has to fight while wondering who she can really trust.

Notes: Here's the non-spoilerific version of my review of these books. (For the version with spoilers, click here.)

People who describe their favorite stories as "gritty" and "realistic" will probably get more out of this series than I could. I've heard the books compared in flavor to Golding's Lord of the Flies and Orwell's 1984: dark, dystopian, and not afraid to be brutal. (I've got both of those on a reading list headed something like "Books I Should Read Someday So I Can Say I Have But I'm Really Kind of Hoping I'll Die Before I Get Around to Them." Yeah, I know that sounds bad. But there are a lot of books in the world, and it's amazing how far down the priority list I can keep the depressing ones.)

I chose to go ahead and read the Hunger Games series to be able to contribute to discussion at The Hog's Head, something I'm glad to have done but had a hard time doing. The story is neither pleasant nor meant to be. It is meaningful, but the surface is so saturated with grisly tortures and death that it's hard to look for anything deeper. There were things I loved about the books, but I still can't think about the details without emotions and mental pictures I'd rather not revisit.

Beneath the horror I feel over certain details, I can sense a lot of interesting thought undergirding the story, some depth of idea and perhaps even more hope than I've yet managed to gather from it. For anyone interested in analysis, John Granger has about thirty posts delving into the meaning of the books just since Mockingjay was released (and many more before).

Recommendation: The books were a bit much for me, but there is some worth behind the horrific imagery. Know what you're getting yourself into.


Tasty Tuesday: Hobo Dinners

Tasty TuesdayFirst Tasty Tuesday I've done in how many weeks? Bah. Several. Anyway, this is my first since huckleberry picking.

I made this recipe with some assistance from Lou over the campfire at that great event. Other family members were intrigued. I found it a nice change from hot dogs and hamburgers.

The intrigued family members thought it would be a fun cooking project to do with kids, which of course I affirmed. I learned it at summer camp, back in junior high, and obviously it proved memorable.

Hobo Dinners

Amounts are per person, and approximate:

1/4-1/2 lb hamburger
1 baker potato, chopped pretty fine (otherwise it's the last thing to cook)
1/3-1/2 a can of corn
a little chopped onion
about 2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
garlic salt and pepper
...anything else that sounds good (olives, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, thyme, etc.)

Double up a long sheet of aluminum foil and shape the edges into a bowl. Put the hamburger in the center, flatten and break it apart. Season with garlic salt and pepper.

Layer the vegetables on top of the burger, potatoes first so they'll get near the heat. Top with further seasoning if desired and cheese.

Roll edges of the foil together to make a tight packet. Cook on hot coals, burger side down, for about 20 minutes.


An Honest Day of Rest

In response to Mr. Pond, Enter the Cogwheel, Exit the Pear

All right, so last week my post to the blogalectic was a little on the pessimistic side.

Mr. Pond responded with a cheery, laughing piece that balanced out the gloom:
[T]wo things can be true and not be in contradiction. My writing doesn’t matter. My writing does matter. The end. I’m writing.

This comes after a couple of weeks in which the blogalectic had to wait on various adventures involving life outside writing. I went on a road trip and picked huckleberries. Mr. Pond made haggis. During some of that time, my blog was silent for a week, and for several happy days, I only thought of my story when it suited me (and even then, I made no plotting or problem-solving efforts whatsoever).

This is the internet, so I guarantee I will not have been the first person to say this. But I'm going to say it anyway: It is very good to have a break from writing.

One of my common claims is that I am never bored. (Never, at least, except in those inescapable I'd Rather be Elsewhere moments—waiting rooms, long lines, etc.) I'm good at not being bored because my mind is usually so full that down time is a relief; I can think through things. A lot of times, I think through whatever I happen to be writing about at the time, which means that a lot of this year's down time has been spent working on my novel.

I have a lot of determination—something necessary for a writer, but it can cause me problems almost as easily as it can help me. Determination made me a whitewater raft guide, and then it made me swim the rapid that finally broke my unsteady nerves. Determination made NaNoWriMo almost easy, and made possible the first revisions by a self-inflicted deadline; of late, it's been pushing me near burnout on the story.

A little rest from that taskmaster, be it the mildest of hobbity excursions or merely an honest day of rest (I'm still not good about keeping myself out of the book on Sundays), can put great blocks of the writing life back into perspective. Might my work be disliked? Of course it will be—different people need different tales. Might I have a hard time getting published? Even the best do. But that's all right. Because I have reasons for writing, and those matter more than the difficulties.

I like the way Mr. Pond put it:

As Tolkien wrote just before the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, ‘I have held up my heart to be shot at.’

Is it still worth it?

Conventional wisdom (Ouch bad, Spa good) says no. But something inside us—something that keeps us standing outside after dark in hopes of seeing an unknown star, of finding a new planet—says, ‘Rubbish—I’d be doing this and loving it even if all the facts in Europe were raining on my head, and on fire.’

Even when we’re sitting in tears at the computer... that something is dancing on a mountain in a thunderstorm.
That something gets a day of rest today, because Lou has today off and I want to spend more of it with him than with my computer. I'll keep this post shortish, and won't put myself through the two-hour daily story stint that is my latest working goal. Tomorrow, I believe, the dance will be all the merrier for the rest. Let the rain fall, then.


Bonus Post: Regarding Mockingjay

Mockingjay: Is There Redemption amid the Horror?

My latest post at The Hog's Head, on the final installment in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series. Feel free to check it out.


Road Trip 2010

So. My computer has held up thus far. As it turns out, Lou and I are big chickens behind a camera so we don't have a lot of people pictures—it looks like we saw the road, Yellowstone, Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods, and the sky. The friends were our favorite part. But I promised you pictures, and pictures you shall have.

We did take nearly 300, but I won't bore you with the lot. Here's a sampling.

Starting point: Bellingham, WA. It looks like I took this around Mt. Vernon:

Heading east on 90:

The moon was big and beautiful as we neared Bozeman, MT. The sign made into the picture by accident, and I got a laugh out of the result:

For a moment, it even looked like we were driving to the moon:

Here's where my family and I lived in Bozeman. The wrap-around porch has been added since we left:

as has the sign:

In Bozeman, we also toured the da Vinci exhibit at Museum of the Rockies. They had made up a lot of his machines just from the drawings in his notebooks:

We stayed with Briana in Bozeman. I have to say, it was a blast. We had dinner twice with her family, played with her cat, watched Inkheart, discussed website design, read books, chatted, relaxed—and she treated me to a pedicure:

...and she went with us to Yellowstone, which we made a day trip of from Bozeman.

We saw elk:


bright colors:

a happy vacationing couple:


a chipmunk:

and best friends.

The next day Lou and I left... golly, it's hard to leave your best friend when you see each other only every couple of years. We drove through Wyoming, which looks pretty much like this:

I shouldn't make fun... I think Wyoming's beautiful, but it was very much a straight shot down those roads. It did make me more comfortable driving 75mph, I confess. Thanks to Lou's iPod, the Stuff Christians Like book, a Librivox recording of P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith in the City, John van Deusen, Alan Lastufka & Luke Conard's Erase This, and Hayley Westenra, I made it through with zero boredom.

We headed to Colorado Springs, where we stayed with Lou's college friend Bob. Another college friend, Mike, joined us and we all went up Pikes Peak:

...which may have been the most terrifying stretch of highway I've ever come across. Sheer cliffs down one side of the road. I buried my face in Lou's shoulder for most of it. It wasn't my proudest Gryffindor moment. If you look at the bottom right corner of this photo, you can see the road:

We made it safely, however, to the top (thanks, God and Mike):

After Pikes Peak, we went to the Garden of the Gods, a stunning rock formation outside the city:

...where a guy was climbing. I used to do that, fear of heights and all. Well, sort of—this guy was lead climbing, and I've only top-roped:

We stayed outside Denver that night with Lou's college friend Scott and his wife Annie. Mike and Bob came and Bob's girlfriend Ashley joined us; another college friend, Ryan, came with his wife Rebecca, and the lot of us had a very happy evening. I expected to feel out of place, but everybody made me so welcome and I wound up having so much in common with the girls that I felt at ease right away. I kind of wish they didn't live so far off.

On the way back, the sky was lovely for awhile:

but by the time we got back to Bozeman, it looked a heck of a lot like Bellingham.

But we had a good last evening with Briana—at which we decided that she needs to come visit so I can take her to Forks—and departed the next morning for home. We lost some time owing to an attempted detour to the house my family built in Belgrade, which turned out to be a detour to Belgrade Garage where we received exceptional service but also the unfortunate news that our windshield wiper motor was dying. That is not good news for a northwest Washington driver. Rain-X works miracles, however, and we made it home safely at about ten PM on Monday.

Regular posting resumes next week: Labor Day and all, if I can manage it. Have a happy long weekend, everybody. :)


How to Derail a Blog-Post

My to-do list today included "Post pictures from our road trip"... but it also included "Finish Catching Fire and read Mockingjay" (no, I don't spend all day every day reading novels—this was a choice made in sheer desperation) and that item, which I wrapped up around 6 PM, left me pretty emotionally ragged out.

[Many thanks to fellow Blogengamot members George and Arabella, both of whom warned me that I'd have a particularly hard time with the last book. I did. But their warnings helped as much as anything could.]

Despite that, I made it so far as to get the trip pictures onto my hard drive. Then my computer crashed. Dramatically. Blue screen of death, weird buzzing noise, hardware malfunction warning, et cetera. Lou and I got the battery out, rebooted first in Safe Mode and then rebooted normally, and it seems to be working all right now.

Barring further malfunctions, I'll try to post the pictures tomorrow. Also, hopefully I'll have something written up on the above sequels to The Hunger Games soon. Tonight... tonight I just want to think about peaceful things.


Currently Reading: The Smile

"No, no," says Leonardo. "Please stay seated, Madonna Elisabetta. Put your hands like they were a moment ago." He takes my hands and arranges them. "The right hand facing down, the left facing upand your eyes looking toward that left hand."

Did this artist's discerning eye catch the emotion in my gesture toward Giuliano? I shake my head and pull my hands away, hoping my cheeks are not as red as they are hot.

"Don't be shy with me. I need you as a model. Please. Just for a moment." Leonardo takes my hands again and gently arranges them as before. "That's perfect."

Author: Donna Jo Napoli

Synopsis: The teenage Elisabetta wants passionate love in marriage, and she seems to have a chance at it with Giuliano de Medici, who calls her Monna Lisa. Giuliano has an artist-friend, Leonardo da Vinci, and the rest is imagined upon history.

Notes: As a story based around art, the book intrigued me. It occurs in Florence during the downfall of the Medici family, the rise of the monk Savonarola, and the career of da Vinci. Da Vinci enters the story only a few times, but Elisabetta's life and feelings are directly affected by Savonarola's preaching and the destruction of the works of art he perceived as influencing the corruption in the Church.

Which leads to certain aspects of the book that made me uncomfortable. Savonarola is portrayed as evil unmitigated. Elisabetta's response to his execution as a heretic is basically "Evil pope, evil monk... oh well." To be fair, Napoli's narrating protagonist is in love with a Medici—not likely to provide a favorable image of the monk. Also, one novel and a quick read of Savonarola's Wikipedia entry aren't enough to tell me where his heart was; I'm certainly no fan of book burning or other art destruction, so I can only go so far in judgment here.

Similarly, though, Elisabetta is ambivalent at best toward the Church and completely shameless at the idea of sexual trysting as long as passion is involved. Which leaves me wondering: If I keep picking books at random off the young adult shelves, am I constantly going to run into the sex good religion evil concept? I feel like I've been writing about this a lot lately. It gets old really, really fast.

And yet, there is some ambiguity in the final direction of the story. Elisabetta's character development toward the end was beautiful and even a little surprising. She and I had rather different perceptions on the youngest Medici, which I thought increased that ambiguity (I won't go into that because it would mean spoilers.) And while I didn't agree with some of the foregone conclusions, the history was fascinating.

Recommendation: Read it critically, but enjoy the Renaissance history and the flow of a well-told tale.