Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Roundup, Looking Ahead to 2013

I accomplished a lot this year, I'm happy to say. I sent out 56 submissions. I published two short stories, and one is already slated to come out next year. I also sold my first piece of non-fiction which should be coming out sometime in 2013. I published a novel. That still makes me smile. I imagine it will never get old.

My son turned 2 back in March. I found copies of his footprints today, the ones the hospital gives you to take home and add to your scrapbook. His feet have doubled in length. Doubled. His head reaches my hip. We have conversations. He has the greatest smile ever. Pretty soon he'll be 3. Then he'll be in elementary school. Then college. It boggles the mind.

My family and I took a trip to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC. We were there for 8 days, and it wasn't nearly enough time. In 2013 I'll be attending Lone Star Con. I hope to visit some old friends while I'm in San Antonio, make plenty of new friends, and meet people I've only known on the internet.


I finished several new short stories this year, most of them during the frenzy known as NaNoWriMo. One is out the door. I've polished two others and am currently working on another. I finished a novel and hope to have comments back from beta readers over the next month or two. I have another novel idea percolating in my head, and pretty soon I'll start jotting down notes and ideas so I can start working on it by the first of March.


I read a lot of great books. I mentioned a couple of series at the World Weaver Press blog. I also adored Jo Walton's Among Others and finally got around to reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I've slowly been making my way through Stephen King's Dark Tower series and just recently finished the fourth book. It took some time, but my reading speed finally picked back up to pre-child levels, just as it took some time for my writing output to do the same.


I have a new project planned for 2013 in which I'll be hosting writers on this blog. I'm calling it Thumbnail Thursday because I see the interview as a sketch to intrigue you enough to discover some new writers and new work. I'm excited about my first guest who will be appearing here on Thursday, January 3, 2013 to discuss his work. Stay tuned!






Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons Learned from The Trenches of Retail

This time of year makes me think of plenty of things: holidays, snow, spending time with family, new beginnings, chocolate (okay, honestly, I think about chocolate all the time anyway), and retail. I worked in retail for a short period of time, many years ago, and during the holidays, no less. The experience was quite... enlightening.

I worked at a lingerie store that happened to be situated in an outdoor shopping center, just downstairs from a bar. This meant that closing time on the weekends was usually unpredictable and often entertaining. Like the time a rather inebriated fellow came into the store, took one of the false breasts out of the mannequin's bra, and waved it around while loudly proclaiming, "Look, it even has a nipple!" Um, sir, please hand me the boob. Thanks.

There were two types of men who would come into the store: those who knew what they were looking for and felt comfortable, and those who were as terrified as anybody facing down a hungry tiger. I always pounced on the latter because it was so easy to convince them that they needed to buy things in addition to what was on their list (hey, it was my job to sell, sell, sell). Those customers were easy to spot. They'd take two steps into the store, freeze, and stare around with their mouths agape like they'd fallen asleep in bed and woken up in the middle of a foreign country.

There were stingy customers, people who tried to pull scams or steal, and regulars. Some customers were polite, others were rude. The ones that bothered me the most? Those who would ignore me to answer their phones without even an, "Excuse me." I'd always leave them and go help somebody else.

So I always try to be extra polite this time of year when I go to the store. The people working there are tired, frazzled, frustrated, and their feet hurt. A smile and a few kind words go a long way to giving them the little extra pep they need to make it through the end of their shift or until their next break.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It...

A lot of people are gearing up for the Mayan Apocalypse. Let me go on record that I think the world will keep on spinning after the 21st of this month, and if I'm wrong, nobody will be around to let me know anyway. NASA debunks some of the rumors regarding the apocalypse. I find it rather funny that NASA even has to put this information under their Frequently Asked Questions section.

It's a good thing the apocalypse is happening on a Friday. That way people can celebrate with parties. I've seen advertisements ranging from "let's have a potluck and meditate to usher in a new era" to "OMG the world is ending let's have an orgy because we're all gonna die." With all the excitement, people will need the weekend to recover.

Some people spotted a fireball over Houston recently. Perhaps not coincidentally, Houston was destroyed twice in the movie Independence Day, first by the aliens, and then by a nuke. If one place was going to be the epicenter of the apocalypse, apparently a lot of people believe Houston would be it, which is too bad because I certainly enjoyed the city when I lived there. And of course, the world would end when it looks like the Texans finally have a chance at going to the Super Bowl.

When the 21st rolls around, I'll go to work and do the rest of my usual routine. I don't plan on going to any end-of-the-world parties. I won't blow all my money on some extravagant expense. But I might have chocolate cake for breakfast that morning. Just in case.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Final NaNoWriMo Report

Before November started, I had 11 short story ideas ready to go with the intent of writing 50,000 words in one month. I ended up with 6 short stories and 1 novella and a few insights.

Something I already knew about my writing was that I meander when I start a story. I never manage to come up with an awesome, memorable first line, or heck, even a first paragraph or page that's usable. I usually have to ease into the story, and then somewhere around the second page things get going. Working on short form for a month really brought this home for me because every few days I ended up doing the exact same thing. I'd meander my way into a story.

The second thing I discovered was that I really couldn't put my finger on a story's theme until it was finished. I might have an idea of what I want to write about when I start out, but it's not until I write the last few lines that I think, "Oh, that's what this story was about." It was infinitely easier to figure this out when I wrote a story over the span of a few days.

Third, it's okay for the first draft to suck. Really, it is. You just can't get it all right the first time. I think I needed to remind myself of this. I ended up jotting down a few notes at the end of each story before moving on to the next so I'll be able to look at that whenever I go back to revise.

Finally, I managed to shake off whatever was bugging me earlier this year and finish several stories. Yes, they need work. But it's so much easier to make a story into the shiny, gorgeous thing it's meant to be when you actually have the raw material on paper. That last story was hard to write. I was tired of pushing myself. I felt mad-scientist insane, like when I attended Odyssey and had to critique stories every day on top of writing my own material and going to class. When I wrapped up the last few lines of that last story, I think I might have cackled. Cackled! Well, the nice folks in the coffee shop are used to me by now.

For those of you who finished NaNo, congratulations! For those who started something but didn't reach that 50K mark, keep plugging away. And when you're ready to edit that story (or stories) into something beautiful to send out into the world, read Amalia Dillin's tips for revising.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Got My Kicks on Route 66

I took a trip with the family to Arizona for Thanksgiving. Those who read this blog or who know me know that I love to travel, first because I am a nomad at heart, and second because of all the great ideas and material I get from visiting new places.

One of the things that stood out for me on this trip were the people. We went to Phoenix and spent some time in Tempe, Scottsdale, and various other Phoenix area neighborhoods. I spent much of the time with a dear friend, and as both of us are avid people watchers, we pointed things out to one another.

She spoke about how people dress so differently this time of year in Phoenix (it was in the low 80's while we were there). There are those who dress according to the weather. No matter what time of year, they're wearing flip flops and shorts if it's warm. Then there are those who dress according to the season, whether it's evident or not, and they were roaming around in long sleeves or sweaters.

Then there were the individuals I spotted. There was the woman wearing jeans that were way too small for her and showing the top of her butt crack. As she crossed the street and stepped up onto the sidewalk, she pulled out a cigarette. Some random guy on a bike coming from the other direction offered to light it for her. Afterwards, she spoke with him animatedly, waving around her cigarette and her coffee cup. She'd either lean way forward to make a point or lean way back. My theory is her jeans allowed her only a handful of movements, otherwise they'd either fall off, or they'd cut off her circulation. Either way, I wondered exactly what she had in that cup because I had a feeling it wasn't 100% coffee.

On our way back home, we went through the Petrified Forest National Park. We stopped at an overlook to take pictures and take in the view, and another car pulled up, letting out a couple who looked dressed for Sunday brunch rather than a modest hike in a park. They had a California license plate on their car, but they didn't really look like they were from California. They left me scratching my head, wondering who they were and where they were from. My best guess was that the car was a rental (it was too clean and neat) and they were from a place where sneakers and casual pants were a no-no.

Speaking of the Petrified Forest, it was quite a treat. There is petrified wood, of course, as the name suggests, like this piece:


But then you go a little farther into the park and find teepee shaped rocks with blue and gray striations, like this:


And that's pretty cool, but then you're toodling along the road, and all of a sudden it curves and you come across this:


I don't think this picture really does it justice. At any rate, I imagined people traveling this way ages ago, way before cars, and coming upon this huge, beautiful, pink canyon and thinking both, "Wow, this is gorgeous!" and, "How the heck are we going to get across it?"

Monday, November 12, 2012

NaNoWriMo Mid-Month-Ish Report

I just finished the second draft of a novel in October, so I decided to do something different for NaNoWriMo this year and write short stories. I'd been having a hard time this year finishing any short story that I began. I'm not sure if I felt pressured to 'get it right' on the first draft, or I caved in to the internal editor too much, but something was getting in the way, and I needed to get a few more written, seeing as how I've sold a few. It's a good problem to have.

In the week prior to NaNo I wrote out a few outlines for various stories. Some were detailed, others consist of only a line or two. I'm happy to say that I've complete four short stories so far. Four! And I'm working happily on the fifth. I've written a straight-up fantasy set in the world of my novel Shards of History, another fantasy that is set in the historical Middle East in a caravanserai, a horror story set in the contemporary US, and a steampunk/sf mash-up set on another planet. I've been having fun so far, and although the stories have run a little long, I've also been making notes to myself on where to cut and what to add on the next go-round, which seems to have silenced whatever was keeping me from finishing short stories earlier this year.

This month I gave myself permission to try new types of stories and to just go ahead and screw up and fix things later, and I've been having loads of fun. I'm writing about all types of characters, and settings I haven't tried before. I haven't done NaNo in years, and this has been a great way to get back into it. In fact, this might become my new tradition every year.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Some Good News for Pantsers

Even with several complete novels under my belt, I still struggle with writing them. One of my biggest issues in writing fiction is making sure my characters come across as believable, as living, breathing creatures with a past, a present, and a future. I love a story where a character (or characters) takes over and comes to life, and I strive to create that kind of story, but sometimes my characters come across as flat.

This leads to some big problems when writing the rough draft of a novel. I tend to shudder when somebody mentions the word 'outline,' and immediately flash back to high school and those outlines my English teacher made me do. You know the ones, neatly laid out, with each new idea under the main idea getting its own letter or number or what-have-you, and an indentation. But writing by the seat of my pants (or pantsing, as some call it) produces an awful lot of unusable words, and I'd really like to streamline the process and get as much of it right the first time through.

This leads to my other problem, which is, when I come to something that will end up changing an earlier section of the story, I have the compulsion to go back and make that change before I can write on. I've tried following the advice of some, which is to ignore the changes and push on, but that results in a gobbledy-gook of a mess. I've given in to the compulsion and gone back to make the changes, only to lose that forward momentum and the passion that was driving me initially. What I needed was a way to barrel through the first draft without making huge changes along the way, without giving in to the need to go back and fix things, and all while breathing life into my characters. Easy, right?

This year I entered the novel contest at Codex, which is a lovely group of writers. The point of the contest is to finish a novel by December. I started in March with an initial outline of a novel. I wrote out the usual stuff, like what the characters look like, what they do for a living, blah, blah, blah. Don't get me wrong, that's important stuff, but what I end up doing during my first draft is figuring out who the characters really are, hence the need for major rewrites and revisions later. They sort of go around doing random things while I get to know them.

At any rate, I wrote a first draft and liked some parts, but really hated others, which is standard operating procedure for me. Then, I heard about the 90 day novel, a book that was supposed to get your butt in gear and produce something decent in three months. You can read more about Maya here. She talks about her own struggles with pantsing, which convinced me to try the 90 day novel.

The gist of the book is that you answer a bunch of questions about your characters before you even write the first line of the novel. These are great questions that delve into the psyches of the characters. I had tons of fun doing this even though I'd already gotten a first draft down, and came up with some amazing insights. You spend an entire 30 days getting to know your characters before you start drafting, then you have 60 days to bang out a draft.

I had addressed some of the questions already, but just a handful. I didn't follow the guidelines exactly. I didn't feel that I needed to. I spent about 3 weeks answering questions and writing out little scenes and bits of dialogue, then I plunged into a complete rewrite, saving only a few essential things from the first draft. I was initially on target to finish by mid-November, but I'm happy to say, I finished the second draft a week ago. I do have a couple of scenes to add from the atagonists' POV, but the good news is, I didn't feel the urge to go back and fix things, I came up with an outline that worked (!!!), and I kept that passion and drive the entire way through the book. I can't wait to try this from scratch with the next novel and see what happens.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Doesn't Kill You...

I love listening to podcasts. I'm usually home with the toddler on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I enjoy having something in the background to listen to as we play or putter around the house without resorting to the television.

One of my favorite shows is NPR's This American Life. I listened to one of the most recent episodes about people who had close calls with death (title What Doesn't Kill You). I was riveted to this episode. The first part was about comedienne Tig Notaro. She went onstage a day or two after finding out she had stage 2 cancer breast cancer and opened the show with, "Hi, I have cancer. How are you?" She then went on to talk about all of the other stuff that happened to her in the few months before that diagnosis, and let me tell you, it made all of those stereotypical, depressing country music songs sound like a trip to Disneyworld. For a few months, she had more drama packed into her life than the most outrageous soap opera. And yes, she's funny. The set is funny.  I'm amazed at how much bravery she showed by getting up on stage and talking about her life like that. If you don't listen to the entire episode, at least listen to her part.

This got me thinking about writing (as so many things do) and how awful (or not) us writers can be to our characters. Joss Whedon is ruthless when it comes to his characters. They suffer. A lot. They die. Sometimes they come back. He puts them through the ringer and shows what they're made of. On the other end of the extreme are the writers who are scared to do anything bad to their characters. I'm thinking of Twilight, which was a huge disappointment for many reasons, one of which is that nothing bad ever really happens to Bella, with the exception of some stuff at the end of the first book. And I guess what happens at the beginning of the second, although I thought she had a chance to make a new life for herself, but I digress, and I don't want to spoil the series in case some teenage girl out there who hasn't read it has stumbled across this blog.

I really do try to make my characters suffer. If my pulse is racing or tears are stinging my eyes while I'm writing, then I know I'm on the right track. I want to find out what my characters made of. I like seeing them pull through the worst possible scenario I can think up. I think readers appreciate it when characters struggle.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In the Name of Research

Being a writer is a great excuse to do all sorts of things in the name of research. A few years ago, I had this idea for an urban fantasy detective novel. I never got around to writing it--yet--but I had fun taking a class on private investigation in order to do some research for the novel.

To my surprise, there is a ton of variation among states when it comes to who can be a PI. For example, in New Mexico it's required that you undergo an extensive background check, get fingerprinted, take and pass an exam, and have at least 6,000 hours of investigation-related experience in the previous five years. After you pay the fee and address the other details, then you can get licensed as a private investigator. In Colorado, however, you don't need any of that. Joe Schmoe can simply call himself a private investigator, and that's that.

We had guest speakers, including other PI's who specialized in different areas, and a psychic. The psychic would be in the middle of discussing a case she'd worked when all of a sudden she'd focus on an individual in the class and give a mini-reading right then and there. I was torn between making eye contact with her and furiously scribbling away the entire time. I was (foolishly, I admit) afraid that she'd know all my secrets and spill them in front of the class. Instead, my mini-reading was quite tame.

Private investigators can work for themselves, or for lawyers, or for corporations (doing background checks and internal investigations, for example). The best ones tend to be detail-oriented, organized, and able to think on their feet. And they seem to have even more paperwork than medical professionals.

Here's a list of some schools around the country--and a couple online--that offer PI classes.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week kicks off today. Find a description and a list of the top banned books of 2011 here.

To celebrate, I read one of 2011's most banned books, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It's a semi-autobiographical story about a 14 year old Indian boy going to an all-white school off the reservation where he lives. The introduction promises that you'll laugh in about a dozen different ways while reading, which I did. I also teared up quite a few times as well. This story is deeply moving, and Alexie pulls no punches whatsoever as he portrays what it's like to grow up feeling like an outsider. The story addresses race, poverty, alcoholism, and yes, even masturbation. Hey, the main character is a 14 year old boy!

Those are the very reasons cited when people have voted to ban this book. I found this on Wikipedia, which says that the Richland School Board in Washington initially banned the book, but when they did so, all ten copies were checked out of the library, and there were holds on the returned copies. So the members actually read the book at that time and discovered that it was, in their words, outstanding. They had banned a book without reading it. They lifted the ban a month after initiating it when it would have never happened in the first place if they'd actually read it. This makes me want to scream.

At its heart, this book is about loneliness. The main character, Arnold Spirit, Jr., feels half-Indian when he's at school in Rearden and half-white when he's home on the Spokane Indian reservation. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book:

"I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream.

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms."

And here's another great quote:

"If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing."

What's not to love about this? It's a great message. It tells teenagers, hey, you belong somewhere, you're worth something, you have a reason to be proud of yourself. I loved reading this as an adult, but I would've loved this so much more as a teenager.

Find your tribes. Embrace who you are. And celebrate Banned Books Week by reading something from the list.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shake It!

I spent most of this past weekend in a classroom taking a continuing education course on balance. It was an excellent course, and very applicable for me as I happen to see quite a few geriatric patients. At any rate, the instructor showed us a video at one point. I found it on YouTube and thought I'd share it here. The next time a patient tells me they're too old to do something, I'll show them this woman. Now, she starts off rather sedately, but things really pick up at about the two minute mark, so watch the whole thing.

A little research revealed she was only in her 70's when this was filmed, not in her 90's as some suggested.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If You're On Your Last Nerve, Where Did The Rest Go?

Some events over the past few days have brought the phrase "on my last nerve" to mind, and I wondered where the phrase originated. It's a little strange, isn't it? "You're getting on my last nerve." "You're working on my last nerve." There are a few other variations of the phrase.

I suppose if it's your last nerve and it's exposed, then if somebody's on it, that would be excruciatingly painful. I googled and couldn't find where the phrase started. I looked through a book of clich├ęs and couldn't find it there either. It can't be that new, can it? If anybody knows the origin of the phrase, please share.

Anyhow, that reminded me of the Room of Interesting Medical Things at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. I'm actually not sure what the display was called, but I remember one item there. It was the entire human nervous system, carefully dissected out over a lengthy period of time. I tried to find a picture of it online because I never thought to take a photo myself. I didn't find that particular one, but I did find the nervous system of Harriet Cole. Pretty weird, huh?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Shards of History Launch Party.

This past weekend I finally, officially celebrated the release of Shards of History with a launch party. It went well, I had fun, the food was great, and the company even better. I got some excellent tips for throwing a launch party from Mary Robinette Kowal. I strongly suggest reading her post if you're going to throw such a shindig.

My husband talked me into having the party at a tea room called Special Touch, and I'm glad he did because it's a beautiful facility, as you can see here:


That's my little man sporting his jersey. The unfortunate part is that I didn't think to take any pictures during the party. I was in full blown hostess mode and thinking about my reading and making sure my son didn't touch anything on the shelves filled with delicate tea pots and cups and carousel horses. So this picture came after the party, when everybody had cleared out.

There were little sandwiches in the shape of hearts, delicate cuts of fruit, tortilla rolls, and an assortment of desserts, including tiny tarts topped with whipped cream and itty bitty pastry dragonflies.


I ate that one right after taking the picture, and it was delicious. And no, there are none left! Why are you looking at me that way? I always hold my hands behind my back!

I gave a reading, which went well. About two sentences into the reading, I realized my throat was extremely dry, and I thought, I can't stop for a sip of soda now! I was told I didn't sound nervous at all, but I couldn't quite contain my nervous energy and kept shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I've actually never read in front of a crowd not dominated by writers, and I was a little anxious about the response I'd get.

I didn't have physical books to sign, so I signed bookmarks instead, and I included those bookmarks in the gift bags that I gave to the guests, along with feather pens and tiny little notebooks made of upcycled paint sample cards, like so:


The pens were quick and easy to make and tied in with the theme of the novel, and also tied in with the theme of writing in general (as did the notebooks). I ordered the notebooks from One Stitch Designs on Etsy, and I also included chocolate in the gift bags, just in case my guests weren't hyper enough from dessert.

Some friends over at Frame-N-Art framed the cover art for me:


I have yet to hang it in my office, but believe me, it will have a place of honor!

Also, one of my guests mentioned that she and her family recently acquired some chickens, and they had named all but one. They named their last one after a character in the novel. As the 2007 Odyssey workshop class has a thing about chickens, and this novel began at the workshop, this seemed most appropriate.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My favorite time of year is just around the corner.

It starts in early October with the International Balloon Fiesta. The Balloon Fiesta is touted as the most photographed event in the world. That may or may not be true, but there are certainly plenty of people snapping pictures and filming. If you haven't ever been to the Balloon Fiesta, it's a bit difficult to describe. There are hot air balloons everywhere. They go up in waves, and they're in such cheerful colors. The burners hiss like dragons, and if you stand close enough to one, it helps alleviate the chill in the air. If you get there early enough, you can watch the dawn patrol, which consists of several balloons that take off to assess the wind conditions. They light up the pre-dawn like stars. And then you get to watch the sky turn to gray and then light blue and then the brilliant blue typical of the Southwest as the rest of the hundreds of balloons take off.

And then there's Halloween. It brings out the kid in me every time. Last year I took my son out trick-or-treating for the first time while his father stayed behind to hand out candy. He was a bit apprehensive at first, but when he realized people were giving him candy he got into the swing of it pretty quick. I'm still trying to figure out his costume this year, although I think I know what mine will be. Steampunk My Little Pony, anyone?

After that the holidays come one right after the other. I've always enjoyed the holidays, but celebrating with a young child makes them that much more special. I find myself watching my son's face, trying to memorize every minute expression of joy and amazement as he takes it all in, and I am dying to know what's going on in his mind.

Unfortunately, this glut of celebration makes January and February drag by, and by March I'm antsy for Spring and green, or what passes for greenery in the desert.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bubonicon

I enjoy conventions. I love being surrounded by like-minded geeks, writers, artists, storm troopers, Captain Mals, and the odd assortment of people who just really dig science fiction and fantasy. I don't have to apologize for being nerdy. And, I'm not the only highly myopic person! Hey, it's the little things....

Bubonicon is a local, small con that happens to be frequented by lots of talented writers. It's the sort of con where you can easily bump into people like George RR Martin. Or rather, you could just stare at him as he excuses himself to pass by you, thus making yourself look like a complete moron. Not that I did that or anything. Ahem.

The theme this year was all about the end of the world. The Mayans predicted that it would all come to an end this year on December 21st. And it does seem as if there's been a surge in apocalyptic fiction in the past decade. So what's the deal? Why are we so obsessed with the end of the world? Part of it probably stems from issues such as global warming, overpopulation, and the recession. Part of it is the appeal of starting over again. We can do it better next time around. And I think part of it is that we like seeing people survive against huge odds. There's something innately hopeful about that.

Earth Abides is currently on my TBR list. One of the novels I read recently that depicted the apocalypse differently was Will McIntosh's Soft Apocalypse. In this novel, the world doesn't end with some global catastrophe that wipes out 95% of the population overnight. Rather, the collapse comes slowly, with people clinging to the old ways and hoping that things will pick up. I found it chilling, and in many ways more disturbing than novels in which the end comes suddenly.

I've read The Hunger Games and The Stand, as I think many have, and enjoyed both immensely. I Am Legend had an interesting take on the end of humanity as we know it (the novel, not the movie). I started The Road and put it down after only a few pages because it already depressed the hell out of me, and from what I understand, it didn't lighten up. I like a healthy dash of hope in my apocalypse, thank you very much.

If you've read any outstanding post-apocalyptic works, please share. Right after you make sure your zombie survival kit is up-to-date.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Artist's Date

I started reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way years ago and ran out of steam before I could finish the book, but one of the things I took to heart was the artist's date. An artist's date is meant to fill the well of experience that you draw from. It's time away from your busy schedule to rejuvenate. It's an adventure. It's about play. It can mean going to a museum, taking a hike, trying a new restaurant, exploring a flea market. You never know what you'll find. And according to Cameron, you must go alone.

I love doing adventurous things, trying something new, traveling. However, I have little to no alone time. So for most of the past couple of years, my toddler has gone with me on my artist's dates. Sometimes I have to cut them short, and I don't have the luxury of just sitting still with my thoughts, at least not until later in the day when he's sleeping. But I get to share my love of art, nature, and adventure with my son, and because I find myself pointing out scenery or music or art that I particularly enjoy, I still manage to fit in some deep thought every so often (yes, that's my tongue in my cheek). And besides, little kids are all about play and fun and adventure. Two year olds have no inhibitions. They just do and go, laugh and cry, spin and run and drop to the ground to play with something that catches their eye. They give every moment their all. What better companion for an artist's date?

This past weekend we headed to Old Town and listened to Shelley Morningsong and watched a buffalo dance. Oh, and this guy and his cat were there, appreciating the show:


We listened to contemporary Native American music, enjoyed the dancing, and got to people watch. My son flirted with a five year old, played in the dirt, and picked a flower he probably should have left alone. If only it hadn't been as hot as Hades, it would've been a perfect afternoon.

Here's a list of a hundred ideas for an artist's date. Go, have fun, play, explore! And if you have any ideas for an artist's date, please share.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Storms and Cover Art

This blog post first appeared on the World Weaver Press website, in which I talk about the cover art for Shards of History:



Shards of History, Rebecca Roland, World Weaver Press
Storms often blew in where I grew up in South Texas. I recall one in particular that I watched roll in at night. Massive clouds blocked the stars. Webs of lightning streaked across the sky. Thunder grew louder as the storm marched towards the small trailer where my family and I were spending the weekend. I felt tiny in the onslaught of that storm, but I also felt the power of it. I couldn’t move from the window as the storm overtook us.
The storm clouds on the cover of Shards of History remind me of that night, and I have a feeling the woman on the cover feels much the same as I did. The storm heading towards her is massive and powerful, but you see her heading into it anyway. Maybe she’s scared. It’s hard to tell since you can’t see her face. But she’s standing straight and moving forward, so even if she is scared, she’s not letting it stop her. That’s the kind of heroine I strove to portray in the novel, and I’m glad it’s reflected in the cover.
The feathers are key to the novel as well, acting as memory wells and a means of communication. They provide a soft contrast to the harsh storm that’s brewing.
I adore this cover. I’d like to thank the kind folks over at Good Choice Reading for launching it, and also a big thanks to those who put all the hard work into designing it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Live Free or Die

Breaking Bad's fifth and final season premiered tonight with the episode "Live Free or Die."

*SPOILER ALERT*

The episode opened with a flashforward. Apparently, it was Walt's 52nd birthday, and he was buying guns. Big guns. And he had to take some pills. Perhaps things will come full circle and he'll end up with a return of the cancer that started his journey from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to drug kingpin.

I think fans know things will end badly for Walt. How could they not? But the real question is, how will they end? And who will have a hand in his demise? Maybe he'll slip away slowly from the cancer, just as broke as he was when he started treatment. All those struggles and deaths for nothing. No, I don't think that's how he'll ultimately go.

Or perhaps Jesse will find out just how much Walt has screwed up Jesse's life and decide to take him out. Or Skyler, who is becoming quite the criminal mastermind in her own right, could decide that the world would be better off without Walt. Or Hank could finally track down Heisenberg.

However the show ends, I'm sure it will involve a large body count and plenty of blood.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Braaaaains!!!

I've really enjoyed Diana Rowland's Demon Summoner series, so I picked up  My Life as A White Trash Zombie and read it over the weekend.

Angel Crawford, a high school dropout and drug addict, wakes up after a car crash and finds herself with a sudden craving for brains. Using wry humor, Rowland addresses both the mystery of Angel's transformation into a zombie and how she deals with trying to turn her life around. As in her Demon Summoner series, the dialogue is witty, and beneath the humor, the subject matter is quite serious. Angel is a strong, engaging character. I'd follow her anywhere. Well, maybe not to the buffet....

Friday, July 6, 2012

World Building in Fantasy

Part of writing fantasy is creating a world for your characters to live in. Plenty of questions come to mind. What's the weather like? Terrain? Economy? Religion? How do people mourn or celebrate? Does this take place on Earth or an Earth-like planet, or does the story take place elsewhere? There are many questions to ask oneself, and SFWA has an extensive list to get you going.

Sometimes writers draw inspiration from real-life locations. According to some articles I've read, George R. R. Martin drew inspiration for the massive ice wall in The Song of Ice and Fire series from a real wall that he visited.

The valley in which Shards of History takes place is loosely based on the Valles Caldera, which is a volcanic caldera in New Mexico. The flora and fauna in the story are similar to what you'd find in the Valles Caldera, but the valley in Shards of History is much bigger. Still, the real valley is awe-inspiring. Gently rolling, pine-covered hills give way to a grassy plain, a narrow stream snaking its way down the center. There are only a handful of buildings, some horses, and very few people. It's easy to imagine a small western town nestled in the valley, or in my case, a Taakwa village. And the fact that it's part of a volcano adds a feeling of immense power to the entire place.

Tuvin's Falls were inspired by Multnomah Falls. I remember standing at the bottom of the falls and looking waaaay up and thinking it would be the perfect place to find Jeguduns, the winged creatures in the novel.

I'll leave you with some real world places that could provide a little inspiration.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Excited

Reposted from my guest blogger appearance on WWP from today:



There are a handful of exciting moments in life that you just want to revel in. Graduation, marriage, the birth of a child, winning an Oscar (okay, I’ve never done that, but I imagine it’s pretty darn awesome), and publishing a first novel.
The anticipation builds every day that we get closer to the publication date. The butterflies in my stomach get a little wilder. I drive my loved ones a little crazier. I eat more chocolate and drink more coffee. I do my best to refrain from bouncing up and down while I’m in line at the grocery store or running up to complete strangers to say, “Hey, my book is coming out soon!” If I could do a cartwheel without ending up in the emergency department, I’d throw in a few of those.
Shards of History is not the first novel I wrote, but it’s the first I’ve wanted to share with people. I am beyond excited to see all my hard work pay off and to bring this novel into the world. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed working on it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Shards of History coming August 21st!

It's official! My first novel, Shards of History, will be coming out August 21st! That's the day after my father-in-law's birthday and just before Bubonicon. Woo! Cue the excitement! Cue the bubbly!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Let's Do the Time Warp

Wow, it's been a month since my last post. I've been busy with lots of stuff. At the day job I switched from prn (working on an 'as needed' basis for those not in the know when it comes to medical jargon) to a salaried position. This means I have steady income (yay) and my own case load of patients (double yay) and a predictable schedule (triple venti yay). The downside, as always, is the increase in paperwork. Boo!

I finished an extremely rough draft of a YA urban fantasy novel. It's a short one, coming in at roughly 50K, but I tend to leave out a lot of details the first time through. I also need to flesh out a couple of subplots. By the time I'm done, it'll probably be closer to 70K. I really prefer revising and rewriting to that initial draft. First drafts are such ugly pieces of dog crud (at least mine are). I like making them shiny and weaving in theme and symbolism and all that cool stuff on the second and third (and sometimes fourth and fifth) pass.

Speaking of revisions, I'm working on revisions for my forthcoming novel Shards of History. I still get little thrills when reading it. That's got to be a good sign, right? I can't wait for it to make its way into the world. I hope readers enjoy the heck out of it.

And as always, my 2 year old keeps me busy, busy, busy. I'm thankful every day for the caffeine that keeps me going.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cluck Like a Chicken, Bark Like a Dog

A few months ago I had the privilege of taking an online writing course taught by Bruce Holland Rogers. He's a fantastic instructor, by the way, so if you ever have the opportunity to pick his brain or take one of his classes, do it. After the course was over, I found myself wanting more, so I picked up a copy of Word Work. I think it's geared more towards the beginning writer rather than towards someone who's been at it for a while, but I found some gems in the book, and it certainly got me thinking.

Anyhow, one of the chapters is on rituals. What do you do to ease yourself into writing for the day? Most of us lead busy lives and have a finite time for writing. I, for example, write during my son's naps and sometimes at night (but only if my brain isn't fried or if I have a deadline and have no choice), so I don't have the luxury of taking an hour-long walk or surfing the Internet or any number of other things to ease slowly into that mindset. I need to sit at the desk and GO. And I accidentally discovered how to make that nearly instantaneous switch while I was pregnant.

My husband and I took a hypnosis birthing class. When I mention hypnosis, some people instantly think of stage tricks or that scene in Office Space where the main character is hypnotized and then remains in that state when the hypnotist has a heart attack in the middle of the session. Hypnosis is not like that, by the way. Anyway, I'm an anxious person, and I wanted--and needed--something non-medicinal to help me keep calm during pregnancy and the birth. As part of the homework for the class, I had to practice my hypnosis trigger at least three times a day. One of those times happened to be just before I sat down to write. I'd spend maybe three to five minutes in a hypnotic state, then come out of it and start writing, and after a while, I discovered that instead of needing fifteen or thirty or so minutes to get into the groove (which used to be the norm for me), I was slipping right into the mental place I needed to be. My productivity went way up, which was great, because I was trying to finish a novel before my son was born. Talk about a deadline!

At this point I sometimes still practice hypnosis before writing, but it's not necessary anymore. I did it so often that I suppose I trained myself to be ready to write the moment I open the laptop.

I'd love to hear about the rituals that others have, whether it's a pre-writing ritual or another kind.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Movie Firsts

As you can tell by my less-than-inspiring title, I'm continuing my series on firsts, and more specifically, about movies that left impressions on me for whatever reason.



I got to thinking about the first movie that blew me away. That's a hard one to pin down. I remember seeing the original Tron at the theater with my brother, and the special effects were like nothing I'd ever seen before. People were actually in a video game! How cool was that?! I would have been about 8 years old at the time. Of course, I look at that movie now and the effects are cheesier than my sixth grade class photo. Heck, special effects have already moved beyond what the Matrix did. Movies are visually amazing now. But still, nothing can take away the awe I felt as a kid watching Tron.

What about the first time a movie truly scared me? That would be Aliens, hands down. I was at a really small birthday party/get-together for a friend who was turning 12, and her parents had rented Aliens for us. It was like a terrifying train wreck. I couldn't turn away as those creepy aliens came out of everywhere, and I couldn't wrap my head around Newt/Rebecca (oh my God, and she had my name, that made it scarier somehow) surviving alone all that time in the colony. Did she know that she'd be rescued? My heart rate sped along like a bullet train through the entire movie. Then afterwards, my friend's parents dropped me off at home. At night. In the dark. Did I mention how my driveway was about a hundred yards long and lined with tall, bushy trees that could have hidden about fifty of those acid-bleeding aliens? I called my mom to let her know I was on my way and told her, VERY SPECIFICALLY, to wait at the street for me with a flashlight. But did she? Nooooo! I whimpered when I got out of the car and my friend's parents drove off into the night, leaving me alone with the wind whispering through the palm trees and my mother waaaay down at the other end of the driveway. I hauled ass to the house, all the while expecting sharp claws to rip into my back and drag me away so an alien could lay an egg in me that would then burst out of my chest. And people say I was a melodramatic kid.

Interestingly enough, Aliens was one of the first movies to feature a strong female lead. Ripley was smart and tough and maternal, and her maternal instinct, as she cared for Newt, made her both vulnerable and stronger. She became that mama bear that would have ripped off an alien's head with her bare hands if need be in order to protect Newt.

Okay, one more mind-blowing movie. The Princess Bride. I can't remember how old I was the first time I saw it, only that I watched it on TV, and that scene in the beginning where Wesley and Buttercup say their good-byes? Yeah, that made me cry. That was, what, ten minutes into the movie? And I was already crying! That movie made me feel just about every emotion possible, and it remains my favorite to this day.

I could go on and on about movies, but I see your eyes glazing over. You want me to wrap this up.

As you wish.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Juvenilia

I was a guest on a recent blog post about my first vampire, which got me to thinking about other firsts, like the first thing I ever wrote. Back when I was 12 years old or so, I read Hound of the Baskervilles for an assignment. I decided to write a knock-off called Hound of the Beckervilles, in which Joe Elliot of Def Leppard rescued me from the fiendish hounds. I'm not sure if that booklet still exists, but one thing that does is a novelette called The Poison. Yeah, I've never been that great with titles.

During one of my trips back to the Mother Land (aka Texas), I was rummaging through a box when I found the aforementioned novelette. It's 36 single spaced pages long, written on a typewriter, and filled with red marks because at some point I must've gone back and edited the thing. It's a murder mystery told in first person, the narrator being a teenager. There's a teensy prologue and even an epilogue. I actually got the ball rolling on part of the mystery pretty quick. The narrator is already suspicious of her ne'er-do-well boyfriend at the bottom of page one. When does the dead body turn up? Not until page 13. Ah, well, rookie mistake. But… dun, dun, dun, dun! It's the narrator's boyfriend--ex-boyfriend, that is--and guess who suspect numero uno is? That's right, our intrepid narrator is in a whole heap of trouble from page 13 on. Muahaha!

On a more serious note, I actually gave this thing to my mother to read. I shudder now to think of her reading that story, but she dutifully did so as I impatiently waited--okay, lurked--nearby, watching her eyes scan the page then flip to the next, lather, rinse, repeat. Then the inevitable question when she finished. "What did you think?" And that wonderful woman said, "It's good." Insert huge sigh of relief here. It wasn't just the verdict I was waiting for, I was also paying attention to the way she read it, giving it the same considerable attention that she gave novels (she's always been a voracious reader).

It's so easy to crush a child's dreams with a few careless words. It's one of the things I think about often now that I'm a mother. I think carefully of the words I use around my son. I don't think I could ever forgive myself if I said something to crush him.

Well, now, there I go, straying from the topic a bit. So I found this interesting tidbit that talks about how different authors view their juvenilia. Some look upon it with disdain and horror. Some destroyed their early work. Others look at it a bit tongue-in-cheek. I guess that's more of my approach. I mean, this stuff is far from brilliant, but considering where I was in my life, it's not that bad. And it's not like anybody is going to judge my current work by what I did over two decades ago when I was an obnoxious teenager. Anyhow, it's a bit fun to look back at what I considered important, and it's a good feeling to know I've grown considerably since then.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Story Behind the Story

So I got my contributor's copy of Uncle John's Flush Fiction today. I do enjoy seeing my stories in print even though I've bought only one physical book in the past year or so (I really love my e-reader). I can't wait to read the other stories in the collection! So I got to thinking about my story and how it came about.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

I belong to an online writing community called Codex. One of the great things they do is run contests several times a year. It's how I generate some of my short stories and how I've generated one novel (the one in progress). One of the contests is called Weekend Warrior. Prompts go up at the beginning of the weekend, and the idea is to write and turn in a 750 word (or less) story by the end of the weekend. Phew! A few years ago I read through the prompts but couldn't think of a story that weekend. So the prompt kicked around in the back of my head for a few weeks, and then the idea for a story sprang out at me one day like some sort of ninja assassin. I ended up writing a story that, on the surface, looks like a story about helpful gnomes (trust me, we all need and deserve gnomes like these), but what I was thinking about as I wrote was the secrets people keep from one another, and how sometimes even when we suspect (or outright know) another person's truth, we pretend we don't. I guess I was thinking about those people you see on the news who act shocked that their husband or wife or kids or co-workers or neighbors did something horrible, something that went on for years and is now coming to light.

END OF SPOILERS

On a completely unrelated note, the herb garden and strawberries are doing great, but absolutely nothing came up in the vegetable garden. I used the same soil in all three areas. What gives, Mother Nature? So I replanted the vegetable garden today.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's Hard Out There for an Introvert

A few interesting articles have come out recently regarding introversion, including this interview on NPR. I had the chance to work with the Myers-Briggs personality test when I was in physical therapy school. I took the test, and it confirmed what I already suspected, that I was indeed an introvert. Many of today's work places are not designed with introverts in mind. My day job is in a wide open space with very little privacy. I think I cope with it just fine, but by the time I get home, all I want is to curl up in a corner by myself for a little while. Not easy to do with a toddler around. Impossible, in fact. The next best thing is hanging out in the backyard and letting him run around with the dogs while I decompress.

So I don't find it surprising that my major outlet is writing. It's solitary, requires silence (for me at least... I know some writers who need noise or music), and allows me to hang out in my head for a little while. Bliss! And I enjoy social media because it allows me to connect with people at my own pace.

It's been interesting watching my 2 year old develop. He's a bit like me in that it takes him a while to warm up to situations, and so I suspect he might be an introvert also. I wonder how he'll do in a school system that seems increasingly geared towards extroverts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy News!

I am pleased to announce that World Weaver Press will be publishing my first novel, Shards of History! This novel started as a short story at Odyssey in 2007. I was racking my brain for something to write about because I had to turn in a story (ack!) when I dreamed about homes situated in the middle of a very high cliff. When I woke up, I wondered what sort of people would live in such a home and then realized nobody human would be able to. That's when I started working out the rest of the story.

And the Winner is....

The winner of a copy of Uncle John's Flush Fiction is Susana! Congratulations! Send me your mailing address at rebecca dot roland07 at gmail dot com and I'll send you a copy! Now you have something to read in the library.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Green Thumb

There's something really satisfying about digging in the dirt, planting seeds and watching them grow, and eating what you've planted. And I like pulling weeds. Weird, right? But I like seeing my progress. I like making the yard look neat and tidy (yes, I'm a control freak). I like piling up tiny weed corpses. Hmm, maybe I shouldn't admit that last one. But pulling weeds gives me time to think. I think about stories I'm working on, or I think about my family, or I think about the grocery list or the latest news stories. You get the drift. I love the earthy, grassy smells, the sounds of birds twittering or kids playing in the nearby park. I love the crumbly feel of dirt between my fingers. Gardening is one of those activities that entices all the senses.

For the vegetable garden I used this method called square foot gardening, which is supposed to maximize your space. Right now it looks like I have a tiny archeological dig in the back yard. I'd post a picture, but I'm having technical issues right now.

Do you have a green thumb?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

So writing my first blog post on a measly four hours of sleep and after flying through two time zones with a toddler is probably not the best of ideas, but here goes.

I've been considering starting a blog--er, well, starting a new one seeing as how I had one a while back but never posted much--and some recent bouts of good news have prompted me to do so. Why call it Spice of Life? Well, I had to come up with something, and seeing as how I plan to post about anything and everything, it seemed a good choice.

For my first post, I'd like to give something away. Aren't I nice? One of my short stories recently came out in Uncle John's Flush Fiction, and to celebrate, I'd like to give one lucky person a copy of the book. All you have to do is express your interest in the comments section by April 10. Your name will go into the fanciest hat I can find (and trust me, I've got some fancy ones), and I'll pull out the name of the lucky winner. The book is a collection of short-short stories--aka flash fiction--making them perfect to read while sitting in the thinking room, or wherever you please.