Friday, December 23, 2011

Last post of the year

Well, I'm rushing around trying to get ready to hop on a ferry.

I wish everyone safe travels this holiday season, and I'll see ya all in the new year :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gifts of the season

On Monday, those fine folks over at Unicorn Bell posted a request for submissions. The topic? A gift we have either given or received, doesn't have to be Christmas.

Of course I had to write something...

So here's my gift, and it's 100% true!

Since my Nana died a couple months ago, and it's actually her birthday today, or was her birthday I suppose... I'm thinking a lot about her this Christmas season. That horrible doll was the first gift I remember receiving from her, and last night while the husband and I decorated the Christmas tree, I was flooded with memories as I pulled out a number of hand-painted porcelain Christmas ornaments she had given me over the years. I took a picture of a couple:

Now, these are merely trinkets, nothing like her bigger, more detailed work, which is still all wrapped up carefully in boxes downstairs. But these were also made for me... notice the leprechauns? I've got about 6 different leprechaun ornaments on my tree... so she painted a green hat/scarf on the snowman and found the little leprechaun ornament specifically because she knew I'd like them. The bell on the left is from when she first started china painting and if you look carefully, you can see the date. I cut my name out of the picture, which unfortunately also cuts out half of the painted scene. The snowman was one of the last things she painted before her eyesight was too poor to paint, and it's from 2006.

I've also spent the last week or so cleaning out the basement in preparation of receiving a truckload of her paints, brushes, and boxes of raw, unpainted porcelain.

In the case of my Nana, I suppose not only her gifts of painted pieces, but her gift of teaching me to paint will be carried on in some fashion. No doubt next Christmas season some of my family members will receive ornaments or some other such pieces painted by my hand instead of hers.

Do you guys have any specific/special traditions in your family?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First night of Chanukah

Well, the husband and I aren't Jewish, but tonight we will be downtown Victoria celebrating the first night of Chanukah with the lighting of the 2.5 meter high menorah at the legislature.*

What do you think... is it just wrong to wear a Santa hat as my head-covering?

Maybe I should play it safe and go with a toque...

Edit: Okay, we just got back and I was inspired to put this up:

Now we're going to watch Adam Sandler's 'Eight Crazy Nights' and decorate the Christmas tree.**

* That's just over 8 feet tall
** Yup, totally not kidding. I know, I know... mixing holidays. We both love the movie, but are strongly divided on the whole 'deer-thing'. If you know what I'm talking about, I think it's absolutely disgusting...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wow, is it really 10:40pm?

Okay, my day just disappeared...

I shopped for the last few Christmas gifts (including something for the husband), then spent the majority of the day decorating the house and preparing a nice dinner with caprese salad*, wine, and a plate with tasty cheeses, apple, bread, rice crackers, etc.

That may sound like an odd dinner, but it's something we do when we need to just chill out and relax. Normally we have chill-out music, but tonight we had on the Christmas music, which is a huge range, from Brad Paisley and Gretchen Wilson to Avril Lavigne and The Barenaked Ladies, to all the old classic stuff. And of course the Colbert Christmas special music... I kill myself laughing whenever one of those songs comes on :)

The pets were also required to be festive** for the evening while the husband and I just relaxed with a fire burning. I didn't take pictures this year, but here's a couple pics of them from last year.

She was pretty tired when I took this, notice the red-crack-eyes that beagles always get.

The cat is obsessed with bows. He steals them off every single gift and runs around the 
house with them. Such a funny little brat.

Anyways, it was a wonderful evening... just what we needed to get into the spirit of the season since we've both been a little stressed 'cause of all the travelling/driving around.

I hope everyone has a chance to have an evening of relaxation with all the craziness of the season :)

*If you don't know what this is, it's an Italian salad where you cut slices of tomato, sprinkle with a little salt & pepper, add a leaf of fresh basil, then a slice of bocconcini cheese. After, it's most common to drizzle with a good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but I have this interesting balsamic reduction, which is thicker and sweeter, so I use that instead of the oil & vinegar. My husband is Italian, so we often eat Italian food.

** No, I'm not a crazy person who dresses up my pets all the time. One day a year, that's it :) ...though I do think the cat would look adorable in a ghost costume for Halloween... and maybe a pumpkin for the dog ;)

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Tis a crazy season

...which is the reason I'm not posting until, hmmm...

...6:00pm my time.

So here's the thing. I suck at multi-tasking. I'm like one of those horses where they put the blinders on so they aren't distracted by what's around them.

Yup. I'm that bad. It's surprising I can chew gum and walk at the same time... especially considering I'm blonde.

If something isn't directly in front of my eyes, it's like it doesn't exist for me.

Now, this tunnel-vision-thing is totally awesome when I'm on a tight deadline and things need to go-go-go, 'cause I can easily shut out everything around me and just focus.

When it really sucks is when something messes up my careful single-minded-plan. Like when the husband came home last night after his Christmas-work-party, crawled into bed and shut off the alarm 'cause he didn't have to go into the office early today. He also left his car at work and took a taxi home. So, at 9:15am when the cat used my stomach as a spring-board to hop from the bed to the windowsill (most likely to growl at the wandering deer) and woke me up... well, my carefully-planed-out-day was already ruined.

My plan for this morning was:

6:00am wake-up

6:30am breakfast with the husband

7:00 husband leaves for work

7:30 shower/get ready

8:00am, take pick-up truck in for service (some kind of recall on the door handles -> the latch could just pop open at any time. Do you feel safe? I sure don't.)

10:30-ish/11:00-ish, drive to Rona* to exchange a couple things and buy a bunch of things (for renovating the house and de-witching the yard. Maybe they have one of those squirrel guards large enough to keep the deer away from the bird feeder...)

12:00-ish lunch

12:30-ish big Costco run since we have little-to-no food in the house (since we've been away so much)

1:30-2:00-ish drive home/put food away

2:30-ish drive to the BCSPCA to pick up a signed form and drive it to the Police station**

3:30-ish get pet food ready since the cat goes to jail tomorrow, the dog is going to Vancouver with me

4:00-ish get myself ready for the weekend away

4:30-ish clean house, think about making dinner, etc, etc, etc

...and instead, my day went a little off-track. Let's just say I got breakfast, I drove the husband to work, the handles on the truck are now fixed so it is less likely the doors will fly open and I will fall out into traffic, my form is dropped off at the Police station... and not a whole heck of a lot else got done.

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, but until the new year, I'm home exactly 6 days and the fridge doesn't fill itself. If I don't make time to shop, well, the husband and I will be eating cat/dog food 'cause it'll be the only thing left in the house that's edible. I've also got Christmas shopping to finish, gifts to wrap, keep the cat/dog clean*** and their nails clipped so the cat doesn't shred anyone and the dog doesn't tap-dance through the house in the night and keep us both awake.

I don't think I'm even going to have time to put up our Christmas tree or decorate the house.

I'm tired already and it's only the 16th!, if I'm a little lax over the next few weeks about posting, commenting on blogs or replying to email... this is why.

'Tis the season of craziness... and honestly, I can't wait until it's over, 'cause all this craziness certainly throws off my carefully-planned-out-schedule.

...and now my tap-dancing beagle is reminding me it is ten minutes after 6:00pm, meaning her dinner is ten minutes late. I'm thinking she'll give me two more minute before climbing onto the sofa and attempting to sit on my laptop.

Seriously, Snoopy has nothing on her when it comes to dancing...

So, how are your holiday seasons shaping up? Please, please regale me with your tales of relaxation and get-aways to warm, tropical locations... and nothing that involves long ferry rides...

* like Home Depot, but Canadian. I have a contractor's account with them.
** I'm planning to volunteer a couple hours a week at the BC SPCA, and to be a volunteer, you have to allow them to run a criminal check on you.
*** oddly enough, the husband and I are both allergic to cats/dogs, even though we have one of each. Feeding them raw food minimizes about 80% of the allergens, but once a week the dog has to be bathed and the cat has to be wiped down with a damp cloth to remove the saliva from their fur. Most people don't know that saliva is actually what most people are allergic to, not the fur itself. Dander comes in second, which is solved by the raw food diet, and the raw diet also changes the alkalinity of the saliva which reduces those allergies, but doesn't completely erase them.

...I know too much about raw pet food and allergies...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Great post on crit groups

I love feedback on my writing, like, to a near masochistic degree, so I'm all about writing groups, crit groups, CP's, beta-readers, all that good stuff. Call it what you want, if you can get an objective eye to look over your writing and honestly tell you what they thought (good or bad), that's an awesome thing.

But I'm also pretty quick to warn others that finding good people can be difficult, so be smart and be selective.

Janice Hardy (if you're not following her blog yet, you really should) did a great guest post today on some of the problems you can run into. No, this article isn't fanning the flame of negativity, she's really giving a lot of things to watch for so you can possibly know how to avoid/handle them if you ever get into that situation.

I've personally seen all these, both in real-life meetings, and in online relationships.

...and I know when I started getting my writing critiqued, my personal 'worst' was telling others, not necessarily that they were wrong, but I would try to point out why something was the way it was.* This could have been handled differently (and I think I'm better now), but I think each of the problems are also things that change as the writers grow together as long as there is trust and honesty between them.

I'm really big on asking questions. If someone finds a problem, and I don't really understand why it's a problem or how I can fix it, I ask. Sometimes it does feel like I'm asking a stupid question when it's clearly obvious to the other person what the problem/solution is, but I don't see a reason to feel embarrassed about doing that because I genuinely want to improve my writing. Feeling silly in that moment is a lot better than going away not understanding what the problem is... 'cause then you'll never fix it.

...and if I've learned anything about writers, we love to talk about writing as much (if not more) than we like to actually read/write, so someone asking us to explain further our opinion of something, well, you might as well just wrap that up in a bow, 'cause it's so much fun to analyze characters/plots/etc.

We are all monkeys madly typing away on our keyboards, hoping our next line is Shakespeare instead of nonsense, but it might not be us, it might be the monkey sitting right beside us. We're not in competition with one another, we're a group who are like-minded, goal-oriented, and perhaps just a little crazy, so I think it's great to help each other out and genuinely be happy for the monkeys who succeed one step before us. Between our own nonsense and their lines of Shakespeare, we can each improve and grow.

*this is primarily because I'm prone to over-thinking, even down to the exact words used within a sentence and what double meanings they could possibly have.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guess the age semi-finalists

If you've been following Brenda Drake's blog hop/contest on character voice, today's the day she posts the 20 semi-finalists, so jump on over and check it out.

Since I'm out of town from Saturday until Tuesday, I won't be able to check myself, so I have no idea if I made the cut or not.

What I can say right now is, congrats to those who moved on and I hope those who didn't were able to receive helpful comments from other readers/participants.

I know I certainly appreciated every person who helped me re-work my entry :)

Anyways, see you guys in a few days! ...and I'll check out all you semi-finalists when I get back :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Something to make you laugh

Okay, I've talked before about all the wildlife around *the witch's hut* and how the deer are a bit pesky, but we still like them.

So, my husband filmed something funny this morning:

...don't you love the witch-i-ness of our property? And this is after I power-washed 2+ inches of moss from the patio, chopped down the four-foot-tall grass with a brush-cutter and hacked away a ton of ivy to reveal whatever that is on the patio... I think it used to be a home-built smoker or something? There are cabinets, counters and a broken chimney with a fish on it.

Guess the character's age #2

Well, based on the comments, I cleaned up my submission a bit.

Is this better? Is it clearer that the body in the trunk isn't in there the same day Dave & Sam ask for a ride? Does the *crazy is relative* line make more sense now? I got it down to 245 words now.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A note of thanks

Thank you, prerna pickett, for offering me not one, but two blog awards. If you aren't familiar with her, I especially love her Five-for-Friday posts 'cause they're always so upbeat and fun. I'm an optimist, so I love meeting other people who are able to find the good in life rather than focus on the bad.

I've been given the 'One Lovely Blog Award' before, but it's my first time receiving the 'Blog on Fire Award', and since it's been a while since I posted the 10 random facts, I'll throw up another 5:

1) My beagle is named after a cartoon character (not Snoopy) and my cat is named after a philosopher

2) When I was a kid, I would not eat my food if it was touching another type of food on my plate. I'm still a bit weird about that...

3) I got suspended from Kindergarten 3 times (don't ask)

4) If I could choose a super-power, I'd want to be able to breath underwater and be able to dive thousands of feet below the surface without being crushed by the pressure. And I'd probably never go up on land again :)

5) I don't like most sweet foods. If you want to bribe me, anything sour is a good bet (grapefruit or sour candy), spicy (Indian, Thai, Szechwan, you name it, I'll eat it), or salty (sunflower seeds & cheesies).

Since most of what I babble about on this blog is pretty random/silly/strange, it makes me extremely happy that some of you guys are willing to put up with me, and it makes me think that somehow I've pulled off the greatest con ever...

Seriously, thanks, prerna and everyone who reads/comments on my blog.

N+A+M+E = ?

You could say I'm a lazy-namer when it comes to characters.

I don't agonize over the meanings behind names, or pick clever/interesting names. Honestly, I don't even give them a lot of thought whatsoever.

And this probably isn't a surprise to anyone who follows my blog since I've admitted to being a complete and total pantser*.

Often I use the first name that springs to mind and just keep moving forward with my writing.** Sometimes it's 'cause the name makes me laugh or it has some kind of strange/unconscious association with someone/thing which I don't even understand myself until later. The name just comes out of thin air, shows up on the page and that's that.

The name Triss (from Project #4) was a 'this feels right, moving on' kind of name. But I swear, after looking back, there's some actual logic behind it.

I wanted a strong, single-syllable, uni-sex name that is a chosen deviation from her 'real-name'. For me, it has everything to do with my impression of the character. She's strong, opinionated, rebellious, and because of her... uhm, questionable relationship with the nameless/genderless MC, the uni-sex quality of the name (Triss is short for Tristan, which is the character's middle name) was especially important to me. Somehow, the particular combination of sounds 'fit' that impression. If someone suggested another name which fit all those requirements and sounded right to my ears, I'd have no problem changing it.

The name Simon (from project #3) ultimately was a device to make me laugh. I had been reading articles on dialogue tags, y'know, the ones that tell you to always use 'said'.

...and my brain went, "how funny if the character was named Simon, so every time the character spoke, it would be, "Simon says", like that silly children's game, and the other characters would have to obey.***

...which quickly morphed into an overprotective older brother where the younger brother's character arc would consist of getting out from under his brother's shadow and making his own choices.

The younger brother was named after the chivalrous hero Hector from 'The Illiad' as, out of the two brothers, he is the one who is innocent, trusting and noble. This is one of those connections that I only figured out after I was about 3/4 through the story.  I simply 'knew' it was the right name because of how I felt about the character.

Unlike 'Triss', the names 'Hector' & 'Simon' will never change.

Faith, the most important secondary character in Project #3, well, it's pretty obvious I'm not getting any points for subtlety on that one... but I'm going to bet that no one who has read Project #3 (or the synopsis some of you readers kindly agreed to critique for me) would be able to guess why she's called Faith.

That's one of those things I'll take to my grave, but I'll give one very important (but probably unhelpful) clue. Not one single character in the entire story ever addresses Faith by name until the final scene. At that time, Simon speaks her name once and another character poses the question, "Faith in what, I wonder?"

What about you guys? How much thought do you put into names? Does it have to be the-perfect-name? Do you use names from people in real life, or from movies/books/entertainment? How likely are you to change a character's name? Would you, if an agent/editor asked you to?

* Hey, if I don't even know the name or gender of my MC, I'd say I've hit a new level of pantsing. Although I don't think it's something to be especially proud of, at least I'm having fun :)

** For some reason, 'J' names are unusually prevalent.

*** yes, yes, yes, I know I've got a strange sense of humor... especially considering I made it a point to never actually use the phrases 'Simon said' or 'Simon says' through the course of the entire book.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guess the character's age

Brenda Drake is doing an interesting blog-hop in which everyone that signs up will post the first 250 words of a story. The point is to see if the *voice* is enough to tell the reader the age of the characters. You're not supposed to list title or genre.

Well, I'm going to use my NaNo story (so, slightly cleaned-up first draft) and I'm pleased to say I edited this section down to exactly 250 words, which is something I wanted to do anyways, 'cause I wanted to end with that particular line.

EDIT: And for extra fun, try to guess the gender of the MC :) So far it's about a 50/50 m/f split ;)

So without further ado:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Voice-shred at Unicorn Bell

I seem to be a little out of it this morning...

Since I am an absolute masochist when it comes to receiving criticism on my writing, I've submitted another first-draft (ugh) scene from Project # 4 over at Unicorn Bell.

It's the scene where I was able to fit in one particularly, um, interesting bit of description.*

Drop by, check it out, tell me where I can hack off a few limbs - I mean, where I can do better ;)

*seriously, I have no idea why there are always so many vomit references in my writing...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Calling all volunteers! preparation for querying, I have finally written *the evil synopsis* for Simon's Oath.

From my extensive online research, it seems the best way to test it out is to have someone who knows next-to-nothing about the story read it and mark down where they were confused/etc., any volunteers?

I'm totally willing to offer small editing projects in return...

Breaking, re-working & editing

The good part of NaNo is getting the rush of new words on the page.

The bad part of NaNo is often sifting through the mess when November is over and done with.

Yesterday I went through Project #4 and took a good hard look at what was there.

One of the main reasons I stopped writing (other than going away) was I had reached the end of the present-day timeline, yet still had about 1/3 of the party 6 months earlier to fill in, plus the night Jackson died. I was alternating scenes, but wasn't alternating them frequently enough, and I didn't have time to go through the story and move a bunch of the scenes around, and it felt too weird to suddenly stop alternating scenes and write out both nights in one big uninterrupted dump.

So that's what I did yesterday :) I broke large scenes up and moved a ton of them around, pushing the party 6 months ago way further up in the story and now I have a ton of small present-day scenes on their own into which I can alternate the two past time-lines.

It does annoy me that doing this wrecked the flow of the story in a bunch of places, for example, in one set of alternating timelines, I was using warmth/cold as conduits to move back and forth between the MC stuck in Triss' car and the whole bankrupt-moral-rationalization behind stealing from Jackson and from others.

Moving those scenes around completely destroyed that.

But it also coincidentally lined up some scenes in new ways that I hadn't considered.

Like the beginning/end of these two scenes:

Her mouth was only a few inches from mine and I could feel her warm breath racing across my skin and electrifying every single tiny hair on my body. “You know I only need you.”
“I’m tired,” Triss says.
It’s been about twenty minutes since she leaned into me. Twenty minutes of her rough breath beating warm and repetitive against my skin.

Yes, this need editing 'cause the wording is far too repetitive, but those scenes used to be really far away from each other, and although they worked in their original locations, I think they work far better now. Triss' breath against the MC's skin ties these scenes together, but in each place, the emotion/tension/reaction of the two characters is drastically different.

I could mourn all the great points where the flow got broken, I could even be obstinate about it and leave them how they were originally (after all, that would be easier in a lot of ways), but in the end, I think when you ruthlessly break up a story, you end up finding things you didn't know were there and it opens up directions you hadn't necessarily considered before.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your story is to smash it to bits and re-examine the pieces.

For all those places where I *broke* the good flow, well, I figure if I managed to write good flow in the first place, then I certainly should be able to modify the beginnings/ends of each scene to re-create the kind of flow I want.

I know there isn't one definite way this story has to be written, and I find when I break a story and put it back together again, it's better and stronger than the original was.

So don't be afraid to be ruthless.

In my case, I had written myself into a corner and I needed to break the whole thing apart to make room to write.

How about you guys? Have you dared to re-read your NaNo stories? Any major problems that look absolutely terrifying?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Building connections

So, NaNo is over, and a big congratulations for everyone who made the 50,000 word goal!

I had a much more modest goal (25,000 words) since I was only home half the month, and I'm happy to say I hit it (barely), so I'm feeling pretty good about that.

I'm also pretty pleased that I will be able to go to the NaNo wrap-up meeting this coming Friday. Since I'm notoriously, and constantly, sick from November -> March, I normally make it to one meet-up a year. Last year I went to the wrap-up meeting as well, but was so strung-out on cold medication that I can't remember a thing that went on... no seriously, I remember going, I remember driving a couple of people home afterwards... and I remember seeing a couple of familiar faces around the table. I have no idea if I talked to anyone, and if I did, if anything I said made any sense whatsoever.

I don't necessarily consider myself a shy person, but I am an introvert for sure. I get tired quickly from being around/in crowds and have no problem spending hours alone with my thoughts (and my computer). I feel more comfortable talking with one person rather than in a group, and I enjoy, really enjoy, getting to know new people and listening to them talk about what they think, what they like, and why they think what they think and like what they like.

Two of the most enjoyable things about my crazy 11-day-3-city-jaunt were talking on the phone (while in Toronto) to another writer (who lives 2 hours outside the city), and meeting up for tea/coffee in downtown Seattle with another writer.

I started this blog and become active online to connect with other writers. I've chatted with some via email, back and forth conversations on their blogs, thrown myself into a few online contests, and even developed a brand new CP relationship with someone on the opposite side of the continent, but on my trip, that was the first time I heard someone else's voice and met them face-to-face.*

It was awesome :)

...and it made me want to meet more of you guys out there :)

I know I've put this question out there before, but why are you online? What do you want out of it? As you've made online connections, have those translated into real-life meetings/friendships?

*I may, or may not, have come across as a total weirdo though ;)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Abandonment complex 101

Well, it's nice to be home again, despite the constant cold that seems to blow right through the walls of 'the witch's hut'.

I've posted a picture of my beagle on here before, but I've talked more about my cat, like how he's in every story I write, just rarely as an actual cat, and that he's a rescue cat with major personality issues.

After being gone for more than a week, I picked the pets up Friday afternoon. The dog was wiggly and excited to see me, but as soon as we got home, she settled into her normal routine of sleeping and only waking up when she thinks she's going to get fed or when she wants to go outside and tear around in circles like a crazy beast (sigh... beagles...).

Usually the cat is super clingy for about a day (goes into every room in the house and cries until I call his name, then comes scurrying into whatever room I'm in) before going back to his usual aloof self.

This time though, he's been attached to me constantly, even now, the third day since he's been home.

He's not normally a cuddly cat. On occasion he will lay across my lap, but the moment I touch/pet him, he'll lash his tail, and if I try again, usually he'll bite me. Not hard enough that I bleed, but enough to leave half-a-dozen little fang-dents in my skin.

For the last three days, every time I sit, he jumps on my lap, stretches out and falls asleep. He doesn't even twitch, no matter how much I pet him, and he only bites me when I try to get up/move. He's been getting up in the night, going into other rooms and crying... until I barely whisper his name, then he runs into the bedroom, stands on top of me and rubs his nose all over my face, hair and hands (marking me, 'cause cats have those glands around their lips). He did this four times Friday night and three times last night. He's been following me all over the house, scratching madly on any door I close (there are rooms our pets are never allowed into, like bathrooms/spare bedroom/etc), chirping for attention and standing on my foot and wrapping his front paws around my leg -> wanting to be picked up and carried around everywhere or draped around my neck/shoulders.

...this is highly unusual behaviour... and it's making me a little worried, though I know for sure it's not 'cause he was mistreated at the kennel. He'll actually let the owner touch/play with him, which is... amazing to say the least.

...but is it also a terrible thing that I'm finding his strange behaviour super interesting/curious and I am paying close attention so I can write this behaviour into a character at a later time?

For now, I suppose he's just craving reassurance (maybe some kind of abandonment complex from being a rescue animal... even though we've had him 7.5 years and have left him at the kennel that long before), while the dog is cuddled in a ball on a different sofa snoring away happily. I think it's totally wrong to say dogs are loyal and cats are not. I think it's the exact opposite. The dog loves anyone who feeds or plays with her, but for my cat, only I will do. He doesn't share his love with anyone else, no matter what you try to bribe him with.

Anyways, 'cause he's solid black, it's nearly impossible for photos of him to turn out well, but here's a picture of my little philosopher:

...don't you love the super-puffy-squirrel-tail? ...I want to pull on it whenever he's sleeping on his cat tree with it dangling over the side... sooooooo... tempting...

Friday, December 2, 2011

I'm coming home today!, one more nibble, then I'll have the weekend to recover and I'll do a proper post again on Monday. Hope you enjoyed what's gone up these past 10 days!