Sunday, November 29, 2009


Well, it finally happened: I made it to my first con. Orycon was great. There were so many cool panels and so many awesome people. I can't say enough about the presentations I saw by Lou Anders, Ken Scholes, Patricia Briggs and Mary Robinette Kowal. They were all very professional people with a passion for the literary arts, and listening them really inspired me. There's a new fire beneath my butt, and they lit it.

Hey, no fart jokes from the peanut gallery.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I don't always know everything, after all!

Well, I wrote the last line of the big revision project! Still have a bit of polishing up to do, but pleased to get that baby finally, finally wrapped up. I've been working on this book since Fiona was 6 months old! Most of the time, I figured I would never do anything with the story and it would linger on, ghostly and ghastly, in a bottom drawer for the rest of my life. Which just goes to show that I actually don't know everything after all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fingers aching and blissfully blistered!

Fi finished her Nanowrimo project this morning! It weighs in at 3500 words and she dictated the whole thing to me. I'm so proud of my baby girl. She didn't give up; she didn't get writer's block; she just kept trucking. She is my new writing hero.

I tell you guys, sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am: I got the best kid. She's so darn cool I sometimes don't know what to do with her, and fully expect to spend her teen years reeling in awe at all the fun, crazy stuff she decides to get into.

Yep, this year I'll be thankful for my amazing midget, who not only doesn't mind that she has a crazy mother, but actually joins in on the insanity. Way to go, Fi!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is it Wednesday yet?

Conferences, 9000 words, paying the bills, the desperate need to go bra shopping--yeah, there's plenty on my mind. But Turkey Day is COMING!!!!

Who's making what this week?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My heart hurts

My sister, the one who hates horror movies but absorbs news stories of human atrocity with ease, told me the story of Shaniya Davis, the 5-year-old North Carolina girl sold last week by her own mother, to be used as a sex object and murdered. It's the kind of story that seeps under my skin and even after a six hours of warm, loving family joy, emerges in the dark and keeps me aching.

Who could do that to their little girl? Who could look at a child--any child, let alone your own flesh--and wish torture and pain upon them? And what kind of man would take delight in it?

I try to think benevolent thoughts and turn no hatred onto anyone, try to remind myself that the people who torture are in themselves tortured and as such not rational or even entirely human. I try.

But the larger part of me just wants to crush them under foot like a cluster of cockroaches.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When style & substance divorce and have a custody battle

One of the greatest things about being a reviewer is that I have a reason to dig beneath the surface of a book and weigh each little detail's merits. What's good about a book? What's bad about a book? Why do things work? Why do they fall apart? I answer these questions, and bingo, I've got a review on my hands. Some people think that when you're reviewing horror fiction, these questions don't matter. They think that there's no place for craft in the realm of R. L. Stine & Stephen King. Those people need to be punched in the nose. I take my work seriously.

Lately, there's been some turmoil in my happy little world of horror reviewing. In the last several pieces I've slogged through, the ever-uneasy relationship between substance and style has been rearing its head and making my job a lot harder. How do I rate an anthology packed with unique, breath-takingly exciting ideas--and plenty of awkward delivery? How do I assign a number of stars for a book told with wonderful vocabulary, telling details, evocative description--and a totally Scooby-Doo plot-reveal that manages to be both unbelievable and boring? It's darn tricky to rate a piece on the best of conditions, but when the quality of the piece's style and the quality of its substance differ, it's incredibly difficult.

But let me clarify my conundrum. When I say substance, I mean the basic underpinnings of the story--the plotting and story arc, the relationships and development of the characters, the pacing and fundamental ideas. The structure. If you sat down with a book and made a comprehensive outline of what happened, when it happened, and who did it, that would be the story's substance.

The style of a piece is the expression of that structure. It can impact the substance in many important ways. Not only does the style of a piece include the piece's vocabulary and rhythm, but it also includes handling of theme, syntax, perspective, and pacing (see the trickiness? Pacing is both a matter of structure--that what-happens-when stuff--but also the way that information is doled out. And so is perspective!). Style is the zip that makes sentences tasty and passages memorable. It can't work on its own though; no wordsmith has the power to make a terrible idea sound like brilliance.

Substance and style are inseparable. But there are definitely moments when a reader can say: "this idea does not live up to the technique displayed by this writer." Or when a reviewer can say: "this idea is great, but the dialogue is unbelievable, the sentences are choppy and the description relies too heavily on passive voice." These are moments when the style and substance of a piece no longer get along. Their relationship breaks down, and their beautiful child--story--is left in the cold, like a child whose parents are so busy arguing they don't remember who was supposed to pick the little guy up after school.

What do you guys think? Anybody reading anything that has problems like this?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Autumn Magic Muffins

Ahhh. Autumn. As soon as the leaves begin to change, I grow hungry for anything spiced with cinnamon and ginger, enriched with pumpkin, and laced with brown sugar. Many of the foods I love this time of year are not necessarily the healthiest choices. Fatty, sugary, white flour-y: everything my intestines hate. So that leaves a girl baking her own treats.

Today I made Autumn Magic Muffins. They're packed with autumn flavors like tangy cranberries, molasses and warm spices. Not too sweet and not too rich, they're perfect with a cup of coffee for a mid-afternoon break.

Now, most of the time when I make a muffin, I err on the side of health, mixing up super-low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber treats. Okay. Make that hockey pucks. But today's muffin creation turned out nicely. It's a little fattier than I prefer, but the combination of corn oil and fruit purees created a tenderness that was much appreciated. You could jazz up these babies with some walnuts or raisins, and if you're really feeling crazy, substitute egg nog for the soy milk. Jinkies!

They are good with or without a smear of butter (or in this case, Earth Balance).

Autumn Magic Muffins
Makes 16 muffins.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare standard-sized muffin tin with liners, or grease and flour.

Combine in saucepan:
8 oz fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
1 golden delicious apple, cored and diced
1 Tb water
2 tsp sugar (the berries will be tart--you can add another tsp of sugar if you want)

Simmer until berries pop and the chunks of apple are very smushy--you're aiming for the consistency of applesauce. Remove from heat. Stir in:
1/2 C corn oil
1 Tb molasses
2 Tb brown sugar
1/2 C pumpkin puree

Allow apple-cranberry sauce mixture to cool to room temperature.

While the apple-cranberry sauce cools, whisk together in a large bowl:
1 C whole wheat flour
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
1 Tb baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg)

When apple-cranberry mixture is cool, stir in:
1/2 C soy milk or soy nog (you can use moo milk/nog if you prefer dairy)

Then add liquid ingredients to the dry, folding carefully until dry ingredients are absorbed. Be gentle! Muffins made without eggs can get leathery if over-mixed.

Fill cups of muffin pan about 2/3rd full. Bake 12-16 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Via entering the bloodstream

Almost had a nervous breakdown today, but Sweetie-pie came through with a Lego project for the kid. I tell you, it is almost impossible to balance this mad writing rush with life right now. I didn't realize how much I depend on Sweetie-Pie until he spent half the week in bed with the flu.

Thank you to the support teams of the world. It's hard to believe that behind every single book on every single bookcase in the world, there's a group of people kindly holding up the author. If they're like Sweetie-Pie, they don't even complain about it! (Not so the kid ... grumble, grumble ... anybody need a 6-year-old for a couple of weeks?)

The caffeine is kicking it. Time to kick up the Death Cab and fire up the neurons. Only about another 15,000 words to go.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Help the students of Marysville Elementary!

When Marysville School burnt on Tuesday, the kids and teachers made it out okay--but their stuff didn't. These kids are now facing a school year with no lunch boxes, no school supplies, and for some, no coats. Check out the donation lists below and see if you can help.

And don't forget--the entire school library is gone. Book lovers, dig deep!

In response to the fire at Marysville School , Oregon PTA and Portland Council PTA are sponsoring a donation drop-off at Marshall High School. Portland Council PTA operates a Clothing Center on the Marshall Campus for all PPS students. Please bring donations for Marysville students to the Marshall Campus between 8:00am -4:00 pm Monday through Friday.Marshall High School is located at 3905 SE 91st Ave., Portland OR.
Donations Requested (*New or Like New*)
Lunch Bags/Boxes
Art Supplies (paints, markers, paper etc)
Library Books
Boxes of Tissues
Construction Paper
Photocopy Paper

Checks for financial donations to cover additional needs can be made to Portland Council PTA with Marysville Donation in the memo and mailed to:Portland Council PTA2246 SE 90th Ave.Portland, OR 97216

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thomas Hood approved

Thomas Hood was English, but in his heart he was an Oregonian. His famous poem "November" bears re-reading two or three times a year. If you don't know it, here it is:

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease.
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -

Of course, if he was still alive today, he would probably get sucked into Nanowrimo, and he probably would have needed a few more lines. I suggest:
no movies - no board games -
no friends, no family, no social life in any form
no food or housekeeping that meets the social norm.

But that's just me. I did just put back a slice of pumpkin pie, a square of dark chocolate and a cup of coffee after spending a day hearing my child complain about how filthy our house is. (Note to DHS: I did run the dishwasher and wash both shower curtains today, so I no longer feel our home is a health hazard.)

After two days trapped in the house with a sick kid, I could easily run on for another page of digressions. I have cabin fever and I'm starved for grown-up interaction. Normally I'd just hang out with my handsome sweetie-pie, but he's hard at work, too. The basement is full of primed canvases awaiting his paint brush. So it sounds like I'd better just bite the bullet and get back to work. My imaginary pals and their adventures are almost the perfect substitute for a life!

Now if only I was writing about good weather ...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

New China, new world

Yesterday we made a trip to Portland Art Museum to check out the new "China Design Now" exhibit. It was ... strange. There were things that were exciting and fun, the kinds of t-shirt and zine covers you see in Juxtapoz magazine. We saw some very fresh and cool products, demonstrating influences of Japan-cool and skateboard culture, the same stuff that's cool here in the US. And there were fine examples of couture and architecture, very hip, very modern, very groovy. Just when I started getting the warm fuzzies for China (the "hey, it's not so bad there, let's go visit!" feelings) we passed a display of projections of different living spaces, with typed quotes from the people who lived there. And I have to say it: China sucks. There were photos of nice homes with plenty of space and tasteful things, but there were also incredibly cramped spaces with a veneer of cheapness that made the Dollar Tree look haute couture. The people who lived in these spaces spoke of long hours and a desperate dream of a better life for their children.

It nudged me into a depressing line of thought. The pundits tell us to look to China as the future of the world. It is a microcosm of the world's problems, compounded in one politically contorted nation. On top of environmental degradation, water shortages, geopoltical struggles and a massive socioeconomic restructuring, the nation faces serious overpopulation. There isn't enough of anything to really go around, and that is true of the planet as a whole.

While my family today enjoys a comfortable lifestyle with an assortment of appealing things, I can't count on that for my grandchildren. Look at the quality of produced goods today, and compare them to your grandparents' antiques. Things are shabbier now. When my daughter has children, those young people will grow up in a world stretched even thinner than today. Once we used wood in buildings. Now we used plywood. Tomorrow, particle board will be the new norm.

It is good to do more with less. But it is sad to think that is all we offer our next generations. We are using everything up so quickly and leaving behind only the dregs. I wonder how long it will be before Portland looks like Beijing.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Whew! The first week of Nanowrimo is drawing to a close, I'm on my weekend, and it's time to SOWISA, baby, SOWISA. Not a fan of King? I'll translate. In his book Lisey's Story, Stephen King coins one of the best acronyms of all time: SOWISA. Strap On Whenever It Seems Appropriate. It means to take charge. To gird your learns and jump into the fray. To get your guns on and be ready to shoot whatever moves.

That's what I'm doing today. Some surprise company changed the gears of the week, and some surprise exhaustion doubly shifted them. I was a little panicked this morning. My writing goals this month are big! My biggest ever! And all week I've been burning energy fretting about them, getting stuff done but also running terrified. This morning though, I took a hot bath and set my mind on a new course. I re-examined my schedule and made a new plan to maximize my writing time. It felt good.

Right now, I feel like I'm in charge of this crazy situation. I am choosing to set my goals high and I am choosing my methods of achieving them. I'm strapped on! But now I want to know: how do you take charge of tough situations? If you're doing Nanowrimo, do you feel like you're in charge of your project, your approach to creativity, or are you running wild on too much caffeine, like I was earlier this week?

Also updated winniewoohoo with another Nanowrimo tip. This one has saved my buns over the last couple of years!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Smug as a bug!

I just want to say that I brainstormed some new exciting scenes for Nanowrimo and created 1600+ new words on the Work In Progress. Also, my bathroom is awesomely clean (thanks to the kid for her assistance!).

Despite morning misgivings, this was an awesome day and I feel great about it!

I also learned that when you buy the bottomless cup of coffee at the Artemis Cafe, you run the risk of drinking way, way too much of their delicious house java. I actually drank enough coffee that every hair on my body stood on end. That might be a little too much, even for me.

November 2nd!

I am trying to stir up my spirits and get busy. It's not easy. Instead of one gloriously insane month of writing--Nanowrimo--I'm setting myself for 5 months of balls-out-lead burning (okay, I don't actually use a pencil these days, but keyboard burning doesn't have the same resonance) to wrap up one book and solidly draft another. I was super-thrilled about this, but whether it's the after-effect of the flu or the contemplation of November's nightmarish schedule (do kids even GO to school in November anymore? And how can one month have so many social activities?), I have the blahs. The don't-wannas. The "I cleaned the bathroom so I didn't have to work"s.

Me? Mop my bathroom floor? That's pretty crazy. Although it's actually linked to the social-events thing. There comes a point in time when you just can't subject guests to your bathroom any longer, and our bathroom was beyond that point.

All right. There's only one thing to do. And that's drink so much caffeine I transform into a Writing She-Hulk. Raaaawrr!!!!