Monday, May 31, 2010

"Peace Signs" up at Crossed Genres!

Get a blast of awesome fiction over at Crossed Genres! My story "Peace Signs" is making an appearance in their "Gadgets & Artifacts" issue. The gadget in question is a pretty cool one ...

So run out there and read it and tell me what you think!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will work for bird seed

This is going to be a great summer. I'm really looking forward to a nice flexible schedule of editing and story production. And more importantly, feeding the neighborhood pests.

In case you haven't noticed, I love critters. Anything smaller with bright shiny eyes is a life form I can not resist. On the other hand, we're not allowed to have pets. For me, this is a special kind of torment, only ameliorated by an abundance of plants and a developing library devoted to bird watching. Things have also been a lot better since we got the bird feeder.

We used to primarily get swallows at the feeder, but lately a juvenile scrub jay has become rather territorial about it. I miss the swallows, but this guy is so funny and cheeky, I've grown attached to him. In fact, I've named him Gobbler. He loves nothing more than to stand on the feeder's roof, stretching out his wings and screaming his claim for the whole neighborhood to hear. When he sees one of us, he usually looks a touch embarrassed by his behavior.

For Mothers Day, my sweet family purchased a squirrel feeder as a gift. So far, this adorable device has seen zero squirrel action, but oddly enough, since it's arrival a squirrel has taken to eating from our bird feeder. We never used to get squirrels--that's why we got a squirrel feeder. Weird. But this little gal is so incredibly cute, I can't seem to mind her confusion. There is pretty much nothing more adorable than a squirrel looking up at you, her bright eyes gleaming and her nose covered in seeds. It's like a squee on four legs.

Of course, Gobbler is a little upset by the furry intruder. I watched him get his foot get caught in the auxiliary bird feeder (a wire mesh suet number) this morning, and after he pulled himself free, take a grumpy stance on top of the big front yard light. He squawked at the squirrel and beat his wings. The squirrel, cruelly enough, showed no concern.

If this rivalry continues all summer, I'm in for some serious entertainment. I'll also break the bank buying chow for these bottomless garden invaders. So if you've got any spare birdseed, feel free to send it my way. I could use it!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What NOT to do for stinky shoes

My shoes smell like cat piss.

I have no idea how this happened. It's not like we have a cat. It's not like I go around making cats pee on my walking shoes. But yet, here they are, reeking of urine. Cat urine. Ewww. I even washed them, hoping to get the horrible stench out. This afternoon I learned that it didn't work.

I noticed a little bit of a funk when I picked them up from their drying position in front of the baseboard heater, but I wasn't too concerned. I was more worried about getting them ready to wear--my poor old clogs were in need of a break, and honestly, sometimes a girl just wants her sneakers. I tossed them in the dryer and hoped for the best.

I don't know what it is about our dryer, but it hates drying tennis shoes. Who knew? Apparently there's a sensor that makes the dryer turn off when it believes all the items are dry. It's a safety feature designed to prevent fires. Or maybe to drive the desperate owners of wet sneakers crazy as they run up and down the stairs, starting and restarting the damn machine. I'd hear the tell-tale thumping of drying shoes stop, and then race downstairs, eagerly throw open the dryer door and breathe in a good long whiff of hot cat pee. Refreshing. And disappointing for many reasons, not least that the shoes were still clammy and I had only twenty-five minutes left before I needed to run out the door.

More serious measures were definitely in order. I went for two stand-bys: tea tree oil and the oven. Nothing dries things faster than a few minutes in a 250 degree oven, right? And nothing wipes out bad smells like a dash of tea tree oil.

I suppose I'm just lucky the damn things didn't melt or catch on fire. With three minutes left to go, I pulled them, steaming, from the oven. They were still soggy. And now the unmistakable aromas of cat piss AND tea tree oil billowed out of the oven.

And I thought cat pee smelled bad.

I crammed my feet into my still-damp Danskos and jogged outside. I had only two hopes as I hurried to pick up The Midget from her playdate. First, that the smell hadn't clung to me. And second: that I could score an invitation to dinner. How would we be able to eat in a house that stank like ours?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Naught Monday

I'm forcing myself to take 2 weeks off before tackling the tidying and brainstorming phases of the 2nd draft of this book (2nd draft almost feels like a misnomer--maybe a better phrase would be draft 1.1). The goal is to create some cool short stories. It feels like summer vacation.

Is there anything better than giving yourself the license to write whatever you want to write? For the last several months, every good idea has been noted down and put on the back burner to wait forlornly for that day when the novel would stop being the center of my universe. Now it's finally on the back burner, and let me tell you, the short stories are clamoring for attention.

Let me tell you, I love short stories. They're emotional. They're intense. They pin you inside their world and then spit you out raw and unready for your ordinary life. If I could get away with writing all short stories, all the time, I probably would.

Unfortunately, there's this part of my brain that loves novels, too, and keeps thinking about writing them. I'm sure I like this part of my brain. I don't think it understands that in a novel, there will be middles. And story arcs. And pages and pages of development. All of that takes freaking forever to write!

Yes, I love instant gratification. Glad I've got a healthy serving of it coming my way this week!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brain rock

I took a notebook to the coffee shop the other day and did some extreme brain storming. I came up with a raft of short story ideas and three (maybe four!) potential book ideas.

Too bad I couldn't brainstorm any great plans for eliminating the need for sleep ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How about them beans!

On Tuesday, we had a bit of a family reunion. One of my aunts, who lives in Arkansas and whom I've only met a few times, came out west to visit, and my other aunt and one cousin drove her (and her husband) down to the Portland area so she could see my sisters and I.

It was a very nice evening. We all had some good chats and good food, but the surprise treat of the evening was the distribution of a few family heirlooms. I had the good fortune to receive a pitcher, just like the one in the picture above. Mine also came with a lid, which is flat and yellow and sits quite nicely on the ceramic rim of the container.

Most people would probably use this gizmo as pitcher for pancake batter, but my intrepid great-grandmother used this as her bean-soaking vessel. I wonder how many batches of beans began in this little crock. I wonder how many more will be made. It seems like a small container for a big farm family, but for my crew, this would make the perfect batch.

This ovenware dish will never be worth a lot of money. It's not a fancy or particularly unusual piece of pottery. But it is probably close to sixty years old. And it has seen so much! My great-grandmother was a farm-wife in Aroostook County, Maine. My aunt Nancy took the crock with her to Arkansas at some point after my great-grandmother died. And now it's been passed on to me, here in Oregon. From potato farm to suburbia to the city of Portland; from World War II to 2010--if that pitcher could talk, it would have quite the stories for us.

And they would all be centered around the humble, economical, filling and delicious bean.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Magic is real & it is happening to me

6 years ago, a woman sat down to write a novel. She was a single parent with no job, who had returned to the tiny town of Gardiner, Oregon, to live with her mother while experiencing the most crushing sense of panic and hope of her entire life.

No, this is not J.K. Rowling's story. This is my story. It is a story that includes six months as a house-sitter (sponging utilities off my very kind middle sister), a year sponging off my mother, a year sponging off my oldest sister, six months folding laundry to pay my student loan and an idea that wouldn't go away: that I was meant to be a writer. So, close to two years ago, preparing to begin coursework to become a certified Waldorf teacher, I had an epiphany. I realized that I could continue struggling to find a decent-paying job that would swallow my heart and soul, or I could try to become a real writer.

I spent three days in mourning. Then I put my nose to the grindstone, and within a few weeks, I'd made my first short story sale.

Well, today, I'm happy to announce that I've made my first PRO sale. See that book cover at the top of this post? I'm one of the "many more."

Me. A chick who just a few short years ago was filling out paperwork for public health insurance and food stamps. A chick who was prepared to work at her fairly unremarkable retail job for the entire rest of her life if that meant giving herself a chance to write just one one good story.

It's not like I've made a six-figure salary and retired from the day job. But when I heard that my words could be in a book with words from personal writing heroes like Peter S. Beagle & Neil Gaiman, I felt pretty damn good about quitting that teacher training program. Now I know I've written at least one good story.

And I'm just getting started.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stomach puts its foot down

I've been hit by some serious life lessons the last few weeks, and the biggest lesson of all is that I have got to pick up some better stress-management skills.

The last week has been a little more exciting than I like. I heard back on a submission--the editor liked the story and might be able to use the piece if I was willing to make some revisions. I got extremely excited, wracked my brain, and whipped up the changes. I sent them out. Then I wondered if I had put pins and needles on my desk chair and checked my email four times in the next fifteen minutes, wondering if the darn thing had actually gone through.

Wednesday, I heard back from the editor (a person punctual, kind, encouraging and extremely enjoyable to work for!). The piece had been accepted! This was such exceptionally good news that I began cry. I spent the night alternating the urge to sob and the urge to profoundly vomit.

Thursday I was still wound tight. My stomach knotted itself into a ball I could palpate. It felt like a small woman's fist, pushing against my skin. I kept trying to calm down--after all, this was good news. I should be a little more reasonable about thing. I also felt extremely exhausted. I think my adrenal glands blew themselves out and were desperate for a recharge.

After two days of dragging along, I woke up today with a sore throat and feeling miserable. I went to work anyway. It was apparent that the germs I'd been fighting off had taken hold in my worn-out system, and by noon, all hell (or at least all stomach!) had broken loose. Luckily, my supervisor sent me home and I crashed for about five hours.

But how stupid is all this? I've basically been unable to get anything done and missed out on several hours of much-needed wages because I can not make myself unwind when I get too over-stimulated. So it's obvious that I need some skills, some tips, some ... something!

Anyway, more than happy to see some wisdom hit the comments here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Falling in with a good crowd

You guys, there is just so much exciting stuff going on in my life that I almost don't know where to start! Yesterday's one-line entry was pretty symptomatic of the zippy energy shooting around in my body. It's making it really hard for me to concentrate on ANYTHING, not just blogging. But I hope to knuckle down and settle down.

Part of the incredible excitement is the wave of awesome friend-power that's been rocking my personal boat. I have gotten to know such an amazing assortment of people lately that it is almost mind-blowing. From the parents of The Midget's buddies to my online writing crew to my amazing work buddies, I feel like I have found a group of people whose support is lifting me over the rough spots of life. It's a real blessing.

This year, in part because of the great encouragement from my Seshat tribe-mates, I've written and submitted half a dozen stories that are all significantly better than anything I've ever produced before. And I've worked my way through the first draft of a novel that is much, much more solid than any previous book. I can't believe how much good stuff is coming off of my keyboard.

It's really hard to believe that I've only met ONE of my writing buddies, the unbelievably amazing Sandra Wickham. (She is also single-handedly trying to curb my manic consumption of unhealthy baked goods. This woman is like a super-hero.) But things just might change! There's a chance--a really big chance now!--that I'm going to go to World Fantasy 2010!! I hadn't planned to go after the big intercontinental WHC blow-out, but I managed to be so thrifty on that trip that I think I can probably afford it.

Wow. I am getting so excited I think I have to blast some Lady G and dance like a maniac!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Whoah ...

Some nights you just have to revel in the joy of the world we live in.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I hug spotted owls

I just chased a cat off my doorstep after it behaved in a most intolerable manner: it started nibbling on my mint plant. This was after it had already spooked my most regular visitor to the bird feeder, a blue jay who will warily let me get within five feet of it, and whom I've named Gobbler. (He eats a lot.)

I spent yesterday afternoon playing catch-up in my garden, and it was much needed. I usually head out to my containers--we don't have an in-ground garden, merely about a dozen planters Sweetie-Pie has built, discovered or bought--in about mid-February. At that time of year, I mulch, I clear, I dream. I usually get everything organized for some extreme seedling work in March, when I turn stacks of egg cartons into soggy make-shift greenhouses. But this year, I've been so focused on writing that I've neglected the garden.

This is strange for me, because nature is the touchstone of my creative world. From a toddlerhood spent on a farm, believing the animals were just extensions of my family, to a childhood hiking in the woods and falling in love with plants, I loved every living creature. It was hard to be a sensitive kid quite certain that trees were sentient, magical creatures when I lived in a region supported almost entirely by logging, lumber processing and paper mills. It was even harder in the 90s, when the entire West Coast was rocked by clashes between the timber industry and ecology activists. If you've read The Legacy of Luna, Julia Butterfly Hill's story of a tree-sit in this incredibly heated time, you have a sense of the entire region's tension and raw emotion.

I think growing up like that really colored my life. For one, I spent the last ten years fascinated by green progress and activism. I've been in my share of protests and letter-writing campaigns--enough to make me a little bit cynical and a lot exhausted. I'm a composter, gardener, and hankie-user. And when I write, I write things that, obviously or not, refer to nature. For example, "Peace Signs," the piece I keep bragging about, comes out of all the hysteria of those early 90s times. Especially living as close to Eugene as we did, there was a sense that the ecology nuts would do anything to win. They didn't care who they hurt or what collateral damage they inflicted to kick timber industry ass. (Obviously, I'm just describing what I thought I heard and understood as a child. I'm not actually condemning anyone who fights for the environment.) Deep down, I always wondered what would happen if they did--and that story is set in the world of that wonderment.

Another writing issue I have is that when I write about magic, it's usually an earth-based magic. I don't have much interest in other kinds. (Well, okay, unless you're talking about evil blood-magic, drawn out after midnight by the light of candles made from the fat of a hanged man ... bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!) I'm wrapping up the final draft of a story that's about earth-magic users, and I'm loving it. In fact, I love it enough I think I've gotten an idea for another book! Now, if I could just come up with a plot to go with the set-up...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sumptuous Saturday!

WeFiNoMo is taking a slow-down while I deal with the reflux of unfinished business. I did manage 600-ish words last night and hope to pound out a good chunk tonight. Ugggggh. I am getting very, very close to the end of the first storyline, so it's getting pretty intense. Once I wrap up these ten or so scenes, I will have completed the entire storyline--I'm calling it the first draft and doing a dance! The 2nd POV storyline will get woven in during the 2nd draft/revision process.

Today turned into a Sumptuous Saturday, not because I cooked (ummmn, I did run the blender to create a smoothie for our dinner of cereal ... which Sweetie-Pie got out of the cupboard), but because I ate some amazing food.

Sweetie-Pie made his traditional Saturday of fried eggs, toast & potatoes, with his usual magic touch. But we have a new hot sauce I found at the food co-op that transforms a regular over-easy egg into pure deliciousness.

For lunch, we had burritos at Laughing Planet, where I enjoyed my favorite burrito, the Che Guevara. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out. It's loaded with sweet potatoes, plantains, black beans & some kind of magical sauce I am hopelessly addicted to.

For giggles, we stopped in at the Bipartisan Cafe for pie. I've been eager to try them since they opened, like 3 years ago. And I am happy to say--it's true. Their pie is amazing. Also, they have 8 or 9 pies to choose from at any point in time. The good news is that they're about 55 blocks away from our house and it's up-hill both ways. Otherwise I would just break down and buy a caftan right now in preparation for the fat-fest to come.

A special shout-out today to my friend Christie. She is my very own personal trainer in the writing fitness world, and without her, I would be a lazy, neurotic, ball of flab. I am so glad Twitter brought her in to my life!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Peace Signs

So earlier this week, I got some great news! My story "Peace Signs"--my second-ever science fiction piece!--was accepted for the June issue of Crossed Genres. I'm really excited. I've fallen in love with Crossed Genres over the past few months (their theme-of-the-month style really works for my brain) and even have a subscription, so getting to work with them is a real treat.

Something that's been on my mind today is confidence--confidence in your work, confidence in yourself. It's not easy to find, and as a writer, it's easy to burn a lot of emotional energy looking for validation. The terrible thing about working in such a subjective field is that you can't trust other people's acceptance or rejection of your efforts. You can write a terrific story, but if the editor you submit it to has reached the end of their tolerance for zombie tales, you're not going to get the warm response you're dreaming about. Or maybe you send a mediocre story to an editor who is so desperate to see a zombie story that she snaps up a piece that you know, deep-down, isn't your best work. You feel crappy, no matter what.

The more you rely on others to tell you if you're any good, the more you second-guess your efforts. The only thing you can do, as a writer, is focus on your love of creation and the knowledge that if you are working hard, you will get better every day. Maybe just a tiny, immeasurable bit better, but still, a bit better every day. You can trust in that. And you know, no matter how bad you started out, if you keep improving at that snail's pace, someday you will be good.

I don't know if I'll ever be a great writer. The odds are high that I'm not going to be my generation's Ray Bradbury. But I can work hard to uncover the best word-smith I have buried inside of me.

And who knows? Maybe she's not half bad.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Act 4

Jeez. While things are going pretty well on the WeFiNoMo front, I'm more than a little nervous about wrapping up the first draft of this story. Right now, it's not very long. In fact, it's not much bigger than a novella. How the hell do people write those 100,000 word behemoths?? They must think in much grander terms than I do.

As much as I love working on novels--I get so attached to the characters and the settings; it's like living in your own universe for a few months--I miss writing short stories, and I can't wait to wrap up this book so I can focus on short fiction for a little while. There is something extremely mechanical about building a novel. There's a beginning that sets up the action, a middle that compounds the trouble, and an ending that wraps everything up neatly. I hate middles. They seem so forced. I'm even struggling with the novels I'm READING lately, because I just can't stand the can of troubles the poor characters are forced to open up and chow down.

Short fiction doesn't have that trouble. You pretty much leap straight into disaster and just kick your way through the monsters. I'm becoming more and more in love with short fiction every day.


In the meantime, I've got a book to finish. And as much as I like complaining about it, I'm beginning to have these clinging, whining fears of finishing it. After all, I love my heroine. Finishing her story kind of finishes ... her. As exciting as the climax of Act 4 will be, there's something funereal about closing up the piece.

Until the rewrites. ;)

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Gotten a bit sidelined on the blogging the last few weeks! Lots of family stuff going on and distracting me--between anniversaries and birthdays, it's been busy around here. But more importantly, it's time for WeFiNoMo: Wendy Finishes Novel Month.

I've been seriously struggling with this project, not because I don't enjoy it, but because I've been trying to achieve a lot with it, and I think I've been over-thinking the drafting. So I'm going to shift into NaNoWriMo-style drafting, the kind of writing that is mad and messy and full of ugly.

I've resisted this kind of writing because editing has been such a painful experience the last few years, but honestly, it's the only way I'm going to reach the end of this thing. I tend to get insanely freaked out about word count (honestly, I doubt I'll ever write a 100,000 word novel; I am a short novel kind of gal) and then I freeze up and don't write anything. I told myself I would power through to the end of the story as I know it and on the second draft, I will look for other threads of conflict I can weave into the project.

Of course, the second I gave myself this permission, I thought of a thread and immediately wanted to go play with it, but I frowned firmly and got back to work. DONE, first and foremost. Play, later.

On the amazing plus side, the other night I had a random burst of inspiration on a novel I wrote two years ago. I powered through Nanowrimo, looked at the 50,010 words I'd written and became convinced I'd never do anything else with this story. And then things just collided in my brain while I was taking a shower. I might just have a pretty sweet urban fantasy on my hands when I get done.

Now I'm really excited to have a summer project and I'm doubly eager to get done with this book's first draft. I wish it had taken me less than 5 months to finish this project, but I'm glad I'm getting there!