Saturday, March 28, 2009

Holy hell

That was a fast turn-around. My Macbook is already back from the shop (and would've been back yesterday if I'd had an opportunity to get out to the Apple store). Along with some other minor repairs, they replaced the hard drive, logic board, heatsink, and top inner case. Because Sophie was still covered under an AppleCare plan through August, the whole process was free. The logic board replacement alone would've run me $1200 otherwise, so the whole shebang would easily have cost more than the laptop and extended care plan combined. AppleCare plan: good idea.

I'm currently piecing together my writing folders again. The majority of the files I'm retrieving come from emails I sent to friends, which makes me so glad I'm an extrovert with my writing. The most recent file for my current novel WIP is from just a couple weeks ago, which is fine since the headway I've made in that has all been in my notebook. The big losses are the revisions - Sixth (novel #1) has lost a very difficult chapter, and Core (novel #2) is back to its second draft, all the notes and half-finished scenes gone because those were in the Scrivener files that were only backed up on the old hard drive. I should be upset by the setback, but instead I'm kind of looking forward to revising those projects again. What I'll really miss is my photo library. I had so many pictures of my dog in there, you guys.

Kiah and I went to see The Haunting in Connecticut today, so there's a chance I may not sleep tonight. Maybe I'll stay up and get some writing done instead.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sketchy and then some

The weekly sketch, Dorin and Qui:
Dorin would be easy to babysit. You just say, "So, Dor, what do you know about frogs?" and she'll entertain herself for three hours drawing crayon diagrams to show you all she knows about frogs.

And the trailer that salvaged my week:

This book was a staple bedtime story at my house when I was a kid. Seeing it translated into live-action so beautifully makes my inner child so, so happy. And I'm not the only one - there is already talk of people at my work arranging a trip to see the movie on opening day, even though it's not out until October.

Also, I may be doing a knit-along with work-friend Kate, both of us knitting hoodies based on Max's monster suit. I'm thinking an Elizabeth Zimmerman cardigan design with an added hood and the ends of the sleeves adapted into fingerless mitts, like on Max's suit in the movie.

Childish glee abounds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

Once there was a girl who didn't backup her files regularly enough. She used her laptop to store all of her stories and digital paintings, photos and tax information, music and videos, for two and a half years. Whenever she updated her current manuscript on the laptop, she also saved it to a flash drive, and every once in a great while she emailed herself her current work-in-progress files as well.

One day, this girl (who worked in tech support and really should have known better, CRIPES) needed to backup files from a friend's computer she was reformatting, so she dumped her backups onto the desktop of her laptop. And then she forgot to put them back on the flash drive.

Two weeks later, her laptop's hard drive made clicking noises, seized up, and died. It died so hard that no one in the IT department could even get a computer to recognize it as a drive, and this girl lost two and a half years of digital artwork, photos, and accumulated music and videos. Her current novel had been backed up by email only one scene ago, but the two revisions she had on the back burner lost months of work, and numerous story beginnings and school documents were gone.

And to make it more interesting, let's say there was also a man with a hook for a hand involved. He can be the Apple store guy who took the laptop in for service.

SURPRISE TWIST ENDING: That girl is me! I know, you never would've guessed, right? Yeah. So. I, uh... I kinda deserved this. I must have cotton balls in the "Backup your data, stupid!" part of my brain, because this is the dumbest technology-related thing I've ever done.

On the plus side, a couple of good things have come of my massive, bone-headed data loss. My boss has convinced me to try Dropbox, which both backs up data online and syncs it between any computers connected to the account - a nifty new toy. I'll also now be forced to redo parts of my revisions that I wasn't 100% happy with. And in scrambling around for copies of my WIP, I found a version that includes a scene I thought I'd lost. A scene that starts with the line "So, you're kind of a slut, right?" It's not integral to the plot and will likely get cut during revision for that reason, but it's one of my favorite things I've written this book.

Anyway, yes. Back up your data, kids. Don't let the realization that you only lost 90% of your creative projects be the high point of your day.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Adventures in writing

Adventures in my household aren't terribly grand. This is partly because we're mostly homebodies, and partly because Kiah and I - the usual adventuring duo - are way too easily entertained. For instance, this weekend we planned an adventure like so:

Me: "I've got a gift card for Cafe Latte. Let's go eat gourmet sandwiches and write!"

Kiah: "But I don't know what to write about."

Me: "Well, then, we'll just pretend to be pretentious writers! I'll wear my beret. We can pull out our notebooks and talk about the great symbolism we've got going and how our ideas are going to change the world."

Kiah: "I'll wear my hipster hat and write fanfiction!"

Me: "I'll write about psychic powers and my drunk narrator!"

And a couple hours of bus detours later, we're sitting in an upscale cafe, wearing hats and scribbling in our notebooks, occasionally giggling because we wrote the word sex in public. Like I said, easily entertained. And not very good at being pretentious, either. But hey, I finished another scene I'd been stuck on, and I ate some damn good cake in the process.

In other writing news, I heard back from Clarion today. I'm on the waitlist. While I'm thrilled that the admission board liked my work, this wasn't a scenario I had considered - I planned for an acceptance/rejection situation, and now I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. Since I now won't know if I'm going to the workshop until as late as June, I guess I'll budget like I'm in, plan my writing projects like I'm not, and distract myself with spinning, woodburning, and SciFi Channel original movies.

But still, any email from the Clarion admissions board saying they were "impressed by your work" is a good email, even if it has a but in the middle of it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A brief interlude of not-projects

How to give a muppet-dog his spring haircut in 10 easy steps

1. Identify the dog who needs a shave.
Yeah, that's the one.

2. Situate him on the kitchen table.

3. Test out the new dog clippers by giving the muppet-dog a Friar Tuck 'do.
4. Shave him partway.

5. Let him down off the table for a break and a treat; laugh as he skitters around the house in his hair-skirt.

6. Wrestle him onto his back to finish the shave.

7. Call in roommate to assist with dog wrestling, as dog has developed sudden anti-shaving superpowers.

8. Finish shaving the dog.
9. Clean up the resulting hair monster.
10. Spend five minutes laughing at the muppet-dog's stupid looking tail.
Now you have a naked elderly terrier. Congratulations!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Writing + Knitting = The Novel Knits Project

Writing and knitting are complimentary activities. This is one of the things that drew me to knitting in the first place - it keeps my hands busy while my brain is off in story space. If I've got nothing to do with my hands while I'm plotting, I end up losing focus and, say, spending 45 minutes looking at affordable hovels on the MLS website. So in a weird way, knitting - distracting and life-consuming as it is - helps me focus on writing.

In August when I started working on my current novel, I started thinking of ways to tie the two activities together in a meaningful way. The resulting idea was a long-term project with three rules:
  • Each novel I write will be assigned a knitting project.
  • While I'm knitting that, I need to be focused mentally on the novel.
  • The knitting project should suit the novel in some way.
I've been looking forward to this for months, partly because of the first pairing I had planned: my current novel, Sum, and Meg Swanson's Saddle-Shouldered Aran Cardigan. Sum is the third and final novel in a fantasy series I've been working on since I was fourteen. This series is what made me want to be a writer in the first place, and over the last ten years it's become a huge part of my life. I'll miss it deeply once it's over. So it makes sense to make myself something woolly and comforting to snuggle into for comfort when that day comes.

Remember that rule about the knitting suiting the writing? These projects go together better than I expected.

Both are complex, do-it-yourself deals I never would've dreamed I could get away with when I started in these crafts. Sum interweaves loads of plotlines, uses multiple POVs, tackles subjects I'm not used to, involves major world-building, and brings a story that started out as a lonely boy with strange abilities into the epic fantasy level. (Hopefully, I can do all this successfully.) The sweater pattern is cables upon cables in a style I've never knit before, working from a two-page pattern that throws some basic guidelines at you and leaves you on your own with a tape measure and calculator.

Both are slight variations on the traditional form they're imitating. Sum treads into epic fantasy territory, but instead of swords and sorcery, my characters are packing mp3 players, psychic powers, and a desire to get this over with so they can get back to drinking and schoolwork. The battle soundtrack is Queen, not Howard Shore. Meanwhile, I'm making an aran sweater out of non-traditional (bright fucking blue!) yarn and inventing my own cable pattern for the back.

Both also scare the crap out of me. Finishing Sum closes an era in my life. I don't know what will happen to these characters I've lived with for the last decade once I've stopped writing them, nor do I know how that will change me. I've been dragging my feet in writing the book because of this. The sweater for Sum, appropriately, has steeks. If that word doesn't make your stomach plummet into your shoes, either you're a far braver knitter than I or you don't knit. For non-knitters, steeks mean this: you reinforce your fabric and then cut your knitting apart. With scissors. Yes, "Augh" is the correct response.

And if that wasn't enough parallels, the sweater also has a giant cabled tree up the back, meant to remind me of the giant non-yarny tree where the climax of this book will play out.

I cast-on the Sum Sweater this weekend.
About three inches in, and the scene I've been stalled in is finally over.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sketchy - happy Tiern circa book 3

While the dude I posted last week never stops looking cheerful, it's rare that my protagonist comes out in sketches with a smile on his face.
I've spent entirely too much time writing first-person from this kid's POV. Drawing him smiling puts me in a good mood immediately.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Things to do instead of writing - #2

Set the Tivo wish list to retrieve programs with the keyword "bears."

The Tivo will fetch you scads of bear-related shows. Bears featured on nature shows. Shows about baby bears. Multiple "a bear ate my face" type specials! And all these are fantastic, because bears are fun and badass, even on baby bear shows.

But Tivo will also fetch you "The Bear Man of Kamchatka," a BBC Natural World special about Charlie Russell, a bear expert who raises orphaned bear cubs to survive in the Russian wild. You'll watch Charlie raise his two new bear cubs, protect them from predator male bears, and teach them to fish, and they'll grow from itty bitty baby bears into massive fuzzy creatures. Then one of the babies will be eaten by a predator male, and the other will wander off into the wilds too far from Charlie's camp, and the narrator will say, "Charlie says goodbye to Andy, knowing that the cub is going where he can't follow," and you'll sit on the couch with your hands over your face, going, "I will not cry over bears I will not cry over bears I will not cry over bears."

Yeah, good luck with that. You big girl.

Stupid bears.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bookalanche 2009

At the start of 2009, I put myself on a book diet. Outside of class reading and knitting pattern books, I'm limiting myself to the books that are currently shelved in a designated "To Be Read" area in my room. For every two books that leave this space - finished, returned to owner, or gifted away - I can pick up one new book or reread an old favorite. At the end of this year, anything from the original list still remaining in this section will be re-homed with someone who'll actually read it.

Why so strict? Well, starting off 2009, I had 40 unopened books shelved in the To Be Read section. More than half of them are from undergrad. Some are even from high school.

So, deepest apologies to anyone who tries to loan me a book and gets brushed off mid-sentence with a "LA LA LA NOT LISTENING." Try again in 2010. Until then, here's what I'm trying to tackle.

Bookalanche 2009 Current Stats:

Borrowed Books (10, down 2):

Sandman vol. VI Fables and Reflections - Neil Gaiman
Sandman vol. VII Brief Lives - Neil Gaiman
Sandman vol. VIII Worlds' End - Neil Gaiman
Sandman vol. IX The Kindly Ones - Neil Gaiman
Sandman vol. X The Wake - Neil Gaiman
Death: The Time of Your Life - Neil Gaiman
Death: The High Cost of Living - Neil Gaiman
Sandman: The Dream Hunters - Neil Gaiman
Sandman: Endless Nights - Neil Gaiman
Magic's Pawn - Mercedes Lackey
The Bone People - Keri Hulme
Twilight - Stephenie Meyer

Books bought upon friends' recommendations (5):
The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks
World War Z - Max Brooks
Reaper Man - Terry Pratchett
Jumper - Steven Gould
Superflirt - Tracy Cox

Books I've been meaning to read since I first heard about them (7):
Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman (partially read)
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
True Talents - David Lubar (goes with the other Lubar book in the Misc section)
The Psychology of Harry Potter: an Unauthorized Examination of the Boy Who Lived - ed. Neil Mulholland, PhD
Palimpsest - Catherynne M. Valente

Books my dad gave me ages ago (3):
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller

Total impulse purchases (7):
The Traveler - John Twelve Hawks
Small Eternities - Michael Lawrence
Orbiter - Warren Ellis
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl - Barry Lyga
Five Seasons of Angel - ed. Glen Yeffeth
The Rising - Brian Keene
Dinosaur Planet Survivors - Anne McCaffrey

Books from my high school English classroom (5):
Beowulf: A New Telling - Robert Nye
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Tex - S.E. Hinton
That was then, this is now - S.E. Hinton
Rumble Fish - S.E. Hinton

Misc (3):
The Dog Years - Mark Doty (Bought for class, then it got dropped from the syllabus)
Hidden Talents - David Lubar (a reread, to get to the sequel)
You Don't Know Me - David Klass (another reread)

Total: 40, down 2

I seem to be exactly where I started. The two added books are Palimpsest and Superflirt, both of which were...well, they were cheating. But I'll start knocking books off the roster soon enough - my Apocalypses class readings will make sure of that. I need the outside reading right now, for example, to wash the taste of Cormac McCarthy's The Road out of my mind. Goodbye, bleak post-apocalyptic wasteland of death, hello hot pink flirting advice book and SE Hinton teen cowboy angst!

Ah yes, much better.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dear Daylight Savings Time: suck it.

I've had a weirdly productive weekend, especially considering the hour lost last night and the fact that I spent almost all of Saturday at Bex's birthday party.

Saturday morning, I got up early and finally finished "The Devil's Skein," a short story I promised Bex as a birthday present last year. I was a little worried giving it to her without any proofreading or editing, but her response was, "AAGGHH I love the story love it love it love it," so something must've worked anyway. It's definitely one of the most purely fun things I've written in a while - an odd little paranormal knitting romance thing involving evil yarn, illegal gambling, and a mailroom guy with a perfectly sculpted butt.

During the stitch n' bitch portion of Bex's party, I got my hands on one of her drop spindles and spun this:
Nine yards of targhee wool yarn, ranging between lace weight and super bulky. Spinning it up was like doing fluffy yarny magic, and as soon as I was finished, I was looking for more.

I'm doomed. Doomy doom doomed. One of these days, my roommates are going to come home to find me huddled in a pile of yarn and fiber, drop spindles scattered around me like heroin needles and five layers of handknit hats balanced on my head. And I'll be like, "No, no, guys, it's okay - see, I'm designing sweaters for all my characters!" and they will move out silently in the dead of night, leaving the house to be eaten by wool.

Bex sent me home with one of her drop spindles, some spare merino roving, and a book on hand spinning. This afternoon, while I was reformatting Kiah's virus-debilitated laptop, I finished spinning it into this, also a thick and thin yarn:

Then I cleaned up the kitchen and living room, got a repeat done on my Swallowtail Shawl, cast-on the second sock in a pair that's been languishing on my stash shelf for months, and still managed to fit in a trip to Super America for quality junk food and TV vegging time with Kiah.



Their battle has been raging since my roommate Abby adopted Supercat two years ago. They lay like this for almost an hour tonight. The dog didn't whine or snap the entire time, and the cat managed to refrain from using the dog's head as a whack-a-mole game. Our household is still reeling from the shock.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sketchy - Moda

I used to draw a lot. When I was a little kid, I thought I'd grow up to be a famous animator or some other type of artist (or a circus performer, or a mermaid - a girl's gotta have options). Eventually I hit eighth grade, started scribbling down story ideas for this now three-book-long fantasy thing called Sixth, and my drawings turned into character designs and illustrations.

This story effectively killed my career as an artist, and I'm not complaining. From the time I started doing character sketches, I couldn't get myself involved drawing any other subject. I tried, but there wasn't the same sense of satisfaction drawing trees or whales or setups in the art room. So in high school, I drew almost exclusively scenes and characters from this story. I learned to use colored pencils and oil paints not so I could be a better artist, but so I could more accurately portray my protagonist and his entourage.

Occasionally my art teacher made me paint wildlife. Those were not happy art days, and I still get angry whenever I see a pintail duck. But most of the time, I just churned out illustrations. In college, where I had to draw concrete things instead of images in my head, I started to lose my interest in art. Grad school has all but snuffed it out due to time constraints. Almost nothing ever gets finished. But I do sketch pretty often - almost always my characters.

I'm going to try to post some kind of sketch here once a week or so, just to keep myself drawing.

That said, here's an unfinished digital painting from late 2008:

Who d'you think you're smirking at, Moda Sams? Oh, shut up, hiking boots are a perfectly valid choice in winter footwear. At least my favorite jacket doesn't have rhinestones on it. Smirky bastard.

Baby, come back

When I'm stalled in a story, it takes a major scene change to get me involved again. In my head, the conversation between me and the story sounds like a rejected lover trying to woo back the girl. (Or, if you've been watching too many commercials lately, a dingy mop trying to woo back the blissfully happy Swiffer-having housewife.)

Story: "Oh, please come back. I need you!"

Me: "But I'm so bored with you."

Story: "But I have all these wonderful qualities! Look at my plot! Is my plot not enough for you?"

Me: "Eh, it's not that."

Story: "I've got a fist fight coming up in a few chapters."

Me: "Too little too late, sorry."

Story: "What about sticking the protagonist in a bar with his sociopath ex-bully and getting them both drunk and confessional?"

Me: "Baby, I knew there was a reason I was with you!"

And then there's a touching making up scene wherein I giggle madly over the keyboard, my characters get sloppy drunk, and I'm in love with the story all over again. Maybe I should write my characters getting drunk every time I get stalled on a chapter. That'd make for some interesting scenes (most of them to be revised out of the manuscript later). It probably wouldn't work as well for YA fantasy.

At any rate, I'm back into novel #3, and my narrator is about to start getting weepy about his existence over a girly drink. Possibly with a tiny umbrella in it. Story: redeemed.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sparkly Vampire Lovers Anonymous

Hi. My name is Nicole, and I enjoyed reading Twilight.

(Crowd: Hi, Nicole.)

This is, um. This is my first time at a SVLA meeting. I never thought I'd end up here. No offense to all of you, I just...well, the books sounded so dumb and...cripes.

I got into this the same way a lot of you did, probably - curiosity. I wanted something new, y'know? And everyone I knew who'd read Twilight either trumpeted its praises or hated it with a burning passion. There was no middle ground. So I figured, what the hell, I'd give it a try - try and figure out what other people saw in it. The good and the bad. An experiment: find the middle ground.

And for the first couple hundred pages, I was doing all right. I was safe. I didn't love it or hate it, but I could see why people did. It was cute, and the tension between the characters worked, making it a good choice for brain parsley for me. On the other hand, Stephenie Meyer writes with the kind of florid prose you find in romance novels, combined with an indecisive teenage narrator, and the two don't fit quite right. She also seems to have bribed, sweet-talked, or scared away every editor that came in contact with the manuscript, because what should have been under 300 pages was somehow allowed to sprawl into 500. And Bella leaves a Mary Sue aftertaste in the mouth and her romance with Edward is transparent wish fulfillment and the vampires sparkle in direct sunlight and play thunderstorm baseball to hide the epic noises they make hitting the ball around and...and...

And somewhere along the line, I stopped caring about how silly it was. My disbelief got suspended like socks on a clothesline, ending the experiment. I read the second half of the book in one stretch, and for hours afterwards my head was in a haze of romantic language and glitter. I contemplated taking the bus down to Barnes & Noble and using my gift card to score the second book, and maybe the third. My roommate shook her head and clamped her lips shut. My dog even seemed ashamed of me - and I mean, I read him a chapter aloud, so maybe he has reason to be, but I was caught up in the book, okay?

I still understand it, though - why people hate this book so much. The writing style, the warped vampire mythos, the characterization...and honestly, I agree with them. Twilight isn't good for me - I know this. But while reading it, I can't believe that. I just want more.

Worse, I want to defend it to people. I want to tell them that, if you can get yourself to the point of complete suspension of disbelief, it's an engrossing story. I want to tell them how every little touch between Bella and Edward is totally the embodiment of passion, and how Edward being a century-old virgin makes sense when you think about it, because vampires have life-long mates and the woman who was meant to be his shacked up with Carlisle instead. Like, duh!

And the dramatic dialogue! "Bella, we're not having this discussion anymore. I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night and that's the end of it." I imagine Edward dropping plot-heavy life statements like this in a beleaguered, parent-on-a-road-trip voice, and that makes everything he says deeply entertaining. I love Edward. I love him enough that I think any claim I had to literary dignity or ability to recommend books to people has been put in jeopardy because of it. But he's...he's...he's just so awesome.

And Bella...well, I know people hate her, but I kind of like her. She's lame and clumsy, with an awkward sense of humor. And yeah, all the boys seem to love her for no reason, but I can forgive that, because...actually, I don't know why I forgave that. But the thing I thought would bother me most - the fact that this hot vampire boy decides she's suddenly his reason to keep un-living - has a really solid reason behind it. Whenever I hear someone talking about how Edward loving Bella is so unrealistic and Mary Sue-ish, I just want to wave my hands and butt in on the conversation and be like, guys!


You just don't understand. You're missing a crucial detail here.

Bella smells really good.

But I haven't waved my arms at anyone...yet. And I'm gonna try not to. I know that's just self-destructive behavior. I certainly won't recommend the book to anyone. I couldn't do that to my friends. Oh crap, my friends. They're gonna lose all respect for me when they find out about this.

At least I have you guys, right? You understand what I'm going through.

(Crowd: murmured affirmation)

And I'm...I'm gonna try. I'm gonna try to stay clean. Admit that I've got a problem, trust in a better author for guidance, all the steps. Thank you all so much for being here. For listening. Thank you, really, from the bottom of my heart.

So, uh, does anyone know where there's a Barnes & Noble around here?

Link, he come to town

He come to save the Princess Zelda!Ganon took her away, and now the children won't play. But they will when Link saves the day!Hallelujah!

Pattern: Alexandra Tinsley's Floopy Hat
Yarn: Knit Picks Swish Worsted, held doubled

Cast-on Friday night, finished it this morning - a fun, easy knit with awesome results. Comfy, too. I had to try it on before I gave it to Andrew, and dang.

It's really difficult not to pick up a plastic sword and run heroing and "Hyah!"ing about the house while wearing that hat. I want to make myself one in blue, but I fear the repercussions of owning something so nerd-inducing. My spider plants probably wouldn't appreciate me attempting to Z-target and slash them, either.