Thursday, March 6, 2014

Another rejection

But a nice one. My story "Foretold" that everyone likes but not enough to buy, went off to the latest Tesseracts submission, after which I forgot about it and went back to struggling with Cost of Silver.

Today I got this in my email:

Thank  you for submitting "Foretold " to Tesseracts: Wrestling with  
Gods.  This topic brought out  many different authors with creative 
scifi/fantasy ideas  on our relationship to faith.  We were 
overwhelmed with the response.  We received many strong stories and 
poems, and there just  wasn't enough space in the anthology for 
everything we liked.  Unfortunately, we were not able to include yours 
in the final  selections. 

We can't stress enough how much we enjoyed your story.  It was 
incredibly well written, with a strong structure.  It almost made it 
in.  We just had trouble separating the elements connected to Greek 
Myth from original fantasy elements.  Stories selected had to be 
strong in both the faith component and the fantasy/sci-fi element. 
 Foretold was on the border. 

We do appreciate the chance to read your  submission and wish you the 
best of luck in placing it elsewhere.  We're confident it will get 
published somewhere. 

In other news, I've been taking an Olympic weightlifting class, and have been enjoying my ability to hoist 50 or so pounds above my head. I'm happy with my deadlift, and feeling more confident with the clean and jerk, but having trouble with the snatch, especially with the overhead squat portion. Front squat, back squat, no problem, but overhead squat, yes problem.
The frustrating part is that my form seems to be pretty good with a dowel, but as soon as a weighted bar or Olympic bar comes in, I can't drop to a full squat, my arms come forward, and it all goes to hell.
Which is oddly analogous to the story rejection - there's nothing actually wrong with it, it just isn't quite right.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

all this running around

I've mentioned, maybe, that I'm not terribly sad and disappointed that last year's fall and cracked tibial plateau mean I can't take up running or jogging? Even when I was young and lean (ie pre-puberty) and active, I never enjoyed thudding around the track, with a stitch in my side and my head hot and thumping in rhythm. A sprint was okay, and it turned out to everyone's surprise that I could do hurdles if I was allowed one practice run up to them first. But long runs? Nope. I have no endurance.
My history and issues around team sports and group exertion are something for another post entirely.
Still, this spring and summer I ended up being around a lot of runners, to the point of helping to marshal a race, the closest I'm likely to come to the perfect summer job of my childhood dreams, which was holding the STOP and SLOW signs on BC highway construction. (Travelling each summer as we did, I got to see a lot of well-tanned young women in reflective vests, helmets and workboots, wielding their two-sided signs and waving cars and trucks onwards or holding them back. Young females with power, tans, and kickass boots! Probably getting paid union wages!)
 Ahem.
This wasn't me myself running, of course. This was me being a supportive spouse to the actual running person in a series of 5k, 10k, and half-marathons across the Island, each one organised by a local running club.
I won't try linking to the website for the series, which was minimal and mostly useless, but the races themselves were well organised, though with a certain bias towards those who had come before and knew where things were.
The courses varied considerably in flatness and scenery, and were probably more interesting to run than to watch. Standing 1k from the start/end point of the last race, I got to see everyone run by in a fairly tight bunch, then straggle back in ones and twos.
I also got to see keeners run to the end, then trot back for 1k or so, so that they could cool down. Yikes.

I've sort of understood why my husband likes running. It's not a team sport, and it's mostly competing with yourself and your own endurance and speed. If it isn't around a track, there might even be pleasant scenery.
I hadn't previously encountered the community and support system around local running events, but it turned out to be a pretty good place to hang around. People made a point of staying at the finish line to cheer even the very last runner/walker who staggered in. For the shorter races, the finish line crowd would shout encouragingly "Sprint! Sprint!" and cheer by name.
After each race there was an assembly recognising the best runners in each age/gender category (the first ten in each, I think, which means that at 70 and older, you're pretty much guaranteed a ribbon for completing the course).  Plus the various sponsors gave out prizes, including shoes, watches, gift cards and the inevitable t-shirts.  My volunteering session of making sandwiches and slicing fruit, then marshalling, earned me a water bottle with the 'island road racers' logo, sitting beside me at the computer now, reminding me to hydrate.

It's probably a good thing I'm not allowed to run, or all this sports-related niceness might tempt me to  lose more  potential writing time in pursuit of speed as well as strength. Better to stand on the sidelines and shout "Sprint! Sprint!"

Sunday, January 5, 2014

January ice cream

It's a new year, I've had my birthday, and maybe I should prove that I haven't actually abandoned this blog? So, how about a recipe, though not a particularly seasonal one, given the heavy frost and heaved ground here, alternating with grey clouds and sleety rain.
Last summer I found a Donvier ice-cream maker on usedvictoria.com, where I have also found lots of fitness equipment, bookshelves, and other useful things. It came with a nice little recipe book, and soon I was using up frozen blackberries and blueberries from the summer before, squeezing oranges and limes, and generally filling up the freezer.
I'd made buttermilk scones, and had buttermilk left over (which I can't drink, because of the texture). Hmm, wouldn't buttermilk and butterscotch go nicely together, I thought. I bet the slight acidity of the buttermilk would balance the sweetness of the butterscotch. Let's fire up the internet and find a recipe.

Some Time Later....

I have found buttermilk ice cream recipes.
I have found butterscotch ice cream recipes.
I have found buttermilk-butterscotch sauce for ice cream.
I have found not one recipe for buttermilk-butterscotch ice cream.

Why? Would it actually taste really bad? I can't believe that. I decided to be a pioneer and make the experiment.
So, examine several buttermilk ice cream recipes, then several butterscotch ice cream recipes. Figure out which were the necessary steps, and combine them. Ice cream, fortunately, is a pretty forgiving medium. Eggs, no eggs, cream, milk, or yogurt, fruit puree, juice or whole, you generally end up with something people will eat straight out of the ice cream maker as soon as it solidifies.

This is what I came up with:
In a medium saucepan, put
1 cup brown sugar (demerara might be good too)
2 tbsp butter (real butter here, not margarine).
Simmer until the brown sugar is melted and bubbling - stir occasionally. (This is the butterscotch part.)
In the meantime, in a mixing bowl, whisk
3 egg yolks (you can use more, but I'm stingy with eggs)
1/4 cup brown sugar.
Add slowly to the saucepan
1/2 cup cream (or light cream or milk)
1 tsp vanilla (or more if you like vanilla a lot).
Stir and continue heating until any little crunchy bits of brown sugar have melted back in (though they might be nice little crunches in the ice cream, so it's up to you).
Take 2 cups buttermilk,
Pour 1/2 cup into the mixing bowl and whisk up.
Pour remainder, a little at a time, into the saucepan and mix well.
(You can try putting all the buttermilk into the saucepan instead - I wanted to dilute the yolks and avoid them cooking into lumps in the next step.)
Slowly pour the saucepan contents into the mixing bowl, whisking as you go. If you put all the buttermilk into the saucepan, apparently it helps if you pour the hot mixture along the sides of the mixing bowl rather than right into the middle. I haven't tried it.)
When it's all mixed up nicely, you can either take it straight to the fridge, or pour the lot back into the saucepan and cook it down further. I've done both, and the only difference I noticed was a darkening of the colour (but I did not do a scientific taste comparison).
Cool overnight in the fridge, covered.
Put mix into your ice cream maker and proceed as directed by your instruction manual.

And I was right. The tangy buttermilk balances the sweet toasty butterscotch very nicely. It is particularly good with a hot apple crumble. Or an apple-quince crumble as below.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the octave of the 3-Day contest

A week later and I am mostly recovered. As you may have noticed, dear reader, I was not able to post updates during the 3-Day Novel contest. That was in part because on Saturday and Sunday, my eyes were closing and my head was tipping forward by 8:30 pm, though I managed to struggle on past 9 pm.
Ah well, I told myself. I'll get an early night and start off all chipper by 5 am (my usual time of getting up). Did I? Nope, I lay slugabed until 6:30 am.
On the Monday night, when I had to chuck it in at midnight no matter what, the story (finally!) came together, I was full of caffeinated energy and could have kept going until 2 am. Instead, I forced myself to let it go at 11:30 pm, with a brief read-through.

Tuesday morning I compiled from Scrivener, emailed it to myself, and spent part of my lunch-hour trying to submit it through the Geist website. This worked better once I realised that the submission page only accepted pdf, doc, docx and odt, and re-saved the file as .doc.
Excuse me while I express astonishment that .rtf is not one of the accepted formats. What the hell?

Then there was more muddling about because I also needed to submit a signed statement from someone that I wrote the whole thing during the allotted time. Or rather, a scan of said statement, saved in one of the admissable formats, which do not include jpg.
The submission directions, by the way, were barely adapted from the hard-copy snail-mail directions, and included an admonition to not send in your only copy of your ms. because it would not be returned. It's been so long since I've seen that note; I don't think I've subbed hard-copy for  two or three years.

So. Anyways. Story.
Wordcount came out short of 15k, which is the lowest I've had, though I've never got much above 18k. Even with the old trick of expandable middle, some scenes are seriously skimped.
Saturday I started out with an exploration, discovering the setting for myself as much as for the hypothetical reader. Little Cressida wanders through the huge, ever-changing house that she has lived in for as long as she remembers. She needs to find someone who will listen to her news:  that she has seen a stranger--a young boy--in the untended gardens. The others who are usually present in the house are the cook, Betta, and the librarian (never named). The other she doesn't know about is Granda, the old woman spinning in the topmost tower. Granda dreams of a dance on the eve of war, and waking sees the smoke of battle and destruction from her high window.
Sunday I picked up the boy's storyline, making him a refugee from an internment camp with traumatic memories of escape. I also inserted segments of two undergrad girls discussing the Heroine's Journey and its application to fiction. I'd meant to have them discussing what was happening in the story, but somehow the talk wouldn't go that way--it felt too blatant, so I went for echoes instead, discussing the books that inspired aspects of the storyline, like The Secret Garden, The Princess and the Goblins, and Gormenghast.
This is where the absence of an outline really hit me. I knew in a vague way that Cressida needed to go through the house, with different rooms providing experiences--a choice of fates or paths--that would take her through the heroine's journey, and that the boy would take different roles in each of them, such as brother, consort, opponent, child. But I couldn't get them started. I set up the scenes in Scrivener, but other than a confrontation with the Sphinx and a ballroom scene, they were barely sketched, and I couldn't get enough of a picture in my head to do the in-media-res opening that I usually do when I don't know what's going to happen (it saves me the work of figuring out how they got there in the first place, which in this case would be by opening a door).
Monday I could see the ending. Cressida, charged with closing off the paths/doors that connected the house with the world, so that it would be protected from the war that was engulfing said world, decides that she won't close off the last one, which is where the boy Alph had come through, because if the house didn't provide a refuge, at whatever risk, it would wither. But how to get there?
Mark, when I went downstairs to whinge, pointed out that I usually wrote the ending Monday afternoon, and why didn't I do that now and see if the middle came in after that. So I did--and the ending expanded, because once Cressida (now about 20 yrs old, as both children grew up in the course of the journey, time being flexible in the house) understood what Alph had come from, she couldn't just let it go. So there was a rescue and escape of those in the internment camp, which I tried to play low-key so that the kinda-magic-realism story wasn't overtaken by an action movie.
Then I whipped back and started filling in the interior journey, full of caffeinated energy (non-decaf coffee supplied by supportive husband, thank you) but time was ticking on, and at 11:30 I had to accept that I wasn't going to finish the fill-in to my satisfaction.

What with low wordcount and skimpy middle, I doubt this one will hit the shortlist. I might take the concept and mess around with it some more, maybe for Nanowrimo. But I can't do Nanowrimo until the Cost of Silver revision is done.
So, back to the salt mines of revision I go.

Friday, August 30, 2013

ideas in the blender

The 3-Day Novel Contest looms above me, scarcely an hour away. In other time zones, 3-Dayers are scribbling happily away, having started as the stroke of midnight wavered away to echoes. But I'm going to go to bed right after this blogpost, and start fresh in the morning. I'm too old for those all-nighters.

What with one thing and another, I haven't done any outlining, research, character creation or, well, anything. The most I can say is that the house is well stocked with Healthy Snacks, veggies to take for lunches, oatcakes and scones and such. And tea. There's lots of tea.
In desperation, I'm pulling out a number of half-formed ideas, themes, tropes, characters, situations and images that I've meant to do something with at various times, but which never gelled.

-The decaying Gothic (or carpenter Gothic) mansion or castle, with unnumbered rooms
-An old woman with memories unstuck in time
-A neglected young girl in an empty house
-The heroine's journey, encountering avatars of the masculine (I've joked about this before - the Mary Sue's Journey).

So I'll see if something comes together from this. It's likely to be a Big Bag of Tropes, so I may throw in interludes with undergrad students discussing symbolism and motifs if I can remember enough of the jargon from my two years of English lit.
Now I'll go to be and hope that I dream a good opening scene. If I can work the Lovecraftian archaeology dream into this, I will.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cyclopean dreams

Warning! The following blog post contains references to a dream that I had, though I attempt to avoid a full narration of it, because other people's dreams are boring.

I can tell that I've been away from steady writing for over a week, because my dreams are getting more complex and plotty and the sets are more elaborate. When I'm writing every day (as I should) my dreams are more fragmentary and disconnected. Or at least I remember them that way. The other night my dream segued from a jumble of recent events into something fairly plotty, with impressive matte-painting sets.
The setting was an archaeological dig along the ridges of sharp mountains, with dozens of small teams excavating particular areas. I was part of a three-person team, two dark and dour scholars (male and female) and one fair and lively one (female). All three were in their twenties and had been involved with each other in ways that caused underlying tension during the dig. They worked in a hollow of crumbling earth (presumably once fertile but now barren) set amidst sharp rocks that rose up like a spiked crown around them. They must have been close to the top of the ridge, because they could look across and down at the other teams scraping away.
The excavation was of a long-gone city, and it was becoming clear that the builders had not been human (size and shape of doorways, etc.). The life of the city had abruptly stopped; there was no evidence that the builders had migrated or resettled, and it was unclear what had caused the change.
Our team had unearthed a cache of small oval objects, about the size to fit in your hand, and had laid them on a tarp below their site. My dream-character then had her own dream, in which she understood that these objects were eyes, open eyes lying there helplessly, and it would be a terrible thing if dirt fell into them. She got up and moved the tarp to a safer place, and began cleaning the objects. This activated one to display a stored memory--like a film, but surrounding the viewer rather than in two dimensions.
The memory was of several non-human, vaguely octopodish creatures playing a game that was oddly similar in look to Oranges and Lemons. The two tallest picked up the smallest (which my character understood to be the youngest, although it looked much more like a fat starfish than an octopod) and held it up between them while the middle-sized ones processed under it, singing.
It all seemed very happy and homey, until they paused and 'looked' up. The song changed and was understandable as 'He is coming'. The octopod-people rolled up and shrank into the eye-objects, and my character understood that they stopped themselves to freeze the moment so that He never arrived.
Looking down across the excavation site, she realised that all the teams had stopped what they were doing, and were looking up as the octopod-people had. At her feet, the eyes were extruding little feelers from one end, like sea-anenomes tentatively opening, and 'He is coming' was singing across the mountains.

I woke up then, thinking how Lovecraftian that was, then fell asleep again and dreamed of a zombie outbreak at an airport.
Maybe my subconscious is reminding me that the 3-Day Novel Contest is almost here and I don't have a plot, characters, or opening scene yet?


Sunday, June 16, 2013

thinking about other stories

I've been trying to figure out whether the lure of other stories (ie. stories by me that aren't Cost of Silver) is a distraction or a relief. I used to work on two or three stories at a time, working on one file until I ran dry or wrote myself into a corner, then saving it and pulling out another. This year it's been pretty much working on Cost of Silver, then mucking about uselessly on the internet, too tired to produce anything useful like a blog post or another story.
I wonder sometimes whether I'd have more energy for writing if I wrote other things, or whether I'd just be wasting the energy that I do have. Theoretically, if I needed a break / change, I could just work on another scene or the other storyline of CoS, which is what Scrivener allows me to do easily. So why is it so hard to buckle down and do that?

Oh, those other stories. So enticing in their open-endedness, their possibilities of plot and plot twists. Those characters I don't know yet, who might do anything. Those settings I would need to research, and research a little more. Mmmm.

Then there's my stack of unread books by other people. But let's not talk about that. I have to go and write some more now.