Sunday, December 28, 2008

A fall of apples

Victoria had a white Christmas, a rare occurrence. The first snowfall came while I was over in Bremerton, making for a scenic-as-all-heck drive back, especially the part where one crests a hill and sees the evergreen-set mountains all powdered with snow, a chevron pattern so clean it looked stitched in.
I thought there'd be at most a dusting in Victoria, but when I trundled off the Coho ferry, it was inches deep and gusting into drifts. Pity the poor Customs people, bundled up in dayglo jackets.
More snow, and at one point Victoria claimed a 41 cm snowpack, putting it just above the North Pole, a somewhat eye-rolling distinction, but when the usual news stories are about locals playing golf and gardening while the rest of Canada freezes and shovels, I suppose the contrast was noteworthy.

In the week before Christmas, the weather began to warm, and rain fell once or twice, but the snow held out for Christmas Day. The blocked-off little hill at the end of our street attracted happily-shrieking children with toboggans and plastic sheets. There aren't that many places to sled in Victoria, and we're lucky to have one so close, although Chris is probably too mature for it now.

On the arthritis front, I had my rheumatologist app't, and was told to up my dosage of methotrexate, in hopes of getting rid of the swelling over the left-hand knuckles (and two of the left toes, which I hadn't really noticed). She suggested going back to hydroxyquin as well, but decided it was better to stick with one med unless it really wasn't working. So we'll see how that goes.
I'm still a bit narked about the alcohol limitation, especially since there's port and b&b (brandy & benedictine - mmm!) and sake in the pantry, not to mention a bottle of nice cider.

There's a half-bag of apples in the pantry. It would be a fine thing if I could DEAL WITH THEM before the actual end of the year. My Lord, the apple harvest this year has been something the Sorcerer's Apprentice might have called up. Next spring I swear I will cull half the blossoms--though since the harvests seem to go in cycles, next summer/fall may be as sparse as last year was.
I made an apple pie yesterday, and the menfolk only groaned and suggested that I freeze it for some future time when they could contemplate eating apple pie again.
So unfair, when I think I'm finally getting the knack of this pastry business. I gave in and tried the roll-between-sheets-of-plastic-wrap trick, even though I loathe using plastic wrap (unlike tinfoil it can't be washed & reused, unlike wax paper it can't be used as firestarter afterwards). And damn, but it worked. Instead of the map of Labrador I usually produce, the pastry was rollable into a rough circle, with no giant splits and a fairly even edge. Also, the plastic wrap makes the pastry easy to pick up and plop into the pie-plate, much better than the two-handed sliding-under style, or the wrap-around-the-rolling-pin method.
I'll see if I can get one of the pics that I made Chris and Mark take, and post it on here. I even got that crimping/fluting bit in.

If a short story is a key lime pie, is the shell the characterisation, or the plot? I think the filling must be the style. And must it be a key lime pie? Would an apple pie be a novella?

The apples are to blame (not me, wasn't my fault!) for my silence over the last while. Every time I'd think of blogging, I'd think of other things that needed to be done, and imagine undealt-with apples, darkening and softening in the cool of the pantry, spreading the contagion of mushiness one to the other, blossoming with white mould, dribbling fermenting juice to soak through the bag and stick to the floor, like a fructuous Tell-tale Heart, or M Valdemar of the Apple Orchard. Which spoilt my concentration. (yes! two puns in four words!)
Sorry, I guess I'm a little punch-drunk still.

Okay, really stopping now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

commitment to Sparkle Motion

Because it is now dark when I leave work, and because my bike is a beautiful matte black, and because I don't wish to disrupt its beautiful matte blackness with peel'n'stick reflective patches, I must take other measures to be visible on the streets.
Reflective jacket, yes, reflective strip on backpack, yes, reflectors on spokes, yes. A front light which has only three settings and is thus more expensive. A rear light with something like seven settings which is extremely cheap.
Under which circumstances would one need seven different types of blinking? Answers on a postcard to this address.
But what else can I do to be visible? This is the exciting part. At Capitol Iron, the ship's chandlery, I found an assortment of strange blinky-lights to attach to spokes, all of them motion-activated.
One is an oval the size of a child's hand, looking much like a reflector. Two catches to slip over spokes horizontally. It has 4 bulbs? in it, and glows in a range from pink to blue.
Two are narrow plastic tubes with bubbles inside and a flat disk at one end. A screw-down and a snap to fit over the spokes. The tubes light up in the blue-green range.
Two screw into the tire-valve. They are plastic bulbs with a protruding tube, looking very much like those invaluable Mad Scientist accessories that show that Science! is going on. They flash pink, green and blue.

I can't see the full glory of this display while I'm in motion, unless I twist around and fall off. But I'm quite sure it's glorious and that I'm visible not only to other vehicles, but to the mothership when it arrives.
Why weren't these sparkling things around when I was a child? All we had was plastic tassels to hang from the handlebar grips, and a folded playing-card to jam between the spokes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Interior journeys: awful damn scenic

Two trips into the interior of BC, one in July to Castlegar, the second in October to Oliver (and also to Nelson). Attempts to drag along travelling companions failed, which meant at least that I could sing in the van, because I don't sing where people can hear me.
Castlegar is in the Kootenays, and would like you to know it's the Greatest Dam City in the World, being right close to a large dam (the Hugh Keenleyside Dam, sorry no tours) with a mildly alarming array of bridges and on/off ramps (not as scary as Portland, but Castlegar is much smaller than Portland).
If I were a much hardier cyclist than I am, more in JH-R's league, I'd probably want to cycle the railbed trail between Midway and Castlegar, which looks even more scenic than the drive, but I'm a feeble old lady, so I'll just look at the pictures, and look out the car windows.
Oliver, which I've written of before, is the Wine Capital of Canada, with a classy wine shop in the town, and any number of wineries (even a fruit-winery) on the way, plus the fruit markets in the Okanagan. I'm told that while it's dead easy to find work, it's nearly impossible to live there because of the cost of housing.
Nelson is where Roxanne was filmed, with Steve Martin, and it is picturesque like anything. It had an influx of new people after the film, because it was so clearly an ideal small town, with the result that it too became an expensive place to live.

The Castlegar trip was to attend Troll Stomp, and to spend some time with my apprentice Lucy and others of the Wild Women. The Oliver trip was for the last Tournament of the Golden Swan to be held at the Skunk Hollow site, so there was a valedictory feel to the weekend, even while I was visiting with Lucy and Evangeline, and with Nan Compton and her family, and others I don't see often.
(Even before online nicknames, much of my acquaintance used pseudonyms and aliases--please note also that my acquaintance includes a number of people who are willing to camp in the Interior of BC in October.)
Castlegar is about 7 hours drive from the ferry terminal (how I measure every trip off-island--no point counting the ferry wait and so on), Oliver only about 5 hours. Nelson 8 or 9 hours. So it's fortunate that the view is not only attractive but variable. There's more than one ecosystem on the way.

On the first trip I remembered to borrow a camera(!) and take some photos of the places I look for and stop at, so here you are, a little visual relief from the usual wall of text this blog provides.

The Hope Slide. This happened when I was a small child, so it has a different sort of meaning for me than most historic sites. An avalanche that covered cars on a BC highway, the very sort of highway my family travelled every summer, and that my dad travelled every weekend to get back to us when he was teaching somewhere else. A couple of the cars were never recovered. Here's a shot of the mountain, and you can still see how it fell away.

The Manning Park cabin. The first time I saw this, I was driving with my friend Kellii as navigator, and she'd brought a book of West Coast ghost stories to enliven (endeaden?) the trip. So we were primed to see this as a haunted cabin. It's fairly close to the western end of the park, right after an eerie stretch of bog (lots of that in Manning Park) separated from the road by a rushing bit of river. Just out of this photo is what looks like a boathouse, though it's rather too far from the water, and might be a summer kitchen or other outbuilding. I don't know its history, but it should have one. Maybe I'll make one up sometime.

Bromley Rock Provincial Park, where I care little for the striking rock bluff or tiny white sand beach (okay, I do, but I didn't take pictures), and instead am drawn to the scrap of former road that the rest area and parking was built on, which remains behind the outhouses. Even when the park is busy, this spot remains quiet and set apart, as if it's waiting for something to come along it.

On the July trip return, I stopped just outside Castlegar and picked up two hitch-hikers, a young dreadlocked guy and girl who were heading to Vancouver, to be supportive for the trial of their friend, an American deserter who'd been hiding out in Nelson. They were good company, though I will offer this piece of advice for hitching: when your ride stops to fill up, it's a nice gesture to offer to clean the windshields, especially if you're too broke to put in for fuel.

On the October trip, no hitch-hikers, though I did drive into Nelson and back with Lucy and Evangeline to save them from having to hitch-hike with all their camping gear. And going to my van on the ferry, I met two young women who needed a ride into Victoria, one of them with a guitar. Pleased to hear both of them talking over the coming election and preparing to vote, and glad I wasn't a slacker myself in that way, while Lucy and her sister were planning to be helping with the vote in Nelson. Yay for the engaged citizenry!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

varieties of good news

First is that Monday saw the polished ms of The Willow Knot out of the house and into the postal system. 105,000 words, 510 pp in standard manuscript format. Sent via 'expedited mail', which is really just parcel post, but with a tracking number, which by previous experience will work until it hits the US border, or else until it reaches NY, where it will enter some sort of void. Probably a null void.
Anyway, gone baby gone. Now I need to up the wordcount in The Astrologer's Death to something respectable before I hit NaNoWriMo.

Second is that I've heard back about my x-rays and blood tests. No erosion in my joints. I am not a river delta (obligatory de Nile joke here). My blood is also normal, with no RA signs so far.
My ferratin level is crappy again, but I'm almost used to hearing that.
So it seems I'm pretty much a poster girl for methotrexate. The swelling in my left hand knuckles has gone down, though not disappeared, and there hasn't been anything I could definitely call side effects. I have had a mild nausea during the days, but that could just as easily be the cold I'm enduring, which has put my humours sadly out of balance--far more phlegm than blood or choler or black bile.

The pears and plums are all done, with very little waste, so I'm not too guiltstruck. Two apple trees to go, and I'm somewhere into the second dozen of pies I've ever made in my life.

A long drive into the interior last weekend, with gorgeous weather for most of it, that probably deserves a longer post.

And I'm reading manuscripts for a couple of my VPX classmates that are awful damned good.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Because LJ won't let me

Herewith the LJ meme:
Take a picture of yourself right now. Don’t change your clothes. Don’t fix your hair. Just take a picture. Post that picture with no editing. (Except maybe to get the image size down to something reasonable. Don’t go posting an eight megapixel image.) Include these instructions.

But will it work on LJ? Nope, not for me. So I'll see if I can do it from here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

tiny little local fame

As my brother observes, the press just can't get enough of people willing to dress up in funny clothes and enliven a story otherwise lacking in visuals. So Mark and I have been prybarred into a story about how rising fuel costs have changed travel plans for those on the Island.

Fruit, yeah, still going on. Why do prunes have such a bad reputation? A dried plum still warm from the dehydrator is like candy. Is it because of stewed prunes? A dozen sandwich-bags of dried plums, and I think I can leave the remaining fruit for lunches and squirrels. A good crop this year, and far less loss to squirrels than last year.
Six sandwich-bags of dried pear slices so far, but I should be able to fill the dehydrator again in the next couple of days. The pears ripen more gradually than the Transparents or the plums, which tend to come all at once. I may be able to keep up, though October is going to be more difficult, with so many weekends booked away.

I discovered that it doesn't matter whether apples are ripe. Hm. I picked up the too-small windfalls from the Spartan tree, and ran them through the peeler-corer-slicer, and made an experimental pie (possibly my tenth pie ever - I've lost count) and it's been half-eaten by the two people in the house who like apple pies, in about a day. Even with the blackberry-rhubarb pie and the blackberry crumble as competition. Myself I'm not keen on apple pie.
I also prefer the spelling 'Mum' to 'Mom'. My feelings about America are ambivalent.

Tired of talking about fruit--maybe I'll post random memories of the UK trip next time?

Oh, here's the recipe I'm currently using for crumble topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oatmeal (regular or quick oats)
1/4 cup brown sugar
cut in 1/2 cup butter until crumbly
pat gently over 3/4 full casserole of random fruit
bake at 350-375 until brown and bubbling, about 30 min.
nice with ice cream or light cream over it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy Methotrexate Day!

Even as I do a victory dance that the Transparent tree is well-nigh stripped of apples, with very little waste indeed, more fruit weighs the branches. Three dehydrator loads of plums done, and two gimme-bags full waiting to be processed. Plus lots more still on the tree. I'm trying to pick the higher fruit, saving the lower for fresh-picking for lunches, later. And to thin out the clusters of plums so they don't spread that white mould to each other.
Pies seven and eight (of pies made in my whole life) are in the freezer. Pie six, with a lattice crust (in hopes that the non-baking apples wouldn't turn totally mushy) is sitting out. The top layer of apples seem to have retained their shape, but probably it's all mush under that.
The pears are turning lovely and golden and falling off the tree, not always in that order. The recent burst of warm dry weather has saved the blackberries from turning all to mould, so more pies and crumbles are called for.
I sat down and went through the back issues of Cooks Illustrated for ideas, and decided that it was just disheartening, that I should go back to my mother's old cookbook. All their baking instructions assume that you have a food processor. Good old New England self-sufficient, baling-wire repaired food processor. I don't even like using an eggbeater (the hand-powered kind) because they're a pain to clean afterwards.

Arthritis stuff: Today I had my hands and feet x-rayed. It's more complicated than I'd thought, which I suppose could be said for many procedures that require taking off your shoes. Hands were shot not only palm down and palm up--why is this necessary, when the x-rays go through the hands?--but with both hands making an awkward OK sign.
Fortunately the feet only required a soles-down and a profile shot. I didn't have to roll over and wave the soles of my feet at the machine as well. This is in aid of checking for erosion in the joints. Look! I am a river delta! At least in the extremities.
Tonight will be my second methotrexate day. "Pick one day of the week and make that your methotrexate day" would fly better if they gave out cute little calendar stickers.
I'm surprised how much the no-alcohol thing bothers me, considering that my greatest debauchery is, oh, two or three glasses of wine with dinner, with a brandy after. I'm not even sure that I've ever been properly drunk, not just tipsy and giggly. The only sobriety tests I know are walking a straight line and reciting tongue twisters, and Mark maintains that I could recite tongue twisters correctly if I were flat on my back and unable to see straight. Sweet-talker that he is. He further observed that my trying out tongue twisters was a strong indicator that I was drunk.

Rejections: a fairly fast turnaround from RoF for "Climbing Boys". May be time to take it to the e-markets. The odd thing about the Blue Form of Death is that the first rejection I had from RoF was the BFoD, but with a handwritten note that the story (Spellcheck) was a cute idea. That was my first short story written with the idea of showing it to people I didn't personally know. I'm fairly sure that I'm a better writer now than I was then. Yet handwritten addenda are no more seen. Sigh.
I wasn't entirely sure that the fabled Yellow Form of Promise was ever sent, but there is testimony here that it exists, at least.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

ranting is supposed to be fun

So why don't I ever feel charged and catharted (catharsised? catheterised?) after giving in to the urge?
You don't want the background, trust me. A largely pointless discussion (polite) on an SCA-specific mailing list, with a side-issue that well and truly pushed my buttons. I bicycled home thinking it over and getting angrier at the implied dismissal of much of what I do and value, and ended up making a blackberry crumble really efficiently: cutting butter into flour when you're shaking with rage is surprisingly quick, though not particularly cathartic.

So today I posted on the side-issue. I managed to restrain the CAPSLOCKS OF RAGE and remove all the instances of effing-equivalents that appeared in the spoken drafts of said post. I kept to my point. I was sharp, but not outright rude, and I did not finish with SFTU N00B, even though I thought it really loudly.
And I did not feel better. Even though the worst-case scenario of response (banishment) would be both unlikely and, um, kinda welcome as an excuse not to do SCA-stuff for a reign or so but instead concentrate on writing. Mostly I feel kind of low and foreboding, and worried that I might have hurt someone's feelings. Not that I want to take anything back, just sick of the whole discussion, even more than I was before.

One of the side-effects of the methotrexate is supposed to be irritability, but I can hardly expect it to have kicked in after one dose Monday night, when the therapeutic effects are supposed to take weeks and months.
Damn but I want to be self-righteous. It must be so comfortable, compared to all these damned haverings.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

after sleeping

Finished, at about 11:20, surprisingly early, because that included reformatting to double-spaced and so on. It came out to 98 pages, close to the desired average of 100 pages, but that may change in the printing, since I set it to double-spaced, not to 25 lines per page exactly.
Totals, then:
14067 at lunch
15849 at supper (there's a 20 minute nap in the sunshine in between)
18588 at finish.
Very close to my last year's wordcount. I didn't hit the 1k per hour speed anywhere, as far as I could tell, though I may have come close at the end.

Plot. Well, a couple-three things that I'd meant as throwaway background touches or worldbuilding came back as important plot elements--the warehouse full of superfluous children (image of Romanian orphanages), the haunted green chamber (worse than the red chamber), and the mpd ghost-carrier kids who formed a levitating homo-gestalt and blew the roof off the haunted chamber.
On reflection, that seems rather stranger by day than it did in the story, where it looked like an entirely reasonable development. In fact, I was worrying that the storyline was becoming altogether too conventional for a literary contest.

This morning I have a visual acuity test, to which I am not (ha ha) looking forward. On the bright side (lord, I can't stop myself) swapping over to the methtrexate means no more hydroxychloroquin, and no more eye tests for macular problems, yay! Just monthly blood tests.

Monday, September 1, 2008

write while writing

Better wordcount on the Sunday, but only because of a late-night push.
7161 at lunch break (the total I'd wanted for the night before)
9525 at dinner break (Chinese takeout)
12012 at midnight.

In past years the pace has picked up on the last day, not only because of omg deadlien! but because I've had a clearer idea of the story-world and plot. The existence of an outline doesn't seem to affect this, though it isn't really a large enough data sample to be draw conclusions from. So we'll see if I can really knock off 8k today--it would be cool if I could.

Plot has not so much diverged from the outline as run parallel to it. Developments have come, but sometimes by different characters than those planned. The fellow who originally commissioned the ghost-snatching has turned out much nastier than first sketched, when he was just envious and malicious, and the girl protecting the ghost-carrier is a tougher customer.
The ghost who organises resistance among the mpd ghost-carriers (thank you, Nick Mamatas) isn't a union agitator this time, but an anarchist with a flair for rhetoric. With his very own nemesis, to be revealed.
And for the first time I don't have an ending, so I can't play my safe game of writing the ending while I'm about halfway through the story, and then writing up to it. I did have a lovely weepy self-sacrificial ending sketched in (okay, it was one line, but it was a pregnant-with-meaning sort of line) but that isn't going to work now.
Plus, I put a gun on the mantelpiece, in the form of an offhand comment (the Red Chamber is haunted, but nobody goes into the Green Chamber), and it has grown from a popgun to a howitzer in the last while, so it must be fired, or the whole wall will crumble under its weight.

At least I've both increased my wordcount from this time in previous years, and had as much of the sleepless experience as my decrepit old self can manage.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

sleeping while writing

Didn't post last night because about 9 pm the sleepy-and-stupid fell on me with a thump, and I went to bed. Mark followed me up and read in bed for a while, so I didn't fall asleep as soon as I'd hoped, though that might have been due to plot bubbling around in my head.
I woke up about 4 am from a vivid dream of forests, and of scrambling up a steep slope of red duff (red because of the cedar bark, I think) to get off the logging road before a logging truck barrelled down on me. Oddly, although the duff gave under my feet in that way it does, there wasn't any of the dream / nightmare run but get nowhere element.

Well. Yesterday's progress:
Drank entire large pot of tea, started second pot. This may not be the best practice.
Drank one cup of coffee.
Iced and heated muscles behind right shoulderblade, as directed.
Wordcount at lunch break: 2218
Wordcount at supper break: 4007
Wordcount before bed: 5268

That made my absolute minimum, but won't bring me to the 20k mark unless I make up the deficit today. I do wonder if I'd be better not to write at home, for this. There are too many distractions, like dishes to be done and clothes to fold, and the plums coming ripe, and pears and apples falling off the tree. The first year I had to break for teaching a class, judging a display, and the usual camping stuff of setup and takedown, but my writing was done in a coffeeshop by night, without company, so each session was more concentrated.
On the other hand, where would I stay? Hotels are classed in my mind as too expensive, last resort only, can't you sleep in the car?

Oh well, plot. Since the mpd plot escaped me last year, I decided to make it central this year, and to pull in some of the ideas growing from the Climbing Boys story that were discussed at Potlatch, of trafficking in ghosts.
Tim Powers's idea of addicts snorting ghosts is of course the best ever, so I've gone with a lower-key and smaller market. The opening scene is the theft of a ghost (but not the ghost they thought) from a castle during a tour. The motive for the theft isn't explained yet, but the castle staff assume it's to reduce the tourist attractiveness.
When I quit last night, it was in the midst of another pair of characters, one being a natural ghost-attractor, about to discover how that works, by sucking up a ghost. For mutual benefit.
I'd really like to hit 14-15k tonight. So this may be a late one. I'll see if chocolate covered coffee beans work better than coffee does for me.

Friday, August 29, 2008

write while sleeping

The 3-Day Novel Contest starts tonight at midnight. I will be asleep. My plan is to get up at my usual time tomorrow, between 5 and 6 am, have breakfast and write until noon. Break for lunch, write again until dinner. Write until I feel sleepy and stupid, then go to bed.
Sunday night I may invoke caffeine and ginger teamix and stay up into the stupid stage. We'll see. I will try to pop online and give a brief rundown of where the plot has gotten to--probably somewhere between the table-legs, covered in dust bunnies--each night.

I've stocked up on ginger teamix, black tea, dried fruit, rice crackers, and emergency chocolate. I have an outline written out on 3x5 cards. I have no commitments except writing.
Wonder how much of the appeal of this contest is the opportunity to get into the siege mentality? The attraction of zombie movies--how would I defend my house against zombies, and what supplies would I need to have on hand?
Now I wish my outline had zombies in it. I could write about a hopeful novelist besieged by zombies over a long weekend. Nah, it's been done. My outline does have rather a lot of plot in it, so I should be able to restrain my style by concentrating on the action. And I've acclimatised myself by reading several past winners over the last couple of weeks.
Love Block
Body Speaking Words
Stolen Voices / Vacant Rooms
Circle of Birds
Starting Small
Hardwired Angel (the only sf to win)
Accordion Lessons
Dr. Tin

As soon as the blackberry pie comes out of the oven, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why layout matters

Unfortunately, they don't come in black.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ills that flesh is heir to, continued

Rheumatologist appointment this afternoon--made only this morning, so I suppose someone cancelled--and the tentative diagnosis is that I'm in the 30% of palindromic arthritis cases who graduate to rheumatoid arthritis.
Pretty much what I'd expected, since the second knuckle of my left hand has been swollen since February, unlike the usual palindromic thing where a random joint swells and goes down again within a couple of days (sometimes only hours). The right hand has been fine, so I wasn't symmetrical, but arthritis is just shifty and variable and unreliable. Though not as bad as lupus (It's never lupus) that way.

So, new drugs! Going to add methotrexate, which is such an exciting drug that the rheumatism website wants to show you an exclamation-marked video about it! It's on youtube! It is cooler and more exciting than me!
Methotrexate is a chemotherapy drug, but not to worry, because the doses for arthritis are teeny-tiny (a technical term) compared to the whacking huge doses you'd get for chemo. Oh, and they're not quite sure why it works for arthritis, just the way they're not quite sure why hydroxychloroquin (a quinine derivative) works for arthritis.
I think they may know why naproxen works. Maybe. It would be nice if I were taking one drug whose workings were comprehensible.
RA is a possibility I've been aware of from the first diagnosis, so I'm not upset. I'll just have to see what happens down the road, and cope with it as it comes (which is how life works anyway). Dr. Northcott seems pretty positive about the methotexate, which I keep wanting to call meths, and I tend to be lucky with side effects, so there's no point fussing.

What is more than a little annoying is that alcohol is pretty much out. One drink a week is what the pamphlet says. Of course this happens just as I've found a local cider that I like. I thought I didn't like cider (I don't like beer--it smells bad to me) until Mark got me to try a local still cider while we were in Suffolk, and it was lovely. Like what white wine ought to be (this will make no sense to you if you prefer white wine) and nothing like the fizzypop cider that comes in cases.
I stopped at Sea Cider on the way back from the ferries, caught their birthday celebration, and bought two bottles--Pippins, and Kings and Spies. Both were very nice indeed but I thought Kings and Spies had the edge.
If I can only have one drink a week, it had better be a good one.

In other news, I've almost caught up with the Transparent apples, and the blackberries have come in, forcing me to learn to make pies. Honestly, pastry intimidates me. It's one of those deceptively simple things, like gesso sottile, where the ingredients may be exactly right but all hope of success lies in having the right touch, and preferably decades of experience. So even though the pie looks okay, and the fruit sets, and slices can be cut and it all gets eaten, in some subtle way it can still be a failure.
Which is why I prefer making cookies. Pastry seems like a sneaking incursion of the imponderables of cooking into the rational world of baking, where if you follow the recipe you come through safely.
The third blackberry pie I've made in the last week is cooling on the baking centre now. This is not my fault.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

a bit early for the mellow fruitfulness

I am beset by apples. Two dehydrators (one with the charming name of Jerky Express, the other the Snackmaster) are humming away in different notes--possibly reducing my hearing in the 'annoying hum' range--and an apple crumble cools in the fridge, yet a heaped mixing bowl of apples remains untouched. Oh, and a bag of apples was left surreptitiously on our neighbour's porch. (Passive voice used to avoid identifying the agent.)
This is just the windfall of two days, you understand. I've filled two tupperware storage tubs with dried apples, and this from the windfalls of the first tree. I'm thinking of offering a sandwich bag of dried apples to anyone who sends me the postage, which Mark thinks would be about $3 for the smaller size of padded envelope & mailing costs.
I don't know--any of my theoretical readers interested in utterly organic apple slices, dried only by air, with no sulfates or sulfites or whatever it is, not even lemon juice?

Assorted signs and portents: a sign that I've been neglecting new writing in favour of revising. I was bustling around the big table, laying out the dancers cloth for painting, and realised that a spider had built a web from the corner of my laptop to the corner of the bookcase beside it.
Unfortunately both cameras were away from home, one in Pennsylvania and one camping somewhere (Saltspring?) so you must rely on my words only. A small tawny striped spider, possibly thumbnail size with legs extended, swaying gently in the centre of a full-size classic-style web showing as thin angles of light where the sun struck.
I'm enough Scot that I won't kill a spider, so I spoke gently to it, and lifted the mooring strand from my laptop over to the bookcase. The web rolled up and the spider scrambled to the upper regions. Hoping that we could reach an understanding, I got myself a cup of tea, sat in the windowseat and opened up the Refuge doc, to establish my territory.
The next day the spider had moved down and covered the spot where I put my teacup. Okay. I spoke gently once again, and lifted the bottom of the web. The spider retreated behind a corner of Trinity's multicoloured unicorn picture and remained there while I typed.
Repeat the next day. I don't mind a spider in the corner. I just want my seat and the place where I put my cup free. I'm still hopeful that we can work this out.

A sign of whose meaning I am unsure: my willow bush dropped its leaves. A few years ago, while at the Golden Swan event in Oliver BC, I broke a couple of willow wands from a tree at the event site, wrapped them in damp paper, brought them home and stuck them in a jar of water. One survived and grew, and I put it in a jar of dirt, eventually transplanting it to a flowerpot. Then to a bigger flowerpot, and off the windowsill where it no longer fit to the back steps. It survived late repottings, dry spells, a crushing snowfall (that killed the upright shoot and sent it growing off at an angle) and being blown over. Presently it sits on the front porch, in the biggest flowerpot I have, and most recently survived going unwatered while we were in England.
Even though I've been watering it regularly, this month it was losing its leaves, and those that didn't fall off were brown and withered. Yet I couldn't find any sign of parasites or other damage. Did it need repotting again? Was I willing to repot it endlessly, when I could barely lift its latest home? (Answer: no.) Also, I was busily ignoring any possible parallels between the growth and die-off of the willow and of The Willow Knot.
This week I see that new growth is springing out, little clusters of leaves replacing the fallen ones. Willows are hard to kill.

Writey things: I was at Bolen Books and found a copy of Year's Best SF, so yes, I looked in the hon. mentions list to make sure, and yes, the Elfland story was in there. Also the amazing Jen Pelland had two hon. mentions - woo! and her name spelt right, I think.
I've sent my registration off to the 3-Day Novel Contest. I see that it's the same weekend as the Farthing Party, but since I can't afford to get to that one anyways, I'm not too conflicted. I am almost decided to get a membership to Worldcon 2009, though, which also means stumping up the money to get to Montreal.

The polishing of draft 3 of Willow Knot is almost finished. I've cleaned up the timeline and fixed some motivations, clarified how Tyl came to be enchanted, and some things like that. I'm a little happier with the proposal scene and with Midame's testimony. (can a woman give testimony? what would she hold onto?)
I've also been thinking on prusik's tough question of what the book is about, though mostly by trying to come up with a logline / elevator pitch / summary. I'm much better at doing this with other people's books, naturally. I think the book is about responsibility and when to let go of it; about how love is more complicated than it looks and easier to mess up than you'd think; about how some things are better unmade. None of which are very helpful or intriguing.
Logline attempt: "When Mylla's brother is trapped by enchantment, all she wants is to free him. But to do that she must save a princess, a kingdom, and herself." I want to work in that she has to accept the help of the king who executed her father, but I can't get it to flow yet. Will think more, though really I should be coming up with a two-paragraph summary, not a two-sentence one.
Also I should finish the polishing first, and take my territory back from the spider.

Monday, August 4, 2008

All kinds of harvests

Fruit harvest. Mark is in Pennsylvania, at the Pennsic War, while I manage the home front. The Transparent apples have already started dropping, and I've done two dehydrator loads and have a third humming away in the laundry room as I type. It's a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator, by the way, and I'm quite pleased with it.
Two mixing bowls of windfall Transparents sit on the counter, waiting their turn, and a half-dozen unbruised apples are reserved to the hanging basket, to go for brown bag lunches.
Transparents are nice tart apples, best just before they're ripe (I think). They bruise easily and their ripeness window is much like pears, in that when they look lovely and golden on the outside, they've passed their prime and become mushy. Like pears, they tend to come ripe all at once, so that you have to run around the neighbourhood by night, leaving bags of fruit on your neighbours' doorsteps. In late summer there can be a lot of this sort of traffic, and what Neighbourhood Watch makes of it I'm not sure. But this is why I consider dehydrators one of those Important Inventions, like printing presses and bread slicers.
The white currant bush has been fruiting for a couple of months, and I've been having a bowl of currants for breakfast, with no apparent diminishing of the available crop. According to Food From Your Garden, I've been picking them wrong, and should have been taking the whole stalk, then removing the berries by 'running the prongs of a fork down the length of the stalk', which sounds like a brilliant idea.
The blackberries, which cover the rock that makes a sort of back wall to the garden, are vigorous this year, probably because I was hacking them back in the winter and spring. The berries are coming in purple and black at the tips of the stalks, and I had a bowlful this morning. As the ripeness moves back along the vine, there'll be more and more coming ripe at once, and they don't dry well, so it'll be the freezer for them.
Hmm, this might be a good time to try defrosting the freezer, with the dehydrator going beside it to provide extra impetus. Hmm. Before it starts to fill up again with fruit.

Book harvest. I've been bookswapping with my friends Joanna (who used to run Poor Richard's Books) and Anna, and have been making some small inroads on my TBR pile(s) as well. Recently read:
The Sun the Moon and the Stars, by Steven Brust, in the Fairy Tales series, both because I read most of the Fairy Tales series, and because it's recommended by Jim Macdonald in his Learn Novel Writing with Uncle Jim thread on Absolute Write. I can see why, because the narrator talks about how he understands painting (the modern part of the story takes place in a studio shared by struggling artists) and his discussion and discoveries about painting and creating art are dead on for writing. They might also apply to music, but I'm not sure, because I'm not a musician, and because I think there are differences between 'artifact art' and 'experience art'. Someone on the writing thread stopped reading the book because of not liking the narrator, which seemed to me to be missing the point, rather.
Through a Brazen Mirror, by Delia Sherman, which I'd wanted to find because I keep a list of books based on ballads and folksongs, and this is a retelling of The Famous Flower of Serving Men (Child 106), the version performed by Martin Carthy. It's a bleak song, and a bleaker story, beautifully grounded in a closely-observed medieval world. Happy endings are in short supply. A young woman's husband and child are murdered by bandits, and she is left to wander the world alone. It isn't cruel fate, it's the malice of her mother, a witch who fears destruction at the hands of the daughter who doesn't even know she exists. In the witch's thread, it's the old trap of trying to defeat a prophecy, with every stratagem doing more to bring it about. In the daughter's thread, it's trying to survive when you've lost even the reason to. Disguised as a young man, she takes service with a king, who himself mourns the death in battle of his favourite.
I was interested to see how the song narrative was fleshed out with motivations and background, because that's what I've been doing with Willow Knot, filling in the gaps. It's felt to me as if most of what developed was already there in the original text, like seeds in the furrows, and the revising and reworking and rethinking is what brings them to full growth.
Winter Rose and Solstice Wood, by Patricia McKillip. I'm not entirely sure I should consider them together, because they're quite different, although one is a sort-of sequel to the other. Both are first person narration by a young woman who lives by a forest that is also the Fair Folk's forest, and who is unsure whether she herself is fully human, both are about mortals trapped in the Fairy Queen's land and the bargains made to bring them out again. But Solstice Wood pretty much overturns everything you think you learned from Winter Rose. In a pretty conceit, Rois's account (the first book) is preserved as a guide and handbook by her descendants in the second book.
The first book is not really a retelling of Tam Lin (Child 39), I'd say more that it's informed by the story of Tam Lin (surely the most retold ballad in the English language), as well as by The Heir of Linne (Child 267), with its ruined hall and father's curse. The writing is beautiful. F&SF's review is quoted: 'every sentence seems chipped from jewels or woven from water'. The storyline is fairly low-key, concerning a few people in a small village, and the stakes are a sister's life and a lover's soul, no kingdoms or worlds hanging in the balance. There's higher jeopardy in the second book, where the fairy realm may be at risk--though what the reader cares about, I think, is the two young mortals lost in that realm.
There was a discussion on Absolute Write some time back, about whether fictional heroes always have to save the world. One of the points brought up was that 'the world' is a rather amorphous concept, and needed, often, to be personalised (accessorised?) by a specific and concrete jeopardy of a loved one or a home. Which makes me wonder whether one really needs to bother with the world part, or better to save time and wordage by going straight to the small and particular jeopardy?

Beta harvest. I've had two sets of crits back from the Willow Knot 3d draft readers, mostly specific tweakings and clarifications. The denouement (Paul points out how appropriate that word is, meaning 'unknotting') is still an issue. I've found a jury-rigged solution for Midame's story, but it's not quite satisfactory. Paul suggested doing it as a prologue, which indeed I had considered except for that whole NO, NO, Nobody reads prologues! thing. Personally I read prologues, epilogues, forewords, afterwords, acknowledgements, dedications and the excerpt from the next book that's sometimes tucked in at the end. Because I paid for those words, dammit, and I'm going to get value. But I realise there are readers out there who just let extra words go to waste.
I'm doing my best to fix all the faults that I can clearly see as faults, but there are some places where I can't choose between alternatives. Midame's testimony is one. Another is the question of whether Baldolf should escape - it might make the trial (and hence the book) shorter, which would be a good thing, because ideally I'd like to cut another 5k and bring it down to 100k even. But it would look so much like sequel-bait, and might reduce the (already limited) satisfaction of the ending. Argh.

Deadlines: the 3-Day Novel Contest is coming up, and I want to have this draft (semi-draft?) finished before that weekend, so that I can concentrate.
Also, Viable Paradise is coming up, and at Potlatch the VPXers present vowed to have their current project at least half finished by the next VP, which means I need about another 20k wordage on The Astrologer's Death. I groan here, because that means another fight scene with revenants, and writing action scenes for me is like wading knee-high through gumbo mud. I'm told that this doesn't show afterwards, which is comforting, but still doesn't make me look forward to them.
From p.50 of The Sun the Moon and the Stars: "But you know what annoys me? It doesn't bother me when the work paints itself (or if you like, paints me)--that's what I most love. It doesn't even bother me when I have to fight for every drop, and spend hours covering a two-inch square ... No, what annoys me is that after I've finished a piece I can't tell which parts were easy and which parts were like pulling teeth."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Actually, it IS a pen.

Dear parents who are bringing your children through our Living History exhibit, please refrain from the following two behaviours:
1) From a distance, carefully not speaking to the people who are actually doing things, tell your children 'look, that's what they did before they had (blank)', most especially when you do not know what those people are actually doing, and you are guessing wildly.
2) When your children have come closer and are excitedly trying out whatever the re-enactor is demonstrating, loudly say to your child 'That's really hard, isn't it? Aren't you glad you don't have to do it that way now?'

I understand that in the first case you are trying desperately to maintain the illusion for your child that you do know everything, and in the second you want your child to appreciate his/her advantages. But the only solid way to achieve the first is to lock your children in a cellar without an internet connection. The second one is self-defeating--how can someone gain and maintain interest in the world around them when they constantly get the message that other ways of being and doing are inherently difficult and second-best? Might as well stay in that cellar, provided it has internet access.
Admittedly, I subvert both of these tactics every chance I get. When I hear from one of the passing blurs (I don't wear my glasses when I'm 14th c.) "Look, that's what they used before they had pens." I say clearly "But this is a pen. It writes well, and I can make it myself. Would you like to see how to make a feather into a pen?" If I'm feeling stroppy, I ask cheerfully if they can show me how to make one of their pens.

Fortunately, the majority of kids who come through are straightforwardly interested in everything we're doing, from weaving and cooking to woodturning and cutting quills. The armour and the Fiore school combat, of course, is teh sexxorrs, and the rest of us get a break when the wooden waster swords come out. Mark had more armour this year, and there was much excitement.
Many children went home with cut quills--Harry Potter has been good to the craft of writing with a quill. Many children also went home with 'your name written with a feather' which is my reliable turn, and gives me a snapshot of fashionable kid's names.
The old-fashioned names like Olivia are holding up (three Olivias) along with the oddly-spelled standard names. I collected about five different spellings for Kayley including Ceilidh (only one this year, last year I had two Ceilidhs), and a Kimber-leigh. The most gratuitous, I think, was Mhina, which her parents(?) admitted was spelled that way just because.
Probably these children will not be bothered by the spellings because their whole generation will have to spell their names out routinely. Mind you, because of bleddy Streisand, I've had to spell my perfectly ordinary name out for most of my life anyways. And medieval names had no standard spelling so it doesn't matter how anyone spells Linot.

Anyway, to celebrate Mark's new armour, here's a pic of me gazing adoringly at it--or at something just behind his head, according to him.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

honourably mentioned

I returned from my sojourns in the past to encounter pleasing and surprising news. My one-and-only published story is among the honourable mentions in Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction.
Coyote Wild collected three honourable mentions, which is pretty spiff for a rather new e-zine:
The Ladies, by Elizabeth Bear (her story "Tideline" made Year's Best)
Marsdog, by Beth Bernobich
The King of Elfland's Stepdaughter, by Barbara Gordon

I'm more than a little stunned (picture the birdies and stars spinning around my head in cartoon fashion) to be included, right there next to Real Writers with published books and stories in the plural.
The ToC for the Twenty-fifth Year's Best Science Fiction can be found here, and it's mentioned that there are usually 10-12 pages of honourable mentions (I wonder what size the font is?).

I have updated my website accordingly. Have I mentioned before that I have a website? Maybe not, because anyone who reads this blog already knows me well enough to have heard about it personally.
It is a pretty but not ornate site, made using Freesitedesigner, and bears a family resemblance to Zoe Marriott's website, she being the one who tipped me off to their lovely templates.

Now I think I'll go and see if I can tempt the circling birdies to settle and eat some breadcrumbs.

Monday, June 23, 2008

drafty in here, hur, hur.

Other than reading the last bit over in the morning, to be sure there isn't some error that makes a nonsense of it all, I'm done with the third draft of The Willow Knot.
104k wordage by Word's count.
Tomorrow I'll muck about with copying the file onto this-here computer and emailing it to round two of beta-readers. Plus printing out a double-spaced version for Paul, who prefers hard copy.

This coming week I will be living in the later 14th century, where laptops are unknown, and where Linot is only literate enough to keep her account-books in order.

And now I'm going to bed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

not quite Schadenfreude

more like snideness. Snidery? Snickering at the follies of others, because I am a mean and petty sort.

Backstory: ages ago, when I was a diligent critiquer on a popular writers' website, I happened to critique someone's query letter. This was a query that he had posted supposedly in order to have suggestions made for its improvement.
I say supposedly, because he then snotted two of the of the three people who offered critiques. One was me, and yes, I was one of the ones snotted. Even though I was fairly polite. I didn't even mention that his thread title said "Me begining one page synopsis". I did mention that his (presumably) supreme villain's name, Farkwar, might be subject to confusion with the not-so-supreme villain of Shrek, and that his novel title was the same as the title of a well-known film, but with the word 'the' inserted. Also that the hero being a Chosen One with a prophecy attached was more than a little overdone and might need something different to attract an agent.
He asked if I was accusing him of ZOMG plagerism (sic) and said "I spent alot of time thinking of different names, and came up with them off the top of my head." a statement which seems to contradict itself. And asked why I was attacking him for "putting in the part of a chosen one'.

So I apologised and withdrew. Yet we kept tripping over each other on the forum. He posted asking whether Simon & Schuster was a reputable publisher, and what were their submission guidelines. Because everyone else was too busy laughing to answer, I posted their guidelines (don't submit, get an agent), but was ignored while he answered (politely!) everyone who was asking him if this was a joke or what?
Later he was condescending to someone new who asked if Tor was legit, asking how they could possibly question the legitimacy of Tor? I bit my tongue, or my typing fingers, and left him to his little joys.
Then he took exception to my comment on another thread that the Left Behind books made me feel icky, and said it was offensive to him as a Christian. I apologised for being an Anglican and not a real Christian to whom the Left Behind series was as scripture.

At this point I gave in and started to collect his follies, by reading his posts. I discovered that he'd been bright enough to turn down the contract he was offered by PublishAmerica, and that after being spoken to by a series of Board Elders, he decided to cancel his contract with Leann Murphy of Desert Rose Literary Agency (one of the 20 Worst Agents).
I chuckled over him saying "I am a big fantasy fan myself, but the only ones I have read mostly are Tolkein, King, and Rowling. I haven't heard of many others, but I am seeking to be a fantasy/SF writer myself."
I refrained from critiquing the chapter of his novel that he put up for critique, because I'm not that much of a fool, even though I could see several simple fixes for it. It was a massive info-dump as you know Bob:
“Yes, I already know this though,” interrupted S--. “My father was one of the leaders of my race, who kept this great secret for many years, including Tari’ who is now the besieged magical land, as well”
“Yes, I know this to be true, answered T-- shrewdly. But, I have not told to you the full truth during our studies together of that time, and before.”
This excerpt is unusual in that everything is spelled correctly, with no mention of 'faries' or of 'scared lands' or appearance of the beautiful phrase "and a new day will be born anew."

After that brief and glorious interval, we drifted apart, and so when I ran across a site that offered 'editing solutions' it took me a bit of work to figure out why the owner's name was familiar. Then I saw the spelling 'seperate' and it clicked.
We are a highly knowledgeable and educated firm that will strive to provide you with the most qualified editing services, along with outstanding customer loyalty. At --blank--, we will provide full research, copyediting, and proofreading services. We will also provide custom reprints of your manuscript upon completion of editing your manuscript, cover letter, resume or proposal.
Advertising logos will be completed as a seperate service, but will still maintain the same high quality service. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please tell us about your project today.

I suppose there are people less qualified to offer proofreading.
Maybe not.
A little googling revealed that he had previously self-published through Authorhouse, and that his fantasy (first part of a trilogy) was titled Dessert Rose. No, it wasn't about a cook's apprentice fulfilling the prophecy that she would save her land by delighting the sweet tooth of the Evil Sorcerer and converting him to the way of sweetness and lite and lo-cal. Yes, he misspelled his title.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

the analog web

This story from the NYT is probably being linked and emailed all over the place. All I have to add, which someone else must have said already, is that this is a Borges story come to life.
Also that it is massively cool, and that I miss 3x5 cards, which came into use in (I think) the 15th c. as temporary records scribbled on the backs of playing cards. Like other temporary measures, they worked surprisingly well and stuck in use. Anyway....

'In 1934, Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a “rĂ©seau,” which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”' (NYT)

And 'reseau' can also be translated as fishnet, so the older meaning of 'web' - thing that is woven - is closer than it might seem.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

comparative recipes

I like to bake cookies and squares. I'm not terribly adventurous or elegant, favouring the old standards like oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies, shortbread, and rolled cookies for Christmas. I have a small collection of cookie cookbooks, and occasionally add something from them to the repertoire.
Many years ago (thirty?) while in search of a recipe for butter tarts...

Pause to provide butter tart recipe:
-Melt 1/3 cup butter, remove from heat
-stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar,
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup or more raisins
-fill tart shells about half full, bake at 400 until brown and bubbling.

I found a little book called Chocolate Cake and Onions (Horizon House 1976). Also in this book was a recipe for
Economy Oatmeal Squares:
-Melt 1/2 cup margarine
-stir in 1 cup brown sugar,
2 cups oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- press into ungreased pan to about 1/4 inch thickness, bake until brown. It will harden as it cools.

Despite the vague baking directions, which I eventually worked out to 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, this became a favourite. (I'll point out that when something consists largely of brown sugar, 'until brown' is not a useful marker.)
The thing that puzzled me, over time, was the purpose of the 1/2 tsp baking powder. There's no flour, so what is it leavening? Also, while I'm no kitchen chemist, didn't baking powder require moisture to work? Most cookie recipes used baking soda, except for oatmeal cookies, which had a tablespoon of milk in the recipe as well as baking powder. I wondered whether Marilynne Foster had left out part of the recipe, or copied it incorrectly.

My mum's cookbooks were among the things (like Christmas decorations) that weren't kept in the move, and which I regretted mightily. When I was able to buy a copy of The Canadian Cook Book (Ryerson 1953) I was quite excited, even though it naturally wouldn't have all the pasted-in soup-tin recipes and so on that my mum's copy had.
I got all nostalgic over the photographs, and 'oh, there's the cake recipe that always turned out kind of chewy because I dawdled over the mixing' 'there's the crepes recipe, mmm'. Then I found
Oatmeal Butter Squares:
-Mix 3 cups rolled oats,
1 cup brown sugar,
1 teaspoon baking powder,
dash of salt.
-pour over 7/8 cup melted butter, mix thoroughly
-pat into ungreased 8x12-inch cake pan
-bake at 275-300 until golden brown, cut into squares while hot.

There it is, recognisably the same in kind, in a for-real published by a major company cookbook, and still with the baking powder and no flour and no milk. Oh, and again the vague baking instructions, though this time with a temperature.
Well, maybe it was a Canadian regional treat, like butter tarts and Nanaimo bars. Maybe Marilynne (or her mother) got her recipe from The Canadian Cook Book and altered the quantities.

But there's the undeniably American Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies Cook Book (Meredith 1976), and its recipe for
Scotch Teas:
-Melt together 1 cup packed brown sugar,
1/2 cup butter or margarine
-stir in 2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats,
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/1 teaspoon salt
-turn into 8x8x2 inch greased baking pan
-bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, cookies will harden upon cooling. Cut into bars.

I will mention that my dad's family was Scots, and I'd never heard of 'Scotch Teas' (insert joke about drinking tea with Scotch here). Anyway, here it was again, in another for-real, major-publishing book, with baking powder and no flour.

Another Scotch Teas recipe, slightly different proportions but same ingredients, was reportedly a prize winning recipe at the 1976 Texas State Fair. Googling brings up another from the C&H Sugar Kitchen, requiring you to use C&H Brown Sugar, and of course, baking powder (brand left to your discretion). Doubtless there are more, perhaps under different names. But all that I've found have no flour and no moisture (unless melted fat counts as moisture?) but do have the baking powder of no apparent function.
Is it totemic? Apotropaic? The remnants of a long-forgotten ritual to hold back chaos?
If I leave it out, the next time I bake ... what will become of us all?

Friday, June 13, 2008

public service announcement: writer specific

For the what, three? readers of this blog who weren't at VPX or XI, the deadline for applying to the Viable Paradise Writers' Workshop is the end of this month. That's right, you need to get your application in by June 30, in order to seize the opportunity to:
have your work read and critiqued by professional editors and writers like Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Elizabeth Bear!
learn the secrets of the writing trade from the pros!
FIND your tribe!
SEE Phosphorescent Jellyfish!
CHANGE your life!

You need to put together 8,000 words or less of work you want critiqued, whether novel opening or short story, (including synopsis or outline if it's a novel), and stuff it in an envelope with a cover letter and $25, as detailed here, and place the rest in the lap of the gods.
Do it. It's worth it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

other people's books

Becoming a writer--or maybe I should say, becoming a conscious writer--is supposed to screw up your reading. You become very conscious of what the writer is doing, whether you'd do it the same way, worse or better. You groan when they break the 'rules' and may be bitterly envious that these other damn writers can get away with it, why can't you? You feel smug at spotting the foreshadowing. And so on. It becomes very difficult to read as a reader, and not as a writer.
It may be that I was somewhat inoculated against that, by having been taught to be a conscious reader from early on. When your father teaches English, and loves to teach, you get taught. And hey, I was Daddy's Girl--my brother was the Boy, who would Carry on the Name, but I was the one who loved words and language. (The funny thing about this is that I kept the Name, and my brother changed his.) So my bonding with my dad was very much about taking stories apart and seeing how they worked, taking words apart and finding their roots and branches.
I've probably said this before, but this early practice made it difficult for me to take lit-crit quite seriously, because I was introduced to it as a child's game. Spot the symbol, name that allegory!
In other words, my reading experience was already compromised, but I didn't mind.

The best approximation I have of the shift from unconscious to conscious reader is what I experienced as I taught myself to paint, by copying Giotto and other early Ren painters. I'd had a vague idea of balance and composition, probably from reading the Childcraft volume on art, but I had to learn how to model, how to use highlight and shading to make flat paint imitate 3-dimensional form.
So I went from 'ooh, pretty picture' to 'hm, that drapery' and 'wow, trompe l'oeil shouldn't be that simple', and learned how to break down the illusion into simple pieces. I began to be understand what watercolours could do that oils couldn't, and vice-versa, even though I only worked with acrylics (and yolk, glair and size for medieval painting, but that's another topic). I started seeing how effects were achieved, even though I didn't have the mastery to achieve them myself.
But I didn't feel that this screwed up the way I looked at paintings. It made me a better viewer, a more active and responsive one. ('better' here means 'better than I was', not 'better than some other person like you', by the way)

Between revision sessions, and in that weird lethargic hiatus while I was coughing up phlegm, I managed to read a few books, though the TBR pile(s) still loom(s) over Mark's side of the bed.

A Telling of Stars, by Caitlin Sweet.
I picked this up at Munro's, because the title sounded cool. The cover art is by Martin Springett, who was the Artist GoH at VCon last year. My copy is signed, though I didn't realise that until I began reading it, because there was no Signed Copy sticker on the cover. This story is gorgeous. I mean that quite literally--the writing is lush and lovely and jeweled, like Dunsany, or Clark Ashton Smith, or Patricia McKillip when she's in the lovely-mode. The world of the story is full of prodigal invention, without being overwhelming or confusing.
The plot is very nearly anti-fantasy. Jaele is the daughter of a fisher family, enraptured by stories of the warrior queen Galha, who defeated and banished the Sea Raiders. When a party of Raiders murder her family, she takes her father's dagger and goes for vengeance, trailing the outcast Raider who cut her mother's throat. Along the way, she meets strange peoples and strange people. She tells them of her quest, and they feed her, sympathise, bind her wounds, tell her their own stories, befriend her and sometimes fall in love with her, but none of them join her quest or follow her banner. When she finally confronts the man who's been her target and (in a way) her companion all along, it doesn't go as expected, and that isn't where the story ends, either. The resolution isn't about her revenge, and it isn't about her falling in love (though she does both).
Not everyone will enjoy Telling (gosh, as if there's any book that everyone enjoys). Some readers will find it frustrating, and Jaele isn't easy to like, in her single-minded absorption. It's beautifully written, it's thoroughly imagined, and it messes with the reader's expectations. So much will depend on your tolerance for being messed with.

Firecracker, by Sean Stewart.
I have the UK edition, by Orion Books. The US edition is titled Perfect Circle, and Evil Editor has an author chat with Stewart. This book is awful damn good, is what. Not in the remotest way something I'd be able to write, which makes it quite comfortable to read (so I do read as a writer in some ways).
William 'Dead' Kennedy can see and talk to ghosts. In fact, he seems to be better at understanding ghosts than he does with live people, like his ex-wife and his daughter. While the seeing dead people trope has been heavily worked in the last while, the working-poor characters and setting take it to unexpected places. I have a personal loathing for books where poor people end up losing everything or are portrayed as hopeless aimless losers in the name of 'realism' (The Pearl, by Steinbeck is the former, but that's another rant entirely). Firecracker's characters may be poor, and may make bad decisions, but they're not fools and they're not pitiable. And it starts with a ghost and an explosion--you can't go wrong with that.

Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos.
Occasionally, yes, I do read non-genre books. I'm something of a sucker for adult books with child pov characters, always have been since I was a child myself. (I'm also a sucker for books that start with an episode of the characters as children.) Partly it was curiosity at how adults portrayed children in books for each other, which was quite different from the way they portrayed children in books for children. So, what I liked very much about Love was the character Clare, an 11 year old whose mother has a breakdown, and whose estranged father isn't paying attention. Clare's story alternates by chapter with the story of Cornelia, her father's girlfriend, who takes charge of her after her mother disappears.
Clare isn't totally believable as an 11 year old. I'd buy her as 12 or 13, but then she'd be getting close to puberty, and some aspects of the story wouldn't work--her crush on Teo would be less innocent, for instance. But I liked her a lot anyways, as a bright and vulnerable child trying to cope with adults who weren't doing their part. The story woke right up when she came into it.
Cornelia's half, not so much. Cornelia angsted a lot about how she wasn't amounting to anything, but everyone loved her, even Clare went into ecstacies over how Cornelia decorated her apartment, for instance. And she worked at a coffee shop with every regular so quirky and cute they must have come from Central Casting. Gah. All A Bit Much, Really. But quite readable, in a popcorn way, and I didn't pay full price for it.
By the way, what is it with the trend of book covers showing photographs of little girl's legs and feet? Time Traveler's Wife did it, and now it seems to be everywhere.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

sheathe machete, take out hammer

I have cut just under 26k from a 129.5k manuscript. I'm torn between a euphoric sense of accomplishment, and grinding guilt that I let anybody--still less anybody I hold in affection--read 26 thousand unnecessary words.
I am so sorry. Really. I will never do it again. The gratitude part just makes me feel worse about it.

The next step is to re-enter at the first chapter and go through, pausing at the angle brackets to hammer home various elements that were scanted.

Clarifying the material culture of Nomency and environs--I hadn't considered that the default tech level for a fantasy is, say, 13th-15th c. Western Europe. Willow Knot, being a Grimm fairy tale (Grimm 11, Brother and Sister), is set in late 1700s Europe, roughly during Kleinstaaterei, something before the time the Grimms were collecting stories. This won't automatically occur to most readers, so I need to drop more clues about the material culture, earlier on.

Establishing that religion exists, without making religion a big honking issue. I've changed 'the Dear' to 'the Dear Lord' throughout, and hopefully that will do most of it. I can't count on an audience who know all the words to I Know Where I'm Going.* I'm still worried that US readers (okay, humour me briefly in the delusion that I will have readers I don't already know personally) see evangelical Protestantism as the model of religion good or bad, and will be bemused or unconvinced by any faith less insistent. But there is nothing I can do about that. For sure I can't write an equivalent to 1700s German states without religion. It would be like writing the European Middle Ages without religion--that gives you the Society for Creative Anachronism.
That was a joke, but never mind.

Clarifying why Myl is paranoid about being indebted. First to another person, because of Midame reminding her how grateful she should be, and how she owed her aunt obedience and affection--which is part of what messes up her relationship with Alard. Then to any creature in the Maerchenwald, because the stories are pretty clear that if you take without asking, or take without paying, the thing you took is going to bring you down. I can't assume that level of folktale knowledge in a reader, so it needs to be reiterated beyond the once or twice.

Laying in the clues of Midame's 'rescue' of the unborn child, via what Myl witnessed and partially remembers, which is also how she learned to hear spells running in water--this will be a tough series to complete without being either too obscure or clunkily obvious. If I can do it, it will wrap things up very tidily.

Establishing that Alard and Myl do not marry for love, and maybe clarifying that no one of their class and time would expect to.
Alard marries her out of guilt, in an attempt to set things right, to close the question of alliance with Lusantia, to get an heir, and to use her supposed gift for unsealing. He doesn't explain any of this to her, so establishing it is going to be more than a little difficult, working from her pov.
Myl marries him in hope of freeing Tyl from enchantment, to restore her family's estate, and because refusing the king is usually a bad idea.
I sure hope nobody reads this looking for a tale of True Love and Soulmates. They do love each other by the end, but--.

Laying in the groundwork for the plot against Alard, the example of the duke of Valdosa in his extravagance and how he finances it, and the resentment of Fadric and others that they can't use his method because Alard forbids it.
Concentrating the exiles subplot on Lusantia, with Valdosa being the impulse for the regicide subplot. It may still be too complicated, but I guess I'll find out.

Building Truda's manipulation of the ladies in waiting, which will be tricky because it happens out of Mylla's sight. I laid some clues in Donvina's outburst, but probably not strongly enough.
I've made it more obvious that Truda is the one who tells Alard about the sweetmeats--did anyone wonder why she was so quick on the spot after Alard told Myl off and went off in a huff? And why Mylla went into labour so soon after Truda's posset? Nobody commented on it, but maybe that means it was perfectly clear.

Simplifying Baldolf's aims. I was still working out what he wanted in the second draft, and by the end of it I knew, but if I'd gone back to trim out the false leads, I would have started rewriting the whole damn thing and it was time to step back.
Resolution: never let anyone see anything earlier than the 3d draft ever again.

Doubtless there's more - oh, the scene where Lina warns of the witchcraft rumours will be revised from a simple meeting in the garden to a full-out fight between two of the ladies-in-waiting, over one encouraging the extravagance mentioned above. I've realised that I will have two 'shower scenes' and a catfight, and an unplanned pregnancy. Exploitation fairy tale!

Anyway, Willow Knot draft 3 sits at 103.6k, and I figure I can go up to 110k while filling holes and polishing. Ideally I'll finish that process before our pre-technological Living History Week at Fort Rodd Hill. That's the end of this month. Excuse me while I gird my loins.

*'I know where I'm going,
I know who's going with me.
I know who I love,
But the Dear knows who I'll marry'

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The machete unsheathed

Finally revising: I spent a week house-sitting for friends in Vancouver (it was originally to be house- and cat-sitting, but the cat was boarded at the vet's instead, since I'm not qualified to give injections to any living thing) and finally, finally, I got stuck into the revision of Willow Knot.
Apparently I'm still recovering from the cold I brought back from the UK, since I was hacking up phlegm randomly through the day, and falling asleep between 7pm and 9pm each night.
Still and all, I got at least 5 hours of steady pruning in each day, and cut at least 10k wordage. Plus doing a little tidying and dusting to earn my keep.
What I removed: restatements of previously established material, which I think is a workshop habit resulting from posting chapter-by-chapter; notes to myself describing places and plot points (cleverly disguised as narrative, but not necessary to the reader); groundwork for plot or motivation that didn't end up happening.
The unicorn is gone, gone, pretty though it was. The babes in the wood remain, because I believe they're thematically important: not all tales end well. Some incidents are intensified, like the encounter with the head groom in chapter one, which is now nastier and introduces the 'traitor' point.
The first part is still a survival narrative, like Hatchet, or My Side of the Mountain, or half of Canadian literature, depending which critics you read. That's what drew me to the story in the beginning, the question of how the little sister manages in the forest by herself, and since she knows her brother is enchanted, how does it affect her actions and decisions?
FutureBarb notes: about 17k has presently been removed, but some of it will have to come back as the holes are filled.

I made sure to go for a walk each day, and the house is in a pleasant part of Vancouver, with quirky little shops and restaurants, second-hand bookshops and (oh no!) dollar stores.
I'd brought books from my To-Be-Read pile, and still ended up buying books, at Book Warehouse and at two of the used-book places. I also bought (doom! doom!) notebooks. What could I do? There were at least three dollar stores within an easy walk, with notebooks and stationery decorated with oddly translated English or strange images:

The icecream snowmen are just creepy. I love them. You can find more of Menji's notebooks here. I also found new Barunson notebooks, and a Young Art pocketbook that says 'I Love Coffee'.

I did read books, filing it under 'research', though most of it was reacquainting myself with the subgenre of fairy-tale retellings. I finally read The Door in the Hedge, but wasn't as taken by it as I'd hoped after Deerskin and Beauty. I finished A Telling of Stars, and got started with Winter Rose and A College of Magics.
But it's late, here, so I'll comment on them later.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

you should buy these books

I've mentioned books by friends from time to time, but perhaps a pulling-them-all-together post is due. I wanted to call this 'pimping my friends' books' but pimping seems to have altered its meaning to 'refurbishing and decorating to an extreme' rather than 'touting the attractive points of', over the last few years. Oh, and my Illustrated Oxford informs me that pimping as an adjective means 'small, mean, sickly', which amuses me.
But on to touting the virtues of recently-published books by people I know.

Zoe Marriott, light of the Furtive Scribblers and ABE Books forum, has two books out in the UK, by Walker Books. The Swan Kingdom, her first, is a retelling of the Swan Brothers folktale that deepens the emotion and complexity of the characters while keeping the enchantment of the original story. It's been out in England for over a year, and is finally available in North America from Candlewick, in hardcover, with paperback coming next year (according to Munro's Books in Victoria). Both the UK and US covers are lovely, and the writing matches them.

The third image is her second book, also from Walker: Daughter of the Flames. Aren't these gorgeous covers? Every bookshop clerk I've shown them to has exclaimed over how gorgeous they are. Daughter of the Flames also centres on a young woman who must discover who and what she is during a time of turmoil and danger, but the setting here isn't green Celtic fields and forests, it's a harsh desert torn by ethnic hatreds. Zahira is a scarred, orphaned warrior, where Alexandra was a gentle healer, but both discover that even those who love them best have kept the truth from them, and they must make their own decisions, however great the risk for them and for others.
Which sounds awfully portentous. Both books are darned good reads--Zoe writes a kickass action sequence--and I'd recommend them, particularly if you're looking for fantasies with strong female characters. (It's just a little frustrating how long it's taking for them to be available in North America.)

Rachael de Vienne's Pixie Warrior is available from e-publisher Drollerie. I read the first chapters when we were both members of the Online Writing Workshop, and had the good fortune to read an earlier draft of the book. I was intrigued right away with the mix of strong historical setting in the Pacific Northwest, and the unusual fantasy slant of a pixie woman loving a mortal man, plus the distinctive and cheeky voice of the narrator--their daughter.
Strong female characters, humour, action, and an unusual story. Oh, and another nice cover, showing Sha'el peeking out of her father's pocket.

Jennifer Pelland, Viable Paradise alumna and staff, is a quite different writer. Her collection of short stories, Unwelcome Bodies, is out from Apex. I bought my copy at Potlatch. I haven't read them all yet, because I discovered that after reading each story I needed recovery time, the same way I did when I first read Harlan Ellison (his stories from the 60s, before he disappeared up his own enfant terrible legend), because however fantastic or futuristic the settings, the people and emotions are true and the stories cut deep. I read "Big Sister/Little Sister" in the evening, and it seriously interfered with my sleep, so consider yourself warned. On the other hand, there are pieces like "When Science Fiction Cliches Go Bad" which are just plain fun, almost guaranteed to leave you unscarred.

Even though they're far from needing whatever puny push I could add, Doyle & Macdonald's latest book Land of Mist and Snow, is a fine fast-moving tale of magic and adventure at sea, a dandy addition to the still small library of historical fantasy. It's personal taste, but the story took off for me with William Sharps' entry, rather than at the opening with John Nevis, so I was happy indeed with the Sharps story in F&SF's February issue.
Of additional interest is the log that Doyle & Macdonald kept of the writing of Land of Mist and Snow, with insights into the process from research through revision to receiving the ARCs.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy bank holiday!

I am back from the UK, as of April 30th, and it was a fine trip in many ways. Unfortunately, airplane travel doesn't go well with a semi-suppressed immune system, and presently I have a disgusting catarrh and sore throat, along with a need to sleep for two or three hours in the afternoon.
Details of the trip will thus be posted in days to follow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Doing the proud mother thing

Last Friday was the graduation for Class 35 of the Applied Communication Program, Camosun College. The ceremony was perhaps a bit different from the ruck and run, being a variety show of presentations of each graduate's final project, with a pair of MoCs providing the clunky in-jokes usually reserved for yearbook captions.
I admit to some anticipation of what they would say about the Beloved Child. "Every class has one, the egghead, the know-it-all even the teachers turn to, and Class 35 had Chris Shier..."
Aaawww... I'm so proud.

About 20 projects were covered, each with a few minutes of clips, or web-pages, or photo-montage or video. The range was impressive: documentaries on topics from disability accessibility to geocaching to culture shock from the immigrant's viewpoint to Victoria's juggling community; a recruitment program for volunteer firefighters; a 'compilation album' that was actually a mockumentary; books including a children's book illustrated with collage and silhouette, a 156 page satirical comic book, and a photography book on Japanese gardens in Victoria; a catalogue for a local luthier; radio segments for BC's 150th, and surprisingly, only one webcomic.
Considering how difficult it can be to write a synopsis or two-paragraph blurb for one's novel, I have much sympathy for the students turning their months of work into a couple of minutes of visuals and voiceover. They did well.
Chris and his classmate Laila put together an art magazine and website called Shopworn, with interviews and overviews of artists on south Vancouver Island. Due to some glitch, their promo picture (a rather snazzy one of the two of them each holding a copy of the magazine in front of their faces, one cover and one inside spread, showing a 360 panorama of the studio featured) remained on the screen between each of the remaining presentations. More air time, well done!

The last time we'd been in that room, a rather charming one with plastered decorations of faces and pillars, was for an Eric Bogle concert, possibly before Chris was born. It also had a balcony, where we sat, because one doesn't often have the chance, nowadays.
The other time-passy moment was looking at Chris in his suit, and Mark in his suit (I was allowed to get away with narrow-wale corduroy trousers and a silk shirt) and noticing how much alike they looked, except for hair, because Chris has my hair, which is brown and thick (this may make up for him having my temper and teeth, I don't know).

Refreshments afterwards, and Mark, Zoe and I somehow reached the liquid refreshments before everyone else, perhaps because we went through the nearest door, and had our wine and beer while most attendees were struggling through the corridor where the food was laid out.
After some struggling on our part, we found the room where the portfolios were laid out. Unlike the rather nicely done arrangement of presentations, this was rather a muddle. The table was in the computer room, and was tucked into one corner, without much room to manoeuvre around it. The portfolios were laid out in 3 rows, so that even if the viewers circled the table, some would be inaccessible. I ended up pulling 4 or 5 out of the middle and putting them on nearby desks.
Oh, and why do people have this impulse to close a portfolio after looking at it, so that no one else coming along can tell what's in it? I've seen this in other displays, and it's maddening, because one opens the portfolios or binders or books to enticing pages to draw people over, and as soon as someone's been drawn over, he tidily closes them all into blank forbiddingness. It's not as if people looking at displays are tidy in any other discernible way.
But I rant. Stopping now.

The child has graduated. Tomorrow we're leaving for 2 weeks in England. That's where things are at present.