Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Happy, Happy! Joy, Joy!

Mark's in-person interview went amazingly well. Barring something strange, we're supposed to hear back (and all indications are to the affirmative) by the end of the week.

Did you hear that really, loud clicking sound? Everything's moving into place! :)

ETN: At 5PM, Friday, September 29, I got a voicemail from my mother (forgot the damn cell phone at home today) that she left at 10AM telling me to adjust my verbiage in order to prevent violating something about confidentiality. I don't think there was a problem with what I posted, but seeing as how we didn't hear back by the close of business today (the end of the work week), I'm not taking any chances.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Europe by Train, 1996

Not too long after I graduated from high school, I said a fond (hopefully temporary) farewell to my European Adventures by hopping on a train with some pals and taking in Paris, Barcelona, Lloret de Mar (resort town in Spain), and Geneva. The primary focus of the trip was a few days in Lloret, but I think the entire journey lasted 6-7 days. Here's how it worked: for an astonishingly small fee, we bought a week EuroRail pass that got us on a certain class of train (so not the ultra fast ones, but the regional ones), and that one pass was good for 5 days of travel in any of the participating countries. (If you want to see a lot of Europe on a budget and a backpack, I highly recommend these passes; no rental cars, you can sleep on the train and cut some hostel costs, and those European trains are very effecient and travel through some amazing sites--if you're awake to appreciate them.)

So early the first day, we loaded up our backpacks, joined up at a local regional station, waved good-bye to the 'rents, and were on our merry way to Paris. This was the third time I had been to Paris, but this was the first time I actually went up in the Eifel Tower. When I went with my girl scout troup back in 1988, I was waiting for an elevator to go up the tower and freaked out about falling so I just hung around the grounds waiting for everyone else to get down. This time I scoped Paris from the highest observation point and was overjoyed that it was a sunny, clear day so I could actually see the city. We wandered through Notre Dame and ate lunch by those freaky glass pyramid thingies at the Louvre (but we didn't have enough time to actually go into the museum, darn the luck), and tried to find Jim Morrison's grave. But what I remember most about Paris on this trip was Sacre Coeur and the artist's colony on Montmarte. After living and traveling in Europe for nine years, I had seen a lot of churches and basilicas and cathedrals and whatnot. Some of them dripped with gaudy gilded decor, some of them imposed with their extensive and infamous history, some of them overwhelmed with humongous organ pipes, some of them entertained with intriguing bells and/or clocks, and some of them managed to make you feel right at home with their understated beauty and atmosphere. Sacre Coeur was one of those. It helped that its design was not your typical European cathedral both inside and out. It helped that the grounds were extensive and set apart from the bustle of the city. It helped that it was a warm, sunny day. It helped that I was there without a chaperone and a schedule and had wandered there because I wanted to. The artist's colony was just a ton of fun to explore, especially at sunset.

Then it was on the train to sleep our way to Barcelona. This leg of the trip marked our only strange encounter on the EuroRail. Our pass didn't let us use the individual rooms. We had to take the generic seats. Luckily the train wasn't too crowded, and each of us got our own two-seater to fully relax and get cozy for sleep. I hadn't been asleep too long when I woke up to someone talking at me in an agitated voice (and a language I couldn't discern--at least not in my groggy state) and grabbing at my bag. After some frowning and sleepy "Parlez vous Engles" mutters, I moved my bag to my feet, thinking he wanted the seat. But then he just left to the next car. I shrugged and went back to sleep. In the morning, we discover that one of our number had been robbed. It's a good thing I'm a light sleeper. (We all donated a portion of our own funds to our suddenly poor pal.)

Barcelona was a blur. I mostly remember the train station. We did spend some time at the Sagrada Family basilica, which is a bit of an acid trip even when you're not a zombie after a few hours of sleep on a train. Every damn corner of that place is sculpted or decorated or something. It was pretty fascinating, though. Mostly because I kept wondering about the designer's sanity. And, of course, lots of history to ponder there.

We cut our sightseeing short so we could hurry down to Lloret de Mar and the beach. There we encountered a problem at our hostel. They had apparently overbooked. There may have been more of a snarl to that, but we were able to get into an actual hotel for even less without too much bother. Then it was all beaches and discos for a few days. One day we did take a boat over to a nearby town haunted by artists, Cadaques. The boat ride made most of us seasick, but the town was really nifty, and the Mediterranean really does have some amazingly clear blue waters.

Speaking of blue, we bought a skinny blue raft for our shared use in the sea. I think it may have been dubbed the Blue Penis, and I'm sure we though ourselves very clever for it. Although only the boys used it...interesting. There was a little bay off the beaten path from the bustling beaches of Lloret de Mar. Plenty of rocky outcroppings to just sit and watch the water--or dive off of as was the case of the boys in the group. NOTE: No ridiculous adolescents were harmed in the making of this trip.

After we got sick of sunning and clubbing, we hopped back on the train and made our way back to Germany via Switzerland. We spent a rather cold, gray, and rainy Sunday afternoon in Geneva. Just about everything was closed, and the things that were open were unspeakably expensive (lunch at Mickey D's cost us $10 each). What I remember most about that leg of the trip was catching glimpses of waterfalls from Alpine valley floors as the train wove its way through Switzerland. Very pretty.

I think I crashed for a good two days when we got back home. That sort of trip, while budget-friendly and time-efficient, will wear you out in a hurry.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Don't Feed the Drew Monster

Drew's starting to eat Big Boy Food. He's moving slowly into this world as he seems to have problems with certain textures other than the mashed and pureed consistencies he's used to. We weren't pushing him on this too much--until Momma had a blonde in distress moment after pulling him out of his old daycare. The new daycare provider had to experiment with food since I had neglected to provide her with his usual fare. He's now exploring the world of cookies and apples and cereal and crackers. Slowly but surely.

It's funny: a lot of folks mentioned how in the last round of Drew pics that he doesn't look like a baby anymore, how he looks like a toddler. I've noticed the changes as they've happened (usually by seeing how much more hair he has than he did before and how the appearance of teeth changes his looks), but they didn't give me a "my baby's growing up" pang. No, I got that when I went to pick him up from daycare one day and found him dwarfed in a high chair, gripping a regular-sized cookie that was bigger than his hand, and nibbling at it while kicking his legs. Damn near fell to the floor in tears at how old and independent he looked. I was tickled and proud and excited--and sad and terrified. It all moves so fast.

As I told my aunt (whose little one is about three months younger than Drew) before the daycare shuffle, I wasn't feeling the bittersweetness of Drew growing up as long as I could still hold him and comfort him after waking up from a nap or a bad dream or after getting an owwee. Now I cherish those moments when he needs them more than I ever did before. It won't be long before he doesn't need me in that way, before he's too big anyway. That's a good thing, and very necessary and natural and I'm honestly looking forward to watching Drew grow into the man he'll become. But watching Drew eat that cookie made me realize just how precious this past year has been despite all the missed sleep and spit-up stains and house rearranging and free time shuffling.

I never thought watching Andrew eat a cookie at eleven months old would generate this motherhood epiphany.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Brilliant Marketing

Via John Scalzi, I checked out a new idea for book marketing/bonus material. It's a blog related to a new book. It's supposed to be a standalone story that feeds into the book, or provides insight into the events that occur in the book. I'm checking it out because it sounds like a very clever idea, but the genre of the book is horror (if the blog had to be classified, I'd say suspense/thriller/paranormal with one or two mild horror elements). Still, the blog is an intriguing read and has me curious enough that, dammit, I'm probably going to pick up the book when it comes out. I just have to make a deal that I can only read it during the day and when I'm not alone in the house or something. I used to give myself nightmares just seeing the horror movie covers in the video store.

So. Details. The book is called Chasing the Dead. The blog is also called Chasing the Dead. Start with the first entry.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Birthday Prep Check-in

We went in for Drew's one-year-old picture session today. Got a lot of great shots. Those won't be back for about two weeks. This time Mark and I wised up and got extra sheets of wallet-sized photos. We forgot to do that for our family portrait last year and wound up giving away all the wallet-sized photos.

Also accomplished today: bought a couple of gifts for the boy's big day coming up here shortly, bought Mark's interview outfit, and had a fun a la carte lunch at Wild Oats (they have such amazing salads). Oh, and Mark is now up in Blackhawk playing poker as a treat to himself before the interview and to hopefully win some extra cash. He's been doing pretty well up at those tables lately.

As for this week...writing didn't go too well. I did get some accomplished, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. Tonight will go better. I let the CSI and Studio 60 premieres distract me. Bad, Kellie. Bad.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Music Variety

Tired of listening to all the political commercials on your radio station at work? Looking to find some new artists or a new sound? Interested in seeing scientific concepts applied to musical content? Bored and feel like playing with something for free on the Internet?

Look no further than Pandora.

Some folks got together and started the Music Genome Project, cataloging the songs of over 10,000 artists by such things as major key tonality, repetitive melodic phrasing, and--my favorite "gene" so far--extensive vamping (that's one of the genes on my Sting radio station). You can guide their program by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to the selections they make based on common "genetic" elements. Sometimes the program gives you a golden, perfect station complete with artists you've never heard of before but will be hunting for on Amazon. Sometimes the program takes a turn into WTF-land and your thumbing down selection after selection.

But, hey, it's free and pretty interesting. Give it a whirl.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


In the midst of juggling life stuff, I find myself also juggling writing stuff. I have an idea for a short story that I'd really like to get into and give me the soothing satisfaction of actually completing a project right about now. But I'm afraid that I'll get derailed in the middle of SoZ, which would be a very bad thing because if I get derailed in the middle, it's hard to get back on track.

So that's the dilemma. Write the short story and feel good about seeing a project through from start to finish in the middle of all the Real Life Stuff and risk an extensive delay in finishing SoZ. Or keep chugging on SoZ--which I'm enjoying, don't get me wrong--and every now and then feel a little off because I feel anchorless in my writing as well as my life. Hmmm....

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Old News, But Still Important

In the middle of science fiction's big night to reward folks (think Academy Awards), one male author made the decision to grope the event's hostess on stage. So instead of discussing the awards and the folks who earned them, the SF community raged about this author's actions. And rightly so, there was no excuse for it, and that sort of behavior should be immediately condemned.

However, barely two weeks later, the internet was in an uproar because a woman defended herself when a drunken jerk grabbed her in a bar. I absolutely don't understand this.

Both brouhahas have reminded me about a critique group session last year. There were only four of us there, and we were all women. For some reason, we got on the subject of sexual assault (either one of us had written a scene provocative of that or there was a big case buzzing in the news). The saddest part of that conversation is that every single one of us had an assault story to tell, ranging from the very tame to the stuff of Lifetime movies (or would have been had not the women managed to escape). Some of us had more than one story to tell. None of us got physical with our attackers. None of us ever pressed charges. All of us knew our attackers and trusted them. All of us went through a period of guilt after it happened.

I was at a party in college with a group of friends that I interacted with several times a week and that I trusted. When one of the guys told me I had to try SoCo and Coke, I took the drink without a second thought. No, it wasn't drugged, but that drink and the other two he mixed for me were heavy on the SoCo, and since I had never had SoCo and Coke before, I didn't quite figure out just how much alcohol was in each drink until I was well and truly drunk. Right about this time, I decided it was time to go back to my dorm since I didn't want to stay any longer and risk getting more drunk (it hadn't occurred to me that my friend had, in essence, gotten me drunk). Said friend offered to walk me home, since I was quite obviously smashed. Thinking him the perfect gentleman, I accepted.

No sooner were we in the stairwell than he pressed himself close and kissed me. I was more confused than anything else. I think my first thought was, "But wait, I have a boyfriend." I managed to step away and remind him that he was walking me home and that kissing wasn't conducive to that (or whatever the slurred equivalent is). As we walked across the well-lit and well-populated areas of campus, he kept trying to kiss me again. I kept avoiding it, growing more and more confused and agitated. When we got to a part of the campus that was not so well-lit nor so well-populated, I was remarkably sober. He made to kiss me again, and I put distance between us and threatened to yell rape if he didn't leave me the fuck alone. Suddenly he was remarkably sober and very apologetic and very desirous not to have his ass kicked by my boyfriend.

I made it back to my dorm without further incident, and wouldn't you know my first item of business? To call my boyfriend and beg forgiveness because I had kissed another man. At first my boyfriend was furious with this friend of mine, but I talked him down and managed to take all the blame until--here's the kicker--my man was forgiving me for cheating on him.

So when I hear that Harlan Ellison grabbed Connie Willis's breast and we're having a mostly intellectual debate about it (instead of a real discussion of what consequences such an action should have, such as, I dunno, banning Ellison from future World Cons) followed closely by a discussion of whether it was right or wrong for Campbell Award winner John Scalzi's wife to defend herself from a groper, I wonder if we'll ever get to a point where no part of society in any way tolerates any abuse of women, no matter how "small". Because if we were already at that point, then no guy would think it any way appropriate or "not a big deal" to touch a woman without her permission. I got lucky because the jackass in my case either wasn't prepared for a struggle or was too drunk to realize what he was doing himself and stopped as soon as I made it clear. (I actually think it was the former. Another guy tried similar things to another girl at the party. She and I compared notes, and we both came to the conclusion that the two of them may have bet each other how far they could get with each of us.)

If nothing else, it'll make fodder for good drama in a book later. But let's hope all this dialog actually makes inroads to the greater social problems involved.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: London, 1996

My grandmother, my aunt, and my great aunt came to Germany to see me graduate (or to celebrate with me shortly thereafter; suddenly my timeline is fuzzy) and to travel to London with my family afterward. We were going to take the train to Paris and then the Chunnel. This would've been a good deal more exciting had not Paris been under very tight security due to recent bombings and/or bomb threats and had we not seen Mission: Impossible with its tense, action-packed, chopper-in-the-Chunnel sequence.

The layover in Paris had been meant to be a group outing (we had at least three hours). Because of the security issues, though, the train station had closed off all of their short-term storage lockers. My dad, my brother, and I got to stay in the station with the luggage. (Wasn't a big deal for me because I knew I would be in Paris in another week or two with some of my friends on our European Adventure by train. That summary will be next up.) Incidentally, those three hours marked the first time I sat in a traveling apparatus terminal, trying not to be annoyed by the incessant, automated voice telling me not to leave my luggage unattended and to report any suspicious bags to the authorities. It was even worse that time because I had to hear it in French as well.

The Chunnel trip and train ride into London was rather uneventful. The Chunnel train was fast, and a lot of it was spent in a tunnel, and therefore with no scenery. I think this was the first time I had tea with milk; it sparked a brief fad for tea drinking in my life.

It was pretty much night when we got into London and made it to our hotel. There was some sort of problem with the hotel. Either we didn't stay in the first one we went to or the rooms weren't what they should have been given our number or both. All I remember is that we were all very tired and irritable by the time we found beds, and I think the first night was a bit cramped. The hotel we did stay in had a great restaurant with Egyptian cuisine, I believe.

We did some of the usual touristy stuff: London Tower, St. Paul's cathedral, rode the Underground, caught a couple of shows (I think I traded touring Buckingham Palace or somesuch in favor of waiting in line for tickets to The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables). Actually, the shows are what I remember most about this trip. I was excited about Phantom as I had fallen in love with the soundtrack four years before. My brother, however, was salivating over the chance to see Les Mis has he had fallen in love with the soundtrack a couple of years before. My mother was eager for both. The rest of our crew was more excited about London, silly them. :)

My mom and I saw Phantom together. It was a matinee showing, so we got the understudies for a couple of folks. The theater was actually quite small (not on par with the Swan), and our seats were quite good. It was an enjoyable show, but I remember being disappointed because it didn't resonate as well with me as the soundtrack did. Still, I was absolutely tickled to be seeing Phantom in London. (Speaking of The Phantom of the Opera, I did see a production in Chicago that was phenomenal. The last note of that show is still with me: the Phantom singing, "It's over now, the music of the night." I'm getting goosebumps just typing this. I saw it with my aunt on a quick weekend jaunt away from Notre Dame. Our seats were absolutely terrible--there was a great portrayal of the descent into the catacombs that we only caught the last portion of because we were too high up to see all of the stage. But that note...I wouldn't say it haunts me because it's a far too pleasant sound for such a negative connotation.)

Now, Les Mis was an experience. I hadn't listened to that soundtrack very much, so I wasn't as attached to any particular interpretation of the vocals and music. Well, except for one song. The teacher who had directed one of the plays I did in high school sang "Bring Him Home" a capella for a play. But instead of taking me out of the moment, hearing it sung as part of Les Mis and recalling my memory of it in another setting dovetailed to make a profound impact. Though Phantom is still my favorite of these two plays, I enjoyed my London experience of Les Mis a good deal more.

There are two other snatches of memories I have of this trip. One was going to the London Dungeon, which was a mostly cheesy house of horrors tour of the seedier side of London's history, heavy on the Jack the Ripper gore--I mean, "lore". This was my brother's "Must See" stop on the trip, of course. The other memory I have was browsing through Harrod's, London's (England's? was it a chain?) version of Nordstrom meets Tiffany's or something. I managed to scrounge together the money to buy a very cheap pen there.

I think if I hadn't just graduated and wasn't heading off on another big trip in a few days, I would've remembered more of this trip as I know we must've done more. If nothing else, I had to have stocked up on my favorite Cadbury's chocolate bar, the Wispa. Hmmmmm....Wispa.

Next Week: Europe by Train, 1996; Previous Episodes: click on the "Where in the World" label for all previous traveling adventures

Monday, September 18, 2006

Giving the Humidifier a Run for Its Money

Drew loves to play on our bed. He'll flop backwards on to the mattress. He'll flop forwards on to the mattress. He'll climb on top of our pillows so he can grip the headboard railings and shake them and make the bed squeak. He'll pull the pillows on top of him and then crawl out from underneath.

But the best part of his bed adventures is how he laughs and grins and squeals. And he just doesn't stop the laughing or the frenetic activity. It's a great way to tucker him out and cheer yourself up in the process. We're going to have to get a picture of him throwing his hands up over his head and raising up on his knees in preparation for the forward flop or the pillow grab.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

" Whose Character We Were Most Unhappily Deceived"

I had considered titling this post "How to Lose a Customer in 10 Days" but I like the Pride & Prejudice understatement here. What follows, dear reader, is a faithful narrative of my dealings with Ms. X------, my former daycare provider.

Transitions are a tricky thing. Management transitions, especially those in which contracts or explicit agreements are not used, are particularly tricky. This is where my blame in all of this lies. I didn't ask enough questions. I gave everybody the benefit of the doubt and decided not to be a bother during a transition period, hoping everything would settle out into the assumption of normal and routine that I had.

When the provider who cared for Andrew up until the end of August left, I was under the impression (from both the old management and the new management) that things would proceed in pretty much the same manner at my daycare. Sure, personalities and the basic tenor of the services provided would be different, but the basic setup was to remain the same. The situation changed upon the first day of new management, but without clear explanations as to what exactly the changes meant. I walked into the daycare to see a new face (we'll call her Y), and was informed that this new person would be "staying here all the time" instead of the person I had expected would be doing so (we'll call her X). I took this to mean that now Andrew would have two full-time daycare providers, one living at the house, the other living elsewhere. For the next four days, I saw the original person twice. Nothing was communicated to me on that person's absence. I learned later (from other sources) that there had been an emergency, and that's fine. I understand that those things happen, and if I had been informed of all changes and urgent circumstances (not the details of their lives, but the details of how that emergency would impact my son's care), I would've been fine. The situation deteriorated until last Friday, Mark and I arrived to pick up Andrew and found that both the original person AND the new person weren't there, instead it was Y's husband. Again, that sort of thing for a brief period of time in an emergency is OK, I just need to be informed. Oh, yeah, and Andrew wasn't eating or sleeping as he normally did. Granted, that could have been due to the stress of new people in his life, but it didn't do anything to make the situation better.

Mark and I struggled with what we should do about all of this last weekend. It was clear we needed to talk to them and find a way to get Drew back on his regular schedule for his well being and our sanity. We decided to call our previous provider who had moved and get some advice and suggestions on how to handle the situation--and to confirm that our assumptions had been accurate. Seemed like a good plan.

When I picked up Andrew on Monday, I was told that that Y (and her husband) would be going out of town for several days and that we had to bring Andrew to another daycare on one of those days and that "someone qualified" would be at their daycare for the other days. There was no mention of where X, the person who was supposed to be the primary care provider under this new management, would be during this time. As I took all of this in, they then shared with me that Drew hadn't eaten since noon and it was five o'clock. It was also clear to me by this time that their idea of day care was to keep all the kids in the TV room all day long.

I called my old provider as soon as I got home and learned that I was not the only one having problems with the new management. In sharing my concerns with my old provider, I managed to uncover a bigger contractual problem between the old and new management. I didn't realize it at the time, though, as I was not--nor should I have been--privy to the specifics of the how management changed hands. However, because of this issue, my old provider called X later and must've let her have it. But I knew nothing of that, either, until the next day.

On Tuesday, I went to drop off Andrew with a plan in hand. We were going to take notes on Drew's eating and sleeping habits each day and try to get him to his regular schedule, the daycare folks were to do the same. I was prepared to pull X aside and let her know my concerns and try to establish a better line of communication and explain my expectations. So when I showed up to find both X and Y (and even Y's husband) standing outside to greet me when I arrived, I started to get a bad feeling. Still, I soldiered on and laid out the plan to get Drew back to his regular schedule. Even though X agreed to the idea, she was immediately confrontational. I wasn't quite sure why until she mentioned that--and, yes, the quotes are damn near verbatim--"that's why you need to be calling us and not [the old management]."

Ah. Things were getting clearer and grimmer in my mind. Still, I tried to salvage the situation by explaining (very calmly and not at all attacking, I might add) why I had called the old provider. Things just went to hell in a handbasket after that. X remained belligerent and defensive, as if waiting for me to apologize for calling someone I had trusted with my son's care for nine months and, I surmised later, ratting them out. This, of course, assumes I had any idea that they weren't holding up their end of the agreement and that they were not wanting the old provider to know this.

When X started in on the attacks against the old provider (and somehow managed to mix in with them the statement, "We love Andrew"--yeah, sure, uh-huh), I stopped her by saying (again, very calmly), "Thank you very much for taking care of Andrew last week, but we're going to find another option." As I was turning to leave (I was still holding Drew; we had never managed to actually get inside the daycare), she said, "Well, honey, you do what you have to do."

Finally we had hit upon an agreement.

I think I started shaking once I got back home, but I still held everything at bay. After all, I had to get to work and figure out where to put Andrew for the rest of the time we're going to be here. My old provider had recommended someone, and she was able to take Drew right away. I was so discombobulated by the entire exchange that I gave her a diaper bag without diapers or food for her to use that day.

Everything's much better now. Drew adapted like a pro to the new situation in just two days (which makes me wonder just how unhappy he was last week), and I'm set up to work at home two days during the week. I had my first day of that today, and it was such a comfort to be with Drew all day. He was in such a good mood.

So that's why things got crazy on Tuesday. And the drama is still unfolding for those parents still trying to work with the new management. I think they've lost two more clients already. I'm not sure how many more they have to lose. After the way I was treated, I'm really not surprised. Such unprofessional behavior isn't exactly geared toward customer retention.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Whole New Blog Check-in

I just switched over to the beta version of Blogger that will let folks "subscribe" to my blog and get email notification when I have new content. Also, there will finally be content tags so you can browse my blog by topic. I'm betting "Drew" will be a popular one. (This, of course, means I have to go through over three and a half years of posts and apply said tags. I'll probably do that over the course of a month unless I suddenly find a bunch of free time. Ha.)

The week finished up so well with the news about Mark's interview, the news about the DDJ looking for a tech writer (yes, I applied), and Drew adjusting very well to the new day care and being in such a great mood for me while working at home's just so hard to believe that the start of the week was well and truly awful.

As for the writing, I managed to get some done this week. I'm still stuck in the middle and not particularly enjoying it, but I keep trudging onward, knowing that things are going to get wicked cool in a bit. Also knowing that all sins can be fixed in the revision. I may need to start using some other story ideas as a carrot to get through this middle bit.

For the most part, though, I'm just damn happy to have survived this week. I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be like that. But I'll survive with a smile, so I guess that's all right.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Good News!

Thanks to everyone who's been praying, sending us good vibes, and in general thinking of us during this crazy time. It paid off yesterday. Mark is in the process of arranging an in-person interview at our top choice company. Life is still pretty crazy, and an in-person interview is certainly not a gaurantee of a job, but it's progress. And that's something for us right now. I hope to get some more blogging done this weekend, to let ya'll know about how I came to pull Drew out of daycare, and hopefully get back on schedule next week.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bloggus Interruptus

May be silent for a bit. Pulled Drew out of daycare this morning (long story, details will follow) and had to put him with an emergency backup provider. Am in the midst of discussion with the DDJ the possibilities of me going part-time and/or working remote so we can stop with this daycare business all together.

Got stress?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Security of a Blanket

Andrew's Great-Grandmommy Hazell made a soft blue blanket for him before he was born. We used that blanket to keep him warm when he was just a tiny thing sitting in his bouncy chair and watching the world come into focus. When it was time for him to go to daycare, we packed that blanket up in his diaper bag. It's been a daily constant in his life, but it was only recently that we noticed he had developed quite a strong attachment to it.

As these two pictures show, he likes to bite it and lay on it (sometimes he'll be crossing the room and the blanket will be in his path; he flops down to cuddle it briefly before continuing on his merry way across the room; that's when we snapped that second photo). That's been going on for a couple of weeks to a month.

Over the past week, we've clearly seen that this blanket has become a Security Blanket. While Drew's been dealing with the changes at daycare, he fusses whenever that blanket is not in his hot little hands. There was one day last week that he would only be comforted if I cuddled him while he cuddled the blanket.

No matter how normal this seems--and regardless of the fact that every child seems to have such a blanket or stuffie--I feel awful every time he grabs at that blanket like it's the only thing in the world that's going to help him. It makes me wonder what's going through his little mind, what's triggering such an intense need for the familiar and soothing. Plus, it makes me feel more than a little useless that even Momma's arms won't make him feel better.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Teaser Too Revealing

Ever get annoyed when you watch a promo for a show or movie and they use all the best lines and scenes? Or they reveal something that happens way at the end of the plot? Books have a bad habit of doing the latter one. In trying to make the blurb on the cover grab a reader's interest, they give too much away. This isn't a problem when you buy the book, because you have no idea when the events that are being described will occur. Sometimes this tactic is used because very little happens until the events described on the back of the book (a bad thing, very bad). Sometimes it's the product of a bad copywriter. I know of a couple cases where the authors try to get the word out to their fans and readers to not read the back cover blurb or the teaser.

I have no idea which of the two (or some other reason that I can't drum up at the moment) led to the back cover copy on a recent book I read, but the event described on the back of the book that leads you to believe the book will be about that particular thing doesn't occur until about page 420 of 480. I shit you not. I'd provide specifics, but if I told you the book or the event, I'd end up spoiling the book for you one way or another.

I've never seen such a terrible back cover copy, and I really hope that the person who wrote it got fired for it. There were plenty of other ways to make this book exciting to someone just browsing the SF aisles, and doing things this way only served to misrepresent the book and make for a disjointed read. I feel so bad for this author, and I hope I never run into this problem when I get published.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Adjusting Check-in

It's been a rough week. I'm trying to train a new hire to do everything that I do while not knowing when I'm going to leave and exactly what the company wants me to do when I do leave (there's talk about creating an entirely new position just for me that I could do remotely and part-time). Toss in the fact that this was also the first week of our new daycare folks, and we've got a recipe for an off week. And it wasn't helped by having an off weekend last weekend with Mark being sick.

No writing. Not a whole lot of good sleeping. But Mark and I did manage to salvage a little of it and go to a new winery at our fancy schmancy mall. And Godiva was having a 50% off sale, so we had to finish up our little wine and cheese session with excellent chocolate. It was a very good end to a rough week.

As for the writing, I'm working hard to get everything back on track this weekend. But I've got the added distraction of a short story that came to roost after a very odd dream this week. It's been a trend that I have to exorcise these guys pretty promptly--kinda funny for this idea since it's about a ghost. I'm going to make it a reward for writing at least my minimum every night this weekend and Monday. See if that's a good compromise for these crazy short stories that come out of nowhere.

Still no word on Mark's job, and things aren't looking too good with the current day care situation. We may be looking at some big changes next weekend. More then.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Perils of a 2-hr Cable Movie Slot

Back when it first aired a couple of weeks ago, I watched Dragonsword on SciFi. And it was pretty good, except for the fact that it really needed at least another half hour to connect plot elements a bit better. It was sad to see a good movie with good acting and good writing that suffered because they tried to cram it all into 90 minutes or less. If you blinked, you missed a transition. If you coughed, you missed vital information explaining why certain characters were doing certain things. If you yawned (not because the movie was boring, but because you might actually be tired from chasing an eleven-month old), you missed Val Kilmer's thirty-second cameo.

What was left was a movie that felt like a bare bones outline with none of the padding that actually carries you from scene to scene or moves you in and out of arcs. I've seen this very often in the drafts that folks bring in to my critique group on their first visit. It's easy to get caught up in the "then this happens, and then this happens" of plot and story, trying to hit major drama moments or big juicy bits of conflict. But if you don't give the in between bits, then you don't set up the drama or the conflict effectively, if at all.

Still, Dragonsword was pretty well written despite it's obvious time constraints. It made me wonder what the first draft of that screenplay looked like, or if it was a case of a writer not understanding the need for fleshing out an outline. And it also gave me a mental note of what I need to be looking for when I revise my stories. Always good, that.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Stuck in the Middle with Muse

Crazy things start to happen when I get into the middle of a book. I'll try to skip it and get to the end, or I'll get caught up in all the flaws of the previous material that I halt all progress, or I'll get mired in it.

For Human Dignity, I skipped the middle sections by, in essence, writing the beginnings and ends of three books--conveniently called "parts" in the novel. That is, I introduced the situation and characters and conflict, then I went right to climactic action and resolved it, with some dangly bits. End of Part One. Part Two began fifteen years later, so I had to re-introduce the situation and characters and conflict, then I went right to the climactic action and resolved it, with some dangly bits. End of Part Two. And so on. My most common critique of HD remarked on this feature, which was just my way of avoiding writing the middle of a book.

With The Masque, I had so totally re-envisioned the beginning of the book after I had written it that I didn't know how to keep writing without revising everything I had written, which I was going to do except I got pregnant. But I was stuck at the end of the beginning of the book for months, unable to really move forward because of all the flaws and my unimplemented ideas for fixing them. This was especially frustrating because I was unemployed for many of those months and had hoped to use that time to finish the draft or at least get damn near to finishing it.

Now, here I am in the middle of Shadow of Zehth, and I'm not skipping it or stuck, but I am mired in it. Every scene seems to stretch on longer than it should. Could be that's how my previous tendency to skip the middle is exerting itself this time. I don't know. The only thing I know is it's really making the middle seem even longer to get through. But I'm going to keep at it and see what things look like once I write my way through to the end. Maybe these scenes won't be overly long and drawn out, maybe they'll be the perfect pace and length once I can see the whole of the book, or even just the whole of the middle.

I wish I knew why middles gave me so much trouble. One of these days I'll put my mind to the dilemma and see what I can learn from it to grow as a writer and improve my process, but for right now, I'm stumped.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As You Know...

Recently I've been hearing a certain phrase over and over in TV shows and in movies. It's the dreaded "as you know" line. It's a spotlight on upcoming exposition or infodumpage. And what makes it really annoying is that it's unnecessary. Why direct attention to the fact that you're about to spew information for the viewer's benefit that everyone on camera knows as a matter of course? I've been hearing it often enough that I'm in danger of developing a twitch. To prevent this from happening, I'm going to set up a drinking game and see if poking fun at the phrase will stop me from shuddering.

You can apply this game to any movie or TV show. You can substitute popcorn and anything else for the alcohol. You can do this by yourself, but for maximum hilarity, bring in a few other writerly types. The rules are as follows:

  • Every time you hear the phrase "as you know," drink a shot.

  • Drink two shots if the phrase is spoken by the character who always has the explanations, such as Colonel Samantha Carter or Dr. Daniel Jackson.

  • Drink three shots if the content that follows the phrase is information that is the basic premise of the show or movie, such as, "As you know, we've been traveling to hundreds of other worlds through the Stargate for a decade."

  • Drink four shots if the phrase is followed by a character's name, such as, "As you know, General O'Neill..."

  • Finish the bottle if the name that follows the phrase is Bob.

  • I used SG-1 as my example, but this show is most certainly not alone in this writing sin. And it's such a lazy, useless tactic, too. In nearly every instance, you can just get rid of the words "as you know" and have smoother dialog. In fact, you can often replace "as you know" with the word "because" to explain reasoning for the logic or solution that follows the infodump, or you can for the recent examples I've heard. And very often, the infodump is not necessary because the audience--even the casual viewer--is smarter than the writers give them credit.

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Stratford-upon-Avon, 1995

    See me previous European adventures: East Germany, 1988, Berlin, 1996, and Prague, 1992.

    The drama department at my high school organized a trip every year to London and Stratford-upon-Avon to, of course, watch a few plays and tour the Bard's hometown. I went on the trip fall of my senior year, along with several good friends from my drama class and the various plays I had worked either on stage or behind it. I don't remember much beyond Stratford itself, although I know we spent an evening and night in London when we first arrived in England, toured Warwick castle, and spent a day in London before leaving for home. Nearly all of my memories of that trip are of Shakespeare's town.

    And it was a very lovely town. Big enough for good shopping and many excellent bed and breakfasts, but small enough that you never felt crowded or tiny. It was a town in which I would have loved to live. It had such a great feel to it. It also had three theaters, which certainly didn't hurt matters. One day I'll have to make a return trip. Hopefully the Drew Monster won't think Shakespeare is dull.

    I had never been to London before, and I remember being a bit disappointed that we had arrived so late in the evening and that I was too tired from the bus ride and Channel crossing to appreciate the city or the play we saw that night. I'm never going to recall the name of the play we saw. It might've been something about the French Revolution, but I really can't say for sure. I think most of us slept through the thing. We stayed at the English equivalent of the YMCA or something that night, and I don't remember much about that either.

    We all but descended on Stratford the next day, a whole bus of high school students scrambling about along one street in Stratford, trying to figure out who went in what B&B and who was rooming with who. It's possible there was more organization than I'm remembering, but it was a bit confused. That night we saw The Taming of the Shrew in the biggest of the three theaters (I'm sure I knew the name of this place at one point). It was a wonderful version with a few odd bits of modernization thrown in (someone impersonated Elvis at one point and Kate was carried off to her honeymoon in a Volkswagen Beetle). Our seats were far enough from the stage that I couldn't connect to the performance as much as I would've liked, but it was fun all the same. Afterwards, some friends and I got all fannish and took pictures of the house that Kate disappeared into when she was done signing autographs. The house was right across the street from the theater, talk about a nice commute.

    The second day, we did all of the usual touristy touring of famous Bard locations, but the biggest even of that day of the trip was the play we saw that night. We saw Faust in The Swan, a very close and cozy theater where even the worst seats are pretty much right up against the stage. Our drama teacher had talked a bit about this version of the Goethe story, and I think we were all pretty excited to see what was the fuss. Also, of the four plays we saw on this trip, I think this was the one with the biggest names. Not that I remember those names, or that I even really knew them at the time. Still, I remember it being billed as the spotlight play of our trip.

    Little did we know what we were in for.

    The play started out well enough, though I didn't know the story very well and felt a bit lost. This did not help when they started in with the nudity. At first it was a demoness-type, and that seemed appropriate. Then it was poor Gretchen, and, from what I remember of the story, that seemed appropriate too, though I did start to squirm. But when Faust himself got totally nekkid and did this standing spread-eagle thing, I spent the rest of the play examining my watch and shoes and cursing the intimacy of The Swan. Nothing against the actor playing Faust, but I just felt uncomfortable watching him after that scene, especially because I knew he wasn't circumcised. Seems a bizarre thing to know about a stranger as they perform a play.

    I think there might have been some parental flak about that play.

    The third play that we saw in Stratford was once again in the large theater. It was Richard III. We had nearly the worst seats in the house. Mine was particularly bad as the woman sitting next to me kept falling asleep and drifting over into my seat. Also, this was a very traditional performance of the play, and the colors were all very drab, and everyone was so far away that they turned into white and gray and brown blurs.

    Aside from the RSC plays, there are three incidents that stand out in my memory from this trip.

    I'll get the bad one out of the way first. In the nine years that I lived in Germany and traveled all over western Europe, I was never once treated in any ill fashion for being an American. Except for once in a fish-and-chips hole-in-the-wall place in Stratford-upon-Avon. Now, I traveled as smart as I could, always trying to speak the language if I knew it, acknowledge and participate in the customs when appropriate, modify my clothing and behavior so as not to bring unwanted attention to myself, interact with nationals in as respectful and courteous a manner as possible, etc. In this food joint, however, I was with two others from our group, and I think one of them was wearing her letter jacket (stupid, stupid, stupid; why not just slap a sticker that says "AMERICAN TOURIST" on your forehead and be done with it?). Still, we weren't goofing off or being loud or anything rude. I ordered my meal, saw that the lady behind the counter was putting salt and vinegar on the other orders before mine (they were locals), and asked for the same. She shoved my little container of food at me and said, "Do it yourself."

    The second little vignette is just that: little. My upstairs neighbor and best buddy, Matt, was on this trip, and we managed to set some time aside to share dinner in a pub in Stratford. Just the two of us. No chaperones tapping their watches, no hordes of fellow travelers yukking it up all around us. I think we also imbibed in a local brew. In addition to it being great food with great company, the meal further solidified that comfortable feeling the town exuded, which I sorely needed after my fish-and-chips experience. It was wonderful to eat while traveling and not feel distinct and separate, to instead feel like a regular. I wish I had been able to do more of that sort of thing during my trips in Europe.

    The third and final Drama Trip moment that I will never forget happened in London. It was a foggy night, and me and my intrepid friends were crossing a bridge to join up with the rest of the group. As we started out on the bridge, someone looked up and saw a small, silver, flickering object. That someone got all of our attention, and we all studied the thing as we walked. At first we were just curious, wondering what the hell it was. Then fatigue and general high school giddiness clicked in. We decided it was a UFO. We managed to convince ourselves enough of this possibility that we even took pictures and tried to figure out how one went about reporting an alien sighting. We reached the other side of the bridge at this point--and that's when we saw some lone soul flying a kite. A small, silver, flickering kite.

    Next week: Since I'm thinking England and plays, I'll share the story of my trip to London in 1996, just after I graduated

    Monday, September 04, 2006


    Andrew has discovered two new sounds: oooooo and ohhhhhhh. He loves to make these noises. He'll even get into volume contests with you if you start aping the noise. And of course his face just looks adorable when he does it. We're trying to get good video and better pics of it.

    I would think this sound cuter if he hadn't made it constantly while he was supposed to be napping this weekend. Although, to be fair, he did a lot of things while he was supposed to be napping. Such as standing up in his crib so he could gnaw on his railing or experiment with all the fun buttons on his mobile keypad or knock his bibs and burb cloths to the ground (they usually rest peacefully on the shelf-top of his attached dresser, which is supposed to be beyond his reach; ha). Sometimes he laid down quietly in his crib and only occasionally uttered his "ohhhh" while kicking his stuffies. Sometimes we'd only hear the ribbitting of his stuffed frog to know he most certainly wasn't sleeping.

    I think, though, that his favorite time to make these two sounds is when Momma says, "Andrew, no," as the munchkin is heading for unauthorized destruction and mayhem. He'll stop whatever it is he's not supposed to be doing, look at me, and very cutely round his lips and say, "Ohhhhh." Or he doesn't stop and look at me but continues what he shouldn't be doing and says, "Ooooo," like he realizes he's just found a new toy.

    I much preferred it when he favored the "mum-mum" sound.

    Sunday, September 03, 2006

    Bad Move, SciFi

    Well, SciFi recently announced that they won't be carrying SG-1 anymore, but they'll still show Atlantis.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    Between the absence of SG-1 next year and the apparent decision to run Battlestar Gallactica off from the new episode runs of Stargate, I now have no reason whatsoever to watch new episodes of Atlantis. I wonder how well their ratings will do next season when SG-1 is no longer a part of SciFi Friday. About the only way SciFi can redeem itself in my eyes is if they do indeed bring back Firefly as was rumored last year.

    As for SG-1, the official word is that they're going to shop for a new network. Hopefully they find one that's not a premium cable channel. Well, by the time the next season airs, we'll be in a position to afford premium cable.

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    Late Check-in

    Sigh. We were all set to have a great three-day weekend. A stroll down the Pearl
    Street Mall so Drew could people watch. An early dinner at the Melting Pot to celebrate Mark's recent success at the local poker tables. A relaxing holiday during which I was hoping to get some extra writing time. The weekend even started out really well with Friday's mail. Mark received his PhD diploma so he can frame it and point to it to get underlings to call him "doctor." And I received just about the nicest, most encouraging form rejection letter possible for the publishing business. (Yes, Carson's Learning was not accepted to the Interstitial Arts Foundation's anthology, but the form letter asked me to submit again when they were ready for their second installmant of their anthologies in 2008.)

    Then Mark got pretty darn sick in the night and spent all of day either barfing, passed out asleep, or sitting on the porcelain throne. Seeing as how I'm still not close to 100% yet after finishing the second round of antibiotics and dealing with the stress of this week's meeting, it was not the ideal time for him to be out of commission. Somehow I managed to keep up with Andrew despite the fact that he barely napped and seemed to have found some sort of mythical source of unlimited energy. (By the way, he's got a fifth tooth popping through now; one day we'll get a very clear picture.)

    The weather was pretty foul today, so the stroll down Pearl Street was going to happen even had Mark been healthy. We've had to cancel our Melting Pot reservations as Mark gets green just hearing the word "Jell-O" at the moment. I'm still holding out hope for Monday, though, at least to garner me a good nap if nothing else.

    Even with the craziness of the week, I got my minimum word counts in every night but tonight (and even managed an extra 600 words last night; now that SciFi Friday and Monk & Psych are all in their breaks, I might start scheduling writing on Fridays--though that will only be for this month as October brings the return of Battlestar Gallactica on Fridays). My health is improving still, and I should be very much my usual self by next weekend if not sooner.

    Oh, and the meeting with the pres went very well. There was a lot of panic as we had serious technical difficulties in our review and ended up being late to the meeting as we tried to straighten them out (good news there is that I'm low enough on the totem pole that others get the black mark for that...I think). In the group critique session that Teresa Nielsen Hayden ran at my first convention, she asked if I had ever sat in on executive meetings before (I think the dialog and tone of a scene in HD--that I have since cut--didn't ring true for her). Well, now I can say that I have, though the DDJ is a smaller company than Eugene's in HD.

    That remdins me. As I've been sharing the story with co-workers and hearing the "wow, how did you do this at your age" comments from the docs, I've put the entire urosepsis (and, indeed, all of the strange and plentiful health issues of the past almost two years) into a category of research for my writing. I can now write a very tense birthing scene, an accurate if mild ICU scene, and describe what it's like to have in-home health care. And so much more. Too bad I don't write medical thrillers. :)

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Long-awaited Drew Pics

    Not one, not two, but three whole pages of new Drew pics! Watch Drew take in Rocky Mountain National Park! See his adorable baptismal outfit! See his teeth (well, you can kinda see them in one of those pictures; have to look hard; them things are hard to catch)!