Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goals for 2007

I usually do one-word goals or themes for the upcoming year, in addition to more detailed plans. For 2004, the theme was balance. For 2005, it was improvement. I'm not sure if I verbalized my one-word goal anywhere for 2006, but I think it was patience. For 2007, it is focus.

As I've been reviewing my 2006 accomplishments against my hopes for the year, I've noticed a pattern of distraction that has greatly diminished my writing output. I know I can write at least 750 words every time I have at least an hour to sit down and write. And I can expect to get at least three hours of writing every week. So I should've been able to write around 120,000 words this year at a minimum. I wrote about 50,000 for SoZ, 15,000 for Carson's Learning, and another 15,000 for my three other pieces of short fiction. That's a total of 80,000 words. I can do better, I need to do better if I want to have any hope of making this my career.

Granted, I had some good excuses this year. But I'll always have good excuses. That's life. It's going to be at least five years before I can reliably and consistently have long chunks of uninterrupted writing time again. And I have to stop using the writing mindset that lets me gradually get into the swing of things. That worked before Drew was born. That worked even while we were in Colorado after Drew was born because Mark didn't have to tack on two to three hours to his work day for commuting, thus giving us time to be awake in each other's presence in the morning and unwind at the end of the day and stay up a bit later. But the same writing mindset doesn't work anymore, and I have to stop holding myself to a writing style that is only going to frustrate me.

I have to start improving my ability to focus, to get right to the heart of what I want to do with the hour I've got each evening. I've also got to start focusing on other areas of my life. I don't have the time to set a goal and trust that I'll eventually find my way toward it.

Writing: I have to set aside five minutes of pre-writing before my writing time, and even before my blogging time. In those five minutes, which I'm going to have to time, I need to clearly sketch what it is I want to say. For my novels and stories, this involves stating the purpose of the chapter or scene I'm going to work on, what I roughly think will happen, what the POV character's motivation in the scene is in relation to their arc for the novel, and maybe some problem areas and/or spots that need further worldbuilding/research that might crop up. Even for all of my organicness, this is not a problem. I know a lot about what's going on and why, I just don't know enough to detail out the method for getting from Point a to Point B, even in chapter. I need to let the information I do know about my books stay with me and guide me better.

I might even incorporate those five minutes into my schedule at the very beginning of the day and keep a notebook out as I do the DDJ thing so I can keep adding to my thoughts as I go through the day so I've spent the entire day "getting into the groove" for the writing time I have that night. And for the days that I need to work on research or world-building, taking those five minutes at the beginning of the day will be absolutely required. Part of the problem of getting back into forward momentum with SoZ is that I'm taking too much time on the worldbuilding because I'm so scatter-brained when I sit down to work on it and by the time I'm focused, it's time for bed.

For the blogging, I have to start getting to the point faster. I have to stop spending an hour or longer on a post. If this means outlining a la the five paragraph essay I was taught in high school, then so be it. And I'm not going to allow myself longer than 30 minutes to write a post. If I don't finish the post in that time, then I won't be posting it until the next week when I'll give myself another 30 minutes on that same post. As much as I'd like to keep up the "pro" blogging effort, it's rather silly to take away much-needed time and energy from my novels and short fiction to write blog posts. So I'm giving myself permission not to post daily as I train myself to be able to write a post in 30 minutes.

As for the concrete output for the year: I really, really, really want to finish the SoZ draft. I think it's plausible with proper focus. I also want to revise The Understudy and Ghost Story and submit them to at least four markets each. Timing has already been sent to two markets, so I'll send it out to two more. The goal for those submissions (other than the obvious one of publication) is to try to net some personalized rejection letters. Also, I want to finish four new short fiction pieces. I'm already a few pages into one. If all goes well with SoZ and the short fiction, I want to be putting together my thoughts for the next novel or two on my plate (logic says I should go right on to the next Velorin book, but there's a follow-up novel to Carson's Learning that I'd like to get a draft of soon). Speaking of, I really need to figure out what I'm going to do with Carson's Learning.

Health: Gotta get back into shape. Toning the tummy will help with some of the problems my body is giving me and it'll make me feel a lot better to get rid of the flab that's dripping over my c-section scar. The goal is to lose 10 lbs this year, even if I am only able to fit in thirty minutes of walking every day. Our house is in a very beautifully landscaped area, away from heavily trafficked roads. I shouldn't have a problem taking the Drew Monster for a walk every day, making it a family thing on the weekends. There's also quite a few play areas already up in the new development. Of course, that's not going to get rid of the tummy flab. Unfortunately, the only time I know for certain won't get interrupted by the Drew Monster is the evening. Which is when I write. I think I might start doing some tummy crunches just before bed. We'll see how that goes.

Mental Health: Man, did I wander away from this in 2006. Journalling stopped in August. "Me" time stopped as soon as we moved. I keep running into the same problem with journalling: no fifteen or thirty minute chunk of time that I can count on that isn't already pegged for something more important like the DDJ or writing or personal hygiene. Once we're set up in the new house, I might find something shakes free. I'll be on the lookout for it. As for "me" time, I've got a different built-in chunk of it: my monthly treks back to CO. Unfortunately, this isn't a whole lot of "me" time, and there are times that I'll have to bring Drew with me because it's cheaper for day care that way (sounds insane, I know). But that's not going to keep me insane. I have to start setting aside at least a half hour every weekend to be by myself. I need to think more on where and how I'm going to fit this in. Again, it might be something that will make more sense once we're in the new place.

So them be the goals. Focus is the theme, and I can already tell that I don't know enought yet for the proper focus in the mental and physical health areas. I'll re-address them at the beginning of February. And we'll see what I think of all this in a year's time.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Checking In With 2006

Just about a year ago, I reflected on the insanity of 2005 and tried to prognosticate to the end of 2006. Here's what I envisioned for the end of 2006:
2006 promises to be another big year. [1] Mark will defend his doctoral thesis no later than July 14. [2] He'll start his career, hopefully in a position that let's me stay at home and write. [3] By the end of this year, Mark will have a couple more letters to add to his name, and he'll have finished a very long, amazing journey. [4] By the end of the year, we could be living in our first home in Arizona. [5] By the end of the year, I could have a revised novel completed and making the rounds to agents and editors. [6] By the end of the year, Drew will be talking, walking, eating solid food, and who knows what else, knowing the way the little guy operates. [7] By the end of the year, I may be thinking about getting pregnant again--afterall, I'd rather have Baby the Second before I'm 30, and I'll be turning 28 in June.

1. Mission accomplished. Score 1 for my future as a psychic.

2. I didn't mention it at the time, but in the days leading up to Mark officially accepting his new job, we were doing a lot of heavy thinking. The salary was significantly lower than we had anticipated, thus making it impossible for me to stop working. But, thanks to some hand-waving verbiage, I'll call this one a wash and still keep my psychic score of +1.

3. See #1 above and also this. But since this is really the same thing as #1, I haven't improved my psychic rating.

4. Only a few days off the mark on this one, seeing as how we close on our house on Jan 11th. And, really, this was out of our hands as the builder gave us a move-in date in either December or January when we did the first glut of paperwork. But I also used that word "could" again. Psychic score improves to +1.5.

5. *falls over laughing* Considering this, I'm going to have to subtract half a point from my rating, even given the use of "could."

6. Got everything right but the talking part. He's still doing his standard gibberish of oohs and aahs, not even really saying "momma" with any discernable intent. I'll give myself a half a point. Back to +1.5.

7. This will wipe the slate clean for my psychic rating. After the hospital fun in August, and the realization that I will have to work at least part-time until Mark starts earning 30% more than he is at the moment, I've made it a requirement for Baby the Second's arrival that I don't have to work after birth.

Looking at my actual goals for 2006:
1) Lose at least 15 pounds by exercising at least twice a week and limiting impulse snacking with scheduled treats; 2) Maintain good mental health by journaling at least twice a week and finding a half hour of "me" time every weekend; 3) Finish a draft of SoD; 4) Do writing exercises regularly to allow for writing play and learning and in order to develop a "backlist" of short stories and narrative nonfiction for routine submission.

1. At one point, I did manage to lose those 15lbs and then some, but that was due to a rather intense bacterial infection, and I put some of that weight back on when I got healthy, and put a bit more back on due to moving stress and the holidays. Plus, I completely abandoned the exercise routine by March. In conclusion: I still have 5 pounds of those 15 to lose.

2. I kept the journaling and "me" time going fairly regularly until August when I got sick and, by the time I was healthy again, was in full-gear for DDJ insanity and moving us to AZ. I started trying to get more me time and journalling going in the past month here to varying degrees of success.

3. See #5 from previous listing. Though, to be fair, at the time I wrote that goal, I thought SoZ was going to be a lot closer to 100K, and I did get up to 82K before I had to go back to word 1. That's pretty damn close to achieving my goal, particularly since I made the goal anticipating that I would be able to stop working in the fall.

4. I achieved this partially. I did manage to complete two novelettes and two short stories in 2006 and submitted one novelette to an anthology and one short story to two mags. Of all that I had hoped to achieve this year, I am most pleased with this result.

I didn't do too bad with my goals this year, despite the health and moving insanity. At the very least, I've earned a cookie.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Are Pilots Always So Over-the-Top?

For Christmas, Mark gave me Bones, Season 1. We actually didn't start watching the show until about halfway through the first season as Fox originally aired it during my critique group, and I wasn't sufficiently interested in the premise and/or characters to bother with taping it. Then Fox did it's typical switcheroo and the show landed on Wednesday, which has been a dinner and TV with a pal night since the series finale of Voyager. (Sadly, the tradition had to end when we moved and our pal didn't.) So we got into the show late last year but have really enjoyed it since.

(Anna Genoese recently talked about it being unbelievable that Brennan is so unaware of the world and yet can still function well enough to write a bestsetlling novel. I, however, not only believe it but also get a kick out of seeing some of the foibles of my old science geek pals on the teevee. It actually is fascinating how people can function in this world, watch movies, read books, write books, and have a career dependent on their ability to observe and evaluate and yet be completely clueless when it comes to anything outside of their area of expertise. I'm not entirely sure how this can happen as I was always a bit odd in that I was a social creature and regularly wondered what the world looked like to those around me. But I do know that it does happen A LOT in science. As for Brennan making the NYTBSL, that is indeed something to quibble over. Writing is all about awareness of the human condition.)

Watching the pilot episode, though, I'm very glad that we came to the show late. I'm not sure I would've watched the show based on the pilot. Everyone's characters are so extreme, so unnatural. The confrontation and conflict is pushed beyond normal. Even the setting is overdone--Mark commented that he's never seen so many external establishing shots of the Jeffersonian in the entire span of eps he's seen, let alone in one episode. Later in the season, the characters were in a more natural grove, less "look at me!" or "quick! say a loaded line that screams my personality!" Actually, the only character that was more like his usual, later season self was Booth.

I was similarly disenchanted with the Eureka pilot. And I'll be paying more attention to pilots in the future for the same sort of excess. Or maybe I'll stop watching pilots all together until the show has settled and established itself a bit better.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Short Fiction Will Save My Sanity

Recently, there's been buzz about the role of short stories in launching a writing career. I must admit, the idea of making a name for myself with quicker-to-complete short fiction was why I started writing shorter pieces. I didn't latch onto this idea because it was something the pros were telling me to do. Instead it was something that I observed in watching the genre trends at conventions, in the new deals, on blogs, etc. It just seemed to me about this time a year or so ago that short fiction often established oneself in the genre and thus helped one's opus rise above the slush. Plus, it was very desirable to have a few completed pieces that I could sub to maintain some sense of accomplishment and control as I slogged through a novel.

Then I tried to juggle moving with a toddler, a very intense period at the DDJ, moving in with my mother, and buying a house. Short fiction became a path to sanity.

Because my novels are often volumes in multi-book sagas, it's often hard to escape the sense that completing a scene or a chapter is barely nudging the story forward to its ultimate conclusion. Usually this isn't a problem for me. But when chaos becomes a matter of course and the ideas of stability and routine feel like brief sightings of land in a very turbulent, endless ocean, sitting down to a work-in-progress that launches a universe can make you feel like you've just been tossed out of the small boat you were on in the first place. Thus I purposefully set aside SoZ during all of October and most of November and focused on revising a few older short stories and on creating a novelette, Ghost Story (gotta get a better title there).

I didn't feel helpless when I sat down at the computer during the rare moments when I actually had the time. There wasn't an infinite story stretching before me. Everything I did had a concrete, definite end that was easily attainable even given the insanity of that time. It kept me from going crazy and growing to loathe a wonderful world like Velorin. It also had the unanticipated and painful (yet beneficial) side effect of giving me the distance I needed to see the structural flaws of SoZ and a way to fix them.

Here's my current dilemma. I'm again on the cusp of insanity with closing on the house, moving out of my mother's house and into our first house while still juggling the DDJ and a toddler (and things are heating back up again at the DDJ as it seems not much that should've been done since October actually was done). In trying to get back on track with SoZ, I've been doing some extra worldbuilding to actually solidify and organize everything I've learned about Velorin and the characters in the 80K I've already written. This is not an easy or quickly accomplished task. It's not helped that I really need good chunks of uninterrupted time to really sink my teeth into things and let them absorb me. I don't have those chunks of time. I get an hour at best to focus, and the end of that hour is usually when I'm just hitting my stride.

I'm getting mighty frustrated.

Hence, I'm turning once again to short fiction. It helps that any short fiction idea I get that is more than fleeting is much like a demon that must be exorcised as quickly as possible. In fact, my current short in the making is actually an attempt at fanfiction, of sorts. Through a very meandering path, I decided to mold an idea I had into a take on The Tempest, only in a near future setting with some fairly steep changes (in fact, it's a bit of an alternate reality, if you can apply the term to drastically tweaking a plot point of a classic work of fiction; in fact, I don't know if it can reasonably be called fanfiction because of that; oh, and I think I've messed with some of the characterization as set out in the canon). But it's a lot of fun, and I think the link up with the play actually serves to really deepen the theme and character arcs of the story. Or it could just make it extraordinarily shitty. Check in with me when I've finished the story. I may hate the idea and be cursing the Bard for being so damn good, but at least I won't be dangling onto the edge of sanity by my pinky, staring into the abyss that is the Velorin saga.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Missing that Whole Big Fish, Small Pond Thing

I graduated co-Valedictorian of my high school class of about 160-180 students. It was in a military community overseas, and I had been in that community for six years (three years more than most of the students), and I had been in the top 5 of each class leading up to my senior year. There was something very comforting about this scenario and very intimidating. On the comforting side, I was always secure in my performance, always within easy reach of external validation whenever I needed it. This does mean a lot during the turbulent teens. On the intimidating side, I always felt pressure to stay at the top of the class, to keep myself presentable (for lack of a better word) because I was aware that a lot of people knew me and knew my performance and had validated it in the past. Somehow I made it my responsibility to not let those folks down.

Then I went to Notre Dame and became a decent-sized fish in a much bigger pond. And I really, really liked it. Gone went the pressure, and I was too absorbed in all the cool things I was learning to care about external validation. By the time I got to grad school, I had abandoned the whole concept of peer performance comparison in favor of figuring out what I really wanted to do with myself.

Then I started to pursue what I really wanted to do in life, and I re-discovered the lure of external validation in feeling secure in my own performance. (There's also a problem with the expectation of others at the moment, but that's still caught up in earning money to support the family and thus is at a conflict with my writing at the moment.) I validated what I could by mimicking professional writers I admired (in the sense of creating a writing schedule, working at specific goals, maintaining a blog, watching the market, etc.). And I continue to expand the group of writers from which I model my own writing as a profession mindset. This has led to the bittersweet nostalgia for the Big Fish, Small Pond phenomenon of my youth.

Don't get me wrong. I'm actually enjoying reading the extremely intelligent and insightful discussions on Elizabeth Bear's and Sarah Monette's blogs (Bear on fan-fiction and on blood-letting, Monette on slash and on reviewing; for best effect, read the comments as well). And I've enjoyed the similarly educated discussions on writing and such on Scalzi's Whatever and the Nielsen Hayden's Making Light. But lately I've been getting a bit overwhelmed by the sensation of being just a minnow in a vast ocean. I suppose it's a side effect of switching career goals in my mid-twenties after six years of higher education. I mean, I could join in these conversations and hold my own considerably well had I spent my college years learning rhetoric and comp instead of biology and chemistry. And my education and experience is well-rounded enough that I could even participate in the discourse now, but it would not be anything stunning or I'd probably unknowingly ape the standard freshman response/logic.

So for the moment I watch and revel in the stunning performance of others. Let them be the big fish. And maybe by the time I have learned and experienced enough about writing to intelligently participate, I once again won't give a rats ass about my fish size and the pond. Wouldn't that be nice?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: The Conclusion

As this is the last Tuesday of 2006 and all my uncovered European Adventures memories are starting to get more and more dim, I thought it would be best to officially close the "Where in the World" feature. I certainly had fun sharing my experiences as a military brat in Europe, and I hope you enjoyed reading them. I recommend checking out the comments section where applicable because my father from time to time would add in his own thoughts on the trips and/or correct any misrememberings/misconceptions on my part.

One thing I found interesting was the overall "tone" I carry with me regarding particular trips and locales I visited. It's not something I've sat down and pondered until now, and it's a shame that I waited ten years since I left the continent to really catalog my impressions of Europe. Still, I'm glad I did, and I wanted to thank you for indulging me in my nostalgia and half-remembered accounts of a child's & teenager's view of foreign lands.

As for my next semi-regular feature, I believe it shall be about the new house. We close on Jan 11th, and I'd like to remind myself of the insanity of becoming a first-time homeowner at some point in the future. So next Tuesday, join me for "Our First Home."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas SciFi Style

There are many copies.

Happy Federal Holiday to all!

Seriously, may you be with those you love and spend the day smiling and laughing.

Friday, December 22, 2006

BSG "Season" Finale

After reading this, I've realized that my rants about the science and medicine of BSG are really very tame. I think part of the problem with her own experience of Season 1 is that she was very aware of the thematic stuff and current events relevance. I purposefully ignored that aspect of the show until the theme-bludgeoning became too great to pretend it wasn't there (happened a couple of times in Season 2, and has thankfully stopped after the first handful of Season 3 eps). Would that I could've ignored the 20th-century medicine in an FTL world.

Besides the medicine and the occasional theme-bludgeoning, the commercialization bugs me the most. Particularly how last Friday was the "season" finale, even though the "new season" eps start back up in January. This means we'll always be shelling out $40 or $50 for 10 eps on DVD, whereas you can get full 20 eps seasons of other shows for the same price, maybe $10 more. All because the show is a critical darling because of the theme-bludgeoning.

The other thing that's starting to irk me is the flawed characters that everyone else seems to love and celebrate as real examples of living, breathing human beings. I look at Starbuck and hear her "marriage is a sacrament" logic as to why she can fuck around but not get divorced and wonder why we have to propogate some of those flaws into our fiction. I also look at some of the other flawed decisions and hear the critics talk about how "these characters are just like the people I know" and wonder what sort of group the rest of the world seems to be hangin' with.

As I was reading the above-linked screed, I kept trying to figure out how I would respond to explain why I still watch and supposedly enjoy the show. I'm really not sure. Apollo's not that hot.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

How We Use It

Recently I've been noticing the other work that writers who blog do. That is, the time they take to shine lights on things besides their own writing, usually by stepping out of their own spotlight and dragging something into it. What do I mean by that?

Well, there's the obvious. Most writers that have an on-line presence tend to spend at least some time sharing their writing process in the hopes of helping aspiring writers. Some do more of this than others. Holly Lisle, for example, is writing an entire Worldbuilding Clinic, of which the Create a Language Clinic I've talked about before is a part. There's also a ton of information available for free on her site. J.A. Konrath devotes his entire blog to discussing marketing strategies and the industry and other juicy tidbits helpful for those in the biz. Victoria Strauss and A.C. Crispin spend a good deal of their own time and money to hunt down and expose scam agents, contests, publishers, etc. for Writer Beware. And the list really does go on and on. As I said, that's the obvious method for writers to use a spotlight to reveal things that would help others rather than just basking in it.

The next obvious is to let others take center stage and share the wealth of readership. John Scalzi does this as often as possible, even to the point where he doesn't use any of his much-read on-line presence to complain about the books he didn't like. It's his policy. He interviews other authors every week, sometimes splurging with more interviews if he's got 'em. He even has regular "pimp" threads where he invites others to indulge in self-promotion and get the word out to his significant readership. S.L. Viehl (aka Lynn Viehl, aka Jessica Hall) also "pimps" books and authors on her also widely read blog, usually about once a month. I know I've bought at least two books due to Scalzi's and Viehl's recommendations.

Then there's the less obvious, using significant readership gained by being a mover and a shaker in the writing world to shed light on a cause not related to writing. Scalzi and Viehl do this fairly regularly with music. And I know I plan to use any popularity I have to "pimp" art and artists I like. But the Nielsen Haydens (and their guest bloggers) use their reknown for political discussion and offering different aspects of current affairs that may not be getting coverage. (Teresa Nielsen Hayden explains why here.)

It's nice to see all this...philanthropy, for lack of a better word. There's no rule that says you have to take your success and pay it forward or use it to promote something other than yourself. Maybe it's just everyone wanting to maintain good karma. Maybe the world's full of good people after all, no matter what you start to think after watching the news or voting.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Remembering Carl Sagan

You are an interesting species. An interesting mix.
You are capable of such beautiful dreams,
and such horrible nightmares.

--Ted Arroway (after a fashion) in the 1997 movie Contact

It seems so cliched and trite to say that this movie changed my life, and perhaps it is overly dramatic. Weeding out the unneccessary words, though, it is safe to say that Contact profoundly impacted my life.

There are a lot of extraneous factors that affected just how much I enjoyed this movie. I was in the middle of my first summer in Arizona and discovering a deep, almost physical connection with the Southwest. I had just finished my first year studying biochemistry at Notre Dame. I was dating the second of three pre-med seniors who was all about appearance and not much else (the first thought he knew everything, the third dropped the L-word after about three weeks of dating). Each of these factors contributed to making this movie resonate with me beyond its own merits (and being an active Catholic and an active scientist in academia for the following five years only deepened that resonance) so that it has become one of my top 5 movies. (I'm not saying it's my #1 favorite only because my favorites are favorites for particular reasons and each has their own unique connection with various aspects of my life. Translation: My Top 5 fave movies are all #1.)

From the very beginning, the movie separated me from my date and, thus, made me feel as if I were experiencing the movie as a dialog between me and the characters rather than sharing the movie with anyone in the theater. I was entranced by the opening sequence of zooming in to Earth complete with accompanying soundtrack. My date was confused and otherwise discomfited by it. I don't remember if I had to explain it or if he had an aloud "a-ha" moment. All I know is that I gladly left him behind in the theater so I could get absorbed into the movie itself.

And it was quite a ride. The dialog was smart without being hard to understand. The plot was easy to follow without being simplistic, complex without being complicated. The various messages and themes were clear without being preachy or blunt. The effects were seamless and absolutely beautiful. And it ended on a such a fascinatingly bittersweet note that the entire experience felt real, as if it had been my own memory playing out on the big screen.

(I love the placement of the "For Carl" dedication right at the end there with the music, by the way. It makes me grateful to have had such a creative mind in our culture and sad that it is gone at the same time.)

There are many things I love about this movie, but the one I always enjoy the most when I watch it is the religion vs science debate that is woven throughout, particularly in how it is presented. For me there has never been a conflict between religion and science. No, that's not true, used the wrong word. For me there has never been a conflict between faith and science, and really that was what the movie posited if you're paying attention to the way the arguments are framed and the language used. The level of ridicule that Ellie adopted in her tone and word choice when discussing God's existence was pretty much evenly matched for the level of ridicule everyone adopted in their reaction to Ellie's story. The crowning moment of this symmetry--and a moment of pure blissful perfection with the English language, the mechanics of plot structure and character arcs, camera angles and movement, directorial discretion, and interpretation by acting--was during the Congressional hearing. Ellie is asked if the world is supposed to take her story...on faith. I think I might have actually sat forward in my chair (if I wasn't already), holding my breath, waiting to see Ellie's reaction and realization. And when we got it, I may have sighed. I think that's a beat that lives with me in much the same way that the last note of a production of The Phantom of the Opera does. It far better expressed something that I had been trying to say for a long time about the nature of faith and science and their coexistance. I also thought it was a stroke of genius that only Ellie and Palmer seemed to notice the rhetoric being used to attack Ellie's story.

As I continued on in my scientific education, I found I enjoyed more and more the look at the politics of science and the way some use that to manipulate things to their liking. With every year of college and grad school, the portrayal of Drumlin and Ellie's quest for SETI funding/time made more and more sense. Watching Ellie go after something she loved despite how it "trashed" her career, and still only caring about the project when it did hit big...that's what it meant to me to be a scientist. I, unforutanately, discovered I didn't have the patience that Ellie did to balance the passion; I also discovered the power of living for a family and how that alters what you choose to do with your life. Thus I can now better understand why Ellie chose to leave Palmer's number behind.

And, no, it has not escaped my notice that Ellie is just one letter removed from Kellie. Probably why I was so easily pulled into the movie as if it were a private conversation for me.

I've been meaning to read the book Contact for some time now, to see what was unique to the movie and what further wonders could be found in the book. Part of me is afraid to do so. The movie is such a sublime experience for me every time I see it. I'm afraid of marring it in any way. One day I'll suck it up and read the book, and on another December 20th I may have more to say about the genius of Carl Sagan. But until then, I'll end my contribution to the Carl Sagan blog-a-thon with another one my favorite lines from the movie.

The universe is a pretty big place.
It's bigger than anything anyone
has ever dreamed of before.
So if it's just us...
seems like an awful waste of space.

--Ellie Arroway in the 1997 movie Contact

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Lourdes, France, 1996

The last spring break trip I took with my Catholic youth group was my senior year. We went to Lourdes, France, and it had been four years since this group had traveled to such a nearby pilgrimage site because of some interesting shenanigans on that last trip involving a set of brass knuckles with the words "Lourdes" stamped on them. Ah, the joys of teenage rivalry and tourist kitsch.

While our trip to Rome was the most intensive service trip of the Catholic Youth Tour of Europe Trilogy, Lourdes was next in line. We helped out at Our Lady's Hospital of Lourdes, or we were intended to. We were there, I believe, the week before Holy Week, and the pilgrimage season started Holy Week, and that's when the hospital gets a rockin'. We did what we could, but I think the hospital was a bit overwhelmed. Mostly we helped bring the infirm pilgrims to a candlelight vigil and to a rosary. We were a day late to bring them to the baths, which is apparently the most intensive service (other than care while at the hospital) provided. And Ragin' Hormones took the stage again because one of the male nurses at the hospital was tres hot. The show Animaniacs was popular at the time, so there was often a female chorus of "Hello, Nurse!" whispered as he passed.

The other interesting thing to note is that the hospital's name in French is Hospitalite Notre-Dame de Lourdes (and, indeed, the words Notre Dame were everywhere because, you know, it's French for "our lade" and Lourdes is the location of a Marian apparation). In thanks for our service to the hospital, we were all given neat little silver pins that had the letters "N" and "D" very ornately wrought. This was considered a sign for those of my friends who knew that I was still not quite sure if I wanted to go to Duke or Notre Dame or Northwestern that fall. I put the pin on my winter coat right by the top button and got a lot of comments on it during the long winter months at Notre Dame.

We did have some time for each of us to visit the baths ourselves, for those who wanted to go. (The water is famously freezing, and you pretty much get immersed in it only to emerge into the cold stone stall that is surrounded by other cold stone stalls that line up along the cold stone grotto where the cold cold water is. That's the physical reasoning. The spiritual reasoning is that the waters are intended for the sick and infirm, those truly in need of miraculous healing, not for Johnny Quarterback hoping to protect is passing arm.) As I didn't mind the cold too much (I was used to losing all feeling in my fingers and toes due to a suspected case of mild Raynaud's Disease) and had a bum knee that prevented me from running track and liked to make its presence known by mild but constant pain at the end of the day (thus preventing me from sleeping until the ibuprofen kicked in), I decided to go to the baths. I also wanted to make the most of the opportunity and offer my experience in the waters as a way to sort of heal-by-proxy others in my family who were having health problems.

And it was indeed very cold water. So cold that it scattered my thoughts and made it hard for me to concentrate on the reasons for taking the plunge. When I emerged, I was cold, shaken, and without any immediate sign of miraculous healing. And I was very grateful for the strong nuns who had held onto me the entire time. Then I was on my way out of the stone stall, into the changing area, and shivering while waiting for the bus to take us back to the hotel.

There have been 68 Vatican-recognized miraculous healings due to the Lourdes water. Things like broken bones mending, chronic illnesses vanishing, disabilities disappearing. For me, it was a fascinating moment for my faith, and it may have had healing consequences. The Raynaud's symptoms that were quite frequent while I lived in Europe continued on with a slight decrease while I was at Notre Dame, and became very infrequent while I lived in Colorado. My knee pain over the course of the past ten years has decreased so that it is no longer a nightly or even a weekly occurrance, instead it's something I experience no more than once a month, and more likely only 4-6 times a year. Of course, this could all be a product of my body getting more into adulthood or of moving away from Europe or of moving into semi-arid and arid climes or a combination of these factors.

(By the way, there's a mention in the Wikipedia article on Lourdes that the grotto site was originally a shrine to Persephone. There's no citation (except for a note to say that a citation is needed), but I thought it was an interesting idea. There's definitely a story there.)

Another side note to this trip was that I borrowed a friend's copy of Alanis Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill. I had heard some of the releases as I was still pretty much a slave to the Top 40 charts, but I hadn't though much of them except to note they were catchy. But listening to "Forgiven" and "Mary Jane" while returning home from a pilgrimage and preparing for a big decision about whether or not to go to Notre Dame...isn't it ironic?

Next week: The conclusion of the Where in the World series.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Curious Drew

Drew gets into everything these days. And he's always on the lookout for new things to be gotten into. The most amusing "thing" he's taken to exploring are belly-buttons. I think he finds Momma's and Daddy's belly-buttons fascinating because they are innies and he has an outie. This doesn't make Momma feel particularly nice, however, because her belly-button is more of an innie than it has been in the past due to the persistance of about 10 lbs of baby fat. (Well, baby fat and holiday fat. I'll be honest.) Just today Drew wanted to see if one of his little fruit puffs would fit in my belly-button. The whole exercise became even more enjoyable when he would put the puff in my belly-button, then pull my shirt hem down over it and do this kind of peek-a-boo game with the fruit puff.

There are the usual exploration spots: kitchen cabinets (ooooh, tupperware!), coffee tables, book shelves, boxes, purses, and your basic nooks and crannies. This has led to the Drew Monster reaching for things he has discovered in his explorations when he sees them elsewhere. My mother's kitchen table (in plain sight from his high chair during meals) is a veritable smorgasboard of stuff he thinks are toys simply because he found a similar item in his curiosity wanderings. Pens are a big hit. Mail--both opened and unopened. Kleenexes--both used and unused. Books (though we're rather proud of this one; he once came up to me with one of his night-time books and demanded in his 14-month-old way that I read to him; I did, and he promptly went down for a nap afterward).

In addition to all the reaching and finding of toys both appropriate and inappropriate, he's very good at discovering all the spots in a house that you thought were clean or the items you were certain you had tossed or put well out of reach. Case in point: when we went to the new house this weekend, we were happy to see both our tile and our carpet in place and let El Boyo Diablo loose for some toddler running and wandering. We forgot that the house was still under construction, though, and the floor anything but babyproof. Items Drew found and either tried to play with or eat: rubber band, assorted bits of construction material, dirt, and a razor blade (yeah, Momma and Daddy rushed to beat him to that one, but the little sucker was too fast; luckily he only touched the dull and covered edges before we snatched it from him; we promptly did an eagle-eye sweep of the floor for any other such nasties).

Other than the razor blade, the worst thing he's investigated to date was a piece of doggie-doo that was dessicated just enough to look like a rock to his eyes, but still, um, moist enough that his hands got covered in shit. I'm happy to have an inquisitive child because it means he's constantly observing and learning and engaging with the world, but there definitely is a down side.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Leading the Way for the Writing Future

Gee, I can't wait until I'm a mega-famous NYT bestseller so I can spout my views about a volatile issue, get criticized for it, and respond by fictionalizing my criticizers as truly heinous characters in my books. Thanks, Michael Crichton. You've taught me a lot about the industry. How you can stop writing good fiction for the sake of movies. How you can stop writing good fiction for the sake of theme-bludgeoning. How you can stop writing good fiction and still earn crap loads of money. How you can stop writing good fiction and fling mud at a critic my making them a child rapist in your next novel.

Via John Joseph Adams, who links to the affair while getting a jab into Crichton that the author has become boring and pedantic. This is what I discovered with Prey and will never read another Crichton book because of it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Good for What Ails Ya Check-in

Drew was sick this week, and he lovingly passed his illness on to me. And on to my mom. And on to Daddy. We've all been sniffling snot factories. Lotsa fun. The only good thing to say about Drew getting sick is that he's been sleeping through the night and taking long naps, thus letting eveyrone else get much needed sleep.

We got the official notice of our closing date this week. Come January 11, we'll have the keys to our house and can start painting and moving in. This last push at my mother's house should go quickly with the holidays. I think the cats are the most eager to move in. Poor things have been cooped up in our bedroom the entire time on account of they can't get along with my mother's pets.

On the writing front, I'm still coming to terms with my big SoZ revelations. I've finished the new chapter one, which included a good four or five pages of the original. Now I'm working on chapter two and taking the time to do some proper world building for a part of the culture I never got around to in the first 80K. It'll help establish the world and the problems a bit better.

As for my other writing, I submitted the rejected-from-F&SF story elsewhere electronically. They boast a very quick turnaround (no longer than a week), but my story's been with them for a week and a half and the neurotic side of me is starting to twitch. This explains why I had a dream about an agent the other night. I dreamt that I had the personal home number of an agent that I've actually met at a conference. So, desperate to sell anything, I called her up and pitched a novel to her on the friggin' phone while she's eating dinner with family. She politely ends the conversation, but I'm so worked up about selling something that I call her back and try again, and this time the agent, still polite, tells me how much I suck. Then, in my dream, I wake up and spend a good deal of time convincing myself that it wasn't real, that I didn't really just friggin' call an agent and harrass her. When I wake up for real, I still have to spend a good couple of minutes bringing my heart rate down and assuring myself that it was just a dream and I didn't do something so completely insane and wrong.

And the last piece of writing news is that I got the final word on my writing laptop: it's toast. Somehow I'll work in a new laptop purchase in and around all the home stuff we've got to do this year. Actually, it'll probably end up being delayed until next Christmas. Sigh.

Friday, December 15, 2006

An Alternate History Yarn I Liked!

It helps that I found a book on an era with which I'm not overly familiar, much to the chagrin of my US History teacher. The book is Land of Mist and Snow by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. This is the same team that produced the Mageworlds series, which I praised as the right way to do a prequel in my bemoaning the Star Wars prequels. If I had to muster up a critique of Land of Mist and Snow, it'd be that it wasn't long enough. They created great characters and really established the voice of the era with narrative and dialog. I wanted to spend more time with the story, but I thoroughly enjoyed the telling I got. They talk about the book here and here. If you've ever wondered what all the fuss about alternate history tales was, check out this book. It actually changed my mind about this particular subgenre.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Great Shadow of Zehth Plot Rethink

I've mentioned before that I'm an organic writer, and I've described a bit of what that's like. And although things sounded pretty darn up in that post, I'm going to chat about the dark side today. Before Lee Goldberg can say "You should've outlined," though, I'd like to point out that I was writing to an outline of a fashion. I knew where my acts ended and had a few highlights of what was going to happen along the way, along with a story arc, some character arcs, and even a friggin' series arc. Granted, it was all done in a rather chaotic brainstorm map (hey, it's how I think when it comes to fiction), and I didn't really refer to said outlining materials but once every other month or even less. The reason that I looked at the quasi-outline rarely can be described quite well with this post by Jennifer Crusie.

My last disclaimer is that I ignored the niggling concerns about silly things like a logical plot and smart characters because I thought Muse was trying to trick me into rewriting the first 20-30K words over and over again in an endless pursuit of perfection. I wasn't going to let her fool me, though. I was going to keep going and finish this draft, though I did nod to the concerns and duly note them along with my ideas for addressing them in my "to be revised" mindmap.

During the fallout from my writing computer meltdown, I started thinking a lot about change and shakeups and what made the most sense to deal with yet another unexpected kink in my already far from usual writing circumstances of late. At the time that all of that was bumbling around in my brain, I was working through Holly Lisle's Create a Language Clinic (and really pondering the statement she makes that "a language is the soul of its people), and I was listening to Loreena McKennitt's new album. A lot. Particularly "Caravanserai" and "Kecharitomene." Things clicked.

Basically, to continue the map metaphor, I realized that I was writing the equivalent of the "Look, kids! There's Big Ben! Parliament!" scene from National Lampoon's European Adventure.

But I figured out how to kick myself out of the loop and actually write this great story that's been bumping around in my head. And I learned that, although I will always be an organic writer and will "feel" my way through a project, I can be a lot smarter about the kernels of the story I keep with me as I go. Particularly when a question starts to niggle away at me, I know what other questions to ask to put the original niggle in its proper frame of reference and more accurately decide if it's a delaying tactic or a valid critique.

That's the good news. And, yes, there is bad news.

The bad news is that I now have to go back to Ye Olde Beginning and start from word 1. See that word count over on the side bar? Yeah, the one that says +80K words in Shadow of Zehth? I have to go back through those 80,000 words, primarily writing new scenes from scratch and seeing where I can graft in some of those 80K words. This is a year and a half after I began draft creation for this book. It's not as bad as I had first thought when I figured out what I needed to do. In cobbling together a very high-level outline for the rethought plot, I figured out that a lot of the scenes will stay, though in altered form.

Still. Ouch.

In the wake of this massive plot (and character) rethink, I have been brutal with myself to make sure I can verbalize what the problem was and how I can prevent it for future novels. This is what I came up with.

As an organic writer, it is absolutely vital that I continually refer back to the meager amount of outlining, mapping, and arcing that I do before I write a scene. This is to keep fresh in my mind what the central conflict and character motivations are every step of the way to minimize wandering far off track or getting stuck in ruts and loops. Otherwise I go where the Muse tosses me, which may be interesting and fun but may not be the best thing for the whole of the novel. Also, this seems to be a good way for me to filter all of the backstory and subplots to distill the information that the reader needs each step of the way. It also gives me a better sense of control over the whole process, or, rather, the illusion of control, as I will be writing the novel from a birds-eye view vantage point instead of a character's view. I'll be better able to see the ruts and extreme tangential wanderings before I get too lost in them.

So that's my Joy of Writing story for the year. Hopefully next year's won't require a drastic revision of 80,000 words.

Honoring a SF Great

ETN: My post for the blog-a-thon can be found here.

Via Byzantium's Shores, I found this suggestion to make Dec 20 (the tenth anniversary of his passing) a blogathon for Carl Sagan, endorsed by Nick Sagan. The "meme" is as follows:

If you're a Sagan fan with a blog, you can participate by posting something related to him on or near that date. Read or reread a Sagan book and review it; discuss cool things that you've done that's been influenced by him; pontificate on one of the many topics he treated (SETI, astronomy, critical thinking, the history of science, human intelligence....), or post about something completely surprising.

As I've mentioned before, I haven't read a lot of "classic" SF, and I've actually never read any of (either) Sagan's books (though one or two are in my behemoth TBR pile). However, the movie Contact had a profound impact on my life and will be forever listed among my Top 5 movies. I'll be writing about that movie and how it affected me on Dec 20.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Fatima, 1994

Unlike our trip to Rome, my Catholic youth group's trip to Fatima was "just" a pilgrimage. No service aspect, just visiting the place where Mary appeared to three children and discussing and meditating on our faith.

We flew to Lisbon from Frankfurt. I thought our chaperones were saints then for dealing with a plane-ful of kids, but the chaperones who do this sort of undertaking post 9/11 must have the patience of Job or just be really, really insane. Especially in Europe where there's no such thing as a "non-smoking flight."

There were two things I noticed about Portugal by the end of my first day there: a distinct lack of cows on the countryside and an average height of about five feet for the population. The lack of cows often made its way into conversation whenever we sat down to eat something like a burger. I think we decided that all of our red meat must be coming from the lambs we saw everywhere. As for the height, well, that just made picking out other folks in our group very easy, to the chaperones delight. We could be spread out over an entire block in a thick crowd on its way to mass, but you could wave to nearly every single one of us without standing on tiptoe. This average height issue caused problems in the hotel. I wasn't quite my full 5'8" at that point, and I had to contort myself to see the top of my head in the mirror and sleep hugging my knees so my feet didn't dangle out in the cold off the end of the bed. I feel really bad for the tall basketball players in our bunch. Must've been a very uncomfortable trip.

I don't remember much of what we did on this trip: breaking out into discussion groups on the cozy roof of our hotel, trying to sing along during the Portuguese mass by intoning "Watermelon" over and over, twisting my tongue around the name of the Portuguese currency (Escudo, which didn't quite sound like it looks), subsuming simple Portuguese phrases into silly use (muchos abrigados is all I remember, and somehow my friends and I started calling each other "muchos" for the rest of the trip), playing card games late at night, and attending a candlelight vigil.

In fact, the most detailed memory I have of the trip was when we were trying to find the starting point for the Stations of the Cross hike. One of our chaperones kept directing us around the esplanade, telling us the stations started just over here, just a little further, etc. Finally he stopped in front of the bathrooms and, smiling as if he was so darn clever, said, "Here it is." We were all just a tad confuzzled. Then he pointed to the sign that said "WC" (for the European "water closet", aka the bathroom). When we still looked at him like he had Escudos coming out of his ears, he said, "See? WC. Way of the Cross." I think we would've found his joke more amusing had he not led us on a five minute trek through the Sanctuary of Fatima. This wouldn't have been so bad had it not been surprisingly hot that day. (In fact, it was so hot that one of our gals got sun poisoning. Well, it didn't help that she stayed out on the roof of the hotel without sunscreen or shade for three hours or something; I think she wanted a tan.)

The other snapshot I have of the trip was one of the guys singing the Gilligan's Island theme song whenever he was late to a meal or meeting. He did it very well. In fact, he did it so well, that I think a few of us were purposefully late once just so we could try to outdo him with some other song (obviously, we didn't succeed in our task if even I can't remember which song we sang).

I wish I could remember more of our discussion groups. It seems rather sad that I went on a pilgrimage to a remarkably holy site and can't remember anything of the metaphysical there.

Next Week: I'll complete the Catholic Youth Group Spring Break Trip Trifecta with a recounting of our trip to Lourdes, France, 1996.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Drew's First 'Do

We had to cut the Drew Monster's hair last week. It was falling into his eyes, covering his ears, and getting stuck in his shirt collars. Rather than pay $10 for the privelege of getting a two-minute professional cut, we decided to take scissors into our own hands.

I wish we had a different computer set up so we could share the before and after. Let's just say that Drew found the whole process very intriguing and kept turning his head to see what it was Momma was doing. The first snips, of course, were very uneven. So I had to even things out. And even some more things out.

The poor kid is all forehead now.

Even so, he's just as adorable as ever, though the haircut makes him look a little different. We kept a lock of his hair, but I really don't know what we'll do with it. I'm not into that scrapbooking stuff. I've tried to start it up a bit with Andrew, but I haven't touched it since the first weekend or two I played with it. I'm sure we'll find a place that works. And I think we'll be taking him to the pros for the next one.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Too Tired

Got up at 3:30 this morning to catch my plane. Survived through some intense DDJ meetings and discussions on a grande peppermint mocha. Barely managed to keep my feet under me through the day. And then, silly me, I thought I'd try detail my SoZ plot rethink. I actually wrote quite a bit, then my brain fizzled out as I tried to wrap things up (which, actually links back to the problem I was having with the book in the first place, an irony that I will be happy to explore next Thursday).

So off to bed I go.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'll Never Learn

Holly posted about the practice that chain bookstores use as part of their business model: ordering to the net. She states that this practice kills books and careers, and concludes that, to support a midlist author's career (and, of course, your local independent bookseller), it's better to buy books from independent booksellers since they don't order to the net. I don't really want to analyze the argument since 1) I'm most certainly an outsider to the entire publishing industry and therefore don't have access to all the information that Holly does and 2) I think a lot of the argument gets back into that whole writing as art or business debate that and that's been addressed here.

No, the reason I'm posting is to talk about the flak her post generated and how I'm probably going to regret opening my mouth.

In presenting her argument against ordering to the net, Holly begins by calling chain bookstores the Villains of bookselling and indie bookstores the Heroes of bookselling. Then she immediately goes on to explain how the heroes (indies) do it right, focusing on the actual booksellers. I'm fairly certain she did this to emphasize the human element of the indies for stark comparison against the Corporate Buyer looking at numbers and nothing else of the chains. Unfortunately, for the chain employees (aka, the actual booksellers at the chain stores), this argument structure seems to be implying that, by immediately focusing on the booksellers at the indies who are doing things right and are therefore heroes, chain booksellers are doing it wrong and are villains. Hence the furor.

Holly calls such an interpretation sloppy reading because she never said any such thing. In fact, she only mentioned the chain bookseller once in detailing that readers need to beat booksellers over the head with the need to keep a book/author stocked to get the beancounters to take note and thus produce a miracle that would prevent the ordering to the net death spiral. She's taken the booksellers completely out of the equation, really. And the removal of the human bookselling element from the villainy of chain bookstores seems to imply that they are complicit in the corporate villainy or that they are incapable of handselling to save an author's career, which is just as bad since she's already established that that's part of the right way to do things--you know, the way the heroes do it.

The whole mess gets even more grand when Holly puts part of the blame for the furor on people who "so closely identify themselves with their jobs that they believe a hostile comment about a bad corporate business practice was a hostile comment about themselves." Wouldn't another way of saying "closely identify themselves with their jobs" be "passionate about their work," which is bookselling? Isn't that what she's claiming is missing in the bottom-line mentality of ordering to the net? Have we just run 'round in a circle?

But I've run into this sort of thing on the internet before and have been burned in trying to present a dissenting opinion when someone is clearly certain they are right about something. So even though I see how Holly's rhetoric in and composition of her argument could garner (whether intentionally or unintentionally--this is where I stop enjoying argument analysis because no matter what wording or structure Holly used, I cannot presume to know what she intended with it) just the sort of reaction she's ridiculing as not only idiotic and sloppy but also akin to libel, I should just roll my eyes and go about my blog surfing. No, idiot me, I decided to post a response.

We'll see what happens. What I would enjoy would be a discussion of the rhetoric she used and why. I'm a writer and thus a constant student of language. I'm always interested to know the thought process behind someone's words.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Rome, 1995

I was part of a Catholic youth group in high school, and we would go on service pilgrimages for spring break. Well, some trips were more service-oriented than others. Rome was the most intense of the three trips I experienced as part of this group. Two of our four non-traveling days were dedicated to helping out at a homeless shelter run by the Missionaires of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) and at the American Seminary. Another of the days was spent touring the Vatican, and the other day was spent trekking out to Assisi and tooling around there. Also, being a Catholic youth group in Rome, we went to a Papal audience, a Papal rosary session, a Papal address, and, of course, mass. Thus, if it wasn't in the Vatican or visible from our bus route from hotel to the Vatican and the service locations, then I probably didn't see it. Still, it was an amazing trip.

For the service portion of our trip, our group was divvied up into guys and gals. The first day, the gals went to the Sisters of Calcutta homeless shelter. We cleaned the rooms and halls. We did laundry. We cleaned the kitchen. We served food. It was draining, exhausting work, especially because you knew that the work would still be there the next week, and they wouldn't have all these extra hands. It was also emotionally sapping work. Well, it was for me. No matter how hard I worked that day, I knew that these people would still be sick and homeless the next day. We actually talked a lot about that at a couple of meditation and discussion sessions during the day, about how part of this sort of service was to give joyfully of yourself even though you could not fix the problem. I really struggled with this, and the folks running the show knew it, so I ended up doing a lot of "behind the scenes" stuff like laundry and dishes.

The next day of service, we switched with the boys and went to the seminary. The boys had been much more industrious than the seminarians had anticipated, though, so we didn't have a whole lot to do. A bunch of boy-crazy girls wandering around a seminary is not exactly a recipe for success. I think all the chaperones and the folks running the college were fairly frantic to keep us occupied. This may explain why we spent a lot of time hanging out on the college roof-top patio overlooking Rome. I suppose matters were not helped by the fact that our bus route every day took us by what we quickly dubbed "Make Out Park." I understand that Italians, like most Europeans, don't have all the societal hangups about sex that Americans do, and they are famed for their passion, but damn. Talk about PDA. Couples just sprawled all over each other on the grass. It was interesting to see who on the bus pressed their noses to the glass to get a better look, who pretended not to notice but had that shifty-eyed peripheral vision thing going on, and who was just completely oblivious.

I think I enjoyed our day trip to Assisi the best. The mother church of the Franciscan order was rather unique in structure and layout compared to all the other grand churches and basilicas and cathedrals that started to get that dime a dozen feel by the fifth one you saw. The grounds felt comfortable, designed for wandering and peaceful relfection and meditation. I probably wouldn't mind spending a longer period of time in Assisi; it was a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of Romae. My happy memories of Assisi might have been influenced by the busload of young Italian airmen that we happened to park next to while they were in the process of loading up to leave. I'm a sucker for a man in uniform, and Italian men in uniform are a species all to themselves. The boys on our trip were a good fifty feet away before they realized that the female half of the group was nowhere to be found. By the time they came looking, the yummy bus had departed, leaving our guys to puzzle over where there was a preponderance of drool on one side of the bus.

We did manage to squeeze in a bus tour of Rome to do some of the standard sight-seeing apart from the Vatican. The Roman Forum, the catacombs, the Circus Maximus, the Arch of Constantine, and, of course, the Colosseum. The latter was the most interesting to me, particularly because it combined all the awesomeness of Ancient Rome with tons and tons of cute feral kitties. That really entertained me.

Driving around Rome was interesting. We approached the city from the bottom of a valley of yellowish. I learned all about the whole Seven Hills concept later in the trip, so it was very bizarre to approach a city that bubbled up out of the valley and over hilltops like that silver Alice Through the Looking Glass Matrix fluid. Driving in the city itself was a cardiac event. When we weren't staring at the impressive displays of Italian passion in the park, we had our faces palstered to the window so we could watch all the near misses with other cars. Six-lane street roads routinely became eight-laners, with someone bumping up on the sidewalk every now and then when necessary. In fact, we were supposed to go to mass at St. Peter's one day, but the way the cars had parked in and around our hotel literally penned the bus in. So we walked down the street to a church on the corner and suffered through a mass in Italian instead of Latin, which we would have had some chance at understanding seeing as how much of the mass is already in Latin.

It was an odd affair to attend JPII's weekly praying of the rosary with the youth in the area. Strange to be in what felt like an arena with a bunch of other teenagers hyped up as if Nirvana was about to take the stage only to see the Pope's hunched, white form ease out onto the stage and into a cozy chair. We must have prayed the rosary with him, or that must have been the intent, because looking back at it now, I just don't get the logic behind packing an event center so a bunch of kids can watch an old guy pray over some beads. The papal address and the papal audience, that I understand. St. Peter's square was packed to the brim for the former (and JPII was essentially nothing more than a white dot at a far away window, his voice booming over some loud speakers), and probably for the latter as well, but since we were "special guests" on pilgrimage, we had to get there early and sit in a specified area so the Pope could acknowledge us when we were announced. Ah, the joys of Catholic pomp and circumstance.

Call me a heretic, but I enjoyed the Ancient Roman ruins and Vatican architecture more than all the papal audiences and such. Even as important as the Catholic religion was to me then, I still appreciated its foundation and history and sense of the universal more than the leader and rituals. In fact, any future trips there would be focused more on an immersion in the ancient, both the Roman and Catholic aspects of the city. There's so much of that to explore and study.

Next Week: Speaking of trips I took with my Catholic youth group, I'll cover Fatima, 1994.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dinner and a Show!

Not sure what changed for the Drew Monster in the past two months, but getting him to eat has been quite the enterprise. If we don't shovel the food into his cake-hole fast enough, he screams. If we don't shovel the right food into his cake-hole fast enough, he screams. Sometimes he screams because he's bored with the whole process. Sometimes he just wants to hear his high-pitched yell bounce of the walls. So, we've had to get creative at the high chair.

We've done variety, both in the jars-of-mush and finger foods categories. This works when he has the patience for it, which isn't often enough to make Momma and Daddy happy. When is this kid going to be able to feed himself? I need to do some research and figure out some other tips and average timelines, just so I know if we've managed to ignore some big milestone or great trick.

We've tried to get him to stop screaming. This is next to impossible since his toddler mind can barely wrap itself around the concept of No as in "Don't touch that!" No as in "Will you please shut up" seems to be a bit too much for him to comprehend. And this tactic often results in getting Momma and Daddy worked up as well, so we've put it aside for the moment.

In the past two weeks, we've tried entertaining El Boyo Diablo. This works phenomenally well because when Drewbie is distracted and not paying attention to the whole feeding process, his mouth automatically opens when a spoonful of something or other gets near it. We give him empty food containers to play with. Momma and Daddy make all sorts of funny noises and faces. We let the boy amuse himself by stuffing the fruit puffs in our mouths for a change (I've gotten a lot of fiber and iron and zinc this way).

While it's nice to have found something that works more often than not at getting food down Drew's gullet, I know it's a temporary fix. Mainly because it doesn't seem to be teaching the little guy how to feed himself, and I'm not going to keep this up until he's 5.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Late on the Bandwagon

Lots of folks were doing this "What Tarot Card are You?" quiz a couple of weeks ago. I'm just fashionably late. But I like what I got, and I think I might use "Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education" as a tagline.

You are The High Priestess

Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.

The High Priestess is the card of knowledge, instinctual, supernatural, secret knowledge. She holds scrolls of arcane information that she might, or might not reveal to you. The moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see, reveal the secrets you need to know. The High Priestess is also associated with the moon however and can also indicate change or fluxuation, particularily when it comes to your moods.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thank you for submitting your post "Check-in," but...

Quite a week. In addition to the combined computer and (observed) car trouble of Wednesday, there were more DDJ phone Shenanigans and two other car sagas as well as a writing rejection and a complete SoZ plot rethink.

Regarding the DDJ, the less that is said of that, the better. One day I'll be able to, you know, call the folks I need to call, but that might be a present from Santa, at the rate this is going.

As for the car issues, ooh boy. Last Saturday, my mother and I both spaced on something very vital: confirming we actually had enough gas in the tank to get from Casa Grande to Mesa and Scottsdale and back. We almost made it. We were less than ten miles from our exit off of I-10 when the truck ran out of fumes. I don't have many blonde moments, but the ones I do have are stunning. It's no fun being stranded on the side of a 75mph road, heavy with trucks making their way to Tucson before nightfall. But we got gassed up and back on route without any trouble and within an hour. It was just a "don't we feel stupid" moment for Mom and me.

Today's car bliss wrecked my day. I was on my way back up to Scottsdale (last week I dropped off my wedding ring to get re-sized for free at the only location for the jeweler's franchise in the area, today I picked it up), using cruise control to keep my knee from getting twitchy, when suddenly I noticed the brakes were very tight, I couldn't accelerate for shit (pedal to the metal, and I couldn't kick it up past 70 mph), and there was smoke that smelled godawful coming off the car. After the car-be-cue from Wednesday, I was, in a word, freaked out. Luckily, this happened within a couple of miles of the place where Mark had gotten the brakes fixed last night on his way home from work. So I swung in there expecting them to get the car up in the air and say, "Oops, our bad, we forgot to do X." Nope, no such luck. An hour and a half later, they couldn't find a problem, nor could they replicate it. They did say it could be a problem with the cruise control function, so I sucked it up and suffered a sore knee for the rest of the driving.

On the writing front, my short story "Timing" was rejected from Fantasy & Science Fiction this week. The note was personalized with my address, name, and title and hand-signed. Don't know if F&SF does that for all of their rejections, but I'm not going to spend any further time trying to read between the lines. This week I'll be looking into a couple of markets, probably with electronic submission capabilities and may even have another rejection by next week's check-in.

My plot and character revisions for Velorin and SoZ will be discussed in more detail on Thursday, which is the day dedicated to my own writing projects.

Still no word on whether or not my writing computer is toast, but I find that I don't care too much since I've got all my data on a hard drive that I can plug into any computer I can grab, and there are four set up and two others in boxes at the moment. I'll survive.

Seeing as how I jet back to Colorado on Thursday, I'm not going to even think about hoping for a less crazy week next week. We'll just see what insanity awaits.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Demonstrative Meme

This is a list of the 50 most significant science fiction/fantasy novels, 1953-2002, according to the Science Fiction Book Club. Bold the ones you've read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished, and put an asterisk* beside the ones you loved.

Kellie's Addition: Indicate whether you have this book in your TBR pile and/or if you've seen the screenplay version.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien - Screenplay
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert - Screenplay(s)
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin - Screenplay
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley - Screenplay
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson - TBR
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling* - Screenplay
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams* - Screenplay
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice - Screenplay
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute - Screenplay (and now I have "Waltzing Matilda stuck in my head, dammit)
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein - Screenplay
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Yeah. So that's 3 books out of 50 read, 3 out of 50 I tried to read, 1 in the hopper, and 8 of which have titilated me in all their movie glory (and 2 of those 8 also count for 2 of the 3 I've actually read). Remember how I said that I haven't paid any homage to SF's history by reading its founding fathers? Just in case you thought I was joking or being modest...