Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Year in Knitting

What I'm writing: Gods Willing edit
What I'm reading: Nothing at the moment
What I'm knitting: Just finished the last mitten - either a sweater or socks (for me) next

First off:
Happy Holidays!!

I hope each and every one of you has a joyous and safe holiday season.

Other than little notes in my header, I don't believe I've ever talked about my knitting here. I love knitting. I taught myself to knit when I was in my early twenties (and we won't talk about how many, many years ago that was). I've tried crochet, tatting, etc - but I just can't seem to get it like I do with knitting. My Grandma Wilcox knitted for most of her life and has passed down many of her supplies to me (including the hefty McCall's pattern book in which I got the pattern for all those double knit mittens I worked on this year). Now in her 90s, I know Grandma wishes she could still knit, but really can't anymore. I think I can understand how she feels - I'd miss the soothing motions and the light clack of the needles if I could no longer knit.

Anyway, I worked on several projects this year. I won't bore you with all of them, but here are a few:

Those Mittens!! (double knit with wool blend yarn)

A shirt/dress for the granddaughter - it's a bit too big still, but I'll give it to her probably on her birthday:
(junior jacquard yarn)

Socks! For me! (Jacquard sock yarn)

And the 'big' project this year: it's only a lap blanket size, but the pattern was detailed enough that it took me several months to finish. I finally finished it in early fall and I don't care how geeky it sounds, I really think I'll enter it into next year's county fair.

And a closer view:

Some things I've learned about knitting this year: I really, really don't like intarsia work and I'm also not that fond of making knit bobbles (from the afghan). Also, after years of thinking knitting with four double pointed needles would be difficult, I found I really like it (the socks).

Now I have to decide whether I'm going to use the leftover yarn from the mittens, combine it with some beautiful cream Aran I have and make myself a sweater - or will I make another pair of socks... I'm not sure.

If any knitters want to know what patterns and yarns I used in any of these projects, just ask!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mark Mayhem

There's a saying in our house, "If it's going to happen to anyone, it'll happen to Mark," meaning that, well, the strangest things happen to that boy. He gets injured in odd ways, but also finds unexpected good luck.

He seems to get chosen for things or have the luck to win things (half-time show at the only college basketball game he's ever attended, guitar store commercial, 50/50 drawings, $100 from Cap'n Crunch cereal, etc).

But with the odd good things come the strange bad things. At 15 he's already broken a leg and an arm (though he's not at all a daredevil child), been hospitalized with pneumonia, been rushed to the ER for a severe allergic reaction from trying on school clothes, and many other smaller bumps, bruises, and bangs.

Saturday night was just another on the list. Mark has had problems with his leg muscles cramping since he was an infant. He's slept with a hot water bottle to relieve the pains for the last ten years or so. On Saturday night, I'd filled the bottle (our water is very hot due to the fact that we use an outdoor wood boiler for heat and hot water), given it to him, and went to bed. It wasn't long after that he knocked on our door, "The hot water bottle exploded and my feet are burned."


He had his socks on, so the right foot, the one whose sock he got off first, wasn't in bad shape - just a little red. The left foot - the one the sock remained on longer - suffered second degree burns over probably about 20% of it. He was swollen and blistered and red. We discussed going to the ER, but in the end, we didn't. I talked to the ER nurse and realized they'd do for him what we would do at home - and Mark was in such pain whenever he took his foot out of cool water, that a trip to town would have been horrid.

We all stayed up until around 2 am, and then Mark fell asleep on the sofa, his foot dangling off into a pot of water.

I kept him home from school yesterday, but sent him today, hobbling out the door. I might have let him stay home another day, except he'd missed school on Friday as well. That was for sharp pains in his side, that were, thankfully, not caused by his appendix.

I love the kid dearly, but sometimes it's tiring to be his parent!!

Blogging the Classics - The Great Gatsby

What I'm Writing: Editing Gods Willing
What I'm Reading: One of Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy mysteries – can't remember which one and I don’t have it with me
What I'm Knitting: Mittens, mittens, mittens (and, yes, I should be well done with these by now, but I'm getting so tired of knitting them, I'm barely working on them)

I finished The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald last night. I really, really enjoyed it. It's a short book – more of a novella than a novel – but packs an emotional punch.

Let me just start by saying the Fitzgerald's writing is lyrical to the point of beauty. He may be writing about infidelity, amoralism, jealousy, and greed, but the words themselves – the flow and cadence and balance – are lovely. Reading this work, I felt the author's choice of words was often surprising but always brilliant.

"He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself."- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 3

The tale itself could be a soap-opera storyline full of parties, wealth, cheating, and lying, but it is, under the surface, so much more. We see a time in the history of America (post WWI – prohibition – roaring twenties) when riches were flowing, where greed was honored, when morality was for the poor schmuck down the road. People were flying high and playing loose, not caring who they hurt or what debts they might incur. Worry was for later. It was a selfish generation. Which caused me to wonder if it's always so – when we're in a boom do we get more selfish? Do we forget our own standards in the rush to achieve, gain, feel everything? It's funny how the "Me Generation" of the 1980s era is mirrored pretty well in this 1920s slice of Americana.

The narrator, Nick, is a Midwestern boy, fresh from war, come to NYC to make his fortune. His life gets tangled with that of his neighbor, Gatsby, his cousin, Daisy and her husband, Tom, and the famous golfer, Jordan. In the beginning, I think, Nick is bothered by the actions of those around him: Gatsby's parties, Tom's infidelity, Jordan's selfishness, but after a summer spent with them, he starts to lose himself, at least a little, in their world.

He dates Jordan, though I don't think if he'd met her in other circumstances, he would. She's brash, selfish, and judgmental – traits that Nick, in the beginning of the book, claims to have learned to avoid.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 1

He spends time with Gatsby, being drawn into his circle, never sure whether to believe Gatsby's tales or not. Even when the stories are too wild to be true, Gatsby's charisma fools Nick. In the end, however, though Gatsby was the one who was derided for making money illegally, he was the character (other than Nick) who at least stood for something – the one who chased dreams and believed in love.

Daisy and Tom both had blood on their hands, but were unrepentant. I doubt they'd think they'd done anything wrong, really. And Jordan was just as self-absorbed as she'd been throughout the book.

Nick was changed, though at least he realized the change and knew he had to leave those surroundings in order to get himself back.

And Gatsby? Well, Gatsby didn't survive the summer. Perhaps, even had he not been killed, he might not have survived anyway. The man was broken, or at least would be once he finally admitted Daisy wasn't his.

Gatsby's funeral was one of the sadder moments. This man who people had flocked to in life, the one who they leeched from for their parties and booze, was forgotten in death. He was an embarrassment. No one wanted to admit they were part of his life, of his scene. Only Nick stayed by his side. It was touching how Nick tried to save Gatsby's father from the truth – to let the older man live in his fairytale where his son was a rich gentleman.

Perhaps, in the end, that's what this book is about – the truth – avoiding it, maneuvering around it, and finally, maybe (for some characters), facing it.

Definitely a book I would recommend to anyone wanting to delve into the classics – or anyone just looking for a good, quick read.

Which classic should I read next? Let me know!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Glee Christmas Quicky

Just a quick post (you thought quicky might mean something else, didn't you? tsk tsk) to say I loved the Glee Christmas episode.

Spoiler Alert! Don't read any farther if you don't want to know.

If I'm going to bash them when I don't agree with the writing, then I better damn well praise them when I do.

There was nothing about this episode I didn't like. Sue as the Grinch was brilliant. I was smiling through the whole skit. Bravo! (And take that Ed O'Neil after your petty remarks about Sue Sylvester/Jane Lynch).

The Finn/Rachel break-up seemed very realistic. I hope they have Finn stay in that 'bruised' mindset for a while.

And Coach Bieste, first with Brittney and then the gift for Artie. Loved it! It's just the kind of Schmoop I want in my Christmas viewing.

This felt more like last year's Glee then any previous episode this season.

One thing I would have loved to see, just for that extra 'awww' moment, would have been for Coach Bieste to also be at  Will's on Christmas Eve. Everyone else was, why not her?

Bravo Glee!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Glee: A Cop-Out?

What I'm writing: Writing and reading are the same right now as I finish the first read-through of Gods Willing
What I'm reading:
What I'm knitting: I don't want to sound like a broken record CD IPod

*Contains Spoilers for the November 30, 2010 Glee Episode - Don't read if you don't want to know*

I love Glee. Really, I do. I think that's why when the writing isn't as strong as I expect, I really notice it.

This week's Glee was a fun episode, even without the spectacular Jane Lynch. Much of the ep seemed to hark back to those snarky, wonderful episodes of last season - dealing with relationships within the club and without. And my complaint from earlier this season about Creepy Will seems to have been corrected (behold the power of a blogger with... what?... two readers? Excuse me for a moment while I go work this magic on the power ball jackpot). So,  yeah, all good.

It was the very end that killed me. My younger son had wandered into the room a few minutes earlier, so he was there when I yelled, "What a cop-out!" I mean, really, maybe the writers have some huge twist in mind that caused them to create a tie for Sectional winner, or maybe it was just lazy writing (it just killed me a little to write that because I often think the Glee writers are brilliant). I wonder if they sat around the conference table saying, New Direction has to win Sectionals, but we want Kurt there, too. What do we do? Well, how 'bout a tie! People will think that's so clever - they'll be in tears!"

I'm sure there are other, more creative, ways to put Kurt and the Warblers and New Direction all into the Regionals. Let's see:

How 'bout New Direction loses to the Warblers, but there's still one more chance - a Wild Card competition that draws from all the teams that came in second in their Sectionals. They'd have to sing their a$$es off and maybe even be the underdog again.

Or New Direction wins, Kurt comes back to school (there are many ways to make that happen, and don't we all just know that'll happen anyway) and they have to fight tooth-n-nail to get him accepted as one of their performers for Regionals - after all, would he really be allowed to jump ship after the Sectionals?

Or, we dash the dreams of someone - doesn't that happen in real life? I've heard it does. New Direction wins and Kurt is emo for a while, or the Warblers win and the New Direction crew have to pick up the pieces and re-evaluate their actions. I kind of like this one as it would feel more like Karma after how fractured the kids' relationships have been.

I'm sure there are more and better scenarios out there as well - Give me your ideas - I'd love to hear them.

And don't get me wrong, there were great moments in the show. Emma telling Rachel, "Maybe you could storm out." LOL The whole Finn/Rachel drama. Puck realizing he can't hurt Finn like he did before. Good stuff.

Although having the senior citizen singers at Sectionals? I know they are billing it as 'any glee chorus can enter,' but it seems strange not to have it as only high schools - that's what Sectionals usually are, as far as I know - and isn't that the way they had it last year?

Tell me what you think!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Classics - Do you read them?

What I'm writing: I'm in the editing phase now - starting with Gods Willing
What I'm reading: Nothing! Ack! I went looking for the copy of Eat, Pray, Love I picked up this summer, but can't find it
What I'm knitting: Mitten 13/14

For the past several years I've begun reading some classic literature. I sprinkle in a bit here and there to spice up my usual fare of bestsellers and recommended reads. There've been some hits and misses along the way. Just because a book is considered a classic, doesn't mean everyone's going to love it.

What I've read:
Everything by Jane Austen - I adore her writing. To me, her humor and snark are as relatable now as they must have been in the 1800s. My favorite: Emma - I think because for this tale, the woman wasn't constricted by poverty. She could have chosen to live as a spinster and been financially sound. I'm sure I'll read most all of Ms. Austen's works again.

Bronte Sisters - I bought a hardcover edition of their works intending to read it all as I had with Ms. Austen's. I managed Emily's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte's Jane Eyre. I disliked them both. I still can't figure out how any of the Wuthering Heights' main characters could be seen as sympathetic or likable to readers. And Jane Eyre seemed like so much romantic tosh that I barely made it through the novel. I apologize to the legion of fans the sisters have, but I didn't get it in the least.

Lucy Montgomery/Anne of Green Gables- Again I bought a large hardcover that held the three novels of the Anne series, I enjoyed Anne of Green Gables, though parts of it seemed a bit contrived. I planned on reading the other two, but have thus far not done so.

Frances Burnett/Secret Garden - Loved it! It was emotional without the feeling that the author was trying to wring the emotion from the reader. Well paced and great character development. This is one I plan to read to my granddaughter some day.

Arthur Doyle/Sherlock Holmes - I bought all the stories in two paperbacks. I read two... maybe three... but couldn't get emotionally attached to the characters.

J.R.R. Tolkien - Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are amazingly wonderful. I've read LotR multiple times. The pacing can kill me when I'm immersed in it - following Frodo and Sam for hundreds of pages and then howling when I'm suddenly shifted to Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimley - and howling again when, hundreds of pages later, I'm shifted back again. I haven't read his other works.

Jack London- I adore White Fang but haven't tried any of his other novels.

Wilson Rawls - Where the Red Fern Grows. Several years ago when Brian had to read this for English, I took advantage and read it to Mark at the same time. I bawled so hard at the end that I could hardly speak. Now that's pulling emotion from a reader. Bravo!

There are probably others, but I can't think of them right now.

My next endeavor will be The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. I listened to a radio program about Fitzgerald yesterday and it made me really want to read the book. I believe I might blog about this one as I read it, just as an experiment in reviewing and an endeavor in trying to deconstruct a classic. Since I really know nothing about it, I'll come at it with fresh eyes.

I actually felt a little better about my own writing when the radio commentator stated that the first drafts of  Fitzgerald's works were quite pedestrian. I spent a few days in the doldrums of thinking my first drafts are such utter manure that I wonder why I even bother. LOL. So, yeah, it was good to hear that about Fitzgerald and give myself back a little perspective.

Really, though, I think (from what I read and conversations with other writers) we're a lot who either think we're brilliant or horrible - and we can easily go between extremes in any given hour.

So, tell me what classics you've read. Did you enjoy them? Are they worth my reading?

Also, if anyone wants a copy of the Bronte Sisters works or the complete Sherlock Holmes, drop me a line and I'll send them to you.

(and update on Mark: His guitar instructor 'graduated' him out of lessons - he said Mark is faster than he is and has gotten to the point of teaching himself. Mark is really going to miss his lessons, but Ben said to give him a call if Mark ever needs to ask him questions or just wants to jam with him. We bought Mark's one and only Christmas gift this year over the weekend: A burgandy Jackson Randy Rhodes edition electric guitar. Now if Brian would only think of what we can get him for Christmas, I'd be coming along well!)

~~ Amy~~

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Hunger Games and Jack White (Yeah, to me they go together)

What I'm Writing: In the Shadow of Olympus (60K in - maybe another 10K to write)
What I'm Reading: Just finished Mockingjay this morning - I think I'm ruined for other books for at least a week
What I'm Knitting: Ugh

I spent the last eight days devouring the Hunger Games trilogy of books. Yep, eight days in a dystopian YA world - can't be good for the psyche, can it? :)

I don't remember a series of books capturing my attention so completly since my first read-through of the Harry Potter books. At least with this, there are only three and they are already all in print, so I wasn't playing the waiting game (thank goodness).

Anyway, for those of you who aren't familiar with the books, here's a blurb:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival.

Suzanne Collins has done an awesome job in these books of finding a character voice that holds the reader and doesn't let go.

Speak to me and don't speak softly
Talk to me and let me know
Grab hold of my shoulder and tell me
Grab hold and do not let go
(Raconteurs - Jack White Vocals - song: These Stones Will Shout Out. written by Brendan Benson)

So what does this have to do with Jack White? Maybe it's all in the timing for me. You see, at the same time I was reading the books, Mark made me a mix CD of some of his favorite songs that I also like. Most of the CD is either White Stripes or Raconteurs (two of Jack's band). I don't think I ever listened closely to many of these songs until I was alone in the car traveling back and forth to work - and then many of them blew me away.

One song in particular, the White Stripes Same Boy You've Always Known is a punch in the gut to me every time I hear it. The lyrics are so sad and Jack's voice so amazing that when the song ends on:
And if there's anything good about me
I'm the only one who knows

I'm pretty well gutted.

Think about that line...

How utterly sad is it for anyone to believe that about themselves? And that's kind of how Katniss in Hunger Games feels about herself on more than one occasion (and really, sometimes she just doesn't think she even knows anything good about herself). I swear, this song (or at least parts of it) should be in the Hunger Games movie when it's made.

You fell down of course
and then you got up of course
and you started over
forgot my name of course
then you started to remember
(The White Stripes - Same Boy You've Always Known)

For anyone who's read Hunger Games, that line could probably refer to Katniss or Peeta at various times in the book.

(Take a short break right now and watch a video of Same Boy You've Always Known- and then tell me that last line doesn't affect you - really, do it!)

Do I sound fangirly enough? I do? Good! Because I am.
It's funny, but I think Hunger Games and Jack White now will be forever entwined in my mind - I guess that's not a bad thing.

And now that I'm thinking about it (and giggling to myself), I suppose White Stripe's song You're pretty good looking, for a girl could be a good one for Katniss when she's being all re-made for TV.

Oh yeah you're pretty good looking for a girl
but your back is so broken
and this feeling's still gonna linger on
until the year 2525 now
(White Stripes - You're Pretty Good Looking, For a Girl)

Oh, and wow on the books being written first-person present tense. It was a bit wierd to get used to at first, but then the writing gave such rapidfire movement to the books that who can complain, really?

(And one caveat - I've talked about this to some writer friends (specifially Jeanette) - but it really irks me when problems in novels are solved too easily, or solved outside of the MCs sphere of influence. I mean I love Tolkien and Rowlings, but really, how many times can Giant Eagles or magical Phoenixes come to the rescue when the MC is backed into a corner? How many times can some magical law - unknown until then - step in to save the day? In the Hunger Games, there's a bit of that - though not magic - instead it's little silver parachutes bringing necessities - 'nough said).

Okay, I think I'm officially done rambling, but, yeah, if you want a good read, then try the Hunger Games Trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching  Fire, Mockingjay) (and listen to Jack White in between reading sessions - see if you're convinced).

Monday, November 22, 2010

On characters and plot and writing

What I'm Writing: In the Shadow of Olympus
What I'm Reading: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (wow, just wow)
What I'm Knitting: Still working on those darned mittens 12 of 14 mittens done

Throwing myself so fully into Nano this year helped me remember why I love to write, and why I should never, ever stop writing. There's such a thrill to be had from weaving a story, letting your subconscious out to play and guide you, meeting new people through your characters, and testing your boundaries along the way.

It's magical, at least to me.

Weaving a story: Where else (other than sims games, perhaps) are you so free to world-build? You can be a god, conducting the lives of your characters, giving them thoughts, and throwing perils into their paths. For me, I start with knowing where I'm starting and where I want to end up and then it's a whole lot of thinking and trying and rethinking and retrying from there. And, yes, since I'm building my own world, from the ground up, really, I set the rules, but I always must make sure what happens in the story sticks to those rules - if it doesn't, well, then no one's going to believe. For my Nano novel, I've completely changed my plot (though it still starts and ends in the same place) three times. I am now within 10000 words of the end of my first draft and very happy with how the story arc went. I'll have a lot of work to do filling in holes, fluffing up descriptions, dropping hints, etc., when I rewrite (not to mention the gruesome SPaG errors that will rear their ugly heads), but the bones are there.

Letting my subconscious out to play: Well, I suppose since it's the subconscious, it's never really 'out,' but boy do I notice the inner workings of my brain more when I'm writing than I do at any other time. How weird does that sound? If I have a plot hole I need filled, I think on it for a while and then let it go - the answer comes sooner rather than later. And one other thing that I adore - and it's happened to me, I think, with every manuscript I've ever written - I'll throw some detail in at the beginning - something for atmosphere, perhaps, that is not meant to have a bearing on the book. Usually something that I think I may cut out later. But in later chapters, I'll have a use for that 'thing.' It'll somehow become necessary and important. And I smile and pat my subconscious on its... um... back(?) and feel like, for a moment, I'm queen of the world.

Characters: I hear authors talk about how their character did something wholly unexpected that changed the direction of their book. For non-authors, this might sound silly, a bit demented, really. So, Ms. Tripp, the characters of your book are talking to you? How long has this been going on, hmmmm? But really, it happens. As an author, I strive to get to know my character: how they think and react, what makes them tick, what their past, present, and future are like. When this is done thoroughly and you know who exactly you're writing, then they do, in a way, tell  you how the story should go. If I'm in a good groove of writing, I'm sometimes completely surprised by what a character says or does, but when I think about it, I realize it fits, and usually gives the book a twist I hadn't been planning - gives me a fresh perspective. It happened in this year's nanonovel - although instead of a character I'd been writing surprising me (which they have), this was a character I hadn't developed suddenly showing up (literally popped into my scene, but that's allowed in the world I've built) and became my MCs sidekick. I absolutely adore him. Love it when something like that happens - and again it comes back to the subconscious working away.

Testing Boundaries: The Can I? Should I? questions should be thrown out the window when you're writing. You can and you should write whatever it feels like the story needs for it to be told. You can worry, on editing, if you've gone too far, but if it feels right, then usually it is. In a blog post before Nano, I asked a question about racism in MG novels. As I dove into the world of my characters, I used words and phrases I though I'd avoid. I put in situations that are uncomfortable. I'll decide, later on, if they need to be toned down, but I'm hoping, really, they don't. For what is a good story, really, if it doesn't make us think and react.

For those writers out there - how do you write? Do your characters drive your story?
For non writers - what makes a good read, a good character?

I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nano Update and an opportunity for Mark

What I'm writing: In the Shadow of Olympus
What I'm reading: Grilling Season by Diane Mott Davidson
What I'm knitting: Double-knit mittens

Nano is flying by and my fingers are flying along with it. I'm up over 30,000 words now. I'm really liking my story and my characters so that makes it easier to write (of course). I thought I had worked out how the story would progress (though I've already radically changed it twice), but just today I thought of a different route to take that I think I'm going to go with. One character who was supposed to be a friend is now going to be an avowed enemy. One enemy is now going to be, while not exactly a friend, at least somewhat helpful. And one character who I hadn't even plotted is now going to be a good friend. Who knew?? LOL

Yesterday, being Veteran's Day, Mark and I had the day off. I asked him in the morning if he wanted to do anything, and he just gave me the 'you should already know what I want to do' look, so I took him to Watertown and dropped  him off at Dr. Guitar while I hit the mall and a craft store. We got back home in time for me to make an early supper and get some cleaning done. Later, when we were having supper, Mark's guitar instructor, Ben, called. He asked if Mark could be back at Dr. Guitar by six to be in a local commercial for the store. Um... yeah.

We had to leave right away since it takes almost an hour to get there, but Mark was excited, so I wouldn't have dreamed of telling him no. We got there in plenty of time. Mark was handed a beautiful white Epiphone electric guitar to play. He was seated in an aisle on a stool just playing the guitar for a half hour or so. Another of Ben's students was across the store playing an acoustic guitar. Others were wandering the store as 'customers.' As for me and the parents of the the other student (a lovely couple who had just moved back to NY from Hawaii), we tried valiantly to hide in a corner. The cameraman told us once to walk around, so now I'm just really, really hoping I don't end up in the commercial.

Anyway, Mark loved it. He got to be in his favorite place in the world (for the second time in one day), he got to play guitar, and he was filmed. What more could an aspiring guitar player/builder want?

I can't wait to see the finished product. I don't know when it will be shown, but it's also supposed to be uploaded to the internet, so when it is, I'll drop a link here.

They had cookies for everyone once it was over. I told Mark his first professional gig and he got paid with cookies. LOL.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why, oh why?

What I'm reading: Sala's Gift
What I'm writing: I finished the first draft of Gods Willing yesterday and will begin my nano novel: In the Shadow of Olympus today.
What I'm knitting: Double-knit mittens

Why is it we tend to get snow on Halloween more often than not? It didn't stick around, but still... those poor little trick-or-treaters!

Mark got his first pair of glasses on Saturday, now hopefully they help his headaches.

November 1st! Nanowrimo starts today!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rocky Horror Glee

Since I watched the Rocky Horror episode of Glee, I've been trying to figure out why the show doesn't seem as enchanting to me this season as it did last.

I think I've got it.

It's all in the characterization. As a writer, I have to think about my characters, live in their heads a bit, get to know them on an intimate level. I have to ask myself, Is this really what he/she would do? And if it's not, I better figure out what he/she would do - otherwise, I lose credibility.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Glee has awesome writers - they take a rather large cast of characters and show them to the viewer in ways that help you understand their motivations, desires, dreams, and jealousies. But what happens when one of those characters no longer seems to be in-character?

I'm talking Mr. Schue - Will Schuester.

In season one, Mr. Schue was all about the kids. He took his love of his students, and this feeling of being honor-bound to help them succeed, to an extreme. He ignored his marriage in order to give the kids his best (granted, the marriage wasn't spectacular). He stood up to Sue and Figgins to defend his students. He was, in short, a model teacher - unimpeachable in his job, really - and we needed him to be that way. He was the responsible one, the one who saved the students from themselves, the one who made (mostly) mature decisions in guiding them.

We could have a Sue Sylvester on the other end of the spectrum because we had a Will Schuster. (And isn't Jane Lynch spectacular as Sue? Very much deserved Emmy win).

Fast forward to the Fall 2010 season, and in... what?... five episodes we've seen Mr. Schue team up with  Sue to bully the new football coach, sing/dance with the students at a pep rally to a sexy Brittney Spears song, convince the students to do a musical that's really not suited to high school, expect one male student to wear nothing but skimpy shorts onstage and a male and female student to perform in their underwear, and get hot-heavy-partially-naked with Emma in the school.

Hmmmmm... doesn't quite sound like the same character, at least not to me.

I'm not judging this on morality - I could really care less about the moral issues of the show - I enjoy it for the writing, the humor, the edge. I'm only looking at this as watching a character slip out of character. Would season one Will even recognize season two Will? I don't know. Can we use the excuse that he's going a little wild after his divorce or because he lost Emma? I don't think so. Sure, we all know people who, after a divorce or upon hitting 'middle age', go a little nuts - but don't we usually see that in them, at least a hint, before? Does someone who holds high standards and ideals fall so quickly because of a divorce? I have a hard time believing it.

I'll keep watching Glee, of course I will, but now I'm watching it with a more critical eye, waiting to see what Mr. Schue will do next, and if I'll really buy it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

For most people, November 1st isn't a milestone, it isn't a date they look toward with both anticipation and dread. For them, it's just another day - a Monday this year, to be precise. But for anyone who has ever participated in National Novel Writing Month, the first day of November heralds the beginning of thirty days of stress, self-imposed deadlines, exhilaration, and, if you push yourself enough to reach 50,000 words, joy.

After participating in Nanowrimo for the past five years (year six starts in a few days!), I tend to forget that not everyone in the world - or at least my world - knows what Nanowrimo is. For the uninitiated, Nano is a challenge - write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. That boils down to 1,667 words a day. It's not a horrible task, it's not almost undoable, it's just a marathon when you think of doing it for 30 days straight.

Believe it or not, there are speedy typists out there who write 12,000 words, 25,000 words, and more in a single day.

Not me.

I chug along at about 2000 a day - a bit more some days, a bit less on others - many years I've finished the challenge just before Thanksgiving.

I've been doing a lot of research for this year's novel. I've been filling up a journal with hand written notes, printed maps, and scraps of information gleaned from the internet. It's over 50 pages right now. My house and office are overrun with books on Boston during the Civil War. I've actually (ACK!) gone online to research racial and ethnic slurs of the 1860s (that really made me feel skeevy).

This year along with participating in Nano, I'm also Municipal Liaison for the Watertown, NY area. So there are extra duties, but also an extra sense of community. For anyone interested, we're having a kick-off meeting at Arbys on Arsenal Street in Watertown on October 30th at 1 pm.

On top of all that, I'm trying to finish a romance novel I've been working on all summer. I'm close, but I'm not sure if I'll get it done by October 31st. Aaaaannnnndddd... I'm trying to learn the new duties I've been given at work.

So... if when November comes and you barely hear from me for days on end, just listen for the clacking of computer keys - that's where you'll find me.

(by the way, this post was just over 400 words - yeah, I'll be counting everything for the next month).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to portray racism in middle grade novels

What I'm Writing: Gods Willing
What I'm Reading: Doing research on Civil War era Boston
What I'm Knitting: Moooooo

The start of National Novel Writing Month is only about nine days away, so I've been frantically researching and planning my novel.

I usually don't have a lot of research to do when I write. I tend to either make up my own world where my only limitation is my own creativity, or base a story in the modern US - something I know.

I had planned on writing a romance for Nanowrimo this year, but this one little strand of thought kept nudging at my brain, telling me there was a different idea, a different storyline, I should persue. I let that nudge turn into a full-fledged kick and took a couple of weeks to flesh out an idea. I liked it and decided to run with it.

This idea: a Middle Grade novel that starts in a to-be-determined era in US history and then veers into the realm of fantasy, seemed pretty straight forward at first. It would be a I'm-kidnapped-and-need-to-save-myself type story. All well and good, right? Well, not so much.

First off, I needed a city - an industrial port town is essential to the plot. Boston! my mind shouted. 'k, I can do Boston - never been there, but I can do enough research to portray it well enough - and since this will be set.... hmmmm.... when would be a good time period?... how about just after the Civil War... yes, that's good - I won't have to know modern Boston, just a Boston during its growth.

No problem! Yeah, right.

I began planning out the plot, naming and then learning my characters, refreshing my knowledge of the mythic part of the novel, ordering books about historical Boston from ebay and my local library. It was going well - I was filling a journal with scraps of information, character studies, plot points - 30, 40... almost 50 pages. And then I received my first book on historical Boston and spent an evening and a bit of the next morning skimming through it. Wow.

I had already decided my MC would be an Irish boy, but little did I realize how reviled the Irish were in pre-Civl War Boston. The protestants hated the new Irish immigrants (Potato famine refugees by the thousands) - seeing them as violent, barbaric, even. The Irish took over much of the housing and many of the jobs the free blacks in Boston had held before, so that caused even more strife. The Irish, in turn, didn't much like the blacks - worrying that if slavery was abolished, they'd lose their jobs to the freed slaves who would flood north.

The Irish proved themselves during the Civil War, fighting for their new homeland and President, and so, after the war, they were more highly regarded (black Bostonians, on the other hand, didn't see as much benefit from the outcome of the war as the Irish did - Go figure. (and I'm not talking about blacks that won their freedom through the war - I'm speaking about already free blacks - big difference)).

So all this information seived through my brain and began changing the tone and complexity of this novel. I pushed back the time frame, deciding to set the novel during the Civil War. I had already created a character of African descent who would now have a bigger role in the book, thus bringing out some of the racism and fright/hatred of the period.

All of a sudden, this seemed like a hell of a lot to take on, but I believe I'm up to the task.

My biggest worry now is how to portray racism in a book meant for middle grade readers. I'm certainly not going to sugar-coat it, but I also don't want to push the envelope too far. I won't be using some of the language - the titles, if you will - that were hung on the people of different nationalities, as that would be too coarse. The story has to lead to understanding and redemption at least on an individual level, as history shows that we're still struggling, as a nation, with those ideas.

All-in-all, the novel is going to be grittier than I had first imagined, but more truthful as well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts - what place does historic racism have in the books children read?

I've pretty much decided that I'm not going to worry so much about what's considered polite and just write the hell out of this thing and see where it takes me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This 'n That

What I'm writing: Gods Willing
What I'm reading: Forest for the Trees (Awesome!!)
What I'm knitting: I'm done complaining about it....

I'm feeling like a real girl  author now! In gearing up for this year's Nanowrimo, I'm actually doing some research! I know! Me! Doing research!!! My novel is going to be for middle grade readers. It starts in post-civil war Boston and then veers into fantasy from there. I want the Boston parts to be as true-to-life and accurate as possible - thus the research. I just bought three books off ebay and ordered two more from the library. Nanowrimo is only like 17 days away, so I'll have to read fast when the books come in!

In other exciting news, after more than 2 years of being part-time, I've been put back on full-time at my job. I will miss my days off (and my adventures with Kim), but the money will be nice. Plus I can start saving for retirement again.

I'm reading a fabulous book: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. It's nonfiction and is an 'editor's advice to writers.' I HIGHLY recommend it to any and all of my writer friends. I'm reading it voraciously. I love Betsy's style of writing, and I'm having lots of Ah! moments.

Last night I helped Brian start rolling his spare change. He has a rather large jug full of change and I told him I'd help him roll it up and take it to the bank. He's travelling to two Table Tennis tournaments over the next two weekends, and I'm sure he could use the money for travelling expenses. Oh, and he told me the other day that Ping Pong is a leisurely game, Table Tennis is a sport. If you're wondering, I play Ping Pong. (rarely) ;)

At his last guitar lesson, Mark's teacher, Ben, told us that starting in November he wants to cut Mark down to lessons every other week. He said Mark is getting good enough now that Ben needs to give him bigger projects to work on and longer to work on them. Mark's assessment: "Who am I going to jam with every week now?" So this week he started teaching one of his friends to play - I believe it's a wholly selfish move.

Let's see.... hmmmm... nope, nothin' else to say right now...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


What I'm writing: A horror short story - thus far unnamed
What I'm reading: Anne of Green Gables
What I'm knitting: That darned cow motif scarf - I've decided I hate intarsia knitting. Grrrrr

Tropical storm Nicole chugged up the east coast at the end of last week. In Northern NY we didn't get hit as hard as some other areas, but we did get over five inches or rain (and our local newscaster helpfully told us it would have amounted to 5 to 6 feet had it been snow).

Our house sits less than a half mile from the Black River and we have a creek that runs through our land. (Please note, around here it's pronounced Crick, not Creek :)). When the Black River floods, it backs up into our creek and we can end up with a lake in our yard. So it was when I got home from work on Friday night (and had risen even more by Saturday morning).

Jon had to go into work on Saturday to deal with rain damage there, so I took my camera and walked to the river. It was a nice quiet walk since the road was closed due to the flooding.

In this photo, the actual river is on the left, any water to the right of the treeline is flood water.

This is usually a field. When the water receded back to the river, it left a lake in the field, which has now almost dried up. Every time I drive past I think of all the fish that probably got trapped and died.

This last one is our yard. The tree right about in the middle of the photo? Yeah, the water is usually on the other side of that. This one was taken Friday night, so even more of our yard got swallowed up by the next morning.

Other than some debris on the lawn, everything is pretty well back to normal now - except it's raining again (cue the music from Jaws).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Career Choice

What I'm Writing:  Gods Willing
What I'm Reading: I'm between books and haven't decided what I'm starting next
What I'm Knitting: A black and white scarf - cow related

I've decided I'm a bit jealous of my 15 year old son. Mark has a passion that is directing his career choice. I wish that at 15 I had any idea of what I'd want to do with my life.

Mark loves music. Not the kind of love where a kid might listen to his favorite band while playing X-Box (though he does do that). No, with Mark it's about the lyrics, and the cords, and the scales, and how his favorite bands formed, and how a certain guitar player has his guitar tuned.

A bit over a year ago when Mark wanted to spend his hard-earned money buying an electric guitar and amp, I whispered to Jon, "I hope he doesn't spend all this money and then only play for a week or two." I needn't have worried. I doubt there's been more than a handful of days since when he hasn't picked up his guitar - probably not even a handful. In that year he's gone from someone who loves music to someone who lives it. Pretty awesome, really.

He takes guitar lessons once a week and his skill is growing in leaps and bounds. It's impressive to see his fingers moving over the strings, mimicing other players' riffs or just playing the music in his head. He reads biographies of his favorite performers and bands, he reads Guitar World from cover-to-cover (and then watches the enclosed DVD to pick up new tips), he's constantly strumming and experimenting and trying.

This summer, after he'd worked a couple of weeks, he announced he wanted a new guitar. "But you've only had your guitar for a year. Why would you need another one."

"With guitar players, it's not so much need as want," said Joe at Dr. Guitar when I took Mark in to start his shopping.

Over a week's time, we were in Dr. Guitar for about eight hours as Joe patiently allowed Mark to try guitar after guitar. Finally, Mark bought an Epiphone Les Paul Gold Top. A beautiful instrument. He named it Jolene - after the Dolly Parton song, yes, but he loves the rendition of the song by Jack White of the White Stripes.

So, with all that, you might be sure that Mark wants to be a rocker - spend his life in a band, touring the country. Well, not quite. He wants to be a luthier. Yes, he wants to build guitars.

I think I need to make sure he gets some woodworking experience so he knows for sure that this is something he'd enjoy doing.

But, yeah, it's cool.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Motoring Along the Black River

What I'm Writing: Gods Willing (Fantasy Romance)
What I'm Reading: The Main Corpse by Diane Mott Davidson
What I'm Knitting: Finished a mitten last night. I will probably start something cow related today

Jon and his brother, Tom, own a fishing boat together. It's a small boat - two people can fish comfortably, any more than that and I'm sure they're getting in each other's way. Sunday I went out on the river with Jon for the first time. The Black River passes about a half mile from our house and there's a local boat launch, but that launch is too steep for Jon's two-wheel-drive truck. So we drove to the boat launch above the high falls in Lyons Falls. We put the boat in and headed south toward Port Leyden.

It was a beautiful fall day, although a little chilly when the sun was behind the clouds. Jon fished. I was along for the ride. He caught two smallish fish which were returned to the river.

At one point, the old Black River Canal meets the Black River. It was really a beautiful spot.

We were going to head up the canal a bit, but Jon's fish finder had the depth at under 2 feet, so we decided that wasn't a smart plan and stuck to the river.

We were out on the river for a couple of hours and I really enjoyed it. We'll have to go out again - maybe next summer when the temperatures are a little warmer.