30 November 2011

Writing Wednesday - writing through rejection and dejection

I decided that I would be brutally honest today. Brutally. Honest. I am sure I'm not alone in having two sides, especially on the blog and off of it. Or in front of people who we aren't sure have our back. Or those that do and  have enough of their own misery not to need any more of it. Especially writerly misery, which is of a very certain, and some might say, self-indulgent sort.
This year, with my writing, I've been a Charlie Brown. And the community I've looked to for support has been a Lucy. I've entered various challenges, contests, etc... and always with a cheerful optimistic outlook. But each time I've come up a chump. I've run forward, ready to kick that football, and lo and behold, each and every time it has been snatched away. Oh, don't worry, I'm not seriously deluded. I know that no one is doing this to me. The thing is I've been behind the magician's curtain in many of these instances. I know how the thing works. I've laboured to choose among many bad and several good entries, or sat on boards that decide who is going to get to breath financially for a bit and who will have to keep on keeping on. And I have found it profoundly hard this year to write through rejection. Perhaps it is because I've also been writing through dejection - my dad died, we had a sudden and horrible reversal of fortune, grandchildren woes and on and on.
I'm not going to leave the story there - how mean would that be? But from time to time I realize that my bloggy persona is one cheery broad - a let's just whistle a tune as we walk through the graveyard sort. And I don't feel like trotting that ego-state out today. I will say what has worked for me and continues to - the support of writing pals. In particular, my writing pal Gwen lifts me up when I am down and I in turn do that for her. Not even my dearest guy can get the depth of writing hell but Gwen can. I also know my fellow Burrowers can do the same. We've shared some of the worst and the load has been the lighter for it.
So, if you are writing through rejection and dejection find yourself a writing pal - as soon as ever you can - whether it is in the flesh or on the web - do it.
Meanwhile (and it does seem a very mean while) I'm writing up a grant proposal. Like Charlie Brown I will go forward optimistically once again into the fray. Here is a photo of my eldest grandson, contemplating snatching victory from the jaws of defeat...

29 November 2011

Topical Tuesday: Nighthawks and Winners

Lisa reaches over the counter for her coffee.  She looks earnestly at Robert and asks,"Will we ever get out of this mess?"

"I don't know.  It's been a long time since I've found work.  I'm too old to join the war."  Robert sighs heavily and looks into his cup for answers.

"I can always take an extra shift at the factory or put in a good word with the boss for you.  Maybe he'll take you on," Lisa looks at Robert with hope.

"Yeah, maybe," he replies dejectedly.

Sixty odd years later, and our financial woes are still the same.

Drabble- a story told in exactly 100 words.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (1942).

December Drabble Dare Results
The following are the drabble authors included in the Burrow's December project, Advent Calendar:

December 8th- Abigail Reed
December 16- Anonymous (Don't be shy and tell us who you are!)
December 24th- Tamika Perez
December 30th- Marian Youngblood

Congrats to all the drabble writers!  Be sure to visit us at The Burrow beginning on December 1st.  No peeking!  :D

28 November 2011


So it's Reading Monday, and I'm supposed to give you guys some kind of review on something that I have read recently. But this is me, and it is 'that' time of year, so I'm taking a slight detour. You see, I haven't actually read anything lately apart from emails and a few blogs. I managed to read something different last week though - my daughter's Christmas list. Every year we dig out the Argos book (Argos is the place to go if you want decent prices for anything from Barbie dolls to a new bed) and my kids go through and write down the things they would like to recieve on Christmas day. We have an understanding - they can write down pretty much anything, as long as they realise that they won't get everything they ask for. Mostly it's just a good way for mum and dad to get some ideas.

Anyway, the son was pretty predictable and mainly stuck to video games and DVD's. The daughter was pretty predictable too, but Ellie has a way of doing things that is funny. Totally unintentional, but funny. Here's a virtual copy of her list - I'll try to copy word for word, but may change a few things so that it is legible. *snort*

Ellie's Christmas List from the Argos catalog, and Play.com, and the internet.

Zhu Zhu puppies, the purple and pink glittery one.
Moxie Girlz lush pets.
Design a friend doll. The one called Ellie like me.
Rosy doll with the Hello Kitty top and sparkly jeans and nice bag.
Big fluffy bunny that talks and eats carrots. That's too much money though.
Shnooks. Any one, but not the green one.
DS games. Grease and Wizards of Waverly Place. They're £25 if you buy two but they're not on Argos they're on play.com. and you can get them in Argos if you want but they're more money in there.
Connect 4  like Andrea's one that we play when she comes up.
Guess Who but the one that don't need batteries.
And an ipod if you can find one that's not too much money but if you can't can I have an MP3 player instead so I can listen to Justin Bieber because Dale doesn't like it when I play Justin Bieber on Youtube.

*coughs* Ah, nine-going-on-ten-year-olds. Aren't they fabulous?

Ellie Christmas!

25 November 2011

My Kinda Funny

Everybody has their own particular areas of expertise... and music is mine. All fields have their jokes that other people don't get, but I'm biased enough to think that the musical ones are some of the most creative. And since I'm bordering on comatose from my Thanksgiving feast, I thought I'd put up a few videos for you rather than ramble randomly ('cause hey, "show, don't tell", right?).

Exhibit A: The evolution of a joke.

Part 1 - Take a giant of the Romantic piano literature (in this case, the slow movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto).

Part 2 - Spin it through the mind of a power ballad writer.

Part 3 - Make fun of it.

Exhibit B - PDQ Bach. Anything he's ever done. As I'm sure you can guess from his initials, he's, erm, not real. Or at least, not really a Bach. No, in fact he's composer Peter Schickele, who composes insanely hilarious spoofs of major classical pieces which are pastiches, take-offs, and just plain funny. The more references you catch, the harder you laugh. This is one of my favourites (I mean really, anybody who manages to morph the French national anthem into Pop Goes the Weasel has exactly the right screws loose if you ask me).

Exhibit C - Mozart. Yeah, him. Genius, sure - but he still thought farts were funny. Leaving aside motets with such evocative titles as "Lech mich im Arsch" (you can Google it, I swear it exists), he wrote something actually known as A Musical Joke (Ein Musikalischer Spaß, I think), making fun of, among other things, show-off violinists and horn cacks. (Best part is the end, don't stop this one early!)

Exhibit D - Haydn. He's got a few that still catch audiences to this day, including the Surprise Symphony and a quartet known as The Joke - that'd be this one (although alas, the audience didn't fall for it this time).

So don't take yourself too seriously, people. Life's too short!

24 November 2011

Delusional. Delusional? Delusional!

Delusional, delusional, delusional, I have been muttering to myself for the last several minutes, hoping that if I say the word often enough, I will indeed be able to think of something delusional to say. Maybe that's the wrong word. Maybe the word I should be muttering is "inspiration", because she seems far more elusive than anything else.
But then, when life itself seems to be one long delusion, it is strange that delusional inspiration doesn't strike. 
Where have the days, weeks, months been going? Seems like yesterday, we were welcoming in the new year, and we are already ready to let go of it. When you really look back, you realize that a lot has happened during the year. But weeks and weeks seem to have just flown by. Where, I know not!

Ouch", I exclaimed a couple of hours back, slapping myself on the forehead. "I have a long run scheduled for tomorrow, and I haven't even been carbo-loading or hydrating for it." I immediately shoved a banana down my throat, but while reaching for the second, realized today was Thursday and not Friday. 

Yipee!!!! I got an extra day! After weeks of losing days, it is wonderful to gain a day. And how much more delusional can it get?

Leaving you with a picture I took a couple of days back. If you figure out what is going on, do let me know. Or better still, write a drabble to it :-)

21 November 2011

Reading Monday

Hi dear readers! I'm not going to discuss what I'm reading today. I'm going to discuss reading period. There has been much in the news of late about the demise of reading. Do our children (or in my case - grandchildren) read enough or at all? Is the world of books collapsing? Is reading just too much when other things are so fresh and exciting? I'm not talking about the death of story telling - that will never happen. We are a story-making species and will continue to make stories until we are out of breath.
But story telling happens in many ways - through plays, long poems, television series, movies, ballads, opera, dance and, as we now know, in games.
Reading can be private or in community. I love nothing so much as when me and the sweet-patootie and the step-dot are all sitting companionably in the living room, reading our respective books, stopping from time to time to share exquisite details. That is my idea of heaven -especially if there is chocolate involved. When my kids were young, I would read to them every night, as my father did for me and my siblings. When my step-children were younger, their father (S-P) would read to them and I would make myself inconspicuous but present, so as to hear his lovely voice read from books that never grow old.
For most of my life I have read before bed-time. Until the S-P actually - who I hooked up with when I was fifty. Sometimes I still read before bed - like last night when I was just at an exciting bit and absolutely couldn't put it down until I'd finished. But since he and I have cohabited, he brings me coffee in the morning and I do a good bulk of my reading then.  I also read in the tub - unlike my pal, the Tartlette, I cannot write in the tub, but I can read until the water is too cold to bear (bare?)
I was talking about education with S-P the other day and telling him that I tried to quit school in Grade One. For I had already learned to read and I knew that they had little else to offer me. I still believe I was correct and if they'd just left me in a room with a whack of books I would've been as far ahead as I am now. But alas alack, I had to put up with the idiocy of school for another 12 years - then a certain falling out while I had a baby or two and then back at it - to get an honours degree in English Literature. University was so unlike public school that it took my breath away. I could sit in the university library for hours, days even, wandering through the stacks, letting my intuition take me from one lovely idea to another.
Reading is so crucial to my well-being that when I read about those who don't read - either because of some failing in their upbringing, a problem with how they read, or a culture (like the ones I wrote about last time with Margaret Mead's books on Samoa etc...) I feel such a panicky feeling. What if I didn't read? What would I do? I think of all the time my dog has to lie around all day and feel such compassion for him, not being able to take the edge of with a good book - like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Or maybe he would be an avid reader of Joyce Carey, or Dickens!
I haven't gotten an e-reader yet and don't know if I will. I thought I wanted one for awhile but every time I've tried one I get all messed up with losing my place. I might be too dull to read one of those things. Then a friend lends me a book or I go to the library and get a pile of them out or my birthday comes up and a stack appears just before Christmas break - ah...the luxury. I wouldn't give up reading for anything. In fact, and this is true I suddenly realize, as I write this, I would give up writing before reading. Yep.
How about you?

19 November 2011

December Drabble Dare Contest

 This is a reminder of our December Drabble Dare. 

That's right people.  It's that time of year!

December means so many different things to people around the world. It could mean Winter Solstice, Christmas, Winter Wonderland, New Years' and everything else we can think of.  To most, it is "The Holidays."

In December, The Burrow will be hosting our annual Advent Calendar.

All you have to do is to write a drabble in exactly 100 words based on any/all of these photographs, and email it to 'theburrow360@gmail.com' by November 26, 2011. The winning entries for each of the images will be featured in the December feature.

So here are the images to choose from:


Peace Tower at Christmas

Winter Wonderland

Advent Wreath

And just for fun- Snowhenge

Good luck and happy writing!

All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

17 November 2011

Wild Week

Original image.

It seems like only yesterday that I last wrote a Delusional Thursday post, when in fact it was several weeks ago. The days are flying by so fast at the moment, that I'm pretty sure that if I blinked I would miss a few. I'm always saying that I'm a bit of a fruitcake, but seriously, with the rate that time goes by, and the amount of things I have to fit into those blink-and-you'll-miss-them days, it's no wonder my head doesn't always know where it's at.

Take the last week, for example. We are currently in high virus season, with bug after nasty bug making their rounds and causing most people to sniff, sneeze and cough on a regular basis. We are also in pre-Christmas season, so public transport is nuts, kids are starting to get hyper, and parents everywhere (including moi) are working any extra hours that they can get their hands on in order to fill their children's stockings to the brim.

On top of this, my household are part-way through a hospital/doctor/dentist visit marathon, or so it seems. Now usually I only work three days a week, so I normally try to schedule any medical appointments to fall on my days off if at all possible. That's not always the case though, as certain appointments are assigned to you and you end up back on a (usually long) waiting list if you try to re-schedule. This being the case, my timetable for last week went something like this:

Wednesday 9th November:  No work today, but dreaded dentist visit looms. Six injections in my lower mouth and one in the top to be endured before a twenty-minute scale and polish session. I'm mortally afraid of dentists, by the way, so while this wouldn't be anyone's favourite way to spend their morning, it's one of my worst nightmares. I'm still cringing now, over a week later. *shudders*

Thursday 10th November: Normal working day, with a 12pm till 6pm shift. So far so good.

Friday 11th November: Normal working day, with a little bitty 2pm till 6pm shift. Son was supposed to have an orthodontist appointment today which had to be rescheduled due to him having to sit a G.C.S.E. exam. Son is really poorly with flu-like symptoms, but has to attend the exam or I will be fined. Meanwhile, hubby is being a good friend and accompanying his mate to the dental hospital for some emergency treatment. Son is sent home from school as he is ill. I am at work and hubby is still being a good friend, so son is told to go to nanny's. Unfortunately, he goes to wrong nanny's (unbeknown to his parents), so we have mild panic attacks about his whereabouts and start wondering if he has collapsed somewhere on the streets. Or, at least, I do anyway. It's not good to be stuck at work when you are worrying about your kids.

Saturday 12th November: Crazily said 'yes' to overtime and have to work the 2pm till 10pm shift. The shift went like clockwork until 9.30pm, then everything went tits up (as we say here in Cardiff). I won't go into detail, but needless to say, I won't be working this shift again any time soon.

Sunday 13th November: Another overtime shift of 2pm till 10pm. OK, so I said I wouldn't do another one again, but I'd already agreed to do this one so I had no choice. The shift was fine in itself, but not being used to working these extra hours, I'm pretty tired. Especially as Sundays are nuts at the best of times for parents, what with school preparations and what-not, which usually take up Sunday evenings but had to be squeezed into a crazy hour in the morning before I left for work.

Monday 14th November: Normal working day, with a 12pm till 6pm shift. Also, appointment at doctor's for myself fitted in before going to work.

Tuesday 15th November: Day off! Yay! Only, Tuesday is shopping day, when I do my weekly thing of hunting for bargains and trying to buy a week's worth of groceries on a limited budget. Also, hospital appointment for myself to have my wrist x-rayed as I've been having a lot of trouble with it for the last five months or so.

Wednesday 16th November: Day off! No work, no hospitals, dentists, or any other appointments. Maybe I can actually clean my house and relax for a couple of hours. Only, son is home from school again, his cough having kept him up all night and causing some sickness. Hubby is also full of the stupid virus and sneezing and coughing like mad. Daughter is also home for a while as I am waiting for the doctor to phone back with some advice for her. Eventually I take her to school an hour late and then make my way to the doctor's to pick up a prescription for her.  So much for my doctor-free day.

Today my son had another orthodontist appointment, which had to be cancelled due to his virus. Hubby has dentist again tomorrow (he went yesterday too, did I forget to mention that?), and I am working overtime again both Saturday and Sunday. Not the dreaded 2pm till 10pm shifts, but early morning ones instead. Then my son has a hospital appointment with his A.D.H.D. specialist on Monday.

Phew! OK, this might not sound too much to most of you, but trying to remember all of these appointments when a) not all of them sent written notice of them, and b) I am a nightmare when it comes to writing things down, can be tricky. Re-scheduling things to fit in with my regular hours can also be tiresome. Add the overtime at work, and the annoyance of public transport not arriving when it should at this time of year, then this last week has been manic.

I admit, things are not always like this, but if it's not medical madness, or overtime madness, it's general family madness. It's no wonder I'm a fruitcake!

16 November 2011

Writing Wednesday (or not)

I have to say, the thought of pounding out a "Writing Wednesday" post right now feels like the epitome of hypocrisy. I've hardly written a thing in months. This is, in part, because I haven't had a day off in months, but there are plenty of writers out there who seem to manage to juggle endless numbers of part-time jobs, children, pets, sick parents or complicated relationships and STILL turn out page after page.

I'm just not one of them.

I'm sitting here at 10 PM, halfway to the flu and trying desperately not to go the rest of the way (I'm probably doomed though, seems like half my coworkers are out), typing awkwardly over a large black lump (aka my cat, Rullie), chugging chai and gazing longingly at the packet of HobNobs I've told myself I can open as a reward for getting this post written.

But I'm not exulting in my NaNoWriMo word count, 'cause I'm not doing it. I'm not editing my last one, 'cause I failed at it. The one before that? It's in the living room, but I can't even bring myself to dig it out and try to polish it. My muse, if I ever had one, has left the building. I know, I know, "if you show up every day, eventually the muse will too." Showing up every day? Oh right, yeah, that'd be work. And writing? That's a job too, albeit one I don't usually get paid for, and I can't seem to make myself add any more commitments to this pile.

So for those of you who ARE NaNo-ing, I salute your perseverance, your word count (whatever it is), your put-the-butt-in-the-chair-ness. For those painstakingly editing their most recent manuscript until it fair cries out to be printed and shelved in bookstores everywhere, well done! English teachers, journalists, college students, congratulations!

I just can't seem to do it right now. Unless you count this. Yay?

14 November 2011

It's not just about reading; it's also about how you read

It's Reading Monday, and I got stuck in the old "but I haven't read any books this week"-dilemma, a frequent problem between me and this blog, I'm afraid. I have been reading, though. Just not what I'd normally want to write about in a Reading Monday post. But I guess it's time to make an exception.

Stuff about student rebellions.

It's for my job, you see. For the time being I'm a research assistant at my alma mater (I like that term. The University of Oslo really feels like family to me by now, even if "nourishing mother" may be stretching it too far...). I am - amazingly enough - doing the exact work I'm educated for. I'm pracising historianism. (Yes, it's a word. "Historianism" is what historians are doing when they contrary to what is common get a job relevant for their education. True story.) This is amazing because most of us end up doing work we're not educated for, but by default are qualified for anyway, because you also gain certains skills and mindsets through higher education, that makes you eligible for tasks a political scientist or sociologist or any number of other -ists could also do.

It's interesting, though, because even if I'm educated for this, I still feel a little lost.

It's like this. My field of expertise within "my field", is quite limited. If you ask me about "US peace initiatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1956 and 1967" I'm on my home turf, and I will be able to give you a fairly detailed account. If you ask me questions about "the Middle East" or "American foreign policy", I'm still in my hometown, but I don't know my way around in every single street. If you ask me questions about "history in general", I'm not necessarily all that more knowledgable than the average person. We may still be located in my part of the world, but I'm still pretty much a tourist.

Since the topic of my current work isn't at all closely related to my own research topic, then, it feels a lot like I'm a tourist, trying to find my way in a whole new city. The only reason I don't get completely lost is that by now I have a certain idea how to explore new parts of the world. (Yes, I'm still in the same analogy...)

Through my education I've been taught to read with a critical eye. I've been trained to look for bias, to check references, and yes - I do read the footnotes. In addition there is a little "something" extra - a fingerspitzengefühl for history I've developed along the way. It takes a little longer because the topic is new to me. If I read a book about the Middle East I usually know a lot about it just from looking at the title, the author, or the bibliography. With this new topic I'm working on, I usually need to also read the introduction, look at a few chapters, and google the author. It takes longer. But I'm getting there.

I used to think that my field (or if you will, "my part of the world") - history "in general" - was fairly straight forward, and that anyone could do it if they set their mind to it. Anyone - or at least most people - can do it, but you do need those skills to do it properly.

I guess I've developed a new respect for my own profession through this job. For what it has done to the way I read.

09 November 2011

Writing Wednesday: December Drabble Contest

That's right, people.  It is that time of year again!

December means so many different things to people around the world. It could mean Winter Solstice, Christmas, Winter Wonderland, New Years' and everything else we can think of.  To most, it is "The Holidays."

In December, The Burrow will be hosting our annual Advent Calendar.

All you have to do is to write a drabble in exactly 100 words based on any/all of these photographs, and email it to 'theburrow360@gmail.com' by November 26, 2011. The winning entries for each of the images will be featured in the December feature.

So here are the images to choose from:


Peace Tower at Christmas

Winter Wonderland

Advent Wreath

And just for fun- Snowhenge

Good luck and happy writing!

All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

08 November 2011

Furry Friends

Dipsy, my first feline baby.

While today's subject may not be strictly 'topical' as such, it's something that is close to my heart (and several other Burrowers too *winks at Leanne*). I'm a huge cat lover, and always have been. For as long as I can remember, there has been a cat as a family pet.

There were several as I was growing up, all of whom are in feline heaven now. There was Fluffy, who lived to the grand old age of seventeen and eventually died from cancer; Topsy, who, if I remember correctly, sadly disappeared one day. More recently, there was Gizmo, who was run over by a car and died from his injuries, and Simba, another adventurer who wandered away and never came back.

All of these were strictly my parents' cats, but they were still part of my family. I've only had three furry friends over the years, and two of them are still with me. My first baby, Dipsy (my son named her and was a Tellytubby fan at the time), was also one of those unfortunate cats who fall prey to speeding cars. She was a beauty, with thick tortoiseshell fur. She was also a bit grumpy (to say the least). She was most likely to hiss at you if you went too close, unless you were 'Mama'.

So why am I talking about felines? Well, we seem to be having a surge of pet problems around my neck of the woods. Two of my work colleagues have had pet deaths this week (one kitty and one hamster), and my parents ' latest furry friend - a massive fluffy tom going by the name of Thomas - has to have a biopsy this week to see whether a growth is cancerous or not.

Thomas is a rescue cat. My parents picked him a couple of years ago from a cat protection facility, and he was in a sorry state mentally when they first had him. We think his previous owner was elderly and couldn't get around a lot, and Thomas was probably the only companion that they had. My mother had to really baby him for a long time before he got used to his new home. He was nervous, didn't like to go outside (unless he was on a leash), and would cry in the night if he wanted to eat or see to his 'business'.  I hope his biopsy shows something that is treatable, he's such a character.

We invest so much time and love in our pets, and it's devastating when they leave us. I'm sending positive thoughts and cuddles to all those animals out there that are sick, or who just need a little love. They may not be human, but to many of us they are true friends, and as much a part of our families as our children.

On a happier note, here are some pictures of my two current babies, who are thankfully full of life and mischief!

Angel looking curious, while Belle looks on.

Couldn't work out if this was a cuddle or a scuffle.

This is definitely a 'cwtch'!

07 November 2011

Stuff I Like (in triplicate)

I'm not sure what it is about trilogies - why there are so many, why they work so well (usually), why we have to wait a whole year* between installments... But indeed, there are many, and so I thought today I'd list off a bunch of them, most of them recently completed, for your perusal.

Maze Runner et al. - James Dashner

Dashner had already published two series when The Maze Runner came out in 2009, but this was the one that hit the jackpot. In a future society that has devolved into chaos, a small group of people known as WICKED is trying to figure out how to save the world - or are they? Thomas awakens with no real memories in a glade full of other boys, who have been arriving at the rate of one a month for two years. The next day, a girl shows up - and then things really go haywire. The totalitarian aspect is downplayed in this dystopia, but the adventure factor is set high and there are definite aspects of zombie apocalypse as you work your way through the series. The other two volumes, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, continue the story to a satisfying (if slightly open-ended) conclusion.

Beka Cooper - Tamora Pierce

Pierce has long been a fixture of YA fantasy - her earliest series were already hits in the 80s - but this, her latest to be set in her invented realm of Tortall, may well be the finest of the lot. In part (at least for me) that's due to their increased length - Pierce herself admits, in a note at the end of Lady Knight, that after publishers realized that kids really would read books with higher page counts, thanks to J. K. Rowling, she was able to expand her own as well. (In fact, the original quartet of novels about Alanna was written as a single book!) Anyway, Beka. She lived hundreds of years before Alanna, Daine, and Kel (protagonists of other Tortall series) and was in fact an ancestor of Alanna's husband, George Cooper (and therefore also Alianne, heroine of the 4th Tortall set). As a kind of policewoman (known as Dogs or, when they're in training, Puppies), Beka gets into all kinds of scrapes - and just to make things really interesting, she can talk to dust spinners and the dead souls that ride on pigeons (yep, you read that right). Consisting of Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff, these have earned a spot on my favourites shelf - or would if it weren't already overfull with her previous titles!

Heir - Cinda Williams Chima

So, I wanted to write about her other, more recent, series, but after reading the third book I'm not at all convinced that it's a completed trilogy, 'cause there were a lot of unresolved plot lines at the end (that would be the Seven Realms series, a high fantasy, with The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, and The Gray Wolf Throne). Still, her books are kinda awesome, so let's hit upon the Heir trilogy instead. Consisting of The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir, these are set in the "real" world (y'know, like England and Ohio) and concern themselves with the hidden society of magic tucked away beneath the notice of ordinary mortals. In this society, those destined to be magic users of one sort or another (there are 5 types) are born with a stone in their chests which designates their calling - except for Jack. His was missing. Unbeknownst to him, the medication he takes every day isn't for a heart defect after all... You'll also run across Ellen, a warrior, Seph, a wizard, and a multitude of well-written characters (both teenagers and adults) as the two warring factions of the Weirlind vie for supremacy.

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

Steampunk! Woohoo! *ahem* This trilogy comes on the heels of Westerfeld's other super-popular series (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, plus Extras), and reimagines the world in 1914 with the factions involved in WWI divided mainly by their allegiance to steam machinery (the Clankers - that'd be Austro-Hungary, etc.) or genetic engineering à la guided evolution (the Darwinists - that'd be the United Kingdom et al.). I don't choose those nations at random; they're the homes of our two protagonists, Deryn Sharp (a Scottish airman {okay, she's a girl, but don't tell!} serving on the Leviathan {a massive living airship}) and Alek (who doesn't really have a last name, since he's, y'know, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire who fled home after his parents were assassinated). Their adventures take them to far-flung lands, including Turkey, Siberia (Tunguska, actually - yes, that means what you think it does), Japan, and eventually the United States, in the company of various critters (I SOOOO want a perspicacious loris!), good guys, bad guys, and wacko geniuses (like, say, Tesla - yeah, him). Not saying any more. Go read (oh, the second and third are titled Behemoth and Goliath).

Healing Wars - Janice Hardy

This one wins for being one of the most original ideas I've seen in the past few years. Nya and her younger sister, Tali, eke out a living in the oppressed city of Geveg after their parents and grandmother are killed. Both have inherited the ability to heal others by taking on their pain, but only Tali can then deposit it into the mineral called pynvium to get it out of her body - Nya can only shift it into someone else, where it can do untold damage to the recipient. The series follows Nya as she discovers how to use her ability, even as the entire population rises up against the usurping Duke of Baseer - hidden and previously unknown relatives appear, friends are made and sometimes betrayed, and pain itself becomes a ghastly weapon to be used and reused on the guilty and innocent alike. Though Nya is 15 years old, this series lands in the Young Readers section (not Teen), I think due in part to the mostly happy ending - people die, but, well, let's just say it doesn't end like Mockingjay, okay? Highly recommended (titles are The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall).

Books of Umber - P. C. Catanese

This is an interesting one, set in an alternate world but with a character or two pulled out of ours. Getting ahead of myself. A boy wakes up with no memory of who or where he is (I know, I already did one of these, but stay with me here) and is soon discovered by a small party of adventurers. They take him along (dubbing him Happenstance, or Hap for short), and on their journey he displays some very odd characteristics, including the ability to jump like a flea and never need to sleep. Over the course of the series more and more is revealed about his origins, alongside more episodic storylines like sea voyages, feuding princes, stolen dragon eggs, and much, much more. The Umber of the series title is the leader of this rag-tag band, having crossed into this other dimension some years before and spreading many ideas from our own world (even while, being bipolar, he suffers from lack of proper medication). A great twist right at the end of the third volume serves to tie things up nicely indeed. Oh, and the three titles are Happenstance Found, Dragon Games, and The End of Time.

The New Policeman et al. - Kate Thompson

All J. J. Liddy wanted was to find his mum some extra time for her birthday - he didn't expect to discover that time was actually leaking out of the world... I was drawn to this one originally by the musical tie-in (Liddy is the latest in a long line of musicians; in fact, there's a page of sheet music in every chapter!), but as the later entries in the series arrived, we diverged from that and went farther along the road to ecofantasy and even dystopia. Throw in the old Irish deities, Tir na n'Og, changelings, global warming, and - well, you get the idea. Somehow this combination actually works, producing three linked works which span nearly a century (well, and then things get really wacko at the end, but whatever) and at least 5 generations. Like the setting, the author is Irish (and a fiddler herself); the three titles are The New Policeman, The Last of the High Kings, and The White Horse Trick.

Kronos Chronicles - Marie Rutkoski

I don't know why 16th-century Bohemia isn't used as a setting more often, at least if this series is any indication of how fascinating it was. (Still kicking myself for sleeping through this author signing last April...) Petra's father, Mikal Kronos, is a genius with metal; in fact, her pet spider, Astrophil, is a small sentient tin being her father made for her. When the prince commissions him to make an astrological clock, and then (ew ew ew) removes Mikal's eyes so he can't repeat the feat, a pissed-off Petra heads for Prague to get them back. Aided by a Gypsy lad with talents of his own, as well as some useful trinkets from her childhood friend Tomik, she makes her way into the palace - and then things get REALLY weird. Look for appearances by actual historical personages (notably John Dee, who, for those who have also read Michael Scott's Nicholas Flamel series, comes off in a very different light in this context). Titles here are The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe, and The Jewel of the Kalderash.

Fallen Moon - K. J. Taylor

Right, confession time - I haven't made it through this whole trilogy yet, but felt that I needed to include it 'cause it's COOL. You've probably noticed that I'm a giant dragon fiend, but when I saw these griffin titles start showing up I took notice - after all, still giant flying mythical creatures, right? And then I found out that the author is Australian, and we all know what a kick I get out of the awesome fantasy coming out of Australia these days, so bonus points for that! Anyway, Arren Cardockson, though a northerner and therefore seen as a slave by the southern nobility, has been chosen as a companion by a griffin. He has risen through society despite his origins, but a wrong step sends his fate spiraling out of control. It's pretty dark (at least so far) and I have to admit I'm looking forward to finishing it - if I remember, I'll even update this post when I do. :-) Titles are The Dark Griffin, The Griffin's Flight, and The Griffin's War.

Dark Heavens - Kylie Chan

More Aussie goodness! More that I, erm, haven't quite finished yet, but I have a good excuse this time, I only got my hands on them a few days ago (they were published in Australia starting in 2006 but have only made it over here in the past couple of months). Anyway, Emma Donahoe, an Australian living in Hong Kong, has quit her job at a kindergarten to be a full-time nanny for 4-year-old Simone, the daughter of powerful businessman John Chen. Or, is he a businessman? They don't usually carry swords with them everywhere, do they? A heady mix of Chinese mythology, martial arts, and, y'know, creatures and stuff. I'll have to update this one too, I guess... The writing isn't always as smooth as I'd like and it takes a little while to get going, but when it does, boy does it ever! Titles here are White Tiger, Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon.

*The exception seems to be fantasy trilogies by debut/foreign authors - when those come out as mass market originals, they seem to arrive one a MONTH instead, which is awesome 'cause you only have the jitters for a little while before the next one appears. :-)

04 November 2011

The Questions never cease

["Your child asks too many silly questions", my son's teacher complained the other day. Since I wasn't in a mood to argue, I draped a suitably mortified expression on my face and made the appropriate noises. But, internally, I was smiling. The one thing I WANT my children to do is to never stop asking questions.

And it all began when they were both much, much younger than they are today, as this piece written four years back shows.]

With the four-year-old, questions never cease.
On the way to school – “Why do people make so many buildings?”
Watching TV – “Are zebras and tigers the same? Both have stripes.”
In the playground – “Why do swings go up and slides come down?”
In the kitchen fixing a sandwich –“Why do pigeons not have bathrooms?”
While being bathed – “Lions use which shampoo?”
At midnight when you are trying to get him to sleep – “Why do dolphins not have ears?”
You can answer some of them, but some leave you totally speechless - “Why do birds poo, but not pee?” – how on earth did he even notice that?
Sometimes, the questions start off being factual – “Is Hanuman a God or a Superhero?”…
… then get slightly combative – “But Hanuman can fly – why do you say he is not a Superhero?” …
… before settling for the purely philosophical – “But why does Hanuman not want to be a Superhero?"
They say two years is too young an age to start asking meaningful questions. Not!
Your two-year-old isn’t too far behind his brother – “Why is the moon so thin?”
Before you can say anything, the older brother pipes up – “Because the moon goes to the gym.”
Not good enough for the two-year-old – “but why is the moon sometimes thin and sometimes fat?”
The brother explains with all the patience of a four-year-old – “The moon sometimes eats KitKat and becomes fat, and then it goes to the gym and becomes thin again.”
You realize that you really should be more careful what you say in front of these kids!
You can never shut them up with generalities –
“Why are elephants so big?
“Because God made them that way.”
“But why did God make elephants so big?”
He would prefer you tell him, “Elephants are big because all animals cannot be the same size. Some animals should be small and some big. Elephants are big.”, but he is willing to settle for a “I really don’t know. Can I look it up and tell you?”
You know you should not be encouraging him to ask so many questions. You know you are just setting him up for future disappointment. How many teachers will have the patience not to snap at him when he comes up with a “Why do cheetahs run so fast?”, and follows it up with a “But then, why do the deer run so fast?” because the answer to the first questions begets another? Or would a teacher really be able to answer him when he asks, "Why do birds have feathers and not hair?"
You know you can’t win either way – encourage him now and he will be in for a disappointment later, curb him now and he may forget what it is to be inquisitive.
He comes up to you with a variegated leaf - “Why is this leaf not green?”
You remember last week’s question - “Why are leaves green?”, and an answer that included something about leaves being the kitchen of the plant, and the green colour the gas-stove on which food was cooked. You sigh and try to decide whether to tell him about chlorophyll and chromophyll, or whether to just ask him to shut up. You know you have to decide fast, but before you can say something to buy time, he triumphantly pipes up, “this leaf is not green because the plant orders takeaway and heats it on the microwave.”
You look into his gleaming eyes, and hug him. Perhaps he will survive even in this big bad world that discourages independent thought.

02 November 2011

Speed Writing

So most of you probably know NaNoWriMo started yesterday. I’ve done a couple of these… two NaNoWriMos and two BuNoWriMos, so four books in all. I love this way of writing.

You see, I wrote my first book in about 2 ½ years… and it was over 200,000 words… I am a PRO at thinking every side story merits exploration… yes. I am a tangent queen.

And when I was writing like that, I completely disbelieved I had the kind of style that was ‘a novel in a month’ compatible. I thought… heck… I’m a marathoner…

But in 2009 that ‘plugging away’ wasn’t really working for me and I got an prequel idea for a book I’d been trying to write, and I managed to write my second completed book in 7 weeks… it made me give NaNoWriMo a second thought.

I thought I COULD and I DID.

And I learned something… Stuff I thought I’d share.

Benefits of Writing Fast

1) It is easier to notify family and neglect obligations for a concentrated period of time.
2) The momentum is terrific for word count.
3) You are forced to ignore mistakes and therefore don’t get BOGGED in them.
4) The biggest, for me, is you are forced to stick to the main story line. Side plots that really compliment the story can be added in later.

Benefits of the Group Activity

1) Support
2) Adrenaline
3) WIDGETS erm…
4) Externally imposed deadlines can be more motivating than those we set ourselves.

Tricks for Success

1) The most obvious is DO NOT EDIT WHILE YOU GO! I mean if you want to tweak WHILE you write and can’t help yourself, maybe a word or typo here and there doesn’t hurt, but DON’T go back the next day and reread and fix—you don’t have time.

2) Front-load your word count goals: Stuff comes up. It ALWAYS comes up. There will be a day or two somewhere you need to address an emergency. So while theoretically you can win at 1,667 words a day, you really want to write a little faster so you are a day or two ahead. ALSO, for me, I slow down mid story, so I frontload so that at the end I only have to hit about 1000-1200 a day.

3) For me, a plan helps. BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA… oh, I love a plan. That is not to say I always stick to my plan, but I keep trying to veer back to it so I don’t write myself into a corner.

It's not too late you know... you are only one day behind, and it's easy peasy to make up that much... 1,724 words a day would get you there...  Come on! All the cool kids are doing it!

01 November 2011

Five Suggestions for New Holidays

Happy Samhain, everyone-- the time of year when we reflect upon, um... the equinox. And saints deliver candy to children with good costumes, or something.

Yes, we have plenty of holidays already on the books. But, really, only about a half dozen are "must-do" events. Holiday-making is like sales; you just have to take a lot of shots at it and see what pans out. There's not a hair's difference between the significance of, say, Thanksgiving and May Day, but the former is a major holiday in the U.S. whilst the latter is nearly forgotten. Easter used to be much bigger than Christmas (and still is, in terms of religious significance). St. Patrick's Day is completely optional; St. Valentine's Day is not; and All Saints Day is a footnote.

You get the idea.

PC's Day
First Monday in April -- split between delivery of UNIVAC I (31 March) and Microsoft founding (4 April)

There's already a plethora of holidays to show appreciation to the important people in our lives. There's Mother's Day and Father's Day, of course, for those parents who (hopefully) have given each of us more than we can repay. There's also a Teacher's Day. And a Secretary's Day. And probably a Dentist's Day, Accountant's Day, Masseuse's Day, Parole Officer's Day, Quiet Neighbor's Day, and Reasonable Blackmailer's Day.

Yes, thank you, one and all.

But our computers are fast becoming more important than transient relationships. How about a day for appreciating them?

Your computer doesn't want flowers or a card (at least not a paper card-- check its performance diagnostics and it might appreciate another kind). But you can give it a few kind words of thanks, and maybe refrain from overclocking for a day. Or finally take a moment to work over its backside with some compressed air-- unless you're over 60, in which case you do that too much already, so in your case it's time to grit your teeth and download some updates.

But this isn't about maintenance per se. It's about showing some thanks and treating your computer like a person. And I'm totally serious. Your computer might not be a person, but it's fewer years than you think until you upgrade to a model that effectively is. So let's all develop some good habits before it's too late and we find ourselves combating AI-constructed murderous cyborgs or locked in a virtual reality world against our will.

Card Day
29 August -- birth of Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark

The purpose of piddling miscellaneous holidays is divert productive energy from things that improve our quality of life to the manufacture of greeting cards. What could be simpler-- and more honest-- than Card Day?

There will be cards, of course. And without any real message to convey, the design objective will be to make cards that are as specific as possible to the exchanging individuals. E.g.,

Happy Card Day to my paternal grandmother!

Happy Card Day to my uncle by marriage through my mother's sister!

All my love, on our third Card Day as friends, our first Card Day as a sexually active couple, and our second Card Day as a romantic couple in any capacity.

The traditional Card Day décor will be silver and purple bunting. What's that? You don't have anything lying around that you can use? But that's the point of Card Day-- more opportunities for retailers to whore out promote the holiday with innovative wares. Also, you have to wear a beige hat and a teal scarf (both monogrammed with the current year), and if anyone catches you without them, you have to buy them dinner.

So, is Card Day a good idea? No. Absolutely not. But it's a bad idea that people will get behind. And speaking of bad ideas...

Dependence Day
3 February -- ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment authorizing a federal income tax

For Americans, here's a complementary holiday to Independence Day. We can celebrate a government that appropriates ten times the revenue and controls a hundred times as much of our personal lives as the most outlandish schemes ever devised by George III.

For the kids, we can tell the story of magical Uncle Sam, who comes in the middle of the night and leaves $1 million federal bonds with 100-year maturity for all the good children who promise to be registered voters. Red, white and blue decorations can be recycled from Independence Day/Flag Day/We're-Not-Celebrating-We're-Commemorating-September-11-Day. As for music, the patriotic stuff is already stretched a bit thin. Therefore, everyone will hum the theme music from the their local news shows. That will serve as the perfect lead-in to the final Dependence Day tradition: Discussing terrorist attacks, sensational murders, and politician sex scandals as if they were the most important issues of the day.

Procrastinator's Day
30 June -- see below

Officially, Procrastinator's Day is to be observed as soon as possible in the month of June.

Decorations are the biggest part of Procrastinator's Day. These should include a full bag of garbage on the porch, a load of laundry in the dryer that has been run for "another ten minutes to get the wrinkles back out" at least three times, and unopened mail scattered throughout the kitchen and/or living room.

The traditional meal is delivery or take-out, if you can afford it. Otherwise, make a sandwich. Or open a can of chili. You should not eat leftovers (unless it's leftover chili or take-out, of course), because that suggests something that was prepared ahead of time.

Cards and gifts are absolutely taboo. The only person to whom you wish a 'Happy Procrastinator's Day' will be your mother (because she'll be hurt if you ignore her). Do not call. It will be traditional to send a text message, partly because you're too embarrassed to be calling this late, but mostly because if you call, you'll have to spend time talking about stuff, and you can do that later.

25 December -- Isaac Newton's Birthday

Yes, I got this idea from Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.

And, yes, nerds like that show. At least I do.

If there is any human being worthy of his own holiday, it is Sir Isaac Newton. After all, if one accepts the tenets of Islam, then Muhammad transcribed the words of God verbatim; and if one accepts the tenets of Christianity, Jesus is an incarnation of God. Everything Newton accomplished was done with a human brain.

On TBBT, Leonard suggested the name Newtwonmas. I prefer "Newtonukkah", because it sounds like some kind of Christmas alternative, which is sort of the intent. When we convert the somewhat-exclusive "Merry Christmas" to the allegedly inclusive "Happy Holidays", thereby incorporating Hannukah, we expand the relevance from 2.1 billion people to 2.1 billion people. That's not a typo. The global population of Jews is less than the margin of error when counting Christians. The addition of Newtonukkah would allow the biggest holiday "season" to be relevant to everyone (save perhaps a few proud descendents of Leibniz).

Plus "Newtonukkah" sounds like bad-ass Transformer.

We can incorporate many of the secular Christmas traditions, including the exchanging of gifts and an insincere commitment to world peace. Decorations can be red and green, but with a bit more emphasis on apples and apple trees. Also, in addition to developing calculus and formulating the laws of gravity and motion, Newton was highly successful at busting counterfeiters. So it might be appropriate to replace the Yule Log with a burning effigy of the current Federal Reserve Board Chairman whilst the family sits nearby learning a new class of integrals.