31 January 2012

Topical Tuesday: Art

I know it is Topical Tuesday and everyone is waiting to hear about the latest in the media. This is the extent of my newsworthy abilities - I watch New York 1 News for traffic and weather in the mornings. Other than that, I don't care for news. I find the television newscasts increasingly depressing and somewhat of a brain-wash machine. However, I do read the newspaper because I can pick and choose what interests me (Science section of the New York Times), as opposed to a television broadcast, in which I am told what to believe and think. Make sense? A bit judgmental but that's how I feel about the media.

Today, I want to talk about art. Just so everyone knows - I am not an artist nor have I majored in art or art history. I just have a great appreciation for those who can draw, sculpt, create and push the boundaries of what is beautiful.

I love surrealism. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary it is defined as "the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations." I love how you find little nuances of reality in these picturesque and dream-like paintings.

M. C. Escher, Relativity

When teaching tessellations to my Geometry class, my students and I stumbled upon some really great paintings from Escher. He has one with birds and fish called "Sky and Water I." It is a repetitive pattern of objects and one blends into another. Really awesome. The one above is an infinite staircase with no destination. The staircases are located in several sections of the painting and each one is a matter of perspective. For instance, the one in the middle has an individual walking up/ down the stairs from both above and beneath the staircase. Really cool!

Rene Magritte, Golconde

Magritte is another favorite of mine. He takes realistic locations, objects and people and adds a little twist to each painting. There is one called "The Portrait," and it depicts a very common table setting. However, in the middle of the plate is a piece of ham and the ham has an eye in it's center. A little creepy if you ask me but I suppose Magritte was looking for a reaction. The one above is called "Golconde." I like to call it "Raining Men" but my friends tell me that hubby will spank me if he finds out I am gawking at men falling from the sky. :P

Salvador Dali, Swans Reflecting Elephants

This one is a fairly new find for me. My friend and co-worker, P. Taylor, introduced me to Salvador Dali. His paintings are really fantastic. If you look at the photo, you see some swans swimming in the little waterhole. However, upon closer inspection, you see that the swans' reflections are elephants! In the rock face, there are subtle outlines of both animals and I'm sure if I could see an enlargement of this painting, there would be more treasures to find.

Georges-Pierre Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

It's vibrant, not really surrealism but truly wonderful. It's a masterpiece that insightfully conveys the subtleties of color, light and form. There is a playfulness from the pets and most individuals seem to be facing the lake. The people in the painting have faces but are obscured somewhat in the style of Monet's Waterlilies. The parasols and bustles are typical of the late 19th century fashion for women. Beautiful painting. Thanks to my friend and co-worker, R. Mills, for finding it for me!

Look familiar? Yes, it is my favorite sitcom, The Office and in this cover art shot for Season 8, the photographer mimics Seurat's Sunday Afternoon by placing the cast in the same poses as the painting. Nice!

What is your favorite artist, painting, or period in art history?

Image 1 taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Image 2 taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Image 3 taken from here.
Image 4 taken from here.
Image 5 taken from here.
Image 6 courtesy of Comics Bulletin.

Writing with Purpose on Topical Tuesday

I'm on a bit of a blog sabbatical but happy to break it up with a post here where the Burrowers hang out! As it is, I've been thinking a bit about something that could be topical. I suppose I've been thinking about some news stories of the day and what they might mean. I've also been reading the fantastic Barbara Kingsolver and her last novel 'The Lacuna'. In Kingsolver's astounding prose - history begins to shimmer and shine - and this book is about the how of history. In this novel a boy is reared in a series of unstable but interesting environments - both in Mexico and the United States. He becomes part of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's household and is there when they give refuge to Trotsky. The story moves from Mexico City to the United States and the man, Harrison Shepherd's evolvement as an author.  I don't want to get all deconstructionist on you but this is a masterful work and one of the astounding stories in it is how public opinion is formed and influenced by the media and by its own needs.
Which brings me to the topic of topical Tuesday.
If we are humans who wish to enrich the world and who also write - how might we infuse our work without it becoming pendantic, scolding or just plain tedious? I suppose we might look to Kingsolver for some aid with that. All of her novels (and her essays and non-fiction) have dealt with issues of social injustice, of misguided do-gooders and the wavering flicker of human's desire to wake up to what is, and take responsibility for changing that which promotes injustice. She did it with Bean Trees, with The Poisonwood Bible and she has done it in The Lacuna  in a compelling way. Not once have I felt talked down to or scolded - no, I've become inspired to look at how this portrayal of life from the 30's to the 50's  can be mirrored in our society today.
I know others can do this as well - Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale, is a cautionary story of what could happen should fundamentalists of any stripe gain accendency. Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American, showed us how destructive unexamined good intentions can be. Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole seduced many into examining the complexities of industrial farming. None of them touted these as their themes, for had they we might have yawned, nay, would have yawned and turned away.
How about you? What do you read or write that shines a light on the wounded systems of thinking that might prevail in our world? Do you know authors that enlighten us to social injustice without condescending or hammering?

30 January 2012

Some Parts From The Watery Tart

Hmm, 'Reading Monday'. A fairly straightforward topic - a review on something I have read recently, preferably a book. To be truthful, I haven't read a proper book for a while. The hubby got me an iPad for Christmas, complete with on board Kindle, so I have been reading on that lately. Yes, it's still 'book reading', but much as I love my gadget, it's not quite the same thing. Plus the stuff I have read on there have mostly been the free classics that you can download, which are so universally well-known, they don't need a review from me.

I have also been reading all about jaw surgery. Admittedly, that's not 'book reading' as such, but it's taken up a lot of my reading time lately nonetheless. My son will have to undergo surgery on his jaw within the next few years because apparently braces alone will not fix the problems he has with his teeth. This is probably not something that will interest you if I were to review all that I had read about it though.

The thing that I have been reading the most, though, is my manuscript. Not only did I give it two solid readings, I also nit-picked it to the best of my ability in order for it to be presentable for entry to this year's Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This is not the first time that ABNA has been mentioned on here, so I won't go into any more details on it in case I invoke an epidemic of eyerolling and yawns. But I will leave you with something to read for yourself - the all-important 'pitch' that will see me either fall into the abyss with 3,999 other authors, or will allow me to continue on the path to ABNA glory with 999 other hopefuls.

As well as a little read, I also pose a small question. I wrote the pitch all on my own, but the Burrow's very own Watery Tart threw in a couple of last minute suggestions, and they were so fabulous that I edited them into my entry a couple of days ago. See if you can guess what they are... I'm betting you can. *winks*

Take one damsel unknowingly in distress, add a fairy godmother, a spattering of clothing mishaps, and a prince-in-the-making. Mix thoroughly and let simmer for a while.

Twenty-four year old Eleanor Gibson is average in pretty much every way. There’s nothing wrong with her life; it’s just not very exciting, despite being surrounded by lingerie all day long.

Then comes the day when her cat starts to talk, and if that wasn’t enough to make life a little more interesting, the feline insists she is Ella’s fairy godmother too. Throw in an evil ex-stepmother, a bloke called Charming, and a looming party-cum-ball, and you have all the elements of a classic tale. Ella even has a couple of ugly sisters, never mind that they are a pair of gorgeous gay men.

Ella’s not your typical fairy-tale princess though, and it will take more than a discarded glass slipper to get her man. It’s quite possible that she may have to curb her enthusiasm for cursing just a wee bit, not to mention her love of vodka. And can Muse, her surprisingly straight-laced feline friend, overcome her prudishness long enough for Ella to sneak a kiss or three with her intended beau?

Cue plenty of laughs, cursing, accidental nudity, and several trips to the local hospital, as Ella flies from one disaster to the next in her quest to capture her very own Prince Charming.

CARDIFFELLA is a comic retelling of Cinderella set in present day Cardiff.

ABNA image.

27 January 2012

Happy Birthday, Mozart (et al.)

Yup, that's right - Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart celebrates his 256th birthday today (at least if you believe in ghosts). He's certainly worthy of the recognition - his 600+ surviving works span nearly every genre and in many cases are among the finest examples of the form. My personal favourites are the string quartets, of course - since Mozart himself played the viola, the viola parts tend to be both idiomatic and expressive (unlike the frequently boring parts some of his contemporaries stuck us with).

And yet, for all the accomplishments of his life, he was only 35 years old when he died. An impressively prolific fellow, to be so well-remembered so long after his death based on what he produced in a relatively short time. But would you believe there's another child prodigy composer who was born on this date? With the same first two names (save for translation), even? There was, though. He was Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola, or simply Arriaga, a Spanish-born composer who entered the world on what would have been Mozart's 50th birthday. And he died - get this - ten days short of his 20th birthday. Admittedly he's not as famous as ol' Wolfgang, but I've played his three string quartets and they're quite lovely, and when you consider that he died at an age when most people today are somewhere in the middle of college, the fact that he created pieces worth remembering and performing is rather remarkable in itself.

Anybody else famous? Indeed, we need go only to 1823 to encounter yet another composer, Edouard Lalo, who, though he fails to reach Mozart's heights, is still a frequent sight on concert programs, his Symphonie Espagnole and Cello Concerto being particularly popular among young players. (He achieved the reasonably ripe age of 59, as well, so the date's apparently not cursed after all.) Oh, and we can't forget Lewis Carroll, or Charles Lutwidge Dodson as he was baptized - 'twas brillig, and the slithy toves, eh?

Then again, it's also the birthday of one Edward Smith - a mind-bogglingly common name, but the the one I'm thinking of is the one who went down with his ship. Which ship? Why, the Titanic.


You know, I think I'm rather glad I don't share this birthday! Still - anybody want cake? ;-)

25 January 2012

The Weight of the World

As of late I've been carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I know that I, as a historian, should be able to distance myself from the terrible things I read about. I should be able to treat it professionally, and without letting my own emotions or morality get in the way.

The problem isn't that I can't. The problem is that I won't.

World War Two. The largest conflict in human history. Unfathomably large numbers of people killed, wounded and abused. Unspeakable atrocities on all sides. If World War One was what lost us our innocense, World War Two certainly confirmed that there was no way back. The loss of civilian lives were not only collateral damage in this war; civillians were targets.

Reading about air raids, firebombings, Manchuria and - last but definitely not least - the atomic bombs, I feel obliged to remember that this is more than numbers and figures. It's about people. People who suffered. Who died.

And it's about people who made decisions.

Good people? Evil people? Somewhere-in-between people?

People we with time can laugh of, even if their decisions had extreme consequences.

Consequences I want to keep in mind, even if they make my days bleaker.

No one if neutral or objective in history. No one should be. Even if we need to understand more than one aspect; we're allowed (and, in my mind, bound), to have opinions and bias. You just need to be aware of it, and try not to let it affect your professional work too much.

If you want to carry the weight of the world too, you may watch the video below. It is long. But it should make you feel something. (And not just about atomic bombs, if you make it past the first ten minutes)

My sincerest appologies for forsaking "Writing Wednesday" for "Cruella pours her heart out (but still couldn't resist the photoshopped image of the 'big three'...)".

24 January 2012

Amazon Breakthrough Frenzy

Oh, sure. When we are talking about Topical Tuesday I could talk about SOPA or the Chinese New Year (which I actually did yesterday, and that was more timely), but my head is FULL of ABNA ABNA ABNA... It is just that time of year.

I know I've talked here of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest and I think Tara mentioned it here a while back, but NOW IT'S OPEN! EVERYBODY PANIC!


Yeah, sorry about that. It's just... this is the only thing I've ever done that combines the TENSION of Querying with the Adrenaline and Group support of a WriMo. It is the good and the bad of writing tension all rolled in one pretty little package. Only it isn't pretty.

But what I want to do here is a little bit of COUNTERING. I've seen some former ABNA entrants nod out this year. They site the rules and how much authors give up, and I admit, it isn't for everybody.

People I Believe should FOREGO ABNA

1 – People who have written a sure best seller. If you look at best seller charts, these are mostly thrillers and books by Jodi Piccoult. If these apply to you, this may not be your contest. Seriously though--some books are going to get nice big advances and sell millions--if you have one of these books, chances are the prizes here will not look all that great to you. James Patterson need not apply.

2 – One trick ponies with intentions to sell this and only this NOW. The contest puts you on hold with THIS WORK. If this is your ONLY work and you want to market it to publishers, you will not be able to for 6 months. That seems a very long time if you only have one book. You CAN during this time seek an agent. You can also write other books, shop other books, polish other books—heck, you can polish THIS book—the only time that isn't helpful is if they loved the earlier version so much they won't take your changes.

The things you give up are:

The right to negotiate IF YOU WIN. The contract is the contract is the contract. But you know what? They can't afford to have it not be a FAIR contract. I HAVE a Penguin contract, and I just don't believe they gain anything by screwing over a winner. AND if you win, you take that through your WHOLE career. Listen to it: “Tara's first books won the Amazon contest in 2012.” Isn't that a tag you'd love to carry forever?

[I am picking on Tara, as this is her first year entering—I finally managed to lead one of my fellow Burrowers into this addictive thing.]

TIME: As mentioned above, while you are entered, you can't shop it to publishers. If you are a finalist, Penguin gets the right to offer for 30 days and if you can't come to terms then they have the right to counter any other offer you get. (hello, bidding war)

But here are the things you GAIN:

Understanding of the PROCESS of selling a book: This system is very much like the query—you are judged first pitch, then partial, then full.

Networking: This is a truly supportive system of people (though there are places on the discussion boards that can be contentious, so beware)

Professional feedback: now this is a reward if you get past the pitch stage, but it is REALLY NICE. It is ALSO to be taken with a grain of salt, as readers are NOT matched by genre with their interests, so there is some crap shoot to it. Still, it is a good learning experience.

And if you WIN?  A HUGE marketing coup--all the support of Penguin behind you, all the marketing credentials of winning a contest this huge... It's really big. Even being a semi-finalist last year got me an agent.

So don't be afraid, my friends... Dive in!

And just for the fun of it, this is my entry this year:

Cover designed by Joris Ammerlaan
Ten-year old Peter Popescue doesn’t know his family is holding evidence that could bring down an international crime family. All he knows is his mother’s been missing for months and his dad has been teaching him and his siblings how to stay hidden. A loud crack in the night wakes him and he struggles to stay silent as he witnesses his father's execution. Worried they may be the next targets, Peter, Kade, and an emotionally fragile Tasha realize it's time to put their invisibility plan into action until they can find their mom.

In downtown Portland, Athena Garnett, a street-smart runaway, helps them defuse a gang situation that is turning ugly. Tasha takes a fondness to thirteen-year old Athena and Athena helps them gather some resources they need. They invite her to hide with them as the weather turns colder. In exchange, she offers to help solve the clues they believe will help find their mother: clues that lead them on an unusual treasure hunt through Portland involving stolen art, hidden money, and foreign gangsters. But the most ominous clue is a name that suggests all of their lives have been intertwined since long before they were born and that their legacies place them on opposite sides of a mob war.

Legacy, a young adult suspense novel combines the gritty adventure feel of Melissa Marr, the difficult sibling journey of Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming with the art theft and high adventure of Ally Carter's Heist Society. Ultimately, it is about what happens to children who are left holding the pieces of their parents' explosive lives.

I'd love to know what you think--there is still time to tweak it.

23 January 2012

Something-something Monday: Five Questions for You

English Wikipedia was blacked out last Wednesday in protest of the pending SOPA legislation. No doubt this prompted some of you socially responsible-type people to read up on the issue, discuss it with colleagues, and perhaps contact your congressional representative.

But that's not me. I spent the day wondering who would answer all of my important questions in a post-wikipedia apocalypse. I thirst for knowledge, and a quick look at my own browser history shows how incredibly enlightened my curiosity is: Which of the Valar created the dwarves? What can I learn about Halloween within 45 seconds that will make my web comment sound intelligent? When did Worf arrive on Deep Space Nine? Is Danica McKellar already married?

These questions, of course, have already been answered (Aulë, a vague reference to Samhain coupled with the implication that I have strong opinions about Pope Gregory III, Season Four, and, sadly, yes).

But as a contingency against future disaster, I've decided to do something of a dry run and test my ability to get answers without Wikipedia. So here's what's on my mind today:

Can you cook an egg in the oven?
Obviously, you can break open an egg and dump its innards into a cake or whatever and cook that in an oven. But what if you want a scrambled egg and, like me, don't have a stove? For that matter, what about a whole egg? Can I wrap one in aluminum foil and stick it in my toaster oven? Is that a stupid question? Was that a stupid question?

Did they wear sunglasses a thousand years ago? Why not?
I know from previous research that some form of magnifying/corrective glasses have been around since at least medieval times (I saw a bespectacled monk or something in a movie), and handheld lenses for even longer.

I'm a night owl-- I work the graveyard shift-- and even indirect sunlight bothers me. Surely the Classical-era peasants who worked overnights to stock Roman grocery stores where of similar disposition, and I can't imagine humanity just got by squinting for thousands of years.

And when you think about it, blocking out a portion of light has to be much easier than refocusing it. It would surely be worth the effort if you were planning to fight a battle in the daytime (which I know-- again, thanks to movies-- was the normal modus operandus, unless there was a fire-breathing dragon involved). I suppose an ancient general could've handed out veils, but then his soldiers would look like escapees from the nearest harem. Not very manly.

Is there something like a Hippocratic Oath for lawyers? Shouldn't there be?
By 'Hippocratic Oath', of course, I do not mean the Hippocratic Oath at all (it says something about helping whomever is in need), but the rule that says "first, do no harm". I don't know what that's called. See where I am without Wikipedia?

At any rate, there should be a #1 rule for lawyers that says "first, tell no lies". Seriously. I'm not advocating that we revoke the tradition of attorney-client privilege and expect them to reveal everything they've discussed. Rather, I want to overturn the paradigm whereby an attorney considers it his ethical duty to serve his client at the expense of right. So if a suspect tells his lawyer, "Yeah, I killed the guy. Help me get away with it", then the lawyer should say, "I recommend you confess; otherwise I'll recuse myself, you'll get a new lawyer, and you'll have to make up lies on your own without coaching."

I'm not under the delusion that all lawyers would comply. But it would be nice to at least acknowledge a professional ethic that doesn't allow them to condone, encourage, or assist with dishonesty.

What's the deal with foul balls?
A good, solid hit-- what the batter is normally attempting-- results in a line drive. Base hit.

A total whiff results in a strike.

If we apply a simple continuum, then a foul ball is the next worst thing (you barely made contact). So why does that earn you more pitches, whereas a pop fly or grounder-- resulting from better execution of the swing-- results in an out? If we played (American) football that way, then a quarterback sack would result in a loss of down with no loss of yardage, and on third down it would result in a replay. Thppp!

I realize this is more in the nature of bitching than asking questions, but sometimes that's how society moves forward. I expect Einstein was bitching about Michelson & Morley's failure to measure the ether when he came up with his clever ideas, and it took some caveman bitching about the cold to spur the invention of fire ("shut up already and stick your hand in this... happy, now?").

Seriously, how difficult is it to run a secure zoo?
Criticizing faulty realism in bad movies is like fitting fish in a barrel. But Jurassic Park is a good movie overall, and this isn't about the obvious science errors. Rather, I question whether or not a large corporation with hundreds of millions to invest, and billions at stake, could possibly fail to keep some lizards under control.

Yeah, animals are tricky. I get that. But it's the little, swarming critters that give humans problems. I'm not going to check Wikipedia (of course), but I've been to zoos, and I've seen plenty of nature shows. If you put a tiger behind steel bars, it will stay there. If you put a grizzly bear in a 20-foot deep concrete pit, it will not jump out. Lizards are much slower and significantly stupider. Have you seen the segment on Komodo Dragons in BBC's Life? Even running loose those things couldn't hurt an alert 10-year-old.

Not that I've verified that with some unwilling test subject. No. That would be wrong. The kid was eleven, and he volunteered.

And my lawyer has advised me that the above statement can be construed as hyperbole, and is therefore not incriminating, and if he knows the real truth he ain't sayin'.

So if you have any answers or clarifications (but no accusations, please), then feel free to share.


19 January 2012

Delusional Thursday: Overambitious but Attainable Goals

My goals for 2012 are a bit delusional and overambitious but I figured what the hell! It fits right in with my super busy schedule and I really believe, with help from my husband, that these goals are attainable. I am a list person, so here we go . . .

1.) Write every day - it could be a blurb, blog post, journal, plotline for a new novel idea. Doesn't matter. Just get it in writing! It's been difficult these past two years to get in a writing schedule but I plan on joining Hart's writing sprints since they don't take up so much time and many have commented that these are really helpful in establishing a routine.

2.) Go to Hawaii for my 10th Anniversary - It was where we wanted to go for our honeymoon when we first married. However, we couldn't afford it and decided on going to Puerto Rico, instead. I'm researching renting a vacation home for 7 days, booking the flight and car rental. That's my plan for this trip so far.

3.) Buy a home or condo - My husband and I have been doing the research for two years and now I think in 2012, we are ready to make the commitment.

4.) Change my health habits - I want to live longer! I want to spend more years with hubby and see my kids grow into awesome adults.
a.) Eat better - more whole grains, vegetables and water
b.) Stop smoking -this is a big one and I know it's not going to be easy
c.) Exercise - get into a routine of 3 times per week and slowly increase
d.) Lose the weight so that I don't have to take high blood pressure medication.

Wow! Delusional to do all at once but I think I'll just change one thing at a time. Once I get one of these factors under control, I'll tackle another one.

5.) Finances - I've already begun this but want to tighten them as we will need a hefty down payment for the house. I figured we could stop eating out so much (maybe bring it down to once per week), pay double the minimum payment for credit cards, and don't make any unnecessary purchases without thinking about it for at least 30 days. I figured if I wait a month, I may not even want that item any more.

These are my five ambitious goals for this year. I've broken them down further on paper with the steps on how to achieve them but I didn't want to bore anyone with the details.

What are your goals for 2012? We at the Burrow would like to know. :D

18 January 2012

I'm A Writer? Me??

 I think there may have been a few wires crossed somewhere, because apparently I am under the impression that I am a writer. I don't know what gave me this idea, because I am probably the least writerly person I know. Most of the time I put writerly things off for as long as I can, and surely this is a sign that I'm NOT a writer.

Writers also have this inbuilt skill when it comes to writing. Unlike me, they don't wrangle with typos and copious spelling errors. And they have magical understanding of grammar. They know all about colons and semi-colons, and those mysterious ellipses. They know exactly what 'first person' and 'third person' is, and don't get them muddled in a single paragraph. They know the proper use of apostrophes, and they know whether certain words are supposed to have capital letters.

And they certainly don't make up words willy-nilly and hope that nobody notices.

One thing I DO have in common with writers is the difficulty in writing a 'pitch' (which, I'm sure you have noticed, rhymes conveniently with 'bitch', an apt description of the pitch process if I ever I heard one).

But other than the tenuous bond over pitch writing, I can safely say that there's nothing much else in common between me and 'proper' writers. When I'm reading writerly blogs and tips, most of the time there's a little hobbit in my brain scratching his head and saying 'eh?' (Hmm, I've forgotten whether that question mark should go before or after the quote. See what I mean? Ugh).

Maybe I am a writer, but maybe I'm also a charlatan. Or maybe I'm just brain-addled over writing this bitch. Er, pitch. And maybe this post would have been better as a 'Who Am I?' post.

Maybe I should go now. *snort*

Image source.

17 January 2012

Frickin' Freezing!

Topical Tuesday, eh? Well, I have to admit, the only topic on my mind right now is IT'S REALLY FREAKIN' COLD! Or rather, it's finally getting down to normal winter temperatures and hooboy, it is seriously time to bundle up!

Okay. So, I know perfectly well that it was way colder than this when I was in college - I went to school in Rochester, NY, and we got lake-effect all kinds of rubbish up there (wind, snow, you name it), so I guess being back here further east where the ocean theoretically modulates the worst of it has turned me soft. But I'm still cold.

My best friend's husband lived in Antarctica for 5 months once. If you go outside in Antarctica dressed for, say, a typical New England fall day, you freeze to death in pretty damn short order. And the entire continent is covered in ice, after all. So it must be worse there. But I'm still cold.

You know what else comes to mind when I think "cold"? Siberia. Big ol' furry hats and Russian men with giant wooly overcoats bundled up so closely that all you can see are their eyes peering out between the hat brim and the coat collar = seriously freezing. But I'm still cold.

So what am I doing about it? I sewed myself a pair of fleece pants, for starters; oh, and a new cover for my heating pad, that's made of flannel and quite cozy, really. I've got cats all over me - well, okay, one on my legs and one on my belly, but close enough - and hot drinks, and a down comforter and a space heater. Wooly socks (damn right I knitted 'em myself!), flannel sheets, two blankets, and fingerless gloves (yep, knitted those too).

You know what?

That should do it.

(So why am I STILL COLD?!?!?)

Hat source

12 January 2012

Dear Fairy Godmuther,

Or should I say Godmonster...

Consider this your final warning. You have fallen down on the job. Spiraled out of the sky and splashed a big pile of POO all over me. This is the last straw! Well, or the last one before the next one, so maybe what I should be saying is this is the penultimate straw... penultimate being such a great word and all... but somehow with straw, it loses some of its Mojo, doesn't it?... penultimate straw isn't as powerful as LAST. But never mind.

See. This is what I'm talking about. Do you SEE how jumbled my mind is at the moment? I can't concentrate. Not even a little. And I am laying this on YOU.

See, I was minding my own business, polishing a pretty good book for ABNA, trying to craft my pitch... when... no wait... it started before that...

See, the money problems have been so persistent so long that I almost forget to mention them, but this more recent stuff compounds it all, so I need to have set the stage, yeah? So we're poor. We have a plan, but the plan requires VERY tight belts for a few YEARS into our future. So that's the setting...

[Note, too that ALL THREE of the last three paragraphs start with the same word. How distracted does a person have to be for THAT to happen? A writer, no less.]

NOW we get to minding my own business prepping for ABNA...

When I get the CALL from my agent that EDITS are needed on the book I turned in in September. Not tiny little edits... fairly substantial ones. Damn. Now. DAMN.

But there's no shame in a U-turn, right? (or a U-turn left, actually—a U-turn right might cause an accident, but I digress)... So I U-turn and get to work on the DONE BOOK I ALREADY CROSSED OFF MY DARNED LIST. Setting me back a little, yeah?

Did I mention I am reading an 800 page borrowed book, so my time is slightly reduced? No? Well that's fine... that part isn't really on the Fairy Godmonster's head. So never mind.

But THEN... THEN... grrrrrrrrrr.

Hubby went and had a medical emergency and is having some sort of chronic crisis. The ER visit and ambulance ride were enough, but he is a caretaker and until he gets this resolved he can't work—do you see it? The part where the MONEY trouble is compounded? At least two weeks with no pay at all and potentially a reduced schedule after that because STRESS is part of the root of his problem (3-12 hour days in a row caring for someone is stressful—who knew?). But he is sickly and down and NEEDY at the moment, so wants to talk about EVERYTHING. ALL THE TIME. Which is leaving me both with less time for my stuff, and with a head full of HIS stuff when I get a little time. I know I sound like a bitch there... I should be a goodly caretaker, but HE'S the caretaker in the family. THAT is our arrangement! (and I'm TIRED, which has been known to make me pretty punchy.)

So what I want to know is this.

Why the heck have you not been watching my back? Fairy Godmothers who are NOT frauds can mitigate disasters and make NICE things happen rather than lousy ones. Why couldn't you have just done a spell that would give me a good poke on my sixteenth birthday like everybody else gets? Or better yet, why can't you just am-scray and I will take Meriwether. 

(and for your information, Meriwether is the fierce one in blue (the one who managed to alter YOUR spell to change death to sleep)--Flora is in red and Fauna is in green--fierce is better than nice, but MEAN AND ROTTEN SUCKS ROCKS!)

Dissatisfied in Ann Arbor,


10 January 2012

Topical Tuesday Tackles the Tarsands

Those who know me, know that in the last few years I've been on a news diet. Especially in the car while I'm driving. Instead I listen to audio books from the library. This week, due to several technical malfunctions, I found myself without my defence against listening to the radio. And so I did.
I listened to the CBC - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for you non-canucks and I listened to a report on the proposed pipe-line, The Northern Gateway - hearings begin today on this controversial project. Who's agin it - 1st Nation Peoples who live, fish, hunt and enjoy the land it will cross, most environmental groups with any smarts, who do not wish to support any further exploiting of the tarsands. Who's for it? The Harper Hooligans, the big oil companies and well, you know, the usual suspects of greed and avarice.
What I heard yesterday that got my head a-steaming, was that Harper is furious that "highly financed groups from the United States were protesting the pipe-line. How dare those non-Canadians interfere?? Bluster bluster blah blah!
Here's a story I heard about Stephen Harper when he was little. It may be not be true ;)  He was taken to the municipal swimming pool - a pool that his Daddy was on the board of, being an important man about town. Little Stevie had to pee so he did, in the pool. An older smart-guy from another community asked him what the heck he thought he was doing. Stevie said 'it's my pool and I'll pee in it if I want - it isn't any of your beeswax. You just swim in the deep-end...so it won't matter to you."
Here's a piece from the Globe & Mail for those of you who want to know more. Please engage. As a Canadian, I believe it is your business what big oil is getting up to. I invite you to join those 'moneyed rebels' with your pledges of support.

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The Northern Gateway pipeline, politics and the law

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
After years of preparation, a project that would reshape the geography of Canada’s energy landscape is entering public hearings. But with the tremendous rancour already stoked by Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, it’s likely some of the most important decisions that will clear – or block – the path for its construction won’t be made by the three-person federal joint review panel that expects to render a verdict by the end of 2013.
Instead, it’s possible the courts – and perhaps even Parliament – will be called on to play defining roles. The pipeline represents such an important confluence of issues – Canada’s future energy development versus its commitment to environmental obligations and first nations rights – that legal and political intervention could set important national precedents.
There are several ways this could happen, and several important possible outcomes – both if the National Energy Board approves Gateway, angering opponents, or if it denies a project the Harper government has vocally supported.
Legal challenge
First nations and environmental groups are almost certain to appeal any approval of Northern Gateway. They could do so on numerous grounds. If the NEB gives its blessing, that decision can be challenged in the Federal Court of Appeal on procedural grounds. First nations groups could also mount constitutional challenges, arguing that they have not been accorded sufficient consultation or accommodation. First nations do not have a veto on resource projects, but legal wrangling can force substantial delays.
Creative federal intervention
Ottawa has been loath to directly interfere with the National Energy Board, which is supposed to operate independently. But there are several examples of how it has used more creative means to overturn a decision, without doing so directly. For example, when the NEB came out with a restrictive policy on natural gas exports, Ottawa asked the board to reconsider – and the NEB came back with a less restrictive policy. The NEB also said no to a natural gas pipeline to Atlantic Canada, saying it didn’t make financial sense. After Ottawa implemented the National Energy Plan, which included provisions that changed the economics of the pipeline, the NEB reconsidered and approved. The Harper government has already shown its willingness to intervene in similar ways with the CRTC and Investment Canada.
Direct federal intervention
Parliament has often intervened in major pipeline projects. It was Parliament that cleared the way for construction of the initial TransCanada Corp. Mainline pipeline, which delivers western gas to eastern markets by way of Northern Ontario. And Parliament also stepped in to pass legislation for an Alaska gas pipeline through Canada, drafting and passing the Northern Pipeline Act. Legislation could be used to overturn an NEB decision not to approve – a move that would, according to multiple sources, be unprecedented and susceptible to legal challenge. But Ottawa could also use legislation to strengthen an approval. Legislation can still be challenged on some grounds, but it’s a more ironclad method to approve a pipeline, since there are fewer grounds for appeal. It would be an unusual method, but it’s been done before with pipelines.
The stakes
A Supreme Court ruling on first nations consultation and accommodation could provide an important clarification of how aboriginal people should be treated in relation to resource projects and industrial development. That’s something lawyers have been begging for, since there is no neat prescription of what needs to be done to meet those principles. But if Ottawa forces through a project that either the NEB turns down or first nations continue to stridently oppose, it risks damaging the credibility of the NEB – or opening a major conflict with aboriginal people. “One of the things I’ve always looked at as a key to this case is whether or not this is the issue on which Prime Minister Harper wants to pick a battle with the first nations,” said George Hoberg, a professor in environmental and natural resource policy and governance at the University of British Columbia. The Gateway case is fraught with so many issues that Prof. Hoberg is already using it as a classroom case study. Lawyers with first nations expertise are also watching closely.

And so will I be. Like an endangered-hawk I'll be watching...

09 January 2012

Reading Monday: Office and Young Adult

This book list is a bit eclectic.  I've read a  book written by an actor who plays a character on The Office (American version).  The first two are books on the list are generally out of my genre preference but I figured "What the hell!"

Mindy Kaling-  Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
This is a quirky and funny memoir of how Mindy Kaling came to be Kelly Kapoor on The Office. It discusses her trials, insecurities, successes and inevitable goal of becoming a comedy writer.  It's a quick read, humorous and very entertaining.

Rainn Wilson- SoulPancake
This book is actually on my wishlist of must read.  From what I have read on the reviews on Amazon, it is a book about the philosophical questions in life.  Some questions that Rainn tries to tackle are:
"Can men and women really just be friends?
If you only had one hour to live, how would you spend it?
What paralyzes your creativity? What fuels it?"

These are questions that have plagued the human race since the beginning of our evolution.  It's based on his website, also called SoulPancake, and it stimulates really insightful ideas on how as a species, we can move forward. It also incorporates some really spectacular artwork.  As soon as my funds are right, this is my next book to read.

Darren Shan- Vampire Assistant 4, 5, 6
I think I have already written a little blurb on the previous books (1, 2, 3).   I really didn't enjoy Book 2 and Book 3 as much as I am enjoying these later ones. (I know- why read them?  Because when I start a series, I have this inner mechanism that makes me finish the whole thing.  Weird, I know.) They are fast paced, with plenty of action for all you adrenaline junkies out there and it delves into the question of losing one's humanity.  Darren is torn between his brethren vampires and his ties to his human life.  It is inevitable that he must become a vampire but interesting to contemplate all that he must give up at the age of 16.

These next two books are reviews from my 16 year old daughter, Ayanna Rodriguez.

Alice Sebold- Lucky
In the memoir Lucky by Alice Sebold, the author depicts the terror of being raped and of overcoming the problems she is facing. Sebold is a straight-forward writer and when reading this book you will begin by going to the scene where she was raped. After telling the police she goes home and tries to live a normal life with her parents and sister, Mary. Unfortunately, she knows she can’t live an ordinary life, she believes she will never find anyone special to her heart due to the circumstance. She relives her childhood, going back and forth to tell the story. This is a rather interesting tale, but I do not recommend this memoir to young adults. If you decide to read this book, please have the stomach for it.

Loung Ung- First They Killed My Father
Loung Ung tells of her childhood in the memoir First They Killed My Father, she begins as a 5 year-old in her small town of Phnom Penh.  Loung is one of seven siblings, she is the second youngest. Soldiers enter their city and begin abducting women and young males, for reasons such as pleasure and having new recruits. Ung’s eldest and second eldest brothers are forced into labor camps. She goes through a hard time and loses many people she loves, but will she overcome the issues she has waiting for her? This memoir is for those who like to watch hope mend broken hearts and broken bonds. Hope you enjoy this memoir because I did.

What books have you read lately?  What books would you recommend?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.  

06 January 2012

My Bad...

Original Image

I've been a very bad Burrower. So bad, in fact, that I should receive a very good spanking. *nods hopefully* I missed two blogs. The first one really shouldn't have been missed, as I actually remembered that it was my turn, and even asked for some suggestions on my Facebook page. Somehow the Forgetful Fairy jumped on me though, and I never posted. And then I missed another one last week, and that one I forgot about entirely. *smacks self* I'm in need of a Reminding Prod a few days prior to blogging, obviously.

I've been absent on my personal blog too. In fact, the last time I blogged on there was October 16th, mid way through a challenge. Erk. Like I said, I've been a bad, bad, Burrower.

I never intend to forget. Indeed, I always tell myself that I must get my butt on a chair and start typing, both for here and my other blog. But you know, the longer you put things off (which is a procrastinator's favourite thing to do), the harder it is to get going again. So here I am, typing a little ramble so that I ensure not to miss three blogs in a row, because that would be beyond bad.

Luckily for me, it's 'Friday Free For All', which means I can talk about absolutely anything. This is good, because with my current non-blogging situation, I need something easy to get back in the habit.

In the interest of overcoming the badness with some goodness, I have allowed myself to be persuaded (I can be very convincing when I want to be) to pitch forth into the hitherto unknown abyss that is the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Now ABNA (not to be confused with ABBA, as I said to Cruella the other day), is probably well known to each and every one of you, so I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that I finally decided that the chick-lit-cum-fairy-tale-cum-comedy-farce that I wrote for 2009's NaNoWriMo (another acronym that I'm pretty sure you're all aware of) is a suitable candidate for this year's competition.

I have no illusions. Winning is a pipe dream, really. But what I really want to come out of this is a couple of reviews, so I'm hoping to get past the first stage. Trouble is, getting past that first stage means that I need a super-dooper pitch to hook the judges with. Argh!! I'm a writer who can take a while to get going, if you know what I mean, and most of my stories take a while before you get to the (hopefully) good stuff. This makes writing a 300 word pitch pretty tough. And with the way I ramble, I'll be lucky to solicit a vaguely interested sniff, never mind a twitching nose.

Still, it's not the winning, it's the taking part, right? Who started that ridiculous saying, anyway? Of course I want to win! I know I won't win, but I still want to! Pipe dreams do come true sometimes, don't they? As do fairy tales... at least, in my world they do.

Hey lookie! I wrote a post! I'm a good Burrower after all! Toodle-loo!

Ooh, I didn't know we could add a location to our posts! Nice!

05 January 2012

Critter Love

So, pets. I could make up some statistics, but you guys are too smart for that, and I'm too lazy to look up the real numbers, but I'm going to take a guess that about 80% of people have some sort of animal sharing their living space (no, siblings and/or offspring do not actually count as animals, no matter how uncivilized they are...). Cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, birds, hedgehogs... people love their critters.

But do the critters love us back?

I came home from work yesterday after being out from about 7:30 AM till 11:00 PM (save about 20 minutes in between jobs when I popped in), and when I opened my door, there were two kitties waiting for me, purring, mewing, and generally getting underfoot. Hey, I thought, they missed me! What poor lonely little things... and I proceeded to give them large amounts of scritches and pats. Then I got upstairs... and realized their food dish was empty. The little moochers were just hungry!

This is Durwen. He doesn't actually know how to use that touchpad.

Okay, so clearly I'm not as important as food in their tiny fuzzy minds. But they care, right? I mean, I've got one on my right arm and one sprawled across my lap as I'm attempting to type this (albeit in a rather round-about {or at least round-a-cat}) manner. Durwen gives rather too many scratchy kitty kisses; Rullie is becoming increasingly difficult to eject from my lap when I need to do things other than scratch behind her ears. They seem to have some sort of time-share worked out for my pillow - half the time, the cat who's on there when I wake up is not the cat who was on there when I fell asleep.

So maybe they do love me, after all.

This is Rullie (with the knited Dalek I posted about last year...).

I suppose there's no way to tell, really... so I'm going to declare that pets do love us, based on limited and probably faulty research. But it's hard to say anything else when a large purring furball has taken up residence in your lap and is giving scratchy kisses to every body part in his reach...

03 January 2012

If not the end of the world, then what?

Last week, Leanne wrote an excellent post about dystopian literature (and you should all go read it, if you haven’t already). This week, however, I take advantage of the combination of our regular “Topical Tuesday” and the start of a brand new year. And not just any year. 2012. The year the Mayans either did or didn’t predict would be the end of the world.

("Did or didn’t", I suppose, is a rather vague description. Of course the Mayans either did or didn’t predict the end of the world. We all either do or don’t predict that on a daily basis. Just as you either did or didn’t get up from your bed this morning, you did or didn’t eat breakfast, and then you did or didn’t get abducted by aliens.

I’d wager, though, that there is a larger following of the theory that the Mayans did predict the end of the world, than it is one believing you got abducted by aliens after having swallowed your morning coffee.)

Now. Despite what the Mayans did or didn’t predict, and despite what we do or don’t interpret is as, I don’t much believe in the end of the world. I hope that 2012 will make a better year than movie. I’m not entirely sure how. But all the same, it is very unlikely it will end the world. 2012 – the movie didn’t end Hollywood, after all. There is still hope.

Hope, yes. But for what? “The world not coming to an end” is a pretty low standard for what we need to have as a minimum demand to make this a successful year. Let me show you an illustrative figure:

Assuming the modern interpretation of the Mayan prediction is correct, this figure shows that "Not the end of the world" is pretty far down on the scale where "utopia" serves as the other extreme from "the end of the world". 

Then we are free to fill in several other possible occurrences or events according to their degree of terribleness relative to the end of the world/utopia:

Yes. I'm aware that "Vesuv" is the Norwegian spelling of the volcano called Mount Vesuvius in English, and Monte Vesuvio in Italian. Blame my "End-of-the-world-terribleness-indicator"-maker. She appears to be Norwegian (and quite fond of chocolate). 
As you can see, there is quite a lot of bleakness that is considered less terrible than "not the end of the world". It is my claim that this is the state we all know and love as "dystopia":

The red circle should, clearly, extend all the way to "Not the end of the world", and perhaps close in a little tighter to "out of chocolate". Again, my  "End-of-the-world-terribleness-indicator"-maker  is Norwegian. Also, I hear, she's not a proper scientist.  

This state of red circle is what we all should fear, more so than our fear for the end of the world. If it ends, it ends. We're out. It is much more scary, in reality, to think of everything that is slightly less terrible than the end of the world. It's not just about chocolate or terrible movies, but also death, war, destruction. Awful things, that - all joking aside - actually will and can happen. Yes, there will be more wars, natural disasters and pointless human suffering. Yes, we might tumble into new financial crises. The Euro might fall. Wall Street might win. Or lose. The Middle East might show us further upheavals still. North Korea might explode, or implode, or plode in other frightful manners. We might actually run out of chocolate.  

All in all, though, these are worst-case scenarios. They might not happen at all. And if they do, they probably won't all happen at once. Thus, the chances are we'll still be stuck in the fuzzy area between dystopia and utopia. Everything isn't great, but it's not all bad either. The world hasn't ended. Hitler isn't back. There will be chocolate. 

If you're still not convinced, and you still believe the Mayans were right - ponder this: 

02 January 2012

Reading a Series: the dangers and delights

I find myself reading Inheritance this break... it is the fourth of the Eragon series, a series that was originally slated as 3 books and ended in four, and that had too long between the second and third and WAY too long between the third and fourth. It got me thinking...

For both the reader and writer there are risks and rewards to series. I've read several. The ones I read with my kids we seemed to REREAD earlier ones when a new one was coming at least part of the time. And those books became friends—part of who we are as readers. Harry Potter in particular—any regular reader here knows that. But there were some other ones. I've also read series that I first met when the whole thing was written. This increased familiarity really made these books feel like a part of us.

I have to say, when it WORKS, I really adore a series. I love a world I can immerse myself in for several months—read several books all related to each other.

But I think the publishing world causes some difficulties. For one, the commitment for an author to write a series is huge. And a series is far better if it is at least broadly planned from the start—one long coherent story. Harry Potter is a beautiful example, but even there, she had some things I think she would have changed had the later books been written before she published.

Publishers though, don't want to commit to all of it until they see if the early one works, yet if the early one works, they push for the rest at a PACE that is hard to keep up. And for a good reason... readers don't want to read a book and then wait for years for the next one. In fact that is largely what has inspired this—the waiting...

And if the author only writes them one at a time, they can so easily get written into a corner. The story can peter out.

Some books we DON'T read again for whatever reason. Were I not now in a place with a way too deep TBR pile, I probably would have reread the Eragon books... And I think I'd be more compelled in the one I'm reading.

I hear this happened with George RR Martin recently, though I have not gotten to his books on my list yet. But there was apparently a long wait, and then when it came out, not quite full continuity... as if he changed his mind along the way about what he wanted to write about.

Sometimes, the first book is one thing, then it seems the author gets their series inspiration—I am thinking of the sword of truth series here, where the first book is all about one bad guy and the next nine about another.

I have written a trilogy, but I think that may be as long as I am capable for one cohesive story. Serial stand-alones are another matter, but a true series... I'm not sure I have a really long one in me.

I know that is a great meandery set of thoughts, but in terms of reading at the moment, it is sort of what I am thinking about...

Do you have series you love? Series that have disappointed you? Do you have goals of writing one at any point? How long?

01 January 2012

delusional much?

OK - I totally blew it again. Please forgive me as my mind was addled on too much sugar. Too much booze, too much fun, too much socializing, just plain tooo toooo much.
I'm going to join some of my friends in what is affectionately called 'Buddhist Lent'. We will abstain from harmful substances from one New Year (this Roman one - January 1st) to Shambhala Day or the Tibetan New Year which falls on February 22nd this year. Am I delusional to think I can do this for 51 days? Maybe. I will start tomorrow and give it a try. I feel all yucked up with sugary stuff, boozy stuff and wheaty stuff. I want to be a mean clean fighting machine by the Year of the Water Dragon. I want to be ready for whatever this year throws me. And I'll continue to keep both my meditation practice and my writing one too. And oh, yeah, a clean house. Or a sort of clean house. I'm well on my way to that one.
Here's a picture of what I made over the Christmas season...