Monthly Archives: October 2011

Not exactly how I wanted to spend my vacation . . .

but fitting, given the time of year.

On Thursday we put to sleep our eldest cat, Sassafras. She was 16 and a half, and suffering from kidney failure. It was the best thing we could do for her, bless her sweet heart, but it’s hard, it will always be hard, it will never not suck. She was family, she was amazing, and this death, while not unexpected, has hit us hard. If you’ve got furry loved ones to snuggle, please do so extra hard for us.

Fensalir Fiber Shameless Plug!

It’s done!

No, not Fairy Queen (see Do You NaNoWriMo for more on that) and not even the first 25k for the WiP. However, it is the most (or second most, depending on how into my own stuff I am at the time) exciting project that’s been going on in my life for the last month or so. I bring you my partner’s brand-spanking new wool and yarn goodness etsy store, Fensalir Fiber!. Go look and be awed and amazed at the colors!

For those not in the know, aside from sharing our home with our cats and our dog, we are graced with the presence of our lovely spinning wheel (and muse – she’s directly responsible for the story that I worked on today that is not the WiP). Our home is sparsely furnished: bookcase, desks, mattresses on the floor, a sewing machine, shrines, scratching posts . . . and a small corner I call our Anachronistic Corner, complete with the vintage spinning wheel that is a few years older than me. She’s Beth’s tool, I’m less than a baby spinner at best, but I’m the troubleshooting gal when things go wrong, so I feel a bit of connection with their projects, too, in some distance, twenty-times removed sort of way. (I come after the sheep and the goats and the folks raising the sheep and the goats, etc).

I’m digressing. Beth has been working tirelessly since acquiring our – um, her. Her wheel – during the summer, teaching herself how to spin consistent quality yarn, how to ply, how to use a niddy noddy (I helped!), how to wash and finish the yarns, how to dye them, how to dye roving, and so on. Our utility closet quickly became our fiber closet, and it’s no longer a viable solution for knitting projects so much as a storage place for fiber- or yarn-in-progress. (FiP? YiP?) Opening the door, one is faced with a veritable wall of fiber, ready to come crashing down, and the only saving grace is that, well, it’s fiber.

I’m quite proud of her. I love that she’s got something she’s consistently excited about, like I am with my writing, even when she’s not actually at the wheel. It’s something that pulls her back, even after it’s all gone horribly wrong, and all the roving has turned to felt, and the dye color doesn’t take. It’s a bit like when all the files crash, and nothing uploads the way it was supposed to and the formatting is all gone and I’m never doing it again!!! Oh, wait, let me just . . . .

I’m hoping her store does well; her yarn is insanely gorgeous. (I’m biased, but as I often say, that doesn’t actually make me wrong) If you knit, or if you know any knitters, or if you just like handmade things, you need to go and check it out. I wish there was a ‘touch me’ browsing option.

No, really. Go look. Now.

Also, I totally needle-felted that mushroom. Just sayin’. . .

Book Review: Gods of the Asphalt

The only reason this book became a blip on my radar was because when I started my blog, the author was one of the first people to comment on it. Being noisy, I wandered to Amazon.com to check out the first chapter, and was gripped. There was no way I could read that opening and not read the rest. So, I bought the book, loaded it to Beth’s Kindle for PC, and promised myself I could read it once I got Fairy Queenready and released. We know how thatparticular project is going, but I still kept putting off reading Gods of the Asphalt. I realized this weekend that that was just silly. (I also bought a second copy to toss on my Kindle, so I didn’t have to just borrow it from Beth’s)

This is not the sort of book I normally read. I’ll admit that I read the whole thing with an eye toward the fantastical – would this be when the author introduces some supernatural element to the story? What about at that point? Gods of the Asphalt is what it claims to be: a story about standing ones ground, about finding oneself, about growing up and becoming an adult. The main character is the younger of two teenage brothers who, having been raised by their father and bounced back and forth all over the country at the whim of their flighty, decidedly unmaternal mother, decides enough is enough, he wants to put down roots and get into college. A scholarship is his only way in, and time is running out, so he opts to stay with his grandfather and play basketball.

Yes. Boys and basketball. Now, I can handle boys. Growing up I had more male friends than female friends, and my female friends lacked the need to play the social games girls seem to play. My male friends weren’t super athletic, but I can also handle sports. I played softball for eight years, after all. Still, I like reading about sports about as much as I like watching sports; that is, not at all. So. No supernatural elements, lots of boys and a decent amount of sports*. Why did I keep reading?

Because H.E. Ellis’s writing is amazing. It is clear and it is crisp and it cuts through bullshit and gets to the heart of the matter. Because stories of everyone doing the best they can and still failing short will always touch my heart. Because sibling love and devotion makes me miss my brothers, and makes me sad that they couldn’t have what these two brothers had. (Too many years between them) Because by the end of chapter one I had to know what was going to happen to Sawyer and River, and I had to see what else H.E. Ellis was going to inflict upon them.

I can’t even do a, “if you like ______ you’ll like Gods of the Asphalt because I never read books like this. Never the less, you should go read it. Family angst and manning up and falling in love and a wee bit of getting the shit kicked out of you. Good times, even without the dragons.

*The sports didn’t really take over the story at all; one saw more Quidditch in Harry Potter books than we saw basketball in this one, so don’t let the presence of basketball dissuade you from checking this book out.

Also, go read her blog.

Do You NaNoWriMo?

I have been intrigued by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those not in the know) since its inception back in 1999. *insert ‘holy crap!’ here* Every year I consider participating, and every year I don’t. The usefulness of such a harsh deadline is appealing – sit down, write, get the words out! – especially if one has a rabid internal naysayer who otherwise doesn’t shut up. The goal is to have a finished novel of 50k in 30 days. Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Two thousand words a day easily allows this goal to be met, though woe unto you if you fall behind.

My life has gotten, over the years, decidedly less complicated. My partner and I have an understanding: we work our jobs to pay the bills, and when we come home we want our time to be our own. She’s content to go off and spin or craft, and I want to be left alone to write or read or knit or be with the critters. The unfortunate side effect of working a fulltime job outside of the home is, by the end of the day? I want to not have to use words. I’ll read, but often writing is beyond my ability. Words overwhelm and I just want quiet – and my brain while I’m writing is lots of things, but quiet ain’t one of ‘em.

As November bears down on me, and I find myself slipping further and further behind on my WiP goals (75k by the end of December, which, when I started, was 25k words a month, for three months) I wonder if NaNoWriMo isn’t a solution to helping me get caught up? What do I need to do in order to get caught up?

I need to have my holiday gift projects done. They already almost are, but I have a lot of finishing touches to take care of. Lots of last minute touches actually translates into a lot left to do, even if the bulk of the knitting is finished. I have a bit of vacation time coming up next week, and I’ve already planned to get caught up then.

I need to decide that Fairy Queen can wait for attention. I’m torn here – I’ve been working on this collection in one way or another for 2 years, now. This means that I really want to see it finished and out (and it’s so close to being done!) and I’m also desperately tired of dealing with it and I want to work on new, fresher stuff. It’s likely I’ll compromise here: I’ll work on it as time and brain-power allows, but I’ll turn of the pressure to get it done ASAP.

I need to get the various short stories I’m working on either finished or in a decent stopping place. Including the one I started this morning. Because when one is behind schedule, one obviously is going to get up and bang out 1k words on a new, unconnected tale. Right? I mean, what else?

I know other authors go back and forth about NaNoWriMo’s usefulness. It’s going to work for some and not so much for others. Like any tool, really.

I’ll need, I know, to give up extraneous reading time. Which is always, always where I balk. I can still read: the commute to and from work, and my breaks at lunch will give me an hour of reading time a day. But, I’ll need to scale way back. And I never want to, because I find other folks’ stories as intriguing as my own. With less work. Which is awesome, at the end of the day.

So, I’m also trying to get books that have been hanging around for a long time read before November first. Just in case. (Including, finally, Gods of the Asphault by H.E. Ellis. Halfway done. Likely will finish today, later. Post to follow). And then, I guess well see if I still feel like saying, hey, maybe I’ll do this.

Do any of you NaNoWriMo? Have you before? Did you enjoy it? Did it help your writing? What did you learn from it? Would you do it again?

A perfect book list addition?

I’ve looked at Storm Born by Richelle Mead repeatedly, at the book stores, for some time. On our last jaunt up to one of the used bookstores (as used bookstores are the sure place to find books, as opposed to other sorts of merchandise) I snagged a copy of the book and then set it aside for future reading. It was supposed to join the rank of Dangling Carrots with the rest of the dangling root veggies that are awaiting my getting through deadlines for writing and crafting, but alas. I figured, I needed something for the busride to and from work, now that it’s too rainy to knit while I wait (because that’s not exactly what they mean when they say needle felting) and so, it came with me. And I lost an entire two evenings to the book, and its follow-up book.

I bemoan the treatment of fey and vampires and the whole list of things that I think are overdone and overdone mostly (to me) unsatisfactorly. I read a whole lot of the urban fantasy/paranormal genre, including romances, and sometimes they’re entertaining, and other times they’re painful. There are few that are painful writing-wise — my problems with, say, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s books, or Alyssa Day’s books are not rooted in their writing skill so much as they’re treatment of gods as convenient villian cookie-cutter characters. And this sets me up time and again for disappointment. (Doubly so, because with many of these series, the premises is interesting. I don’t care how many similar stories are out there. I’m a reader and a writer. I LIKE stories). I have no problem with gods-as-characters — I’ve got Thanatos in my current WIP — though I personally shy away from writing The Big Gods as characters (it’s my own personal thing). I can handle Artemis being set up as a villian, so long as its handled respectfully. I almost would prefer only those worshipping said gods to write about said gods, but I know that’s not realistic. (For those curious, Thanatos is not part of my ‘devotional family’, but since taking him on as a character, he’s earned himself shrine space in my house).

I’ve digressed a lot, and I know I’ve said that this blog wouldn’t have a whole lot of religious discourse on it, but I can’t talk about these books
without bringing up religion, because the way Richelle handled the involvement of the goddesses she mentions is part of why I loved Storm Born. Mostly Hecate, Persephone, and Selene are not present. They get mentioned as the character’s patron goddesses, but they aren’t part of the story so much as a layer to her personality and history, as well as to how the world is set up — earth, Otherworld, Underworld. Religion as a whole isn’t a focus — the other shaman in the series we know has Christian power-symbols that work just as well, so it’s a bit of the whole “intent in the key” theory, really. Different tools for the same job.

The book (and its sequel) had the right mixture of plot, tension between characters, somewhat original treatment of the fey (not having Titiana or Oberon as characters? Big plus!) and respectful treatment of gods that people still worship to make me very happy. If you’re a fan of Kelley Armstrong’s books, you may like these. I know I’ll be checking out her other series.

The Perfect Book

The Perfect Book

In my review of Darkborn I mentioned that the book was one of my perfect reads. This has me thinking about the other books on my perfect reads list. What put them on the list? What makes them perfect? None of the books on my list are touted as Great Works of Literature. They’re not classic texts. Most of them are not even widely known outside of genre fiction. They have some things in common, but the most cohesive category they can fall under together would be ‘speculative fiction’ and that’s about as useful as a description as ‘pagan’ can be – that is, it’s not. Musing on this last night, I realized that the books on my perfect books list all fill me with wonder and remind me why it is I want to write stories. I read them at a time when I was perfectly open to receive their story, and they shifted something inside of me. Because I like talking about these things, I though I’d share. In no particular order, some of my Perfect Books are:

Memory and Dream by Charles De Lint. My obsession with Mr. De Lint’s writing is somewhat convoluted. The first book of his I purchased was Moonheart; the first one I read (after purchasing Moonheart – I used to have a HUGE TBR pile back when I had disposable income, eons ago) was Memory and Dream. This started quite the hunt for his back list. I had all of them right before they came back into print, naturally enough. There are other books of his that I’ve read (all of them) and loved (almost all of them) and his work is the work I return to when I need something nourishing and safe. But Memory and Dream shifted something within me, something for the better, and it was good.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley. This book isn’t one of her better known books, though it’s been re-released a few times during the glut of vampire books out there now. Her vampires are not sexy (a nice break) though they are alluring and appealing (which should be true of supernaturally hunter type species). They are creepy and alien, and she does some things in her writing to make in obvious that they are not the same species at all, without hitting you over the head with it. She does it believably, not just saying, “This is a vampire, don’t you just want to jump his bones?” McKinley’s writing is often hit or miss with me: I’ve loved some, couldn’t get into others. Sunshine was just amazing.

The Orphan Tales: In The Night Garden and The Orphan Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente. Her work is another collection of hits or misses for me, but her two Orphan Tale volumes are books that it took me a long time to get through, because I would hit the end of a section and go back and reread it, not because I didn’t get it, but because I didn’t want to move on yet. I wanted the lushness, the fullness of the tales to linger, longer. Reading these last year, I think I finally realized that part of what gets a book onto my Perfect Book list is, it breaks out of traditional trappings. A lot of what I read is either contemporary paranormal or high/epic fantasy, and they both have their traditional trappings, for good or ill. The perfect books infuse my reading mind with imagination, reminding me that there really aren’t any rules, here. Sky’s the limit.

The Scar by China Mieville. I read Perdido Street Station, first. I’m glad I did, because before I read any of his work I’d decided, having tried The Difference Engine, that I didn’t really care for steampunk. This bothered me, as I don’t really ever want to be the person who turns away from a story because I don’t care for the setting. I’d peeked at other ‘steampunk’esque fiction, but Perdido Street Station was the first one I liked enough to seek out more by the same author. In fact, while reading Perdido Street Station,I absolutely adored the book. It was fresh, it was different, it was new (to me). But, The Scar blew Perdido Street Station, erm, out of the water. There’s nothing I can say to put my finger on why. Having a gigiantic boat helps, for sure. New places, new people, new things . . . first contact is one of my two favorite themes, in any genre I’m reading.

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. Of the books on my list, this is likely the least genre-specific, the least ‘speculative’ of the speculative fiction header. It’s a historical novel with magic realism. The writing is superb, the subject matter handled wonderfully, and the characters lively and real, their concerns immediate. Going into the book knowing that they are, in fact, doomed, does not keep me from wishing the outcome could be anything other than what it is. Mary Sharratt’s writing (of which I’ve also read The Vanishing Point and Summit Avenue) tends to be one the bittersweet or melancholy side, and I certainly have to be in the right mood when I read her work, but when I am in the correct mood to read her work, her writing is very much perfect.

Darkborn by Alison Sinclair. Partially due to her treatment of light versus dark without the use of vampires (it’s terrible. I love vampires, I even love the sexy vampires, but I want my vampires to be scary and not human and not even pretending to be human and not bound by human laws and mores; damn it the whole appeal is the freedom, isn’t it? They can be scary and sexy, they can even be sweet, but save me from snuggly vampire teddybear beefcakes!), partially simply because of the characters themselves, and definitely due to her ability to write well enough to drag me in within the first five pages, Darkborn was an unexpected find. My dissatisfaction with the last installment of the series can’t diminish my adoration for this book. It hit all the places it needed to reach to fill me up and provide nourishment.

Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm – you might recognize her under her other name, Robin Hobb. I read this book years ago, shortly I discovered De Lint’s work and went desperately seeking more in a similar vein. First contact, again, and human/not human interaction – these are my most favorites, and this book has both. Inexplicably, I gave away my copy when I left Massachusetts. I need to correct that.

Speaking of Hobb, The Hob’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs. Came across that book shortly after it was published, before she became widely popular with her Mercedes Thompson novels (and I’m glad she became widely popular; I wish nothing but success and fame for the authors whose works I adore, but I miss her high fantasy) and I’ve recently reread it to see if it still maintains its perfection. It does. The Hob totally rocks

There are more – I know there must be, I’ve been reading for a long time –but those are the few off the top of my head. I wanted to share. Do you have favorite reads? Books you’d count as perfect, for whatever reason? Books that surprised you (The Scar surprised me in how quickly I came to love it and count it among the best)? What books are your Perfect Books?

Life, Writing, Rain

Here it is, October 16th, and nary a copy of Fairy Queen to be had. Lulu.com and I got into fisticuffs during the week, and Lulu.com won. I limped away to lick my wounds and consider my next step.

Originally, Lulu’s appeal as a place to package was: they created an ebook at the same time. And this is still good, yes? The problem I had with them is pretty much just me. I’d forgotten, and so I created an ebook file to work on so I could at least see that, and all the time was wasted because, lo, there is one with the book itself. Our Internet connection in our new place is not nearly as constant as it was when we lived across the city. It’s not horrendous, but it’s noticable when one is trying to do that sort of work. On top of that, we’ve got a Netbook, and the Netbook likes to install updates when and where it wants to, and then close and reboot randomly, and . . . There may have been tantrums and crying jags last week. I’m not saying there was, I’m only saying there might have been.

My dear friend Juli, upon listening to my woes, said, “Why don’t you release it on Createspace, Smashwords, and Kindle?” Three different places, entirely (or, two, I guess) but . . . why don’t I? I have no problem with Lulu.com’s books — I have a few, they look nice enough — but I’ve liked the Createspace books just as much.

I’m learning, though! I’m remembering why my deadlines are generally relaxed — the WiP is way behind where I wanted to be in it, but I can’t have those goals and release date goals and work 42+ hour work weeks at the day job. And there’s something else: I work retail. What the heck am I thinking, having all these projects going during our busy season? I get home and my brain is fried. Words? HA! I tried, though, and working a 9-10 hour day and coming home and working 2 hours on stuff and getting nothing for it? Makes me resentful. “If this is what writing is, I don’t want to do it! I want to WRITE!!”

It’s a process. Going forward, I know that: the formatting tasks will be relegated to the weekend, so that when I get to the point where I want to pull my hair out, I will still have time to stop and relax with something I enjoy like reading and not have to go to bed to get up in six hours and go to the day job; the weeknights are for the fun parts of the job: writing and reading (and knitting! Knitting helps the stories to steep); my deadlines need to be flexible, and so, they are.

Fairy is looking at a November release, now. I’m still half-thinking about keeping my WiP goal of 75k word draft by January 1st. I have time to make up the content loss of October and the 84 hours of work that ate my brain. I’m learning, with my partner, that when I set Big Goals for my projects, I need to check in with her (and vice versa) to be sure that they do not conflict with Big Goals set by her — one of us needs to be able to carry the caretaking jobs while the spends herself on her craft(s).

It’s a process. Processes are good.