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How I Spent My Staycation

… or maybe I should have titled this “How I am Spending My Staycation” because I have another day to go.

We do lots of staycations. We love going places and seeing things, but sometimes, we just want to veg.

However, during this staycation I’ve been pretty active. I’ve met my exercise goal every day of this staycation except maybe today … nope, I’m on track again today.

Usually, when I take a staycation, I write a lot. And I did get in a couple of good writing sessions on Saturday. But not much since.

Instead, I have been on a tear on my violin. I spent this summer on a quest to get the best sound possible out of my violin. It was playing particularly badly. I had tried a D string out of aluminum rather than silver because they kept fraying, but the sound was like a sick french horn. I could almost not bear to play it. The A string wasn’t much better, and the G string would slip under the bow.

Since I knew that the violin once sounded pretty good, I took it to a different luthier–one in Melbourne rather than in my hometown. I asked for his opinion of the bow and the violin, and he told me he thought they were both better than “student violins”. I took that to mean they had hope. He replaced the bridge and the sound post with upgraded versions (who knew?), and put better-quality hair on the bow. I took it home and noticed some improvement after a settling in period of about a week. Then, I changed the strings to a set that promised a warmer sound.

And suddenly, my violin was fun to play again.

Choir practice started again last week, so I had lots of new music to practice, plus I continued some favorites. I have been working all summer on Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, a piece that almost every intermediate student learns in order to master “bow crossings”, which is moving from one string to another under one bow stroke. It’s hard to play well this way. I have also been working on Dust in the Wind, because it is a nice challenge and everyone knows it. I recently added Hava Nagila, a Jewish anthem, because it really rocks, and I came up with an arrangement that includes some bow bouncing techniques that I want to master.

So other than hanging out with my daughter and my husband, that’s how I’m spending my staycation. I’m back to work on Thursday.

But for now, I’m off for my second practice session of the day!

Finishing the Danged Books

I have what I think is a good reason for not blogging lately. I have just been finishing the danged books.

It seems that I put up this new website last year, and once I got that accomplished, I pretty much devoted almost all of my writing efforts to my books. I guess that isn’t a bad thing. But it’s terrible for my social media footprint.

First, I decided to rewrite one of my novels in third person. I had been waffling on that for a few months, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Then, a recent news story really helped me strengthen one of the main conflicts. I finished that rewrite and polished and considered it “query ready” by January. I rewrote the synopsis, and polished up the query.

But then what did I do? I dove right into my other novel, which was in the midst of a rewrite as well, and now I am finishing up that one. I have been having rewrite fever.

I have not even been reading much this year. The number of books I’ve read this year has been tragically low.

Oh, and I also started writing what I consider to be the space epic I have always wanted to write. For years I have been writing little snips and setting them aside, knowing they weren’t quite what I wanted, and looking for that big idea. Well, it all came together, and I’ve started the opening scenes in Scrivener, which I purchased a while back. I am also incorporated many of those old ideas, and am pretty happy with what is coming together.

But that’s a side activity while I finish this rewrite.

Honestly, for a while last year when I was going through a period of fragile health, I wondered if I had lost that writing spark. But it is difficult to keep the writing spark when you cannot sleep more than 5 hours a night and your immune system is recovering from powerful antibiotics. Once I fully recovered, I not only started writing again, but I am playing my violin consistently as well.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Hope everyone has been well!

 

My Summer. And Fall. And Winter …

Hi, everyone, and Happy New Year! A very belated Happy New year. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Music

I mentioned that I had taken up the violin again. It’s been a good twenty-five years, but I two years of very good lessons (in the early 90s) to draw upon, and YouTube has turned out to be a fantastic resource.

It is helpful to have a commitment when doing something like music. My daughter is singing with the church choir, and I promised her that I would be playing with the choir by Christmas. I was able to keep my promise. I am not very good, but I seem to be good enough. Catholic music seems very well suited for violin because so much of it is a slow tempo in a minor key.

Playing music is a bit more of a challenge than it was when I was twenty-five. I’ve had to overcome a bit of arthritis and regain my finger flexibility. It is still not quite back yet. I have trouble with some of the reaches, as well crowding my fingers together in order to play half-steps in tune, such as from F# to G on the E string–very difficult for me. It was once trivial. I also now have vision problems, and the music stand needs to be a good three feet away in order to avoid hitting it with my instrument. It helps that I have a pair of reading glasses that are a few years old, so they are actually pretty good for reading at a bit of a distance.

On the bright side, the skill has come back quickly, and I continue to hear improvement every week.

Writing

I finished a major revision on one of my completed novels and I dove right into finishing up an in-process revision of another. I know I should just start submitting and/or self-publishing the first one, but I can’t seem to stop myself–the writing is just going too well. My sister wants me to start releasing my time travel novel a chapter a week on this blog. She has heard of other writers who have had success with that, but before I commit to such a thing, I would need to research exactly what those other authors did (I have names) and try to guess how successful I might be.

Work

Work has been crazy. I often end up drained by the end of the day, to the extent of which I may have some decisions to make. So that’s all I have to say about that. I have been thinking about doing some business analysis blog posts, and posting/linking them on LinkedIn, under my professional account (not my writer account). I even have some articles ready to go, many of which I wrote years ago for the benefit (and amusement) of my teammates. If I decide to do that, I’ll build another WordPress site for the blog and an online resume, similar to what a lot of user interface developers do. It will definitely have to be something easy.

Goofing Off

Yes, I do get time to goof off. My daughter and I also took up beading, but until she gets better at crimping, we only do that sporadically. My eyes just are not up to it. I can come up with some pretty patterns, and if I lay it out for her, she’ll bead it up. If I don’t lay it out for her, she seems at a loss as to how to imagine a pattern. But that should come in time. We’ re going to do rearranging on our spare room, and part of it (the sunny spot) will be a beading station.

One thing I haven’t been doing a lot, is reading. I think, this year, I have read fewer books than in my entire reading life. Something had to give, I guess.

~*~

What have you been up to? Do you have any good rousing adventure stories to recommend, to get me out of my reading rut? I’m in the mood for a rousing adventure epic. Genre is flexible–either a space epic, a fantasy, or even something historical (if it’s adventurous).

Quick Update

Unforgivable. I have not posted since May. And with a brand-new website, too!

But I’ve been writing. A lot.

I like to have two things going on, so while I am drafting a new novel, I am also revising one of my existing novels. In this case, I am converting an entire novel from first person to third, and I am adding another POV character. It’s a big job, but I’m over halfway finished.

When I finish, I’ll repolish the query and synop, and begin sending it places while I turn my attention back to my new project.

In other news, my health is finally improved. I finally feel over the dreadful antibiotics that I had to go on this time last year, and which, I swear, wiped me out for a solid year. I figured out some of my sleeping issues (absolutely no sugar or milk products after six) and it is a wonder what enough rest can do for you.

Finally, I got Scrivener, which is a writing tool specially suited for large projects such as novels and screenplays (and, apparently, legal briefs), and I have started a software review. I’ll try to finish that up soon.

So I had the good fortune of losing my Fitbit …

Why was that a good thing? Sometimes good things come in roundabout ways.

  • Problem: I couldn’t sleep through the night.
  • Solution: I bought a Fitbit One to help me track my sleep (and activity).

Fitbit gave me a lot of raw data. I was either “awake” “restless” or “asleep” in tiny slices throughout the night, oftentimes each slice only one minute long. All this raw data was hard to make much sense out of, but one thing I did know: on a good night, I only get about 6 hours of sleep. Enough to not be a zombie, but not enough to sustain my creativity. At the end of a workday, I was always wiped out, and I certainly did not have enough creativity left in me to do things like writing or blogging.

  • New Problem: I lost my Fitbit. I wanted to replace it.
  • Solution: I looked for a new sleep tracker. Preferably something better.

I had two qualifications:

One, it had to have good reviews for sleep tracking.

Two: it had to share data with my Apple HealthKit app. The fact that Fitbit did not share such data was a huge strike against it, and was a mistake I did not intend to repeat.

I wanted to get a tracker for my daughter as well, because I suspected she had sleep issues, and another one for my husband, because he was holding his Fitbit Charge together with superglue. Literally.

So when I saw the Misfit Charge had great reviews, communicated with HealthKit and it was only 20 dollars, it was a no-brainer.

Why is it so cheap? Turns out, the Misfit Charge is also being marketed as a smart button, and Misfit really wants them to be useful enough for you to want two or three of them. So I did buy three of them, one for every member of the family, plus I bought a five-pack of wristbands.

And thus, the reason why the loss of the Fitbit was a good thing: thanks to the improved sleep analysis of my Misfit, I discovered that I am a light sleeper. That should have been obvious, I guess, but the raw data from the Fitbit was really difficult to analyze. Once I realized that miscellaneous outdoor noises were waking me up, I started playing with white noise apps, and my sleep problems are almost over.

Oh, I still get the occasional stomach ache and headache, but I can hardly blame my Misfit for that.

As for my creativity? Well, over the weekend I wrote almost 5000 words for an entirely new story. And tonight, I wrote this blog post.

I’d say it’s back.

If at first, you cannot sell . . .

. . . cut, cut, cut again.

And so, East of Yesterday (or Highway to Yesterday, I can never quite decide), which was once over 116,000 words, is now a trim 95,000 words. My latest cut was 11,400 words all at once, when I decided some pretty lengthy scenes were unneeded backstory that was written from the wrong character’s point-of-view.

I’ll be able to rewrite what is needed for the story from the right character’s point of view, and I don’t expect to take anywhere near 11400 words to do so. I may even be able to cut some additional things toward the end.

I just wanted to celebrate that little triumph with you. Back to the rewrite.

Oh! Do you have a preference? Do you like East of Yesterday as a title, or Highway to Yesterday? I find the first title nicely subtle, but the second title is a little more obvious as a time travel novel, and it is my current working title.

Life and Stuff. Plus Some Books.

It seems like a year since I posted last, even though I know it hasn’t been so long. But it HAS been a rough year. Not terrible–just a little rough.

After the most productive writing year of my life, during which I completed two novels (2015), I had the LEAST productive writing year of my life. I blame insomnia for making me just tired enough to make writing (including blogs and submitting said books to agents) a chore rather than a pleasure.

Chores are no fun.

My insomnia seems to stem from persistent intestinal gas that strikes at about 4:00 AM every night. No matter what I eat. I don’t like to go to bed particularly early, since I like to squeeze as much living into my life as possible, but when I am up at 4, it makes it difficult to function when I don’t go to bed until 11. When I went to bed earlier, the gas would merely strike earlier. I’d still be awake for about two hours, resulting in oversleeping, getting into work later than I wanted, and therefore working later into the evening than I wanted, resulting in a vicious cycle.

The good news is that melatonin seems to be helping. I still wake up with the gas, but the melatonin makes me sleepy enough most nights to be able to get back to sleep without lying there for hours. I am still working on getting a solid week of at least 6.5 hours of sleep. I’m not there yet, but I’m closer.

So that’s all.

I’m thinking about renaming my blog to something like Life, Writing, and Stuff. Yeah, I know that name sucks. I may play with formats and titles over the next few weeks. I also need to figure out if I want to move this blog out of wordpress.com and into a self-hosted site. I meant to do it last year (and the year before, and the year before), but I had that terrible infection. Yeah, yeah, excuses. And–oh, yeah–I did say that was all, didn’t I? One more thing …

What I’m Reading Now

I am slowly reading The Dreaming Hunt by Cindy Dees, which is the sequel to The Sleeping King. I meant to review The Sleeping King last year, but see above. I’m almost done with it and it has been pretty entertaining because it is much like reading the adventures of a RPG group going through a long-term campaign. Five adventurers (or maybe six) fighting their way through battles with all kinds of fantasy races, while constantly being healed and even resurrected when necessary. Maybe I’ll review both books together when I’m done. (However, any such review will be WAY more informal than those I used to write. I am still not considering myself a book reviewer. It’s just stuff I’m reading.)

That really is it, this time. What have you been up to? Any good fantasy book recommendations?

A Study of the Foils of Darth Vader

I finally saw the new Star Wars movie. To me, it was a mixed bag. The heroes were very likable, but the villain was flawed, and not in a good way. Overall, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. But this is not a Star Wars review.

I was trying to pinpoint why the villain didn’t work for me. To do so, I compared him to his own hero, Darth Vader. I was explaining to my husband about how Vader was made more sympathetic through the skillful use of foils, when I wondered if that new Star Wars villain is, in fact, a foil for that other evil dude. But then I realized that that didn’t work–we didn’t see nearly enough of that other guy for him to require a foil.

What do I mean by a foil? Here is Wikipedia’s definition:

In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character.

I have no way of knowing if this is what Lucas intended, but I could identify two Vader foils. In A New Hope, it is Grand Moff Tarkin.

Grand_Moff_Tarkin

This is the general-like character, who is first introduced in a meeting of Imperial officers when he orders Vader to stop his choke hold on another character. Vader obeys with an “As you wish,” and immediate obedience. It makes an impression. We already know Vader’s a badass–and this is the guy that Vader obeys.

The movie hints at a bit of friendship between them. In a later scene, he says to Vader, “The Jedi are extinct. Their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.” He seems sincere when he calls Vader “my friend”.

How does he contract with Vader? One way is to examine the reactions of characters who know him.

  • Leia, when first seeing Vader: “Darth Vader. Only you could be so bold.”
  • Leia, when first seeing Tarkin: “Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”

Vader is merely “bold”, while Tarkin provokes a somewhat unhinged response.

Finally, we have Vader’s preferred method of coercion vs. Tarkin’s. Vader uses a torture robot brandishing a needle and a high-pitched whine. Tarkin blows up an entire planet.

So yeah–Vader is bad, but Tarkin is much more ruthless. At the end of A New Hope, he’s blown away, so we need another foil. A bigger, badder foil.

Enter, the Emperor.

Emperor_RotJ

With the Emperor, we have two movies to establish him, and contrast him to Vader. As the movies reveal the Emperor, they are also revealing Vader. We first see Vader without his mask–albeit from behind–and we know that there’s a terrible reason he wears it. But there is a man under there. He is no cyborg. The Emperor barely looks human even though he has skin. Something has twisted him.

At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, there is evidence of discord between Vader and the Emperor when Vader proposes that he and Luke rule the galaxy as father and son.

It continues in Return of the Jedi, where we see and hear much more of the Emperor. Here’s a good scene that shows the contrast:

Moff Jerjerrod: The Emperor’s coming here?

Darth Vader: That is correct, Commander. And, he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.

Moff Jerjerrod: We shall double our efforts.

Darth Vader: I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

It makes you wonder, because Vader has hardly been forgiving so far. We especially see Vader’s struggles in the scenes with Luke, especially this one:

Luke: Search your feelings, Father, you can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

Darth Vader: It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.

Luke: Then my father is truly dead.

The words, “It is too late for me” is laden with regret. After the scene, Vader is left alone in the corridor, and there is a moment of silence.

~*~

So what do you think? Do you agree that these two characters served as foils for Vader? Can you think of any foils for the other major characters?

IMO: When to Give Up. And When Not To.

 

Today’s post is about perseverance. When to stick to it. And when to not to.

No, I’m not planning on giving up on anything. But that is not to say that I have never given up on stuff. Once, I dreamed of being an artist. I still have pictures that I drew in the 6th grade, and they are not bad. I stuck it out all through high school, mostly because I already had signed up for the courses. But then something happened after I left high school.

I discovered that it was not my passion.

So, I stopped doing it. Well, not entirely. I still have extensive art supplies and I still occasionally use them. I have a discount card to my local art store. And I keep up my calligraphy skills. But, I no longer actively pursue art as a career or even as a serious hobby.

More difficult to give up was music.

When I was in my 20s, I rediscovered music. I retaught myself how to play piano and I started taking violin lessons. For two years, music overtook my life. I was a very serious violin student. I practiced for hours each week–probably 2 hours a day (in addition to working full-time) and 10 hours over the weekend. I was also still writing my Trunk Novel Epic, so I was also a very serious aspiring writer.

And then I went back to school.

And at the ripe age of 27, I realized that with the demands of a full-time class schedule, I’d have to pick one serious hobby. I asked myself, which hobby do you honestly have a shot at turning into a career? So the violin went into the case.

Why? As a musician, I really did start too late. And I was inspired by an old woman I knew in my community orchestra who had re-taken up the violin at the age of 60. I knew I would not lose my ability to read music–at least not permanently. I may temporarily forget how to tell the difference between E-major and A-major on the musical staff, but I’ll never forget how to play them, and I’ll never forget the theory behind them.

Although I didn’t play for about 15 years, I did take it back up again, and I did brush off my piano skills. (I would have brushed off my violin skills as well, but the danged thing keeps eating my D string.) Still … it’s not a serious hobby. It can’t be, until I can quit my day job.

What about writing? I’ve had some successes, but nothing career-changing. I think it’s the one thing that I won’t ever give up. At least, not for long.

What hobbies or interests have you had, that you eventually lost interest in?

Plotting a New Novel

June has been crazy, with a series of ups and downs, along with a lot of changes. This week, I started a new job. Things are starting to settle down now, hence this blog post.

Normally, I don’t plot much, and when I did, I often didn’t follow the plot.  Until recently, I have been a panster. But the plot for East of Yesterday remained mostly intact, so I’m trying it again for the sequel. I started out with index cards, but when I realized I could do the exact same thing more effectively with Visio, I transferred the cards to Visio processes (using the Flowchart template), created some swimlanes for the POV characters, and took off.

SOYThreads

South of Yesterday is just a working title, but it works pretty well, because for the most part, the plot takes place even further in the past. Areas that are blocked together will probably end up in the same chapter. This is helping me estimate how long the book might be. I had all these characters converge in a major confrontation in what will probably be the early second half of the novel. I don’t know, however. It is hard to get a feel for the length.

In the past, whenever I outlined, it the act of outlining would sap some of my enthusiasm for the story. The reason for that, I think, was those outlines were too detailed. With this approach, I can only fit about fifteen characters in each of those boxes. This helps keep my outlines in the ideal state of sketchiness. I can’t wait to write these scenes, and that’s how it should be.

I’m finding it difficult to plot much further than that confrontation. I know what the villain is doing, and some of the shades-of-gray characters, but not everyone else. There is a doosey of a betrayal, and an even better rescue involving forgiveness and transformation on the part of both the rescuer and the rescuee. The plots for some of these characters may come to an end, with formerly-secondary characters jumping into starring roles.

This month of change has been good for this plotting process. Because I have been so busy with all this newness and all my obligations, I am forced to just let it sit. I occasionally open it up and add boxes when I have a flash of insight, as I did with my betrayal and subsequent rescue/forgiveness/transformation. But for the most part, it’s just percolating. Which is just what I think it needs.