Tag Archives: inspiration

Update and Kittens!

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From Kevin Dooley

I’ve been a very busy writer bee these days. I recently sent of Struck by Chocolate to a critique group, and will be hearing feedback from them in a couple weeks. I sent in a contract to Daily Science Fiction for my story “If You Want the Rainbow”; not sure when that will be out but I’ll post the link here when it happens. I’ve finished two short stories this year–one which sucks and one which [I think] is pretty cool. I’m in the middle of a third, which I’m enjoying immensely. And now I’m outlining a new novel! (Time traveling, hackers, human trafficking and tons of romance.)

From Brian Costelloe

It helps to see all those things laid out, because here it is the end of February and–as always–it doesn’t feel like I’ve been doing much. Which isn’t true at all. I set these really lofty goals for myself, and because the goals are so damn high, I don’t always reach them. Then, on not reaching them, I feel like I should have tried harder. But if I’d tried harder, sacrificed the time I spend doing other, non writing things, I think I’d go a little crazy. So, balance is good. Cause I like not being crazy.

I’m really falling behind in my book reading goals, having only finished 8 books this year. Goodreads says I am one book behind schedule in my 60 book year reading goal. I have to mention the book I’m reading right now, though. First to Burn, by Anna Richland (whom I work with on ECWC, and is part of the GSRWA) is a romantic paranormal suspense. An immortal viking stationed in Afghanistan, an army doctor, and drug smuggling. It’s a fun plot, but even more than that I just love her writing, and the way she uses the setting and these character’s backgrounds to really flesh out the internal monologue. Everything these characters think feels really appropriate and genuine for who they are. I like it so much I’ve inadvertently been reading it really slow, to savor it.

From Mohammed Al-Jawi

On Thursday nights I’ve been attending the Citizen’s Academy, which is a thirteen week course put on by a nearby police department. Once a week, for three hours, I sit in the courtroom and learn about the different facets of the police department. From the traffic division, to a tour of jail cells, to a K9 demonstration. It’s been super informative, and I already have a ton of notes and inspiration. There’s a good chance a PD near you offers a similar program, if that sounds as awesome to you as it did to me.

Along with minor house stuff, some directed journalling and spending more time with the supercool people I’m lucky enough to have in my life, (and working and commuting) my time seems to evaporate quicker than ever. But I take comfort in knowing I have something (albeit mostly Scrivener documents) to show for it.

Productivity App for Geeks and Gamers: HabitRPG

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Not this kind of habit, although I would TOTALLY play that game.

Back in the day (2+ years ago) I was very averse to getting and using a smartphone. I used a BlackBerry for my work, but the UI was so clunky and non-user friendly that I only used the available apps/access to internet when I was in dire straits. I liked my flip phone for it’s streamlined functions, its ease of use, its long battery life. Besides, being connected all the time? Distracting, at best.

Then my boss replaced my BlackBerry with an iPhone, and I was hooked. We’re an Apple household, here, so the ability to have so much information move seamlessly from phone to laptop to desktop and back was a major selling point. Plus, the email actually worked, the internet connected when I needed it to, and the design of the phone was aesthetically appealing. Still, I pushed back against the proliferation of apps that was making everyone crazy. I didn’t need to download a bunch of weird programs. I was happy with email, internet and phone.

Then I got hooked on audiobooks. Then podcasts. Then GoodReads and Kindle and Pandora. Now, I’m at a point where I can see so many awesome things coming out of the app store.

Like HabitRPG for example.

This little app first came to my attention when I saw a fellow writer mention how productive she’d been that day, because she wanted to hatch an egg in the game. I’m pretty geeky, love fantasy, and love productivity hacks, so I checked it out. And it. Is. Awesome.

You get a character. The personalization options are pretty slim, but the artwork is all pretty 8-bit style, so it fits the theme. Like any good RPG, your character has a health bar, an experience bar, and a purse, all of which are effected by the tasks described below.

You have three columns to which you can add Things That Need Doing: Habits, Dailies and To-Dos. Habits are things you need to do every day (floss, eat your vegetables, vacuum the cat). Dailies can be either things you need to do every day, and want to be very mindful of (write a postcard, 500 new words) or things you do on specific days (call Mom on Sundays, try a new recipe on Thursdays). And To-dos are one-ffs (rearrange bedroom, burn the evidence). Every time you complete a task, you get a little XP and some coins. When you neglect your tasks, your health gets dinged. Habits keep you healthy.

Then in your fourth column you get rewards. A few of these are proscribed by the game, like healing potions and swords. But you can also make your own rewards, like an episode of your favorite TV show, or a bowl of ice cream. Each reward costs some of your gold and–theoretically–you won’t indulge in those rewards without earning them in-game by being productive in your real life.

For more advanced users, there are guilds and quests and challenges and parties. I haven’t messed with that part of the site yet. Still getting my bearing with the basics.

For anyone who likes watching those bars move around, anyone that needs an extra kick to get moving, or anyone who needs reminders to do things (I forget to floss all the time) this could be a great tool. Even after just a few days I’ve seen a noticeable uptick in my productivity, and remembering to do those little things that I think are good for me, physically and mentally. The feedback comes in a friendly, nostalgic and familiar way, which just feeds my desire to do more things and get more points.

And also keep my character from dying. That’s be nice.

Do you use HabitRPG? Tell me about your experience. Know a better productivity hack? I’m always open to new ways to try and improve things in my brainspace; let me know!

First GSRWA Meeting…at a Fire Station!

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Fire Engine

Fire Engine

On Saturday I crawled out of bed and forced myself into clean clothes so I could make my way south to my very first meeting of the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America. Out of the three chapters available in my area, this one struck me as being the most active and organized, prompting me to hitch my horse to that particular wagon.

Every month the chapter has a meeting where they do two things: give some kind of presentation, and deal with chapter business. Okay, so I might sound a little glee-tastic here, but this whole belonging to an organization thing is new to me, and pretty damn novel.

Anyway, this moth a couple of the awesome chapter member set up a meeting at a fire station!

We started out with a presentation from a few of the brave firefighters at Station 15. They covered topics like training, classifications, what it’s like to get into a fire and rescue people, and some effects of the job on their relationships, among other things. I came away from the day with one complete skeleton of a novel, and plenty more ideas to work with.

Cool Facts

  • In a typical house with 9 feet ceilings, the top 3 feet are around 1250°, the middle three stay around 500°, and the bottom three hover around 150°. Which means when a fire fighter is inside, they can’t stand up straight. They crawl. And they don’t carry victims out like the guy to you right. They have to drag people, fighting through smoke and heat. Which leads to fact number two…
  • The most common injuries for firefighters involved their backs and knees. The strain of crouching, pulling heavy things, and moving awkwardly take a toll on them like nothing else. Other common injuries include wrist burns (from not wrist guards) and getting HIT by a CAR because people are not paying attention to their driving when passing an accident.
  • Hybrid cars are the least safe car to drive in case of a major accident. The cars contain a thick cable of power wires that run through the car, and in each model the placement of the wires is a little bit different. Cutting through these wires will kill you. Full stop. And while all hybrids had a power shutoff, these too are located in different places for the different models. That being said, there are still a few firefighters who drive hybrids.
  • Christmas trees are freaking dangerous, yo. From moment of ignition to your entire living room being on fire, you’ve got about 46 seconds.

Even Cooler Pictures!

Map Books

Map Books

The fire engines aren’t yet equipped with GPS, which means firefighters have to rely on memory and physical maps. These books have detailed maps of the area, and are organized by quadrant. When a page comes in informing the station of a call, a quadrant will show up on the pager so they know where to go. A couple of these books contain information about the structures in the district: how many stories, construction material, number of rooms.

jump seatThis is the back seat in a fire engine. The straps you see are connected to an oxygen tank. This way firefighters can get suited up with their protective gear, then strap into the oxygen on their way to a call.The headset on the wall behind the chairs enable conversation between riders. With the siren’s blaring and that motor running, it’s too loud to talk, otherwise.

Fire Helm

Fire Helm

A typical firefighter’s helm. I love that there is a wooden doorstop strapped on this guy, the same kind we used in elementary school. You can tell a lot about a firefighter from their helmet. For example, pure yellow helmets indicate a new hire, someone who’s been on the team less than a year. When released from their probation period, they are presented with a black helm, like this one. The front of the helm will carry their classification, and their ID number.

Desert Mine Tank

Desert Mine Tank

This particular station is a bigger one. Due to their proximity to the local police station, the two departments work together pretty often. This tank, for example, is technically property of the LPD as a donation from the military. It’s being stored at the LFD garage simply because they had the room. The funny thing about this tank is that it appeared in the garage about 24 hours before out tour, and most of they guys there hadn’t seen the thing before they walked into work that morning.

Firefighter Eliza

Firefighter Eliza

It’s me! Wearing almost a full set of bunker gear, which is the term they use for…well, for this whole getup! Pants, boots, jacket, wrist guards, helm, oxygen tank and axe/lever combo. Not pictured: hood, oxygen mask and gloves. This stuff was heavy. It really put into perspective just how damn strong you have to be, to operate as a firefighter. apparently, these days they rely more on teamwork, to reduce injuries more common in the past when being a firefighter emphasized brute strength more. Still, to just be able to walk around in that gear, or climb stairs, you’ve got to be pretty buff.

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If you ever get the opportunity to go to a fire station and get a tour or talk to the firefighters, jump at the chance. The guys were super nice, and really motivated to show off all their gear, and talk about what they do for a living though I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they had a cadre of attentive women hanging on their every word.

And if you have been on a tour of a fire department, police department, top secret military base, share your experience in the comments!

World Horror Convention and the Stoker Awards: Part Uno

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This last weekend saw me off to New Orleans to attend the Bram Stoker Awards Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention (official name). After a very inauspicious start, wherein my first flight was cancelled and my later connecting flight delayed–twice–I finally made it to the “Big Easy”, exhausted and cranky and sore from sleeping in airport chairs and against a window at 30k feet.

I had the good fortune of rooming with Folly Blaine, always a good–and spirited–choice for a roommate. We planned to go out that evening for a ghost and vampire tour, because, well…New Orleans. I’ve gone on a few of these kinds of tours now, here in Seattle, in Portland, and now in New Orleans. I’ve found them to be a nice mixture of paranormal fancy and interesting factoids about the city. Not the kind of thing that would appeal to a major history buff, but enough information to open doorways for an individual to Google and research later. Like, for example, the tale of Madame and Dr. LaLaurie, and their dark experiments.

Oh, and all the people they killed. And the fact that Nicolas Cage owned their house for a brief time.

Now, he only owns this in New Orleans.

Yep. His grave. And that plaque in front is covered with lipstick marks. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of the cool things about this tour was that it started in a bar. And, halfway through, it used that bar as a pit stop. And it also offered two-for-one Hurricanes to all tour groups. Which we took advantage of. By the time we were done with our tour, it seemed like a really good opportunity to check out Bourbon Street, and get some tasty daiquiris from one of the many frozen daiquiri shops along the way.

And if you want that story, buy me a drink sometime and ask really nicely.

After our misadventures on Bourbon Street, we headed back to the hotel. Both of us were exhausted, and a little bit demoralized, and pretty much ready for bed.

The next day, the convention really started. Up at 8, in the shower by 8.30–back in bed by nine because my brain hurt so bad I couldn’t think straight. A potent combination of being hungover from copious amounts of sugar and alcohol, and sleep deprivation from my terrible, horrible, very bad, no good trip from Seattle to NOLA. I got another hour or so of sleep before dragging myself out once again for a long, unplanned walk around the French Quarter, where I saw pretty things like this:

I headed back to the hotel to catch Benjamin Kane Ethridge read from his new book, Nightmare Ballad, and unveil the cover of the second in his Black & Orange series. Ethridge won the Bram Stoker award for Black & Orange in 2010, in the first novel category. It was a good reading, and the art for the new book is gorgeous. Definitely makes me want to go read Black & Orange, especially. I’m a sucker for a pretty book.

After the reading Folly and I went to see John Joseph Adams get interviewed by a very enthusiastic Lisa Morton, author of The Castle of Los Angeles (which happened to tie with Ethridge for the 2010 Bram Stoker Award). Adams talked about how he got into editing, his vision for Nightmare and Lightspeed (which just reopened to submissions, by the way, with a higher pay rate), and his thoughts about stories in general. I didn’t find much to take notes on, but it was an enjoyable hour listening to someone talk about a subject he–and everyone else in the room–loves.

Then, it was my time to go to my first ever kaffeeklatsch. Readers, if you have the opportunity to go to one of these things at a convention, DO IT. The hour I spent basically hanging out with David Morrell was one of the top three memories from this weekend. I didn’t know who he was going in (other than he wrote First Blood, which was the inspiration for Rambo), but it didn’t matter. I’m going to pick up Murder as a Fine Art soon, because it sounds amazing. But what I got out of this hour most was Morrell’s approach to…well, to writing, in part. To life, really. He advocates writing from the depths, and using one’s daydreams and obsessions to identify what those depths might hold.

It’s a element of writing I’ve been a little uncomfortable with (what does it MEAN?!) and I think after listening to Morrell talk I have not only a better understanding, but also an actionable course to help me discover my own deep-seated passions that I can feed into my writing, and those that have already been making appearances.

For example, all of my books, and a lot of my stories, feature protagonists with somewhat (and sometimes VERY) unpleasant relationships with their parents. mothers, in particular. But in most cases, the relationship has a strong thread of companionship and understanding, despite the troubling aspects. And, go figure: I totally identify.

So, to circle back, go to kaffeeklatsches. I was a little to slow on the draw to get into Caitlin R. Kiernan’s, but apparently she talked for two and a half hours. Folly, who was able to go, said it was really neat to see her relaxed and open, traits which it can be very difficult for introverts to summon when on display, like at panels or readings. So don’t be afraid of not knowing the writer, or feeling like you know too much via their blog or their writing or whatever. Just go.

Aaaand, that’s it for now. I’ll leave you with a picture of a window kitty.

Scrubbing Out the Bad to Make Way for the Good

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Spring is finally here! And not just on the calendars, either. Flowers are sprouting everywhere. Being greeted by buttery yellow daffodil blossoms makes it much cheerier to walk into work. Our rhododendron bush is starting to unfurl blossoms that are almost the same color as Pi’s cute pink nose. The air is starting to smell like life again, and not just rain. This weekend Mr. Eliza mowed our new yard for the first time, after we went to Sears and bought our first lawnmower. It’s one of those non-motorized numbers, which means I’ll feel comfortable using it, if I need to. Those whirring blades and motors in regular lawnmowers kind of freak me out. Too much opportunity for unintended bloodshed.

I’m really glad the weather is turning. I moved to the Pacific Northwest in large part because I love rain. There wasn’t nearly enough of it in Colorado. (Though the thunderstorms back there are spectacular, and missed.) I expected to relish the rain, and I do. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with Spring. The world opens up when the temperatures start rising, stretching its arms toward the sky and giving off a great, big, wholly refreshing yawn. Except, instead of morning breath we get this delicate floral perfume carried on gentle breezes.

This year, I strive to be more like spring. Renewed. Renewing. Open to freshness and light. The last few weeks have not been easy. As I mentioned to a friend the other day, my mantra feels like it’s been “It could have been worse.” It’s time to spring clean the negativity that’s been building up. I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing that, but I have a few ideas.

  • Exercise more. Fo’ realz. And not the treadmill, or even the gym. That place depresses me. Makes me irritable. I want to get out in all that lovely awesome nature PNW supplies at every turn. Every year I say I want to do more hiking. This’ll be that year, dammit.
  • Plant things. I’ve never been a green thumb, but I love watching things grow. Probably the scrap of maternal instinct I’ve got floating around. Plus, I hate paying four bucks for a bundle of rosemary, most of which I’ll just throw away. So having a little herb garden would make me happier on two counts.
  • Make things, specifically clothes and jewelry. I need to create, which is a large part of why I write. But sometimes I need to have a tangible product, and that it’s something just for me. No editors, no readers, no critiques. Just a flirty skirt or a new necklace. The latter will also help salve the robbery wound, since they took nearly all of my jewelry.
  • Write more. Write fun things, with crazy-ass characters and wild settings and terribly beautiful monsters and color and gorgeousness.
  • Sleep more. Because I love sleep. I could use a nap right now, actually.

In conjunction with the sun and mild weather, I’m hoping these steps will help me shake off the gray that’s been clinging to my skin. Replace it with violet and lime and..gah…maybe some pink.

What are your plans for Spring cleaning, either literal or figurative?

Photo by promanex.

Aside

Not my cat

Five months ago Mr. Eliza and I moved into a new house. We found a really cute 1918 Craftsman style home, 2 bedrooms, 2 stories, and an addition jutting out from the side of the house. French doors, a weird levered window, a built-in liquor cabinet and a great view of our backyard conspired to make this our favorite room in the place.

We don’t know when the addition was constructed, but what’s pretty obvious is that whoever built it didn’t do the best of jobs. The insulation is sparse, and time has done it’s job on what is there. That levered window I mentioned? Coupled with single pane glass it lets in a fair amount of chilly winter air. The main problem, though, has been the floor. Because of the lack of insulation, cold emanates from the hardwood, bringing down the temperature and making the one heater vent in the room work extra hard.

As a result, the main house got overheated just to bring this room up to comfort levels. When we got the ensuing gas bill for the busy heater, we decided the best thing to do would be close up the room and hope for the best. Having just bought a new house, and a car, we didn’t have the resources available to get all the rugs that would be needed to help insulate the floor from the top down. Putting the room, and it’s cold, under quarantine was the best solution we could come up with at the time. Which sucked, because it was also the best place in the house to put our TV, couch and–as I mentioned–the all important liquor.

We moved the entertainment to our front room, positioned before the huge plate glass window. Now, the entire neighborhood could share in our Star Trek:TNG marathons.

Yeah, not ideal.

One night we went over to our friend’s new place. They’d gotten into a similar situation, with hardwood floors and a need for warmth. As we were talking about their big, new rugs, They mentioned CraigsList as a source.

Mind. Blown.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. I’ve purchased televisions, couches, tables and chairs and all manner of housey things off CraigsList. But this one thing took hearing my tried and true solution from an outside source before it clicked.

I think this happens a lot in life, and can happen in our writing, too. Sometimes it takes the voice of a teacher to bring something into light. More often than not, for me at least, the moments of clarity when it comes to writing advice happen more often like my rug moment of clarity happened: by seeming coincidence.

I remember, for example, when I finally started to understand the real meaning behind ‘write what you know’. That single piece of advice is probably the most touted platitude in the writing world. For so long I, like many others I’m sure, took those words to mean write what you’ve done. What you’ve seen. What you’ve directly experienced. And in a way, I think that’s true, but not in the manner I originally thought. When I realized, instead, that this piece of advice should be applied more to the core of things, rather than the surface of things, it made more sense.

Have I ever been in charge of a magic book, or possessed by an angry spirit, like in Toulouse? No. But I have been caught between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. I have pined after someone I couldn’t have. I’ve definitely done things I’m not proud of, and worked hard to make up for them. Just like the characters in my book.

My point here is to keep your eyes and ears and, most importantly, mind open to new advice, and new perspectives on old advice. By reading, a lot, we can absorb information. Writing books, good fiction, and bad fiction alike all give us pieces of advice. They swim around our brains for a while, and, if we’re lucky, one day they make sense. That feeling of ‘damn, why didn’t I think of that?’ will combine with ‘yes, I can finally use this.’

And you might end up with a bitchin’ new rug.

photo used under creative commons license from Spamily

Buying Beautiful Rugs: When Advice Starts Making Sense

My TBR 2013 Shelf: Books on Writing

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1. Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl

I was fortunate to receive this book in our handouts during Clarion West 2011. A slim volume, dedicated to exploring the idea of writing, as it says, the Other. That is, anything that isn’t you. A different race, a different sexual orientation, a different culture. In order to write books and stories that reflect the diversity of real life, every author will eventually need to write about (and often from the persepctive of) someone who is very, very different from the author themselves. I’m excited to read Shawl’s thoughts on this particular challenge.

2. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

I read this book a few years ago, and I think it’s time to revisit. I’ve learned a lot since then. In particular, I’m interested in rereading his thoughts on what he calls the M.I.C.E. quotient. Essentially, he says, every story is one–or a combination–of the following: Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. After hearing it referenced twice in recent Writing Excuses episodes, I’d like to brush up on my understanding of the idea.

3. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

I see this book recommended a lot, especially to people looking to write more ‘commercial’ fiction, which I absolutely am. Criticized by some for being too clinical and crass, praised by others for being organized and informative. Based on everything I’ve read and heard about it, I think I’ll like it, if taken with a big grain of put-up-with-hyperbole salt.

4. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith

I don’t remember my exact reasoning behind picking up this book, other than the title. I can’t even remember when I bought it. But since I like writing suspenseful works, and want to get better at doing just that (and I already own the book), this is on my list.

5. The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber

Recommended by Jenni Moody, as one of the books she read and benefitted from when working on her MFA. This book looks at the different ways to use time in a story, and how time can effect a story. This sounds fascinating to me, as I’ve been an almost exclusively linear writer. I can’t remember a single story where I played with time at all. It’s always seemed a kind of intimidating and tricky element, which I’d like to learn more about. Hopefully it’ll inspire me to bend my stories more.

6. Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden

This recommendation comes from Minister Faust, one of my instructors at ClarionWest. He was very enthusiastic in his recommendation, citing that a lot of books–not just mysteries–benefit from pointers in how to divulge information and create tension, ways to keep readers guessing without annoying them. And since a lot of the stuff I write is, in some degree, a mystery, I think this’ll be helpful.

7. Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

This last book was recommended to me by Folly Blaine. With a lot of ‘mini-lessons’ designed to help the author dig deeper into the description of emotions, and stop relying on eyes, or hands, or the timber of a character’s voice to give readers clues into the mental states of our beloved heroes and heroines. (Geez. That’s a mouthy sentence.) I know I spend a lot of time talking about voices, for one. And eyes. And occasionally strange movements. (I had to explain to a reader recently that the witch touching my heroes cheek was creepy, not sweet. That should have come through without an explanation.)

Do you have any books on writing you’ve read and loved? Or any you’re looking forward to tackling this year?