second chances

I know, it’s Thursday, I’m supposed to be posting a review. I thought about posting about No Ordinary Family and its similarities and differences to The Incredibles, and why the tensions and conflicts — internal and external — make it not just watchable, but enjoyable. And it’s true that my husband and I do look forward to watching it, whereas the other new show we tried this season — The Event — left us cold with its false tension created by time cuts. What that’s taught me as a writer is that if I’m going to do jumps in time, I’d better have a darned good story reason for them if I don’t want readers throwing my book across the room. It has also reminded me that tastes vary — I’ve seen other people referring to The Event as good, which makes me boggle.

So, instead of talking about the superhero show that I actually like, I’m jumping off from the let’s-capture-the-Lost-crowd show that I don’t to examine when do I give something a second chance, whether it’s a show or an author or a book I just couldn’t get into. If I’m borderline on a show, but my husband likes it, I’ll generally wind up watching it. If a book is something I have to do for work or is something I’ve already agreed to review, I’ll keep pounding at it (and kvetching to my friends, most likely). Other than that, I think it takes a really phenomenal review or compelling evidence that I’ve misread something about the story itself to make me go back to it.

That’s right — second chances are scarce on the ground here.

I’ve got way too many calls on my time and too many books to read to spend my time on something I’m not enjoying. There was a time I finished everything I started reading. After that, a time when I gave every book 50 to 100 pages to prove itself. Now, not so much. If I’m not hooked by the end of the first chapter, forget it.

Which means, conversely, that I have to expect other readers to feel the same about my writing. No pressure or anything.

Oh, and it’s sort of amusing that I’m posting this today because I was just urging a friend to give an author that I like a second chance.

What about you? Do you give shows or books second chances?

Monday drabble: haunting

I’m experimenting with writing drabbles — short-short stories consisting of exactly 100 words — and I’ll be posting one each Monday, at least as long as I keep the experiment up. Here’s the first.


Stepping into his thirteenth haunted house, Herb felt a frisson. He wasn’t superstitious, or he wouldn’t be in this line of work, debunking supernatural claptrap. His assistant’s continual words about his outings — “Third time’s the charm” and “Lucky seven!” — were driving Herb batty. He had finally told Ian to find a new job.
Inside, Ian stood on the second-floor landing. Herb strode up. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t want another job. This one’s pretty cushy.” He shoved Herb over the railing. “The beauty is, the house gets the blame — the one time you were wrong.”

fall planting Q & A

Okay, so this has nothing to do with writing. Or maybe it does, if you have characters who worry about their cottage gardens. Bear with me — the weather is cool, it’s been raining, and I got the first of my new fall plants put in this week.

My favorite things to plant in the fall are bulbs and bulb-like plants (corms, rhizomes, and so forth). Toss them into the ground at the appropriate depth, let the falling leaves and the snow cover them, and wait until they spring forth the following year — and the year after that, and the year after that, and so forth. My gardening motto is “You can never have too many daffodils.” I also love crocuses, tulips, and snowdrops. This year, I put in some hardy cyclamen, too, although I don’t expect to see them blooming until next fall.

Perennials also do well planted in the fall. They can establish their roots and overwinter, then start growing anew in the spring. If possible, I even look for plants on clearance; they may look horrible in their containers now, but odds are they’ll be lovely next year. Trees are the same way — fall is the best time to plant them, when they won’t be stressed by extreme heat and a possible lack of water as they get used to their new environs. (Of course, knowing this, nurseries never have trees for sale at low prices in the fall.)

I haven’t actually planted cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, peas, and cabbage, but I might next year, if we get our raised beds in finally. (Big if. We’ve been talking about it for three years now, I think.)

What doesn’t do well in the fall: tender annuals that need heat to grow, bulbs that are not hardy (gladiolus, dahlia, canna), and long-season vegetables.

Okay, that’s a quick overview. Your turn now: Hit me with your questions — need to know details about planting something? how cold hardy a bulb is? what should be spring planted instead? Or tell me what you like to plant in your garden.

Legacy of Wolves review

This review is a few years late in coming. I bought Legacy of Wolves, by Marsheila Rockwell, when it first came out, and I promised her I’d give it a review. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note I first met her on-line when we were both contestants in Wizard of the Coast’s Maiden of Pain contest, and I have since beta-read another novel for her. I like her, and I like her writing. Do yourself a favor, and check some of it out — short stories or poems, or this book.

I am trying to keep this as free from spoilers as I can.

The back cover copy:

Grisly murders shake the small city of Aruldusk. Both the Church and the Crown send in agents to investigate. But when the body count continues to rise, these rival factions will have to learn to work together to track down the killers — even if it means hunting a killer in the highest reaches of power.

Legacy of Wolves was the third book released in the Inquisitives series, set in the Eberron campaign setting. The title makes it reasonably clear even before reading any of the book that something related to wolves is involved with the murders, and that impression is borne out in the prologue. Indeed, thinking that a werewolf is responsible by that point isn’t that far a stretch.

The story is well plotted, and the characters are clear. The setting is easier to follow if you have some familiarity with Eberron, but if you’re not too worried about specifics like tracking the dates, there’s enough detail in the book itself to keep you oriented.

At heart, this book is a mystery, and my one disappointment with the book was with one of the clues to the murderer’s identity. It felt so obvious to me that I hoped all the way through the book that it was instead a red herring, and in fact one of the characters close to the person indicated would turn out to be guilty. Alas, I was disappointed. However, from a story point of view the clue had to be present; if it had been withheld, readers would have felt justifiably angry at the author for hiding the information. Marsheila chose the right path, I think, and it’s hard to see how it could have been handled otherwise.

When this book came out, I had read every book set in Eberron that had been published so far (including Keith Baker’s, and he’s the one who created the setting). This is my favorite. I highly recommend Legacy of Wolves.

And look for her second book set in Eberron, to be released in 2011!

requisite banned books week post

In honor of Banned Books Week, I present two lists (limited to ten representative books each): banned and challenged books I enjoyed, and banned and challenged books that I found boring — certainly not worth getting worked up over. The point is, I had the choice to read these books and make my own decisions. I don’t think books should be banned, whether or not I like them, dislike them, find them offensive, or don’t care about them. We all should have the chance to decide for ourselves.*

(Both lists are presented alphabetically by author.)

    Banned books I’ve loved:

  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  • Harry Potter (series), by J. K. Rowling
  • In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
  • A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
    Banned books I’ve read but not enjoyed:

  • Flowers in the Attic, by V. C. Andrews
  • Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  • The Pigman, by Paul Zindel

Go read a banned book this week. The ALA has some comprehensive lists, based on author, year, decade, and classic status. Start here.

*Okay, yes, parents have the right to make some decisions for their children. I’ve told my son he’s not ready for Stephen King. That’s just common sense — if Goosebumps books give him nightmares, It would surely traumatize him. But we’ve been reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series together, so we’ve talked about drug addiction, which is a major point in one of the books. We’ve talked — because of news, often — about how some people love the opposite sex and some love the same sex. I hope he doesn’t come across more graphic material, but if he does, he knows he can talk to us about it. Age-appropriate learning about what the world is like outside our house, not how we think it should be in some utopia — that’s what we try to give our children.

planning plus blogging equals plogging

First of all, just so you know, I’m experimenting. I’m trying to build a blog that I want to maintain and others want to read. There are as many ways to do that as there are successful blogs. Those of you who visit me now are going to experience my growing pains, but you’re also going to have the opportunity to influence what I do, based on what you react to, what you look at, and how enthusiastic you are. Isn’t that exciting?

  • I may post photos (such as John Scalzi does from time to time, or Jay Lake does with his moments of Zen).
  • I may post polls or contests (though those will probably wait until I’ve got at least a couple dozen people reading regularly and commenting at least sporadically).
  • I may post links.
  • I will post reviews of videos, books, blogs, or anything else that catches my fancy (Thursdays).
  • I will post my Q & A sessions (Fridays).
  • I may post poetry — haiku, sestinas, centos. Or not.
  • I will post snippets when I have something new coming out, so you know what sort of thing to expect.
  • I may post about things going on with my family and my life. (For example, my son has wanted a new cat for a couple of years, and I imagine that’s going to happen pretty soon — and that may lead to pictures.)
  • I will post thoughts about writing process, editing, epiphanies related to how I work, and productivity.
  • I may post other things I haven’t thought of yet.
  • I will not post links to quizzes, political or religious diatribes (any discussion of these will be in relation to a particular work of fiction or history), or my latest score in some Flash-based game.

Any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment!

Wine Q & A

The only response I had last week on my ideas for various Q & A topics was Nicki‘s question about chocolate wine, so I’m just going to do a brief run-down on tastes in wine today, then leave it open for questions.

The taste of wine encompasses different things, including:

  • mouthfeel (how heavy or light the wine is, whether it clings to your tongue or just flows through; carbonation could be considered part of this)
  • acidity (exactly what it sounds like; generally, the more acidic a wine, the stronger the flavor of the food it should be paired with
  • flavors (what do you think the wine tastes like?)

I’m going to concentrate on that last one. The flavors of wine are why you never (or rarely, anyway) hear someone sip and say, “That tastes just like Welch’s grape juice!” Different grapes generally have different undertones common to them. The darker grapes often have berry or other fruit flavors, such as plum. White wines might be described as tasting like apple or grass (Sauvignon blanc is often described as grassy.). “Floral” is used to describe wines that remind people (oddly enough) of flowers (Viognier, for example). Cigars, chocolate, mushrooms, slate — anything the wine tastes like to you can be used to describe it. There are no wrong answers!

(Note that, unlike in beers, these items are not generally present in the wine itself, except in certain spiced wines. Coffee porters are brewed with coffee; some brewers add cocoa to their chocolate porters. Winemakers do not add either to their vats.)

Mind you, there are some descriptions that leave me leery of trying a certain wine myself, particularly pipi du chat — another term used to describe some sauvignon blancs’ mix of asparagus, grass, and other herbs. It can be all in how you sell it. If you want a bit more explanation of what causes this and why these terms are used, a good beginner’s guide was posted on the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Website back in 2005 (“Here, kitty kitty“).

Your turn: what’s the strangest thing you’ve tasted in a wine? What flavor would you like to find?

happiness is a choice

Last week, I watched a TED talk by Dan Gilbert on why we’re happy. He talked about natural happiness versus synthetic happiness — how our brains decide that we’re happy with what we’ve got — and more, how we’re happier with irreversible choices.

They did an experiment with college students, letting them take photographs, teaching them how to use the dark room, and making prints of their two best pictures. After all of this, the students were told that they only got to keep one. The students who didn’t get the chance to change their minds were more satisfied with their choice.

This intrigues me because I always have more story ideas than I have time to write, and when I decide which one to work on, there has almost always been a tacit acknowledgment that I can change my mind if it doesn’t work out. According to Gilbert’s study, that’s the wrong approach.

According to his work, the best approach if I am to remain satisfied is to pick a project, work on it to completion, and then choose again. I don’t think that necessarily means I can’t slip small projects in, as long as I continue work on the first choice, but rather if I’m trying to decide between a fantasy novel, two science-fiction novels, and a cozy mystery as my next major project, I don’t get halfway through (or one-third — 30,000 words seems to be a big hurdle) and say, “I need to think this through. I’m going back to this other idea I set aside.” More importantly, I don’t second-guess myself, saying maybe I should have chosen X, Y, or Z instead. I choose, I work, I’m happy.

That’s the theory. We’ll have to see how it goes in practice. The current project is getting the urban fantasy edited and out the door, and everything but paying work and family time is taking the backseat to that. So maybe I’m on the right track.

What about you? What makes you happy? Or have you watched a different TED talk that influenced the way you think about your life?

chip off the old block party

This past weekend, there was a neighborhood block party.

When the invitation for the block party first showed up, I was of two minds about it. I like our neighbors, don’t get me wrong. Always enjoy talking to them, say “hi” in passing, that sort of thing. On the other paw, I’m not big on socialization. Or more to the point, I’m reluctant to socialize, even though I almost always enjoy it.

So when my husband said it would be fun to go, I agreed, and it was pure mischance that the form to RSVP with disappeared until the last possible minute. I swear. I put it on the refrigerator door. I didn’t know that my daughter would play with the magnet and not notice that the paper hit the floor and slid under the fridge, right?

The instigation for the block party was the number of new people in the neighborhood — four new families this summer, and even those of us who’ve been here half a dozen years are relative newcomers. This was fabulous — I wanted to meet at least one of the families, as I knew they have a daughter close in age to our girl’s age, and whenever I’ve stopped by, they haven’t been home.

At the party, the girls were highly non-impressed with each other at first.

They began bonding over potato chips, as they stood at the side-dish table and helped themselves from the serving bowl. Then my daughter wondered why she was sharing, grabbed the bowl, and went to sit down elsewhere.

Later, they met up again by the drinks table, where they were fishing ice chips out of the tub being used to cool bottles. They were so cute the father of the other girl went over to get their picture — and snapped one just as the girls each grabbed a bottle of wine from the tub. It’s a terribly cute photo, and we all agreed that we’re in so much trouble when they get older.

All in all, I’m glad we went. Now I’ve got names to put to those faces when I say hello. And I didn’t even take any notes on characters to use in future stories.

Q & A begins

To keep my load light on Fridays, the plan is for me to pick a topic that I know something about, write a couple of paragraphs (maybe on the subject or perhaps on why I’m qualified to talk about it), and then leave the floor open for questions, either about something I’ve said or about a deeper or different aspect of the subject. (Obviously, this is going to work better when I have regular readers!)

Here, then, are some of the topics I can talk about:

  • basic molecular biology, DNA prep, expressing proteins in bacteria & yeast
  • cooking terms, from mise en place to ganache to braise
  • wines — sweet, dry, fruity, chocolate, grassy, what the terms mean, why they’re used
  • semi-arid landscape/high desert (a.k.a. Nevada) flora & fauna, weather
  • basic gardening plant types — corms vs. bulbs vs. rhizomes, perennials, and so forth
  • copyediting
  • indexing
  • reader’s choice

Those are some of my ideas. If you have other ones, I’d love to hear them. And if you have any questions for me, leave them in the comments (with the caveat that if they’re too personal, I probably won’t answer, but you knew that, right?).