Even oatmeal has a consistency

Consistency tells us what something is made of or what it’s similar to. We speak of things being like paste or as thin as water. Consistency is how things hold together.

When we strive for consistency in our habits, that’s what we’re after — for our behavior to hold together, to agree with what has come before, to be connected. And often, what we want is to be consistent in a good way — if my habit is to check my e-mail, visit the Forward Motion board, check out Twitter and Facebook, and maybe take a gander at Web comics before I get down to work, I might be incredibly consistent, but I won’t be productive. That’s not a useful consistency.

This year, I’ve striven to achieve consistency in submitting my work, and I’ve been pretty good at it. I figured that my stories do no good sitting on my hard drive; no one can buy them there. This year, 160 submissions; last year, 40. That’s good progress. (I might even get another 6-7 out this week. If not, they’ll provide a good start to next year’s tally.)

Getting the stories out there is a good step, and I hope to continue that practice during the coming year. I also want to expand my consistency — I was pretty good (until the last quarter) of keeping tabs on tax income & expenses this year; I could be better. I finished some old work and started some new; more needs to be finished.

And then there’s keeping my desk clear . . . the less said about that, the better right now. However, I have excellent motivation on that: my husband gave me a lovely tetsubin (Japanese ceramic-lined cast-iron teapot), teapot warmer, and teacup and saucer for Christmas, and they will look beautiful sitting here on my desk. I hope to have a picture of that up within the next week or so (although, to be honest, the rest of the office is a bit of a hazard area as well).

I’m not setting this as a 2011 resolution. Just laying out my journey — this is what I’ve been working on, and where I think it might go next.

Consistency. It’s a good goal.

Death After Dusk and other drinks

The other thing we did on Friday night (besides the holiday party) was visit the Bookstore Speakeasy. This charming purveyor of food and drinks on Bethlehem’s South Side is a fairly faithful recreation of a 1920’s speakeasy.

No external sign shows the Bookstore’s location. You step down a couple of darkened steps to a door stenciled with “THE BOOKSTORE.” Inside is a small room with shelves of books on three walls and a black curtain separating the room from the back. The clerk behind the desk will show you beyond the curtain to your table. (Make sure to have a reservation on weekend nights!)

The tables are lit with small oil lamps. Books are everywhere, and if you’re lucky, there’s a piano player at the instrument in the corner. When we were there, he was accompanied by a clarinetist/saxophonist, which makes perfect sense — jazz being a key feature of the Roaring Twenties, after all.

In keeping with the theme of a speakeasy, the menus on the table are only for food — open the book set on your table to find the drinks — a pull-out list of beers (I wasn’t certain whether the one described as “jaw-dropping” was because of its taste or its price; $42!) and a several page cocktail menu pasted onto the pages of the book.

The cocktails are incredible, and an effort is made to be faithful to the replicated era. The Bookstore notes in its overall description, for example, that vodka was not widely available until the 1950s. There are drinks with egg white, drinks on the rocks (actually, rock — a single hand-chipped cube of ice), drinks with absinthe, bartender’s choice, and make your own.

I had the “Death After Dusk” and was rather disappointed that I couldn’t pick out the violet or champagne notes over the heavy licorice of the absinthe, although I did occasionally catch a hint of the cherry garnish. (The effervescence of the champagne did come through, of course.) After that, I switched to the Knickerbocker — again, the lime juice and rum overwhelmed the Grand Marnier, but the raspberry component was perfect.

If you want to try this place out — and I really recommend it — look at the strongest flavor listed for the cocktail because the odds are good the flavors won’t be balanced enough for you to pick out the accents, which is a shame. Other than that, high marks all around.

Dancing muse

Friday night was the holiday party for my husband’s work, which meant actual sociability for me. And since the college he works at has an immersive Chinese theme for the year, they had performances of Chinese music and dance. For one of the dances, the red and green lights scattered about the ceiling reminded me of fireflies, and I imagined the dances being performed outside in a summer moonlit courtyard. For another, the slow, deliberate movements reminded me of underwater motion; at some point, there will be dancers underwater or in space in one of my stories, inspired by this night.

Sometimes, that’s the way the muse works for me — I’ll see something and know how it will be useful, if not when or where.

Other times, I have to remind myself to look for the basic truths behind what I see. As I mentioned, my husband works at a college. One of the novels I have out on submission takes place around a small town college, and I hope to turn it into a series (publisher willing). However, I have to make sure not only that none of my characters are based on anybody I know but also that no one will stop to ask if these characters are based on them.

So I have to take it all in and feed the muse, then take a step or two away from reality, which isn’t always easy.

The process isn’t always the same. Sometimes I know where life’s material will go. Sometimes I can see how to combine it with something I’ve read or heard. Sometimes things will go where I don’t expect. Sometimes, life is just life. It’s all good.

Tuesday drabble: Eclipse

The shadow crept across the moon’s surface. The eclipse wasn’t due for two nights; astronomers flocked to their telescopes. One backyard amateur didn’t bother. The tabloids had said the aliens were here already; they were only partly right. Now Nifhshaya could go home. She had been found.

She climbed to her roof to wait. Her report would be lengthy, but she could offer hope that the Earthlings understood peace — something not at all clear when she had landed. Too late, she learned the ship’s commander was the one who had sabotaged her shuttle. Earthlings would not be welcomed to the galaxy.

Old reviews

What old reviews, you may ask? Some from a writing blog I kept before I had this site.

Read the reviews, follow the links to the sources if you’re so inclined, and get ready to learn.

A new outlook

If you know me, you know I wear glasses. If not, you can scroll down in the window to see my picture over there in the sidebar on the right. See? Glasses.

Except that those lovely glasses, which I thought made me look rather intelligent, broke a few weeks ago in a freak accident. They split right down the middle of the nose piece. Sure, I suppose I could use some cyanoacrylate glue to patch them back together, but the truth is, it’s been a few years since I went to the eye doctor. I was past due.

I couldn’t go right away, however, because between the coughing with the bronchitis and the loopiness the cough syrup caused, I wasn’t fit to get behind the wheel. It’s a good thing I have contacts to wear as a backup.

Today, I finally had my appointment, and my eyes had changed a fair bit from what the doctor said. (I didn’t get an actual copy of my prescription, although I will ask for one when I pick up my glasses.) However, no bifocals needed yet, no glaucoma detected, perfectly normal eyes except for the mild myopia and astigmatism. So that’s good news.

Then came the fun part: picking out new frames. Hundreds of choices. I narrowed it down quite a bit by considering only frames within $20-30 of what my vision plan covers ($60 covered; everything over that at 20% off), but that still left a wide selection — colored metals, heavy plastic, round, oval, rectangle, steampunk, and even some that were shaped like the ones I had in college. I picked out a handful that looked promising and tried them on again, getting some feedback from the woman who worked there.

(As I told my friend Bonnie, if I were really into the 21st century, I’d have taken pictures with my cell phone, uploaded them to Facebook, and gotten a poll going to help me choose. Ah, well. I’m not big on decision by committee, even if it is called crowdsourcing.)

Eventually, I settled on one style; I should have the glasses back in about a week and a half. I promise I’ll actually post a picture when I do.

Do I think this new pair of glasses will still let me look intelligent? Yes, but also more quixotic. That’s probably a good thing — truth in advertising and all that.

Your turn: What kind of changes have you made to your appearance, and have they affected how people perceived you?

Coming up in December

snowy treeThis week — tomorrow, in fact — my drabble “Heartbeat” will be e-mailed out by Daily Science Fiction. A week later, it’ll go up on their Website. If you haven’t subscribed to their e-mails yet, why on Earth not?

Deadlines approaching:
Bewere the Night, edited by Ekaterina Skedia, has a December 31st deadline, but she urges earlier submission if possible.

Quarterly deadline for Writers of the Future contest is also December 31st. My friend D. M. Bonanno recently became a semifinalist. Who’s next?

POV Q & A

What is POV? Point of view in a story is whose eyes you’re seeing the story through. Sometimes, it’s a narrator. Sometimes, it’s several different people. And it can vary in how “deep” you are — how immersed you are in that character’s mind and emotions.

Some writers prefer to write in a first person point of view — Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, for example. Third person point of view tends to be the most popular on the market, generally limited to a single person per scene or chapter, although some writers can transition smoothly from one character to another. Omniscient just means that you can see what everybody is thinking to some extent; it used to be quite popular and still enjoys some use.

And now, my usual tongue-in-cheek questions.

Q: What about camera view?

A: Camera view is as if you’re a camcorder sitting on a particular character’s shoulder. Sometimes you can pan back, but you generally don’t see into someone’s head. Note that unlike in modern cameras, this does not come with GPS information or time and date stamps as a standard feature.

Q: Isn’t it pointless to talk about point of view, anyway? Readers either like the story or they don’t. Why fuss about with talking over details like this?

A: That’s certainly one point of view. And to some extent, it’s accurate. However, some readers do care whether a story is told in first or third, and sometimes the reason they don’t get into a story is because it’s not a deep enough point of view or a point of view they can sympathize with, so it’s worth bringing up as a discussion point.

Q: Can you have first-person omniscient?

A: I knew you were going to ask that.

If you have any questions about point of view, my Q & A topics, or something you’d like to see here, leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading!

P.S. Don’t forget — today’s the last day to enter the book giveaway!