You ask, I answer, part five

Back in part two, I mentioned that I’d just written a review for a writing book. The review’s available online, so you’re welcome to check that out: Book Review: Writing Novels That Sell by Jack Bickham

Today, I’m going to talk a little about quilting because Nicki asked. Quilting is one of those things that I always thought I should know how to do. My first encounter with quilting was when I was still in single digits; my parents were working on one. My dad made this square wooden block that they were using as a template, and there were stacks of squares sitting on the ironing board (I think that’s where I saw them). As far as I know, the quilt was never pieced together, which is a shame. Continue reading

You ask, I answer, part four

Nicki asked, “What book would you insist your children not leave for college without?”

Mine! . . . Sort of. I’m working on putting together over time a basic cookbook with their favorites, including shopping lists, estimated costs, about how long the recipe takes, and how much the recipe makes. I would hope by then they’ll have internalized some of the really basic ones like clams in a garlic sauce over noodles (which we have roughly once a week because it’s done in about the amount of time it takes pasta to cook and everyone likes it), but it’s good to have them written down anyway.

Aside from that, I’d like it if they had some other good basic cookbook — Joy of Cooking has wonderful descriptions of what the different kinds of ingredients are (i.e., different kinds of flours, sugars, milks, etc.), as well as thorough discussions on cooking techniques; or Ratio talks about the basic ratios you need when cooking — and a journal and/or sketchbook for them to keep their thoughts in.

Your turn — what do you think kids shouldn’t leave home without?

You ask, I answer, part three

Both B.C. and Nicki asked me questions about my music preferences:

Inspirational music for your favorite genres

One of your music preferences that’s a guilty pleasure

I’m going to address them both in this post.

When I was very young, all I listened to was classical music. And Christmas carols. I fell in love with the Grand Canyon Suite and the Flight of the Bumblebee. I didn’t even hear more popular music until midway through elementary school, when the school bus played rock and my mom played easy listening. Do I feel guilty that I can sing along to Barry Manilow’s entire repertoire? Not really, any more than I feel guilty for knowing the lyrics to “X’s and O’s” and “Grundy County Auction” (country rock songs from the late 90s, for those who don’t know).

I’ve listened to a wide range of music, although not death metal and very little rap or hip-hop. (Yes, I do know “Ice Ice Baby.”) And what I listen to on any given day is going to vary a lot — it might be Amy Grant, it might be Stravinsky. (The Firebird Suite is probably my all-time favorite piece of music.) One novelette I wrote almost entirely to Bon Jovi, and I find Blondie can be wonderful for mindless proofreading. Recently, I’ve been listening to an iTunes Radio station called Giuseppe Verdi Essentials, which is serving as inspiration for a science fiction novel I’m planning.

Most often, however, I work in silence because my brain isn’t as good at letting the music go by without it interfering with the words any more.

What kinds of music do you like to listen to?

And if you have more questions that you’d like to have me answer, ask away in the comments!

You ask, I answer, part two

Taking another question each from B.C and Nicki:

How do you stay motivated to send stuff out into the wide world of publishing?

Random digression: I grew up in Reno. As you might have heard, there are slot machines there, at least a couple. Casinos will advertise things like “97.3% payback!” Right — for every $100 you bet, you lose $2.70, and people keep playing. You have to ask yourself why.

Intermittent reinforcement. Basically, animals and people are more likely to continue a given behavior if they’re only rewarded some of the time. Those random payoffs? Keep people gambling, even if overall they’re losing money.

From a psychological perspective, the fact that I had an early success (short story sale), followed by intermittent other successes, predisposes me to maintain the pattern of behavior that leads to that reward. Fortunately, I’m only losing time, not money, to the process, and along the way I’m getting better at my writing.

That’s the other thing that keeps me going — as time has gone on, I’ve had more near misses, more personal rejections, more successes in the various ways that I define success. My writing is getting better, and the chances of selling it are going up. And as my thesis advisor often said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If I don’t submit my stories to markets, the answer is automatically “No.” The only way to get a “Yes” is to send it out.

It also helps that I’m a stubborn woman from a family of stubborn people and most of the time, I treat “no” as meaning “You just haven’t tried hard enough yet.” (This is also why I spent much longer bashing my head against my thesis project in grad school than any rational person would have done.)

Best book you’ve read this month, whatever it was

I’m in the middle of a few, and some are really excellent. But I did recently finish an older how-to writing book, Writing Novels That Sell, by Jack M. Bickham. I took a while to read it because some of the chapters really required time to sink in. I wrote a review, and if/when it’s available online, I’ll post a link. Meanwhile, that’s my current nonfiction recommendation.

Oddly enough, most of my current TBR pile is MG or YA, and I’m actually feeling stressed because I’m getting so little of it done.

You ask, I answer, part one

Taking two questions from last week, one from Nicki and one from B.C:

1. Changing a tire without looking helpless.

First of all, don’t feel self-conscious. Changing a tire is something a lot of people never learn. And it’s been a while since I’ve had to do it, so I fully expect someone to come along and correct me in the comments for all the things I screw up. Continue reading

Q&A with SpeckLit editor Alex Fayle

I recently got Alex Fayle, editor for SpeckLit, to answer some questions about this new market. (Disclosure: I have some drabbles coming up in this next quarter at SpeckLit!)

Q. SpeckLit focuses on the drabble — short pieces in exactly 100 words. Why a drabble in particular, rather than any other form of flash?

A. We live in a sound-bite world. Our lives are reduced to 140 character conversations on Twitter and to screen-sized chunks of text on our smart phones. Reading has to squeeze into tiny slices of time between one interruption and another. Drabbles are the perfect answer to that. They give readers a chance to get a full story in a glance. As for sticking with a drabble-only format, yes, we will be doing that — our vision is to provide readers with worlds of wonder a hundred words at a time, so until we change our vision, drabbles will be our focus.

Continue reading

Q & A about birthday parties

Q: Birthday parties? That doesn’t seem very writing oriented!

A: It’s not. I said so yesterday. My son’s birthday is coming up, and we’re having a party for him for the second time ever.

Q: Really? And you think that’s worth a blog post?

A: Works for me.

Q: So — cake and ice cream? Maybe some pizza? Anything special?

A: Probably pizza. Lots of water for the kids to drink because it’s hot out. My son’s drawn a picture (with elevations!) of what he wants the cake to look like, and I’m going to make blueberry cheesecake ice cream this evening. The one thing I haven’t decided is what I’m serving the ice cream in.

Q: Um . . . bowls?

A: Yes, of course, but I’m debating between chocolate chip cookie bowls (bake the dough on the reverse side of a muffin tin) and chocolate bowls (using balloons as a mold).

Q: What sort of activities do you have planned?

A: Keeping it simple: a Slip ‘N’ Slide, some water balloons. Maybe a movie inside if there’s a storm (unlikely).

Q: Is that too little? Are they going to enjoy it?

A: I don’t know, but I’ve only so much energy to go around.

Q: One last question — you’re having the party at your house. Are you crazy?

A: Well, yeah. I’m a writer, aren’t I?

Q is for Q & A about Q & A

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so I’ll lay down the ground rules for anyone who’s popped in recently without reading the archives (because, really, who would read everything ever written in a blog, no matter how entertaining?). I write a short introduction, then I ask and answer questions related to the topic, generally in the most tongue-in-cheek manner I can manage.

Q: What makes you think people want to read you talking to yourself?

A: They’re on my blog. Also, I tend to get good comments for these posts.

Q: So why did you stop?

A: I didn’t stop. I’m doing one right NOW.

Q: Okay, then, why take a break?

A: I couldn’t think of a topic? Or maybe I was busy. Anyway, I’m doing it now, as I think I mentioned.

Q: How often do you do these?

A: When I remember, once a week — used to be on Fridays. We’ll see if I can get back to that.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: If others have questions, they can leave them in the comments.

Snow Q & A

We’ve got a real winter this year, precipitation coming down left, right, and center, and entirely too many snow days for the kids. I figured I’d take this opportunity to clear up some misconceptions and provide my unique take on the weather.

Q: Is it true that Eskimos have a hundred words for snow?

A: No, of course not. They have words for where the snow is — falling, on the ground, in a snow drift — and they can add suffixes to modify these, but that’s essentially like adding an adjective in English. There are people who have multiple words for snow, beyond the obvious powdered sugar, powder, packed powder, and the like, especially in areas where snow shoveling is common and snowplows leave ridges across already shoveled driveways. These words, however, are not suitable for publication on a family-friendly blog.

Q: How much does snow weigh?

A: A shovelful of snow, two inches deep, at the start of shoveling, might weigh no more than a few ounces more than the shovel itself. By the end of a sixty-foot long, twenty-foot wide driveway, a shovelful weighs roughly thirty pounds.

Q: Is it true no two snowflakes look alike?

A: To prove this, you must first assume the opposite is true — that there are at least two snowflakes that look alike. If there are two such snowflakes, it is not true. Now, go examine all the snowflakes in the world and get back to me when you’re done.

Or you can go look at Kenneth Libbrecht’s photomicroscopy of snowflakes. There’s also some interesting information on growing designer snowflakes available on Cal Tech’s site.

Q: What about the proverbial “snowball’s chance in hell”?

A: Have you seen Hoth? If that’s not hell, I don’t know what is.

Flip side: heart-warming video of snowman sent to Bahrain. (It doesn’t last long.)

That’s all the questions I have time for today. I need to get some writing done so when the snow piles up this afternoon, I can take a break and go shovel again. Thanks for reading!