Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tabletop Day

My lovely Ticket to Ride game, which I haven't played for a while. Hint hint hint.

Today was International Tabletop Day. I'm a big fan of many types of tabletop games, which anyone who has followed me for very long is aware of and might also have heard me talk about the board game podcast my husband and some friends and I do each week called the Tattered Board. And so I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't be able to join in with those friends at a gaming event at our favorite game store, Cloud Cap Games.

However, I was pleased to fit in several games today. I did drive out to Cloud Cap to drop a friend off for the gaming day and had the chance to try out a new card game called Kobayakawa. It's a fast-paced, quick-to-learn bluffing game that is just my style. I totally lost and had a blast doing so.

Then later in the day, Mom and Buggie and I sat down for a game of Skip-bo, a favorite of ours. I don't get to play it very often as it is a little too down in the heels for my usual game group, but as it is an old family favorite, Mom and I break it out whenever we have a chance, and Buggie enjoys it too. Mom won, but it was a close game.

Afterwards, Buggie and I taught Mom how to play Sushi Go! It is another fun, quick-to-learn game with a great card-drafting mechanic. And the artwork is adorable. I haven't played it for a while so it was wonderful to revisit.

I also taught Mom how to play Timeline: Diversity and Niya. The Timeline games are some of my favorites, and I like teaching Diversity since it gives a taste of several different card types. My personal favorite Timeline game is Historical Events, naturally. Niya is one of my favorite two-player games. It's Tic-Tac-Toe meets Connect Four with a tile board twist. It was great fun, and Mom totally smoked me.

I love to have the chance to teach these quick-to-learn, fun games to share my passion for this hobby. I'm so glad I had the chance to play with my mom and daughter today. I'd hoped to get a game in with the boy, but he was a bit too distracted by the Harry Potter Lego game. Maybe tomorrow I can convince him to play a game of Zingo! He loves that game.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Beach Writing

Lovely beach morning!

We're spending the last few days of Spring Break at Gearhart, OR, near Seaside. It has been gorgeous here. This morning there wasn't a cloud to be seen, and the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky mingled into one. I love beach days like this.

I also love it when it is stormy and raining, so I guess I'm not too picky.

Today the plan is breakfast, beach, swim, lunch, beach, swim, supper, beach, swim, with breaks in between for playing games (kids), watching movies (Mom), and writing (me). I think I might cobble together a writing desk on the balcony. I have a couple of exciting scenes to write today and I love to write outside when I can.

A gorgeous beach evening, with Mom gathering seashells. She tells me the names of the clams when she finds their shells. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Heroine's Journey

I had the opportunity this last weekend to attend Norwescon 38. One of the great things about Norwescon is all the writing panels they hold throughout the weekend. And even though the con itself focuses on science fiction and fantasy, the writing panels often have a wider appeal.

I was fortunate to attend seven panels. This was just a small number of total writing panels offered, but they were the ones that interested me most:

Next Gen Publishing
Writing a Series
Adding Authenticity to Historical Fiction
Character Arc, Plot Arc, Story
Level Up your Indie Skillset
The Heroine's Journey
Write What You Don't Know

I took copious notes in my free Intergalactic Passport (thank you, EMP Museum) and nearly filled it. And since it was a passport and I was at a scifi/fan con, I attended the panels on Caprica via the Nostromo. Probably not the best options (I think Risa via the Enterprise would have been less dangerous, but then again...).

See, I have visa stamps to prove it.

The panel that resonated the most with me was the Heroine's Journey. I had not encounter the term before as applied to storycraft and literary criticism. And I hadn't expected it to have the profound effect on my writing as it had.

So, in a nutshell, what I learned at the panel. All mistakes are mine, as my note-taking is rusty.

First, the program description (links are mine):
Is the heroine’s journey different from the hero’s? How does gender affect plot and character development? Join us as we talk about how and why a strong female protagonist is not the same as a guy who looks good in a dress. 

From my notes:
Classically, the tradition is of a hero's journey, the boy growing to man. Two stages. (Joseph Campbell)
For women, it is a girl growing to woman growing to crone. Three stages. But there is a choice whether to follow motherhood or not. 

The male journey: of course you'll leave home.
The female journey: what do you mean you're leaving?

The male journey: allies are sidekicks, the hero journey is of power and experience, there is no going home. The hero goes from innocence to experience. The hero perseveres through levels of battles leading to a war. "Leveling up" to defeat the big bad. 

The female journey: allies become family, the heroine's journey is empowering and toward wisdom, a return or finding of home. The heroine goes from innocence to wisdom. The heroine lifts up her allies, which benefits her as they become stronger, she uses teamwork and cleverness. 

*Learning to be wise instead of learning to be strong. 
*Ways of accomplishing goals that don't require battle. 

Examples of a Heroine Journey:
Wizard of OZ
Buffy and Katniss
The Avengers (the movie)
The Belgariad
Legend of Korra (tv show)

We spent a great deal of time in the panel naming and discussing examples of the heroine's journey. Those were just a few of the examples. We dove into the ways and hows of many of them, but I just noted titles. What was fun to note was that not just women embark on heroine journeys, and not just men follow a hero journey.

A couple of resources I noted on the Heroine's Journey that I intend to look up:

From Girl to Goddess by Valeria Frankel
The Heroine's Journey by Maureen Murdock

What this meant for me:
I have a story I'm writing, and one of the issues I've been having is that the plot isn't a typical story of a hero's journey. There is no big bad, there is no grand goal, there aren't battles to fight or heavy odds to overcome. And while it has felt as though the story has been progressing well enough, those lacks have bothered me. Until now. Now I realize that all along, I've been writing a plot following a heroine's journey. And now I am writing with confidence. 

I realize this isn't an exhaustive study on the subject of a Heroine's Journey. It isn't mean to be. Panels at conventions aren't places to hold exhaustive studies, but they are great for learning a few new tricks or tips, or subject matters I hadn't heard before, and then to continue the study on my own. Some of the panels were hit and miss for me; either I knew the subject matter already, or the panel derailed with constant questions that were too specific to help anyone but the person asking. Those are a couple of dangers of attending panels at conferences. But in every panel, I came away with something, either a resource (like the manual on the Special Forces Use of Pack Animals) or a subject (such as writing episodic series or arc series) or some detail (like business licenses).

It's been a long time since I attended panels or a convention, and I am more motivated than ever to attend writing conferences. And, thanks for Norwescon, I have a list of local ones to look in to!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dearly Departed Items . . . and a GIVEAWAY!

I am still thoroughly taken with the KonMari Method of tidying up. I am discovering unexpected side effects from decluttering and organizing using her method.

The main one has been my inability to allow things to pile up again. Now that some of my once most cluttered places are clean and tidy and contain much less, I find that when I put other things there that I'm setting aside to 'deal with later,' they no longer sit there for months. It is so obvious that they do not belong that I can't just let it go.

I had piled several of my daughter's shirts in an area reserved for my project bags to 'deal with later.' I just couldn't escape the oddity of them sitting there amongst all my lovely little bags. I'd also thrown a random hanging dish towel there, wanting to remove the button before I threw it in the rag pile.

Today I sorted through those shirts, and all of them were indeed too small for my daughter. I moved them to the donate pile. I also removed the button, put it in my button box, and tossed the dishrag in the rag bin.


A few months ago, those items would have sat there, lost amid all the other accumulated 'deal with later' items, until the pile was tall enough to smother the cat in a freak avalanche of stuff. Now they are dealt with, the project bag area is tidy, and I don't have any lingering 'deal with later' issues nagging at me.

I do, however, have a basket full of items that I no longer intend to keep but still meant too much to me to donate to a thrift store. Most of these I made. There are crocheted toys and small garments, and a few leftover bookmarks I made last year for gifts. I've been at a loss for what to do with them.

I decided that it would be so much fun to hold a little giveaway here and send out a box of goodies to one lucky winner!

To enter, just use the handy Rafflecopter widget below. Giveaway entries will be accept until midnight on Friday, April 10th. The goodies in the box will come from the basket pictured above. Not everything will be included, but many of them will!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Writerly Cravings or Why Is All the Rum Gone?

This weekend, I made a rum cake. It turned out wonderfully. You can find the recipe here.

Normally, rum cake would not have been my first choice for a cake. I lean more towards chocolate. Or cupcakes. Or chocolate.

But the day I found the recipe, I had written a scene involving rum. Actually, it involved grog, which is made with rum. I am, by rule, not a drinker. Most of my friends know this and like this about me (it means they have easy access to a designated driver). The very few times I have had a drink, it usually involved rum, though about a quarter or less of what the mix would usually call for. As my mom puts it, when she makes me a mojito, she waves the rum bottle over it and calls it done.

So, unlike in other scenes I've written and experienced a craving, I wasn't going to rush to a rum bottle and take a swig. But rum cake . . . that I could do.

I have noticed this tendency to crave food or drink that I'm writing about in a scene. I'm not one to usually have cravings (except for chocolate), so it is always a curious sensation while writing.

One story I wrote for NaNoWriMo several years back involved characters drinking lots of coffee. And this was not the modern day version with espresso and steamed milk and lots of chocolate and syrups. This was ground coffee boiled over a stove (it was the 1930s). I was not much of a coffee-drinker when I began writing that story. Halfway through it, I went out and bought an inexpensive drip coffee-maker. I made coffee for every writing session from that day forward until NaNo was over. I still have that coffee-maker, and I still prefer drip coffee over lattes and mochas.

I wonder if other writers suffer from these cravings. I wonder if, when they do, they try to craft their stories with palatable options to crave, or if they imagine their readers experience the same cravings. I do find that I often crave certain food or drinks when reading a series of books back-to-back. There was the time I drank nothing but tea when reading the Amelia Peabody series. Or the meatloaf sandwiches I made for dinner while reading Sookie Stackhouse novels. And I have always wanted to try Turkish coffee, thanks to the time Mary Russell spent in Jerusalem.

I find myself hoping that my stories are visceral enough to encourage cravings in my readers. Though I'm not sure I'd recommend grog. Go with the rum cake instead.

It was delicious.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why I Donated 90% of My Books

The book pile on my bed
So I'm reading this new book. Maybe you've heard of it? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has been making news since it was released a few months ago. As I have always been a devotee of all things organizing and tidying up, I knew I had to read it.

I am so in love with this book. She completely rewrites the concept of home organization and I completely agree with her. The basic concept is that first you discard and then you organize, but it is much more than that. She wraps psychology and spirituality inside her advice that works, at least for me, on a level that I would have never considered. Unlike the way I typically reorganize by going room by room, she recommends by category. Not only that, but she insists that you take everything in that category and dump it in the middle of the room, and then pick up one piece one by one and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? The whole point is to surround yourself only with those things you love to bring peace and joy to your home. The amount of items each person keeps will vary--she actually describes a "click" moment when you realize you are at the level of possessions that works best for you.  

I'm not going to attempt to sum up the book anymore than that because it is something that should be read and not told. After I finished reading, I knew I had to try it out immediately. I started with my clothes, as she recommends, and dumped every item, from head scarves to socks, on the bed one afternoon. I went through each piece, one by one, and asked if it brought me joy. I did not consider where I got it or from who. I only questioned whether it made me happy, felt for the answer, then put the piece in the keep or the donate pile. 

I eliminated half my clothes in this manner and was so startled by the effect it had on me. I have drawers I can open, a closet I can see into, and each time I pick out an outfit, I am so happy to see clothing I enjoy wearing. I'm having fun creating new combinations. Since I have much less clothing, I'll have to keep up with laundry more often, but when I do laundry, I'll have much less to wash, dry, fold, and put away. Joy!

It was also a relief to let go of clothing that no longer fit, but I was keeping for some reason or another--either because of who gave it to me or some memory attached to the piece. Letting those go freed me to look consider what I wanted to wear now, not what I use to wear or what others thought I might want to wear. 

This was no true hardship though, because I've never been happy with my wardrobe. I was hoping that after I finished, I'd be more content, but I'm so much more than that: I'm thrilled! Uplifted! And this was just with my clothes, which I've never felt a true personal attachment with. So I knew I had to continue. I moved on to the next item on her list: books.

I am a bibliophile. I love books. I love collecting books. I love reading books. I love writing about books. I have several bookshelves filled with books, some of which I've had for almost forty years. 

What I don't have is space. Or the ability to find a book I want. Or the time to keep up with all these books. And after reading Ms. Kondo's book, I realized that just because I enjoyed a book, I don't have to keep it. It's such a simple concept, but one I've never allowed myself to consider. I love books, so I should be surrounded by books, right? Except that most of these books I'll never read again, I'll never even open again, and some of them I've never opened for a first time. I have books to have books, but out of those books, I couldn't say which I truly loved. There were just too many.

What I realized was that the books I've read and enjoyed are inside me already; they shaped me at that moment when they entered my life and I paused to read them. They did what they needed to do then, and now it would be best to let them go and open myself to the possibility of new reading experiences. Those books I choose to keep should be those that truly give me joy to look upon, not for any memory attached to the book, such as where I got it or from who, but joy from the book itself.

I was certain this would be a challenge and I decided to start easy. And I had way too many books to pile in any one place as she recommends. So first I sorted at each bookshelf. I pulled out everything that I felt nothing for, bagged them up, and took them to our local library donation site. When I was finished, I had cut my library in half.

Books I donated from the first pass through the bookshelves, which filled a box, a laundry basket, and seven paper grocery bags.
Now I was ready to pile all the books onto my bed. One by one, I held each book, not opening it, looking the cover and giving myself a moment, and only a moment, to feel whatever I would feel about it. For 90% of my books, I felt very little. Some I couldn't remember reading. Some I'd never read and knew I never would. I let those go. A couple I had to question and found that usually they were associated with a memory of a person or event, but the book itself wasn't inspiring the feeling. I let those go. And every now and then, I'd pick up a book and couldn't help but to grin and giggle over the sheer pleasure of holding that one book. Those few books stayed. 

These are being donated: 

Six more paper grocery bags full, plus a box. 
These are what remain:

Not even a full bookcase of books, but each one of them I love and adore and most of them I will reread again and again.

I knew I'd be happy to have the extra space in the house, but what I didn't expect was the weight that left me when I let go of the books that I'd been "meaning" to read. I had no idea how unconsciously anxious and guilty I was to own books I'd not yet read until those books were gone. I feel such peacefulness when looking at my books now, not overwhelmed by the number of volumes or the need to read those I'd not yet gotten to, or use those I'd been holding onto just in case I needed to research something. The few books that I choose to keep that I haven't yet read are only a handful of titles that I just received--literally, I just got them last week. I'm looking forward to enjoying them and just as much looking forward to letting them go afterwards, and, if for some reason I don't get around to reading them within the next month or two, I'll let them go, too.

I suspect that in time, some of the books I've kept I will choose to let go and new ones will take their place. But at the moment, I am certain that I will never have the sheer number of books that I had. And if I find that I miss one that I let go, there is always the internet to find a new copy.

Best of all, my daughter was so inspired by what I was doing, she decided to do the same. We piled all her books onto my bed--and she nearly filled my bed with her books--and she sorted them ruthlessly. She'd outgrown most of her books a few years ago, but we had both held onto them for one reason or another. Now her bookshelf truly reflects who she is today. And yes, she's gone to a single bookshelf instead of two packed shelves and the headboard of her bed packed full and a couple piles elsewhere in the house.

Books my daughter will donate to her school library and teachers
My son isn't quite old enough to do this level of sorting, but he definitely knows what his favorite books are, so I'll have him bring them to me and then I'll take care of going through the rest of his books--most of which were hand-me-downs from his sister. His tastes and interests are far different than hers and there are so many new books available for his age that holding on to hers no longer makes sense. I want him to choose what he wants to read, not be forced into reading books he has no interest in simply because we own them. When he gets to choose his books, he is so much more eager to sit and listen to them. When I choose the books to read to him, he won't sit still. And now, finally, I understand why. And I can let go.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Research Process

Looking through my photos to find one to post, I came across this one. It reminded me of researching for stories.

How is research like a rainbow?

Is there a pot of gold at the end? Leprechauns with all the answers to my research queries? A magical moment of clarity?

No, no, and no (well, sometimes).

Research is like a rainbow because I never seem able to reach the end of it.

I tend to write historical fiction, or, in the very least, fiction with an undercurrent of history. That sort of fiction demands a great deal of research. I have tried to do research while writing a draft and had it backfire on me horribly, derailing entire plots. I've also had research open a whole new world of possibilities for a story, expanding the tale into something greater, but necessitating the scrapping of an entire first-half of a novel.

It has taken a few novels, but I've learned that when I develop a story requiring research, I list out the details I need to research before writing the rough draft.  This serves two purposes: I am less likely to find the story derailed by hand-waving important facts until they are researched, and I'm more likely to start and finish the draft instead of becoming lost in the research.

Losing myself in research is a real danger. I love research! I love learning new details and diving into what it was like to live during past eras. I can lose myself for hours chasing down a stray fact. If I'm not careful, the research becomes more fun than writing the story, and the story gets left by the wayside as I wander through history. It's a delightful, and deadly, form of procrastination.

It's been good to set limitations for myself, and to that end, I've broken researching down into three types: initial, interior, and finishing.

The initial research helps set up the rough draft, building the plot with the facts I'll need to keep it accurate, weeding out story ideas that prove anachronistic or improbable, and stirring up some new ideas to enrich the tale. Character names, setting, time period, and major events all fall under this category.

Interior research occurs in the midst of writing. It consists main of a small facts, details that could change the course of a scene, such as what type of gun a police officer carries (therefore knowing how many shots he could fire or how soon he'd have to reload) or how long it would take to sail from Ireland to the New World in the 1700s.

Finishing research is necessary for breathing life into the story, but they don't usually affect the overall plot, such as meals colonists ate or the type of car a detective might drive. I mark these places in the manuscript with two questions marks. They aren't important enough for me to break the flow of the writing during the rough draft, but they are important for fleshing out the tale. It is easy to do a search for the ?? to find each place and make a list of research items, then spend a day filling in blanks and rounding out descriptions.

So far, this process has worked well for me. I don't get as lost in the research, I encounter less issues of research conflicting with major plot points, and I have less excuses for not writing the rough draft.

I'd love to know how other writers work with research. I find the writing process so fascinating, and I find that mine is constantly evolving as I learn more and grew as a writer.