Monday, May 28, 2018

Ducking Out



I have a deadline to meet, and Tropical Storm Alberto to deal with, so I'm going to unplug for a bit. See you once things settle down.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Multiversing

No matter how skilled you are, building a new universe in any genre is challenging. I've relied heavily on history, sciences and the arts to inspire mine. Music used to be my first jumping-off point, but since I've become hearing impaired that's one I had to let go. Once I get hearing aids that hopefully stop all music from sounding like white noise to me, that may change. Until then I have to draw on other sources of inspiration.

History and its mysteries always rev my imagination's engine. I just finished watching Ken Burns' The Civil War on DVD (I highly recommend for any history buff). I invested when I heard PBS put out a 25th anniversary edition. I loved the documentary series when it first debuted, so I was just revisiting an old favorite. I didn't expect to get flooded with new ideas for an upcoming project (not, as it happens, about the Civil War).

The ideas came anyway. What happens in a conflict where both sides believe God is on their side, and they see their reasons and causes as completely righteous, and the enemy's as deplorable? What motivates people to choose their side? What are the consequences when all the players are fighting for their world's survival -- and it's the same world? What happens when a third party enters the conflict with their own, different motivations and concerns -- also for the same world?

Building essentially three universes in this project, which is also a continuation of an already-established universe with many other sides, factions and conflicts, is when I shift into multiversing. To do that, I have to maintain a strong core universe that doesn't change, which is the hub. Think of it as the center of a spiderweb. That's what you build on, the world and the rules that always remain intact. Your hub can be anything: the city, country, planet, time period, whatever, but it should be able to serve as the foundation for anything you build on it.

As an example, let's imagine multiversing during the Civil War. You have North and South, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis. You know the war lasts for four years. You have two armies: the Union and the Confederacy. You know Succession was the official reason for starting the war, and ending slavery was the finishing of it. That's your hub.

All of the elements of the Civil War make great inspiration for multiversing. You can tell stories from the POV of any player, as long as you remain true to your hub (as in, Robert E. Lee doesn't defect to the Union in year two, unless you're writing Alternate History, in which case you can do whatever you like, as long as you carry the change through the entire conflict.) You can introduce all manner of conflicts behind the scenes of the battles, as long as the battles remain the same. You can even offer different, plausible spins on what did happen during the war, such as why Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and carry out a simultaneous frontal and flanking maneuver when their ammunition was running low at Gettysburg. For his heroism Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Some years later one of Chamberlain's subordinates claimed that he never issued that order. So let's imagine that guy was telling the truth. So, who did give the order? Why? What happened to him? Why did they cover it up by saying Chamberlain gave the order? Answering those questions builds a new universe atop the hub.

Now extend the same logic to other, significant events during the battles. What if one of the commanders of the Union army was a Confederate sympathizer? You can tailor your universes to your genre, too. Mystery writers, what if he was being blackmailed? Paranormal writers, what if he was a vampire, a werewolf, or a seer? Romance writers, what if he was in love with a female Confederate spy? Or a runaway slave who had just been captured by the other side? The possibilities are literally endless.

One final bit of advice: the more universes you layer atop a hub world, the more details you have to carry over into the next installment. So create a universe bible or running timeline to keep track of the details that have to stay true. If in the first universe you make all the soldiers carry silver bayonets to kill werewolf opponents, for example, then silver bayonets have to become standard equipment in every successive universe you build on the same hub. What changes has to be carried through, so consider carefully what you want to alter. If you have Robert E. Lee defect to the Union halfway through the war, then obviously he's not going to lead the Confederacy into any more battles. Unless they send him back to work as a Union spy. See, there's always a way to top a universe with another one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Quilt Update

In my One Thing post I showed you a pile of fabric that scared me; here's the pieced quilt top I made out of it. I cut all of the pieces on an 18" cutting mat and sewed it freehand on my Singer. I faced the demon and stitched it into submission. It took me almost a week.

And it's lovely, and fulfilling, and looks a lot like Minecraft, am I right? Yeah, that was my first thought, too. Oh well.

I make one big quilt every year, and this will definitely be that. It's huge. At one point I had the whole thing in my lap while adding the last rows because it's too large for my work table, and I was almost buried in fabric. I still worried the whole time I was stitching, but the making of a quilt brings on this calming determination in me that let me get through the nervous jitters.

There's always good and bad in every project. Like too many light- and medium-gray spaces in this, despite my adding some prints. Some of my piecing is off-kilter, for which I have to blame my inability to cut fabric straight. When you're trying to cut a 27-1/2" rectangle on an 18" mat, things get crooked. I also had to fudge some seams. But that's okay. I'm planning to do a little embroidery work in the big blank areas. My piecing is always a little skewed, and my seams are never perfectly matched. I still love all the green, and the fish, wood and stone panels make me very happy. It's not too far from the quilt I saw in my head.

I'm proud of myself for trying. I won't let this quilt go until it's finished, even if it ends up looking like an advertisement for Minecraft, because that's how stubborn I am.

I'm not afraid of this quilt anymore. It actually made me laugh when I spread the finished top out for the first time, and saw nothing but Minecraft. My daughter loves that game, as it happens. And it's funny that it resembles it. If it still does when I finished quilting and binding it, so be it.

I'll enjoy the process. I'll finish what I've started. And I will learn from this quilt, just as I have all the others I've made.

No one can give you creative freedom; you have to pursue it. Fear and doubt will try to stop you from attaining your goals, always. We don't want what we do to end up being a bad joke. But sometimes it does anyway. Nothing ventured etc.

I'll keep you all updated as I continue to work on it, and let you see the end results.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Whatcha Reading

I haven't had much time lately for pleasure reading, but I have knocked out a couple of books by two of my favorite authors this month.

The first is Someone to Care by Mary Balogh, the newest novel in her Westcott series. This one tells the story of Viola Kingsley, the former Countess of Riverdale, who is the mother of many of the characters in the series. Throughout the saga Viola has been the most interesting character to me, as she was the primary victim of her dead husband's bigamy. The revelation of that in the first book instantly made all her kids illegitimate, took away all their titles, ruined their futures, destroyed her and her family's standing among the ton, etc. If anyone should be beyond pissed by the lying bastard's duplicity, it's Viola.

She's managed to hold onto her dignity, but finally breaks at the very beginning of this story and takes off, leaving her troubled family behind to finally get some alone time. I sent up a silent cheer, chapter one. Lord, what this woman has been through in the other books. Soon temporarily stranded at an inn in the middle of nowhere, Viola meets Marcel Lamarr, a cynical and dedicated womanizer who tempted and tried to seduce her two decades ago (she was married and told him to go away, and he went.) As you might guess the flame's still there, but this time Viola has no wedding ring or legit reason to resist it.

I won't spoil things by getting into the nuts and bolts, but it's already my favorite book of the series. I rarely use the term star-crossed lovers to refer to characters, but oy, Viola and Marc are definitely that. It also features older protagonists, which as an older real person I appreciate. Romance in later years is usually more interesting than the young stuff. The first chance at love in what is only very loosely a second chance at love plot is fun, too. There's lots of emotional turmoil, and in that regard I think it's some of her best writing. Highly recommend.

I had to read Heartless by Anne Stuart on the Kindle my guy got for me for free by redeeming some gift points so I could read another, Kindle-only title by Anne Stuart. Actually the only reason I will ever use a Kindle is for Anne Stuart, which should illustrate how devoted I am to her books. Anyone else and I wait for the paperback or read something else.

Heartless is an indy-published continuation of the author's very wicked House of Rohan series. It tells the story of two very damaged characters from those books, Brandon Rohan and Emma Cadbury, whom you might remember as secondaries from the cast of Shameless. They've both been through hell, so it's nice to see them get the chance to heal each other. You don't need to read the other books to follow their story, but you'll want to read them after you do. After I finished Heartless I got out the other four Rohan books and reread them just so I could revisit the old stories.

The House of Rohan series is not for everyone, especially readers who don't want sex in their romances. I do, but I mainly read Anne Stuart for the characters and the impossible situations she puts them in. She's the master of dark romantic conflict. Also, I like the dark aspects -- it's a nice change to see a terribly flawed protag who generally isn't the stuff of heroes. I get tired of the ones who seem to do nothing but suck up to the heroine. The sweet, loving perfect dude never appears in this author's work, and most definitely not in this series.

So whatcha reading? Let us know in comments.

Friday, May 18, 2018

One Thing

This pile of fabric looks harmless enough, right? Not when I look at it. It's the makings of a quilt I've wanted to create for about a year now, ever since I came across a pattern called Zen Garden. It's not a complicated pattern -- I'd say confident beginner level -- and it requires only skills I already possess to put together. I've practically memorized the pattern by reading it a couple hundred times. I worked it out in my head, and then on paper, and did the math involved and whatnot. Not a problem.

Only the more I looked at it, the more it became a problem. It's not what I thought of as a Zen garden. It was a boxy bunch of plain blocky rocks with a couple squares of color. What I really wanted to do was tweak the pattern, use more color and alter some of the design and fabric choices. I wanted weathered wood in my garden. More green, too, I love green. The fabrics would have to be very specific to what I saw in my head. I'd have to swap out two of the piecing steps and reinterpret the gray fabrics. I came up with major plans for the hand quilting, too -- hundreds of circles, like ripples on the still surface of a pool, instead of the recommended straight line work.

I couldn't leave well enough alone. Everyone else might be happy enough to follow the pattern faithfully; I wanted to take it in different directions. Story of my creative life, really. Where people see instructions, I see the gardens of possibilities just beyond them. And that scares me, and often I put it off because I think on some level I want to be like other people. Or I'm not as brave as I think. Or maybe I envy people who can follow a pattern without a problem. Sometimes I just procrastinate. Other times I end up paralyzed by doubt.

After going through another bout of temporary blindness and being robbed this year I'm tired of being scared of the things I want to do. How long have I got left to do them, anyway? So I've finally gathered the fabric and and started cutting. I've another day or two of that, and then I'll begin piecing.

Now, that little bitch of doubt in my head is already sneering that I've used too much green -- and she thinks it's acid green, not the spring green I see. Also, just FYI, she says the quilt will be a disaster because I suck at cutting precisely with my arthritic hands. Doubt thinks instead I should work on the other kit quilt I bought (and follow the damn directions.)

I don't care what Doubt thinks. If it's more acid than spring green, great. If it ends up crookedly pieced because I cut badly, fine. I'm doing one thing that scares me because I want it more than I want to be scared of it. I'm making this quilt the way I see it in my head. I'm not sewing this quilt for Doubt. I'm creating my vision. I'm doing this for me.

Now apply that to writing, scuplting, painting -- anything creative thing you want to do -- and do it. That's my message today. Do the one thing that scares you, in the exact way you want to do it, because only you can -- and you aren't immortal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Epiphanies

Aside from getting through a couple of disastrous months, I've been working on refining my writing process. My primary motivation for messing with my methods was to boost my productivity, but I've also clung to some old-school habits that really belong in the bottom of a tar pit, such as sticking strictly to paper for everything but composition.

It's tough to let go of putting everything on paper, and I have seventy-one books' worth of rough draft/edited/final manuscripts, novel notebooks and research materials in my closets to prove it. I love every towering pile of my paper stuff, too, and I will keep some of it for posterity, if only to amuse future generations. But even a dinosaur like me has to admit that keeping electronic files instead of printing out everything is faster, cheaper and more efficient. When I learned a good friend has gone entirely electronic, I decided to do the same. Much, much easier.

Going all-digital led to another epiphany. Since nearly losing eight years of my writing in a computer disaster I've been religious about backing up everything I write to multiple hard drives, CDs, memory sticks and anywhere else I could put it -- daily, and sometimes hourly. Backing up is great at first. Then you begin to accumulate backed up stuff. I now have a lovely collection of about 684 memory sticks, a million CDs, and countless obsolete towers that I'm afraid to erase because I haven't had time to look through every file to assure I did back up all of those. After twenty years as a pro my back-ups are mountainous, and last year Irma really had me worried about what would happen to them if we did lose the house to some disaster.

The solution was pretty easy: backing up the entirety to a secure offsite file storage service. For about a hundred bucks a year everything I've ever written now remains backed up in secured storage, away from my house, and accessible only by those I trust. I've also made one master copy that I keep in another place that shall remain nameless. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, the writing will survive me in my books. But now if my house burns down or gets leveled by a hurricane, I won't lose twenty years of backups.

Another major change I've made to my process is changing when and how I work. Over time I've gradually migrated from being a night writer to an early morning writer. I'd do other things in the morning, too, which sometimes ate into my writing time or distracted me. Now the first thing I do after I wake up and soak my head in a vat of tea is write my daily scheduled quota. I use the Pomodoro Timer to remind me to get up and stretch regularly, and to have breakfast and lunch breaks, but other than that I don't stop writing until I hit quota. The big bonus is that when I am done writing, I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want.

Being an empty nester now it's easier for me to devote mornings and early afternoons to the work. There was also an immediate benefit I didn't count on: without the distractions and multi-tasking I started writing faster and cleaner. Because I'm no longer scattering my household tasks in with my writing I get my chores done quicker and better, too.

Finally (and mainly because my guy retired last month) I made one new, not-to-be-broken rule about my work time. If my home office door is open, anyone can interrupt me at any time. If it's closed, anyone can interrupt me only if there's a major emergency. Major as in the house is about to burn down, there's a burglar on the premises, an asteroid is close to hitting the planet, etc. I leave my door open most of the time, but if I'm in the middle of something that needs all my attention, then I close it for an hour or two. So far my guy has been great about respecting this one rule, too. As I'm now our sole source of unfixed income, and he's home to actually see everything I do all day, he understands my busy schedule better. I think he's realized at last that I do have a real job, and I need to have the time/space/focus to do it well.

Have you had any epiphanies lately that have improved what you do at home or work? Let us know in comments.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Seeing Clearly

Every time I come back to blogging from a hiatus I always feel I must apologize for being absent -- and I am sorry to stay away. This time my excuses are fairly hair-raising, but before you read on know that I am on the mend.

Back in February I started losing the vision in my left eye. Again. You know that saying where someone is walking around in a fog? For a while there I was, literally. Everything I saw out of my left eye seemed engulfed by a white mist that just kept growing more opaque. The right eye seemed fine, but I had a problem there, too. It made it very tough to focus, and by the end of March I'd gone half-blind. My surgeon diagnosed me with PCO, or in layman's terms secondary cataracts, in both eyes. Just before the laser surgery to clear it up I was taping my left eye shut just so I could stop walking into walls, tripping over the dogs, etc.

It was the month before the surgeries that proved more challenging for me. The impairment came out of nowhere, at a time in my life when things have been actually good for a change. Since it's been four years since my last eye operations I didn't think I'd have to go through it again. Thus I had to cope with lots of negative emotions before I went under the laser. My guy was my rock, as always, and he's the main reason I got through it okay.

All my angst turned out to be wasted. Both surgeries were a success, and my doc fully restored my vision.

After the surgeries went so well I joked with my guy that I would probably pay for it in another way -- and I did. A week after my vision was restored and I was cleared to drive again, I went to pick up my guy from work. Without any warning another, non-life-threatening medical condition of mine flared up, and I had to pull off the road. I was in no state to drive for a few hours, which unfortunately stranded me in the middle of nowhere.

I did call my guy to come and get me, but I didn't know exactly where I was, so I had to describe what landmarks I could see. I knew once he arranged another ride it was going to take him a while to find me. While I was waiting for him two Good Samaritans pulled over, and after I explained the situation said they would wait with me until my guy arrived. It was broad daylight, and they seemed very nice, so I wasn't scared. Until they robbed me, which was the real reason they stopped, and left me there.

Honestly, I didn't care about the $26.00 they stole; if they'd asked me for it I would have given the money to them. It was that they robbed me because I was alone and in trouble.

Of course it could have been much worse, and I'm blessed that all they stole from me was a little cash. It's the unfairness of it that still needles me. I can't tell you how many people I've helped in similar situations. Accident victims, homeless folks, lost kids, elderly people needing assistance, people whose car batteries had died -- when someone is in trouble I always stop and try to be a Good Samaritan. We all do, don't we? Because it's just the decent thing to do. Yet the very first time I'm in need of one, I get robbed.

I do learn from my mistakes, and that won't happen to me again. After this I won't trust in the kindness of strangers. It's sad, especially because I've always believed people to be decent enough to do the right thing in bad situations. Not going to automatically assume that anymore.

That's all the hair-raising/depressing stuff. I feel a bit like I'm been repeatedly kicked in the teeth, but also very, very lucky, which is a weird combination. Throughout everything I've been able to keep working. Writing for me is the most healing thing I do. I've also immersed myself in a lot of other creative ventures that helped me cope, starting with making this quilt:



It's the first one I've ever made from a kit (available at Craftsy.com), and while I made some mistakes I think it came out well. I learned a lot from working on it, such as never to cut fabric when I'm half-blind.

I've been cooking quite a bit, too, and trying new recipes. The online cooking community is awesome when it comes to sharing simple, delicious dishes. At Domesticate-Me.com I found a pretty fabulous one-layer chocolate cake recipe that has no butter or eggs, and is topped with whipped cream and fresh berries (as you can see I cheated a little and added some mini chocolate chips with the fresh strawberries I put on top.) I served it as our Easter dinner dessert, and my crew went wild over it.



It has been a tough couple of months, but I can see clearly now, and that's what matters. Giving up has never been my thing anyway, and I'm not about to start. I've got so many other, better things to do.

So what have you all been up to? Let me know in comments.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Wishing You



Happy Mother's Day from Paperback Writer.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Checking In

Just a note to let everyone know I'm fine. Now that it's over I can tell you that my laser surgery on both eyes also went very well, and restored the vision I had lost again in my left eye. After I got my sight back I joked to my guy that I wasn't entirely in the clear. I never have anything great happen without something bad coming right after it.

Sure enough, a week after my surgery I was robbed. All they took was the $26.00 in cash I had in my wallet, and they didn't hurt me, so I consider myself very lucky. It could have been a lot worse. Thank you, Universe.

I'm going to take a little more time away from the internet to process everything, do some sewing and get back to my regular work schedule. Thanks to everyone who has been e-mailing; I really appreciate you checking up on me. I will be working on replies this week.

See you when I'm fully recovered.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

On Hiatus



The bird and I are going to take some time off and unplug to deal with that personal stuff, catch up on work and otherwise get things sorted. No worries now, I'll be fine. See you in a few weeks.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Work Time Ten

Ten Things to Help You Time Your Work Sessions

This aquarium timer from Onlineclock.net provides a nice fish tank backdrop. The alarm when the coundown ends is like a digital alarm clock.

For a guided, one-minute exercise workout, try e.gg.timer.com's morning warm-up timer (always check with your doctor first if you have a condition that could be aggravated by exercise.)

Want to use Google Search as an online timer? Here's how.

OnlineMeditationTimer.com provides a timed sessions with a nice background chime for your contemplation.

You can set the Online Stopwatch to countdown any time interval you'd like. It ends with a ringing bell sound like an old alarm clock. The site also offers a bunch of different timers.

Onlinetimers.com has a variety of pre-programmed times you can use in addition to customizing your own; the alarm sounds like a low-volume digital alarm clock.

Pomodoro is what I personally use during my writing sessions to remind me to stop, get up, stretch, etc. It silently runs for 25 minutes, then sounds a alarm (I use the Brrrrrrring option) to remind you to take a five minute break. After four such intervals gives you a 15 minute break.

Want a little fun with your timer? This robot-race timer is cute.

For the multitaskers, Timer-tab.com offers countdown, alarm clock and stopwatch timers

Set the Vclock timer to countdown your session and pick your own alarm sound (I liked the wind chimes.)

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Wishing You



Image Credit: Designed by Freepik

Friday, March 30, 2018

Stranger Than Fiction

Inspiration for stories come from innumerable sources, but I find most of mine in the real world. I especially love the unsolved mysteries of history, as they can be a wonderful focus for the imagination. Unsolved puzzles and indecipherable relics are my favorites, because there are no answers, only questions. I've talked about my fascination with and theories about The Voynich manuscript and how to use other mysterious finds as story starters; today let's look at another one:



People have been bickering over the origins of the Dighton Rock for centuries. Discovered in the Taunton River in Massachusetts, this big rock has enduring intrigue written all over it. Cotton Mather talked about the mystery it presented back in 1690; others have attributed it to the ancient Spaniards, Phoenicians, and Vikings. It may even date back to 1502 or so. Since it's a forty-ton boulder covered with enigmatic and potentially untranslatable petroglyphs, that debate will likely continue.

Chiseling images in stone is not an easy task. Someone spent considerable time creating the glyphs on this rock. Before you ponder what it means, consider why the artist would go to all that trouble. Does the Dighton Rock offer an ominous warning, such as "Everyone who follows the river beyond this point dies badly" or could it be graffiti along the lines of "For a good time, visit the village around the next bend."

I see a horse, a fish, three people and four X's in the rock's image. It also looks a bit like a map to me. I could easily write a story about seven wandering medieval soldiers in a strange land, four of whom died in a skirmish with the locals. Since the survivors are left with only one horse, the dead are buried by the river along with a fabulous paranormal treasure they were transporting. The other three miss their ship's sailing and are marooned in this new land where their treasure is now worthless. They make friends with the locals and join their tribe (or lose another skirmish), and the treasure is forgotten.

Now fast-forward to modern times: the last descendant of the survivors decides to investigate and comes to examine the glyphs, and discovers the four dead guys didn't stay dead? Competes with another survivor to find the treasure? Finds the treasure and is transformed by it? Lots of possibilities.

What story could this rock help you tell?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Off to Write



I'm unplugging to catch up on some work. See you on Friday.

Image credit: Designed by Freepik

Monday, March 26, 2018

More Freebies







I found these free pics and over 700K more at Freepik.com, which allows you to download any of them without strings. All you're asked to do is provide a photo credit line, which they provide already coded for your web site or blog. There is a daily limit (five images, I think) if you use the site as a guest, but if you register for a free user account you can get at more.

Image Credits:

Roses: Designed by Freepik

Clock: City image created by Www.slon.pics - Freepik.com

Mask: Designed by Freepik

Friday, March 23, 2018

Couple of Freebies

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

The Hemingway Editor is an app to help improve the quality and clarity of your writing; it not only counts your words and grades their readibility, but highlights problem words or phrases that are difficult to read, are written in passive voice, contain adverbs, etc.

Still in development but very interesting, Manuskript writing freeware offers an outliner to help you organize your story ideas and elements, a mode where you can write without distractions, and a novel assistant that uses the Snowflake method of outlining and plotting to tackle story development.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Pic Testing

Ignore me today. I'm playing again with Blogger's photo upload thing.



The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

Or not.


I'm finally getting the hang of it, I think. Thanks for your patience.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Serenity

As I might have mentioned, I bought a Zen wall calendar for my home office. Each month it gives me a word that is supposed to remind me to do things like breathe, slow down, relax and enjoy life. Yeah, that was my first reaction, too. I can't slow down or relax. I already breathe and enjoy my life. I liked the monthly photos, though, so I invested.

Turns out the monthly word has been more inspiring to me than even the pretty pictures -- maybe because January's word was Inspire. I kept looking at that one word and thought a lot about what inspires me, how I might inspire others, the various sources of inspiration and so forth. I reached out to a few of my personal friends and tried to inspire them. It was interesting, in a guided spiritual kinda way. February's word was Love, so I tried to be more loving in various ways toward my family and friends. I'm aware of how much love I am blessed with in my life, too, and tried new ways to show my gratitude for it.

When I saw that March's word is Serenity I felt as if I might not have to do anything differently. I do practice meditation every day, and at that moment my life was very calm and quiet. Seemed like I might be able to skip a month of Zen . . . until a personal issue suddenly cropped up. I'm not going to get into details, but as I'm sure you all know it's not calming or quieting to have a big, unexpected problem drop in your lap.

This is the first quilt I finished this year, and it's been my go-to project when I've been upset, sad, nervous or feeling any other negative emotion. Working on it helped me cope by providing me with tasks I find soothing and calming. I always sleep better if I work on a quilt before I go to bed, but this particular project gave me something to think about besides my problem. Also, if I was too upset to write (and yeah, that happens to me now and then when I'm arm-wrestling the universe) I could quilt a couple of seams and get my head back into my work without a lot of fuss. Quilting for me is Serenity.

My resources for finding Serenity aren't limited to sewing. Cooking does the same thing for me. So does doing some housework, painting, going for a long walk or writing in my personal journal. I've worked through countless worries and problems by hauling out the vacuum, trying a new recipe, painting a terrible watercolor, taking the pups out for a stroll or composing a journal entry. I know what works for me, so March wasn't telling me anything new. I think it was more of a reminder to me, to give me a nudge toward doing the things to help me deal with what's ahead. Fortunately I just found out the solution will be pretty easy, so the big unexpected problem has dwindled down to a very manageable thing.

So what are you doing to find Serenity in your life? Let us know in comments.

Image Credit: dtolokonov

Friday, March 16, 2018

Other Than Fiction

Most of us write every day, but we writers tend not to count things other than fiction as writing. Writing for us = story. I admit, I'm guilty of that mindset.

I'm writing this blog post now. After it I have a couple of e-mails to answer, notes to type up for my novel notebook, and then my daily wordcount quota to nail. If I have time, I'll add an entry in my private journal. I don't text -- no smart phone -- but I will jot down a few more tasks on my to-do list. I also have to update the calendar for March with some upcoming events. After I finish my daily edit tonight, I'll probably work on some character sheets and a synopsis in progress.

The truth is most of us write constantly. We pour words into our phones and computers, and scrawl them on our notepads, grocery lists and chalkboards. Some of it may even be fiction, but it's all writing. Everything we write is an opportunity to be creative, too.

Now I feel your skepticism, so let me give you a couple of examples:

Regular e-mail: Sorry, I can't make it tonight. I've got a migraine.

Creative e-mail: Forgive me for not making it tonight. A balloon T-Rex is using a titanium sledgehammer to play Some Like It Hot on the inside of my skull.

They both say the same thing, but the second e-mail is wry and funny. It communicates the same information, but it also pokes a little fun at it. The recipient gets a smile out of the no-show notice. Meanwhile, you're exercising your imagination, never a bad thing.

Taking a little extra effort to be creative with your other-than-fiction writing provides additional benefits. Routine and boring suddenly becomes unique and clever. Sometimes I laugh out loud at the market after I read off a creative entry on my shopping list:

Rebecca Romainehead
Bananarama (4)
Truvia Pursuit
Don't go down the candy aisle
Seed for damn squirrels to steal
Handy Dandy Wipes
No, don't go down the candy aisle. Keeping walking.
Bacchus's favorite snack
Flour au naturale
Brutus's Squeeze
I am Ginger Root
You can't eat candy, you ditz.


It's fun inventing new names for things I need from the market (for those of you who aren't Popeye fans, Brutus's Squeeze = olive oil). It livens up a pretty boring chore, too. More than anything, it's writing practice. I constantly have to think up new ways to describe things in the stories I work on; I think writing a shopping list this way helps me keep my imagination limber and nimble.

Other ways you can practice your creative skills while writing things other than fiction:

If you have a chalkboard or whiteboard in your home, start writing a thought for the day on it.

Put funny or encouraging notes in your kids' lunchboxes.

Buy blank cards and personalize them for every occasion with a hand-written message.

Label storage containers creatively, i.e. Future Blackmail (kids' pictures or schoolwork), Not Lost Library (old manuscripts), and When I Feel Wretched Reads (keeper books).

Take an old white t-shirt (you can buy them cheap at Goodwill) and every day write in indelible ink a meaningful-to-you word or phrase on it. To prevent bleed-through, first place a piece of sturdy cardboard under the area where you want to write. When the t-shirt is completely covered, wash and wear it.

What are some of the ways you get creative with writing other than fiction? Give us some tips in comments.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Off to Finale



The bird and I are locking ourselves in the office today to nail a deadline. See you on Friday.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sleep Strategies

Last night I slept for seven hours straight. This was deep sleep, too, with dreams that I vaguely remember (something about trying on clothes. I haven't bought anything new since I began my weight-loss quest.) I woke up feeling a bit fuzzy but otherwise great. I've been sleeping like this most nights for the last six months.

Why even write about it? For one thing, I'm a lifelong insomniac who generally averaged only 4-5 hours of light, often-interrupted sleep most nights. When my insomnia was really cranked up, or my arthritis was flaring, that decreased to 2-3 hours. For a long time I thought I had no other option than to live with it, but meditative studies led me to some new ideas. As with writing, I absorbed everything and let it percolate, and tried new approaches to treating my insomnia. Many writers I know have similar sleep problems, so I thought I'd share what's worked for me.

Happiness and Gratitude: Toward the end of the day I herd my thoughts into two corrals: things that make me happy, and things for which I'm grateful. This is recommended by many sleep-help sources. I also try not to think about things that rile me, depress me, or make me anxious. Before bed I meditate lightly on my next day, and what I can do to be a more productive person. I know, it sounds corny, but when it comes to sleep I believe mood is a big influence.

Negative Mindset: To expand on the mood thing: because my sleep has been so poor, I've always resented it. I never went to bed feeling happy about the prospect of sleep; it always felt like an exercise in futility and a waste of my time. I think behind that resentment was a lot of dread. Anyway, I worked on my attitude and developed a mental mantra for bed time. Sleep = good. Sleep = healthy. Sleep = better day tomorrow.

No Napping: Getting up and going to bed earlier have helped a lot, but so has avoiding naps. I try not to let myself sleep anywhere unless it's in my bed at night. I stay away from the sofa and comfortable chairs where I might nod off. If I feel tired enough to nap, I get up and do some chores or take the pups out for a walk.

Positioning: I've always slept curled up on my right side, up until I started developing arthritis in that shoulder a couple of years ago. Then I went into a period of trying to sleep on my right side, having a pain flare-up, then tossing, turning, hating the bed, hating my arthritis, lather, rinse, repeat. I finally forced myself to accept that I'm never going to be able to sleep on my right side again. I then started trying different positions each night until I found the one that was most comfortable (as it happens, flat on my back.)

Sleeping Aids: I've tried a number of products that are supposed to help improve sleep time and quality, including the OTC stuff. The most success I've had with the pill form is with Alteril, although it gives me a bit of a hangover the next day (note: your mileage may vary, and always check with your doctor before you try any new medication.) These last six months I've been using more natural solutions. I have a nature-sounds device by the bed that plays the sound of rain in a continuous loop, which knocks me out. I don't know why, but it does. So does the sound of distant thunder. Chamomile tea, long soaks in the bath tub, and avoiding anything with caffeine have also helped.

Wind-down Routine: I do the same things every night as I unplug, settle, and get myself relaxed (usually by shutting off the computer and quilting, reading or journaling.) I also make sure that I've tidied the kitchen, washed the dishes, folded the laundry etc. Leaving housework unfinished makes me antsy and unhappy, two states that contribute to my insomnia.

Sleep still feels a little like a waste of my time, but I can't deny that the benefits of getting more sleep are pretty amazing. I'm writing with more focus, my moods are better and I'm getting more work done every day. I'm less inclined to lose my temper, too.

Have you found anything that has improved your sleep? Let us know in comments.

Friday, March 09, 2018

If at First You Don't Succeed, Avoid Sky Diving

The Woman Left Behind, Linda Howard's latest release, is out now, and the promo got me interested enough to pre-order. For anyone like me who has had actual military training, the story may make you chuckle a bit. But the effort by the author to portray an ordinary-citizen heroine undergoing the intense convert operative team training was certainly enthusiastic.

If you don't want to read any spoilers, stop here. Do not pass Go. Do not collect -- you get the picture.

In the novel, Jina Modell already works in a classified communications position for the government. Without warning she's ordered to take on a new position as a drone operator for a covert paramilitary team. Or a lookout. Or a scout. Oddity#1: I was never quite clear on what Jina's team job is. The order she's given is basically a join or lose your job situation, which I'm pretty sure is illegal, but this is fiction so okay. She then undergoes the absolutely brutal physical training required to get her on the team, which takes about a third of the book. I felt like this, and gradually bonding with her all-male team, was the main story.

Oddity #2: Jina is brought on to be some kind of computer geek for the team, so why all the physical training? When she's finally shown doing her job, she sits in front of a laptop and talks into a mic. Oddly enough, I do that all day, and yet never once had to run ten miles as prep.

Onto the romance, oddity #3: The reciprocated attraction Jina feels to Ace, the team's leader, should come into play, yes? No. Aside from one passionate kiss and lots of lust and self-loathing on both sides, not much happens there until page 321. Oddity #3a: The story is only 351 pages long. The romance commences with a marathon 26 pages of romance and sex -- which are fine, btw -- but after that we get the requistite HEA like immediately. At most the romance is about 20% of the story, so not exactly substantial.

Oddity #4: In the background there are a handful of small, vague scenes in which a traitorous yet heartbroken antagonist plots to stick it to the guy in charge of this paramilitary program via ambushing and killing Jina's team. These scenes were very disjointed and confusing, as I was never quite clear on what's going on there. I tried to fill in the blanks myself, and expected someone on Jina's team to be part of this blurry conspiracy, but that didn't happen, either. You could delete the antagonist entirely and it really wouldn't hurt the book.

The training Jina receives is pure fantasy, but it does help to quickly gain the reader's sympathy. Oddity #5: There was a bit too much focus on the boots Jina wears throughout the story. It reminded me of another author's book, when all the new-diver protagonist seemed to do was spit in her mask to keep it from fogging up. One mention of an insider detail like that is great. Two mentions, fine. Three mentions, tedious. Four or more become seriously annoying. Training-wise, the novel would have benefited from some input from a female soldier who has gone through similar conditioning. I was still okay with it, except for the sky diving chapter (oddity #6), which I thought was over the top and ridiculous. I liked Jina, but I'd have absolutely kicked her off the team after the first jump, no hesitation.

Oddity #7, which was the biggest and most puzzling: the book's title in relation to what happens in the story. For about the length of a single chapter it's applicable; the actual woman being left behind event stretches to maybe twenty pages. It was such a blip that I went back and read it again, just to be sure I hadn't inadvertently skipped a big chunk of story. I was expecting three, maybe four chapters of Jina having to survive by her wits behind enemy lines. Didn't happen. Aside from running and following a map, none of her strengths and intelligence as a protagonist come into play. So if you're looking for that, nope. "The Woman Who Trains Her Ass Off" or "The Woman Who Should Never, Ever Sky Dive" or even "The Right Boots Are Your Best Friends" would have been more title-appropriate.

Final verdict: Odd book. Very odd. So odd I decided to write it up on the blog, and you know how lazy I am when it comes to that. If you're a rabid Linda Howard fan, you probably can't be disappointed, so by all means invest. Maybe you'll get it by default. The rest of you might want to wait for the paperback, or just skip it altogether -- unless you like lots of oddities.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Journey

One of the many books I read while on hiatus was Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesey-Smith. For a while now I've been studying various methods of art quilting to learn more about it, but also to navigate where I'm going with my own needle work. Last summer for the first time I made an improvisational art quilt with eco-friendly, sustainable fabrics and threads that really challenged me, and put me on a different path with my quilt work. This book added a lot to that shift in my thinking as well.

Claire is a textile artist from Yorkshire, UK who doesn't churn out perfect quilts from patterns that a thousand other quilters use. She dyes her own fabrics and threads using seasonal plants that she sources locally. She has an enduring emotional connection with her work and materials, and hand stitches her projects, two things I also feel strongly about as a quilter. She supports using traditional methods in quilting and patchwork, like Kantha and Japanese boro, which are sustainable. The one thing she doesn't do is hurry.

This book is not about utter perfection, over-productivity, or finish line races. There aren't endless pages of complicated projects that you'll never master. In fact, I doubt there's a single straight line of stitching in the whole book. What Claire does is steer textile artists toward taking more time and thought with their work, going green by using recycled materials, and finding inspiration from some lovely traditional methods. She does so with a quiet, elegant honesty that really spoke to me. The slow stitch mindset is very natural, and more grounded in what quilting is for me. Her goal is not to help you finish ten projects in a month, but to find the pleasure in the making of one -- however long it takes.

I highly recommend this book as a wonderful guide and companion for any textile artist who wants to get more out of the journey.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Focus

To practice what I preach, one of the new habits my guy and I are trying to get into is taking long nature walks. I'm bringing the camera with me so I can grab some interesting shots, which are helping me pay more attention to the little details around me.

Being outdoors, and away from the internet and the computer, always unravels my internal mental knots. Obviously the exercise is beneficial, but I also sleep better. My creativity skyrockets, too. More than anything I soak up all the natural beauty out there, just waiting to be discovered, and let it inspire me in new ways.

Here are some pics I took on our last walk:











Over the last couple years I've gotten away from using my camera for anything but my quilting and family-related events. So now, even when we're just out for the day running errands, I'm looking for new opportunities to take some interesting pics:





There's always something around the house or in the back yard that catches my eye, too:





While I don't have time to start another photoblog, and I'm not inclined to sign up with another photo-hosting service (shudder) I might put up a gallery page on PBW with some of the interesting pics I take this year. That will prod me to keep taking the camera with me on my little adventures.

Got any interesting (and PG-rated) photos you've taken lately? Share your links in comments.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Back

As promised (or threatened, depending on your POV) I'm back. The much-needed break jump-started my muse, and also let me properly prepare for the very busy year ahead. In addition to the work I caught up on I finished up some old projects from 2017, and got my home office cleaned out and tidied up. I hate working in a mess, and not being able to find anything, so having a neat work space really feels great.

I spent a lot of time thinking about and planning for the big changes that are coming this year, too. My guy and I have some major shifts ahead in our work dynamic. Now that we're empty nesters we'll also have more time to do the things that we've always put off while the kids were at home. After we get some necessary repairs done (our 22-year-old fridge and A/C unit both decided to start failing at the same time) we're planning to renovate some stuff we've never liked about this house. The bathroom prefab shower stalls and too-slick tile floors will likely be at the top of the list. Once all the dire needs are seen to, I personally intend to get rid of the old white bathroom tile counters in my kitchen -- the guy who built this place made some really weird choices -- and get proper counter tops to go with my still-lovely cabinets.

My daughter's pet bird and rat moved into the office with me, so we all have some company during the day. The rat likes me well enough, but then I bribe her with fresh banana and carrot bits and let her out to play regularly. The cockatiel is still on the fence, pardon the pun. We're settling into a comfortably antagonistic relationship since I started letting her out of her cage for an hour every morning. I think she's noisy but still adorable. She evidently thinks she should not have to live in the big cage. I think she'd be happy only if I ditched the cage altogether, fed her sunflower seeds nonstop, rubbed her neck and head for hours, and let her fly around the house like the bird of prey she imagines she is. Oh, and birds? Poop everywhere.

Since we're trying to cut our spending I've been cooking at home almost every night. Another challenge that comes with the empty nest is cooking for just two, which I've never done before now. We're tackling it by planning ahead with leftovers, freezing what we can, and trimming down our meals. I'm also searching for smaller recipes online, which has led to some delicious discoveries.

This year I'm slowing down and putting more thought into my quilting. I'm working on a lap quilt now, but I hope to get more into art quilting and work on smaller-scale quilts after this project. To keep everything tidier I've organized the notions and tools I use regularly in arty containers on a recycled bookcase. As with my home office having a neat sewing space makes me happier and more productive. If you want to see what I'm working on this year, you can follow my projects on my Tumblr blog.

I definitely don't want to harp on the negative, but the ongoing stress of just being a human being in these times of late has been especially frightening. We're all finding ways to cope, which is why I'm trying to be supportive of my family and friends in any way I can (and quilting every night, to work out my own stress.) I don't have any answers, except to fight it, and to fight for the people we love, by being part of the light however we can.

I'm learning at last that finding new ways to connect can make a big difference. I'm having such fun with my little writer's group; once a week I have a chance to spend a couple hours with my fellow scribes. They're all terrific people. To combat the empty nest blues my guy and I are trying to get out of the house and be more social as a couple. too. The last two weekends we've gone on outings that we usually never made time for, which we should have before now. The other night we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant with friends (this is something we've not done in years), and we had such a great time. We also planned to get together for a cookout. Life is not over, turns out, once the nestlings fly off.

So what's up with you all? Any news from your corner of the planet? How is your 2018 going so far? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wishing You

Friday, February 02, 2018

Update

Checking in to let everyone know I'm fine. See, here? I'm getting a home manicure.

The fountain of creativity is slowly refilling, too. My writing group and I attended a talk by a visiting author, which was interesting, and I've blissfully buried myself in research for work. I cleaned out my home office from top to bottom, including the storage closet, and donated a bunch of books to the library and Goodwill. I acquired a Zen calendar with an motivational word every month to guide me, too. The word for January was, oddly enough, inspire.

Tonight I'm starting to work on my first quilt of 2018, which is also an original design of mine. I've lost two more pounds by boosting my daily efforts to exercise, and tried some new recipes to make our meals healthier. Really, the only thing I haven't done is go to Vegas or get a tattoo, but I think I'll leave those pleasures to the younger and thicker-skinned.

I need another month off to finish recharging, and then I think I'll be ready to get back to blogging. So see you in March.