Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Weekend at Emerald City

I highly recommend the Emerald City Writers Conference. The Greater Seattle RWA chapter has always put on a good conference, but I hadn’t been able to get to one in five years due to Real Life. What a difference a few years makes! This conference was outstanding on a number of levels.

The location had changed; the 2011 ECWC was at a different (and much larger) hotel, the Bellevue Westin; there were six (!) simultaneous tracks of workshops; and the lineup of industry professionals and workshop presenters was impressive, to say the least. What hadn’t changed was the welcoming and friendly nature of the organizers and fellow participants, the quality of the workshops, and Seattle’s fall climate. Ahem, some of us near-desert dwellers like rain.

What gets truly impressive is to know that at least two members of the organizing committee were replacements due to serious health issues (may the afflicted persons recover soon and completely), and the replacements were already running the 300+ member writers’ organization. In short, the women who put on this conference are rock stars. That’s not really related to anything else in this post, but it needs to be said. Rock. Stars.

I can’t tell you how good the workshops were, because I think I made it to three or four; Angela James on digital publishing Friday afternoon/evening, the workshop I gave on Saturday and one shortly after it, the chat with Sara Wendell on Sunday (I moderated; she’s fabulous and can use the term “crapmonkeys” in regular conversation)…and that’s about it. Why, you ask? Well, I pitched books to three people Saturday morning. Then my workshop was right after lunch, and then I needed to sit in a corner and twitch for a while because public speaking does that to me.

Then there was the exhaustion factor after the pitching and the speaking and the twitching and the being a social creature–I’m quite capable of being social, but it sucks energy right out of me (I believe that’s the Briggs-Meyers/Meyers-Briggs definition of an introvert). I slept through a workshop session I had wanted to attend on Sunday morning, and, in fact, I could use a nap right now.

The conference organizers even managed to record most of the workshops. The CDs are available for ordering here, but only through November 10. The total cost is $20 for two or three CDs worth of information. If you have the chance to go to this conference over Halloween weekend 2012, go. It is so totally worth it.

The highlight of my weekend was meeting Angela James in person. I can report she’s just as nice in real life as she is online. She even chastised me for not having published anything else since Blade’s Edge and told me I need to focus on which series of books I want to use to build readership, since I’ve chosen a difficult subgenre. “Chosen” was her term. I’ve tried to write other stuff, but it always turns into space opera, or at least futuristic romance; I’m cursed.

Since I have two other stories in the universe where Blade’s Edge takes place, she said that if she contracted The Valmont Contingency (the story I pitched) she’d have to wait two years for the next book. And that’s too long to build readership. How cool is that? An editor I highly respect yelled at me (nicely, of course) to write faster. Yes, ma’am.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I have at least two other “worlds” on the back burner, waiting for me to finish the Dozen Worlds and Republic Space initial trilogies. Tomorrow I start on the story of Talyn’s redemption as she reluctantly leads the Hauptmann Cartel out of their societal dead-end. Obviously, I need to complete four or five books in the next 14 months (God willing and the crick don’t rise, as grandma used to say) to get caught up, LOL.

Looks like I’m writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month this year. But first, I’m going to take that nap.

It’s Done! It’s Done!

I finished the rewrite with two days to spare. The Valmont Contingency still needs its second half polished to a diamond finish, but the core of it is done and — wait for it — makes sense. Writer-Me is ready for the Emerald City Writers Conference this weekend.

So all I have to do now is print out my conference handouts, print out the back-up presentation/handouts in case they need a last-minute craft workshop, pack, (note to self: get travel-size toiletries for TSA’s peace of mind), stock the refrigerator and pet food cupboards, get cash….

Ah, so this is why I don’t travel very much. It’s a royal pain. But this conference is worth it; I’ve always had a good time and I’ve made some friends there.

The Oldest Cat has Left Us

Syrina died in her sleep Friday night/Saturday morning; she was 20 years and seven weeks old. “Died” is, oddly, a difficult word to say and to type when referring to someone you knew personally, even if that person weighs about three pounds (she was very skinny at the end) and is covered in fur.

Her last week was difficult, filled with seizures, blindness, incontinence, and coma. It was hard for me to watch, and it’s still difficult to think about without tearing up. This is going to be at least a three-tissue post.

My husband is an incredibly fine hospice nurse — it’s not his vocation, but it is one of his mutant talents.

He untangled her when her blinded wandering took her into the computer wiring. He offered her tempting tidbits of food, kept water nearby and dried her paws when she accidentally stepped in it. He made sure she always knew he where he was, and he comforted her when she came out of each seizure.

While I quietly freaked out from across the room, or (better yet) from another room. I don’t have that kind of strength; my strength is organizing and planning. I called the vet and arranged to have her cremated and the ashes returned to us. I know exactly where we’re going to keep them, too; on a shelf right next to Spooky Man’s office chair, along with his mineral specimens. She’s also one of his precious things.

Go chase butterflies over the rainbow bridge, Syrina/Sirena/Serena/Sarina. You deserve it. (Her name, at various times over the years, has been spelled all of those different ways; another of Spooky Man mutant talents.)

The Job Title Post

It was almost a month ago when I threatened to post the correct way of introducing a person with a job title. The stupid silly grammatical mistakes were driving me to an eyelid twitch that day.

I don’t understand why so many educated Americans have so very much difficulty speaking the language properly. Or even typing it properly, since spoken language is, by definition, less formal than written language.

But enough of that. I must cure the world of half-baked parenthetical phrases!

A parenthetical phrase is an aside, a brief thought tangentially related to the main sentence after which the speaker/writer returns to the main thought. It is something that you could set off with parentheses (hence the name), or with commas if it’s not quite as much of an aside.

For example, when referring to Paris, you need to make sure people know which one you’re talking about. You could do it like this: “In Paris (the one in Texas, not the one in France), rodeo is considered an art form as well as a sport.” Or you could do it like this: “Residents of Paris, Texas, consider rodeo an art form as well as a sport.”

Under absolutely no circumstances is this correct: “Residents of Paris, Texas consider rodeo an art form and a sport.” Why? Well, why does your web page throw up if you leave off a closing tag? You’re leaving code swinging in the breeze. There’s a reason C# and HTML are called languages, Dude. And it works exactly the same way in the English language.

Now on to the really hard part. Job titles, when placed before a person’s name, are not necessarily parenthetical phrases. Job titles, when placed after a person’s name, are always, ALWAYS (in case you didn’t hear me the first time) parenthetical phrases.

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs died last week. (Not a parenthetical phrase).

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO until August 2011, died last week. (Always a parenthetical phrase, even more so with the other information in it.)

Then you have the less-clear-cut cases. Talking about your sister, if you have more than one, might give the following:

My sister Marcia said hi. (“sister” is a sort of job title)

My sister, Marcia, said hi. (“Marcia” as a clarifier)

My sister (Marcia, the perfect one, not Cindy, the cute one) said to tell you hi. (Parenthetical phrases within a parenthetical phrase! Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah. Wait. Did I type that out loud?)

Mastery of the parenthetical phrase will also provide a considerable amount of comma mastery, because parenthetical phrases provide nearly half of incorrect comma usage in my daily bad grammar experience.

Here’s an example of stacked parenthetical phrases, correctly punctuated:
Visionary Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who resigned in August due to failing health, succumbed to a neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer, October 5, 2011.

Every single one of those commas is grammatically necessary. And if the sentence didn’t end at “2011,” there would need to be another comma after it, because the year is a parenthetical phrase in a date, as in “October 5 (of this year)” — exactly the same way that the state or country is a parenthetical phrase in a location.

See, wasn’t that easy?

How To Know You’re Doing It Right

The first time I held a job with the word “Editor” in the title was ninth grade–I was chosen as editor of my junior high school newspaper. Primarily it meant I typeset the columns, by hand, on an IBM Selectric.

I also held various editor jobs on my college newspaper over the course of five or six years. (I was on the 9-year plan for a bachelor degree, because I had trouble choosing which one I wanted; that’s how I ended up with enough credits for a doctorate, and minors in math, physics, English, history and music.)

When I decided to learn how to write novels, I studied characterization, point of view, plot structure, and all that other good stuff, but I always figured I sort of knew how to edit. I had all that experience with “editor” in the job titles, but then, writing fiction makes you neurotic. I don’t know why. It just does.

I signed up for an online class about self-editing last month, with lessons based on the James Scott Bell Writers Digest book, Revision and Self-Editing.

The very first exercise we had to do was to read the work in progress from beginning to end like a reader; we weren’t allowed to edit or rewrite anything during the read, just make a note of it.

My notes basically said I needed to rewrite the second half of the book (on page 137 I wrote, “this is where it falls apart, rewrite from this scene”), because I realized about about the mid-point that it had the wrong protagonist; it was really her story, not his.

But other than that, I can heave a sigh of relief, because I found out I’ve been doing it right, going for tightness and coherence of story over interesting side trips into backstory or fabulous conversations that don’t quite move the plot forward.

I can describe the hero’s and heroine’s character arcs in one sentence, name the main turning points of the story, and even describe how the last scene mirrors the first scene of the book. Writing the synopsis took about fifteen minutes.

It’s a good feeling, to have someone else verify you’re going it right.

Urban Wildlife

I spotted a red fox (carrying toast) and two raccoons (waiting for a cross walk to empty of traffic) in downtown Boise last Friday morning during rush hour.

Spooky Man had an 8 a.m. appointment with a rehab doctor (in my opinion an idiot, but that’s just my opinion based on his best medical advice to “push through” 30 years of chronic debilitating pain and “be an athlete”), so we were driving downtown at 7:30 in the morning.

The raccoons were at the intersection of Fort and Robbins Rd, which is where traffic is being diverted to get to the VA medical center while the main entrance is being dug up, re-somethinged, and generally closed to traffic with large trucks parked in it.

They (the raccoons, not the trucks) looked like a mother and a teenager, coming down out of a maple tree on the corner to wait for the light to change and let them legally cross. In my experience, raccoons don’t obey pedestrian traffic regulations, but I haven’t lived in that neighborhood for twenty years.

The fox was in the VA medical center parking lot closest to the outpatient entrance. I swear he (or she) looked like one more federal employee on the way to work, finishing breakfast on the go.

A friendly staffer coming off night shift told us the fox lives in the area and frequently can be seen trotting through the parking lot at that time of day.

First we had the federal squirrels who behave like Secret Service agents (“I’ll have to inspect that bag of roasted almonds, Ma’am.”), then there was the wild bunny that apparently spoke squirrel, because it hopped over when Spooky Man chittered at it, and now a fox munching toast while walking through the parking lot.

I know this is because Boise has a somewhat unique geography, in that we have this large pocket of wild-ish land poking far into the northeast part of the city.

The VA medical center is only a few blocks from the largest hospital in the valley, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center. The state capitol building, supreme court building and Health & Welfare building are a few blocks in another direction. Likewise the Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals, built in the 19th century, and Boise High School.

The VA medical center also backs onto federal reserve lands from the original Fort Boise — hence, the main entrance opening onto Fort Street — so wild creatures venture down out of the foothills and find themselves abruptly in a city (Surprise! Traffic!).

In fact, part of the medical center campus is actually built up onto a foothill that forms the first rank of the Boise range. There are even two tiers of parking lot. So it’s not all that bizarre to spot furry critters going about their business while going about your own.

Much more baffling was the recent case of an adolescent mountain lion shot on the grounds of St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. To get there from any wildlife-friendly areas, the cat would have had to cross a freeway or walk miles on fairly busy roads. It was obviously a (very) lost teenager; I could still see kitten spots in its fur in the TV footage.

I didn’t think they needed to kill it, but I have a soft spot for big cats, particularly mountain lions. A domesticated mountain lion helps the heroine escape in Blade’s Edge (remember, this happens far in the future on another planet; our mountain lions are Not Domesticated).

But still, raccoons using a cross walk. A red fox with toast in the VA lower parking lot. Squirrels with mirrored sunglasses and earpieces (okay, I made that part up, but they have the attitude).

Such urbane wildlife could only happen in Boise.

Your Brain on Love, Oct 10 at Partners in Crime

It’s my Emerald City workshop practice run, 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble. Biochemistry, neurochemistry, vole sex, stinky t-shirts, waist-to-hip geometry, I’ve got it all.

And there’s a bit about how to fake it with prescription drugs, too. Because we all have dopamine agonists lying around the house, right?

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