Thursday, January 31, 2013

Writing in the Air

Last week I visited my in-laws in New York.  It was great seeing them and we had a lot of fun visiting.  The Dwyers like to play parlour games, so we played things like Password and Reverse Charades and Uno and something kind of Risk-like involving trading sheep for timber.  I'm not sure which story will be talked about more, me miming a urinal while my sister-in-law Melissa mimed using it, or me miming a helicopter and almost decapitating her.  Or the misinterpretation by my nephew-in-law Mike of someone's miming of peep-hole.

Um, yes; there was tequila.

On the writing front, I (re)discovered that it's difficult to write on an iPad on an airplane:  I can't use a wireless keyboard in the air.  In some ways, it's simply faster to write longhand on paper than it is to use the touch-screen keyboard.  I'll have to get in touch with Blake again about the plastic keyboard overlay for the screen and give it a try.  I did manage to get some editing done while I was on the ground (my flights involved three airplanes).

I wanted to try writing a story during my travelling.  Mary Robinette Kowal wrote one in a moving van across the country, and during Writers of the Future we had to write a short story in 24 hours.  I got about as far as wanting to write a science fiction story and figuring out some things about the main character when I got a little stuck.  So I took a break with The New Yorker and read a review of a historical novel (about Nazis).  And I thought, "I'll go meta!"

Suddenly the words flowed.  I got about four page's worth. And some drawings of characters and the setting. Now I'll have to transcribe what I've written and see where to go next.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Early morning writing has not been happening. I don't have the flu, but I've been fighting off a sore throat and I've been extra tired lately. I almost got up to write this morning, but given how tired I'm feeling now, I'm glad I didn't.

Today we've took everything out of our bedroom for a deep cleaning. I'm always surprised by how much dust collects underneath our bed and the chest of drawers. Between the bookshelves in the room and our closet, I was reminded of when I used to live at Arcosanti in a eight by eight by eight cube. It looked a little like the scene of a hyper-spacial accident between a laundry truck and a book mobile.

The day has been foggy and grey. As I was walking outside, I had a new appreciation for my glasses. A hill rising a few blocks away faded out as it rose up into the underside of a cloud. Pine trees nearer were darker and sharper than ones a little farther up and away. The scene was made for practicing watercolor washes to indicate distance.

On the down side, when I was in a museum for the first time with my glasses, I became very aware that they have a narrow portal centered in my field of vision where objects have crisp outlines and that objects in my peripheral vision lean toward this portal of clarity. Normally I don't notice it, but in a gallery of picture frames the artwork ripples around whatever I'm pointing my nose at.

I'll have to hoard my contact lenses for when we go to art galleries.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mighty Hunter

I suppose I should give a cat update. We have a cat.

So far we haven't been letting him outside. I should say, we don't let him outside unless we go outside with him. This means on cold January Willamette Valley days where the sun never shines and a grey pall of clouds threatenes to turn into freezing fog, we don't go out. There have been a few days recently where it was very sunny. and we let him out on those days. But on the cold, dark, grey days, he has to be content with staying inside and not catching Kitty Leukemia.

Of course, he does not appreciate this. Based on he occasions where Smokey has transformed into a Wild Galloping Kitty of the West, I think we're in trouble.

We're sure that once he does get his Lukemia shots, Smokey will become A Mighty Hunger bringing us many dead birds, snakes, and other prey. I say this because last night we had a mouse in the house. Actually two.

One of the mice went to work with Mark, who was feeling something moving around in his jacket before he took it off and a mouse jumped out. The other mouse stayed home and was scampering about (mice always look bigger when I'm reading and I see them out of the corner of my eye).

Smokey figured out the mouse was hiding out in one of our closets. So he waited. And waited. And waited. We tried to set him on the scent of the mouse on the two times that the mouse had gotten around him somehow. But he always went back the closet and waited some more.

About 10:30 there was a terrific crash, and Smokey wandered into the living room. With a mouse in his mouth. Which he released. Then caught. Then released. Then caught again. I thought maybe he would eat it if I could convince him to go into the garage. But he really wanted to play with the mouse, as evidenced by the way he released it again so he could bat it with his paws.

We closed the door so we could go to sleep (and also because we didn't want a real live dead mouse dropped into bed), but I'm pretty sure it was after 12:30 AM once he was done batting it around the house.

Smokey continues to groom us. I'd like to think that he's slowly pickingup on the fact that when he uses his teeth on our scalps that we dont relish the sesssion. We relish it less now that Smokey's new nick-name is "rodent-breath." Not that we relish being licked by a raspy cat tongue in the first place. I say I'd like to think that he's picking his up, but since he likes to bite my hand when I pet him, I remain unsure. I'm assured by the web liteature that these are love bites.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Progress

Last night one of my manuscripts got critiqued. Most everyone liked the imagery and language, and everyone wanted to see more of the protagonist's emotional decisions. There were a couple of folks who got thrown out by Christian references--it's a fantasy setting with an alternate-universe religion that's sort of like Christianity, and it looks like I have to give a few more details about the world so folks can see how it is different from ours.

In some ways, last night's manuscript was a quintessential John manuscript: cool eye candy, immersive world building, characters doing things for obscure reasons. The story mostly works, because the character is a little numb to begin with... but I'll need to add some more interior thoughts and emotions to flesh the protagonist out. Numb characters seem to be another John-trope.

I'd hoped to get to sleep right after Wordos... and of course I had to run a quick errand that kept me up later.

This morning was sort of productive. I should have given myself permission to sleep in. After about fourty minutes of annotating a draft copy of Tuesday night's manuscript, the family woke up and needed the kitchen table. I was still pretty tired, and my feet felt achy, so I crept back into bed. Umm... Manuscript: 2, John:1.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Luminary Project

Over Christmas, I made some luminaries. I designed the pattern in Inkscape, then exported it to a Silhouette plotter-cutter. The cutter made cuts in thick paper, which I glued into cylinders.  Add an LED candle and viola!

I posted some pictures in Google Plus, but the photos didn't make it to my blog. Here's what the end product looks like.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Look

Today when I woke up to write, I put on my new progressive perscription eye glasses. Luckily, the house was dark, so I didn't fall over from corrective-lenses-induced dizziness.

The top of my new lenses are for far away objects, the bottom is for things like books or cell phone buttons. I do like the clarity the glasses give me -- I especially appreciate how hills and street-signs and (OMG!) cell phone buttons -- but I'm still noticing how objects appear to move forward or backward as I move my head up or down. Also, I have to look straight ahead; if I try to look too far left or right, objects distort as if there were a mini black hole at the level of my forehead pulling things askew. And moving my head right and left to demonstrate this to myself so I could write it makes my eyes ache.

I'm afraid that all this pointing my nose at things I want to see clearly makes me look like a raptor trying to figure out exactly how far away its prey is. I suppose on the plus side, my glasses will force me to improve my posture, as my head isn't high up enough to get things into proper focus when I slouch. And I've just discovered that my trademark-geek way of sitting at a keyboard -- legs crossed and pointing sideways, back twisted so I sort of face the screen -- really isn't going to work with these glasses.

Now, all I have to do is get used to never seeing right angles or flat planes. And maybe practice walking some more before I try to navigate the highly decorated with floor tiles and textured carpets Eugene Public Library.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Early Morning Scrivener

It was difficult to Arise And Write this morning. Various bumps in the night interrupted my sleep. I really wanted to just go back to sleep when Vena's Dance started playing. The excuse "I'm not really awake, my quality will be low" ran through my head. But I guess a week of the morning routine helped me to actually get up and drag myself to the kitchen.

When I sat down in front of Scrivener with a mug of tea, I started typing on the scene I'd left up the night before, but then switched to editing bits together. Sometimes when I sit down at the keyboard, I know that my inspiration level is low and that I'll be more productive editing.

The story I've been working on is mostly plotted, and now I have to flesh out scenes. In some ways this is the most difficult part of writing, because I have a bunch of scenes and descriptive bits which need sewing together. And often a lot of story details that won't help the reader.

Scrivener is good for editing stories at a small chunk level, which helps to keep writing projects manageable. I can move paragraphs around in within blocks and change the block's order in a story board. Bits that don't work or are back story get demoted to a folder called research -- this pares down the story, but it doesn't feel like I am actually throwing words away.

I finalized the opening scene. Then it was time to get to other parts of my day.

Tonight's goal is to go to sleep at a reasonable hour (mostly met -- does blogging in bed count?)

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


The morning writing continues. I remain convinced that I have better writing days when I plan things out by laying out the kettle, teapot, and tea so that I don't have to think too hard to make my morning tea. I also prepped Scrivener with the scene I wanted to work on this morning. This helped me to sit down and get to work. But... as I was writing last night, I felt how I wanted to keep going. Since writing until midnight would have messed up my sleep, I had to stop.

I guess I still want to be a late-night writer. Something about 10:30 PM turns my brain back on.

The other thing I'm finding is that planning out scenes a little the night before is changing my writing style (slowly) from a seat-of-the-pants writer to an outliner.

Finally, this is turning into discipline, discipline, discipline. Getting up early means going to be early. Going to bed early means not drinking tea after 3PM (ideally 2PM).

Monday, January 07, 2013

Snow Pictures

 West of the pass, we stopped to play in the snow.  This clump of snow reminded me in terns of a bear, a koi, or someone in prayer.

 This was a different snow-clump, that looked like whales.

One of these days, I need to get a decent zoom lense, then I'll be able to take cool shots of the setting sun lancing through the burnt trunks of trees poking up through the snow.

More ferocious dog-with-snowball shots.

Playing With The Dog

 Over the weekend we played with my folk's dog.  She loves snow.

"Scotty, I need more power!"

There's nothing like a power outage to underscore how much of my job (and my writing) is dependant on electricity. This morning, a little after 10, the lights in my office flickered, then went out. The room became still; KWAX had been playing softly, but it cut out.

As usual when the power goes out, my first question is, "When will it come back on?" This is invariably followed by James (author of "Connections") Burke's voice intoning, "Most modern people assume that the power will come back on--it never occurs to them that it might not."

I work in a brick former-men's dormitory building that was built in the 1920's. It has plenty of opportunities for daylight. Except for the basement. And the elevators. My boss and I went and started orderly shutdowns of machines that were still on and unplugged the ones that weren't. Occasionally, the lights would flicker as if the power wanted to come back on, but couldn't.

Unpowered buildings are still. Without electricity, the flourescent lights don't hum, the monitors' high-pitched whine cease, and all the computer fans stop. It's like having your ears pop while climbing a mountain -- the pressure of that unnoticed noise suddenly lets up. Suddenly, the green EXIT lights, running on emergency backup, seem loud.

We checked the elevators to listen for any sounds of someone trapped within; its buttons flicked on for a second, then died. We didn't hear anyone when we tapped on the doors. A bunch of us checked the basement. Sometimes researchers run experiments down there, and I can imagine it wouldn't be fun for a subject when the lights went out. We didn't find anyone, but we did find a power panel beeping lightly at us. If you ever want to feel like a Red Shirt, fan out from the rest of the search party in the abandoned basement of an unpowered building with a red panel beeping at you. The reading lens with built-in LED I was using as a flashlight threw just enough light to put the surrounding darkness into intimidating relief.

Back on the first floor, I went outside to see what was going on. I heard sirens in the distance. When I asked a passer-by what she knew, she said she thought there had been an explosion near the health center, and then pointed out that the sport center across the street from where we were standing was bright with electric lights. I peered the other way to the EMU and saw it was powered as well.

About this time, I realized I wasn't getting some of the status alerts the university puts out via cell phones.

The rest of the day was spent unplugging various pieces of equipment so that their power supplies wouldn't get fried if the power came back on in an uncontrolled way and then sending out e-mail (thank goodness there was a UO wireless in the nearby EMU) to the department about the status of the building.

Probably the most intimidating moment was leaning over a beeping UPS to silence it and wondering if it's flashing "overload" light meant it was going to explode and shower me with molten lead from its battery. Then there were some odd moments in very dark hallways made more dark by closed fire doors. And wondering if the steam tunnel valves really did fail open and if the water valve in the stairwell I was using would burst, shooting the wheel valve into me as I walked by. These "what if" moments usually have Tim Powers' voice attached to them.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Redmond in January

This weekend, we visited with my folks in Redmond. Saturday night, Mark and I took their dog out for a walk. We were pleasantly surprised by stars in the sky; a snow storm had been dusting the place and we thought--to paraphrase Shakespeare--the heavens would be thrifty and all their candles would be out. Jupiter blazed in the zenith, outshining ruddy Aldeberon in near-by Taurus. The Big Dipper stood on its handle; the handle's arc pointed where Arcturus hid below the horizon. The other way, the bowl pointed at Polaris and beyond to Cassiopeia. In Eugene, Cassiopeia is pale and colorless; in Redmond, all the stars had shades of blue and red.

Sunday morning was a difficult one. I'm didn't sleep so well, and I accidentally discovered the snooze function on the Dancing Girl Music. So, instead of arising to write, I snoozed. Twice.

I did some non-manuscript writing, still recumbent on the couch I slept on. But my heart wasn't in it and I went back to sleep because A) an extra hour of sleep wouldn't be a bad thing, and B) it's Sunday, and if I am going to choose an early morning not to write, Sunday morning might as well be the choice.

I also was thinking about the story I'm working on and how the character's motivations aren't clear -- resulting in both the protagonist and antagonist suffering from stupid character syndrome. I was awake enough to ask, "If he's a powerful magician, why does he need to bribe her to follow him into the temple?" and "If she's worried about her boat and doesn't completely trust him, why does she go with him?" but not awake enough to be able to answer the questions.

(In typing this at the end of the day, I can see that I need a third character to address this. Answers: "He doesn't need her if he can make use of his assistant instead" and "She follows him in because she's nosey and pushy enough to want to help the assistant." And now I have tomorrow morning's scene to work on.)

I woke up about two hours later, feeling, if not refreshed, at least like I'd gotten enough sleep. I've come to the conclusion writing at 5 AM in the morning works better if one has gone to bed at nine than eleven. Oh well.

We had some fun in the snow--I got some pictures that I'm going to have to post once I get them uploaded.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Dreaming of Green Orion Dancing Girls

Day Three of the Early Writing Discipline. I had a feeling this morning would be more difficult. About ninety minutes before I was supposed to wake up, I dreamed that my iPad's alarm clock started playing "Leena's Dance" (from the Original Star Trek pilot) and that Smokey came in to demand petting. Since the dream was both a replay of the previous two days and what was going to happen, I was pretty confused a moment or two after the dream, when I thought I'd slept through the alarm.

When "Leena's Dance" really did go off (hey, if one is going to get up to write science fiction and fantasy, one may as well be woken up by quintessential pulp fiction cheesy dancing girl music), I sat on the edge of my bed and thought really hard about actually getting up, stumbling through the house, doing the tea thing and getting some words in. I was tempted to fall over sideways and back into bed. But I didn't. I'd like to say that it was because I was disciplined, except that by day three it was easier to force myself up than it would have been day one or two.

I wrote some, but today was more disjointed than yesterday. I wasn't as good at last night's prep as I had been the night before, and I got to bed a little later, too. I'm seeing where I'm not clear on character development, setting, and action. I did make a discovery about my character's boat that I hope to make good use of.

In other news... Today is much warmer here in the valley than it has been the last few days -- there wasn't frost of any kind on the car when I went off to work, and walking around campus has not required extra layers of clothing to keep from freezing. It is a little cloudy, but only a little; the sunshine makes this January day seem like a very early Spring Day instead of an early Winter one.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

More Early Morning Writing

This morning's writing started out with me repeating Niaomi Kritzer's statement to engineers: Always assume there will be cats. Smokey, our cat, decided that he really happy to see a human up at 5:15 AM because it was obvious that I would now be able to play with him and stroke his fur. He was a little disappointed that I had honest-to-goodness tea in my mug and not something more sensible, like cat food.

And then, a few moments later, it was time for a reprisal of Evita as the fast food I ate yesterday, which apparently had Deadly Green Peppers in it, got far enough into my system to cause trouble. As I abandoned my heroine, who was sailing on a lake with a mysterious stranger, I rushed to the bathroom as quietly as I could so as not to wake anyone. And I muttered, "She's sad for her people; sad to be betrayed by her own weak body..." Several times.

Other than that, I think that doing quick outline of "candy bar scenes" and having them read helped to prevent me from staring at a blank screen while I simultaneously tried to wake up and think of what to write. I got about 700 words.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's Writing

For a while I've been trying to find a good stretch of time to write, and for the New Year, I'm doing something new: getting up at 5:30 (no promises about earlier) to write. I've read about Ken Scholes and (I think) Jay Lake and other writers with consistent high output discovering that the very early hours at the beginning of the day gives them time to both write, spend time with their family, and hold Ye Day Jobbe.

When I get home after work, it is difficult for me to get writing until about 3, at which point I have to stop for Familial Duties. My theory is that my circadian rhythm is at a post-lunch low in the early-afternoon slot I've been using, and I'll use that time for marketing and story critique.

So I'm trying Early Morning Writing. Of course, this morning, I've spent about 20 minutes stumbling around in a dark house admiring the strong moon light, blogging, and making tea.

The challenges are going to be getting to sleep early enough (which means watching my afternoon tea consumption) and remembering to set the kitchen and my desk up the night before.