04
November
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part III of III

A continuation from Part I and Part II. And once again, the full photo album is here.

Day 7 Monday, 30 September: Marais and Père Lachaise Cemetery
I slept late today: 8:30! It felt good though. I think I am finally hitting the limits of my frenetic vacation-inspired energy.

Recalling how delicious the last goodies from Boulangerie Julien were, I headed back again for more. I ate my warm (!) croissant in the Luxembourg Gardens, where most everyone else seemed to be exercising — a large group was doing Tai Chi. I dropped off the other goodies at home, then headed out to pick up some souvenirs: cookies from Poliane, tea, chocolate and jam from Mariage Frères, a delightful French picture book for a young friend. Along the way I wandered through the Saint-Germain neighborhood, exploring more of the narrow streets and reveling in the small beauties of a twisted iron railing or a bit of whimsical street art.

(more…)

30
October
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part II of III

A continuation from Part 1:

Day 4 Friday, 27 September: Chartres
This was the day I was most nervous about! As I had been warned by various travel sites, Gare Montparnasse was rather overwhelming! It took us some time to find the ticket selling booths, but once we finally tracked them down the lines were not long, and there was an attendant who spoke English (we looked for the British flag on the window). We got three round-trip tickets with open returns, 90 Euros total. The attendant also kindly gave us a paper schedule with the return times. After that we just had to find the right track!

We waited beside the giant screen, waiting for the display to tell us where to go. Voie 24! We found our train, started to settle in, then realized we were in a first class car (ooops!). Thankfully there were plenty of seats in second class. Then I remembered something about validating tickets– so Bob took our three tickets out and tried to validate them at one of the yellow machines we saw other folks using. It didn’t seem to work but a kind conductor wrote the validation on them instead. Whew! Finally we could relax and enjoy our trip.

I found myself getting quite antsy on the train ride, after being in Paris where I could be constantly on the move. But it was only about an hour, and then we were disembarking at the considerably less imposing station in Chartres. It was easy to find the Cathedral, following the distinctive mismatched spires!

(more…)

27
October
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part I of III

I wrote this up some time ago but am only now getting my act together to post it. I really love traveling, in all its phases: planning, actuality, and reflection. And part of my routine each day is to spend some time in the morning, writing up notes (old-school pen-and-paper style!) about the previous day’s activities, which I can later type up. I do this partly for myself and my traveling companions, so that we have details recorded for future reference and enjoyment, and partly for other travelers who may find them helpful in planning their own trips. So hopefully folks out there will find these (in some cases obsessive) details useful and/or entertaining.

The entire report is quite long so I am splitting it into three parts, and putting it behind a cut.

I will include a few pictures here, but I also have an entire album here.

(more…)

23
September
2014

Motivation

I’ve been on a writing break since finishing a revision of my most recent project at the beginning of this month, and sending it off on its next adventure.

It’s been a lovely break so far. I’m participating in an heirloom apple CSA and so far it is the best CSA I’ve been a part of! I always felt guilty and anxious over vegetable CSAs, uncertain I could use them all, but with apples, no problem! Fresh, crisp eating apples, delicious melty baking apples filling the house with the scent of cinnamon. Mmm. (For those of you in Maine, if you are interested in signing up next year, you can subscribe to emails via their website.)

I’ve also been reading a LOT, with the sort of book-hunger I remember from childhood, when I would wake up early to read for hours before school, and stay up late reading even more. I’ll try to spotlight some of my favorites in another post.

But I am starting to feel that itch that I always feel when I’m not writing regularly.

And I know if it goes on too long I will start to hear what Jay Smooth calls “The Little Hater”:

“I’m sure there are people who wake up every day feeling confident that the entire world wants to look at their face and listen to them talk, but I’m not one of those people. When I’m in the groove, and getting work done, and I feel like I’m making the connection with you guys out there… it feels natural to keep showing up and maintaining that connection. But if I go too long without putting work in, and it feels like that connection is broken, there’s a little voice inside my head that starts playing tricks on me, and trying to convince me that the connection was never really there.”

Except as a writer, it’s more the connection to the ocean of stories, the sensation that you are a conduit for some vivid, living, vibrant world of deeper meaning.

Anyways, I figure it is about time I try to get back on the wagon and beat off the Little Hater. To help motivate me, I’ve rearranged my home workspace to create a make-shift standing desk (I use one at my day job and much prefer it now). I also put up some new inspirational artwork: a selection of postcards and images from my collection.

So now when I stand here with the laptop open, I have Eowen regarding me with steely determination, challenging me to stop messing around on the internet and WRITE!

So off I go!

15
July
2014

Books, Flowers, Strawberries

I am trying to force myself not to touch the newly-finished draft, which is difficult when my heart keeps insisting that I am being lazylazylazy to take a week off (my mind knows better). So what better way to distract myself than by sharing my most recent book-loves:

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim [Adult]
I adored this! It reminded me of many of my favorite comfort books, especially Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm. Four British women escape for a month to a villa in Italy, where they grow and change in interesting ways. It’s delightful and uplifting and charming, with gorgeous descriptions of the villa and gardens, and wickedly funny observations about human nature. The only problem is that now I want to run away to Italy for a month! This was first published in the 1920s and is free via Project Gutenberg. It was also adapted into an equally delightful movie in 1991. I found that the movie, while lacking the lovely details and insights of the book, actually provided a more satisfactory resolution to Lady Catherine’s situation.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Leun Yang [Adult/Teen Historical]
A two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion in China. It does not shy away from the brutality of that event, nor does it provide any easy answers. The characters are beautifully flawed, and seeing the events unfolding through the eyes of characters on both sides of the conflict only makes it all the more tragic. I am glad I read Boxers first, then Saints, as I think it makes for a more compelling experience. But oh how my heart broke for these characters, especially Vibania, the protagonist of Saints.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge [YA Historical Fantasy]
This is currently my favorite read of the year so far. It’s a twisty, beautifully written story about a girl who is ill, who has holes in her memory, who is trying so hard to understand what has happened to her and her family. And her little sister, who she hates and loves and doesn’t understand. I don’t think I’ve felt so strongly for characters in a long while. The fantastical elements build in a sort of slow wave, as you fall deeper and deeper into a folklore-infused world. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“Believe me, I do understand that. And let me tell you – from one monster to another – that just because somebody tells you you’re a monster, it doesn’t mean you are.”

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle [MG Contemporary]
Nate is a middle-school kid with dreams of Broadway, stuck in a town (and family) that don’t understand him at all. So of course he concocts a desperate plan with his best friend and fellow music-theater lover to run away to New York City to audition for the new musical based on ET (yes, the movie about the alien who wants to go home). In spite of the wacky premise, this felt utterly real — especially Nate’s struggles with his own self-image, and his absolute JOY in music theater. The voice was wonderful– self-deprecating and funny and kind. I kept stopping to read bits out loud to my husband!

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford [Adult Nonfiction]
Absolutely fascinating! My favorite bits were those that revealed some of the personality and character of the historical figures (especially the excerpts from historical documents) and the details about Mongolian culture from the time of Genghis Khan onward. This book also revealed to me how very little I actually knew about the history of Mongolia and the areas that became part of the Mongolian Empire, and about Genghis Khan himself. He was a much more moderate and wise fellow than I ever realized, with some quite enlightened attitudes and laws regarding women (according to this author, at least). I should note for the squeamish that there are some pretty horrific descriptions of torture at various points throughout.

I’ve also been keeping busy doing fun summer stuff like…

Enjoying my sky-blue delphiniums:

Picking strawberries (and eating them!):

Visiting some new favorite places, like the hike up Beech Hill in Rockport, to this old stone cottage with a view of the sea (next time I want to bring a picnic!):

And old favorites, like the Coastal Botanical Garden:


(Aren’t these adorable? They’re like muppet flowers…)


(I am a sucker for blue flowers)


(Hanging out with the rock-whales, cooling down in the spray)


(So. Much. Color.)


(Hens and Chicks)


(This dahlia had BLACK leaves!)

10
July
2014

Two Finished Things

I finished two things this week. This is one of them:

(My first hat! My first cable stitches!)

This is the other:

(Blurred for Spoilers, and because first drafts are not meant for Mortal Eyes)

With both the hat and the novel, I found that I started going faster and faster as I approached the ending, and that has led to the last bits of both projects being a bit messy and wild. Fortunately I can revise the novel, and the top of that hat doesn’t really show when I am wearing it, unless I happen to be around enormously tall people.

[Tangent question for my knitter-friends: is it sensible to assume that if the leftover yarn I have weighs more than the finished hat, I could knit another one with it?]

In other news:

My husband and I went to see Cirque du Soleil last month when they were in Boston. The show was Amaluna, and I loved it. The underlying story was loosely based on The Tempest, but with a mostly-female cast (Prospera played a mean electric cello, and had an all-girl backup band and a host of Amazon warriors).

One of my favorite acts of the entire show was “The Balance Goddess”: one performer, holding the entire audience captive as she built an enormous structure of carefully balanced wooden ribs. There was a bit of music to start, but eventually it all fell to silence, until all that was left was her breathing. It was absolutely mesmerizing!

This TED video doesn’t capture the beauty and power of the live performance, and the performer is not the woman that we saw in Boston, but it’s still pretty magical and stunning:


And now I am off to wander around listlessly in post-novel ennui for a bit.

04
March
2014

February Updates

I can tell that I am having a relatively good winter because I have not needed to go out and buy myself consolation tulips to remind myself that Spring is Coming. Though of course now that I’ve written that, I am consumed with the need to have tulips in the house. [Edit: And now I do. Lovely pink-and-white striped ones.]

But even so, I am really looking forward to April, when the first crocuses and squill start to push up through the snow!

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to in February:

~Writing~
I finished a draft of a NEW BOOK! NEW! Not a revision or a rewrite. NEW!

I am blissfully overusing caps because it feels SO GOOD! The last time I finished a first draft of a brand new book was in 2011 — since then I’ve been rewriting and revising that book (which does not have a home yet, alas) and working on various false starts.

Of course, the new book is by no means a perfect book. In fact, I suspect it needs a significant amount of work. Especially the parts where I left behind notes to myself like “Insert major turning point here that will explain why X happens later.”

So I spent the second half of the month working on a new outline, brainstorming, reading and re-reading craft articles and books on structure. One of my goals with this revision/rewrite is to really focus on staying true to my characters, and to ensure that the plot is driven by character choices and motivations.

And now that it’s March, I’m diving back in again. Wish me luck!

~Reading~
2014 continues to be an excellent reading year for me — not just the fact that I’ve been reading more, but the books have been awesome! I keep wanting to take pictures of my to-read pile because I am so excited about all the great books waiting for me.

Here’s what I read in February:

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
(Adult Biography) I found this fascinating, sad, inspiring, and disturbing. I have been a fan of Millay’s poetry for years, but I never knew much about her life. This is a dense book, but filled with excerpts from letters and diaries. I found it particularly interesting to read accounts of how much of a… glamour… Millay seemed to possess, almost literally enchanting the men and women she encountered. But it was also a bit hard to read in places — especially those where Millay was dealing with poverty, interpersonal drama, and addiction. Still, a fascinating and truly gifted person, who was fiercely dedicated to her art.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
(Adult Fiction) I loved several of these short stories (including the first two, which was what sucked me in!) and found the writing to be beautiful and evocative throughout. Several of them (the titular “Interpreter of Maladies”, “A Real Durwan”, “Mrs. Sen’s”) were a bit too bitter/unresolved for me to really *enjoy*, but they have continued to ripple through my thoughts, and I think perhaps I need a bit more time to fully decide how I feel about them. My overall favorites were “This Blessed House” and “The Third and Final Continent.”

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
(MG Historical Fiction) I enjoyed this every bit as much as the first — I very much hope there will be a third book! I love the Gaither Sisters!

The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
(MG Fantasy) Magical, charming, quirky, lovely, and *beautifully* written. I especially loved Maya, who makes mistakes and has faults, but is strong and funny and wonderful. I ached over her worries, especially the ones about her mother. And the vicarious trip to Paris! Both the story and the writing style reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones (a Very Good Thing, for this reader).

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(MG Fantasy) Deserving of all the accolades. One of my favorite Gaiman books so far. I loved the concept (an orphan being raised in a cemetery by ghosts), but I loved the characters even more.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
(Adult Historical Fiction) This had the feeling of some of my favorite comfort reads, though the WWI and post-war trauma elements added some considerably more uncomfortable moments (as they should). I found it interesting that while Maisie had to deal with a lot of adversity of situation, she is one of those characters (like Anne Shirley) who seem to be almost universally loved by the other characters in her world. Some readers might find this “unrealistic” but I didn’t mind. I look forward to reading more in the series!

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
(YA Science Fiction) I enjoyed this even more than the first in the series– I have a soft spot for “school” books and protags with math/science/tech leanings, and I enjoyed learning more about the world and political structure (even if some of it doesn’t entirely make sense if I look at it too closely).

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
(YA Fiction) Amazing voice. The ending did not entirely work for me, but the rest of it made up for that and more.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
(Nonfiction/Memoir/Writing Life)
This book worked best for me when I could nibble it off in small bits. There were many essays that I loved and felt instantly true, and others that I found less applicable to my experience of the writing life, as they felt a more oriented toward someone who writes for a living (and does not have a day job, as I do).

~Playing~
One of the best things I did in last month was to spend several hours sliding and flying across a beautiful desert landscape toward a mysterious shining mountain, piecing together the story of a lost civilization, accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.

Otherwise known as playing the game Journey.

It was just as amazing as promised by those who recommended it. I kind of want to bring everyone into my living room and sit them down and make them play it now, too.

Admittedly, I don’t play a lot of video games — the only one I’ve completed recently is Sword & Sworcery, which I also loved. In fact I had a stronger personal emotional reaction to S&S (for spoilery reasons) than Journey. But Journey was just plain beautiful to play — the music, the art, the atmosphere, the story. And in many places it evoked a sort of effervescent joy I never would have expected from a video game.

I don’t want to give too much away, but if you have a Playstation and haven’t tried Journey yet, or if you are just curious, there are some screenshots and movies on the website I linked above. And if you’ve already played Journey — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you play it in the online mode? Did you play it more than once? (I kind of want to go through a second time now).

(Special thanks to Gavin and Jenn, who both raved about Journey on Facebook, and convinced me to try it out. Jenn also blogged about it here and here, with some fascinating links to articles about the game, storytelling, and the concept of “flow”).

05
February
2014

January Updates

A miscellany of things that have gotten me through this often-cold, often-gray month:

Steampunk Fractals. Go look here!

Making patterns. I would love to see a live performance by this artist!

Knitting! I finally managed to dig out the hat I am working on and figure out how to read a chart (or at least this not-especially-complex chart). I haven’t gotten to my first cable stitch, but I am on the way!

January was a really excellent reading month for me — I managed to finish 11 books in a variety of genres and levels (1 picture book, 1 adult non-fiction, 2 graphic novels, 6 YA and 1 MG). I’d love to keep it up all year!

Two of my favorites this month both have “Summer” in the title, a fact I had not realized until I started typing up this blog post. Apparently my brain is eager for winter to be over! But they are also really good books, so I wanted to mention them here…

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Of everything I read in January, this is the one that has been staying with me most strongly. This MG historical juggles so many different elements: life in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, family dynamics, sisterhood, art, poetry. But I think the reason I loved it most was the protag, Delphine. She’s just plain awesome, from her fierce dedication to taking care of her two younger sisters (even when they don’t want to be taken care of) to her sense of humor and wry observations, to her deep wounds and need to be an 11 year old girl. The only reason I’m not reading the sequel right now is that I’m saving it as a reward for my next writing milestone!

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
I loved Stork’s earlier Marcelo in the Real World, but I think I might actually have liked this one even more. Pancho doesn’t necessarily invite the reader to love him, and yet I did, no matter how prickly he was. And I appreciated the absence of false sentimentality, especially involving D.Q., the boy dying of cancer who could easily have been played purely as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Boy but was much more real.

January was also a good writing month, as evidenced by my latest stickers:

One sticker = 500 words. I’m on the downward slope with this draft, and hoping my momentum will propel me to a finish in February.

I hope January was kind to all of you, too!

10
January
2014

2014 Goals

It’s already January 10th, so I should probably post my goals for 2014, especially as I’ve been enjoying reading everyone else’s.

Here’s how I did on my goals from 2013:

Finish a new book draft two half drafts
Didn’t do this as originally stated. Instead I wrote first chunk of a draft, then rewrote it a different way. My overall wordcount was more than my normal first draft length, so I still feel good about it, though

Knit The One Ring fingerless gloves
I didn’t end up knitting the One Ring scarf I had planned, but I revised this goal to be “knit a pair of fingerless gloves and learn to use double-pointed needles” which I did!

Go to Paris
Done!

Read four books I’ve had on my to-read list forever
Partially done. I did plenty of reading in 2013 but only read one of the books on this list (Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers). I did read the first few chapters of the others, but I wouldn’t call it a real strong effort. So they stay on my to-read list!

Send emails to the authors of books I read and love, and blog more recommendations here
Partially done. I did manage to blog about several of my favorite reads, but I failed at sending emails! I know well the joy of reader mail, so I am sorry I didn’t do better at this!

Pick strawberries
Done. Nom!

And now here are my goals for 2014:

Finish the Hermione hat
I started knitting this back in July (!)

Avoid watching/reading bad news that has no redeeming qualities
It’s one thing to educate myself about world events, but I really don’t need to read any more articles about horrible car crashes and murders…

Finish drafting my current writing project
And revise it sufficiently so that I can send it to my critique partners and agent.

Draft (or get a good start on) something new
Ideally something that pushes me in one of the areas I want to improve craft-wise, or explores a new genre.

Send letters to five authors whose books I have read and loved lately

Read at least 25 books by diverse authors and/or about diverse protagonists.

Write up my Paris trip journal

Play Journey
So many of my friends have recommended it (I already bought the soundtrack and use it for writing music) and we now own a PS3!

Reconnect online
I want to reconnect online with my friends (especially the writer-friends I don’t see in 3 dimensional life). I’ve been kind of a hermit for most of the past year or so, and lately I’ve felt more lonely, missing the awesome folks I used to communicate with. I realized this year that while I read blogs and FB (and occasionally twitter and tumblr) I barely ever post anymore. I want to change that, to reach out, instead of just passively observing. So to start, I’m going to try updating at least three times a week on FB/G+ and at least once a week on my blog for the next month– then reevaluate. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, I’ll figure out a replacement goal! Perhaps I will even dust off my unused tumblr account…

Do you all have any goals for 2014? Do you share them online?

06
January
2014

Recent Reads

I kept trying to put together a “Favorite Books of 2013″ post but I just couldn’t do it. It was a really good reading year and I read so many wonderful books. So instead, here’s a few books I read and loved in the past month or so!

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
If I had to pick one favorite book of 2013 this would be my choice. I’m not sure it would work for everyone but it worked for me. The two things that initially drew me in were:
(1) the main character is an artificial intelligence that once controlled a space ship, as well as hundreds of “ancillaries” created from the bodies of people taken from planets annexed by a sprawling intergalactic empire. Now she’s down to just one body, and is on a quest for revenge.
(2) the sprawling intergalactic empire doesn’t differentiate for gender in either dress or language (although they do have a concept of male and female, and seem to be some far future version of humanity). This is represented by the main character using “she” and “her” to refer to everyone, except when speaking in a local language where gender is relevant.
I feel like reading this book made my mind bigger– stretched it out in ways I hadn’t even realized it could be stretched. But it was also just plain fun, and I really came to feel for Breq (as the spaceship calls herself in her single form). There’s not a lot of big action, but I loved the tension as Breq slowly reveals the painful, heartbreaking events in her past that led to her present situation. This book tells a complete and satisfying story, but I am definitely going to be watching for Leckie’s next book (coming later this year I believe), which will continue the story of these characters and their world.
[Adult Science Fiction]

Champion by Marie Lu
This was the third and final book in a trilogy (following Legend and Prodigy). I actually read all three in the past year, and loved them all very much. The two main characters June and Day have wonderfully distinct voices and perspectives (which can be a stumbling block in some dual POV books). I love how the entire series explores power and choice, and doesn’t try to give any easy answers. And that while there is a quite lovely romance, it doesn’t dominate the plot.
[YA Science Fiction]

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
This was a great year for third books! It is so hard to write a compelling book, let alone a compelling SERIES, but I adored every one of the Kat books, including this one. I love how Kat herself continues to develop — growing older and wiser but still remaining as spunky and loyal and fierce and wonderful as she ever was. I especially loved how so many of the ongoing character threads were brought together in this book, and resolved in a way that was satisfying and believable. If I were queen of the world I would commission another three books about Kat and her sisters!
[Middle Grade Historical Fantasy]

These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
This one had a lot of buzz and for me it totally deserved it. I downloaded a sample to my ereader and immediately had to go buy the full book. Very readable! [YA Science Fiction]

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
I think my fairy book-mother was looking out for me on this one. I was in one of those states when you know you want a particular type of book but you aren’t entirely sure what. I kind of wanted something light and fun, maybe a little like Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, or Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. And I found this, which ended up being perfect: a teen hearthrob boy meets a girl poet from a small, seaside Maine tourist town via a mistaken email about a pet pig, and they become friends (without actually knowing who each other are). Then boy tracks girl down, and hijinks ensue. [YA Contemporary Realistic]

What have you read lately and enjoyed? I still have some holiday gift certificates to spend! :-)