Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Progress: The Nitty Gritty

I had already chosen the photos that I wanted to use for the next Hike with Me book. All I needed to do was create what I'm calling the photo plates. When I first researched using photos in a CreateSpace book, I discovered that using Word to put captions on photos was not a reliable way to do things. I use Gimp to put my photos and their captions onto precisely sized and print quality images.

The process for this isn't terribly difficult, but it is time consuming. I'm not sure if I made it more time consuming this year by trying for efficiency. I figured that since my first reader would have something to say about the captions, I should have him evaluate the captions as I wrote and added them to the photo plates. It seemed like it would be easier to fix them while I was working on them, rather than having to go back and fix them after he'd read them in the proof of the book.

All the photo plates are now complete, and, in the course of designing the new cover, I've also submitted updates for the covers of the first two Hike with Me books. Once those updates are completed on CreateSpace, I'll trickle them down to the ebook versions, since the biggest change is in the title design.

The next step is inserting the photos into the Word document. For the print book, this process is a bit more finicky than for the ebook. I prefer each of the narrow photos, for example, to be on the outside, rather than near the spine. Whenever a photo changes position, it influences the position of the text that comes after. For the ebook, I use an html layout view and simply stick the photo plates where they should be in order, no need to worry about page position. It will be fairly simple to convert the print book document into an ebook ready one.

The Wild Coast will, I think, be an improvement over the last book, as Queens River Loop was an improvement over Stump Lake. I'm continuing to learn more not only about how better to write, but also how better to prepare for the production of this particular kind of book. They aren't really travel books, but I suppose that's the best classification. They are adventure books. I find backpacking to be a wonderful adventure, and, in those books, that's what I want to share.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hike with Me Wild Coast Progress

I'd stopped checking on the word count a while ago, but when I copied the text into my Word template, the word count showed up in the lower left corner without my meaning to check it. To my surprise, I have written less words about a six day trip than I wrote last year about a four day trip. And yet, I think that this text is stronger. I have taken what I learned in my Creative Nonfiction class and ran with it, trying to remember that my main goal with this book is to tell a story - it just happens to be a true story.

My first reader is giving the text another careful read, and I'm getting set to start adding the pictures and captions. I've picked the pictures that I want to include, though some may be added and some removed as I continue on the process. I have only one more workday before the Christmas break, when, in exchange for three mandatory vacation days, I am officially off until the 4th of January. (Unofficially, I have to work on the 2nd, but I knew that was coming.)

And so, there are no more excuses about time. I'm about to have a lot of it. What I need to do is make sure that the lure of streaming television doesn't tear me away from the work that I love. I know I can finish this if I put the hours in with my butt in the chair, my hands at the keyboard or on the mouse.

When I was looking through the photos to choose the ones I wanted to use in the book, one struck me as being so layered and expansive and beautiful that I exclaimed aloud. The picture was talking to me, and although I didn't know what it was saying, Ambrose did. It was telling me it should be the cover:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Class Is Over: Time to Get to Work

My class is done with for the semester, but I am finding that I have more than enough work to keep me occupied at my job. That's a good thing. I'd hate to feel bored at work. 

Or so I keep telling myself. Okay, okay, so my husband keeps reminding me. 

The focus of my writing is now turning to finish the next Hike with Me book. The text has been drafted and reviewed. The hard part is going to be winnowing down the photos to a reasonable number. I'm a little more wary of putting in as many photos as possible, because of the lessons I've learned putting the other two books into expanded distribution. 

After a long time of sticking with Amazon only, I finally decided to go ahead and distribute elsewhere. I wasn't selling very much on Amazon. Not that these books are really about sales, but maybe the people who want to read them only frequent Barnes and Noble or iBooks. I won't know unless I try. 

The sticking point with expanded distribution was that one distributor, Smashwords, won't take files larger than 10MB. Supposedly, there's a way to go up to 20, but I couldn't get it to work for my Queens River file that, with all its pictures as compressed as possible, won't get smaller than 13MB. I ended up using Draft2Digital for Queens and Smashwords for Stump Lake. 

I'm not paying much attention to whether they're selling at the moment, but it was quite a delight to see them available in so many places. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Unexpected Effectiveness

Today in class we took turns reading excerpts from our portfolio essays. I didn't read mine. I hadn't had a chance to practice reading it aloud, and I wanted to read it well.

The reading portion of class was expected, but the professor had a little surprise for us. For each reader, she selected two people to give responses. My impression was that the responses were to be positive. This was to be a celebration of work that we liked and liked creating.

For the most part, the responses were blandly positive. The professor did make one exception - for some reason, she nitpicked one girl's reading, but none of the student responders gave anything negative. I didn't, though I wasn't sure I had responded positively enough.

The essay I was to respond to was a relatable, simply told tale of what it was like to leave home and go away to college, and then come back. That's just about what I said, though I did quote some nice phrases that the author used as well as good voice.

But it made me think of my freshman year of college, fourteen years ago in 2001. This author's experience and mine could not be the same. I left home only a few weeks before 9/11. And exactly four weeks after that event rocked the nation, my ex-boyfriend committed suicide and turned my mind and heart inside out.

I had a hard time listening to the essays that followed that one. My face heated as I thought about those events and how they affected me at the time. How they affect me now.

I guess that essay did more than the author intended. By calling up this almost stereotypical tale of the changes that can happen when one goes away to college, she reminded me of the differences timing can make, and the uselessness of holding on to regrets. Without intending to speak to my specific situation or memories, she nonetheless made an effective impression.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Assignment as Event

Dean Wesley Smith gives frequent advice on his blog to writers. And, the advice may sometimes seem repetitive. The same words of wisdom may be seen again and again on his blog, not because they've been heeded, but because the advice is often touching on traps that all writers can fall into. Even Dean.

Last week, he wrote about finding himself making his next writing project important. Despite frequent admonishments not to let a novel or story become an event, his excitement for the project let him slip into that writer trap and be frozen at the keyboard.

Since I'm taking a class this fall, I got to thinking about how school trains us not only to revise, revise, revise our writing, but also to treat writing assignments as events. When a paper is due on a specific date, it becomes an event. When a paper can make or break your grade, it becomes important (more or less so depending on your temperament and whether that grade impacts scholarship dollars).

All through school, writers are trained to look at each piece of writing, be it fiction or non, a lab report or a poem, as an important event. Personally, I think that attitude is behind a lot of procrastination and last minute writing. Those deadlines made me want to avoid writing until I absolutely had to start, the night before, or, with luck, two nights before.

I've definitely carried that attitude with me into fiction writing. Without a deadline, I often find myself staring at the blank screen, or avoiding the keyboard entirely. And each rejection ends up feeling like getting an F, a horrible blow to my self-confidence.

The writing myths that Dean points out on his blog are like boulders. And I'm carrying them, dragging them behind me, clinging to them even as they slow me down. Maybe it's because I was good at school from a young age, and letting go of what validated much of my life is scary. Maybe, as a writer, I can come up with any number of excuses to hold onto them. And maybe I can dig them up by the roots and let them go.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Photos Are Easier than Words

When I started feeling a bit under the weather on Saturday, it didn't seem like much of a cold. My husband figured that with my being more active and healthy overall, a cold didn't bring me down as much as it used to. I liked that idea, and I even bought it until yesterday.

That's when the illness decided to remind me that no matter how active and healthy I might be, I can still be laid low by colds. Or sinus infections as the case may be. Could be.

At any rate, my brain has become mush. Enjoy these pictures in lieu of coherently ordered words.
Sunrise

Made me think of my mother-in-law, Judy - it's even a Toyota truck. 

A picture of a picture of the swing at St. John's College, Santa Fe. I miss that swing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Visualize Turn Signals

I guess the "Visualize Turn Signals" bumper sticker was a reaction to the "Visualize World Peace" bumper stickers, indicating, perhaps, that drivers would be better off concentrating on how to make the world around them safer than the world at large more peaceful. As a cyclist, I count on the fact that all drivers are reckless, careless and think I'm an asshole.

Now, I can't entirely blame cars for thinking that I'm an asshole, because I see, both as a driver and a as a cyclist, a lot of asshole bikers. They run lights instead of treating them like stop signs (which is allowed under Idaho Code); they don't look before turning; some of them even use their phones while riding. But I'm not like that. I'm a paranoid cyclist, or perhaps a realist cyclist, because if every car really is out to get me, that's not paranoia, right?

The other day I made a post on Facebook about a car that had not turned right in front of me. I was offering kudos to this random driver, because they respected the rules of the road and treated me like a vehicle. Just as they would not turn right in front of another car, or a motorcycle, so too did they wait patiently for the light to turn, and for me to clear out, before completing their right turn. However, on Facebook, the response was not what I expected. Expressions of concern for my safety and well-being, instead of kudos for the good car.

Maybe I wasn't as clear as I could have been, but, frankly, car horror stories are more the norm than tales of law abiding safety. Just this week, I was approaching that same intersection as the light was about to go green. The first car in line had a turn signal on, so I slowed, not wanting to ride into their turn path. The second car in line had no signal, so I rode up beside it, hoping to cross the street in line with it and let cars behind turn if they wanted to. But as I drew abreast, the turn signal came on and I braked.

Was I supposed to keep going, with an obliviousness that assumes cars won't hit me? I don't know. The car, to give it credit, also braked, and I started pedaling again, releasing a brief obscenity regarding turn signals into the air. It being a brisk 40 degrees outside, I doubt the driver heard me.

Maybe it's time to replace my bicycle bell with an air horn.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Inspiration and Concentration

On Tuesday, before my Writing Creative Nonfiction class, I overheard a classmate talking about the writing that they'd done this semester. The words were something to the effect of, "I've been writing out of my ass all semester. I don't know where any of you are getting inspiration from, because I'm not."

And, over the course of the semester, I have heard other complaints about the format of the class and the work that we do in it. That the in-class work is boring; that they don't understand how to respond to the short pieces; that the online work can't be done. And I commiserate without agreeing.

My circumstances are different than theirs. I never took a class like this when I got my first degree. At St. John's, every class involved writing, but no class really taught it. And creative writing was not a part of the curriculum. Perhaps, if I went to a more traditional college and took this kind of class when I was younger, then I'd have the same issues that some of my classmates do.

I know that my writing has matured as I've gained more life experience (and as I've practiced). I don't have a problem analyzing excerpts as short as two paragraphs in two free-writing sessions of five minutes each. The pieces are layered, and there are many aspects which can be teased out and analyzed: the language, the use of research, imagery, turns of phrase, repetition, rhetorical devices, format choice, word choice, Biblical references, pop culture references, mythological references, punctuation, sound, personal reactions... I could go on.

But, for whatever reason, my classmates have trouble. They may lack focus, drive, interest or energy for a class that they might have hoped would be easier. I don't mind, much. I mean, I mind that my writing group has trouble sending out their drafts 48, or even 24, hours in advance of our meeting. But I don't mind that my classmates aren't enjoying the class as much as I am.

Because I do enjoy this class. I'm learning from it and developing a greater awareness of how research can enhance not just nonfiction but fiction as well. As a kind of brain break, I recently reread The Metaconcert, by Julian May. It is a part of a series of science fiction books involving telepathic powers and aliens. And from it, I have conceived a desire to visit Mount Washington in New Hampshire, because the descriptions from this book, and others in the series, are so vivid, so real. Small aspects of research are all over those books, and form a part of why I can read them over and over again.

If I were a different kind of person, maybe I would have replied to that classmate complaining of a lack of inspiration. Maybe I would have said, "No one is going to give you inspiration, so there's no use waiting for it. You have to dig for it, hunt for it, hammer it out on a keyboard. And you have to want it."

But I didn't say that, or even a less thought out variation. I sat and watched, seeing others nod or not. And then I took it and used it to make my own inspiration.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Doing the Right Thing

If the right thing were always the easy thing, then no one would ever choose to do wrong. But it's not. Sometimes you make mistakes and you are faced with that choice, that path of the right way.

It's lined with thorns, and overhead the skies threaten with leashed thunderheads. The outcome is out of your hands, unknown and it could continue getting worse beyond the shadows you can see.

But it is the right thing to choose, however personally painful, however agonizing that choice might feel.

Knowing that does not make the choice easier.

The knowledge can only offer the cold comfort of righteousness. The real comfort comes from knowing that making alternative choices is only setting yourself up for future turmoil and paths that are chosen for you, rather than ones that you choose. You jump with a parachute, not knowing for sure that it will prevent injury or catastrophe, but knowing that it is better than jumping without one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inspiration Everywhere

I keep up with reading the blog of Dean Wesley Smith. He writes about writing, and about the business of writing. I try my best to learn by absorbing.

One of the things that he emphasizes is that you can apply lessons from other areas to writing. Specifically, he often cites NBC's The Voice as a way for writers to learn. Now, I haven't watched The Voice, because my husband can't stand singing shows. (He doesn't like musicals either. I blame whatever teacher told him when he was young that he couldn't sing.) But I do try to keep an eye out for lessons elsewhere.

And, the other day, I found an interview with a director and actress about a movie that was filmed in one take. No gimmicks, no tricks - 138 minutes in a single take.

Of course they practiced, rehearsed, blocked and planned. But the final cut is the uncut length of a single run through. The director, Sebastian Schipper, had this to say:
I think one of the least important things you need for making a film whether you’re an an actor or director is your brain. One of the most important things is your intuition and to get into the flow and really understand. That’s what makes a film radiate. Your brain can get in the way so that you’re controlling everything and eliminate mistakes, so that all of a sudden your job as a director is to always make everything clean.
And when I read that paragraph, I thought of Dean. This director, this creator, in my mind, rephrased one of Dean's frequent admonishments to writers about not letting critical voice take over your writing.

Beyond that, the idea of filming in one continuous take is akin, though not exactly similar, to writing into the dark. Even though they practiced this film, they didn't rewrite the final take. Its final form was defined as it was created. No editing. No oversight committee.

There is inspiration everywhere, if you just take the time to notice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

If You Want Something Done...

You should probably do it yourself.

That's what I decided after my disastrous hunt for strawberry sorbet last week. I've never made sorbet before, which is actually surprising considering how much I love eating it. Fruit as a snack was almost a vice for me in high school. Sure, I ate candy bars, but I'd feel guilty about it afterwards. But a quart of strawberries? A pint of blueberries? I could make them disappear and only suffer a mild stomach ache from the quantity of fiber I'd ingested.

I searched the internet for strawberry sorbet recipes and found that the process was extremely simple. Take strawberries, puree, add sugar, freeze.

Most of the recipes did recommend using an ice cream maker to get the frozen texture just right, but I don't have one and didn't want to invest. An alternate solution was to put the frozen chunks back in the blender, and that's what I planned on doing.

On Saturday, my husband and I went to the farm stand on Broadway near the Shopko. I acquired a quart of strawberries. Their sweet scent teased me on the car ride home. Some of the recipes advocated for freezing the strawberries before pureeing them, but I wasn't that patient. I removed the green tops and dumped them into the Cuisinart.

Berries became puree in short order. I added half a cup of sugar and blended again. Then, just because I'd read it on several recipes, I added a splash of lemon juice and a bit of salt. One more blend and then I poured the heavenly smelling mixture into a glass baking dish. Into the freezer and the waiting game began.

Every hour or so, I scraped down the sides and stirred the mixture that became steadily more solid as time wore on. To be honest, I could probably have eaten it right out of the blender. Even a mere three hours gave a nice soft serve type texture. But I held out.

After five hours, I deemed it fit to eat and served out portions to myself and my husband. The rest was place in a plastic container for later consumption.

And I find that I must thank Haagen Dasz for discontinuing their strawberry sorbet. Mine is far superior.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Cruelty of the Internet, or All I Wanted Was a Strawberry Sorbet

I remember the flavor of Haagen-Dazs strawberry sorbet with the kind of fondness that can only be attached to a food item that you haven't eaten for a long time. Every time we go to the grocery store, I look for it, check and see if maybe this time it's in stock. When it isn't, I put that down the our store. No store has the capacity for carrying everything after all.

So when we occasionally go to some other place, to pick up prescriptions or get some item that we can't get at our regular store, I check the ice cream aisle for the elusive strawberry sorbet. And when it isn't there, I blame the region. Perhaps, here in Boise, that flavor just isn't popular. Something about the climate or the region or some obscure buying habits metric that excludes the strawberry sorbet from being stocked.

I really wanted some yesterday for my birthday, but since my husband and I went out for sushi we only checked one grocery store before calling it a night. But today, the craving became irresistible. I wanted it.

I went out on my bicycle to the one place I figured would definitely carry it: Whole Foods. Whole Foods hasn't been in Boise long, but it was definitely a go-to place for me in Santa Fe when it came to specialty foods.

But, it turns out, there wasn't any Haagen-Dazs at all at Whole Foods. I did find these things called sorbet pops, and they came in strawberry, but the only flavor in stock was raspberry. I would have bought them, on the off chance that they might taste like I remember. But they were not and I did not.

I checked Walgreens. I checked Albertsons. And then I checked my phone. This is where it got painful.

The mobile site gave me this horrible, horrible tease:

There - right there - the strawberry sorbet of my dreams! 

But when you click on that link, it leads you to the main sorbet page, which lists only four flavors: Mango, Orchard Peach, Zesty Lemon and Raspberry. 

I was torn between crying and emulating this video: 

All I wanted was a strawberry sorbet!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Worth of Birdseed

One of the expenses that my husband and I occasionally argue about is bird seed. He, at times, buys more bird seed than I think is reasonable. And at those times, I usually can convince him to cut back.

But I never convince him, nor do I want to convince him, to cut it out completely.

We live in a studio apartment. Yes, it has high ceilings, and that's nice, but it is a single room plus a bathroom. It is a small space for two people to live, though not as small as the tents we use for backpacking. The front door looks out onto a concrete patio with other doors and metal stairs leading up to the second floor apartments that ring when someone runs up them.

I'm always a little amazed that this place rates a back door, but it does. We have one outside wall, two windows and a windowed door leading to a small concrete patio, sheltered overhead by a balcony, looking out on a grass ditch and a white fence that separates the apartment property from the sidewalk and the road. Across the street is a parking lot, more apartment complexes, some offices and a small creek. There's a park with a pond beyond that creek, and, across another street is the Boise River.

All that water makes for good homes for ducks and geese. And it turns out that while I grew up giving stale bread to ducks, they really like birdseed. And when they find a reliable source of birdseed, word spreads, quacks perhaps. And they come.

And they keep coming.

They quack and squeak and grumble. They peck each other for access to food. They are nearly impossible to count, because they move and flow, sometimes jumping or flapping their wings to reposition themselves. They are fascinating and wild.

In a way, these ducks are the closest we have to pets. We feed them and they provide us with entertainment. A glimpse at the wild life we like to immerse ourselves in when we backpack. A reminder of what we're missing when we're at home. And a mystery when, as one, they fly off without warning.

video

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pro Tip

On September 29th, I received a promotional email from the Idaho Steelheads hockey team. I guess when you buy tickets online, they get your email address and send you junkmail advertisements for ticketing deals for the next season. 

I was actually glad to receive the email. I like going to a hockey game, and the Steelheads offer a fun night out, especially on dollar beer night. Sure, I'd rather go see the Blackhawks, but I can't afford to get myself to Chicago, let alone get tickets to the Madhouse on Madison.

Now, this particular email had a deal that was interesting, though the details were a bit lacking. The tag was "4 games for as low as $56." If that's 4 single game tickets for $56, that's not a super great deal, unless the seats are better than nosebleed. If it's 2 tickets per game, 4 games, then we're talking a great deal. Still, I had to turn the deal down for a very important reason.

You see, this promotional deal only ran through the month of September, which means that they left me less than 36 hours to take advantage. While I'm not living paycheck to paycheck, I'm on a budget. My husband manages our finances well enough to allow us to attend the occasional hockey game, but these aren't spur of the moment decisions. The funds are planned, at least a month in advance, if not far more for big things like our trip to the Washington coast this past summer.

And so, I did the only thing that I could reasonably do in the circumstances. I replied.
Hi,
I sure wish I had heard about this deal sooner. Since there's less than two days left in September, I don't have time to budget for this great deal. :(
I am interested in hearing about other pricing deals since I do love going out to see the Steelheads.
Thanks,
Jeanne
Okay, my initial reaction was a reply more along the lines of:
Pro Tip: When advertising a month long sale, send out emails at the beginning of the month, rather than the day before the end.  
Either I'm reading Kameron Hurley's* marketing tips too closely, or this hockey team's marketing department isn't.


*There are marketing tips on that Twitter feed, but also hilarity and swearing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Like a Boss

A few months ago, my boss was on vacation. She was going to be gone for two weeks, a nice long trip. We had prepared for her absence as best as we could, and my own long vacation would be happening two days after she came back. Summer's not a busy time at my workplace, which worked out great for both of us, since we both liked taking outdoorsy vacations.

But, the week before she was supposed to come back, the gut punch arrived.

She was not coming back.

At first, I didn't believe it. Classic denial. And then I proceeded quickly through the rest of the stages, landing more in limbo than anything else. For several weeks, I waited to see how things would fall out in my section of the office.

And, two weeks ago, the word came down. I was promoted into my boss's position.

Supervising isn't something that I'd ever planned on doing, but this would be a small team and I would have a mentor in my boss's boss, who had actually been my original boss when I first started in this office. I felt that my path wouldn't be easy, but it would be possible. Something that I could handle. I could learn to supervise.

Then an uppercut came out of nowhere.

My now-boss, who had been my boss's boss before my boss left, was also leaving the department.

When she told me and my direct report, I maintained an outward calm, because I had to take this without freaking out. If there was ever a chance to prove that I could keep control over my emotions sufficiently to be a good supervisor, then the time was now. At the least, I wouldn't be able to prove it to her for much longer.

But it was important for me to prove it to myself as well. I know that one of my weaknesses in this team environment has been a tendency to be overly emotional. Inside, my head is spinning at the rapid pace of change, but outwardly, I'm working on projecting the kind of calm that will hold my team together.

I'm trying to take these punches like a boss.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Aisle Rage

There's no place that proves we shouldn't have jet packs better than the grocery store.

Not because there are a lot of crashes, but because in no other place do people act as if they are alone when surrounded by other people.

Why else would someone park their cart on one side of the aisle and then stand in the space between it and the other side of the aisle to browse the shelves and single-handedly block an entire aisle? Why else would someone abruptly turn around without even a glance to see if anyone else is in the space they want to enter? In the grocery store, the cart is your own personal world, the store is your private freeway, and other carts are not other people, with hopes, fears and dreams of their own, but obstacles that are in your - your! - way.

It's easy to fall into cart rage in such situations. Too easy, to snarl at the idiot who can't decide which way they want to go, or which aisle has the items they want. You can build up a head of steam even in the moments before you get a cart as the person ahead of you blocks your way to grab one.

But that's just not healthy. Better by far to stand back, take a deep breath, and smile at the absurdity of the oblivious.

Better to nod to yourself with wisdom, knowing that this, this is why we can't have jet packs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Creative Nonfiction

This semester, I'm taking a class on Creative Nonfiction. So far, I'm enjoying it. The teacher has been with the university for more years than I've been alive. Compared to last fall, when I was in the guinea pig group for a new, last minute replacement adjunct, that alone is wonderful.

But there are other aspects of the class that I'm finding useful. We write each class session, even if it is just fast writing in response to an excerpt from an essay in the text. The homework isn't burdensome, at least, not yet, and it keeps me writing.

Last semester, when I dedicated myself to the insane project of writing over 80 blog entries in response to the readings we did, I got a lot of practice in writing. But more is always better. I am tuning my writing, honing my skills and keeping up with my Hike with Me book.

I've had my smart phone for a little over a year now, and it is only in the last few weeks that I've started exploiting it for my writing. Yes, the screen is small and the typing is awkward, but the words come quickly and I can use the time waiting for class to start to just write.

Writing about the trip energizes me to write in class. Writing for homework feeds into writing for the trip. Writing begets writing, and, I hope, better writing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Come on, Get Happy

What is the value of happiness? Recently, I engaged in an online conversation in which a friend of mine decried the idea of happiness as worthless. To him, there is no meaning to life, a theory which he claims is proven and inarguable.

Naturally, I wanted to argue the point.

This isn't just because I have a degree in arguing; I remember what it's like not to believe in being happy. I remember the empty feelings that depression breeds so well. A perpetual hitch in the midsection like being caught on a rollercoaster that never regains an upward trajectory. From the inside of that dark canopy, it does seem to be incontrovertible. Fact. Misery is the norm, and happiness is for deluded suckers. From the outside, I find myself wanting to prove the value of happiness to someone who can't appreciate it.

I know that it’s a futile exercise. There is nothing that can break that bulwark from the outside. Only the person inside it can break it. Only the person inside it can choose to break it. Those choices aren't easy and sometimes you need medication and therapy to make them. The best anyone else can do is try to motivate them to make that choice for themselves.

I can ask him why he keeps pissing into the wind if he doesn’t like getting wet. I can ask him how his philosophy is working out for him, if he likes the way that it makes him feel. I can demonstrate that there are other ways to consider the world by being happy.

But I cannot push a wet noodle up a hill.

No matter how much I might want to.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Author Event: John Scalzi

Last Thursday was a momentous occasion. John Scalzi, for the very first time, visited both Boise and Idaho. He is an Idaho virgin no longer.

To celebrate, he stopped by the Boise Public Library and held a reading (sponsored by Rediscovered Books, which does not - at the moment - have the space to hold such an event). Personally, I had never been to the William F. Hayes Memorial Auditorium, and so, in that both Scalzi and I were breaking new ground.

Since I have a Boise State parking permit, my husband and I chose to park there and then walk to the library, considering that there may be a crowded lot at the library. As we crossed the wooden bridge into the Anne Frank Memorial, I spotted Scalzi entering the library with an escort - identification certainty of 95%. I mean, I've never met him before, but he posts a lot of pictures of himself online.

We entered the library, and I immediately identified the location of the restrooms, because I need to know these things. Then we walked into the auditorium.

It's not really an auditorium. It doesn't fit my conception of one at any rate, which would have to contain, minimally, a stage and tiered seating. This is a meeting room. A classroom even. Chairs were lined up facing a table and podium, and behind the chairs was a long table covered in books. (All by John Scalzi - conspiracy or coincidence?)

I chose a seat near the front. Not the front row itself, mostly because it was occupied, but also because you never know which people might spit when they talk.

My husband and I settled in to wait, observing the room filling, noticing that Scalzi was chatting with the event organizers in the rear, and giggling a bit that the couple behind us did not recognize him, despite having walked right by him, close enough, because of the dimensions of the entrance, to have touched him in passing.

When it was time for the reading to begin, Scalzi was introduced to applause and then proceeded to outline the evening's events. He would be reading from an upcoming work, and then from some humor pieces and from his blog, Whatever.

I would love to explain in explicit detail the content of the reading from his upcoming urban fantasy, but I'm under strict orders to simply lord the fact that I know and you don't over you. Therefore, I must sum up that experience up as follows: I enjoyed listening to Scalzi read aloud from his work. His reading voice is not monotonous or boring, and it's neat to hear character inflections from the author himself. This novella sound really neat, and you should be jealous of me. And my husband. And everyone else who managed to attend one of Scalzi's many tour stops. Still a limited club!

The next two pieces he read for us were from an ancient website known as America Online. I am, in fact, old enough to have had an AOL account. Just - I was 13 when we got it. The pieces were from when he wrote for their humor section, which I'm pretty sure I never read, being more interested in chat at that age (I got my reading fixes from books - made of paper!). They were topical for the time of year, focused on back to school, one aimed at gradeschoolers and one at parents. Both were amusing.

Scalzi then read from a relatively recent blog entry from Whatever, "Standard Responses to Online Stupidity." I, being a regular reader of the blog, had already read that particular entry. However, again, the experience of having it read aloud by the author was quite enjoyable. For some reason, especially the single swear word in number 8.

Once the reading portion of the evening was concluded, the signing portion could begin. There were a few rules, reasonable limits on the number of books that could be signed at a time (if you wanted more, you were free to go back to the end of the line). Photographs were welcome, and Rediscovered Books even offered a photographer. We snaked our line through the chairs, so as not to trail out into the library, and I got in line to wait while my husband walked over to where he could take the picture when I got there.

I chatted a bit with other people in line, commiserating with one that the event had a distinct lack of ukulele and yodeling (to which Scalzi replied, "I heard that!"). The wait was not too long, since I had been sitting near the front, and there, I finally asked the question that had been burning inside me since July 22nd, when my husband and I went to see a movie for our meet-iversary and I saw that our theater offered Oreo churros.

"Oreo churros - abomination or awesome?" I said. I had to repeat it, partially because he was surprised I think (and partially because I was nervous and speaking softly).

The face of a man who likes churros. 
Scalzi proceeded to give me much more than I expected. Not a simple yes or no, but an enthusiastic explanation which boiled down to the cinnamon churro flavor being an intrinsic part of its churro-ness for him. Nothing against others who like Oreo churros, but for him they are not properly partaking of churro-ness - although a churro flavored Oreo would be acceptable.

This question gave him something to use for personalizing my book, and I now am the proud owner of a copy of Old Man's War inscribed thusly:

I then got my picture taken with him, because I could. All in all, a nice way to spend a Thursday evening.
Before next time, I will teach Ambrose how to use the zoom.
Or maybe I was told to write that. You wouldn't know. After all, you weren't there... or were you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Best Laid Plans

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

I had been planning this summer's solo hike for over a year. On August 15th, my husband and I would drive to the Willow Creek campground outside of Featherville, ID. The next day, I would set off on a short, but epic, 60 mile journey, taking either three or four days. My husband would be waiting for me at Grandjean, keeping an eye out on day three and trying not to be anxious on day four.

I knew I could do a 20 mile plus day with  pack and elevation. I tried it out in late July and it worked. An afternoon thunderstorm and rain couldn't stop me from doing it, nor the hot sun and hard climb of the early morning.

I reduced my pack's base weight by going with a no-cook eating schedule and not taking any reading or writing materials. On August 13th, my pack, complete with food and water, weighed in at just under 30 pounds.

My mind was ready. I had studied my maps and read up on the terrain. I knew which trails I needed to take to get where I wanted to go. I knew I could do the distance by myself.

My spirit was ready for a time of solitude and testing. To push myself further than I had the last two years. To find out just what I was capable of doing on my own in the wilderness.

My body was not ready.

Since my husband and I came back from our backpacking trip on the Washington coast, I had been tired. Exhausted, even. I tried to rest and recover. I didn't continue with my pull up workouts, deciding I could resume them after the solo. I didn't get any Crossfit done, and when I tried to run on Wednesday, I found that I couldn't run for more than 90 seconds at a time.

On Thursday, I found that I couldn't keep up with my boss during a walking meeting. First we slowed down, and then we sat, because I couldn't keep walking - with no pack.

And, on Friday the 14th, the final blow came. Abdominal pain bad enough to suspect appendicitis brought me to my doctor's office.

I will not be taking a solo hiking trip this year.

My solo trip has been what I've been using to write my Hike with Me books. With no solo trip this year, the plans have changed. This year's installment of Hike with Me will be more accurately Hike with Us. I am going to write up my coast trip for the book - but also for my hiking blog.

In some ways, I'm devastated not to be doing what I planned, but I'm also trying to see it as a challenge. Sometimes we don't choose change, but we have to adapt to it anyway and make the best of what we've got.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Piece to the Puzzle of Story

At the beginning of August I took a 6 day backpacking trip with my husband along the coast of Washington in the Olympic National Forest. I'd never spent so much time by the ocean before, especially not so close. We were hiking on the beach, by the timing of the tides, with the roar of the surf constantly in our ears. We walked through the mist of the ocean waves for those 6 days.

And I did not write.

I took no notebook, no electronic device that I could type upon. I had a pencil, yes, and maps upon which I could have written, if desperate, but I did not. I had a voice recorder, but some hesitation or shyness restricted my use of it to when I was alone and relaxing - that only happened twice on the whole trip.

But I did dream about story.

I came to a bit of a realization that one of the things that I like about stories is the epic misunderstanding. In my dream, I had been hunted by a man for a long time, and over the course of that hunt, we had fallen in love. But he was driven by duty to kill me, and, when I bested him for the last time, he killed himself rather than fail. His brother was an evil tyrant who thought that I had killed the man, and so now felt an even more personal reason to have me killed. An overly simple kind of plot that a dream can spit out, but one that illustrates the way that misunderstandings can make a story more tense, tighter.

I kind of hate it when a story could be resolved if the characters just talked to one another, believed one another, trusted one another... But that dream made me realize that I also love that kind of story - as long as the reasons that they can't resolve their issues aren't contrived. I want to be able to believe that Don and Mary really can't tell each other their true feelings, or that any interruptions to planned revelations are story-necessary.

Hate it or love it, when its done well that kind of layering makes a story interesting to me. So that's the kind of thing that I should be practicing in my writing. Characters who care, who make you care, and who can't, for good reason, be honest with each other, which leads to real consequences. Just a piece of the puzzle, but one that fits.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gender Gear

My husband bought an REI Co-Op t-shirt a few months ago, and, in quick succession, bought three more. He now has two long sleeved and two short sleeved in four different colors. He likes them for working out, running, hiking and general purpose everyday wear. He likes them so much that he recommended that I buy one.

His shirts are bright, solid, primary colors. Orange, red, yellow and green. I was hoping to get a nice solid blue, as that's my favorite color. But, when I finally got around to looking at the women's version of the shirts, I found that they did not come in the same colors. Instead, my options were mostly of a kind of pastel pattern. Light blue, light purple, rose, grey.

Because of the colors, I tried on a men's small as well as women's small and women's medium to see which shirt fit me best. The men's did not fit my body well. The collar was higher than the women's and felt a bit like it was choking me, though my husband never seemed to have that issue. I ended up going with the women's medium as the best fit. I couldn't pick a color, because none of them really appealed, so I asked my husband to pick and went with the light blue.

I was curious about whether or not the REI website would have a wider selection of colors for the women's shirts, so I looked them up. No such luck. No primary colors for the women.

And then, curiosity led me to look at the men's shirts. While it looks like they now have the pastel blue for men, it was then that I noticed the difference in the wording of the descriptions. Ostensibly, these are the same shirt. The same price, the same fabric, the same price...

So why does the men's shirt description explicitly cite working out, "Better than basic, this REI Co-Op Tech T-Shirt wicks moisture and dries quickly to keep you cool and comfortable while hiking, running, working out or just working up a sweat playing Frisbee."

Whereas the women's shirt does not recommend working out, "A wardrobe staple that goes beyond basic, the women's Tech T-shirt wicks moisture and dries quickly to keep you cool and comfortable while working up a sweat hiking, running or chasing down a Frisbee."

Men and women can both play Frisbee! (Though only men will sweat while playing, those silly women will just chase the Frisbee down after they fail to catch it?) But no working out in this shirt for women.

Even the stance of the models got my goat. The woman just stands there, presenting the shirt like a mannequin. The man has a hand on his hip, showing off his muscles, looking ready to work.

I must admit though, the advertising was entirely accurate. After using that shirt for running, Crossfit and working out, I have to agree. The women's shirt is not for working out. I'm constantly having to tug the shirt down, because whenever I lift it bunches up over my breasts. I guess I'll just have to start chasing down Frisbees instead!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Blind Date

I signed up for Kameron Hurley's newsletter because I've been following her on Twitter, and I like the essays that she's written. I'm interested in reading Mirror Empire, but haven't gotten to buying it yet. One of the most interesting things about the newsletter was the offer of a book blind date. I wasn't quite sure what that meant.

I mean, it seemed to mean that she would send me a book, if I asked. A random book, in a loose genre category. I love books. I love free things. So I signed up.

And, mid-June, pictures started showing up on her Twitter of books that other newsletter receivers had gotten in the mail. They were even wrapped, just like a present.

I began to be anxious, because mine hadn't arrived yet. Had I messed up in submitting the form? Put a typo in my mailing address?

I texted my husband each day, asking whether my package had arrived in the mail.

And on the day it arrived, what did he do? He tore open my package and opened my book blind date present.

I had a momentary sad face. Because, of course, I wanted to open it!

And once I saw it, I was perplexed. I had received Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold . This is the first book in the Shadows of the Apt series. The cover, to me, evokes an ancient Greek battle, and the rear cover copy also brought the comparison to mind.

If this had been a blind date, then I wouldn't have had a second date. But this, for me, was more like living in an apartment building when a new tenant moves in across the hall. You might smile at each other in the hallway a few times before you even know each other's names. And once you do, you find yourselves talking every time you meet. It becomes something that you look forward to.

I'm reading this book in pieces. It isn't sucking me in as some books have. But I want to keep reading it. I'm not sure if I have it in me to commit to the next nine books in the series... at least, not right now. But it might be something that I continue to read.

This series will be like the neighbor that moves away, that you keep in touch with on an irregular basis, always having great conversation whenever you meet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Accidental Poetry

Recently, the voicemail app on my phone updated. Voice to text used to be a premium service, but it appeared after the last update. I have quite a few messages from my mother that I haven't listened to, sitting in my voicemail box because when I see a message longer than 2 minutes, I blanch. And when I see a 5 minute message, I lose the will to continue to listen.

Besides, my mother will most likely not remember that she left me a message and will repeat whatever it was that she took 5 minutes to say the next time we speak.

But now, I can read the messages she leaves instead of listening.

And there's just something wonderfully poetic about the app's interpretation of her words.

I'm seriously considering never answering the phone when she calls again. I mean, I'll call her back, but I'm just getting so much entertainment value from this:
Hey Ambrose and Jeanne.
I guess you're not there now.
Sorry I'm still waiting for Connie which-i-think-she's coming.
I'm not getting my cell phone.
I told Peter I need it in writing.
I know how to do it the same thing happened-when we were trying to reach you in the computer and they give me the written paper that ready-whenever you get computer is.
Anyway thanks.
Love you.
Bye bye. 
*snap* *snap* *snap*
 
 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

They Might Be Giants Doesn't Ruin My Day

Today someone in my office sent around a youtube video. On a semi-regular basis, such a "jam" gets included with the daily announcements. Today's was a song by They Might Be Giants, chosen by the sender's son. (So, I'm guessing off one of their children's albums.)

I've loved They Might Be Giants for a long time. They were my first concert and I actually went to see them several times in my teenage years. Though I owned most of their albums through Severe Tire Damage, I no longer have most of them.

So today, I listened to the new to me "Seven Days of the Week," and then went on a youtube cruise finding old favorites like "Ana Ng," "Don't Lets Start" and "They'll Need a Crane." I may have tortured my co-workers just a tiny bit by singing along to these nostalgic airs. Though most likely I wasn't loud enough to be heard through their headphones.

I still know most of the words, and I still love the music. But I can't listen to them without thinking of one of my cousins. He took me to that first concert, and we shared the passion for TMBG for a few years, building a tenuous bridge over the distance in our ages and worldviews. And then he accused me of instigating family drama and cut off all contact unless I apologized for something I didn't do.

I held to truth over family. I knew I was right. I knew I was being falsely accused, a pawn in a larger picture. I felt echoes of being blamed for other things that I hadn't done, and I haven't spoken to him since.

I suppose we have a certain stubbornness in common. Must be a family trait.

I no longer feel that burning injustice when I consider that incident in my life. But I don't really care to apologize either. It is just one of those things in my life that I don't often consider, until music draws me into reflecting on the past.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Side of History

After a three day backpacking trip over the 4th of July weekend, my husband and I took a break from the traffic to eat a well-earned meal at the Route 55 Cafe in Cascade, ID. Ambrose had eyes only for the biscuits and gravy, but I had to take some time to decide what I would want to eat. We don't go here regularly enough to have a table that we typically sit at, but I don't believe we ever sat in the corner we chose before.

And while I might have noticed the old photographs on the wall in the past, they were never all that interesting to me. Sure, old photographs are neat, but there was nothing to connect me to them.

A waitress took out order (I decided on fried fish and french fries), and I read the captions on the picture without really thinking about it. I read things automatically. I'm one of those people who would read shampoo bottles in the bath if I finished my book before I wanted to get out. So the words didn't register for a moment.

I've been reading Dean Wesley Smith's blog for a couple years now, and he writes a series of books set in Idaho called Thunder Mountain. Here I was, sitting under photographs of the actual Thunder Mountain settlement, and even the town of Roosevelt before the flood.

I didn't grow up in Idaho, and I don't know much about its history. But seeing those photographs and knowing more about them than the bare minimum revealed by the captions really caught my interest. A whole town swallowed by a flood. A mine. And such an iconic name. Thunder Mountain.

So I took pictures of the pictures.

"Thunder Mountain Founded by L. G. and A. B. Caswell"

"Ben, Lu and Dan Caswell in Thunder Mtn cabin"

"Town of Roosevelt before the flood"

"Dewey Mine, site of the original Caswell golden reef mine"
"Dan Caswell working the mysterious slide claim with hydro sluice"


"Dan, Ben & Lu Caswell at Thunder Mountain Sawmill"

"Thunder Mountain Map Cir 1901"

Close up of Thunder Mtn from above map. 
Now I'm just might have to crack a history book to satisfy my curiosity... Or just read the Thunder Mountain series and see if I might like some Westerns after all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hefafu, or, Why Won't Men Just Ask for Directions?

When Ambrose and I were hiking to the start of the trail to Scenic Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness, we stuck together for most of the morning. But after the second stream crossing I went on ahead of him. I was feeling warmed up and ready to go. I zoomed off, and soon reached the cairn and sign that marked the turnoff to Scenic Lake.

I decided to wait for Ambrose there. The sign was fastened to a tree, and I dumped my pack near the trunk and pulled out my birdseed bag to sit on. Then I spent some time being quiet and listening to the birds.

Then I heard voices. I didn't think it would be Ambrose so I sat up and looked around. Two male hikers were coming down the trail from the other direction. I stayed sitting up and watched them approach.

When they were close, I said hello. The guys didn't seem interested in talking to me. They were intent. As they walked past me, I heard, "It should be right here."

I almost spoke up. I almost asked them if they were looking for the turnoff to Scenic, but they walked past very quickly, not turning.

If they had turned, they would have seen the sign.

When Ambrose caught up to me a few minutes later, he revealed that the guys had indeed been looking for Scenic.

How did he know this? Because they asked him.

I was highly amused by this. I was sitting practically on the junction and they didn't have a word for me. But they run into another man and ask for directions.

Now, Ambrose contends that they may have just been tired, hungry, thirsty or in a hurry. And that's why they didn't ask me. I don't know. It seemed a bit sexist to me. But it didn't hurt me in the slightest.

It would have served them right if I were hiking alone and they'd gone all the way back to the trailhead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nominee Project Cancelled

In an effort to read more contemporary science fiction, I tried reading the Hugo award nominees for the last two years, and the Nebulas as well. It was a fun project, and I found several new authors to read.

I read books that I wouldn't ordinarily have read, and that's a good thing. But, I'm one of those readers who refuses to put down a book once it's started. No matter how much I find myself despising the book, or being bored by it.

As a result, I've done some hate reading, which isn't my favorite thing to do. And, in light of the strange turn of events involving the Hugo nominations (not going into it, check here for a run down or search sad puppies or rabid puppies if you want to live dangerously), I've decided not to do the project this year.

I am prejudging that there are works on the Hugo ballot that I won't particularly want to read. I'm also prejudging that the Nebulas nominees will likewise not be my cup of tea. I just haven't had much luck with getting into the Nebula nominees or enjoying them. And I want to find books that I enjoy.

I avidly reread books that I like. And I am going to go with the premise that I will learn more about how to write stories I like if I reread and analyze books that I like. Reading books I don't like is an interesting exercise, but not a productive one. I mean, I can point out why I'm stopping a read, but to continue past that point only gets me a larger list of negatives.

I want to find some positives. To examine what an author does well and try to see if I can make it work too. This is definitely something that I have seen floated as advice here and there through the years, but I have to credit Dean Wesley Smith (again) with giving the final push to this iteration.

I think that reading those award nominees, regardless of whether I like them or not, only gives me a sense of what is being published currently by publishing houses. If I'm not even going to try that route, then there's no sense in figuring that out. I only need to write what I like, publish it, and write the next thing better.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blackhawks Win! But Who Was Watching?

First, congratulations Blackhawks, 2015 Stanley Cup Champions and Bettman dubbed Dynasty.

Now to business: as my Blackhawks have progressed this year in the playoffs, I have kept in touch with hockey. I read articles on NHL.com and on Yahoo's Puck Daddy. As long as my team is in it, striving for the Cup, I'm invested. I'm watching, reading, listening.

But last year, when the LA Kings got a lucky bounce in overtime and eliminated the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, I stopped watching, reading and listening. I couldn't bear to watch the Kings beat up the Rangers. It should have been us beating up the Rangers! My hatred for the Kings outweighed my desire to watch playoff hockey, especially with such fine summer weather outside.

On Puck Daddy, there was an article lamenting the fact that hockey playoffs simply don't draw the kind of national audiences that even the least watched basketball or baseball playoffs do. The author suggests that the NHL needs to cultivate its star players in such a way that hockey fans are interested in them the way basketball fans are interested in LeBron James. Hockey interest in neutral markets could be raised by such a star player.

But I think the more important point in the article is the "tribalism" of hockey fans.
Internal research from the NHL suggests that hockey fans are “the most tribal” when it comes to postseason viewership. Hockey fans aren’t as engaged in the championship round as the “Big Four” if their team isn’t involved, or if they don’t have a rooting interest.
And I get it. I checked out when my team was defeated last year, not because I'm not interested in watching playoff hockey, but because I was bitter. I didn't want to hear calm, unbiased sports broadcasting about how the damn Kings were doing. I didn't want to hear the excitement of a goal by that team. Or even their opponents.

Petty, yes. Childish, yes. True, hell yes.

And it's really all the fault of the handshake line. Hockey players must be good sportsmen after the end of the series, unlike other sports teams that may slink away after a devastating loss and only face the press rather than their triumphant opponents. Because of this, we, the fans, must bear the bitterness for our teams by turning away from the playoffs themselves to honor the petty, childish behavior that our players cannot openly embody.

But I'm here to offer a solution. It is rare for an NHL game to be broadcast in Spanish (no matter how awesomely they call the goals). That means the SAP is wide open for NBC to hire some funny broadcasters or comedians who like hockey to call the game in a way that the fans of the teams that have been eliminated, or never made it to the post-season, can appreciate without feeling that we've betrayed our teams.

I mean, when you're team loses, you kind of owe it to them not to rejoice when some other (clearly less worthy) team hoists the cup. You turn your back on the entire sport, because you love your team and you hate the other teams.

So, give us a mock-filled hatecast NBC. One that would allow the fans of the unlucky and the almost-rans a chance to embrace the hate-watch that the playoffs must become when your team is gone. One that plays up every mistake and hardly notices a goal. One that would have spent the entire intermission talking about Hedman and Bishop running into each other - but without mentioning Sharp's goal.

Start by getting the rest of hockey fandom on board with watching the playoffs after their teams have been eliminated and the neutral markets will come.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Novel Realized

Back in April, I promised that I would publish my novel after letting at least one more trusted reader go through it. As it turned out, I sent it to two, but only got a reply from one. And so, after waiting three weeks after the promised delivery from the other reader, I went ahead and worked through the suggestions from my replying reader.

When I spoke with Dean Wesley Smith in May, I mentioned this project of mine. He helped me pin down the fact that I was indeed writing a romance, since the story focused on the romantic relationship between two characters. And he gave me a look with a tinge of horror in it when I mentioned having another reader go through before I published. He cautioned me not to let any suggestions change my voice.

That suggestion gave me some trepidation. I wasn't sure what form the edits from my readers would take. I hesitated for a few weeks after receiving the feedback to even read it.

But once I did, I was relieved. Mostly my reader caught typos and a few extraneous articles. There were a couple sentences that didn't make sense in context and a continuity issue with a specific object. I don't feel that any of the changes took away from my writing voice.

With the text complete, I created my ebook cover and submitted it for publishing last night. I will be creating a paper version (and sending a signed copy to my trusted reader). And I finally decided on a title. Running into Love is available now on Amazon.

Now to write the next one!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Burden of Proof

When my husband and I drive out to the woods, we do not go completely unprepared for the kinds of car contingencies that we may encounter. Even in our old car we had materials that once enabled us to rescue a truck that had gotten bogged down on a sandy beach. And, in our new car, we have an air compressor designed for cars. It's even powered by car lighter plug. It's for cars, and I'm well aware of that fact (though we have also used it for bike tires). 

On the way back from a training hike weekend on Sheep Creek, I reached the car before Ambrose did. Not an unusual occurrence. As I approached it, a truck pulled in and two women, one man and what seemed like ten dogs (though there may have only been two), piled out and prepared for a day hike. To include fishing, judging by the poles sticking out of the man's pack. 

The dogs kept running over to me, no doubt because I smelled... fascinating. Let's say fascinating, after that weekend's training. I ignored them, because if I petted them then I'd have to wash my hands due to allergies. And there weren't exactly convenient places to wash one's hands out there. 

I was getting ready to head down to the river to give myself a bit of a cold rinse before putting on clean clothes when another car pulled up to the truck, heading towards Boise. I could hear the conversation that the male passenger exchanged with the male from the truck. The car had a flat tire and wanted to know if they had a pump. Unfortunately, they did not. As the car made to drive off, I pointed and yelled. 

"Pull in!" 

They continued to drive off, so I waved and shouted again. "Hey, pull in, I've got a pump!"

The car stopped and the male stuck his head out, giving me a look I can only classify as dubious. 

"A car pump?" he asked. 

Alas, sarcastic wit fled my tongue and I simply pulled the compressor out of the trunk and held it up as proof. The car pulled in, and I got the compressor out and set and we proceeded to start the filling of the low tire. 

And it was really low. So low that the pressure gauge on the compressor hardly registered anything. They might have made it to Twin Springs (population 2), but then again, they might not have. While it was filling, the female driver thanked me multiple times and the male passenger groused a bit about how long it was taking. 

So when Ambrose showed up, I headed down to the river without waiting for the tire to finish filling. 

The encounter bugged me, though Ambrose didn't see anything odd about it. I can't help but wonder if the passenger would have asked Ambrose if he had a car pump, or would have just pulled in at his suggestion. 

I mean, if I was offering a pump, then that clearly implies that I overheard the conversation and knew what the heck he was looking for. Doesn't it? 

And yet, he almost went right on by me and my pump, because, for whatever reason, he judged that I had nothing to offer him until I shoved it in his face.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Taking a Swing at Fear

Of all the pieces that I read in Smith's Monthly #3, I learned the most from the one I expected the least from.

Though I played golf with my dad while I was in high school, I haven't had a good deal of interest in the sport for some time. Even when I was playing, I wasn't that focused on it. My fondest memory on the course was hitting the golf cart of my dad's buddy when he teased me about not being able to hit the ball very far. Satisfying, yes, sportsmanlike... not so much.

So I wasn't very much interested in the section of the magazine giving golf advice, "The First Tee Panic: And Other Very Real Golf Stories." However, I'm a compulsive reader. It takes a lot to make me stop reading a book or skip an article in a magazine. So I read it. The golf advice wasn't particularly interesting to me, but it was presented in an engaging manner.

And if I hadn't read it, then I never would have read the lines that are still turning around in my mind. "Fear is a part of the game of golf, as well as in life. Learn how to play with fear, and how to use it."

Fear is a tool.

The idea that there is nothing to fear but fear itself only diminishes and shames the feeling of fear. Rather than rejecting fear as a valid emotion, here Smith suggests accepting the fear and using it. After meeting him, I had thought to start trying to up my fiction game by actually writing again. But I found myself still in fear.

I was afraid to continue the story that I'd started back in February. For no reason I could explain, I just froze up when I thought of continuing to write it.

But after I read that line, that piece of advice about golf... I went ahead and finished it on Tuesday. I had fun with it. I let myself play with the idea and write the story without getting in my own way.

When a fire is raging in the woods, it is a danger. But when fire is a torch in your hand, it is a tool. A light. I took the fear in my hands and found a way to use it to illuminate my story.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Encounter: Dean Wesley Smith

I’ll admit I was a bit upset when I realized that my weekend plans were already set before I found out that an author whose blog I have been reading for nearly two years was coming to Boise. Boise, of all places! And there’s no way I would want to cancel the first excursion into the woods of the year. It had been too long since I basked in the greatness of the outdoors. But I had a hope that, just maybe, I’d get back into town in time on Saturday.

And, not because of any planning, but because of a fallen log blocking the road, my husband and I ended up staying at a different campsite than we had planned. And, in the end, we got home in plenty of time for me to shower, get changed and ride my bike downtown to Rediscovered Books.

I wasn’t sure where they would be holding the signing, because I’d never been to that particular bookstore before. And since it was part of the Saturday Market, for all I knew there was a booth where they’d stuck him, outside in the not-so-fine spring weather. So I took a peek inside the store, and there sat Dean Wesley Smith, easily recognizable thanks to the pictures on his blog.

I popped partway in, then out, and then, decisively in.

For The Last Unicorn Tour, there was a rather large crowd, and although I got the impression that Peter S. Beagle would have been happy to chat with each and every one of us for hours on end, his handlers kept the line moving briskly. The Distinguished Lecture with Salman Rushdie offered no chance to meet the author, and the one with Margaret Atwood I chose not to wait in the line for a chance.

But here, in this local bookstore, sat an author whose blog I much admired - nary a line nor handler to be seen. So I made brave to walk right up and speak.

“I feel like I’ve won a scavenger hunt! Since you didn’t mention this trip on your blog,” was my opening gambit. He seemed a bit surprised by it, but was open to conversing as he explained that he and his wife preferred not to advertise in advance online when they would both be absent from their house. Perfectly sensible, I agreed.

From there I managed to introduce myself as a reader of his blog, one who had not yet read his fiction but was looking to purchase something that day. He made a suggestion based off my expressed preference for science fiction and fantasy of Smith’s Monthly #3. I explained that I was too shy to comment on his blog, though I intended to do so after our conversation. He, in turn, made it clear that I was welcome to email him if I had a question and didn’t want to make a public comment.

We spoke of writing. I told him about my published backpacking books and he was very encouraging. I even got some advice as to the genre of my not yet published novel. I didn’t feel like it was romance because it isn’t like romance that I’ve read. Dean pointed out that if the center of the story is a relationship and the story ends on a happy/hopeful note, then it is a romance. So now I have a better idea of how to brand it on the cover and back copy.

I felt, for the most part, quite comfortable, and would have been happy to chat for hours, but I could see another person hovering and didn’t feel it was right to monopolize him. Even though I wanted to. Especially because the other person was wearing a name tag indicating he was participating in the Idaho Writer Rendezvous conference and would get a chance to attend sessions with Dean… grumble grumble.

I left happy though. I got my magazine signed and some writing encouragement that I really needed in the moment. Not to mention the magazine - itself a lesson in layout as well as story. If I ever get the chance to see Dean Wesley Smith again, I will definitely go for it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not Really a Pep Talk

I haven't written much fiction so far this year.

Okay, more like any fiction...

No, that's not fair. I started at least one short story back in January. Or was it February? I gave myself the excuse that I was working on that blog project for my class. I was reading a lot for that class as well. And yet I always found (and find) the time to read articles online and keep track of facebook and twitter. I make the time to watch hockey and other television shows.

And I want to finish that story. But I guess I don't want to badly enough or I'd do it, right? My class is over and, as a reward, I got myself some fiction to read, books that I'd been wanting to check out for a while now. But it seems like just another excuse. If I have to work (and I do have to work), then I have to carve out other spaces in which to write fiction.

If I want to write fiction.

I mean, no one needs me to write stories. No one needs me to spill the things from my brain onto paper or screen. No one but me.

This is the question, the crux. How much do I need to do this? And is my need to write greater than my fear?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finding Our Giants Project

Back in January I wrote about the digital project option that was offered for my Women Writers class. At the time I wasn't sure whether my idea of writing responses to all of the writers that we read, and a few additional ones that I felt were relevant, would be acceptable to the instructor. But in March we handed in prospectuses for our projects and mine was accepted.

So I kept on with what I had started, writing up my class notes and then reflecting on the writer's words. Or the speakers words since I wrote about the Distinguished Lecture from Margaret Atwood or the television show since we watched parts of Battlestar Galactica in class and I wrote about that too. The in class discussions were usually interesting, but I always enjoyed going deeper with my own reflections, taking what was said in class and challenging it while it challenged me. 

I ended up with a nice, round 80 entries in my blog project, categorized by labels. Plus two pages, one of which is a directory and the other a works cited page. So they don't really count. 

Several of my classmates wrote also wrote blogs for their projects, but mine, for better or worse, has more entries than all of them combined. Or it did at the time that the blogs were presented to class. More entries may have been added in the interim between presentation and the end of the class. But I still felt that I may have gone a bit overboard... 

I suppose I will know when I find out my grade for the class. While I'm quite pleased with my project, I did not include references to scholarly sources. I stuck with primary sources and analysis, a habit from St. John's that I've broken for traditional papers, but that seemed to fit perfectly with my project. This was not about analyzing analyses - it was about one woman writing about other women who wrote (and one token man). I might get dinged for that on the grade, and I am okay with that. 

Well, not entirely okay. But I'e accepted the possibility and chosen not to artificially add in scholarly citations. 

My husband Ambrose was my first reader, as usual, and I found his comments on this blog project very interesting. He found that the entries I wrote for that project all fit together with each other, even at the word level. Usually he has some comments on my word choice or usage, but not on this project. I believe that happened in large part to my writing the first entry of the blog as a framing statement for the whole thing. It set the tone and the purpose of the whole piece, and I managed to maintain a unity throughout by keeping that purpose in mind. 

The name of my project blog is Finding Our Giants. The class, on the whole, was a good one. An experience that I enjoyed as well as one that I learned from. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ditty to "The Sound of Silence"

Hello dark roast my old friend
It's time to brew you up again
I sure wish that I was sleeping
Instead the faithful grounds are steeping
And the aroma
That is floating through the air
Both bitter and fair
That's the smell
Of coffee

In all the dreams I left behind
Nothing like this could I find
The only recompense for waking
I can't believe how long it's taking
Then I heard my name from the office across the hall
I could not stall
Not yet time
For coffee

And oh my co-worker did speak
For what seemed to be a week
Babbling on about the weather
Acting as if she'd end never
Talking well past the point that I could care
But I did not dare
Follow the smell
Of coffee


"Look" said I "I've got to go–
A little pit stop if you must know"
And so to complete my clever ruse
To the bathroom I did go and use
But on my way to get my cup I heard my name
And detoured
From the claims of coffee

To my boss I spoke yet more
Although coffee did implore
But at last we finished talking
And I silenced my cup's mocking
At last I filled the cup and then sat down with a sigh at in own chair
With no one there
And breathed the smell
Of coffee

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Misuse of Twitter

I don't do Twitter right. I acknowledge and own this fact.

I like to scroll back and see what has been said hours, even days before the present moment, and Twitter likes to tell me that desire is wrong by sneakily refreshing back to the beginning. This might be a setting that I can fix, but I have no idea.

I guess, when people follow you, you're supposed to follow them back, thereby building your networks mutually into large conglomerations of mutually following people (unless one is a celebrity, at which point I'm guessing the mutual follow rules no longer apply). I had one person follow and unfollow me four times in a week, trying, I suppose, to get me to follow her back.

But I only follow accounts that I want to follow because I admire them or they're clever or I personally know them (which does not exclude my admiration for them or their cleverness).

I've tweeted once so far in several months of use.

I've got someone following me that I don't like, and I'm still a little bitter that an old co-worker inadvertently gave her my personal email address.

I'm considering writing in my profile that I don't want anyone to follow me, but I'm not sure that's the best strategy.

My picture is of a pregnant chipmunk I found at Johnson Lake in the Sawtooths, and my profile simply states that I like puzzles.

I'd mention my username, but I don't want you to follow me ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Margaret Atwood Distinguished Lecture

I read that the doors would open at 6:30pm for the Margaret Atwood lecture, so I planned to arrive, with my husband, a little before that time. I figured we would mill about for a few minutes outside the Jordan Ballroom before being allowed inside.

Instead, the doors were already opened and the seats starting to fill, at least in the front. I wondered whether the large numbers of chairs in the rear section would fill as we found a pair of seats on an aisle to stage right. I wondered around a bit, looking for and greeting a classmate.

By the time the lecture was about to start, my concerns about whether or not there would be a full house were changed to wondering if we were going to be violating fire code:

When Margaret Atwood took the stage, she began with what seemed like an extemporaneous bit of talking. She said that people had been asking her why she came to Boise, to which she replied, "Why not?" And she revealed to us that more people in Toronto should be coming to Boise at this time of year, since Boise had something that Toronto would not for another four weeks. Flowers. Which made me think of The Handmaid's Tale and the importance that that narrator places on flowers.

And then she began what seemed to be her prepared speech. I marveled that she seemed to be nervous.

Margaret Atwood, nervous?

And so she spoke of the power of words, and then began to speak of the infamous Clean Reader App. I wonder if she was being polite by not mentioning that it was the invention of parents in Idaho or simply did not know. After all, the creators of the app were not the important part. The important part was how the app slaughtered the meaning of works - the carefully intended meaning of their creators. And how the app makers had neglected, in many cases, to gain the consent of the authors whose works they were scrubbing. 

Atwood regaled us with some great examples of how the app caused unintentional hilarity. For example, since the word "breast" was deemed unclean, the reader would be forced to confront what exactly the author meant by writing "chicken chest." We laughed at each example, causing her to call us easy to amuse. I would say not easy to amuse, but giddy at her presence. (We don't get visitors like her very often in Boise.) Her solution for readers who found words that offended them in a text was to shut the offending book, and, if desired, fling it across the room. That is any reader's right. 

She spoke of running a conference session on "The Men's Novel" at which she and the other attendees had great fun ruminating at length over the definition thereof (a book with no women, of course, would qualify, such as Moby Dick). A fellow session leader had a less humorous time trying to get two groups of women, older ones who preferred less "language" (swearing) in books, and a group of women who argued quite loudly against using patriarchal language (while using patriarchal language). 

The power of language is evident throughout recorded history. Prayers and spells and names, words used to curse and bless and implore. Creativity and story served survival purposes, teaching communities how to survive in the ways that are best remembered: as stories and poems and songs. We use our memories of stories to anticipate the future. Stories get under our skin and make us feel empathy for the other, fostering the ability to survive in community. 

On writing, Atwood brought up word choices. How they must fit the setting, the narrator's voice and their vocabulary. Writing in the past poses different problems from writing in the future. The past is already recorded and research can reveal how words were used at the time. The future requires imagining which words have disappeared, what swears might become and what new words would be created. 

Spelling: Spell - coincidence?

Atwood is writing the first book for the future library, a project in Norway that intends to send books into the future. Each year, for a hundred years, a book will be chosen and sealed away, not to be read until 2114. This project represents hope. Hope that readers will still exist in a hundred years. That the future reader might be able to understand the words written before their parents were born, in an era that will probably look quite distant and quaint from their perspective. The reader brings themselves into the experience of the book. 

Atwood answered questions after her lecture. Some questions on writing, during which she recommended Wattpad, and terribleminds. She revealed one of her hard lines of censorship (child porn with real children should be censored) while also stating that there are lessons to be learned from Mein Kampf

On the use of religion in The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood stated that a religion used as a tool of political control simply becomes an ideology. Totalitarianism doesn't really have religion. But in the US, she thought the easiest route to totalitarianism would be through religious ideas, and so that's how she set the story. 

A positive opinion of fan fiction, as it is as old as the hills - even slash. 

And when a young woman asked her for advice on how to make her way, I tried my best to write down her exact words, but I couldn't keep up, so I will leave off the quotation marks and end with a paraphrase: 
Have good parents. Have good teachers. Don't believe those who would put you down. If you can't go through, go around. Don't give up.