Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tag--I'm it!

I got tagged by Sara Walker Howe! And it's a good one for getting into the Christmas spirit (which I need a little of--it's frigging -15 F here this morning!!!

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Eggnog. Used to be hot chocolate all the way, but lately it's been too...sweet for me. Actually I really like eggnog lattes.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? Almost everything is wrapped, unless it's a huge unwrappable present, like a playhouse. Only a few things are actually marked from Santa, though. The rest are from Mommy, Daddy, Mommy & Daddy, Mommy Cat...

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? No lights on the house, but colored twinkly lights on the tree. I have fond memories of the big ones, but we use the little mini-bulbs.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope. Does anybody? :)

5. When do you put your decorations up? It has to be after Thanksgiving. Usually sometime around the first of December so Child can start the advent calendar/tree on time. But this year she really really wanted them up last weekend, so up they went.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? English toffee. It's something my mom made every year, only at Christmas, and I do the same. Now I have to make two batches because people like it so well they want more every year.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Stockings. I LOVE stockings; they're my favorite part. When I was 10 or so my brother and I decided to give stockings to our parents too, and that tradition has stuck. So everybody gets stockings Christmas morning, and we all open them up together.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I was 5, and the neighbor across the street--Sally Civitanich, told me. I was standing in front of our fireplace; I remember the moment. I was heartbroken.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No. We hoard everything until Christmas morning.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Eclectic. Lights go on first, then a few beads and paper chains, and the star on top. Then we hang the zillions of ornaments. Hubby and I used to collect funky ones from CostPlus and such, so we have chili peppers, tigers, chickens, cats, santas shaped like name it. Plus a bunch from my childhood and his, and quite a few that we all made together.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? I'll echo Sara here. I love it for the first 2 months or so, and then I'm done. Sadly we have snow for at least 5 months.

12. Can you ice skate? Not yet. I'm still working on skiing. (Hey, I'm a California girl, transplanted.)

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Not really. I remember the process more than the presents.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Family time, relaxing together. The songs, the candles, the food, the atmosphere. Holidays make me happy.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? English toffee, above. Also Holiday fudge and my new addition, sugared pecans.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Opening our stockings together, while listening to Christmas music and drinking coffee. Watching Child enjoy Christmas.

17. What tops your tree? A frosted star.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? Giving. I love to see Hubby and Child's reactions.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? O Holy Night. Just like Sara, I actually get chills with this one! Always.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? Eh. I like 'em better for hanging on the tree.

I tag...let's see...Cindy and Diana Peterfreund. Have at it, and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Yesterday Child said that the swirls and mounds of snow outside looked "just like that White Christmas song." But then she immediately countered with, "But you've never heard that song."

I assured her that yes, I had, but she shook her head. "You've never heard ME sing it. So you've never heard it."

Isn't it interesting how very wrapped up in self, how solipsistic, kids are? I'm sure that I thought like that too when I was little: nothing existed before me, and my parents certainly had no lives outside taking care of me. Why should they? They were MY PARENTS, that was all.

Interesting to be on the other side of the coin now. Sometimes I think that everyone keeps that view--with the self as the absolute center of all--until they do become parents. Then quite suddenly there is a shift. You hold a squalling, purple-red little being, scared to death that you'll drop her or squeeze her too hard, and you realize that you are not the most important person anymore. Not even close. And I wonder if that ever shifts back. When kids leave, when they are "safe" somewhere else, with their own families, does the attention shift to self again?

It'll be a long time before I find out, and I'm happy about that.

Medieval Word of the Day: bonairness: Gentleness, mildness, courtesy.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Returning briefly

Because "more later" always means "see you in 4 days". :)

I had a lovely 4-day weekend. Thanksgiving at Mom's house, with requisite turkey, pumpkin pie, etc., to which I added my fancy roasted cauliflower recipe. Well, not mine, but I make it, and man it's good.

Friday we tried to avoid the malls--got sucked in briefly, but managed to pull ourselves out of the vortex before it was too late. Saturday I took Child to a Teddy Bear tea in town, with Santa and all, and Sunday we put up the Christmas tree. Aaaaahhh. Unfortunately squeezed in there I had to do and turn in 3 assignments for one of my grad classes, and I have to write a rough draft of a paper today. But school is over for the term December 12th, and I'm looking forward to that.

I don't know if I'll be able to work on Book 2 today at lunch, as I have the dreaded research paper in addition to a bunch of other stuff, and I'm behind here at work. We shall see. In the meantime, must get off the blog and back to the pile o' stuff waiting for me!

Medieval Word of the Day: windle: To move circularly or sinuously; to turn over and over, or round and round; to whirl; to meander.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Heard this morning

Favorite quote today from Child:

"Our house today reminds me of that Christmas song. It looks like a winter wonderland, with the snow all around on the ground."

More later. Just had to get that down before I forgot it. {s}

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hey, it's still progress

Last night we went to a performance of the New York Theatre Ballet. Wow. They did theatrical dances to Gershwin (I love a Gershwin tune...), a classical piece, a couple of modern pieces, and the original choreography of Carousel. Afterwards the dancers all sat at the edge of the stage and answered questions. It was fabulous!

In other news, I'm moving along at snail's pace with Book 2, but I am moving. You NaNo'ers will scoff, but I seem to be writing at about 250 words a day right now. I know this is okay, because it'll pick up a lot once I settle into it a bit more. Right now for every scene I have to work hard to figure out who's there, what all their relationships are to each other (complicated!) and some approximation of how they look and how their surroundings look. Before they say a darned thing! I'm also proceeding with my first attempt at a SFD (shitty first draft). Since I don't know if any of these scenes will even be needed in the end, I'm not polishing them over and over. I'm improving them, but I'm leaving them a little rough, and a little vague on details. Those will come as I continue to do research.

I think one of my struggles with this book is going to be keeping my focus, and not including all these juicy details I keep finding out about these people. Murders! Lovers! Secret marriages! I swear, I could write a novel about each one of them individually and have plenty of material. Must focus on the two sisters. {s}

It's coming up on Thanksgiving, hurrah! I will probably be light to nonexistent on the blogging over the weekend (starting Thursday), since I never have time to sit down and do it at home.

Do you Americans out there have your turkeys all ready?

Medieval Word of the Day: citole: A stringed instrument of music much mentioned in 13-15th c.; originally the same as the cithara, though the mediƦval name may have been given to a special form.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Just do it

Diana Peterfreund, in discussing the NaNo backlash, brought up one of my favorite issues: the modern idea that we need to be perfect in everything we attempt.

I believe a big part of this idea comes from globalization and media. When most people lived in rural towns and villages, and there was no TV or internet, there was room for local experts. If you wanted to hear a singer, you could turn to Mrs. Withers, who sang in the choir. Or you could gather around the table or the piano at home and sing yourself. If you wanted dancing, you went to a dance yourself, and you also watched the Schmidts, who went to the dance every week and could really cut a rug. The local newspaper editor was your in-town writing expert. Everybody could have a talent for something, and be the "expert" in their town.

With the advent of media, first radio, then TV, then internet, you don't rely on local sources any more. Why listen to Mrs. Withers when you can watch Pavarotti on TV? When you can see "real" experts, who are so much above the local level? People stopped comparing themselves and their accomplishments on a local level and started comparing themselves to the highly trained, specialized people they saw across the world. And they started feeling inadequate, and they stopped trying to compete. Thus people start to consume entertainment (and even sports) instead of participating in it.

I agree with Diana's advice: do what you want to do, for fun. Don't try to compare yourself to everyone in the world. If you're learning to write, don't compare yourself, at the beginning, to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or whoever your hero is. If you're learning to paint, don't compare yourself to Picasso. Don't not try because you're afraid you won't be the best.

I have a saying taped to my computer here at work, because I need the constant reminder:

If you compare yourself to others you may become vain or bitter, for always there are greater and lesser persons than yourself.

In that message is a warning against both errors: getting too big of an ego comparing yourself to others who may be behind you on the learning curve, and feeling bad about yourself for not measuring up to others--often on a global scale--who may be ahead of you. TRY. Stretch yourself to do new things, and do the best you can. Keep learning, keep improving. But try not to compare, and always, always, have fun.

Medieval Word of the Day: lichamly: Bodily; of the nature of the body; of or pertaining to the body, carnal.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Brain dump

Sorry for the silence. My mind just seems to be spinning the last few days, contemplating many subjects at once, but none I've particularly wanted to tackle here. FWIW, though, these are some of the current subjects occupying my brain:

--Bush's comments on Iraq/Vietnam
--OJ's book {shudder}
--This weird kerfuffle between Jenny Crusie and Miss Snark about Anne Stuart. I really do wish people would be more informed before they go off slagging on others. Both sides.
--The general and specific selfishness and weirdness of people
--The general and specific wonderfulness and supportiveness of other people
--The movie Stranger than Fiction, dealing with the interaction between author and character
--The report I'm editing today (on coalbed-methane injection)
--The research I'm really really behind on for my grad school class
--Chocolate, and how much I like it
--The new printer/scanner/copier I bought yesterday, yay
--My daughter's ongoing cold, and whether she's getting better
--Planning for Thanksgiving
--Buying presents for Christmas
--Research and writing for Book 2
--And that ongoing secret thingamajig I can't tell you about.

Whew. No wonder I feel kinda spacey.

Medieval Word of the Day: wive: To take a wife, get married, marry.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Devise, wit; write, pen

I was thinking, late last night, of posting about sleep, and how much I love it. But then phrases kept popping into my head, one after another after another:

To sleep, perchance to dream.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care.

Shakespeare. He knew about sleep and dreams. And those are just the sleep ones that I thought of, lying in bed. If I try, without references, to think of other Shakespeare quotes, I could go on and on:

Arise, fair sun and kill the envious moon.
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.
Words, words, words...
Discretion is the better part of valor.
There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Out, damned spot!

I love Shakespeare. This is how much of a Shakespeare nerd I am: in college I took all the Shakespeare courses I could for my lit degree...and then I audited the rest of the available courses. Just for fun. Also in college I got together with a couple of other nerdy friends and had some Shakespeare evenings, where we ate junk food, drank wine, and read Shakespeare aloud, acting out the parts. I've seen Shakespeare plays live in Ashland, Oregon; London; San Diego (lots; even when we go on vacation there I fit one in); Sacramento; San Francisco; Los Angeles; and Butte, Montana. I've seen all the Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare movies, more than once. I've been to Stratford-upon-Avon and visited Anne Hathaway's cottage.

It's fascinating, once you look, how very many common phrases and quotes, and words, come straight from Shakespeare. All's well that ends well. All that glitters is not gold. Bag and baggage. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Brave new world. Brevity is the soul of wit. (Go here for more)

So I began to wonder...he's clearly affected my use of language, even how I think about language. He's affected how I think about drama, and what a play (or a story) should do. Has he crept into my book as well? Are any of my characters unconscious echoes of Shakespearean characters or ideas?

I don't know yet; I'm still pondering it. Godwina somehow reminds me of Goneril from King Lear. The Duke...well, he could be lots of Dukes. {g} Katherine is just Katherine to me, so I can't compare her. But it's interesting to think about, trying to fit your own work into the larger body of literature, to see how it fits. If it fits.

Are any of you Shakespeare freaks too?

Medieval Word of the Day: tempest: A violent storm of wind, usually accompanied by a downfall of rain, hail, or snow, or by thunder.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Tuesday is Monday

Back at work today--little one is at least slightly better. As I have grad school classes today, there was no chance of staying home in any case.

The weather was absolutely nasty this morning, with heavy winds whipping snow all over the place, but it's sunny and calmer now. Well, at least it looks nice from my windows. {s}

I got some good work done on Book 2 yesterday, and am excited about getting back to it today. And (yay, yay) I get to pick up a reference book ("The History of Medieval Spain") I ILL'd from the library. I need some fact confirmation of where the heck people were when, and I'm hoping this will help with that. And two more books that are on the way.

I'm letting myself do more of a real first draft this time, trying not to worry too much about cleaning it up. I don't even know which of these scenes will stay yet, so it seems a little silly to polish them to perfection. We'll see how this approach works!

Medieval Word of the Day: warderere: Look out behind! (yes, the exclamation point is in the definition. {g})

Monday, November 13, 2006



I'm home with Child again today. Unfortunately she's contracted the wracking cough I had at Surrey, dry and nonstop. {sigh} Anybody have any good suggestions for treating a cough in preschoolers?

I didn't get an awful lot of writing done this weekend, but that's okay. I'll get some in today. I thought today we'd share what we've been reading instead, since I _have_ been reading lately!

I just finished a very old romantic suspense called "A Falcon for a Queen" by Catherine Gaskin. Anybody else read that one? I found it at a yard sale, I think. A rather moody Scottish novel based in the 50s. Parts of it were very, very good, and parts just awkward, but overall it was an interesting read.

I'm now into Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. Oh. My. God. If you're writing in the medieval period and haven't read this, DO. He does all sorts of myth-busting; fortunately most of it (like individual rooms and more literacy than was supposed) I already had right. He has some lovely tidbits I plan to plop into Book 2, though. Like the practice of putting out bowls of honey to attract the insects in a room, and keep them away from YOU. Important if you have the windows open a lot! It's also a very compelling read, and not dry at all.

At Surrey I bought Bernard Cornwell's A Pale Horseman, which is my next up. I'm looking forward to that too.

What are you reading?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kids and the Totally Hot Black Prince

Well, I was feeling a little petulant--Miss 4.5-year-old is apparently going through another 'testing' phase, and this morning had not only push, push, push but direct disobedience, and a complete failure to understand that when I say 'no' I mean 'no' for real, and I'm not going to change my mind in 5 minutes. {sigh}

But then I read DaMomma, and I'm feeling oh so much better about MY day. I did not have poop on my bare feet, and I slept the whole night through. Life is good. {g}

I settled in to write on Book 2 yesterday, and ended up only tweaking a few sentences, and spending the rest of the time doing research. Sucks when you're writing a historical and you can't remember or find in your notes whether the heck your characters actually did go to Portugal and talk to the King or just tried to and were turned back!! So I found a couple of books that should tell me and ordered them through ILL. Today I'm going to have to skip forward in book-time and write something I know happened. My first foray into non-linear writing, wow.

Fortunately it's rather a fun bit, I think. If you were an 11-year-old girl, wouldn't YOU have a crush on the Black Prince, who is going to step in and heroically save your family? I mean, check it out:

Hot, right? Totally. {g} Isabella is so all over that. I don't think the Black Prince exactly returns her admiration (fortunately), but I already know of some other interesting dynamics that are going to pop up here...

Looking forward to working on it today! I think Isabella's just itching for me to get to the parts where she's older, and actually has some control over things. Then I'll really get to see her personality. Strong as it is.

Medieval Word of the Day: ostiary: A doorkeeper, esp. of a church; spec. a member of the lowest of the four lesser orders in the pre-Reformation Western Church, and later in the Roman Catholic Church. Now hist.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And the count is in...

Hoooray! Jon Tester pulled it out, and won. Whew.

Happy (tired) dances now.

Still hanging in, waiting

Well, MY state is one of the two still undecided for the Senate race, leaving the nation hanging, waiting to see whether Democrats or Republicans will have control of the Senate. I'm very strongly pro-Tester, so I'm waiting and waiting and anxiously watching the numbers for any final result--go Jon!--but at the same time I'm secretly pleased that for once my vote has recognizable influence! In the past, my votes in California and then Montana always seemed to come in after most races had already been decided, which is frustrating as hell. At the moment Tester is ahead by about 1700 votes only, so we'll see how it goes today.

I did manage to write an eensy bit more yesterday, yay. Still very slow, very awkward, but I'm not discouraged. As long as I keep working I know it'll come. And I plan to write more today!

Last night I took Child to see the Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli De VeraCruz, an excellent show of traditional Mexican dancers and musicians. Wow. Favorite moments: the "Dance of the Little Old Men", when the four male dancers donned old men masks and canes, and mimicked the old-man shuffle interspersed with fancy footwork dancing; and the dance where the four women balanced burning candles on their heads, and the lights were turned off--they danced slowly, surely, in stark, ruffled white dresses, with the candles their only illumination. Beautiful.

We're all a little tired today, what with late show and later election watching, but it's worth it.

Medieval Word of the Day: maffle: To stammer; to speak indistinctly, mumble.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Feeling the way in

First, VOTE!!

I know, you've heard it everywhere today. But your vote really will matter in this election.

This is an odd week, because hubby and I both have today AND Friday off, but Child still has school today. I got her all ready and off to school, and then I got to come back and sit here with a mongo cup of coffee, typing away on the laptop while hubby sleeps in. Ahhh, nice. It's quite gray and gloomy, but with no rain yet. But we almost always get Seattle's weather eventually, so I know it's coming!

I did start working on Book 2 again yesterday, after a long hiatus. What an odd feeling, like trying on clothes from college days. Trying to stretch myself inside skin that I don't quite know anymore. It's still so early in this book that I have no clue what I'm doing. I have an inkling of the character(s), a general idea of major plot events for the first half, a vague sense of their surroundings. Nothing clear. I'm going to have to keep working at it for a while until it sharpens.

So speaking of that, while I have a few moments. Off to read the little bit I wrote yesterday, and see where I can pick up!

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Theme's the Thing

Last week I did a complete re-read of TMT in 3 days, from beginning to end, and I'm pleased to say that I still like it. {g} I made little tweaks here and there, of course, but overall I enjoyed reading it very much, and kept getting caught up in the story. This is a good thing after lo these many years of working on the thing!

And I think the Deeper Theme works now, as it should.

Deeper Theme, you ask? Indeed. The first time around (when I thought I was done, ha ha), I had the Obvious Theme, the one I had originally seen as I wrote: self-growth, learning to rely on and trust oneself. Fine and dandy. I think most readers would see that without blinking. The MC is a young medieval girl who depends on others--men--at first, from one to the next, before finally depending on herself, coming into her own.

But when I got some feedback and read it through again, I saw threads for another theme underneath, if I could just strengthen it. Pluck those threads, here, there, make this one stronger, add a little background to heighten that one. And amazingly, when I did that the story got richer. The conflict was heightened, the motivations made so much more sense. It really was as if the Deeper Theme was the main one all along; I just had to see it.

I'm not sure it would work if you tried to write a deep theme from the beginning; in fact I think it would fall flat (and preachy) in the hands of all but the most skilled writers, of which I am not one. Underlying themes need to come from the characters and the story.

But what do you need to look for to strengthen a Deeper Theme, once you see it? I thought of a few things.

--It should be related to the main plot, but not be the focus. That's for the obvious theme.
--It should be threaded through the whole book, part of the character's mindset and experiences.
--If you look for it, you should find some mention of the theme in the beginning, and in the end. It can be considered a story arc, with a problem that is resolved.
--It should be subtle!! This is the hardest bit when you're highlighting for theme in a later draft. How much should you emphasize it? How much mention should there be? Not much. Hints, here and there. References. Thoughts.

How about those of you who have finished a draft? Did you see other themes after you were done? Did you consciously strengthen or highlight them? Do you look for different levels of themes when you're reading, or is it unconscious?

Medieval Word of the Day: scoleye: To attend school; to study as a scholar.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy girl

You know that old saying about how good it feels when you stop banging your head against the wall? Well, it's true. Today is a happy day, mostly because a couple of frustrations have been suddenly taken away, and I'm feeling light and easy.

1) I was supposed to have an extremely frustrating meeting from 10 to 3 today--yep, 5 solid hours of nastiness. Which meant I was going to have to scramble to finish other stuff I wanted to work on. But I got to my desk to discover that the meeting was cancelled until further notice. Woo-hooo!

2) My computer has been getting progressively worse for weeks. First it wouldn't turn on (y'all heard about that), then it wouldn't restart. Video wasn't working, the USB ports weren't working. Then my screen started to shimmy and blur. Actually shaking from side to side. It was making me nauseous! So I put my foot down and sent a rather firm message to the IT guy, ccing my boss. And lo and behold, this morning I have a new computer that works. Hurrah!

3) It's 35 F already today; it's been about 6 or 10 all week in the morning. Much nicer for early November.

So there you have it. I get to work on writing today, on a computer that isn't dancing under my eyes. My girl was happy this morning. We went to a silent auction/dinner last night, and I picked up some goodies. And one more party tonight!!

Next week, if I have time, I'll do a craft post, and maybe another discussion. We shall see. But now, to work!

Medieval Word of the Day: gole: Merry, wanton, lascivious, lustful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Day of the Dead

"On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
must the youngest open the oldest hills
through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
and the silver eyes that see the wind,
and the Light shall have the harp of gold…"

This is the poem that opens Susan Cooper's The Grey King, one of my most favorite books of ALL time. I memorized that poem, and I must've read the book 10 or 12 times. It has all my favorite elements: a secret identity, a quest, mythology, tie-ins with Arthur, the battle between good and evil...and fabulous writing. If you have not read it, no matter what age you are, you must. Must must.

Hmm. I must go read it again, I think. {s}

Happy Day of the Dead!

Medieval Word of the Day: scop: An Old English poet or minstrel.