Monday, February 27, 2012

Potlatch 21 in Review

I had a great time at Potlatch 21* this weekend, even if I find I'm now replaying some of the stupid things I said to people and kicking myself. Do you ever do this? Probably nobody cares, but like a broken record I keep hearing myself call a book by the wrong name or busting out some silly, irrelevant response because I've run out of things to say. Or mixing up million and billion (with regards to years) while talking to my friend, the climate scientist.

Just me, right?

Although I enjoyed many of the panels, I had the most fun listening to the Writer's Block panel. It reminded me I've been making life overly difficult for myself and that I should get back to writing a set number of pages each day. I've been slacking on producing new words, although this month has been much more productive than January. Let's stay on that trend.

To sum up: I really appreciated the hospitality suite at Potlatch. Having access to fresh coffee was a lifesaver--along with having a central space to chat with people, was awesome. The banquet featured tasty food and good company. And the volunteers who put the event together did a great job and made me feel really welcome as a first-time attendee.

I'm glad I had the chance to go.

*Potlatch is a small convention for readers and writers of speculative fiction.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Critique groups and writing book recommendations

I enjoyed participating in the Potlatch writing workshop led by David Levine last night. There were six participants in our session, and we each took up to 3 minutes per piece to share our feedback before the author was allowed to respond. We had a great bunch of stories and a wide array of thoughtful comments.

I started participating in critique groups last June, so it's been about eight months now. At first I was nervous, afraid I'd say the wrong thing, but all of the groups have been encouraging and useful. For me the process is just as much about learning how to think critically about other people's work as it is my own.

Over time I have gotten better at seeing the flaws in my work sooner, and I'm grateful for that. Even if I still have a way to go.

A book that's recently helped me think more deeply about story structure, and one I can't recommend highly enough, is:

Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction

It's one of the only how-to-write books I've read cover-to-cover. And it's incredibly useful, with exercises you can immediately apply to your own writing. This is not a fluffy motivational text. It has meat and bones.

The author, Damon Knight (To Serve Man) taught at Clarion for 27 years with his author-wife, Kate Wilhelm, who penned a fantasic writing text herself: Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop. In fact, I read her book first and was immediately impressed. It wasn't until later I realized she was the same Kate Wilhelm who wrote Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, which I'd read years ago and enjoyed.

To sum up: if you're in the market for some book learnin', check these out. You know, if you want. No pressure.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Submitting again and reading a lot

I submitted a short piece today and two shorts last week, so that's a trend I can get behind.

I've also been reading a lot. Last night I read a Stephen King short called "Crouch End," written in the Cthulhu Mythos. Very interesting to see the worlds collide.

I'm reading an anthology of David Levine science-fiction, working my way through Dan Simmons' Hyperion and Octavia Butler's Kindred, and I finished two books yesterday. One was a writing book by Damon Knight and the other was A Canticle for Leibowitz.

There's more, but reading lists of stories I've consumed lately isn't that interesting if you're not me.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fixing a hacked Wordpress blog and Potlatch

My other blog, the one where I post photos, was hacked a few days ago. Based on when the files were touched, I believe it happened Feb. 16th, and I noticed Feb 20th, because the admin dashboard was displaying funkily -- by that I mean, without stylesheets applied. I viewed the source and found a garbled mess of alien PHP code inserted at the top of the page.

After some searching I realized all of the PHP pages on my web host had been compromised and I wasn't alone. So I started the slow process of fixing the site.

I changed all of my passwords, reinstalled Wordpress, manually removed the code from all the PHP files the installer hadn't touched, including my current theme. I deleted extra files, including unused themes and plugins. I checked file and directory permissions to make sure they weren't writeable by everyone. I checked the htaccess file for foreign code. I fixed my broken RSS feed (I needed to delete extra spaces after the closing PHP tag in the config file). I added some "things" to my config file to get it up to date... things I don't want to reveal too specifically.

Mid-way through making the changes listed in the above paragraph, I was hacked again, so I knew I hadn't fixed the original problem. At that point I became more aggressive in my deleting of files; I started deleting everything I wasn't using, especially themes and non-Wordpress files just hanging out in the web root. That seemed to have helped.

Now I don't want to say I've licked it for sure, but I haven't been hacked since then. I'm watching the site and I let my webhost know to keep an eye out.

I spent about six hours on this, with most of the work done between 10pm and 2am, Monday night. Kind of screwed up my sleep, but I'm feeling back to normal this morning. And since I spent all that time making sure the site worked, I'm thinking I should start posting there again soon. Apparently I'm not ready to abandon it.

If you're curious, you can see my cleaned up version of my photo blog at


This weekend I'm going to my first Potlatch, which is a convention aimed at writers and readers of speculative fiction. I'm pretty excited. I'll also be participating in the writers' workshop, which provides peer feedback in the round-robin, Clarion-style. I'm over half-way through the manuscripts I need to review, and I have about fifty pages left to read in "A Canticle for Leibowitz" -- this year's book of honor. This is all very good.

Now if I could just finish another story that'd be the cherry on top.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Roasting a turkey

Last December I received a free 13-pound frozen turkey from the grocery store, which worried me because I'd never cooked a whole turkey before. I managed to make it through the holidays by pretending I couldn't see it looming there in the freezer, but then last week I screwed my courage to the sticking place and gave it a shot.

I used this recipe, and I found a recipe for Giblet Pan Gravy.

I moved the turkey to the refrigerator on Sunday morning and then began the brining process on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning about 8am, I removed the turkey from the brine and set it back in the refrigerator, uncovered until about 4pm, at which point I chopped the onions, carrots, and celery, brushed melted butter over the skin, and placed it all in the oven.

Earlier in the day I bought a roasting pan at Bed, Bath, and Beyond -- a sturdy model on sale because it had been on display -- along with a baster.

The turkey turned out moist and delicious, with crispy skin. It required another hour of cooking time than the recipe called for, but I just relied on my meat thermometer for accuracy. Making the gravy was a pain in the ass, which required a lot of babysitting the stovetop. It turned out nice too, if a little salty. I'm just not sure I care enough to try that recipe again. Here is a picture of deglazing the roasting pan on the left, and the roux on the right:

And the final product! Mmmm.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More of what it's like

I'm at a weird place in my writing life. I have time. I can string together a decent sentence. My ideas aren't entirely crap. I'm just having a helluva time putting all the parts together, in a way that will move my writing to the next level.

I've never been a patient person, and if I'm not immediately good at something I usually lose interest. So it's been interesting to try and observe my progress from the outside. It takes a lot more than some indefinable sprinkling of talent to write a complete story. There are so many moving pieces, and I can manipulate some of those without thinking too much -- but that means when a story goes wrong, I can't lift up the hood and poke around. I can't fix what's broken because I don't know why it isn't working.

I need to understand as much as I can about why certain story elements work the way they do. I need to experiment. I need to read. I need to write a lot. And I need to think deeply about how the limbs make the monster.

To sum up, I'm going through a frustrating period, where I can tell I'm on the verge of understanding something important, but every time I try to grab and hold it, the idea fizzles. None of this is to say I'm giving up. I'm proud of what I've created and each story gets better and better-- or failing 'better', at least more ambitious. :)

I just thought I'd record what it's like for me, a year or so after I've started focusing on these questions full-time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thumbs, treadmills, turkeys, and being social

My updates have been a little sparse lately, so let's catch up.

I guess the biggest thing is I hurt my thumb. It might have happened when I was trimming back a shrubbery in the yard, or maybe when I opened a particularly stubborn jar of salsa. (Mental note: make up a more interesting reason. Possibly involving cave diving or panning for gold.) All I know is I've started wearing a fashionable black half-glove for thumb support, and that helps.

The next big thing is that last Tuesday Amazon delivered unto me a treadmill. Jer and I assembled it that night -- which included a mad dash to Lowe's for a single surge suppressor -- and I used it Wednesday morning for the first time.

I love it.

I've never been a ... strong ... runner, but I've wanted my own treadmill since I first used one 12 or 13 years ago. I love how much time it saves me, not having to drive to the gym. I love that I can go full-out with my terrible form and outfit, and be completely un-selfconscious. I love that I can use it for as long or as short as I want, and not worry about hogging the machine.

Most of my reasons for buying a treadmill involve being self-conscious, which is a feeling that's always held me back in exercise. The only time I ever got over it was when I worked out with a trainer, and he pushed me so hard I was too tired to care about anything except when I would be allowed to lay down and die.

So I'm taking it slow, focusing on building my endurance in intervals, and trying to pay attention to my form. I don't want to jinx myself, but I've used it four out of the last five days. I just love it.

As for writing, there's not much to report. On Saturday afternoon, I watched the first half of Star Wars IV and took notes about what happened and at what times, which was really interesting. I've never dissected a film at that level before, and it helped to see how all the different threads were building toward the ending.

Sunday was a social day. In the early afternoon I played Dungeons and Dragons with friends and in the evening I went to a get-together in Capitol Hill. I chatted with a lot of cool people, drank some good beer, and even got to meet a few people I'd only ever known through the internet.

Lastly, I'm defrosting a frozen turkey in the refrigerator and will have to figure out how I want to prepare that soon. Maybe I'll just whisper at it, "I'm going to cook you," over and over. Do you think that will prepare it enough?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Welcome! Have an eighty proof drink!

I'm excited to have an old friend visit tonight--by old, I mean like, she's a couple of years older than me.


What I really mean is, she's a pre-Jeremy, Santa Barbara, friend, which are few and far between (with a sense of humor like mine, I can't imagine why). It takes real effort to be friends with me, so she should win some kind of award. Something better than "gets to sleep in my guest room."

The best I can do is spruce the place up a bit. So today is all about the vacuum and the cleanser. I've already mowed the lawn and replaced the burned out lightbulb in the driveway, washed the linens, and vacuumed the stairs... um, and recycled a bunch of junk mail. Phew, it's exhausting just listing it out.

I suck at this.

But! Oh! I could get her drunk right away and then she won't notice the cat hair tumbleweeds. That is usually my plan for houseguests. Welcome to my house! Have a cocktail!

They think I am being hospitable. I am really just trying to hide the burn marks on the ceiling.

Although... Since she's probably reading this right now, my plan is already blown. Darn.

Next time, old friend.

Next time.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Rescuing the good bits from the logic bog

On the one hand I want to tell you all the things I'm trying to do to make my stories better. On the other, I don't want to sound like a know-it-all jerkface, who thinks she's got it all figured out because I don't.

Um. I should probably just add that text as a blanket disclaimer to my whole web site.

I received some useful feedback on my work Saturday. The WIP excerpt (critiqued in the morning) suffered from not having a character who was immediately likable. I might try starting from a place of danger and see if I can get the character to make a choice right away.

The short story (critiqued in the afternoon) suffered from logical inconsistencies, some of which I knew about, some of which surprised me. I'd spent so much time staring at the words and rewriting that I needed some outside opinions on what really wasn't working so I'd have a better idea what to save or tie up better in the end. Now we'll see if I can translate all of that feedback into a a better story.

If I can pull off this short story I'll be very happy. It's got some interesting stuff going for it, which is currently getting bogged down by the parts that don't work.

Looks to be another sunny, gorgeous day in Seattle. I wonder if I'll leave the house.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Submissions check-in

I sent off the first five pages of my WIP mid-yesterday, so that's good.

With regards to the dark fantasy story: I keep thinking about theme. I'm forcing myself not to touch it again until I hear back from the reviewers, but I already know I'll need to rewrite the ending, at least in part. It's missing something. It resolves story questions, but I feel like it could be so much stronger, if I could just figure out where it falls short. But I'm just too darned close to the material. I need to sit back and really think about what I want the reader to take away and then compare that to what the reviewers say.

It's frustrating to be this close, but I'll get there. It's about 90% of where it needs to be.

Today I'd like to play around with flash fiction. It's been a while since I wrote any.

I just realized I haven't listed out my January statistics yet. Two submissions, four rejections, and one publication. I've had more productive months, but it'll be worth it if I can polish up this last story.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Purging junk, finishing a draft, and listening to readings

I had a great day yesterday. In the morning, the junk removal people came and hauled away our old couch along with some big, wooden valances that came with the house. I am thrilled to have those items finally gone.

In the afternoon I finished the second draft of my dark fantasy story and sent it out for critique. Since I started this draft, it has grown from 2,900 words to 5,500 words. Overall, I'm happy where I've left it. And I'm not thinking about the story again until I get some second opinions.

I went to a SFWA reading in the evening that featured David Levine, Nancy Kress, and J.A. Pitts. I met some very nice people, saw some friends, and had my books signed.

Like I said, a great day.

Today I owe five pages to my novel revision teacher, which I've been stalling on. See, I have five pages and they're pretty good, they're just not right for my WIP anymore. I really should rewrite them, but I'm not sure what to say yet.

Coffee will probably help.