Friday, December 26, 2008

It Makes Jam

For Christmas my husband's parents gave us a bread machine. The tag said "For Russel and Rebecca," probably because even though they knew I'd be pushing the buttons, he'd be enjoying the results.

I haven't had a bread machine for many years. My last one served mostly as a bread dough mixer. I never baked the bread in the machine because I did not like the tough crust, the strange shape of the loaf, and that funny paddle that always got stuck in the bottom. I would mix the dough in the bread machine, then pull it out and put it in a pan to bake in my regular oven. Then, when the bread machine died, I did not replace it.

For many years I made my homemade bread using my Bosch to do the kneading- that way I could make two loaves at once. Then my fourth child started half-day kindergarten and my bread baking ceased. Whenever it was time to punch down the dough or put it in the oven it seemed I was heading out the door to pick up children from school. Result - dead bread. So I gave up and bought a few extra loaves at the store every week to make up the difference.

This year I thought I'd have time to bake bread again, but when the weather cooled off in the fall I was in the middle of an intense writing project. If an unfortunate loaf of bread happened to be rising on the counter it had to wait until I came back from seventy years in the post-apocalyptic science-fiction future before it got baked. After a few loaves full of giant caves, or collapsed from over-rising, I gave up again.

But now I have a bread machine! Now I can throw in all the ingredients, walk away, forget about it, and still get fresh, hot bread three hours later! And the technology has certainly improved. The pan is a more normal shape for a loaf of bread, and it even beeps to tell me to take the paddle out before it bakes. "What should I bake first?" I asked. "Banana bread!" my daughter shouted. Was that an option? Sure enough, this bread machine has a "quick bread" setting. The banana bread it baked on Christmas day turned out very well. At any other time it would have been gone in ten minutes, but it came into the world in a kitchen full of pies, cakes, cookies and other goodies, so we still have some left.

The bread machine even makes jam! I tried that feature today. We were out of strawberry jam, so I gave it a try. I put in the strawberries, sugar, and pectin. Then for an hour or so the machine made periodic low, mechanical grunts. Finally a high pitched beep told me the jam was done. I poured it into a container and put it in the fridge. I'll let you know if it sets up.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Two Inches Too Short

After a year of lying in my upstairs hallway, that beautiful roll of vinyl flooring finally came downstairs to be measured and cut. I went all around the upstairs bathroom with a tape measure and drew a nice diagram with all the lengths labeled. Then I got my big long yellow ruler out of the garage and a green sharpie and transferred my measurements on to the back of the vinyl. I knew I didn't have to be perfectly accurate because I was supposed to cut it three inches wide all around and fit it exactly after it had a day to lie on the bathroom floor.

So I measured and drew and cut, then went upstairs with the piece of flooring. It looked great with the pale lavender walls. I fit it around the toilet pedestal and carefully unrolled it.

"It isn't long enough," my husband said.

"That's just because that corner is supposed to be three inches further in," I said, pointing to where the cabinet jutted out from the wall. But somehow I wasn't so sure anymore. We spread the vinyl out on the floor and to my horror it was an inch too short to reach the wall on both ends!

"How did this happen?" I said. I thought I'd cut it wider than my measurements! It was only a thirty dollar piece of sheet vinyl, but I had been saving it for over a year! All year I had stubbed my toe on it in the dark, rolled it out of the way to vacuum, yelled at the kids to stop using it for a balancing beam - I was attached to the thing! And now I had ruined it.

In a few minutes, Russel came back upstairs with the answer. "How long is your long yellow ruler?"

"Eighty inches."

Russel shook his head, "It's only seventy two."

"Owwh!" I'd slid it along once and counted it as eighty inches when it was only seventy-two. If I cut three inches wide on each side I'd still be two inches too short.

Oh well. Back to the home improvement store.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas

I had heard of people leaving gifts on others' doorsteps, one for each of twelve days leading up to Christmas. It sounded like a lovely idea, something that would be fun for the children, something I might want to try someday.

I never had any idea how much fun it would be to be on the receiving end!

Twelve days before Christmas, a small wooden model of a stable appeared on my doorstep. For so many years I wanted a nativity scene but did not have one. My brother Jon made me one a few years ago, but it is so fragile I can't let the children touch it. My mom gave us a toy one this year, but the kids play with it all the time and switch the plastic costumes on the figures until the shepherds are wearing crowns and the wise men have angel wings. So far no one has put a beard on Mary - at least they have that much respect. But I was pleased to at last have a traditional manger scene for my home.

Then the next day, ANOTHER stable appeared on the front step. Two! Of all the people in my neighborhood doing twelve days of Christmas by leaving nativity scenes one piece at a time, how was it that TWO picked my family? The children were delighted. Now they could set up one in each of their rooms. Well, that idea didn't last long because I said they'd have to clean up their desks first. Instead I put one in the dining room and one in the family room.

The snow came. I felt bad for the dear people who had committed to come to my house once a day for twelve days, right before Christmas. If they were doing several families, which I suspected they were, that was a 30 minute to 1 hour chunk of time a day! What if they got sick? What if their kids got earaches and they had to go to the doctor? These organized people must have their shopping already finished or something.

In the quiet, magical snowfall I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and saw a trail of small footprints dashing off through the snow, then looked down and saw the day's arrival at the manger scene. "There's footprints here if anyone wants to follow them!" I shouted, more for the benefit of our benefactors than for my children. "Merry Christmas!" I bellowed into the snow.

I watched all day long, checking the porch for the piece from the other scene. Sadly I thought that maybe they'd had to miss a day due to the bad weather. Then the next morning when I went to get the mail I laughed for surprise and joy to find a wise man sitting there on top of my junk mail and Christmas cards. Wise man? More like wise guy. I brought him in and placed him in the stable to wait for Baby Jesus.

So I guess I just want to say thank you for all the fun and excitement. We feel loved. I hope to do something like this for others in the future - though my suggestion that we give these manger scenes away to other families next year in the same manner met with loud howls of protest from the children. They love them and want to keep them forever as a reminder of our magic twelve days of Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Cards

Some years I've had time to write a personal note in every Christmas card I sent. This year I had to stay up late one night just to stick on the stamps and labels. I want all of you to know that I enjoyed thinking of every one of you as I peeled those stickers off and plunked them on the envelopes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: One Magic Christmas

While you're all snowed in due to the marvelous winter weather we've been having, I recommend watching this marvelous family film. You'll recognize the parallels to "It's a Wonderful Life," but the film "One Magic Christmas" carries its own weight. The last time I saw this film I was too young to appreciate the great writing and the surprisingly honest characters. It is the story of a young mother who can't find the Christmas spirit. Hard to blame her since her husband was laid off from work six months ago and their family is being forced to move out of their home in a week. But through a series of tragic events, and through the courage and faith of her seven-year-old daughter, she realizes what's really important and learns that having her own Christmas spirit can make a big difference.

In today's gloomy economic climate, the film is poignantly relevant. If you've seen it before, watch it again. If you haven't seen it, check it out!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Happy Snow Day!

And if you haven't seen this film, watch out, there's a minefield of spoilers posted in the comments (yes, Kimberly, you're still my favorite person of the day, too).

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Homemade Christmas

Now that I have my Christmas decorations out I want the house to be clean all the time so that everything looks beautiful. With toys and papers everywhere, I can hardly see the Christmas stuff!

Only trouble is, I keep having ideas!

Saturday afternoon when I could have been cleaning I got the children together and made this gingerbread house instead. This year I wanted to try a dormer window. My daughter did the cardboard engineering to make the pattern, and just look at how it turned out!

We cut a hole in the base before we built the house so that I could put lights up inside and take full advantage of the sugar candy windows.

I might have had some time to clean today, but then I remembered those delicious chocolate cookie peppermint ice cream sandwiches that I like to make this time of year. After that I hit on an idea to make a star for the top of our Christmas tree using a cereal box, tin foil, and a string of lights. The children got in on the project too - my nine-year-old drew the circles with the compass and stuck them onto the foil, while my daughter scored the fold lines for the triangles and helped with the hot glue gun.

I'd been talking about popcorn chains, so the children insisted that we spend the evening making them. They look just charming on the tree, but it took nearly two hours to string them and then there was popcorn all over the floor.

I'll get it all cleaned up by Christmas.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Found Bird!

On Friday morning, my daughter put on her roller-blades and I borrowed my husband's bike so we could go put up "Lost Bird" signs around the neighborhood. We concentrated our efforts to the south, the direction the bird would have gone if he headed straight out the garage door. There's a big freeway one block to the south, and I figured he wouldn't have gone past that because the high wall would be hard to fly over and the noise would frighten him.

We whistled and listened as we went. At one point my daughter thought she heard him answer us, so we circled the area but didn't hear him again. As I passed by all my neighbors' houses and beautiful yards I thought of how nice all the people are around here and felt sure someone would find my bird and be kind to him. Then I noticed all the cats stalking around and thought that for sure my bird had been some feline's Thanksgiving dinner.

After putting up the signs and calling the vet I thought I'd done all I could do and proceeded to try and forget about it. On Thanksgiving day no one had felt like eating any dinner, we were all so sad about the bird, but on Friday we made up for it by making a good dent in the left-overs.

On Saturday the phone rang during lunch. The man on the line said that my bird was on his roof! I got my two little boys, the bird's favorite two people in the world, and my daughter grabbed the cage and we drove south one block to the house. When we got there the man I had spoken to was standing out in his driveway. His wife and son were in the garage, with my bird sitting on the son's shoulder. The man said he had seen me putting up signs on Friday morning, and so when they noticed this funny sounding bird on their roof they gave me a call.

So today I feel like anything is possible. I've got my birdie back! He was tired, hungry, and thirsty, but very glad to see my two youngest boys again. After being out in the rain, then spending two nights out in the cold, that bird is quite the survivor. I'll have to bake those people who found him a pie or something.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lost Bird

Last night I let our cockatiel out to play with the boys. He flew back to his cage after a while, but I never shut him in.

This morning, with everyone playing out back or working in the garage, the bird made his escape.

I'm very sad because he is probably hungry and cold and tired and lost. I just hope someone kind finds him and takes care of him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And Now, For My Next Trick...

After submitting my very first full manuscript ever to be requested by anyone in the publishing industry, I thought I should take a short break before beginning my next project.

Four days was enough.

Yesterday I sat down and wrote out all the ideas I've had to date that I thought were good enough to become books. I picked the one I got the most excited about, and then spent the rest of the day happily dreaming up a whole new world.

In other happy news, my three-year-old went to the eye doctor yesterday and lo, his lazy eye is now reading 20/30 just like his strong eye! His vision is equal after only six months of patch therapy! Hooray! This month we're cutting his patch wearing time in half to see if it stays stable.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rebeca's Reviews: Kung Fu Panda

I have one thing to say about Dreamworks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda."

The characters and story were so good I entirely forgot I was watching computer generated animation.

As the closing credits rolled, I sat up in sudden surprise and exclaimed, "That was CGI!" Sure, the animation was awesome, the styling was incredible, and there were 3-D shots that could only have been done in the computer, but I got so absorbed in the story I never thought about the media.

That, to me, is a great achievement of storytelling.

The film is PG for animated Kung Fu action, and has a few vulgar gags thrown in, so parents should definitely watch it first to make sure it is appropriate for their children. Don't worry, parents, you'll want to watch it again with the kids.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Microwave Popcorn

When the popcorn is in the microwave, popping away like crazy, you know you should leave it in there. But then when the pops come slower and slower, one second, two seconds . . . you know more kernels would pop if you left it in, but if you leave it in any longer its going to burn.

That's how I feel about my manuscript. I keep thinking of little things I want to change. They pop up while I'm driving, while I'm walking, while I'm doing housework. When I get a chance I go to the computer and type them in. That could go on for days, but it wouldn't make the manuscript much better. In fact, it might make it worse.

So I sent it in. Yes, I clicked the send button.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Riddle for You

One morning this week I found my son sitting up in bed in his pajamas with concentration and a grin on his face. "I've got a riddle for you, mom. I just made it up." He proceeded to recite:

I am what everyone wants to find
I can be a potato or an orange rind
I can be anything that you want me to be
My start sounds like A, my end sounds like Z.

Everyone needs me, especially in school.
If you wish for good grades, I'm the number one tool.
Now all that you have to do is to try
And guess my riddle - what am I?


After several days of wrong guesses, I finally got it this afternoon. My husband got it in less than thirty seconds. Can you guess?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: Greetings from Planet Earth

I first met Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley a couple of weeks ago at the library. The spine really caught my attention. That font, those colors - the book looked like it ought to be thirty or forty years old. But the book had a shiny new plastic jacket and a "NEW BOOK" sticker half-covering the first letter of the author's name. I had to investigate.

The cover illustration looked just like the cover illustrations on the books that had been published when I was very young - scratchy line drawing filled in with pools of uniform colors like bright red and pale turquoise. The end paper was that bumpy stuff you never see anymore. Published in 2007 but set thirty years ago, I held in my hands a piece of historical fiction about WHEN I WAS ALIVE ALREADY! I must be getting really old.

I smiled at the book designer's cleverness and popped it back on the shelf.

But I couldn't get it out of my head. Two weeks later I was back to check it out. I am glad I did. This is unlike any book I have read before. It deftly combined the wonder of moon exploration and the Voyager probes with the tragedy of Vietnam, all through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy who wants to know more about his missing father. The book made me think, made me laugh, made me cry, made me wonder. What more could I ask?

Could I write a book like that?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Housekeeping

I got to the end of draft 4 yesterday, but I'm not quite ready to submit yet. First some housekeeping tasks. I thought I'd learned when to use it's and when to use its, I thought I knew the difference between a beat and a tag in dialogue, but once again it looks like when I really get rolling with the writing my old bad habits resurface. I got the it's-its's done, and right now I am half-way through the onerous task of checking the punctuation on every line of dialogue. Yes, I know they have copy editors to do that, but I really, really want the editor to enjoy my manuscript instead of going, "Ooof! Ouch! Ack!" every time her eye trips over a bad comma.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Me and Me and the Pumpkin Queen

After working on my second-to-last chapter this morning I felt ready to open that catering service. Oooohhhh! My book was such a wreck! I moped around all afternoon and then decided I needed a reading break.

Yesterday at the library I meant to find one book that had been edited by the editor who requested Earthcrosser. I came home with a stack of books - two edited by the editor, two others by one of the authors she'd edited, and two more by the publishing imprint she edits for. Over half of them were first books! I love new first books. Someday I want to pick up a new first book at the library with my name on the jacket.

So this afternoon I sat down with Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy, feeling a little worried that I was making a mistake. If this book blew mine out of the water I might sink into discouragement, never to resurface. I read the first paragraph and relaxed with a contented sigh. It was charming, simple, delightful! I loved the characters, loved the voice - just enough description, good plot movement throughout the story, charming bits that made me laugh, lots of personality, and EXCELLENT RESEARCH ON PUMPKIN GROWING! Only upon reading the acknowledgments did I learn that Marlane Kennedy has never grown a pumpkin. She sure fooled me.

As I read I began to feel that this was a story about me, and that growing a prize-winning giant pumpkin was just like getting a first book published. Can she do it? Will hers be the one? Can I do it? Oh the suspense!

The best part is, I realized that the things I was fretting about in my own manuscript don't matter so much. Pumpkin Queen had plenty of sentences in passive voice. There were monologues by the point- of-view character. It went on and on with details about pumpkin growing. I loved it all. It was interesting! I cared about the characters and so I was along for the ride. That's what counts.

Happily off to work again tomorrow.

Major Surgery

Oh this is terrible! Chapter 18 is AWFUL! I hate it! My brain is so tired! I CAN'T DO THIS!

I will try again tomorrow.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Two Chapters to Go!

I am down to my last two chapters! Soon draft four will be complete!

First I need to re-write chapter 18. The ending-ending is really awesome, but I made the dire mistake of starting the denouement BEFORE the ending. This is always a bad move. It destroys the sense that the story is rising to a spectacular climax! I'll keep the climactic scene at the end of the chapter but replace all the parts at the start that make it sound like the book is already over with scenes that actually build the tension.

Oh this is going to be so good!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Plumbing Adventures

Last Tuesday I went out to move the laundry and noticed a small puddle around the water heater stand. Curious, I peeked around the side and . . .

IT HAD CRACKED! The stand had cracked and the water heater was tipping, dripping, and gradually ripping off the wall. If any of you have plastic water heater stands, please replace them TOMORROW. We were lucky. If the stand had cracked all the way and the water heater had fallen it might have broken the gas line and spewed flammable vapors into my garage. Maybe if it had happened while we were camping last weekend our garage would have blown up when we came home and clicked the garage door opener.

Cool.

Friday, November 7, 2008

What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

I love this stage of working on a manuscript! After months of writing and revising, I know the manuscript so well I can work on it in my head while I do housework. Homemaking and novel writing is an ideal career combination. As a homemaker, I have innumerable mundane tasks to perform. While I match socks and wash dishes my mind can run free, eavesdrop on my characters' conversations, work out new passages of text, find errors, and come up with fresh ideas. Any time I get stuck at the keyboard I can go pull weeds, sort toys, and especially go play games with my little children to get the creative flow going again. On the other hand, working on the novel gives me a sense of progress that would otherwise be eroded by the unending round of laundry, dishes, and meals to cook.

I especially like waking up in the morning and having an idea so exciting I have to run downstairs to the keyboard and get it in before it is time for me to start the day. Then trouble occurs if I try and keep writing while I cook breakfast. Was that the oatmeal boiling over? Oops! Got to go!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted!

As I left my house this morning on my way to the poll a small brigade of children biked by. "Vote for McCain!" one shouted. "Vote for Obama!" another one called. I laughed and waved.

When I got to the school I showed my voter registration card and signed for my vote. At the next table a short Asian woman with a cute page-boy haircut argued that she hadn't voted yet, even though the records showed she had voted early.
"Where did I vote early?" she asked.
"At the Galleria Mall," the voting day volunteer showed her the record on the computer screen.
"I never go there!" she insisted angrily.

What if that had been me? What if someone had stolen my vote? It wouldn't be too hard. They could steal my voter information booklet out of the mail and forge my signature. What if someone had stolen my vote? The thought made me sick. It would only be one little vote, but it would be MY vote, my chance to have a say, my voice, my freedom.

GO OUT AND VOTE!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Catch Me, Mommy!

This morning I misbehaved at the eye doctor's office.

I was very good for the first forty-five minutes. I kept my three-year old quiet by reading to him and playing with the toys in the lobby. Then I got impatient. I got crabby. I had a book to revise and laundry to fold, for crying out loud!

With well practiced technique, I engaged in subtle passive-aggressive behavior. I let my three-year old run wild through the lobby. He tore around and around the big salt water fish tank as fast as his little legs would go. Then he did a dance for me on the front door mat. After that he played with the drinking fountain (one of the old ladies in the lobby was nice enough to inform me that he didn't really want a drink, he was just playing with it). Next he had fun trying to run away from me as I attempted to catch him and re-do one of his buttons that kept coming undone. Every time I started to feel a little guilty that we were terrorizing the office I remembered that my appointment time had been a whole hour ago. They deserved it!

When we finally got in to see the doctor she spent most of the five minute visit talking to her intern about making sure to write "no refills" on the prescription when the patient shouldn't have refills. This had NOTHING to do with my son since he doesn't take any medicine at all. I was happy to learn that his eyes are still improving, and I was very polite and thanked the doctor for helping my son to see better.

On the way out, two hours after we had arrived, I was hoping that there wouldn't be a spot for us in three weeks and we'd get to wait longer before we had to come back. No such luck.

Next time, Dad can take the three-year-old to the eye doctor.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fourth and Final Draft

Tonight I marked up the last chapter of draft three and I'll start putting in changes on Monday, after I get back from taking my three-year-old to the eye doctor.

Last week I e-mailed the editor to let her know I hadn't dropped of the face of the planet or decided to start my own catering service instead of writing this book. To my surprise and delight, she e-mailed back three minutes later. She remembered me and my humble first chapter from way back in June, and she said she'd keep an eye out for my submission.

So now I will remain very calm and professional.

WHEEEEEEEE!

Monday, October 27, 2008

What is it With the Reviews?

No one ever comments on my reviews! Are they all that boring?

Anyways, I just finished reading "Alcatraz Vs. The Scrivener's Bones." It is absolutely awesome. I can't even start talking about it without dropping spoilers so read it for yourself! Instead, I will just tell you it is smart, funny, action-packed, clever, suspenseful to the last drop, and the final scene had me laughing my head off.

I was going to tell you what the final scene was, but I can't because that would spoil everything.

Buy it. Read it. Now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: Titan AE

Eight years ago, I missed "Titan AE" when it came out in theaters. It looked cool, but I was afraid it would be stupid. Don Bluth had disappointed me before.

It turns out that this flashy, expensive science-fiction epic brought the Don Bluth studio down in flames - their best, their worst, and their last film.

Let us consider the tragic fall. What went wrong? On the surface, the film looked incredible. The character animation deeply impressed me. Facial expressions, gestures, timing, even the illusion of weightlessness were masterfully executed. The lush interstellar backgrounds, the 3-D ships, the incredible imagination at work - I almost think they should have hired John Williams to compose a soundtrack and simply skipped the dialog and story. It could have been like an outer space version of Fantasia 2000.

Not all of the dialog was bad. In certain individual scenes the exchanges between the characters were delightfully honest. The trouble was, in the next scene the dialog would be stilted and canned and the characters would be, well, out of character!

The story should have been compelling enough to command ninety-five minutes. In the opening sequence of the film, mankind flees planet earth just minutes before an evil alien race turns our home sweet home into an asteroid field. Fifteen years later, humans are living on the fringes of galactic society, homeless and quickly dying out. Wow, what a premise!

Then things begin to go down the drain. Enter surly twenty-year old Cale. He might have been unhappily cutting up derelict spacecraft for his alien employers all his life if it were not for the fact that his dad was a brilliant scientist who built a nifty machine that makes . . . planets! Just what we needed! Unfortunately, Dad hid the machine and went missing, and Cale is about to find out that he's the only one with the secret genetically encoded ring map to find it. He's got to hurry because the evil aliens bent on the destruction of the human race would like to get to it first and blow it up.

Okay, okay, so it's silly, but I still think they could have pulled it off. Unfortunately, the story has no cohesion. I can not watch the film a second time because things the characters did and said early in the movie make no sense in light of later events. Did I mention there's a pirate captain, a kangaroo woman, a batty scientist turtle, and a hot laser-toting space pilot babe with purple bangs? Sounds awful! That's why I didn't go see it in the theater.

Worst of all, this film had no audience. After the exposition, where Cale is a cute five-year old kid on the day the aliens destroy the earth, all my children howled with disappointment when they saw how old he would be for the rest of the film. "I liked him better as a kid!" they all cried. With lead characters in their early twenties and a garage-band soundtrack, the film is aimed directly at teens. It was eight years ahead of its time. The equally sloppy and much less brilliant "Clone Wars" may not be doing tremendously well, but it was cheap to make and enough people went to see it that it hasn't put a hole in the studio and sunk it.

"Titan AE" is one of those films that makes me wonder - is there some kind of inverse relationship between the amount of really awesome visuals and action sequences and the intelligence of the plot? Must it always be this way? Or will anyone ever combine smart storytelling, great characters, and mind-blowing visuals into a single film?

I'm waiting!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: Hidden Talents

I have wanted to read Hidden Talents by David Lubar for a long time. I started it once, but the first few pages were so much like Holes I thought "Been there, done that" and hopped off the bus. Shortly after that, I felt I had to spend every spare minute revising my first novel to get ready for a writer's conference in June. When I got home from that I felt I had to write the new book I started at the writer's conference. Now, four months later, I'm having a week of rebellion and I'm reading everything in sight.

Oh, it has been so nice to lie on the couch (lie, not lay) for hours and read! This is why I write, why I slave and stress and work and burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, so that somewhere, someday, someone can lie on the couch with one of my books and let the whole rest of the world melt away.

But I was going to tell you about Hidden Talents. This time, I'm glad I stayed on for the ride. The book is clever, fun, and it even has a great sequel! I read them both in one day. The main character is a boy who has such a smart mouth that he's been sent to alternative school for very bad boys. He gets a pyro for a roommate, makes freinds with a clepto and a pathological cheater, and fills out his crowd with a hyperactive boy who wears his hair in little braids (that was one of my favorite parts) and a kid famous for randomly throwing objects.

They all have one thing in common, one thing they haven't discovered yet.

None of it is their fault
.

There is some language in this book I wouldn't want to hear my kids use, but other than that, nothing objectionable. The sequel is more action oriented and less contemplative, but still clever and well written. I recommend them both.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: Palace of Mirrors

Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a princess tale of mistaken identities. The character, Ella, from Haddix's earlier book, Just Ella, makes an appearance, but this new book isn't really a sequel. The story stands on its own.

The characters were the best thing about the book. The setting is your typical princess book setting, a very well behaved Medieval Europe that has been through the wash a few times so as not to horrify the kids. As for the story, some very important plot points were a little beyond my willing suspension of disbelief. But the characters were great! I almost didn't mind where the characters were or what was happening to them - I liked them so much.

But the reason I am going to buy this book, besides the fact that I'm a dedicated Haddix fan, is that she did her research on harps! I loved the details on harp-playing in the book, all accurate by the way, and wished for even more. It makes me wonder if Haddix plays the harp, knows a harper, or simply spent hours on the internet reading everything she could find.

Girls ages 9-12 should adore this unusual twist on the "princes raised as a peasant" theme.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's The Rush?

Last week I was in an all-fired hurry to get my first three chapters off to the editor.

Now I'm thinking I need to take my time.

I like my book, but it still feels a little thin. I think that everything I need is in there, I just haven't brought it all out yet. I especially want to work on the pacing and tension.

One of my major concerns is that no one under the age of 12 has been able to finish reading the book yet. Anyone like to hazard a guess as to why?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Website Update

Hi Everyone!

I've updated my author site with a new page about Earthcrosser. Go check it out!

rebeccajcarlson.com/earthcrosser.html

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Draft Three Test Readers, Line Up Here!

I am one chapter away from being done with draft three. Do I have a second round of test readers out there? I'd like to get some new people to look at this manuscript next week.

It is a great little book, and I'm very proud of it, but is it good enough?

Now I am almost as scared as I was at the beginning. When I began I wondered if I could create a book that lived up to that first chapter that caught the attention of a professional editor. In the middle of the process I could forget about all that and simply enjoy my craft. Now here at the end, once again, I wonder if I did it.

Oh the delightful agony of suspense!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: City of Ember

City of Ember is built upon an intriguing premise. A two-hundred year-old city deep beneath the earth is the last refuge of humankind. But supplies are running short, the mighty electric generator is breaking down, time is running out, and somewhere along the line the secret instructions for returning to the surface have been lost.

When it comes to atmosphere, Ember's got it. Rusty pipe-works drip and spurt, a web of overhead lamps illuminates the drab city streets, citizens wear thrice made-over clothes, and no one dares to venture into the darkness beyond. The characters are simple but compelling, and the best parts of the story focus on the choices that different people make when faced with the imminent collapse of everything they know. Do you wait for someone to come and save you? Do you horde supplies for yourself while everyone else around you goes hungry? Do you keep patching the pipes and hope for the best? Or do you risk everything to find a real solution?

The only thing keeping City of Ember from going down as a great science fiction classic, in my mind at least, was the cheap movie tricks that made the film feel like a grade-B clunker instead of a serious work of art. Cheap trick number one : the giant mole. My daughter could not get over the giant mole. An hour later she was still complaining, "If there were a mole that size running around in the pipe tunnels, someone would have noticed it and killed it! They wouldn't let it go around eating people!"

The giant mole was not in the book. Ember author Jeanne DuPrau is probably rolling her eyes. I hope they paid her well for the movie rights.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Love My Ceramic Cook-Top

Our old stove started to give out a few months ago. Two of the burners stopped working. So, after putting up with it for a while, we caved in and bought a new stove. This time I decided I wanted one of those flat cook tops, the type without ring pans. They looked so easy to clean.

Little did I know.

Ceramic cook tops are not really easy to clean. They are possible to clean. Ring pans are absolutely impossible to keep clean for long. Something falls down there while you're cooking, scorches on, and then never completely comes off. On the other hand, when something drips onto the ceramic cook top, it does scrub off again, if you scrub it right away and you use the nifty ceramic cook top cleaning cream.

The nifty ceramic cook top cleaning cream is a little like car wax. You wipe it on, then polish it in before you even start cooking. It cleans and protects the cook top, and makes it easy to clean up scorched drips. There have been a couple of drips that resisted even the nifty cook top cleaning cream, so I gently scraped them off with the edge of a metal spatula.

So far my ceramic cook top has withstood encounters with my giant boiling water canner and my cast iron griddles. As soon as the cook top cooled I polished off all the black marks, dripped syrup, and hard-water deposits, and it looks as good as new. I love my new ceramic cook top.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

REAL METEOR IN THE NEWS!

Perfect timing! Scientists at Mount Lemmon observatory near Tucson, Arizona spotted a tiny asteroid about a day before it struck the earth's atmosphere over Egypt, burning up in a spectacular display that outshone the moon. Here's the article:

http://space.newscientist.com/article/dn14897-space-rock-collides-with-earth-right-on-time.html

This is the FIRST, the very first time an object from outer space has been spotted before it hits. All you Earthcrosser readers will be interested in this link to animated observational photos of the asteroid, which perfectly match a certain scene in my book:

http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/images/D691.gif

Yes, I feel very vindicated today, thank you.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thank You Readers!

Thanks to everyone who read Earthcrosser and got back to me with comments! I am pleased with your responses and very, very excited to start my third draft.

The main comment I've heard is that the setting is not consistent. Towards the end of the book, all of a sudden there are helicopters, guns, trucks, military bases, and all sorts of things that must have been hiding just over the ridge if they could descend upon us so quickly and save the day. It makes the reader wonder why the characters had so many problems due to lack of technology at the beginning of the book.

I have some good ideas for ways to fix this. Hee hee.

If any of you have other remarks, you can put them in the comments or e-mail them to me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Writer's Keyboard


My poor old keyboard! The only letters that hadn't been rubbed off were Q,W, T,Y,U,I,P,G,Z,X, and B. I can't write much with that.

I typically touch type, but every now and then, especially when I'm typing in a password and can't see what I'm hitting by watching the screen, I just have to look at the keys! So I took my Dremel and etched the missing letters back in.

That should last a little while.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How to Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil

These last few days I've been overhearing a lot of bellyaching and getting political campaign material in the mail, pointing fingers at the current administration and blaming them for our dependence on foreign oil.

Sure, it is nice to think that it is someone else's problem, and that someone else is going to fix it, but if we are going to end our dependence on foreign oil we are going to have to CHANGE OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL LIFESTYLES.

Here are some easy ways to start:

1. Walk, bike, carpool, or use public transportation whenever possible.
2. Keep your thermostat warmer in the summer (buy a fan) and cooler in the winter (put on a sweater).
3. Make an effort to buy locally produced goods (less shipping, less gas used).
4. Re-use and recycle, especially plastics.
5. Grow some of your own food in your own back yard.
6. Turn off appliances when not in use.

None of that is new and different. You heard it all in elementary school. Let's give it a try! Saves money, saves resources. . . all it takes is time and effort.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why I Am Against Same-Sex Marriage

As a scientist -

The purpose of reproduction is the continuation of life. A same-sex marriage can not produce new life.

As a citizen -

Marriage is a legal contract between a man, a woman, and society that helps ensure that the children the marriage might produce are given adequate care, protection, and training to become contributing members of the society. Children do best in homes with both a father and a mother, and so society binds a man and woman together by law in order to give their children the best chance possible. Laws that give tax breaks to married people were originally intended to help homes where children are being raised. Same-sex marriages can not produce children, and so I do not believe they should have the same protections as traditional marriages.

You might argue that then by the same token, marriage licenses should not be granted to couples who are infertile. Infertility is a difficult thing to determine. I have more than one friend who was told by their doctor that she and her spouse could not have children but then later she had a child. On the other hand, a same-sex couple can never, never, ever produce a child.

As a Christian -

Marriage is a covenant between a man, a woman, and God by which the man and woman promise to be loyal to one another and to care for the children that God sends them. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve, man and woman, to be companions for each other. That was His plan from the beginning for the happiness of his children.

As an adult human being -

Sexual feelings are a powerful and important part of human life. But in our modern world when we can so easily cheat nature we tend to forget that the purpose of sexuality is . . . REPRODUCTION. Simple as that. Not just for fun. Not just for a high. Not just for that sense of well being and the wonderful emotional bond it creates with a partner. The purpose of sexuality is to create strong families with a mother and father intimately bound in love and the children brought into the world under that shelter.

Any other use is an abuse. Like taking a prescription drug that hasn't been prescribed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Draft Two Done at Last!

For a while there I thought I might not make it, but this morning I added the final scene to my second draft. The book is 52,000 words long now, just about right for a short middle-grade novel. Now I'm going to take a break for a week while my fabulous team of test readers (thanks again, folks) gets to work. I'll take their suggestions and keep them in mind as I do another reading and mark-up before I begin draft three.

What am I going to do on my one week vacation? PAINT THE UPSTAIRS BATHROOM! It has been nearly a year since I ripped out the floor. That must be one big advantage of paying someone else to do your home improvement projects - THEY ACTUALLY GET DONE!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Test Readers Wanted


After slogging through some murky chapters that had to be completely re-written, I have emerged into the fast paced, riveting, helicopters-guns-and-rockets portion of my book. This part turned out well the first time and only needs minor work. Earthcrosser will be ready for test readers by the end of next week.

The book is a quick read, 180 pages of pure science fiction. If any of you think you'll have time to read such a book during the week of Sept 28-Oct 4, do let me know. If you don't have time this time around, I'll probably need a second wave of test readers in mid-October and you can sign on then. Also ask your children, especially those in the 9 through 12 age range. They're my actual target audience.

Thanks for all your enthusiasm and support! That's what makes writing so much fun.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fall IS Here

Something strange has come over me. On Saturday I pulled several months worth of haphazard junk out of the school supply cabinet. I threw away old flash cards and worn-out markers. Then I put the rest back neatly. I'm starting to want to organize the garage and throw out all the toys. Yes, I've got the fall cleaning bug. This must be residual instinct from the days when humans had to do more to prepare for winter than get their furnace checked. In the olden days, grain had to be harvested and stored, meat had to be killed and smoked, and wood had to be chopped. So now, pampered and helplessly dependent on modern society, all I can do with all this energy is organize the cupboards.

We got our first corn last week! The ears are small but tasty, and my children love to go out before dinner each night and find their own ear of corn to pick and husk. Less spectacular were the peaches I bought at Costco for 99 cents a pound. They turned out to be sour and mealy, so I made jam this morning and I'll make the rest into pie tonight. Nothing a little sugar can't fix.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Eeek!

I sat down with my daughter today and had her play her latest harp ditty so I could transcribe it. She loves to make up songs on the harp, but she doesn't know how to write them down yet. As I sat there I saw it - A BIG CRACK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SOUNDBOARD!


What does this mean? The soundboard is failing. I hope the harp lasts until Christmas because I'm supposed to play in church. We can't replace it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fall is Here (Almost)

Fall is here! I don't care that it is still 105 degrees Fahrenheit outside. They had pumpkins at Wal-mart. I bought one and left it on the table for a couple of days just to get us in the mood. Then this morning I sliced it in half. I pulled out the seeds and spread them on a pan, sprinkled them with salt, and roasted them for thirty minutes at 350 degrees. I don't ever rinse the seeds - they're tastier roasted with pumpkin juice on them. Next I put each half of the pumpkin on a big baking sheet and gave them the same treatment - except without the salt, and I roasted them for about two hours. The skin peeled off easily once the roasted pumpkin had cooled. I pureed the flesh in the blender a little at a time, and now I have several pounds of pumpkin puree to use in pies and breads and cookies. There is a pumpkin pie in the oven right now, and I am doing a happy dance in the kitchen because fall is here (almost).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fighting Evil Before Breakfast

Sarah Hale, one of my all time heroines, was a young widow with five children when she published her first novel in the early 1800's. This landed her a job as the editor of Ladies' Magazine, one of the first periodicals for women in the United States. Besides being a poet (ever heard of "Mary Had a Little Lamb?") and an author and editor, she was a political activist, writing articles to her readers and letters to her political leaders. She called for public schools for girls, public parks, an end to ridiculous corsets and bustles, and an end to slavery.

Those battles have been fought and won. I'm especially glad I don't have to wear a corset. But generations later, there is still plenty of evil to fight. I got up this morning and typed out a letter to the governor of Nevada, telling him what I think of his recent cuts to the public education budget. I'm going to try to get everyone on our school's PTA board to sign it, and then I'm going to put it in an envelope and send it to Carson City.

I so enjoy fighting evil before breakfast.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Twenty Five Cupcakes

Instead of a budding novelist, I am a mom this morning, blithely trashing the kitchen to make mounds of birthday treats.

Last night I asked my son how many kids were in his class so I could know how many birthday cupcakes he needed.

"There were twenty-four before Josh," he said.

"So that means . . . how many in your class?"

"Twenty-five!" he was surprised I couldn't figure it out by myself.

"And why did we need to mention Josh specifically?"

"Because he started school late. He broke two of his bones."

That's not too surprising. Josh is a BMX racer. I'm glad he's back in school, except for the fact that twenty-five is the WRONG number of cupcakes. As everyone knows, muffin tins are made to hold twelve muffins. Two tins hold twenty-four. So what does that mean if I need twenty-five?

After the kids were in bed I went downstairs and hunted up the cupcake liners. I only found one half-used package. Worried that I might have to run to the store in the morning I started counting them out. I only got to twenty-three! Then, as I saw my tomorrow morning swirl down the drain, I noticed that one liner had been stuck inside another and didn't get counted! I counted them all again and got . . . twenty-five! Hooray!

Feeling optimistic, I counted again. No luck. More cupcake liners did not condense out of the cupcake liner continuum. Twenty-five it was.

The next morning after breakfast, the boys gathered around and watched me fill the muffin tins with cupcake liners. I have two muffin tins that hold twelve each and one more muffin tin that holds six, so that's where the extra cupcake liner went. The boys went off to school, the cupcakes came out of the oven, I mixed up the frosting, and then hunted around for something to send the cupcakes to school in.

I finally found a nice cardboard flat that had held frozen orange juice concentrate. Frozen orange juice concentrate is just about the same diameter as your average cupcake. This is good, except the frozen orange juice concentrate comes in cases of TWENTY-FOUR!!!

Deep breaths.

It didn't look like it was going to work, but I had faith. I started frosting the cupcakes. One by one I put them in the box. And then a miracle occurred -


There's always room for one more!

And I'm such a good mom. I even remembered to send in some napkins.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Revision Woes

So now I know why all my writer friends say they hate revising.

I used to love revising because that was all I would ever do. Now and then I'd write a few pages, but most of the time I would read through what I already had written and adjust it here and there. My husband always said I should quit doing that because I tended to edit all the life out of anything I wrote, but I enjoyed it---so there. Even if it did take me seven years to finish a novel that way.

Now I am trying a new method. Write it all, and then revise. On Friday I spent HOURS revising my first chapter, and I HATED it---the revising AND the revised first chapter. It got two pages longer and made less sense than it had before. So today I started fresh with the original chapter and tried to change AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. It still took me an hour to get through the first five pages. At this rate it will take me twice as long to revise as it took to do the first draft.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clone Wars

With a whole intra-galactic war going on, you would think they could have found something more interesting for Anakin Skywalker to do than rescue a baby slug.

Oh well, maybe that's the real reason he turned to evil. Being a Jedi was beginning to look like a dead end job.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Earthcrosser Update

I read my book through on Monday. I meant to take my time but I simply consumed it in three hours. I also meant to read it and just enjoy it the first time, but instead I had a pen in my hand and scribbled quick notes in the margins everywhere.

Now I'm not sure what to do next. I have never faced an entire first draft of a novel before. In the past I would always revise the earlier chapters multiple times before going on. I am trying to decide whether to mark up the whole book and then revise, or to mark up one chapter, revise it, and then mark up the next chapter.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Good News

Cesium-137, the longest lived by-product of a nuclear explosion, has a half-life of 30 years.

I used to think that meant that for 30 years after a nuclear bomb exploded, everything downwind would be glowing. After a massive nuclear attack, we could count on living underground for at least three decades if we wanted to survive.

Of course the anti-nuke people want you to think that. The truth is not so grim. In fact, even at ground zero, thirty days is enough for all of the most hazardous radioactive isotopes to decay. The ones that are left, well, they don't decay very fast and so they don't radiate as much and are not as dangerous. Get it? So what if you eat a tomato dusted with remote traces of uranium. With a fifty percent chance of it decaying sometime in the next fourteen billion years, what's the chance it will decay in your stomach?

I read an article today that studied the effects from the Chernobyl accident on produce grown in Austria. The plants in Austria picked up radioactive isotopes from the soil from Chernobyl fallout and so were slightly more radioactive than normal. If you ate vegetables grown downwind from Chernobyl in the first year after the accident you got three times the dose you would get if you avoided eating them for one year and then ate them for the next fifty. After the first year, the radiation drops off so rapidly that it takes fifty years to accumulate one third of the dose from that first year.

Got your year's supply?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Draft One Finished!


Nine weeks and three days after I sat down to write the first chapter, Earthcrosser is drafted! I expect its 49,378 word count to grow a bit in the revision process since I need to add little things like descriptive details and transition sentences, things I can't bother with when I'm in the heat of the action.

I can't say that this first draft is very good. It needs a lot of work. If you were to read it now you would find the setting shifts around in impossible ways. Characters vanish over chapter breaks. Things that happened over night turn out to have taken three days instead. The asteroid's closest approach gets pushed back a week (dang, if the author could do that, then what's the problem?).

But who cares? Everything can be fixed! My teacher at the workshop said that any manuscript can be made publishable. It is only a matter of how much work it will take to do so.

Oh, and do you like my sample book cover? I shot that photo myself from the bottom of a Titan II missile silo. Tee hee.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thank-you Titan II

"This is our missile combat crew commander," the tour guide pointed to my eleven-year-old son, "and this is our deputy missile combat crew commander." the tour guide grinned and put his hand on the shoulder of my tow-headed, buck-toothed eight-year-old son, "He looks about the right age for an enlisted man."

We all laughed. The tour guide stepped back and raised his hands like an orchestra conductor, "Now when I count three, both of you turn those keys and hold them while I count five. Ready?"

My sons both nodded their heads.

"One, two, three." My sons turned their keys and then waited until the count of five was up. The keys were in different control panels, too far away for one man to reach both, and they had to be turned at exactly the same time or the missile would not launch. It was one of many fail-safes in the Titan program, a way to make sure no one man could make the decision to launch a nuclear missile.

"One, two, three, four, five. Did you do it?" The tour guide peeked over the control panel, then pointed when the light came on. "You did it. Now you just watch those lights."

The lights on the control panel lit, inexorably, one after the other. When the third one came on, an ear-splitting alarm bell made us all jump. The tour guide quickly shut it off. Another light, and then a horrible buzzing noise. The missile had lifted off, headed towards a target that no one on the crew knew anything about.

"Now after the launch," the tour guide said once he had turned off the buzzing noise, "We were 'sposed to wait down here for further orders. We weren't exactly sure who those orders were 'sposed to come from," he raised his eyebrows, gave us a mischievous glance and pointed towards the ceiling, "Because if this missile had to be launched we knew that meant everyone up there wasn't going to be in very good shape."

We all laughed again, then headed upstairs to look at the cramped crew quarters. A small room with bunks, a kitchen, and a shower which the tour guide said, "No one ever used."
"Maybe on your crew." one of the tourists jabbed.
"No one ever used it because no one wanted to clean it." the tour guide shot back merrily.

As I walked down the cable-way to the missile silo itself an immense feeling of gratitude came over me. I grew up in the shadow of the cold war. When I was the age of my eight-year-old son, these missile silos were still in full operation, ready any time day or night to deliver our end of mutually assured destruction. But we never had to use them. Humanity won the cold war. Sanity prevailed.

"Thank you for the tour," I said to our tour guide when it was all over. He was a former missile combat crew commander himself. "I was just glad I could bring my children here and show it to them as a museum."

The tour guide laughed. I could tell he knew exactly what I meant. "Its good that it's a museum," he agreed. He was so kind and funny. I wondered if the missiles had been launched, would the Soviets have any idea of what sort of man had been asked to turn the key? What sort of men and women were in the Soviet missile silos? Were they cheerful and friendly too?

"We never had to use it, and its thanks to you," I told him.

"Well, I hope not," he looked down. I hoped I hadn't embarrassed him, but that's the way I felt. The courage and the readiness of those missile crews made it possible for me to be showing my children their weapon as a museum piece. It was a weapon so good that we never had to use it.

If those missiles had been launched, none of us would be in very good shape.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Research Trip!

Good-bye blog! CUL! I'm off on a research trip! Yes, close on the heels of my first writer's conference and my first meeting with an editor, I am taking my first official research trip! We are going to the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona for a special tour on Saturday morning. I'm feeling a little sorry for the tour guide already. He'd better know his stuff because I've got A LOT of questions.

A lot of the action in my book takes place inside the control center of a missile silo based on the Titan II design. I've already written most of the scenes using my internet and library research, but an actual visit will allow me to put on the finishing touches that will breathe life into the prose. And help me get the choreography straight. And also give me some really great ideas I would never think of just sitting at my desk with a book in my lap. I AM SO EXCITED!

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Have Boys

When I cleaned out my pockets this evening I found a tape measure I'd taken from my nine year old when he was trying to measure the blades of his ceiling fan from his top bunk bed after lights out, and a pocketknife belonging to my eleven-year-old that would have gone through the wash for the third time if his pants hadn't made a loud clunk when I dropped them into the bottom of the washing machine.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

E-bomb

Even though I didn't do any writing today, I did get a lot of research done. I looked up EMP weapons, then spent a lively hour and a half arguing with my husband over whether I could trust the congressional reports on the subject. We found out that e-bombs are nuclear bombs designed to create a huge electrical surge in the atmosphere. They would send metal bars sparking and fry all transistors, transformers, and computer chips in sight. Imagine cooking a fork, some aluminum foil, and your cell phone in the microwave oven on HIGH. Now imagine that going on EVERYWHERE. The congressional report said that one or two big Russian e-bombs could knock out pretty much everything electronic in the United States. My husband felt sure they'd need four or five at least. No problem. They have a few thousand.

At any rate, we agreed that the first thing to go in an e-bomb attack would be the internet. It is the most fragile, vulnerable part of the infrastructure.

"Dang," I said, "No more blog! It would be completely wiped out! I should be making hard copies of my blog entries."

My husband laughed, "In case of nuclear war, you're really going to want your blog."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fashion Statement


When I was in high school I wouldn't be caught dead in bell bottoms, unless it was, like, 70's day and we were supposed to look freaky weird.

They must have been back in style for a while because I found a pair on clearance at Wal-Mart. Granted I didn't know what they were until I got them home and tried them on. Oh well, I thought, those tacky things go right into the charity box.

But instead I hung them up in my closet and one day when the laundry was overdue I had nothing else to wear. I put them on and hoped no one would notice.

They were surprisingly comfortable in the Las Vegas heat. I got some nice air circulation around my calves, almost like wearing capri pants. Now I wear them now and then, so long as I'm not going anywhere that I care very much what people think of me.

And let me tell you what was really freaky weird. I went to a musical revue a few months ago and they had an 80's segment. Staring at those costumes, I realized- I used to wear stuff like that! My friends used to wear stuff like that! I've still got my cowgirl skirt in my closet, even though it is too small for me now - like my daughter is going to want to be caught dead in it!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Half-Way There!

Sometime around midnight last night I wrote the 25,000th word of Earthcrosser. That means I'm about half-way done with my first draft! If all goes well, I'll be needing test readers in the month of September.

One thing I love about writing science fiction is that I don't have to make everything up. The real world is full of cool stuff I can use. Take, for example, the exciting discovery I made during today's early morning writing session. The characters were hiking around outside after sunset, and I wanted to know what the sky would look like on June 27, 2087. So I went to the Sky View Cafe.

I typed in the seventy-nine years in the future date and discovered that Mars and Jupiter will be in conjunction, passing spectacularly close to each other just two nights later. I never would have thought of that on my own, but it is perfect! It illustrates some astronomy concepts which happen to be important to the plot, it might be symbolic (we writers love that kind of thing), and it provides a nice concrete detail about the night sky which I can bask in for a descriptive sentence or two.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Garden Math


The instructions on the back of the corn seed package say, and I quote, "Plant seeds six inches apart. When seedlings are three inches tall, thin to ten inches apart."

Um . . .

Yeah.

I know this wouldn't bother most people, but I'm the sort who sketches my garden on a piece of graph paper and gets out the measuring tape on planting day. As much as I enjoy doing the impossible, I think I'm going to have to either plant seeds five inches apart, or settle for twelve inch spacing between my cornstalks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On A Roll

Finally! I finally got in the zone again. I sat down and wrote 1,000 words in an hour. It was a great morning!

But now I have to go vote and get a new pair of glasses for my three-year-old, who finally, after ten weeks, broke his new glasses beyond repair. My insurance only pays for one pair every other year, so now I am free! Free to shop around and go anywhere that sells eyeglasses! Free! Free! I have to pay out of pocket, but I get to pick who gets paid! Long live capitalism!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Last Hurdle

Next month we will begin our fifth year at Nevada State College. That means it is (fanfare please) time for my husband to apply for tenure.

This is the final obstacle in the career of a college professor. We've jumped through many hoops already. Undergraduate school, graduate school, qualifying exams, dissertation, post-doctoral work, landing a tenure-track position, and now last of all, we have to convince the college that they want to keep him forever.

I don't see why that should be so hard. I want to keep him forever. And I don't even need a several hundred page report detailing all the things my husband has done for me over the past four or five years, submitted to an outside committee for review.

Unfortunately, the school does need such a report. It is going to be a long, hard year. I was getting scared at first, but then I realized that God has always prepared us for these hurdles and obstacles. He knows what is coming up in our lives, and has already put the pieces in place. I am grateful to know that God lives and that he can communicate with us through prayer, and I am grateful for all the times he has shown us what to do in the past. I have perfect confidence that he will carry us through this time as well, no matter what the outcome.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Patch

At our last visit to the ophthalmologist (only one misspelling that time!) - which I can only hope was actually covered by our insurance - I found out that my three-year-old's eyes are not crossing as much as they used to. That's great news! The glasses are working.

When the nurse asked me to cover my child's left eye he read everything off the chart, both near and far. But then, when I covered his right eye he shook his head and pulled my hand away. When I finally got him to sit still and look at the eye chart, he couldn't tell a ducky from a birthday cake. The nurse asked him what he saw on the projection screen across the room and he said, "Fire!" I guess because of the light.

The ophthalmologist had a student ophthalmologist with her that day. She explained to him (not to me) that my son had (insert unpronounceable term as hard to spell as ophthalmologist) which simply means that his eyes had been crossing to compensate for the difficulty of focusing, and in order to avoid seeing double, his brain learned to ignore the left eye. The solution: an eye patch over the stronger eye, worn two hours a day, while the child does some activity involving vision, like television, computer games, puzzles, or books.

My first thought was, "That's not so bad." I am sorry to admit my second thought was, "There goes my writing time."

I already told you how much my son hated me covering his right eye with my hand. The patch was even worse. It was a clever little contraption that attached to his glasses instead of sticking on his face. He quickly learned how to pull it down just enough to peek over it so that it looked like he was wearing it even when it wasn't doing him any good. If I tried to read to him or do puzzles, he would hop up and run away, fling his glasses off in some hard-to-find location, and then come back. I decided to work him up to the full two hours instead of asking him to do it all on the first day.

It was uncanny doing puzzles with him the first time he wore his patch. Using both eyes, he could always get the pieces in the right place every time. With his left eye, he fumbled around and usually aimed the pieces about half and inch to the left. But now, at the end of the second week, he will wear his patch for about thirty minutes before he tries to dispose of it when I'm not looking, and he will point directly to pictures on command instead of off to the left of them. It seems to be working.

I'm supposed to go back to the ophthalmologist in two weeks. If I can get my referral extended. Hopefully she'll confirm my suspicions that my son's left eye is on the way to recovery, and she won't do anything that requires any pre-authorization I haven't got.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mice and Corn

The monsoon is here! It is time for those of you who live in Southern Nevada to PLANT YOUR CORN! Yes, you may have thought it was too late to put in a garden this year, but the trick with corn is to wait until the humidity goes up and then plant. With the soil as warm as it is, the corn just pops right out of the ground and shoots up - all you have to do is water it. By the time it starts to tassel the weather will be cooling off and the tassels will not shrivel up and die in the sun, like they would have if you planted corn in March or April.

In other news, we have mice again. There is a place in the garage where they can jump up into the walls, and a hole in the wall at the bottom of the stairs where they can easily get into the house. I patched the hole in the wall and set out the trap.

The very best bait for mouse traps is toasted peanut butter. Spread a little peanut butter on the trigger, then brown it with a match for less than a second. We had a very stubborn mouse that would not touch the trap no matter what we put in it, until I tried the toasted peanut butter. At least he died happy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Insurance Adventures

I got a bill yesterday from the ophthalmologist (yes, it took me about five tries to spell that word). The bill was something of a surprise. It took me an anxious three weeks to get the referral, then it took me six weeks to get in for an appointment, and now apparently my insurance company won't cover the visit because prior authorization was not obtained.

I guess that obtaining a referral is not the same thing as obtaining prior authorization. If I'd known I needed to do that I would have filled out paperwork, sent faxes, driven across town, donated blood, whatever it took! WHY DIDN'T SOMEONE TELL ME!

When I called the insurance company I found out that the doctor's office was supposed to obtain the prior authorization. However, I'm the one who signed the paper that says if the insurance decides not to cover it, I have to pay. I haven't got the doctor's office side of the story yet - I intend to go in and talk to them in person.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stuck on Chapter 6

Five chapters, 14,696 words, and now I'm stuck! I wrote the first paragraph of the next chapter and then deleted it. Then I tried an entirely different direction, wrote another sentence, and deleted that too.

I'm at my first major crossroads in the book. I have laid down almost all of the pieces of the story, now I have to start putting things in motion. I'm constantly fighting the temptation to read back over what I've written. I know what I've written. I just wrote it. I don't think re-reading it will help me. I must look forward!

I didn't waste my writing time today. I did some more research. Maybe I have been so busy lately I haven't had enough time to think about what I'm going to write next. I'll get it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Love You Mommy!

My husband and I signed up to do a dance number at the church pot-luck social and talent show. This would have been fine, except I have a three-year-old child, and someone brought Nacho Cheese Doritos.

First, my three-year-old stands at the buffet table, munching Nacho Cheese Doritos right from the bag. Then he comes over to our table, where I have cut up a hot dog for him. He pats me on the back, and on the shoulder, and on my chest. "I love you, mommy!" he says, and kisses me on one cheek, then goes around and kisses me on the other, and then does it again.

"You've got cheese powder all over your shirt," my husband informs me.

And on my face too, no doubt. At my first chance I run to the ladies' room and try to scrub the cheese powder off with a wet paper towel. Fortunately, I had worn a black shirt.

The dance number went well, even if I was a little cheesy.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Look Mommy! It's an Oscillating Circuit!


In Livermore, California you can tell the town is full of engineers. The neighborhood playground is decorated with ABC's, 123's, and circuit diagrams.

There's something odd about this circuit diagram, however. The people who planned this geeky playground attraction were obviously not the same people who installed it. Positive goes on top, negative on the bottom, folks. This circuit diagram has been installed upside-down. Hundreds, maybe thousands of children will grow up to find themselves very confused in electronics class.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Did They Do It?

How did anyone ever write science fiction before the internet?

If I want to know what crops can be grown in Northern New Mexico, what sheep like to eat, whether the people could make hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach with materials they might have on hand, how they would grind their own gunpowder, or the best way to deflect a 2 km asteroid, it is all a few clicks away on the internet!

Working on this book is so much fun because it concerns lots of things I am very interested in and already know a lot about. It is easy to fill in the gaps in my knowledge with a cruise around the internet.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Patriotic Pancakes


My husband made pancakes shaped like the United States of America for breakfast on the 4th of July.

I finished the harp case last night, so that marks the end of another major project! And now, for my next trick, I will draft a 120 page post-apocalyptic science fiction novel for 9-12 year old readers in less than two months.

Now that I have a satisfactory plot in mind and some solid character development hammered out, I feel like I could just sit down and write the whole thing. It surprised me to discover that after a certain point in the development process the scenes and dialog simply flowed into my head the way they always do, even though this is a fresh new world with fresh new characters I have never worked with before. I wake up in the morning and have exciting new ideas, just like I did for my other books. On top of that, this time I've had so much fun researching Titan II missile silos, anthrax, and asteroid deflection techniques. Maybe I'll stick to science fiction from now on!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Harp is Born


Tuning up a new harp can be nerve wracking. It is the final test, and it usually involves some scary creaking and cracking noises as I slowly apply 500 pounds of pressure. I started by tuning each string an octave low, then a sixth, then a fourth, third, second, and finally up to true pitch. This keeps the tension even along the soundboard. You can see a nice little arch beginning on the string rib. So far everything is holding together.

Click here to listen to the sound of the new harp.

Mission: Highly Unlikely

I went to the public library today and walked through the book stacks in the juvenile fiction section, looking for some good hard science fiction.

I found none. The one book I found with a little science fiction sticker on the spine was not science fiction. "This isn't science fiction!" I said out loud, "This is fantasy with space ships in it!"

I have a mission.

There are a few authors writing science fiction books for young readers. Monica Hughes is a favorite of mine. I also liked several of John Christopher's books, like the "Tripods" trilogy and "The Guardians" and that one about the moon base, whatever it was called. Haddix has some good ones, and there's a few by William Sleator, but that's about all that I can think of.

Sometimes I sit back and wonder why I pick such difficult writing projects for myself. I could write something ordinary and easy, like a school book, or a straightforward fantasy adventure. Instead I have to write metafiction about an elite, undercover organization of minor characters devoted to making sure the hero of each story can save the day. Or then there's my not-so-epic fantasy novel where the main character has the magical gift of being able to hear the narrative in her head as the story plays out. Do you have any idea how hard these things are to pull off?

Now I have a mission to top them all. I'm going to write a fast-paced, daring, exciting, compelling, hard science fiction book about a boy, a very large rocket, and a very, very large rock. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jigg!

My dad used to always say, "home again, home again, jiggity jigg," in a very solemn voice but with a smile on his face, as soon as he pulled the car into the garage. And so I say it now that I'm home from the most incredible experience of my life.

If any of you out there want to become a published author, I can't imagine anything better for you to do than to take your first novel to Brigham Young University's Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop! This is because on the first day in the first five minutes, my teacher told me to put that old novel in a drawer someplace and not look at it for at least six months. As the week went on I realized that this was VERY GOOD ADVICE. In five intense days I workshopped twenty-eight first or second chapters of other writers' work, some of which I would not have been surprised to find printed in published volumes at the book shop. It opened my eyes to the possibilities. Our teacher explained how to build a fantasy world, develop plot and characters, find the natural conflicts, and then interweave it all to create a great story. AND he convinced me I could do it all in a fraction of the time I had thought it would take.

And as for that first chapter of a whole new book that I wrote on Tuesday night, everyone liked it. Even better, the book that will grow from that first chapter has a "get out of slush-pile free" card. It doesn't get better than that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop

MID-WEEK REPORT

Wow! This is a lot easier than I thought. I had it in my mind I would have to get up the courage to go and introduce myself to the editors and agents and pitch my book, but it seems this is a WORKSHOP and not just a CONFERENCE. The editors and agent who came to the workshop have all said, "If you are here at this workshop, I will look at your first three chapters. Send them to me when you get home." So that got the hard part out of the way for me and let me concentrate on WRITING!

I LOVE going home each night with one chapter from each of six different books, then coming the next day and talking about them over the table with fifteen people who love to read and write all sorts of different kinds of fantasy and science-fiction. The afternoon lectures have been great too. I wish this could go on forever, but I do need more sleep. At night I lie awake and think about everything I've learned each day, plus trying to brainstorm my middle-grade science fiction novel which I'm developing as part of my class assignment.

I wrote the first eleven pages of that completely fresh new book last night and handed it out in class today for workshop tomorrow. I'm so proud of my new baby, but tomorrow they're all going to tell me he has eleven toes! I may never write again! No, actually, I wanted to see if there is anything I do right by nature in my first draft. I'll be really pleased to learn that I've done anything right at all.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jitters

I've been through a full run of emotions this past week in anticipation for my writer's workshop. It began with uncertainty and depression---why did I sign up for this? No one wants my silly stories! Then I began to calm down because this is a workshop, not just a conference, and I am going there so I can learn to be a better writer, and that has to be a good thing.

Today I gave my synopsis one last polish and wrote up a cover letter for a packet I can hand to any agents who show an interest in my book. A big thank-you to anyone and everyone who has read my manuscript and given me suggestions (in approximate order of appearance): Russel, Amy, Julie, Mom, Kimberly, Rob, Mati, Shirli, Ryan, Patti, Matthew, Marcus, Beth, Chrysoula, Vanessa, Prathima, Winter, Becca, Dave, Amber, Ben, and especially Shannon who meticulously edited the latest draft for me in preparation for this conference.

Monday is the first day! Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Strings

I won't tune the harp up until I get back from my writer's conference, but I can install the strings. This is always a moment of truth. If I've made an error in my design, it will show up now.

I thread each string down through its hole in the string rib, then knot it underneath. I use a basic slip knot tied so that the loose end is the tiny little short end of the string, the end on which there will be no tension. For the thinner strings I thread a piece of thick string into the knot to keep it from pulling through the sound board.

Then I wind each string around the tuning pin three or four times and slip the long end down through the hole in the pin. I turn the pin a half turn so that the string holds in place, then go on to the next one.

So far so good. The strings look parallel and evenly spaced. I'd like a little more change in angle when the strings go over the bridge pins, but it works.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Seeing Spots

I got a grease spot on my brand-new birthday present blouse from my grandmother. It didn't come out when I ran it through the washing machine. Fortunately I knew what to do.

Back at Thanksgiving time, the turkey I bought turned out to be the fattiest, greasiest turkey I had ever seen. There was a layer of blubber under the skin, and the drippings were more oil than juice. After dinner, my tablecloth was a disaster of grease stains. I put it through the wash twice with no improvement. Then I got out my Yankee Home Hints book. It said to use distilled water to wash out stubborn grease stains. So I poured a gallon of distilled water in a bucket, added dish soap, and dropped in the table cloth. I squished the table cloth around a little, then dumped the bucket in the washing machine and ran a cycle. The table cloth came out perfectly clean!

Fast forward to the present. I used the same trick on my blouse, and now it is just like new. I found that it is better to mix the dish soap with the distilled water and then add the item to be washed rather than putting the dish soap on the grease stain and then putting the item in the distilled water.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Emerging from the Swamp

Now that the weather has warmed up we would love to have all of you over to swim . . .
. . . except . . .

This past winter my two-year-old threw an entire giant bucket of sidewalk chalk into the pool. One day the chalk lay scattered around the back patio, and the next I found it dissolving in little colored lumps all over the bottom of the pool.

I did not think much of it until six weeks ago when the weather warmed and the algae started to bloom. In the past a couple of chlorine tablets in the floater would clear things up. Not this year! The pool got greener and greener in spite of my efforts. Then, to top it off, my husband vacuumed the pool and found the filter full of wiggly little red worms! Our tropical fish loved eating them, but no one wanted to go swimming with them.

Chlorine tests revealed NO CHLORINE in the pool at all, in spite of multiple shocks and keeping tablets in the floater at all times. My one-time-chemistry-major husband theorizes that the chalk ate the all acid in the pool, including the chlorine stabilizer. Even when we finally managed to raise the chlorine in the pool to detectable levels, the worms and the algae still thrived on.

In desperation, we drained half the water from the pool last night. We rented a pump from the pool store, then waited until after dark so that the heat and the sun would not crack the exposed pool liner. Today the pool looks much better, but it is not quite ready for company yet. My husband is out trying to find some place that sells stabilizer in small enough quantities so that we don't have to store dangerous acid in the garage.

Let this serve as a warning to all! No sidewalk chalk in the pool!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pins


Each harp string needs a bridge pin to hold it and a tuning pin to stretch it to the right pitch. Thats fifty-eight pins for a twenty-nine string harp.

It takes some experimenting to determine the size of the pilot hole for each kind of pin. The pins need to be really tight to keep the strings in tune, so the size of the pilot hole has to depend on the softness of the wood as well as the diameter of the pin. Happily, technology has improved and bridge pins are now threaded so I can screw them in instead of having to bang them in with the hammer.

I can use the electric drill with a screwdriver bit for the bridge pins, but the tuning pins I have to put in by hand using the tuning wrench. I've got seventeen pins left to go and I already have blisters and sore muscles. At least it is two weeks before I can tune up anyways. Bit by bit, it'll get done.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Polyurethane

In some ways, this is the most difficult part of making a harp. Up until this point, whenever I want to putter around in the garage there would always be something for me to do on the harp. Now I have to wait between coats of polyurethane.

The can of polyurethane says to wait four hours between coats, but that is NEVER enough. Not if you want a mirror smooth surface. My woodworking consultant, Heidi, always waits several days between coats. I've compromised for my own method. I wait 24 hours after the first coat, 72 hours after the second coat, and then three weeks after the third coat before tuning up.


Before each coat I sand the whole harp down with 220 grit sandpaper, then remove all dust and oil using a rag dampened with mineral spirits. Oil from my skin can affect the polyurethane, so it is important that once I start this process I never touch the harp without gloves on.


There are probably as many methods of applying polyurethane as there are woodworkers. This is the one I use: using a one-inch fine bristled paint brush and working one small area at a time, brush the polyurethane on against the grain, then smooth it in with the grain. That way I go over every area twice, ensure a thin coat, and catch any drips that might try to happen.

And there you see the result. Just look at that baby shine!

Once the polyurethane is dry, I can paint a design on the soundboard. First I do a line drawing with my drafting pen and waterproof ink. Then I paint using the same wood stain that I used on the body of the harp. Wood stain is a difficult medium to work with. If you try to paint over an already painted area, the fresh wood stain dissolves the older wood stain and forces all the pigment to the edges of the wet area. So you paint the dark areas first, then lightly brush in the lighter areas around them, trying hard not to bleed the new paint into the old. Of course I do use this interesting property of wood stain to good effect. I can create light colored veins in leaves by painting on a partially dry dark leaf.


For more info on how to build a harp, visit my How to Build a Harp page.