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


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


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


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


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.