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Synchronicity

What does it mean when you discover you are wearing (entirely unintentionally) a pirate shirt, on Talk Like a Pirate Day? Perhaps merely that you happen to have a lot of pirate shirts… :-)


As much as we loved our vacation, I’ve been loving home just as much. It’s magically become fall here in Maine, with nippy air and morning fogs over the river, and trees beginning to glimmer gold. There are pumpkins and asters and locally-grown apples at the grocery store. And I am filled with the strong conviction I ought to be baking something.


It’s funny what travel does to one’s mind. Or at least, to my mind. Especially this particular trip, which was longer than any of my previous vacations. Or perhaps it wasn’t the duration, but the enormity of London that did it. In London I felt very small. There were so many people, so many buses, so many tourists. Everywhere there were museums and restaurants and people rushing too and fro. And giant churches and enormous Ferris wheels and great glass towers. It was all so BIG.


I spent about a day feeling uncomfortably overwhelmed by this, especially in the context of storytelling. Look at all these thousands and thousands of people, my brain would whisper, every one of them has their own story. And yours is just a tiny brushstroke in this huge canvas. Does it really matter?


It’s a vulnerable, exposed feeling. Like standing out in an empty field on a dark night, with no other lights, when the whole Milky Way is just THERE RIGHT ABOVE YOU.


Or like today’s xkcd. [Do actually click and drag the last panel, as the title suggests! Though be warned, it can quickly become addictive...]


But you can take an odd sort of comfort from it too, if you can see how you are a part of it, part of that vastness and greatness. Being in London pushed me to find that comfort in discomfort. Which is, I think, a good and useful thing.


It also made me appreciate my friends and family (and dog!), the people who make my small corner of the huge universe a home, who connect me to the greater world.


And now I am getting way too philosophical! I will stop blathering and instead share this adorable and inspiring video of Emma, who has a medical condition that prevents her from using her arms, and her 3D printed plastic exo-skeleton. Go science! Go awesome and determined little girls!



Now I am off to go find something to bake…!




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The land of sun and excellent food

All those people who say it rains all the time in England and that the food is terrible are liars. Liars I say!


See?






We just got back yesterday from two weeks in England. We spent the first in the Cotswold region, based in Chipping Campden, and the second in London, based in Chelsea. It was fabulous, and I have a bazillion pictures to share. But I will restrain myself for now and simply point anyone interested to a selection I’ve put up in a Picasa album here.


I’m going to be posting a more detailed travel journal as well, but that will probably trickle out over the next few weeks in dribs and drabs. Thank you to all of you who provided suggestions and guidance!


(And seriously, it rained for about three hours total during our entire trip, two of which were early in the morning. And the food was amazing, especially in London.)




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My new toy

Deva's Google Nexus


This is my new Google Nexus (8GB) Tablet.


I love it! I’m not giving up on paper books, but I have enjoyed the experience and convenience of ereading so much more than I expected!


Things I love about reading on my tablet:


(1) It takes up less room. I have a deep fear of running out of reading material while on vacation (Or at the grocery store. Or in the car. What if I broke down and had to wait three hours for the tow-truck?). Now all I need is my Nexus. (Okay, I admit I am still carrying a backup paperback. Just in case there’s an EMP.)

(2) Samples! I did not anticipate this, but I love the ability to go online whenever I hear about a book that sounds interesting, and easily download a sample. [I will add, however, that the Amazon Kindle samples are the most reliable so far in terms of providing enough actual book text to judge. Several other apps gave me samples that stopped before the actual book began, due to long TOC, acknowledgements, and other frontmatter].

(3) Library eBooks! I don’t know what it’s like in other states/countries, but there’s actually quite a large collection available here in Maine.

(4) The physical experience. Specifically, I find it easier to read and eat or drink (or both) with the tablet propped on my knee, or held in one hand. And when it’s chilly I can wrap up in a blanket and poke my finger out to tap for a page turn as needed, rather than freezing my hand holding the book open continuously.


Things I don’t love as much:


(1) It takes a few seconds to start up. Not a huge deal, but it’s longer than flipping open a paperback. Plus if I am reading bits and snips at a time (while waiting in line at the store, when my husband runs off to get a drink of water while we’re watching Project Runway) it’s less convenient to just pick up.

(2) I need to keep the battery charged.

(3) Footnotes (at least the ones in Ernest Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE) didn’t work that well, navigation-wise. I couldn’t click on them easily, and once I did I got flipped to the end of the chapter with no obvious way to return. Perhaps this is handled better in other books/apps though.

(4) Browsing. I found the GooglePlay store and Nook Store to be frustrating to navigate if I just wanted to poke around. Amazon directs you to the Amazon website, which is much more usable. It’s fine if you know the book you want, but I don’t expect I am going to be making impulse buys based on browsing. All the books I have sampled or purchased were found via word-of-mouth.


I can babble more about why I chose a Nexus (rather than a Samsung, Kindle, iPad, or Nook) if anyone out there is curious. Just comment and let me know!


In preparation for our upcoming vacation to England (eee!) I’ve loaded it up with the following:


THE UNNATURALISTS by Tiffany Trent (YA steampunkish fantasy, takes place in an alternate London!)


THE TRAITOR IN THE TUNNEL by Y S Lee (YA historical mystery, takes place in Victorian London!)


ICEFALL by Matthew J Kirby (Has nothing at all to do with London, but I read a sample and did not want to stop!)


Plus a half-dozen Georgette Heyer books I got on sale during her birthday celebration at Sourcebooks. I’ve loved the few Heyer novels I’ve read previously, so it was very hard not to just buy them all.


I am hoping to get Sarah Rees Brennan’s UNSPOKEN too, as I hear it takes place in the Cotswolds, but it doesn’t come out until the middle of my vacation, so we’ll see how that works overseas!


If anyone has other favorites set in the Cotswolds or London please recommend away!




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Randomosity

Because I’m still recovering from finishing my revision (whew!), I offer up a random assortment of things:


1) If you have any interest in writing/publishing, check out this amazing clickable roadmap from the YA Highway. It links to a plethora of fabulous articles on different craft and business topics.


2) If you have any interest in the future of space exploration check out this article on the Curiosity, the new Mars rover about to land this week, and an interesting critique of NASA’s PR.


3) I am playing a video game for the first time in decades, and enjoying it. The game is Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, which I first read about here. I love the music, love the simple, dreamy, magical graphics, love the mix of puzzle-solving and (very simple) fighting.


4) I have added a new place to the list of sites I would love to see in my lifetime. The incredible striped hills of the Zhangye Danxia Landform:


Zhangye Danxia Landform ??????


Amazing!


5) Speaking of travel, I am going on my next big vacation in just a month from today! Bob and I are going to England for two full weeks. We’ve rented an apartment in Chipping Campden for the first, and an apartment in London (Chelsea) for the second. Eee! We’re hoping to live like hobbits for the first week, hiking around the Shire Cotswolds and stopping in pubs, and hopefully visiting Oxford. In London we have tickets to see the Ceremony of Keys at the Tower of London, WICKED at the Apollo Victoria, and a too-long list of must-see sites. It’s my first trip to England, so any suggestions are welcome! Especially tasty food recommendations!




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Catching Up

So, I’ve been revising. If this book sells some day, I will write a big post on this revision, because it’s been a doozy. But right now all my energy is going into the revision, and I’ve none left to spare for talking about it.


Instead, I offer five things:


1) If you are looking for book with fabulous worldbuilding, intrigue, philosophy, engaging, multi-faceted characters and DRAGONS then I highly recommend you get your hands on SERAPHINA, a debut YA fantasy by Rachel Hartman, which just released yesterday. It’s one of my favorite books of the year and I was lucky enough to get Rachel to agree to an interview over at The Enchanted Inkpot. She shares thoughts on asking hard questions, diverse characters, music, and how Lois McMaster Bujold’s wonderful THE CURSE OF CHALION inspired her. Check it out!


2) This fascinating comparison of the different Princess Merida dolls (from the movie BRAVE, which I enjoyed very much, though I also really appreciated what author Jenn Reese had to say about it here on her blog).


3) I just discovered that the fabulously cinematic music of Two Steps from Hell is finally available (legally!) online. I’ve been listening to several of the tracks from Invincible as I revise. Especially for epic battle scenes!


4) My Modern Met continues to be one of my favorite sites. Two recent posts with photos I can’t stop staring at are Magical Photos of the Mysterious Woods and Blurring the Lines Between Animals and Mankind.


5) And last but not least, lovely Youth Services librarian Jessica at I Read to Relax kindly interviewed me about CIRCUS GALACTICUS and more! Thank you Jessica!


See you on the other side of this revision! I hope!




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The State of Things

Right now I feel like my life isn’t quite big enough to fit everything I’m working on. Aside from my day-job and life maintenance, I’m drafting one project, gearing up to revise another, sewing costumes for a LARP, learning to knit, getting back into fiddling, and reading a bunch of really wonderful books. But it’s a good feeling! Sometimes I think we need to push more into our lives, to stretch ourselves. It seems especially fitting given it’s spring, and things are bursting out and growing and flowering all around.


Around the corners of all that I’ve stored up a bunch of nifty stuff to share:


I love these beautiful long-exposure photos by Aloyse Blair and Janelle Pietrzak. The ghostly effect is amazing. I particularly love the last one, with the trail of golden light…


Another set of gorgeous images, this time straight from nature: Sea Stars! I had no idea they came in such an array of colors!


Do you know a girl in grades 5-8 (US) who is interested in science? Let her know about NASA’s new mentoring program! Applications will be accepted online starting in May.


And now I’m off to read more of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (which is another thing that is stretching my brain, with its literary awesomeness).


Anyone else trying new things this spring?




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Recommendations

I saw crocuses this weekend! There’s one patch in a neighboring city that always blooms weeks ahead of anything else. I suppose it’s because they’re right up against the side of a building that must have some sort of powerful heating system in the basement right underneath, but I prefer to imagine that it’s the location of a secret portal to some faery land of eternal spring…


Aside from watching for signs of spring, I’ve mostly been working away at my new writing project. But I have a few recommendations to share, so here you go!


Sharing

I’m visiting the fine folks of the Intergalactic Academy today, to share my love of one of my favorite books from my youth: Earthseed, by Pamela Sargent. Stop by and comment for a chance to win one of THREE copies of the newly reissued edition from Tor!


Reading

One of my favorite things to do on the weekend is to spend a long, cozy morning in my sunny, purple library, reading a good book. This weekend that book was Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis. I really enjoyed the first book, Kat, Incorrigible, but I loved this second book even more. It’s got the same humor and charm, the same lovely Regency England historical details, and the same spunky heroine. But this was the book that made me fall in love with the characters, especially Kat’s family, who each stand out with such wonderful strengths and flaws. From a writing craft perspective, I also thought this was one of the best sequels I’ve read– giving just enough backstory to remind me of what I needed to know, and so smoothly I didn’t even notice. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a fun, magical story with real heart. Renegade Magic won’t be out until April, but you can pre-order it now! Or find a copy of the first book, Kat, Incorrigible!


Watching

Based on all the media feedback, I had very low expectations for the John Carter movie. But I really, truly enjoyed it! Seriously, I think it’s one of the best genre action films I’ve seen lately. The images of Mars, the cities, the costumes, the sun gliders and other weird and cool devices! So much lovely eye-candy! And it actually had a quite decent and engaging plot, with an emotional heart. There’s a bit I particularly loved interspersing John in battle with images of a tragic experience from his own past. Plus, the heroine is handy with a sword and a scientist! Yes, she also wears skimpy outfits, but so does pretty much everyone– male and female and alien. So if you like action adventure movies, do check this one out!


Learning

I’ve been plundering the archives of author Janice Hardy’s excellent blog on writing craft, and made particular note of this post on character choice. One of my own weaknesses as a writer is that I can let my plots begin to drive the story, when really it should be character motivations. So I loved this reminder that when something happens, it’s helpful to think of what choice the protag needed to make to get there.


Did any of you guys see John Carter? And if so, did you enjoy it?




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Perseverance

Saturday was a turning point day in the new project. It was the first time I came to the end of my writing session and didn’t want to stop. As I mentioned previously, I struggle a lot with beginnings. I tell myself, just get that first 10K written and things will feel better. I even resort to bribing myself with chai and pretty butterfly stickers. And like magic, when I hit 10K this weekend things did feel better.


(I’m going to note mostly for my own future reference that this time around was particularly hard because I was bouncing between two different beginnings for two different stories, and fighting with both of them.)


I know there will be plenty of other days when the writing is more work than joy, but right now I am so very glad to be in one of the joyful spots!


Since most of my brain is currently occupied by my new project and characters, I offer you a miscellany of nifty stuff I’ve accumulated over the last few weeks.


First, this eerie and primal performance by Eivør, a Faroese musician. According to the link, the title of the piece is “Trøllabundin,” which my mind keeps reading as “Trolls, Abundant.”


If you can’t see the video because you’re reading this somewhere else, here’s a direct link.


Second, the many delights of My Modern Metropolis, a site that calls itself a place “where art enthusiasts and trendspotters connect over creative ideas.”


I make no claims to being a trendspotter, but I am enthusiastic about art, and I’ve already bookmarked over a dozen posts on this blog. One of my recent favorites is this one, featuring the pen and ink art of Taiwan-based artist Rola Chang. I especially love the very last one. Her expression! What is she thinking?


And lastly, for those of you who have been enjoying the delights of Downton Abbey, here is a wonderful Downton Abbey Reading List my fellow Betsy-Tacy fan Constance put up on her blog Staircase Wit.


Does anyone know what Trøllabundin actually means?




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Ten Steps to Reading More

I was chatting with some friends about reading, right around the new year when resolutions were in the air. “Read more” or “Read X books” seem to be goals for a bunch of folks, and it reminded me of the Dark Times.


As in, the years when I was not a Reader.


I started off as a Reader. My wonderful mom read me Tolkien on cross-country car trips, I got piles of wonderful books as gifts from relatives, and I visited the library constantly. My parents were extremely generous in letting me buy books too, and willingly carted me around to numerous used book stores in search of that one Sheri S. Tepper book I just couldn’t find anywhere else (Jinian Footseer! Has anyone else read those? Gosh I loved them…)


Then I went to college. And it was a wonderful place where I met some life-long friends and got to delve deep into all sorts of fascinating things like Topology and Chaucer and Arctic Studies. So I was reading, yes, but not nearly as much fiction, and not nearly as much for fun. And somewhere along the way I kind of forgot how to be a Reader. So once I was done with college and grad school, and off puttering around at my shiny new job, I didn’t really get back in the habit right away.


I still read, but probably only about ten books a year. And I know that sounds like a lot to some people, but it was a fraction of what I used to read. And worse, I wasn’t really excited by what I was reading.


Like I said, they were Dark Times.


It took a deliberate effort to remind myself how I used to read: voraciously, joyfully, widely, and deeply. And even more effort to take steps to change my reading habits and break out of the slump.


So, for anyone who wants to read more, and to enjoy reading more, here are ten things I did, that you can do:


1) Surround yourself with books. Literally. Keep books beside the bed. Take books in the car, in your purse or backback, on vacations. Keep a book on the coffee table so you can read during commercials while watching television. You’re not going to read if you don’t have books around you!


Here’s some of the books I’ve currently got surrounding me:


New books I've aquired lately


That’s a mix of books received as gifts, books purchased, library books and used books!


2) Take advantage of libraries. Get a library card at the most convenient library to you. I pay a yearly fee for a membership at the library in the town where I work my day-job, because I can walk over there at lunchtime to browse, and because that library has an excellent online interface (unlike my small, free, local library). Take out lots of books. Take out more than you think you can read. The point is to give yourself options! When you hear about a book that sounds interesting, request it (I have the library system website bookmarked so I can do this with just a few clicks). And with interlibrary loan, most every book I look for is available. Many libraries also now offer eBooks and online downloads of audiobooks!


3) Visit your local Bookstore. Not all bookstores are created equal, but if you’re lucky enough to live near a bookstore run by folks who really LOVE books, take advantage of it! Look for shelf talkers and “Staff Picks” notices. Ask the staff for suggestions. Check to see if there are frequent buyer programs. But please remember it’s not a library. If you want read the whole book, buy it!


4)Buy used books. I usually stick to buying used books by authors who are dead, because I want the money I actually spend on books to support the authors I love so that they can keep writing. But there’s also something magical about puttering around the cavernous halls crammed full of books. You never know when you’ll discover some hidden treasure! And if you are ever in Connecticut, do try to visit my favorite used book store. It’s amazing!


5) Ask friends what they’ve read and loved. One of the most challenging things for me in re-kindling my love of reading was finding good books I actually enjoyed reading. And asking for suggestions from friends has been, by far, my most reliable way of finding new books to read. Of course it works best if you have friends with similar tastes in reading!


6) Check out book blogs. As above, the goal here is to find out about great books. If you don’t have family or friends to make recommendations, try to find other folks who do. There are tons of wonderful, passionate readers online talking about books of all genres. For example, here’s a Sampler Set of kidlit-related blogs. Or you could try poking around the Book Blogger Directory or Kirkus’s Book Blogger Network.


7) Check out Awards and Lists. Again, this can be a great way to find new books. If you like a certain genre, go check out the awards and notable books lists for that genre. For Young Adult books there’s the ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and Printz awards. Kirkus, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly all feature “Best of…” lists every year, in a variety of genres.


8. Try Shelfari/Goodreads/LibraryThing. Me, I use Goodreads. It can be a scary place for an author (I try my best to avoid actually looking at my own books) but for a reader, these online social reading sites can be a wonderful place to find new books and new reader friends. There are also discussion groups devoted to specific genres and authors, book giveaways, and more. I have to admit that the neurotic, achievement-oriented part of me also really likes being able to track how many books I’ve read each year!


9) Listen to Audiobooks. I always try to have one audiobook in my car, and one on my iPod, to listen to while driving, walking the dog, cooking, folding laundry, etc. It’s got to be the right sort of book — the kind you can enjoy even if it’s only ten minutes at a time. But it’s a great way to fit reading into a busy schedule! And if it’s a really good book, you might find you get a lot more chores done, heh.


10) Don’t be afraid to stop if you don’t like something. The fastest way for me to get into a reading slump is to get stuck on a book I’m just not enjoying. Because if I start to dread picking it up, I read less, and then I don’t move on to other books I might actually enjoy. Sometimes even a good book just isn’t the RIGHT book at a particular time. You can always come back to it later!


So there you go! Ten Steps to Reading More (And Hopefully Enjoying it!)


What about you guys? How do you stay out of reading slumps and keep yourself excited about reading?