Monday, December 27, 2010

The best Christmas present is a book. (or Five.)

This Christmas we were on a budget. Given the impending financial crisis baby, we decided the course of wisdom was to resort to the old trick of setting a spending limit ahead of time. 

(One of our first Christmas's, we each had twenty dollars to fill a stocking with, and an hour to dash around the mall doing it.  And that was CRAZY extravagant for us then. Fun though. I got crayons!)

We started out at $100 each.  When shipping costs for family and friends hit harder than expected, we revised down to $50 each.

I got him a new-to-us black leather office chair, (Thank you lousy economy for glutting the market with leather executive chairs of decent quality at ridiculously low prices comparatively speaking on craigslist), a husky puppy beanie baby, and a KISS Gene Simmons (dressed as the demon. With the horns and tongue thrown out.) Christmas ornament.

(As a note, the office chair was desperately needed.  The cats have just about completely destroyed the fabric-covered chair his mother bought us 5 years ago.  We have since learned our lesson regarding upholstery fabric and cat ownership.)

As for what he got me?  Well, he got me hope.  My husband and I met on a MUSH game (Multi-User Shared Hallucination.)  Basically you had to write to play.  Your character, what they did, who they were.  You learned to show, not tell, because telling was lame, and you wanted to make people work for it anyways.  You wrote paragraphs and paragraphs for hours on end, as other people contributed paragraphs and paragraphs, as you wove together what essentially amounted to a giant epic story told from the viewpoints of all the characters.  Now granted, some players sucked as writers, and they rarely got better.  But the good ones DID get better.  You learned to read carefully, to edit out your "constant-use words" in order to keep it interesting.  When you're having a conversation paragraph by paragraph, you are forced to stretch your ingenuity to avoid tedium and repetition.  And you got to know people extremely well, by the way they wrote, and the characters they played. 

The Husbthing was a more long-term MUSH'er than I was.  And one of the games he was on, he played closely with another talented writer.  She wanted to be a published author.  She wanted desperately to write books and tell stories. 

Naomi Novik has since written a NY Times Bestselling series, the Temeraire books.  He got me those books, to show me that other people have been where I am and succeeded, and that he believes I can do it too.  I read the first five in the series all day Saturday.  They are PHENOMENAL. I don't know that I'm in her class, as her style is very different from mine, (but her style is WONDERFUL), but my husband seems to think we have equal chances of success.  (He says he's not biased.  I'm generally inclined to believe him as one of the things I love most about him is the fact he is cursed / gifted with utter candor.)

I strongly, highly, absolutely encourage them for reading and enjoyment, but it is a series you absolutely want to read in order.  They're tightly plotted, wonderfully characterized, and amazingly well-researched.  I went through them at awe of the technical perfection of the storycrafting in the back of my mind, since the front was fully occupied with the book.

Good, good books. Wonderful books.  You should read them.  The first one is titled His Majesty's Dragon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two days to Christmas

I still have a stack of Christmas cards sitting on my desk, waiting for me to find a handy relative with an address book they're willing to let me raid, since I've managed to lose the few I kept up with. (And the ones I thought I knew, moved on me!)

Christmas presents are mostly bought and shipped off, though I haven't started on the 12th Night presents yet. (In my particular regional SCA group, there's an event that's essentially one giant Christmas party. Sometimes we bring small items to give as gifts to friends. It's the easiest place to catch everyone you see all the time.)

By all normal counts of Christmas preparations like decorating the house, putting up a tree, or having all the presents wrapped by now, we're sort of failing. We didn't even get a Christmas tree. (Discussion decided we'd rather spend the $60 on presents and things that would be more enjoyable than an admittedly wonderful smelling hunk of dead tree that would afford our cats endless opportunity for destruction.)

But really, I've been so wiped out from being pregnant that anything not absolutely required and necessary got relegated to the not-happening box. I'm looking forward to Christmas not as THE Holiday, but as a 3-day weekend that isn't coming fast enough. It'll be a chance to snuggle up with my husb, and kiss the cats, and call my folks, and play Christmas carols on the piano until my fingers go stiff. Honestly the best present of all.

(P.S. Mannheim Steamroller - original Christmas music? Most fun Christmas music ever. The next few books are not intended for piano and don't translate well at ALL.)

Happy Christmas everyone!

(Or Merry Chanukkah / Feliz Kwanzaa / whatever makes you happy. :) )

Friday, December 10, 2010

School's done!

So much for posting about my wacky adventures during the school year. Turns out I had just enough time to either do the assignments OR blog. Especially since my husband knocked me up, and I found myself sleeping any spare moment not absolutely allocated to something else.

I got an A in my fiction writing class, though I was far and away not the best writer in it. There was this one guy who every time he wrote something, I wanted to read it. EVERY single time. He was from Haiti or Barbados, and he would write about island life and fishing with such a beautiful voice. I hope he writes a book someday because it'd be a crying shame if he didn't.

I wasn't the worst writer either. (Though it is sort of hard to judge that sort of thing, since you know where everyone else falls in your opinion, but have no idea where YOU fall in everyone else's.) I'm basing that mostly off the fact that I could look at a couple other people's writing and know exactly what I'd trim out of it in terms of "telling" not "showing" and so on.

I am glad that I took the class though. It exposed me to some stories I'd never read, and hammered home the idea that people might violently disagree with me about which stories were better. I know intellectually that people have different opinions, but I hadn't appreciated it in a visceral way. When my class almost universally (excluding me and one other person) loved Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" over Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" I was in shock for a couple of days.

I learned about some of my weaknesses in writing, and also that I have a distinct appreciation for drama in my reading / writing. (Go figure. I know this comes as a shock to you all.)

But given that I now have a time frame for the world ending. (I'm due June 20th), I'm planning to really focus on my book. I want to get it done, and into the query process BEFORE the baby comes, hopefully 3 months before. That'll give me time to focus on responses from agents without getting them lost in "ACK SMALL WIGGLY THING NEDS SOMETHING! WHAT! WHAT DO YOU NEED!" time. (I'm not saying I expect positive raving responses. But just in case one DID want to be my agent-buddy, planning to answer those when I won't be coherent is not a good plan.)

Fun times.