Saturday, October 27, 2012

Preparing for Nanowrimo

Three days until Nanowrimo begins! And how best to utilize these days?

1.)  I'm going to send off all the query letters waiting on my spreadsheet, so they can't distract me with "needing to be done".

2.) I'm going to work on an outline for the current WIP instead of meeting the daily word count. (You know what optimism is? Writing the second book in a detective series, before the first one finds a home. :D ) I tend to be a seat of the pants writer, and this leads to large periods of not-writing while I try to figure out where I want to go next.

3.) I am going to set a list of priorities, and figure out a rough daily schedule. If I know that I will be doing the dishes at 4 p.m., I won't get up from writing at 10:30 to go do them.  Also, if I decide to go rake leaves instead of writing, I'll check the priority chart. Lawn care should not trump my writing. I'm going to write this list down and post it prominently, so I can remind myself I am in "writing time", and things try to distract my flaky brain. November is going to be my month to try and work on my writing routine and best practices.

What strategies do you have for making your writing time productive?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy St. Crispin's Day!

"If we are mark’d to die, we are enow 
To do our country loss; and if to live, 
The fewer men, the greater share of honour. 
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. 
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, 
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; 
It yearns me not if men my garments wear; 
Such outward things dwell not in my desires. 
But if it be a sin to covet honour, 
I am the most offending soul alive. 
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England. 
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour 
As one man more methinks would share from me 
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! 
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, 
That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; 
his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse; 
We would not die in that man’s company 
That fears his fellowship to die with us. 
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian. 
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, 
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d, 

And rouse him at the name of Crispian. 

He that shall live this day, and see old age, 

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, 

And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.” 

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, 

And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.” 

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, 

But he’ll remember, with advantages, What feats he did that day. 

Then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words-

Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-

Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.

This story shall the good man teach his son; 

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, 

From this day to the ending of the world, 

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, 

This day shall gentle his condition; 

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed 

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, 

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Come on writer-friends! We band of brothers once more into the fray of query letters and the slaughter of darlings! It is St. Crispian's Day! 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Ten Commandments of Garage Sales

My mother took me with her to garage sales almost every Saturday for most of my childhood. I went mostly in self-defense. If I went, I could nix clothes that I didn't like, or make sure to snag new books I was interested in. I never realized that during that time that I was also receiving an education in the separate culture of garage sale mavens.

1. Thou shalt not hold a garage sale, planning to make money.

If you think of a garage sale as an opportunity to make money, you'll price your second-hand schmutter too high. If there's one thing guaranteed to offend all garage sale patrons, from the casual once-a-year saunterer to the weekly devotee, it's walking into a garage sale and finding things priced too high. The purpose of a garage sale is to get everything you want to get rid of out of the house, and get other people to help you haul it off in exchange for a pittance. Not making money.  If you want to make money, then work ebay and craigslist. Yes, I know it's a hella more trouble. But that's how it works.

2. Open Early.

The weekly devotees all get up at 5 a.m. and decide which garage sales they're going to and in what order over their morning coffee. If you open at 7 a.m., you've got a better chance of them coming your sale first with all their money. By 9 a.m. all garage sales are open, and the competition is fierce.

3. Advertise the Unique

*Every* garage sale has clothes, books, and toys. Every single one. Do not lead off your advertisement with those items. Anything unusual you have, like specific types of furniture, musical instruments and equipment, collectible items like Hummel figurines, power tools, etc. are much better to mention in your ads.

4. Advertise Widely 

Put advertisements on your local craigslist, check the local newspapers for online advertisement options (Usually free), if there's a local radio station that discusses yard sales or estate sales, put in a call. If you're in a rural area with only newspaper options, take out a cheap ad. Don't assume they'll drive by your house by accident.  Put your address and the time you want to start.

5. Make Directional signs that are legible from 10+ feet away.

Put out LARGE signs saying YARD SALE, with arrows, the date, and your address if you can fit them all in without sacrificing size. Nothing makes my mother more furious than having to stop in the middle of the road to try and squint at a sign the size of a manila envelope with tiny writing of hollow bubble letters. It's not only dangerous for traffic, but if you failed to advertise your sale, people won't know where to go, and will get frustrated and angry. Also, the Date is really important, because if they didn't see any advertisements for your sale, they may assume that the sign is old and out of date. Again, not what you want.

6. Embrace the Haggle.

People will make offers. They will usually look at your price tag, and offer half to a third of what you wrote. If its not a hot item like the unique things listed above, take the offer. Chances of another buyer coming along and wanting that same pair of lime green Bermuda shorts aren't good, and you'll be left with a lot of crap all over your moral high ground.

7. Set an End Time as well, to tempt the Sweepers.

Some professional garage salers - yes, they exist - will plan to hit large sales at the end of sale in order to try and scoop things they're interested in at ridiculously cheap prices. Telling them when the sale ends means they can plan to come hit your sale at the end. They may or may not, but setting an end time gives them the option.

8. Have Change.

This seems fairly self-evident, but if you price anything for a dime, you'd better have nickels and dimes for the quarters you're going to get. Have plenty of ones and fives. You'll be handed twenties for something that costs a quarter, especially if you open early, and people need to break change. If you don't have change, they won't buy your stuff.

9. Do not Stare at your Customers with the Beady-Eyed "Don't ya dare steal my stuff!" face.

This one always irritates me when I go to garage sales. If you're that protective of it, you can damn well keep it. And if you think that people can't tell that you're concerned about them swiping stuff, you are incorrect. If you need extra sugar in your coffee to smile at people, then load it up. You're getting rid of it, remember? It's worthless to you. See Rule number one.

10. Hold your sale in the open, with easy access to all the items.

Lately I've been seeing a lot of sales being held in someone's apartment. Frankly, that creeps me right the hell out. I do not want to step inside a stranger's home. One, it's weird. Two, I feel trapped, and I may not want your crap. Also, if you hold it in your backyard, please don't make me walk through knee-high grass to a dark, badly-lit shed. Put stuff out on tables so it can be easily seen. Stuff on the ground means I have to kneel down to look at it. If I have bad knees or a bad back, I may skip the trouble.

Guess what I did last weekend!  Made $80 and got lots of room in my shed/spare bedroom now!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Amazing case of avoidable Waffle-foot...

Waffle-foot - the condition caused by repeatedly shooting oneself in the foot.

So, I'm catching up on my blog-reading, having been crazystupidbusy the last few days with a sick daughter and husband birthday celebration.

I finally get around to reading parts 2 and 3 of the GUTGAA Agent interview.

Oh hey, there's one of the agents who requested a partial.  What'd she say about pet peeves?

... Oh God.

She hates when you mention things from her agent profile in your email.  And if I'd read her interview question before I send off the thingies, I'd have known that.  I can't help but think she's going to read the email I sent (mentioning a mutual love of the authors she mentions in her profile), and immediately trash the query, because it's reasonable to think I'd seen her response, and then ignored her preferences.

I thought I was showing that I'd tried to do my research and was happy to find some common ground to address the letter, since I couldn't put my query letter in there.


Dammit. Maybe she'll just download the attachments and not read the email. Right? ...


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Keep calm and carry on...

So I made it to the Agent Pitch final of the GUTGAA Agent Pitch contest!  Much rejoicing! Celebrate!

Cue twitchy clicking of the link on Deana's blog every twenty minutes all day Sunday and Monday. Nothing.

Add in a relaxation pep-talk after each failed click. Determine that Tuesday I will NOT check the blog all day because I am making myself nuts, and my 15 month old does not approve of Mommy huddling over her computer instead of playing ball and Legos.  I have things to do! A husband's birthday to prepare for! A baby to nurture and play with!

So I go forth to the thrift store! To the grocery store! Productivity! No desperate clicking! Ha ha! I am a real human being! I use exclamation points and everything!

And I get a text message from my husband to tell me that an agent commented! They want to see a partial!

.... I am wrist deep in raw gyoza filling. I can't stop what I'm doing to go and sit down to send off the files. I've got to finish dinner, then feed the daughter, (Because throwing her into a box of goldfish crackers is apparently considered "lazy parenting" instead of a lesson in survival skills.), then bath the daughter, then read her a book, and put her to bed. Establishing a bedtime routine for daughter is vital to my sanity, which dreams of a day when sleep deprivation is something that happens to other people.

Five hours later I finally manage to get to work on tweaking the submission materials. I've imagined every ridiculous permutation of possible outcomes, from the agent waiting impatiently, nay desperately! for my little gold brick to hit her hands so she can call me to rave over my genius, (I giggled at the thought; I couldn't even imagine it properly.) to the agent calling me after receipt to say, "Wow, you really put a shine on that godawful P.O.S. in your query letter. Not interested, and I'm letting every other agent on Twitter know that you're out there so no one else suffers the way I have! Good luck on Amazon self-publishing!" (Strangely, that one was much easier to imagine. Thank you so damn much for the support, brain.)

Having a daughter has done the one thing that I thought was impossible. I've learned to be patient. I sent it off, updated my submissions spreadsheet, set a note to check back in six weeks, and then, I went to bed.  This doesn't seem like a big deal, but for someone with OCD tendencies, it was huge. I didn't stay up all night, letting my brain froth itself into a frenzy.

I didn't sit there and check my email thirty seven times, write rhapsodic posts on facebook and my blog about how I'd FINALLY DONE IT, or call my mother at midnight, or any of the crazypants behavior I would have indulged in pre-daughter.

Of all the things I expected to happen in my life by having a child, I did not see that one coming. Hormones are weird.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If you have power, give joy

About six or so years ago, I won a competition to become the Royal Scrivener within the Kingdom of Atlantia in the SCA. There were only two people competing at the time, and you get to hold the position for a year. The idea is that you support the arts of calligraphy and illumination by sponsoring competitions, and generally being a visible artist-of-the-year. It comes with no prizes, and no "rank" or extra privilege. Or so I thought.

While I was Royal Scrivener, I made a point of seeking out artists who entered my competitions and telling them how much I liked their work, or giving advice if I could be helpful.

One day, I held a competition, and there was a stunning entry. The calligraphy was better than mine, (and my calligraphy is DAMN good), and the illumination was phenomenally better than mine. I made a point of hunting the lady down, (after I had chewed my jealous bone a bit in private), to tell her how amazing I found her work.

This lady is a better artist technically than I will EVER be.  Think I'm being modest?  Go look. Yeah. She makes my work look like the amateur efforts that they are, and always will.

I literally had NOTHING I could offer her in terms of advice, suggestions, or helpful improvements. In fact, I wanted to sit her down and ask for lessons. But I went and gave her my admiration and encouragement anyways.

She told me five years later that she was so grateful and humbled to have the ROYAL SCRIVENER come and talk to her about her work that she was giddy over it for days. That it had meant the world to her that I had come to tell her IN PERSON how amazing her work is.

That was a major lesson to me on perspective. I felt like my input to her was valueless. To her, it was priceless. She was new to the SCA, and still trying to feel out her place. She didn't know many people. To her, I was one of the established, a Kingdom Notable, someone who was in a position to "know".  She's learned better since then, but we're now good friends, and she recently made me one of my most prized possessions, a handbound book that is shaped like a heart when you open it.

I recently entered the GUTGAA Agent Pitch contest, and I saw one of the judges worrying on her blog that all she had to give was her subjective opinion, and she didn't want to crush the dreams of others. I wanted to hug her and pet her nose and tell her that she wasn't crushing dreams in absentia, she was giving joy.

In my category of 43 entries, 19 received at least one "vote" from a judge. Almost half of the entries did the happy dance of joy! The rest all got professional comments, good advice, and encouragement! There is no losing here!

If you're in a position of authority, you have the opportunity to be someone's moment of joy. Don't waste them! It's the most precious of gifts, and the true reward of working hard to get where you are.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My reworked Query Letter!

So thanks to GUTGAA, I got some great feedback on my query letter. I've spent the last couple of days reworking it to address the comments I received hopefully in time for the agent pitch polish content!

Dear Super Awesome person,

Mercy and Justice Givens, twin sisters and co-owners of the Givens Detective Agency, do not take murder cases. But the private detective business is having a dry spell, taxes are due in three days, and their bank balance is lower than a rattlesnake’s belly.  Desperate times call for bad decisions, and the twins agree to take on an impossible case, trying to prove drug-addled debutante Genevieve Simmons didn’t stab her abusive boyfriend.  

Trapped by their own insolvency, but determined to wriggle out from under the contract and return the retainer, the twins grab at a “quick” embezzling case, hoping to find out who’s robbing Peter so they can pay off Paul.

Their hopes of a fast fee are crushed when someone parks a forklift on an accounting clerk’s head and dumps the body in the back of their truck, implicating them in murder. Caught in what seem like two separate murder cases, the twins are working double-time to keep out of the body count.

The real problem is that Mercy and Justice don’t know that the embezzler isn’t the one who wants them dead. Genevieve’s been framed, and the framer's hell-bent on making sure Justice and Mercy stay out of the picture. Mercy’s genius plus Justice’s thirty-eight may not be enough to survive a Machiavellian murderer pairing up with a panicky killer.  

REMINGTONS KILL PEOPLE was selected as a finalist in Janet Reid’s Liz Norris Pay it Forward competition for debut novels, and is approximately 77,000 words in length. It is set in San Antonio, Texas and has the potential to be the first in a series featuring Mercy and Justice Givens. I am a native West Texan who likes to recreate medieval book art in pre-1600 styles, when I’m not engaging in armored combat or changing diapers. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Kind regards,  

My only concern is that it's a bit long. Query letters according to Janet Reid should be 250 words, and mine tops out at 319.

But what do you all think? Improved from Version 1? Worse?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven years ago...

I was in Toronto, visiting my then-boyfriend-now-husband. I was supposed to fly home to North Carolina later that morning. We'd been up late the night before, so I was sleeping in.

He was up early, watching the news.  He saw the first plane hit, and came to wake me up with the words, "I don't think you're going home today." I got up in time to watch the second plane hit.

I spent the next three hours cleaning his apartment, desperate to do something constructive, to alter some part of my environment, try to overcome the sense that everything had changed and our world was different.

We went up to the CN tower and watched the smoke rising up from across the lake. I prayed for the people who'd been in those towers. I prayed for the people working rescue, the doctors and nurses who were going to be overwhelmed with mass casualties, and for understanding because I had none.

I felt like someone had wrecked my house, and I couldn't go home to pick up the pieces. The borders were closed, and the airports were full of stranded travelers. There was no news as to when or even if the airports would reopen international flights.

I was lucky in that I had a place to stay, but hundreds of Torontoans opened their houses to take in those who were stranded, to give the Americans a home while their country recovered. Americans are often told that other countries hate us, for our arrogance, our illogically aggressive defenses, or our unpredictability. But all over the world, people came forward and gave our stranded countrymen places to stay, food to eat, and beds for their children.

I remember the kindness, the generosity, and the humanity that the human race still manages to find when we are hurting.

But I also try and remember something else. Muslims around the world were as much a target of the terrorists as America. "Look, we have poked the sleeping giant, and do you think those crazy racist Americans will differentiate between us bad Muslims and you?! Better join us or die, because they will never trust you NOW." The terrorists would love you to believe that all Muslims are evil. It makes their job easier.

Around the world and in America, Muslims worried that they would be made scapegoats, victims of America's wrath.  And unfortunately, we have not proven them wrong, even in our own country. Muslims are buried in Arlington, having died defending America. Muslims work as teachers, firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and representatives in Congress. And yet they are afraid to travel in their own country, afraid of being pulled off a plane because some other passenger might get nervous while they are trying to figure out how to turn their phone off, and this makes our Muslim American citizens angry, because they ARE Americans, and they know that this is NOT supposed to be how our country works.

So today, honor 9/11. Smile at the guy wearing a turban. Don't shy away from the lady in the burq'a. Don't spit in front of a mosque. Don't let the bastards turn you into their ally of hatred. Don't let them make you proof of the bigotry, hatred, persecution, and intolerant assholedom they claim all Americans possess.

We are a country of religious tolerance and religious freedom. 9/11 was an attack on both. Don't let the bastards change who we are, both as Americans and as human beings. That's how they win.


P.S. Don't bother posting a comment about how sha'ria law is secretly infiltrating our legal system / Obama's a secret Muslim / it's all the gay agenda blaming the muslims in a clever pre-counter counterattack. If you don't know that ALL laws have roots in the Hammurabic code / Judaic laws / Sha'ria simply because those legal systems PREDATE ours, then we really can't talk.  Ditto if you think that it would actually matter if Obama was a Muslim or not.  Also gay people are too busy dealing with the Christian religious extremists to bother starting a second fight with another religion.

P.P.S. I'm going to go down to the mosque in the neighborhood later today to be supportive. Even though I was sad when they moved into the building, because it meant the extremely convenient library that was two blocks away moved (to a much nicer building) out of walking distance.

Monday, September 10, 2012

GUTGAA Query Critique - (I'm #94!)

I got in the Query Critique on Deana Barnhart's Gearing Up to Get An Agent contest!  I'm #94 if you want to leave comments / critiques (Oh please?)

My goal for today is to leave comments on at least 5 other queries today, and 5 more each day until it closes on Thursday. :)  I managed to leave comments on one from the bloghop last night, (Hi Diana!) after driving back from my mother's house last night.

My littler brother is getting deployed in October/November for his fourth tour. He's got two Iraq, one Afghanistan, and now he's adding Kuwait to his list of destinations, so the family was getting together to wish him well.

He lives in Arizona, so I don't see him often, but he's tall, handsome, and single, if you're into that sort of thing. :)

I need to get a picture of him from my mom, but here's a picture of my other little brother, (who is also tall, handsome and single!)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Neat Writing Tool - The Beat Sheet

Today my Writer's Group got together, and one of our peeps (Rachel! Hi hi hi!) mentioned that she'd found a book on screenwriting (Save the Cat!) that had been so highly recommended, she'd finally read it, despite her interest being novels.

She's trying out this particular tool, and has been finding it really helpful, so I figured I'd post it in honor of the GUTGAA spirit!

Also, in other news, a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate raspberry truffle goo is DELICIOUS.

Not so good for my weight, but DELICIOUS.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

GUTGAA Introduction Post

Greetings everyone! (she says optimistically)

Thanks to the Feaky Snucker and Mittens for the link, and of course to Deana Barnhart who is sponsoring the Gearing Up to Get An Agent Bloghop!  (I feel like I should be wearing a poodle skirt for blog hops. This is my first Blog Hop. Is there a dress code?)

Of course I opted for the medievaloid button option, (It's not bad Gothic Formata, though the letters are too far apart for the true representation of the hand.)

Deana Barnhart

 Woo button!   Now the introduction questions!

1) Where do you write?

Usually on the couch with my laptop.  But I tell myself that really, I'm writing inside a conservatory, with open windows that let the breeze blow the smell of grass and gardenias through to me. 

2) Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

The leftover pillow fort made by my fifteen month old, a blue bear blankie, and my phone, blinking a red light because I've forgotten to charge it. 

 3) Favorite time to write?

 As the mother of a toddlebug, either naptime, or after bedtime.  I spend a lot of time not sleeping.  I usually write until three in the morning. 

 4) Drink of choice while writing?

 Of choice? Hot loose-leaf tea, brewed in the purple orchid teapot my mother-in-law gave me, and sipped from a delicate porcelain cup with tiny powder-sugar dusted tea-cookies on a saucer and doily nearby, served by John Morrison pre-beard and shirtless. Possibly pantless, but he may wear a loincloth if he wishes.

What I ACTUALLY drink?  Red Rose tea, hot or cold, whatever caffeinated soda is in the fridge, and lots of water, out of my big plastic mug that I bought from a garage sale for a nickel. Sometimes Oreos will appear on a plate nearby.

 5) When writing, do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Silence freaks me out.  When I'm working on my West Texan centered detective stories, I put on the Classic Country channel on T.V.  It reminds me of home and pulls out all the memories and details that make it real.

6) What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

 I had a dream about two detectives named Justice and Mercy, and I felt so clever I immediately wrote the idea down and started trying to flesh it out. Three years and a lot of trial & and mostly error(tm) later, I have one finished novel, and one short story. :)

7) What's your most valuable writing tip?

 Realize that you have your own personal writing style, and that you have to learn what works for you. I tried to sit down and write every day, but that's not the way my mind works. If I don't know where my plot or characters are going, I simply can't write. I stare at the screen, get frustrated, and angry, and waste two hours trying to write past "the".  So I have to go walk, or do dishes, or spend my usual writing time doing something else while the plot and characters simmer and untangle themselves in the back of my mind.  Then once they've resolved themselves, I'll blow out 15,000 words in a week and catch up.

Editing I can do anytime. I also sometimes write schlocky stuff I'm not serious about, just to write something every day, and to redirect my block. I've found that works as well. Initially I thought that was just a waste of my time to work on schlock, but now I realize it's a necessary evil.

Also, WRITER'S GROUP. My writer's group is small but invaluable.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Girl shouldn't equal victim. Neither should author

I was raised in small-town West Texas, Baptist church, with traditional gender roles strongly reinforced.  When I look back now, I am mostly ashamed and somewhat astonished as to how blind I was, not only to the injustice of female subjugation, but to the fact the situation existed.  I believed sincerely that if a woman was raped, she must have done something at least partially to be responsible, even if it was "putting herself into the situation."  I also believed a lot worse things that I have since gotten over.

My own experience was unequivocally rape, in that the rapist dove through my bedroom window at three in the morning, but I still blamed myself for not keeping a weapon in the bedroom, for not realizing how vulnerable the apartment was, especially since I'd been previously robbed twice.

It's taken me a long time to realize how wrong I was, and that while "accepting responsibility" made me feel like I could have controlled the situation, (and therefore it was less scary), it was a coping mechanism, and not a healthy one.

The recent incidents at Readercon have brought this into sharp focus, because everything Elizabeth Bear says in her masterly summation is true. And it scares me.

I recently published an electronic monograph on medieval pigments. One of the people who bought my book subscribes to a form of extremist politics I personally find abhorrent. We chatted amiably enough about the book, but I never want to meet him in person, and yet I can't bring myself to remove him from my Facebook, because I feel it would be "unprofessional" as an author.  Another person who I have tried very hard to never, ever have any further contact with, because he squicks me out, is physically intimidating, and is known to have a drinking problem, has contacted me over the book material. And I was polite and hated myself for being polite.

Amazingly enough, one of the aspects of being an author that I never, EVER considered, was the fact that your readers will want to meet you, hang out with you, talk to you. And that I might really be disturbed by this.

I'm not sure yet how to deal with this. But I will deal with it. Because I want to be an author. And because I will not let fear of anything dictate how I live my life.  Back to work.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Friday Letter for my daughter (on Saturday)

Thursday evening, teething began.  There was no sleep.  There was screaming on the hour every hour until about 5 a.m.  Needless to say, Mommy was toast. You were miserable, and unhappy, and nothing made it better.

Friday morning, you woke up ready to play. I'm not sure how, or why, but you felt rested enough to play with Daddy while Mommy tried to sleep.

Daddy, trying to clean the kitchen and do something nice for Mommy, put you in the hover-tank walker thing, so you could go zooming around the house.  Somehow during this process you stole a fork out of the dishwasher, and came running down the hall to the bedroom to show Mommy that Daddy had failed as a guardian.

The danger of you stabbing yourself in the eye with said fork was enough to resurrect Mommy, who promptly took your fork away, LEAVING YOU IN THE BEDROOM, while she went stomping back to the kitchen to go explain to Daddy that forks were not approved baby toys.

While Mommy was castigating Daddy, you came giggling back into the kitchen, waving a second fork.

I would really, REALLY like to know where you got the second fork.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'm Published! (Sorta)

So yesterday was the culmination of three years of work and research. About three years ago, I tried to find a complete list of medieval pigments somewhere.  It was impossible to find. The medieval treatises were only available in a university library setting, (aside from a copy of De Diversis Artibus by Theophilus, which I actually sprung for.) and modern research was in little dribbles and drabbles of specific articles in scholastic journals which required a JSTOR or other institutional-only database.  So I started ma wking a spreadsheet.  And the spreadsheet grew. And Grew. I made umpteen trips to the UNC and Duke library systems, and employed my jump drive extensively.

I decided to turn the research into a monograph so that the information would be widely available to everyone, even those without access to a nearby university library.

And this is why you hire professionals ladies and gentlemen.
With the help of Jennifer Soucy, who did the cover art for me, and a few hours of formatting, the monograph is now available as an e-book via Smashwords. (see my pretty link button up at the top left? That's the lovely cover she did for me.)

The horrid abomination shown right was my attempt.

This is why professionals are awesome.

I'm still going to pursue publishing in the traditional sense for my fiction, but I do have to say the e-pubbing was pretty painless. :)

Now to get back to working on my @#$*#&$@#  synopsis.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Calligraphy & Illumination - Latest Project

The finished product

Occasionally I'll make noises about how I'm into calligraphy and illumination. Medieval books are some of the most inspiring pieces of art in the world.  The skill, resources, time, cleverness, and sheer,staggering amount of work that went into the making of a single book are astonishing.  The books can range from two inches from top to bottom with letters a 1/16 of an inch high, to a full-size lectern book almost two feet tall.

Love the irises!

I've made a study of the arts of calligraphy, and the illumination techniques used to make books before Gutenberg came along.  The way calligraphy hands changed from the round and space-hogging Uncial hand used by Irish monks, to the compressed blocks of Gothic text used by the Normans, to the tall, anorexic humanist hand of Petrarch, because of societal changes, the upheaval of cultural centers shifting about the continent, and even the religious schisms that dot the timeline of humanity is seriously cool stuff. What's even more impressive is the amazing way they mined the natural world for pigments and paints, and the sophisticated way they had to treat their paints because of chemical reactivity and different opacities.

I'm a much better calligrapher than painter. I've never taken a single formal art class, but calligraphy seems to come more naturally to me. I never have to do a calligraphy layout to make sure my text will fit. I can just "see" how much space I'll need, and I pick the nib size without checking more than a letter or two for proportions. This is an unusual gift, from what other people into the art tell me, but I'll be grateful for it, as I really love the zen nature of each stroke.

This is my latest piece, done over a period of about two weeks, in approximately 50 hours or so.  It's based off a German alchemical treatise, dated from 1531, found in the British Library's collection. The ink is my own mix of carbon black, gum Arabic, and water, using a Brause nib. The goldwork on the versal letter (that big capital D) was done with mica powder mixed with gum Arabic.  The miniature was based off an illumination from the same manuscript, and done in gouache, watercolor, and some hand-mixed paints like malachite green, alazarin crimson, and yellow ochre.

*sigh* I love me some calligraphy.
This was done in one shot, no
measuring ahead of time.
The piece was a double Court Baronage award scroll being given in the SCA, to two lovely people, who tend to dress in late period German, so I decided to pick one from that time period and location.

The miniature (the name for the painted picture part) was made up mostly out of my brain. I cobbled together a few of their family portraits, their heraldry, and the border/frame was outright snitched from the original manuscript.  I am a little sorry my time constraint was so tight. I have this sneaking evil suspicion that if I'd had more time, I might have managed to do something really wonderful.

As it is, I am pleased with it.  The flowers in the border are definitely an improvement on my previous attempts at the trompe l'oiell style.  And I'm currently in LOVE with Germany's many fancy gothic hands. They got so creative with serifs, accents, and letter shapes, and their capital letters are SO unique to German books.

So, when I say I do calligraphy and illumination, THIS is what I mean.  :) Love me some book-art goodness.

And for those who follow me on twitter, that's why my avatar is a picture of Christine de Pisan, illuminated in HER book. She was a medieval authoress who wrote and illuminated her own books. And bonus points, she was a feminist when being a feminist got you burned at the stake! She's my heroine.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Crush your Rejections, See them driven before you...

Today I didn't manage to get to the gym for my usual weight-lifting routine, but instead I did push-ups.   I did manage to get to zumba yesterday. The only cardio I managed to do this week unfortunately. 6 real pushups, rest 60 secs, 6 "girl" pushups, rest,  4 real pushups, rest 60, 4 girl pushups, rest 2 minutes, 4 real pushups.  I'm still going to go to the gym tomorrow and hopefully get my weight/treadmill time in. 

I'm the one in blue.  Photo courtesy of Megan Brett
I do armored combat in the SCA, but I'm about 100 lbs and a foot shorter than 90% of the other combatants (the gentleman I'm fighting in the picture shown right is far more typical of the usual fighter-size), so in order to keep from getting injured, I need to be in *good* shape.

So why do it? There's something very empowering about learning to hit someone with a stick correctly as hard as you can, while knowing that you're not going to hurt them (seriously). I haven't been able to go out and fight since being pregnant / nursing / primary caregiver of the daughter, so I've got 2+ years of rust on the tiny amount of skill I'd managed to accumulate before getting sidelined by my girlybits. I've missed it greatly.

But getting out there is work. I have to suck up my courage every single time I step into the list, and face opponents who are almost always better/bigger than me, and who can/will club me like a baby seal. Going to practice occasionally isn't enough for me to get good. I have to lift weights regularly in order to build enough muscle that I can move my shield defensively and quickly. I have to do cardio in order not to give up my main advantage. (I'm small, and hard to hit in the legal target areas if I'm defending properly. If I run out of wind to keep moving and blocking, I'm dead.) I have to eat properly. I have to do pell work drills.

I am about to get killed here. Photo: Megan Brett
I have to fight daily to maintain a routine so I can get out onto the field and fight.

So, when I read about how crushing authors find rejection, I can't help but think they're looking at it the wrong way.  You're learning to battle, fellow authors. You're new. You're going to suck.  You're going to get clubbed like a baby seal, and you're going to have to get up, and get back in line to go another round.  You know why?  Because eventually, you'll beat your opponent once. And you'll be so pumped from that one small win, that you'll go out another hundred times.  And maybe you'll win a couple more times.  And you go out a thousand times more, and maybe you win less than half the time.  You'll have great days where you'll win 9 out of 10 fights.  And you'll have bad days where you'll get your ass kicked by people who started fighting yesterday.  You'll get bruises that you'll take pictures of and show off to your friends and family so they buy you a beer. You'll swear that you had to be out of your mind to start this crazy thing that takes hours of your life and seems nuts to everyone who you tell about it, and that you're going to quit.  But you're not. 

Because you aren't doing it for everyone else. You can't. You're doing it because you love the game, and because there's nothing better in the world than those few seconds where you soar on clouds of victorious glory.

You have to fight so you can fight. Rejections are just reassurance that you had the courage to get in the game.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Query letters are hard.

Today I've been chewing on my query letter. Much like my daughter (shown below in her bald stage. She has hair now.), I'm reduced to a drooling mess.  

I'm posting it here, and I welcome any comments, because I'm at the point where I can't see what's wrong with it.  Please feel free to shred. 

Fine, I'll chew my way out!

Dear Super Awesome person,

In REMINGTONS KILL PEOPLE, Mercy and Justice Givens, twin sisters and co-owners of the Givens Detective Agency, are having a bad week. Taxes are due in three days, and their bank balance is lower than a rattlesnake’s belly. Their only case, proving ditzy debutante Genevieve Simmons didn’t stab her boyfriend, seems hopeless. Just before they’re forced to borrow money from their Aunt Irene to pay Uncle Sam (again), another case to find an amateur embezzler provides a stay of execution.

Their hopes of a quick fee are crushed when someone parks a forklift on an accounting clerk’s head and dumps the body in the back of their truck, implicating them in murder. The twins ignore the warning, and the next body is hung in the handicap stall, right where Mercy, a paraplegic, is sure to find it. Now they’ve got to find the murderer before Justice is the third casualty of the frantic murder spree.

Worse, they don’t know that the killer isn’t the one who really wants them dead. Genevieve’s been framed, and the framer's hell-bent on making sure Justice and Mercy stay out of the picture. The twins aren’t used to being double-teamed, and Mercy’s genius plus Justice’s thirty-eight may not be enough to survive a Machiavellian murderer pairing up with a panicky killer.  

REMINGTONS KILL PEOPLE was recently selected as a finalist in Janet Reid’s Liz Norris Pay it Forward competition for debut novels, and is approximately 77,000 words in length. It is set in San Antonio, Texas and has the potential to be the first in a series featuring Mercy and Justice Givens. I am a native West Texan who likes to torment her Canadian husband with Tex-Mex cooking, lament my neglected concert pianist career, and recreate medieval illuminated book-pages in pre-1600 styles, when I’m not engaging in armored combat or changing diapers. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards
Britni Patterson

Monday, April 23, 2012

Domestic As-SALT. Ah-ha-ha-ha.

So the baby was screaming in the car on the way home, having hit her personal time limit for being out on the town.

I put on the local 80's / 90's rock station instead of the club/dance music station that usually lives on that radio, and she goes right to sleep.

I tell my 80's rock-loving, guitar-playing husband who was in an 80's cover band for 2 years about this, and his response?

"Clearly the child has managed to develop better musical taste in 10 months than you have in 30-plus years."  (Which is unfair, as I love me some hair metal.)

I was cooking at the time of this conversation, so I threw some salt at him.

"Take that!"


"I just assaulted you."

He stared at me for a moment. "Oh. Ah ha. And this is the mind of a mystery writer?"

"It's also the mind you go to sleep next to every night. I'd think that'd be scarier."

He conceded the point, and took the daughter down into the man-cave, I assume, to have a talk about respecting the brilliance of her mother.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


FINALLY I can tell everyone!  I'm a finalist! My novel was good enough to be a finalist!

Imagine if you will, a quiet family tableau.  Gramma is visiting and is happily watching Dancing with the Stars, while drinking Busch Light.  Two Chihuahuas are sleeping in the dog bed.  Daddy is sitting on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars because Gramma is his mother, and he has no choice.  BabyGirl is sitting on Mommy's lap, while Mommy tries to check her email and hold a baby until it's bath time.

Then all of a sudden, Mom flings the baby at Daddy, and proceeds to leap up and go jumping around the house, screeching and whooping, and yelling things like "I don't suck!" and "YEE-HA!"  Because Mommy is from Texas, and that's what happens.

Luckily, Daddy catches the baby, but the chihuahuas are startled awake and start barking.  The cats, who were asleep until Mommy went berserk and the dogs started barking, start racing around the house to fight over the best hiding spot until the Apocalypse is over.  The dogs, assuming the cats know something, start chasing the cats.  The cats run faster because they are now being chased.

Gramma spills her beer, and starts yelling about the waste of beer.

Daddy uses the baby to mop up the beer, and is yelling at Mommy to please explain what the hell is wrong with her brain and is she having a reverse stroke?

Mommy eventually manages to find enough words to explain that she's a finalist in the debut novelist competition she spent two weeks killing herself to enter. 

... Daddy says I'm exaggerating a bit, but it was TOTALLY like that.

Today is officially declared "I Don't Suck!" day.  Have some carrot cake and tea.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Procrastination is Productive

So far, I've made breakfast sandwiches (scrambled eggs with MAE farms sausage on leftover hamburger buns, sprinkled with the Sargento Mexican blend cheese), homemade carrot cake with cream-cheese icing, and Italian wedding soup is simmering on the stove.

I've also made a hell of a mess out of the kitchen that my darling husband cleaned this morning, but he doesn't mind because of the soup.  It's his favorite dish, and I swear it's one of the easiest to make.

Sausage, sauteed garlic, veggie and chicken broth, baby spinach, tarragon, nutmeg, lemon pepper, and sage if the sausage doesn't have it already in it.  Let the soup simmer deliciously until boiling, then add tortellini of whatever variety makes you happy.  Sprinkle with parmesan and serve.

I also did a massive shopping trip to restock the fridge.

I've also managed to procrastinate off most of the day instead of working on the e-pub format for my monograph for pre-seventeenth century pigments, hopefully titled "The Illuminator's Palette."  I'd initially submitted it for publication to the Compleat Anachronist, which is the academic publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism, but there've been "issues".  (One editor passed away suddenly, the other one didn't respond to five emails over 8 months from me.) 

But now I have something else to procrastinate - I.E. cleaning the kitchen, so I can now go happily work on my monograph.  I swear most of my major accomplishments are the direct result of avoiding accomplishing something else.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Free SIGNED copy of a book!

If you're interested in a signed copy of UNRAVELING by Liz Norris see the link below

Liz Norris is on my definitely-to-buy list, not just because she's getting fantastic reviews from EVERYWHERE, but because she's a super-generous author.  Not only does she have the book giveaway, but she's the cause of the Liz Norris Pay it Forward contest that helped me get my novel finished.  (A fantastic contest by the way.  The winner gets an all-expenses paid trip to the Backspace convention in NYC, and to eat lunch with Janet Reid, literary agent of internets fame!)  Utterly brilliant idea.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Mother-in-law season is over! There are no more chihuahuas defiling any carpeted surface in the house! 

There is no more crappy beer in my fridge!  (She likes Busch Light)

 Peanut butter may now be eaten with impunity! (The very idea of peanut butter makes her twitch. A knife dipped in peanut butter sitting in the sink makes her shriek like she saw a giant cockroach.)

In fact, I just had two peanut butter sandwiches, and a cappuccino.

I found an espresso machine at a garage sale for $2 last week. I figured there was something wrong with it, (and there was - it's missing a $8 filter widget that sits at the bottom of the brewing cup), but I love espresso so much I was willing to try it out.

I jerry-rigged around the missing filter widget by cutting down a paper filter, and hand-packing the espresso powder.  So now I have cappuccinos. (It's not quite good enough espresso to be by itself. It doesn't do the light brown color on top of the espresso after brewing like it should.)

But Mother-in-Law season is over!!  ...  For now.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's Mother-In-Law Season! (I mean, spring.)

The winter has passed, and with it, the first mother-in-law of spring has appeared.  Flitting down south from Canada, (early this season, most likely due to the mild winter), the mother-in-law appeared a couple of weeks ago. 

The grandchild surely played a strong attracting force for the mother-in-law to roost for a few weeks.  The mother-in-law arrived with two chihuahuas, (scientists suspect some sort of symbiotic relationship), and built a nest in the spare bedroom. Cases of Busch Light appeared in the fridge, along with some Frank's Red Hot sauce, and a special jug of milk.  (Yes, cases. Beer time starts at five o'clock, and extends until she goes to bed, or about five or six beers.)

The guilty party
The chihuahuas have pooped on the bathroom rug far too many times to bother counting. 

The grandchild has been harangued for not walking or crawling yet. (and also played with, cajoled, adored, petted, gifted, and generally treated like the only and favored grandchild that she is.)

Garage sales and thrift stores have been perused and studied. (To great success on my end - new bedroom furniture, mixing bowl, silver platters, table linens, and all kinds of things.)

Frank's Hot sauce has been put on everything I've cooked. Omelets, pork chops, rosemary and salt-crusted lamb chops, savory crepes, corn chowder.  She really does put that shit on EVERYTHING.

The mother-in-law has also spent quite some time "scratching" in the yard, along with the robins and the brown threshers.  [Scratching in this connotation = raking up the leaves]

The baby's interactions with the mother-in-law, known to her as "Nana", appear primarily positive, though I am unsure about teaching her to play hockey with her toys and a wrapping paper tube, or having her hold the reins to the chihuahuas when they're in harness, and she's in a stroller.  Luckily one of the chihuahuas is ancient, decrepit, and not pulling anything anywhere, no matter how furiously the leash is whipped around.

The mother-in-law is already showing signs of preparing to wend her way back up north for the summer.  Cases of dog food (significantly cheaper in the states than Canada) have been purchased and stowed, the beer is showing signs of depletion, and the mother-in-law can be found muttering to herself about which stores she wishes to visit before leaving.

Mother-in-law season can be an entertaining time for all concerned, as long as proper care is taken to ensure that there is enough beer and meals at regular times. Oh, and that the bathroom is acceptably clean at all times.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

First novel finished!

Thanks to Janet Reid's phenomenal Liz Norris Pay It Forward contest, I got the push I needed to get the novel done.  It's been a couple years coming, and I wanted to write the process down in case I ever wanted to come back and see what the hell took so long.

When I got RIF'd from my job in 2009, I decided I'd take some time, and try to write. I bought a laptop, made a little desk area in a sunny spare room, and over the next four months, I struggled to write. I learned things along the way, like the fact that I needed music on while I wrote. I worked best between the hours of 11 and 4 in the afternoon, but at night I could write for hours.  I learned that if I didn't know where I was going, I couldn't write a single word, and trying to force it with the butt-in-chair theory was a miserable failure.  I also had a bad bout with depression over being fired for the first time in my life.

The only way I could get past the writer's block was to go do something else for a few weeks. My brain would chew on whatever had me stuck while I did housework, or read umpteen books, or wandered around in a daze.

I finished the first draft early 2010. It came in at about 45K, which is too damn short for the mystery genre.  I gave it to a couple people to read, and they all agreed that the book had one really major problem.  I'd started with one case, and then switched to another one as the 'main case' and they kept waiting for the first 50 pages to be relevant, which ruined the next 100.

And I knew it was a problem. I did. But I couldn't figure out how to fix it, so I tried to ignore it.  I spent the next eight months wrestling with how to resolve it, until inspiration hit like a bat to the head.  I also took a creative writing course in the fall semester of  2010, intending to go back to school and get a degree in English.

The going back to finish school plans derailed when I got pregnant mid-semester.  And I got a job with a place I used to work.  And I started a writing group in January of 2011.  I wrote on the novel here and there as I could, but between preparing for the baby, having the baby, simultaneously getting let go from the new job, and adjusting to the new world order, it wasn't much. I also lost my writing desk in the spare room, as we turned it into the guest room, because the guest room was now designated baby's room. Luckily, laptops mean writing wherever you want.

I managed to get back to the computer regularly by the end of 2011, and started regularly pushing words out.  I was hoping to get it finished before my 32nd birthday on March 8th, but on Feb 28th, Janet Reid posted the contest for debut authors. And I decided I was going to go for it. Not because I thought I would win, (though hope springs eternal) but because I work better with hard deadlines.
I managed to get the final bits done by March 3rd, 2012.  I gave the final draft to my beta readers, begging for a quick turn-around time. All of them, fantastic wonderful people all, got it back to me by March 10th, 2012.  I spent the next five days almost constantly editing.  My husband and I lived off freezer food while I worked. I slept only 5 hours a night every night, because my most productive time was between 10 p.m., (after the baby was definitely asleep) and 2 a.m.

While I was waiting on the beta readers, I worked on the query letter that had to go with the finished draft.  It was brief.  QueryShark recommends a max of 250 words, and I came in around 170.

Right now, I'm theoretically ready to submit to lots and lots of agents. But I'm spending the next two weeks catching up on all the chores I neglected, in preparation for my mother-in-law coming to visit. Whee!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I need habits, not resolutions

Every year, the arbitrary "Buy a new calendar day" strews the internet with Resolutions, and Tips for a Better Year, and other unhelpful hope-raising-subsequently-guilt-deepening ephemera.  I've tried making resolutions.  It doesn't work for me.

The last four years, I've carefully sat down and planned out how I can exercise more, and eat six small meals instead of two large, and will shop for local produce, and write every day, along with possibly starting a small side business, becoming a better heavy combat fighter, as well as fixing up the house.  It all seems reasonable on paper.  And then, like Hyperbole & A Half so eloquently/visually puts it, the wheels come off about a week later, because I am exhausted.

So I've decided to avoid the congratulations part of this cycle.  I'm just going to take each day at a time.  There will be no yesterday.  There is no tomorrow.  I will decide each day what I'm going to try to do.  Maybe I'll succeed at all.  Maybe I'll succeed at some.  Maybe I'll fail at all.

But if I fail, the really hard part to implement will be no castigation for failure.  No guilt.  No spending the evening feeling horrible about all the things I didn't do.  No patting myself on the back either for abnormal bursts of productivity. 

What I'm going to be proud of, is trends, and building habits.  If I manage to go to the gym 3 times a week, for an entire month, then I can pat myself on the back.  If I manage to write my words every day, I can be proud of myself. 

I need to build habits.  Habits are hard to build, but they're a lot harder to break.   By the end of 2012, I hope to have at least two new habits.