Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Exploding Dog Bed

Grace has settled into life in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. How do I know? Dog beds have started exploding.

At least “it exploded” was the excuse Grace gave for the tufts of brown stuffing all over the floor and her dog bed in tatters. She said that I had to believe her because she was the only witness (Sam was hanging with my dad at the time). Besides, she would never, ever, ever chew her bed. Lady Grace of Louisiana is much too good of a dog for that.

Posted in Books, Making It Up As I Go

The Pros & Cons of Reading on My Phone

There’s an old school Nook tucked between paperbacks my bookshelf; I can’t remember the last time I used it, and I’m pretty sure the battery is dead. I like it … though it’s not exactly the most convenient. Especially since the battery doesn’t hold a charge for long anymore. I’ve given thought to replacing it with a tablet of some kind, but that’s not in the budget right now.

So I decided to download the Kindle and Nook apps on my phone. After reading a handful of books on them, I’ve come to the conclusion that reading on my phone has both pros and cons.

Pro ~ It’s Convenient as Hell
My phone goes wherever I go. At the store? It’s in my pocket. Work? In my purse. At home? Probably within arm’s reach. That means instead of popping on Facebook or Twitter while I’m waiting for something or need to fill a bit of time, I can read. And there’s no need to make sure that I’ve packed a book or worry that said book hasn’t been bent and crushed by whatever else is in my bag. I just grab my phone, click on the app, and I can pick up right where I left off.

Con ~ I Can’t Hold the Book
Paperbacks and hardcovers have a certain feel to them. There’s the weight of all three hundred or four hundred pages; there’s the smooth feel of the cover and sometimes even the raised lettering; there are the lines of black text dimpled with the imperfections in the page; there’s even accidentally catching a glimpse of the last page and trying to figure out what those lines mean. That’s all missing with a reading app.

Pro & Con ~ So Many Books
I’ll admit that I haven’t read half of the books on my bookshelves. I happen across interesting-looking books for relatively cheap and bring them home. The difference with eBooks is that I don’t have to leave my couch to find a good deal. The positive side is that I can amass a plethora of books for a reasonable price. On the downside, I’m buying books faster than I can read them and now have a dozen books on my phone that I haven’t touched yet.

Ultimately, the convenience factor trumps all. I can read while lying in bed or while at my partner’s place or on my lunch break or while in a waiting room. All without needing to pack a book. I just need to remember my phone.

Posted in Doing the Thing, Making It Up As I Go

EXPLORE

Myrtle Beach never hit my list of places to visit, despite being bustling tourist destination four hours from my apartment. Come to think of it, that may be exactly why it was never on that list. Touristy can be fun. But I’d rather get my touristy-fix with a mouse in Florida.

Then my parents relocated this summer. To Myrtle Beach.

With two visits under my belt so far, I can say that I’m familiar with the traffic in Conway and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. I still haven’t hit the beach or the touristy destinations like the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. I’m sure that I’ll check out those places (and document the visits extensively) on a future trip.

Here’s the thing about wanderlust: it hits me when I least expect it and doesn’t require venturing off to an exotic venue.

During my most recent visit to Myrtle Beach, I satisfied my wanderlust by exploring the Tangier Outlets. Seriously. I took a quick trip to Ollie’s and scoured the book section, finding nothing. I couldn’t just go back to my parents’ place, so I searched for nearby bookstores on my phone and found the Book Warehouse at the Tangier Outlets.

It took several minutes of wandering through the pathways lined with the Nike store, Justice, Dress Barn, As Seen On TV, and others before I spotted the bookstore. I ended up not finding anything. So I decided to keep exploring. I spotted (and managed to stay out of) a fudge store. I also found a kitchen store packed to the gills with more kitchen gadgets than I’d ever seen. I managed to leave the Outlets without buying anything. Somehow.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve quelled the desire to EXPLORE by simply wandering around stores. It’s a good reminder, though, that I don’t have to spend a lot of money to get my wanderlust fix. All it takes is to find somewhere that I’ve never been and simply explore.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Mama Deer

“Look at the mama and baby deer!” I said. “I’m going to get a picture after we park.”

My partner was driving us up the windy driveway to his place. He took his foot off the gas as he glanced over into the clearing.

“That’ll be tricky,” he said.

“Have some faith in me.”

He parked in front of the garage. “It’s not that I don’t have faith. It’s just that those deer are going to run as soon as you head down the driveway.”

“We’ll see about that.”

In retrospect, I was absurdly confident as I hiked down the driveway. Like I was a Disney princess headed off to meet my long-lost animal sidekicks, when the reality was that I’d never come face-to-face with wildlife bigger than a squirrel in my life.

The gravel driveway made it impossible to walk quietly, and Mama Deer had her sights on me before I even stepped off the path. Her twins stared as well.

“Hey there, sweetie.”

“Who are you?” Mama Deer flicked her ears to dislodge a bug before aiming them straight back at me.

“I only want to take a couple pictures.”

“Well, okay. But please don’t get any closer.”

“That’s fair,” I said.

I zoomed in as much as the phone camera would allow, snapping a couple pictures from between the trees.

“Mama, look at how high I can leap!” One of the twins vaulted towards the back of the clearing.

“Hey, I can leap high too!” The other twin bounced behind her brother.

“Don’t you two run away from me.”

Mama Deer bolted behind her babies and corralled them at the far end of the clearing. Her attention returned to me briefly before she began scolding her twins. I took the opportunity to head back to the driveway.

“I don’t care what your brother was doing. If he decided to jump out at Mr. Skunk and get sprayed, would you do it too?”

“Well, no. I don’t like the smell of Mr. Skunk’s spray.”

“Wait, Mr. Skunk is here? I want to see him.”

The fawn ran for the woods. His twin and mother took off in hot pursuit, leaving me alone on the driveway with my phone.

Posted in 5 Things, Making It Up As I Go, Writing

Five Things I Learned Writing “Scales”

I issued myself a challenge at the beginning of May: turn out a polished final draft of a short story by June 1st for an anthology call for submissions. And because I’m an overachiever when it comes to making things difficult for myself, I decided to write a cozy-type story, meaning limited blood and violence. So no car chases, no shootouts, and no zombies. (Note to self, figure out how to write a cozy mystery with zombies.)

The challenge taught me a lot about writing, and I wanted to share the five biggest lessons that I learned from trying to write and submit a short story in a month.

1. Find Conflict Outside Your (Writing) Comfort Zone

Because I decided early on that I didn’t want to write my typical A-team/Jack Reacher-type story where lives are on the line. I wanted something with a different kind of drama, the kind that could be happening next door and you’d be none the wiser until news crews show up on the front lawn. That isn’t the kind of drama I’m used to manufacturing for my characters and weaving into the plot.

I had to take a step back and ask myself what kind of conflict would compel the main character to act? She’s an expert in reptiles. What if she found and had to protect a reptile that’d been thought extinct for centuries? It took a bit longer to figure out how to make the tension and conflict something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. But I did it. And honestly, I liked how it turned out.

2. Pinterest is Worse than Quicksand, and You’re Better off Avoiding It while Writing

Hi there. I’m S.E., and I’m mildly addicted to Pinterest. It’s my go-to for recipes that may or may not work, the place where I can see hundreds of cute puppy pictures, and a knitting resource if I’m looking for a how-to or a knitting pattern. Occasionally, I’ll use it to give myself a visual reference for whatever character or place I’m creating.

I’ve yet to break myself of the habit of popping onto Pinterest while I’m working, and I usually justify the trip over to the website by telling myself that I need to know what something looks like. That’s exactly what happened when I was working on “Scales.” I was working on the scene where the formerly-extinct reptile shows up and decided that I need a visual. Simple enough, right? Well, I ended up knee-deep in knitting patterns for cryptozoological creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and dragons for a couple hours. It was time that should’ve been spent writing.

3. Worldbuilding is Tough; Stopping is Tougher

Most of my stories take place in the present day or in a world that’s pretty darn close to it. That’s because worldbuilding is not my strong suite. It’s a process that requires knowing things like how magic works, how the culture looks, and the general history of the civilization. You know. little things.

Building the universe in Scales was rough, and it still challenges me when I dive back into the story. The world itself is based upon a modern-day United States but with the addition of magic and cryptids. That didn’t strike me as being too difficult when I first started. Make the gargoyle doorknocker an enchanted sentry? Cute and great show of what’s normal. Have the roommate be a psychic? Hello opportunity for foreshadowing. But the problem arose with another question: where do I stop? Or better yet, how much magic is too much magic? Maybe there are Pegasuses and people carry umbrellas to avoid droppings. Or maybe witches and wizards run supermarkets and there’s been a rash of scandals involving magicked fruit. My head still spins thinking about the possibilities.

4. You May Fail (and that’s Okay)

Deadlines are my best friends as a writer. They compel me to sit down and write until the thing is done. Otherwise I’m likely to write a hundred words here and there, stretching what should be a month-long first draft process into three months (for short stories). Like I said before, I knew that turning out a finished story in a month was a tall order. But I felt confident.

A series of unexpected–but not unwelcome–circumstances meant that I’d finished the first draft and had gotten about 25% of the way through the first revision by the time June 1st rolled around. A small part of me was disappointed. But a far larger part understood that life has a habit of happening, and writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Like when I have to put in extra time at work because I’m taking time off for a convention. And when I meet and start dating my now significant other. I failed, yes. But sometimes such is life.

5. At the End of the Day, Keep Plugging

I’ve hit a point with Scales where I’m spinning my tires, not getting any traction with revisions. The biggest reason is that I don’t know what the story needs. Does it need to start somewhere different? Do I need to weave in a subplot that’ll ratchet up the tension? Or do I need to find a way to amplify the tension in the existing story arc?

I’m not sending Scales to the folder on my desktop that I’ve named “Graveyard.” There’s something about it and its main character that keep me circling back to it. The story just isn’t ready to be told yet. So I’m going to be patient and let the kinks work themselves out in the back of my mind until everything falls into place.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

I Live-Tweeted “The Bridgewater Triangle” Documentary

I happened upon a documentary called “The Bridgewater Triangle” on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. The description –especially that the location was a stone’s throw from where I grew up–convinced me to hit play and start live-tweeting. Here are those tweets, occasional spelling mistakes and all.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

On Refilling the Creative Well

Life is a hectic right now. Not absurdly hectic where I don’t have time for breakfast or get home well past my bedtime. But it’s hit the criteria for a little hectic: going to class and doing associated homework; working full-time; navigating relationship with a significant other; keeping my garden alive; and writing. There’s also the routine things like cooking meals and grocery shopping and doing laundry that need to get done.

All of that combined was enough to short-circuit the creative part of my brain. It showed signs of sluggishness for a couple weeks. It balked when I tried to revise a short story, and it dug in its heels when I started a new blog post even though I have an idea ready to go. Then it finally decided that it’d had enough.

I’ve been through this situation before. Short-circuiting. Burning out.

The solution? Picking up a book.

For me as a writer, I work best when I strike a balance between the number of stories and books that I read and the number of ones that I right. A perfect situation mean spending an hour or so reading during the morning and then writing for a few hours between 9PM and midnight. However that routine doesn’t jive right now with the need to pay rent and buy food.

I need to achieve a semblance of balance between refilling the creative well and drawing from it. That means leaning more heavily on one than the other for a while. Forgoing reading for a few weeks while I use my spare time to write. Or letting my stories sit dormant while I spend three or four days plowing through a book. (My well is far easier to fill than deplete.)

So I picked up a book: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I barreled through it in and around the rest of my life over the course of four days. Now–not only am I itching to write a serial killer story–I can feel the creative part of my brain coming back online. It’s still in a fickle stage, more than happy to slip back into short-circuit mode if I push it too hard or work on projects that I’m not excited about.

But I’m back at it for now. Slowly working forward with the intention of pouring a book into my brain once a week to stave off burnout. It may happen, or it may not. Either way, I’m glad to be back in the saddle.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Drama King

There was a minor incident last fall involving my probably haunted porcelain figurines.

So what happened: I was figuring out what I wanted for dinner during the coming week and grabbed a cookbook off the shelf. Apparently the weight of that book was keeping all my recipe books upright. The right bookend topple over, sending books of crock-pot and five-ingredient recipes tumbling. One of them slammed into Phillip’s shoulder.

I watched–paralyzed–as he fell headfirst into the printer’s paper tray before landing face-first on the carpet. He lay there moaning for what felt like an hour, but was probably closer to then seconds, until I unstuck my feet from the floor and approached him.

Every possible, worst-case-scenario flashed through my mind. I pictured a fissure running from his neck all the way down to his thigh or his face crumbling outward the moment I picked him up or one of his arms being left on the floor (which shows how irrationally I was thinking because his arms are fused to his body).

He cussed me out as I picked him up.

“What wrong with you, woman? You nearly broke my face.”

I tuned him out while inspecting every inch of his blue and gray clothes for the smallest cracks. And I found none.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” he demanded

Relief flooded my voice when I finally answered.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. But at least you’re okay.”

“I am not okay,” he fumed. “I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I think I may have a concussion.”

I wanted so badly to say you don’t have a brain, so you can’t have a concussion, but I bit my tongue. I carefully placed him back on the shelf before weighing down the sides of the license plate bookends so that they didn’t topple over again. Phillip muttered angrily the whole time.

When I stepped back and took a look at the shelf as a whole, things didn’t look quite right.

Nothing was out of place. The cookbooks leaned left and right between the license plates; Phillip stood facing the front door; and Miss Georgia looked slightly to the right and into the living room.

No, Miss Georgia didn’t quite look right. She had a large white patch on her right side that wasn’t there before. It took a second before my brain got traction and put two-and-two together.

“Oh, shit.”

Her right arm lay on the printer table, between a Saint Bernard figure and a unicorn. It was a mostly clean break other than the jagged edge where the forearm had separated from the inner part of her elbow.

“Miss Georgia,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m quite all right,” she said. “All I need is a bit of glue and time for it to set. Then I’ll be as good as new.”

“Are… are you sure?”

“Vocation-related… weren’t you a governess, Miss Georgia?”

“Quite sure. No need to worry about me, dear. I’ve spent my fair share of time recovering from vocation-related injuries.”
She offered a serene smile. “That was one of my professions before I retired.”

The subdued yet steely look in her eyes said that anymore questions would be brushed off with polite but firm avoidance.

So instead I dug through my tool bag until I found the heavy-duty-not-quite-Gorilla-glue. Miss Georgia remained pleasant through the whole procedure.

The same couldn’t be said for Phillip; he wouldn’t stop whining. More than six months later, he still glares at me when he thinks my back is turned. It’s far easier to give that to him than the alternative. Especially now that I have a stuffed koala in the house.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

I Bought a Koala, or ConCarolinas 2018 Recap

So. ConCarolinas happened.

I took the Friday and Saturday of the convention off of work (I’m off on Sundays anyway) to take full advantage of the programming on all three days. I also stole a half hour here and there to wander about the dealers’ room and author’s alley. Here’s a brief-ish recap.

Dealer’s Room

The dealer’s room isn’t necessarily where I blow my budget thanks to the iota of self-control that I’ve developed over the past couple years. (Note: this self-control DOES NOT apply to books.) I wasn’t planning on spending much–if anything–in the dealer’s room in the days leading up to ConCarolinas.

But then I was scrolling through Twitter and happened upon Seanan McGuire’s life-tweeting of her adventures with fellow authors Ursula Vernon and K.B. Spangler. It involved finding turtles, salamanders, and K.B. Spangler getting hit in the face by a hawk named Monty.

So when I saw that K.B. Spangler was going to be in the dealer’s room selling maniacal-looking stuffed koalas among other things, I knew that I had to find her table. And that I did on the Saturday of the Con. She was amazingly energetic for being halfway through the Con and was thrilled when I said that I wanted to buy a koala and a copy of her book. Then she showed me the video on her phone of Monty the hawk flying into her face and said that she’d never seen a hawk embarrassed.

I walked away with a book from an author that I hadn’t heard of before the convention and a creepy koala named Speedy. It was without a doubt, a great buy.

Author’s Alley

I managed to come in below my budget in Author’s Alley. How? That’s a very good question that I don’t have the answer to. I picked up two books at the Falstaff Books table: Tooth & Nail by Michael G. Williams and Lawless Lands. Williams’s book is the second book in The Winthrow Chronicles; I picked up the first one, Perishables, at the Con last year. Lawless Lands is an anthology of speculative fiction/western short stories. I grabbed it primarily because of the buzz surrounding a contest to win a copy before the Con. Though honestly, the stories look like they’re right up my alley.

Panels

The biggest reason I bought tickets at last year’s ConCarolina’s for this year’s convention was due to the Guest of Honor: Seanan McGuire. She wrote my favorite zombie book to date (Feed) under the pen-name Mira Grant, and I’ve been following her on Twitter for the better part of six months. She’s exactly my kind of weird, so I was looking forward to seeing her in-person on a panel.

She didn’t disappoint. And while I could go on and on about how she made me laugh my ass off and how she scared the shit out of me in her alter-ego, Mira Grant, she made a point that another author and panelist brought up on Twitter the other day. It was something that’s stuck with me in the weeks since.

During a panel on deep work (something which sounded to me like tuning out EVERYTHING and focusing only on the creative project in front of you), Seanan stated writers and other creatives don’t necessarily need long stretches of time in order to perform deep work by comparing them to pearl divers.

Pearl divers go underwater for five minutes at a time before coming up for air. During those five minutes, they’re 100% focused on their task. And then when that time is up and they come up for air, their mind can wander to other things. Then the process repeats until the diver is done collecting pearls for the day.

For a writer, that means diving deep into their work. Maybe for five minutes or ten or fifteen. And then taking a break, whether voluntarily or because life interrupts. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, guaranteed routine that’ll work for every writer. But it’s an option to try and see if it works. I’m certainly going to try it.

There were other panels that left me itching to write. I wrote down a couple of the points from the ones that really resonated with me.

  • The territory of the “West” has always existed and was comprised of more than cowboys.
    The West that Never Was
  • Writers make the mistake of focusing on changes to big historical events rather than the character’s stories.
    Playing with History
  • Writing novellas makes it easier to be more prolific and to keep up with reader demand.
    The Novella Strikes Back
  • Regular posting is required when writing a web serial, and you should have a significant buffer of chapters lined up to be posted.
    Serials–They’re Not Just Captain Crunch Anymore

ConCarolinas was pretty successful for me: panel-wise, in the dealer’s room, and in the author’s alley. It has left me wanting to post on here more regularly and itching to write. I’ve already picked up tickets for next year’s Con.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

Doing the Thing: Garden Update

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote about my garden on here. And as happens when plants are watered on a pretty regular basis, they’ve grown.

There have been casualties: a couple pea plants, parsley, and the lettuce. But I consider those to only be partially my fault; I forgot to put drainage holes in the bottom. I also blame spring thunderstorms leaving an inch of water atop the soil.

The flowers have absolutely flourished. Even the marigolds–which I was hesitant about planting because they need a whole lot more light than what my patio gets in a day–have done fan-freaking-tastic. Every single marigold plant is in bloom, and the wild flowers are providing a pop of color amidst all the green of stems and leaves.

As for the vegetables, the ones that didn’t get their butts handed to them by the storms are doing so well. I’ve already harvested a few radishes (and then quickly realized I don’t like them), have found that the carrots are indeed growing, and am pretty close to picking peas. There are also clumps of little green tomatoes on the tomato plants. They still have a way to go, but they’re definitely looking like tomatoes.

I’ve also added cucumbers, peppers, and pumpkins. The cucumbers have already gotten so big that I’ve had to tie them to bamboo stakes, though the peppers have yet to sprout. And while I’m still not sure how the pumpkins are going to like being in pots long-term (this type of seed isn’t meant for my version of urban gardening), they’re about an inch and a half tall at this point and seem happy enough. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have pumpkins ready to carve come October.

I’m going to finish this post up with a picture of the garden a month ago and what it looked like on Friday, 6/15. I’m proud of what I’ve done with this eclectic garden. I also can’t wait to see how the veggies taste.