Random Points of Thought

Three blog postings for the price of one…

* * *

It’s confirmed. My son has turned into a Trekkie.

It was bound to happen. Seeing that the only adult shows we watch anymore are Voyager, Star Trek TNG, and Mythbusters, Daniel has taken a sudden interest in rockets (nothing from the Mythbusters, though I’m pretty sure that when he starts getting a little older, he’ll start testing out myths of his own like is it true that gravity always works if I jump off the stairs? or if I throw a crayon in the dryer, will Mommy get mad?)

I have one thing to say about the toddler mind. It truly is quite the imaginative tool. In my son’s hands, anything long and sticklike instantly becomes a rocket. Pens. Legos. Forks. Spoons (my husband especially gets a kick out of this for some reason. “Yes, Daniel, you’re right. That is Voyager!”). Brushing teeth has suddenly gone from being the bane of evil to a golden opportunity for the Enterprise to explore the rocky plains of DanDanMouth.

I’d never thought I’d be reduced to singing the Star Trek theme song to the beat of brushing my son’s molars, but whatever works, my friends. Whatever works. It’s a step up from singing the brushing song from Teletubbies.

There is one drawback to this. Whenever Seven of Nine shows up, my son drools. I don’t know if this is still a throwback to his babyish ways, or if he’s just mimicking his father…

* * *

So far this week, I’ve been to the hospital twice. Once to get some labwork done to check my cholesterol, once to take a friend in for minor surgery. I’ll probably be going back again soon since another friend will be having a baby soon.

It’s nice to visit a hospital nowadays without a cloud of horrible, horrible anxiety and dread going through you.

Last summer, Daniel got a febrile seizure that landed him in a hospital. We would’ve simply sweated it out if it wasn’t for the fact that he got the seizure not in our hometown, but way in California. The day of my sister-in-law’s wedding. The one I was supposed to be the matron-of-honor.

That day, a hospital became an instrument of torture. Hearing Daniel screaming, “All done! All done!” Watching the nurses mess up getting blood out of him. Having to return the next day and waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting…more blood tests… more screaming…waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting…learning that the blood tests got messed up because the nurses waited too long…

I remember looking out of the window at the parking lot and seeing the California sky darken to dusk and thinking, This is hell. Absolutely hell. Not knowing a thing, hearing my son screaming in pain. This is absolute, absolute. Hell.

Today, I sat in the hospital with a very efficient staff who actually let us know what was happening, step by step. The wait time went by very fast, and they had orderlies who personally brought me a cranberry juice drink and told me to relax, things will go fine. Dang, they even had reclining chairs for us.

It’s been a while since I’ve been at a hospital and thought, Hey. This is nice. Reeeeallly nice.

Figures it would be in Naperville.

* * *

I was telling my dear hubby about some things that’s been happening in Willow. Things I’ve never expected; a simple scene has suddenly taken off in a new direction, landing my characters in extreme danger. I let the scene go on, letting it build and build, and just when things got really hard, suddenly the bad guys came into the mix…

And the chapter ended. Right there on a cliffhanger. I wanted to scream, Augh! What happens next? I wanna know what happens next!

Which is goofy, because I already know what happens next. The scene has already played this new development in my mind over and over, turning a jigsaw puzzle piece this way and that, trying to figure out how fits into the story. But in a strange way, I also know that once I put my fingers to the keyboard and the words start stuttering out, then, basically, anything goes. What I have planned for weeks (sometimes, even months) may not necessarily end up that way.

My hubby shook his head. “The way you’re telling it, it’s like you’re reading the story at the same time that you’re writing it.” And I thought to myself. Yeah. In a sense, I am.

Technically, I’m this book’s first reader. And if I’m at the edge of my seat reading this stuff as it comes out, hopefully someone else will be.

* * *

Final thought. I realize that I’m probably ripping off Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper in doing my blog this way. But it’s not plagiarism. Really. It’s not. It’s a homage. Yeah, that’s what I’ll call it. Homage.

“Full-time” Writer revisited (or Disciplined? Bwhahaha!)

I’m writing this in response to my friend Chris’s comment at Write and Whine yesterday in that I’m a disciplined writer. At first, I was just going to comment with a sarcastic “Ha!”, but then I realized that the tonality of hilarity bordering slightly on hysteria would probably be lost.

When I spoke to Tad Williams a couple of years ago, I asked how he got through those early years of his kids being young. He looked at me and said, “Daycare. You gotta get daycare.” Boy oh boy is he right. I think I would go insane if Daniel didn’t spend six hours a week in daycare. Three hours of alone time on Tuesdays and Thursdays to spend extra time on my book is worth paying for.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m actually writing during that time.

Time is a funny thing. When you suddenly get a big load of it dumped into your lap and told, “Okay, do whatever you want with it,” you get giddy. You don’t think of investing it to get a bigger yield. You think, “All right! I’m going shopping!!!” Before long, you’ve wasted most of it before you realize, “Yikes! I better salvage what’s left.” And that’s around the time you really get productive. As weeks pass, however, you get better. You start managing the time you have better. You grow more productive. Oh, you still waste it here and there, but now you know how to manage the time enough to allow for the occasional spending spree. In fact, wasting a little time could be good for you, if you know how to use it wisely.

To illustrate that bunch of drivel I just wrote, let’s go back to a Tuesday morning in January, when I first started out this “full-time” thing:

9:05am Just dropped Daniel off at daycare, expecting tears and drama, but instead, Daniel goes “Bye!” and rushes off. Called out at least give me a hug, but he’s gone, daddy, gone, to play with the train set.

9:15 Get into the house and peel off my clothes. Start putting dishes in the dishwasher, cleaning swiftly downstairs.

9:45 Spend five minutes trying to get through to Eric & Kathy for John Mayer tickets. Can’t even get through.

9:50 Put some water in the microwave for tea. Head upstairs to check email.

9:55 Start responding to an email about world building and epic fantasy

10:07 Realizing I’m spending too much time on the email. Put it in drafts and pull up Chapter 44 of Willow. Read over what I’ve written.

10:08 Write, write, write.

10:12 Get stumped for a word. Do some knitting while I think.

10:14 Write, write, write.

10:23 Start writing about Coren teaching Joshua to throw knives, then realize that since Coren is from Dyria, would she have more of an African throwing knife? Decide to jump on Wikipedia to investigate.

10:27 African throwing knives look like that? Oh, my goodness, if Coren threw that she will mess people up!!! And no way would Joshua practice with that; he would cut himself looking at it!

10:30 This stuff about African weapons is amazing! Do you know that most Africa weapons can also be used for money?

10:39 Decide to look into African archery while I look up weapons.

10:42 Ack! Need to start writing! Write, write, write,

10:45 Can’t write…those knives are going through my head. And wait a second…since Coren got caught in Joshua’s village, would she even have her knives anymore? Joshua’s father would’ve confiscated them. Need to think. Do some more knitting.

10:46 Getting sleepy….

10:59 After getting up from a quick nap, open up my journal and start freewriting about Coren’s weapons.

11:12 Think I got it together on Coren’s weapons. Go back to the chapter. Write, write, write.

11:32 Getting thirsty…hey! Where’s my tea? Oh, man, I forget to get it from the microwave.

11:33 Come back upstairs with cold tea and write, write, write.

11:48 What? I got killed by a newt while helpless? Stupid Nethack game…

11:50 Write, write, write.

11:58 Quickly save my work, jump into the boots, and jump in the car to get Daniel.

12:07pm Wrestle Daniel into his coat as he screams and flails his arms, shouting, “No go! No go!” Throw him over my shoulder to take him back home.

2:05pm Come back upstairs to see Daniel on my laptop and a whole bunch of nonsense typed over what I just wrote, seeing that I forgot to close the writing program. Much screaming and gnashing of teeth follows before I remember that I saved the file.

3:05pm After throwing Daniel’s little butt in bed for a nap, reopen the writing program. Daniel’s handiwork is still there. Oh yeah. Forgot about the autosave feature. Crap.

Okay, that went a little longer than necessary, and now, I forgot about the point I was trying to make. Something about discipline. Maybe I’ll do some more knitting while I think about it…

Book Review: Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2006

Year's Best 2006I was a little leery of picking up another anthology of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, especially after the 2004 stinker I read in October. But when I saw the 2006 collection at the library, I had to pick it up. It’s the most up-to-date version I’ve read.

I was pleased to see that the stories in this book were more palatable and not laden with swear words in nearly every story. There was also a good balance of fantasy and horror. I was also surprised to see that there weren’t many famous authors like Peter Straub or Neil Gaiman in this book: Charles de Lint did an essay on Music in 2005 and China Mieville collaborated with two other people on a story. But I only recognized a couple of authors in this book from previous collections, so I like how this is mostly featuring up and coming authors. Stories that stood out to me most:

The Mushroom Duchess by Deborah Roggie: A fairy tale on a duchess who uses mushrooms to keep her family in line.

Kronia by Elizabeth Hand: beautiful fractured tale that deals with alternate worlds.

Boatman’s Holiday by Jeffrey Ford: Even the Dealer of Death needs to take a vacation

The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai by Geoff Ryman: A folktale set in a mythical Asia

The Ball Room by China Mieville, Emma Bircham and Max Schafer: One of my favorites…after reading this, I think twice about taking my son to any place that have those ball pits. Especially places that shall remained nameless but sell cheap Swedish furniture.

Cruel Sistah by Nisi Shawl: The story I mentioned by an African-American woman in a previous blog post. Creepy. I may be the oldest sister in my family, but at least I haven’t tried to kill my sisters (at least…not to my knowledge…)

My Father’s Mask by Joe Hill: This story, by far, freaked me out the most. He could have taken a more darker, gorier direction with this story about family who goes up to a campsite around Halloween, but the fact he doesn’t is akin to someone holding a finger right above your eye. “Does this bother you? Does it? Does it?” Brrrr….

The Guggenheim Lovers by Isabel Allende: The fact that this followed My Father’s Mask made for a sweet read. After being completely freaked out, it was nice to have something fun and light. Made me want to travel to the Guggenheim myself, see if I can slip in afterhours with my hubby and see if I get transported to a different place, too.

So I had fun with this anthology. It didn’t have me cowering under my bed, sucking my thumb, but it made me believe that one day, maybe I will have a story in that collection. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading the collections. This book gets four masks out of five. And if you happen to be in a Swedish furniture superstore over by the kid’s section, and your older sister (who in fact is your mother) offers to play cards with you in the ball room with a kid wearing a plastic mask…run. Just run.

Edit: I just learned of a website that interviewed Ellen Datlow, who edits the Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies. Very interesting interview. You can find it at the Writer’s Group blog.

Ah well, this XTC is over…

Yesterday, I was going to do a blog about all the snow that got dumped on us Tuesday. As I was checking email, I came across a link from the Onion that had an interview with Andy Partridge, frontman of XTC. Being a huge fan of the band, I clicked the link. The name of the interview: XTC “Well and Truly in the Fridge“.

From the interview: “Partridge says, “At the moment, XTC is well and truly in the fridge. Purely, really, for the reason that [partner] Colin [Moulding] doesn’t want to write anymore. He’s either taking a break, or that break could become permanently in place. He told me some months back that he’s not interested in music anymore, and doesn’t want to write, and basically said, ‘Our paths will cross again or they’ll be involved in some way.’ And then he proceeded to move away from his house– I have no idea where he’s living right now, I have no idea what his phone number is, don’t really know how to contact him, and so Colin is obviously wanting to leave the world to some extent. And I guess he’s got the right to do that, so I’m not going to pester him and say, ‘Come on, what’s the matter with you, get it together.'”

There’s a certain sorrow that comes in learning that a band that you centered your whole life around has called it quits. It’s not like your favorite musician has died. No, that’s a different sorrow, one I hope don’t have to go through for a long time. The people who are in XTC are still alive. They’ve just gone their separate ways.

This is not an obituary, but a remembrance.

XTC was the first secular band I really got into. It was the early 90s; I was living at home with my folks after ‘leaving’ Northern Illinois after two years. I was in a strange fugue; most of my friends were still in Dekalb, and my family had moved to the south suburbs, where we were surrounded by cornstalks. I spent most of my days in my room, trying to recapture the college life, but really, just moped around, talking on the phone a lot and watching a lot of TV.

Around that time, I started listening to alternative rock. I still listened to Christian music, though I was beginning to drift from regular Christian pop to Christian rock. I had just ‘discovered’ Phil Keaggy, and was blown away by his lyrics as well as his guitar playing. But I also listened to stations like WXRT (which I still listen to) and Q101, before they went extremely weird. One day, while driving to work, WXRT played this song called “King for a Day” that sounded like it should be the ending of a movie. Wow, I thought, who sings that?

Turned out to be XTC. I was intrigued. Who is this British band? It took me a long time to get one of their records. I stood in the record store for hours, wondering if I should pick up their latest cassette (because back then, CDs were still suspicious and new) or if I should go with The Replacements instead. I finally went with XTC’s Oranges and Lemons. It was my first secular band, and from there, I glommed onto them like peach jelly on my toddler’s face and hands.

Back then, they were three members: Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and Dave Gregory. Their music is hard to pigeonhole. In their early days, they definitely were punk, but as they grew older, their music evolved into a quirky pop sound. Their lyrics ranged from pure fun:

Oh, my head is spinning like the world and it’s filled with beasts I’ve seen.
Let me put my bag down and I’ll tell you it all right from the start.
Like the scarlet woman who will pick on the boys she thought were green
and the two-faced man who made a hobby of breaking his wife’s heart.

Seems the more I travel
From the foam to the gravel
As the nets unravel
All exotic fish I find like Jason and the Argonauts…
(There may be no golden fleece)
But human riches I’ll release

To social consciousness. Sometimes within the same song:

I was in a land where men force women to hide their facial features
And here in the West it’s just the same but they’re using makeup veils…

I have watched the manimals go by
Buying shoes. Buying sweets. Buying knives.
I have watched the manimals and cried
Buying time. Buying ends to other people lives…

XTC was plagued throughout their career by bad choices and bad management. Sort of reminds me of Barry Hughart and the Bridge of Birds. In the 90s, time between album releases grew longer and longer. The bandmates bickered, and Dave left. Andy and Colin put out two more albums, Apple Venus and Wasp Star (the latter supposed to be Apple Venus volume 2). And that was it. The last two CDs could be considered the last swan dive: lush, orchestraic, a joy to listen to. And yet, it had a feeling that there was something final about it. Something that’s just been confirmed this month.

I’m bummed that Colin is no longer interested in music, but in a sense, I’m not surprised. Times change, people change. It must be sad to learn that what was once your passion in your life no longer is. You mourn, but then you move on to other things. Maybe farming is now his thing. It’s happen before. I doubt that Andy will stop. He’s moved off to other things, getting back together with former band members, doing stuff on his own. He’s releasing a CD of jazz improvisation in April. So, the spirit of XTC will carry on in Andy. Which is good.

Still…XTC, you were one of my favorite bands. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss the fun. I’ll miss the guitars. I’ll miss the quirky way that you name your albums by using a fragment of a song lyric from the previous album. I don’t care if you are agnostic. I’ll miss you all. Godspeed.

I Reject Your Reality and Substitute my Own

I think I’m getting a better handle on how to deal with rejection letters. Not that I dance with joy whenever one shows up in my inbox (“Oh, thank you, sir! May I have another?”), but I’m no longer freaking out. I’m even beginning to recognize “good” rejection letters.

I got one on Sunday for my short story “Crowntree” from a market that is labeled one of the hardest to break into. Frankly, I didn’t expect it to last long there. Back in December, I got an email from them and I figured, “Feh, another reject. Better get ready to send to another place.” Instead, it said that it had passed the initial reader and had gone to the editors for further review.

Of course, per Sunday, I didn’t get in. But it’s still heartening. It shows that at least one person liked my story enough to pass it to the higher levels. In fact, that may work in my favor if I send another story their way. And it just so happens that I’m working on a story now that might woo them. When I send it to them, I’ll put in the cover letter, “You may have passed on ‘Crowntree’, but maybe you’ll like this…”

That’s the thing with rejections. The writing experts tell you not to take it personally, just take note of it and move your story on. But you can learn a lot from rejections. If you get a whole slew of generic form letters in a row (and I’m not talking about a measly one or two. I’m talking ten or fifteen), then maybe you should take a look at revising your story. If you get some that say, “I really enjoyed this story, but it’s not what we’re looking for right now”, or “we can only fit so many stories into our magazine”, it means that you got something–you don’t have to worry about revising–but maybe you should change your submission strategy. Maybe.

I have a list of markets for my work, so when I get rejection, I mope over it a couple of seconds, then turn around and send it to the next one on my list. Occasionally, I do revisit my list, to see if I can add to it or if there are any markets I need to take off. And I always, always verify my information on the market I’m about to send to. ‘Twill suck if I send a story off, only to get a screaming email back, “It’s not our reading period.”

Finally, I’m learning not to sweat it. Rejection is part of a writer’s life. And really, I’ve just started sending stuff out. I’m still walking about on toddler’s legs with just a couple of stories circulating. I need to get out more stuff. Conversely, I need to write more stuff, because with each story I write, I get better. At least, that’s the theory, anyway. Hey, as far as I know, the stuff I’m writing could be mere drivel, with people merely humoring me in telling me that it’s good stuff…

Nope. Not going to listen to that. La, la, la…got my fingers in my ears…la, la, la…my writing is great. I am a great writer. I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me…

Daniel’s word of the day going bi-monthly

I’ve come to a realization: I’m running out of things to put in the “Daniel’s Word of the Week” box.

When I first created the box, it was fun. Daniel was babbling out so many things that made sense only to him, it was easy to phonetically record his words, with hilarious results. I figured he had so many, I can have enough material to do it until he at least turn three.

To my surprise, that well is drying up faster than I thought.

My son, who previously only dipped his toe into the wordpool, has decided to cannonball in. Over the past few weeks, his word usage has increases exponentially, to the effect it almost leaves my head spinning. It started when he suddenly realized he existed in that important pronoun: “I”.

“I want Cheerios,” he’ll say pointing to the refrigerator. I’ll frown at him.

“What do you say?”

A wide grin will cross his face. “Pleeeeeeease!”

He’ll come in later, wiping his tears away, “Mommy, I feel sad.”

“You’re sad? Why?”

“It’s James,” he’ll point to his train, which has disconnected its cars and he has tried to put together again with little success.

Stuff he used to garble he’ll say as clear as day now. No longer does he say “Sore ezz.” He’ll gladly call out “Dinosaur!” He’ll even name certain types. “Brontosaur!” “Trachydon!” I didn’t even knew there was a dinosaur called a trachydon.

What gets me is that he’s beginning to understand concepts we, as adults, take fully for granted. When playing with his trains, he’ll say, “Faster!” and the train will race along the floor. “Slower!” The engine creeps. “Stop!” He’ll say; the train grumbles to a halt. “Go!” The train chugs along.

Right before my eyes, my son is emerging from his baby chrysalis. Oh, the tantrums and the diapers still remind me that, yes, he still has a long way to go. But one day, I’m going to turn around, and a snot-nosed child will be standing where a snot-nose toddler used to be, saying, “Mom! We gotta go to Ryan’s house! He’s got a new train set I just gotta see!”

Actually, he does say that now, though it’s more like “Ryan’s house? Train! Let’s go, Mommy, let’s go!”

I’m not going to do away with the Word of the Day, but I think I’ll slow down and go bi-monthly, updating it on the 1st and the 15th. Daniel still has a few gems up his sleeve. I need to record his babyish words as long as he still is a baby. It reminds me of the fun side of being a toddler.

Besides, if I don’t, his grandma will kill me.

A cold, cold loss indeed…

There’s something different about Chicago this week. A lot of gray skies, a lot of hunkered heads. The air seems just a little more colder. The atmosphere around a lot of people seem more frostier…

Ah. I can’t do it. I’m trying to dredge up some misery for the Bears losing the Superbowl, but I can’t do it. It’s just too cold.

Maybe this is more than just coincidence. People talk about when something great happens, the skies are sunny and the air is warm, and it seems that the weather is in agreement. This week, though, that hasn’t happened. The temperature was already in the single digits when the Bears took the field in sunny South Beach. Wait strike that…wasn’t sunny. It was pouring sheets, buckets, cows… I had missed the first and only stunning touchdown the Bears made because my glasses had fogged up from coming in from the cold. I had to squint close to the TV to try to see the replay, making the people in the room shout, “Hey! Move out of the way!”

Normally, I don’t care about the Superbowl. Used to be I just watch it for the commercials, but nowadays even the commercials suck. But this year was a lot of fun. Even my non-sports hubby, who could care less about a bunch of men ripping each other to shreds, sat through several games whereas I became a rapid, foaming at the mouth fan. (Eh, I figured, if I’m going to watch the game, might as well go all the way and have fun yelling at it too).

But Sunday’s Superbowl was painful. Gotta hand it to Indiana, they whipped our butts good. I kept thinking that this was the same as most Bears games had gone; they do great first quarter, they falter in the second and third, and in the fourth, they stage a stunning comeback. They’ve been doing that mostly all season. Well, where it really counts, it didn’t happen. The Bears were never able to recover.

And even now, I’m wondering why the heck I’m writing this. Never thought I write a blog about football. I’ve never been much of a huge sports fan. I never even cared too much about the Bears games until madness. Heck, I don’t feel too bad about our loss–I’ve always considered Indiana as a younger sister state, one big, bad, Illinois loved to tease and yank the pigtails on and give the occasional noogie. I guess on Sunday, that younger sister retaliated with an uppercut that left the older sister flat on her back, going, “What happened? What I do?”

Maybe I do feel the Bears loss a lot more deeply than I thought. Maybe it’s a letdown because there’s been so much hype over it, now we don’t have anything to show for it. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time we’ve ever experienced such a loss at a Superbowl.

Or maybe it’s the cold.

Eh, we’ll get over it. No one wants to attend a celebratory parade in temperatures that matches my son’s age. Spring training is in just a few weeks. There’s always the White Sox to consider getting another World Series. And after all, like my hubby said, it’s just a game. Life moves on.

Hey, it could’ve always been worse. We could’ve lost to the Green Bay Packers. Now that would’ve really sucked.