Saturday Links: Educational, Functional and Just Plain Fun!

I got three links on today’s menu for your reading pleasure.

The first one is a educational initiative. Long ago, a while back, I wrote about watching the 1st season of Electric Company. Well, it looks like they want to bring it back. The people behind the Sesame Street Workshop are applying for a $1.5 million project grant from American Express–but they need votes to get their project, ‘Bridging the Literacy Gap for Millions of Kids’, nominated onto the voting round.

The deadline for the first round of voting is September 1, 2008. To vote, go to the Project Voting Page at the American Express website and nominate the ‘Bridging the Literacy Gap for Millions of Kids’ website. You will need to sign up as a Guest Member, but once you do, you’ll be able to vote for the project. Let’s bring the Electric Company back to the airwaves!

The second one has me bouncing on my toes in excitement. A new upgrade has been released for Writer’s Cafe. Far be it from me to promote another cafe here, but Writer’s Cafe is an excellent writer’s program I’ve been using for roughly two years now. It consists of many tools that help you organize your writing: the scrapbook, for instance, keeps track of your research, websites and notes. The Storylines tools is a storyboard where you can pin scenes of your story up and move them around as needed. The program also comes with a journal, a notebook, writing prompts, a timer, and an option to display inspirational quotes and writing tips upon startup of the program.

The new version is vastly improved over the old version: in the past, Storylines and Writer’s Cafe were two separate programs. The upgrade meshes them together in one. It includes a name generator and a pinboard where you can post notes and ideas. It opens on a start page where you can place shortcuts to your works-in-progress, Wikipedia and other pages, shortcuts within the program, etc.

What I like most about Writer’s Cafe program is the technical support. The program was created by Julian and Harriet Smart, the latter being a novelist. They are constantly looking for ways to improve the program and welcome suggestions. While I was beta testing the upgrade, I found myself using the Notebook to freewrite first drafts of stories and wanted to know how many words I’ve written. I suggested this to Julian, and with the next beta release, the word count feature was included in both the Journal and the Notebook! That was pretty nice.

For a download of $45 bucks ($65 if you want a CD-ROM version), it’s well worth the price. If you’re wary, you can download the beta and test it out here. But to me, this is the best writing software out there. Check it out now!

And finally, a YouTube video from CollegeHumor called “Font Conference”, for all you people who work with finding the right font to write in. Enjoy!

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Cleaning + Writing = Happy Writer Mommy

Last week’s experiment turned out to be a success: doing cleaning with Daniel instead of putting him down for a naptime right away works a whole lot better than coming home, putting him down for a nap, then trying to write right away.

When Daniel and I get home, the first thing I do is put on music to clean to. Before, when I brought Daniel from school, we would immediately go into Quiet Time. So after I told Daniel to lie down, I had to sneak around and keep the apartment quiet. Not conducive for cleaning. I like to play loud music. It gets me into a cleaning mood. Now that I have Daniel with me as I clean, it’s not that big a deal. Last week, I played Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child podcasts, and Daniel got into the swing of cleaning along with me…

…Which showed me an unexpected benefit of all this: I’m teaching my son to clean. Before, he would sit before the TV while I’ll be doing the cleaning thing (then again, that was back when we were trying to sell the house in Roselle. Oy…still makes my head hurt thinking of it). Now, I give him small tasks to do. For instance, I let him set a timer for how much time we spend cleaning a room (5 minutes, thanks to FlyLady). I let him run and pick up stuff off the floor to see how fast he can do it. The kid is even cleaning his room now. To be honest, I’m pretty impressed by how much he wants to help. I know in a couple of years, it will be like “Maaaaaa….why do I have to clean noooooowwwww?” So I’m guessing I need to lay in all the groundwork I can.

It usually takes us roughly 30 minutes to get the apartment straightened out, then we do the whole Quiet Time routine of reading a story and putting on soft music to listen to. Then, I can concentrate on my writing, which, at that point, I’m ready to do.

I don’t feel like I’m wasting time anymore. I don’t feel like I need to rush to clean the kitchen before cooking. Overall, it makes for a very happy writer mommy.

A quick update on my latest projects: reading the 1st draft of Willow has finally taken off. I’ve been doing a readthrough of two chapters per week so far. Last week was really nice because I was able to combine two chapters into one, which will hopefully cut down on the word count some. I just need to remind myself that all I’m doing is reading through the story and making notes on what to edit. I’ve been tempted to start editing right there, and I don’t want to do that. Read first, edit later.

I’m also part of a MegaRecap for the Agony Booth. This is where a bunch of writers review a movie 15 minutes per writer. I’m not going to reveal here what we’re reviewing, but let me just say that after this movie, I will never watch a SUV commercial the same way again. (Oyyyy….) Stay tuned for when that gets released.

Now if you excuse me, it’s been a very, very busy weekend. I’m going to bed.

Doing the Clean/Write Juggle (or how to be a part-time writer and a part-time worker mom and still have clean dishes to eat on…)

I’ve just realized that it’s been a long time since I wrote any personal posts.

Not that my life hasn’t been quiet. Far from it. Ever since we’ve moved to Madison, I’ve been getting involved in a lot of things, personal and work-wise. It’s funny–a year ago, then only things taking up my calendar was Mommy and Me stuff: playgroup, MOPS, the occasional get-together with another family. Of course, being here, we’ve been getting to know people, catching up with old friends, making new ones, that it feels like we’ve been doing things nonstop. Which isn’t the case, but you know…

Okay, the real reason I’m writing this is to whine about my apartment being dirty.

I can’t clean it. I just can’t. Not for the lack of trying…well, okay maybe it is for the lack of trying. But it feels like ever since we moved here our apartment’s been junky. I mean really junky. Junk on the table and floor and bed junky.

Part of the problem is that there’s so little space. Our house back in Roselle wasn’t the paragon of purity, but at least it was easy to spread the mess around (or maybe I’m beginning to candy-coat our memories of the place there). Here, make a mess, and pretty soon, we’re stumbling and tripping over it, or pushing it to the side so we can eat, or dumping it in baskets so we can sleep. There’s no place to put all the piles.

Another problem is I’m procrastinating on it. Back in Roselle, I had all the time in the world to clean, because I was a stay-at-home mom. I set a schedule for myself: clean in the mornings, write in the afternoons, cook in the evening. Granted, that didn’t mean that the house still didn’t look Martha-Stewart perfect, but at least I had plenty of time to clean, have fun with Daniel and write. It was easy and fun to juggle.

Here, I work in the mornings, so my cleaning schedule is shot. I have a time window of roughly 4 hours to write and/or clean. I thought that would be easy to handle: bring him home, read him a story, clean write until 5pm, then cook. Except after I put Daniel down, I get sleepy, so I take a nap. A 15-minute nap quickly turns to an hour. Suddenly, it’s 2:30p, and I haven’t done anything. So I get up to clean, but then Daniel, who’s been puttering around his room for about an hour or so, chooses that moment to fall asleep. And seeing that I write better when he’s asleep than not, I figure, well, don’t want to waste his nap; might as well start writing now while I get a chance. So I write, and I get into a good groove, and next think I know it’s 5:30pm. I’ve written a good deal, but the house is still a mess, and I still got to cook, and crickets are coming out of our windows and…

Well, you catch my drift.

I did try to reverse it. Tried to write after I put Daniel down, but I found that I mainly waste that time surfing and checking email. I don’t get down to serious writing until at least 3pm…so logically the time after I put Daniel down should be when I clean, but it doesn’t happen.

This isn’t working.

As I’m sitting here writing this, a thought occurs to me. If Daniel’s not falling asleep until two or even three o’clock, why am I putting him down at one?

I assumed it would be the most logical thing to do. After all, it’s right after he eats lunch. I usually pick him up just as the other kids in his class are going down for their naps. I figured that would be a decent time for him to go down too. But usually, we walk home, and by the time, he’s keyed up from the walk, so it takes a long while for him to settle down.

What if, instead of putting him down immediately, I wait an hour, use that time to clean, and then put him down around 2pm? It would be more in line in how we used to do his naps–I usually waited until 2pm then. I’d be able to make more noise if he’s awake. I can even have him helping me; doesn’t hurt to start instilling cleaning habits now. And with him up and running about, I won’t be tempted to take a nap right away. Even if I did take a nap at 2, that should still give me a couple more hours to write at 3, when I’m in my writing groove.

That might work.

‘Course, this is all speculation. I’ll have to try it out and see. But I hope it does work. If I have a decent clean space by the time I write, I feel better, which means I write better, which means I don’t have to rush about to cook, which means that I’m happier overall.

Now if I can get my hubby to do the dishes every once in a while, I got it made.

Book Review: Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

I am not a philosophy person.

I tried to be, back in college and I took Philosophy 101. I know all about the cave and Aristotle. It’s all nice and heavy, but it doesn’t really have to do with me deciding if I want to make stir fry or spaghetti tonight. That’s how I felt about this book.

This is the story of Lydia. In college, Lydia is fiercely passionate about philosophy and playing Schubert’s Trout on oboe and piano. She and her female friends argue about philosophy, Chaucer’s works, the meaning of life, sophism. Lydia sleeps with a guy, breaks up with him but still remain friends, then marries his roommate. As time goes on, the women continue to meet under the pretext of discussing philosophy, but they all got better things to do with their lives, such as raise families, have careers, usual life stuff. That’s the first half of the book. In the second half, disaster strikes Lydia and her family, and she tries to deal with the consequences by…philosophizing on why philosophy has failed her…

Oh, man, I can’t even finish it. Much like I couldn’t finish the book.

Maybe it’s because I’m not interested in philosophy. Or maybe I am, but not to the level that Schwartz have her characters doing in this book. I like the writing. Schwartz has some great passages in this book, such as when Lydia describes her aftercollege years before she gets married: “I was in a haste to live, and yet everything I did felt suspended in an ether of tentatively…I envisioned real life as a fixed point of arrival…” Lydia collects philosophy quotes like some Christians collect Bible verses. She keeps them in her mirror or in her purse, bringing each quote out again and again in conversations that go on for pages and pages. This is supposed to be heavy and thought-provoking and deep, but really, all Lydia is doing is navel gazing, and gazing at other women’s navels and having long, deep, boring, pedantic conversations. Pedantic. That’s our word for the day, by the way. Pedantic.

Maybe Schwartz shouldn’t have had Lydia as the narrator. Lydia’s life is so mundane, and once the disaster occurs, she becomes so wrapped up in herself, that it feels that none of the other characters want to be around her. Being the reader, I didn’t want to be around her, so I wound up skipping through the second half, mostly. It was just too hard to sympathize with someone who constantly analyzed her feelings over her non-feelings. Granted, what happened to her was tragic, but still, nothing happens. The whole book felt like: navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, FLASH OF INSIGHT, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, TRAGEDY, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, BITTERNESS, navel gazing, navel gazing, OUTSTANDING AND CATHARTIC TROUT PERFORMANCE, navel gazing…

Her friends seemed to have more interesting lives–Nina, who never marries but has an affair with a married man (she does has a wonderful monologue about her parents), Gaby who’s married to a man who loves her more than she loves him, and Esther, crazy, wonderful Esther, who frankly had the most interesting life of them all: going to Israel, marrying a hippie. Oddly enough, towards the end of the book, Esther drops out of Lydia’s life altogether. I bet if she was the narrator rather than Lydia, we would have gotten a better, more interesting story (and perhaps she wouldn’t end up living in a run-down apartment in Washington with 3 cats…)

Oh well. This gets 1 1/2 out of five Trouts, which is a shame because all her talk about the Trout made me go online and actually listen to it, and I agree, it’s a pretty piece and made the book a bit more bearable to read. But as it is, I’m taking it back. It’s been in the sun too long and is starting to stink.

We’re All Connected (the Fun of Networking)

So over the weekend, I succumbed and got myself a LiveJournal account. This after a couple of months of being on Facebook.

It’s not that I’ve been reluctant to get on LiveJournal (that’s more my feelings towards MySpace). On the contrary–I seriously considered it when I decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon. But one look at what they had to offer had me going into a corner and tugging on the few gray hairs that I have. When it comes to networking, I’m more from the old school–underground email lists. The occasional forum or two. I think I missed the LJ boat by ten years–if it had been around in the 90s, I would’ve been all over it, coloring my posts with different avatar icons, moods of the day, the like. As it is, I’m still wondering how I’m gonna coordination LJ with the Cafe. Should I just keep the LJ account so I can keep tabs on friends? Make it more of an anime flavor?

Actually, there’s a more basic reason why I decided to get on LJ (and look at me, already reducing it to an acronym. What next, injecting geekspeak into all my posts? shoing mi mad leet skillz?) It’s all because of Networking.

Establishing a fanbase on the Internet is easy nowadays. Writers aren’t limited to obscure print journals anymore. A whole slew of online publications has opened up where we can send our submissions to, many in which are free to read. So it’s certainly easier to find someone, anyone’s work online. You don’t even need a journal. If a writer is truly desperate, they will put their work up on their own site, themselves. But most likely, they would provide links to where the stories are at online.

But it could sit there forever if no one knows about it. So the writer posts to many different places. Hey, come see my work! He posts it to his friends. He posts it to the forum he’s on. If he’s smart, he’ll put enough tags on it so that it shows up in Google searches. Now he’s getting hits. Not everyone checks out the story, but a few interested individuals do. If the writer is exceptionally good (and this is what separates the average look-at-me-I-can-write-a-story writer from a writer) that person will subscribe to the website and keep a look out for new material from the writer. Pretty soon, he’s built up a fanbase. And if that fanbase really likes his work, then when he does get that book deal, he can put a call out for his fans to buy his books off of Amazon, and they will do it

I’m seeing it happen several times already. Heck, I’m going to be part of it myself. When Mur Lafferty’s book, Playing for Keeps come out in a couple of weeks, I’m going to get it. Even though she already has the whole book out as a podcast. I’m going to support her work, because, well, I’m a fan of her podcast.

So what does this have to do with me being on LJ?

Well, obviously, I’m at the low end of the writer’s spectrum. I got a few short stories out, I’m working on more. I’m putting a lot of time and effort on my work (so much so that it’s been a little hard balancing it with Willow–but that’s a post for another time) But it all doesn’t mean diddley-squat if no one knows it’s out there. One of the first things writers get advised on is establishing a presence out on the Net, so people who read your work will go to a place that has one-stop information about you. It’s why webpages are so important for a writer. But I think it goes deeper than that. I think in order to establish a presence, you not only need to have a webpage, you need to be involved. Actually network with people, so they can remember your name.

So that means getting involved in forums. Leaving comments on blogs. Not being a wallflower. It’s not hyping your writing everywhere you go–that gets obnoxious fast. You simply get out there, make some friends, show off your interests, and leave your website as a calling card. That’s it. That’s all. And the best part is, you gain a lot out of it. You meet new people, get to express your opinion. Gaining more confidence.

So I got LJ up and running. I’ve been pushing myself to get more involved in forums. In fact, I just became a moderator for the Agony Booth forum, which is a new thing for me. And though I can’t say I have a definite fanbase yet, I’m working on it. In fact, I just had someone tell me the other day that they started reading “Daughters of Sarah”, intending to just read a couple of pages, and wound up getting sucked in all the way. She looks forward to reading more of my stuff.

Granted, it’s someone who’s in my writing group, but still…that’s one.

Links of Interest: Keys to Publishing Contest & ARG News

I know the contest has already started, but I wanted to get this link up while the contest is still happening. There’s a contest that the people behind Adventures in SciFI Publishing and I Should Be Writing are collaborating on called “The Keys to Publishing”. You basically listen to their podcasts, starting with AISFP #56 and ISBW #94, listen for the key and write it down, and when you have all six, email them to adventuresinscifipublishing@gmail.com with “Keys” in the title. Two lucky winners will receive a set of books from publishers Tor and Pyr SF, featuring their latest titles.

So why should you care? Because each ‘key’ is given by a well-known author, as well as the reasoning behind that key’s title. Sean Williams, Jay Lake, Tobias S. Buckell, to name a few. And it’s fun to listen to, even if you don’t plan to enter the contest. Either way, aspiring authors will get a lot of it.

The only other link I have today is not a writing one, but a (surprise!) gaming one. After the experience of reading the Artificial Intelligience: A.I. ARG, I decided to take the plunge and try out an ARG for myself. There are many websites that speak about ARGs, but the ones that stood out to me was ARGnet, which blogs about the ongoing ARGs that are in play on the Net, and Unforum, a great forum for players to talk about the latest games as well as post rumors on new ones. Through the both of these, I’ve learned of a game that will be put on, by all places, the Smithsonian called “Luce’s Lover’s Eye”. (You can read an article about it here, and to see the actual entry point into the game, you can go to this page here and find the secret link on the upside down writing). I don’t know what’s going to happen when the game starts in about a month, but I’m sure it’s going to be quite an experience.

Contests and eye games, oh my! Looks like the rest is of my summer is going to be pretty busy. Oh yes, and I’ll be writing. Can’t forget about that. Yeah. Writing.