A Month of Letters

I do believe I’m sick of Facebook.

This afternoon, I sat down and counted all that was posted my FB  stream until I reached the bottom of the page (in writer’s circles, this can be either considered research or procrastination. I’ll let you decide).

Overall, I counted 154 posts. 54 of those were actual status updates that was personal (though one was a paste and copy meme). The rest broke down to:

63 links to articles, blogs, rants.

6 personal uploaded photos.

31 pictures, which consisted of cartoons, political statements, Venn graphs, memes, pithy sayings, people holding up handwritten notes, and…in one case that got me into this rant thing in the first place, a social media meme that someone printed out and taped to the wall. I mean…really? Why would you go from this?

social media explained

To this?

Copy of social media explained


Now, before you say, idiot, if you got a problem go get on Twitter. Or Google Plus–no one’s over there. I like Facebook. I like the sharing of ideas. I like meeting new people and being exposed to new music or shows, or getting inspired or cheered. I like the whole idea of personally connecting with someone across miles or even continents. But lately, I’ve been feeling overloaded. Too much information, but no substance.

Enter the Month of Letters.


This is the brainchild of Mary Robinette Kowal, an awesome writer and puppeteer who will be the Guest of Honor at Mo*Con this year. She’s proposing that February be a month where people will dial down and go back to the very first social media: writing letters. The idea is simple:

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs.  Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

Recently, I’ve started a new short story in a wirebound notebook . I’ve forgotten how nice it is to be able to whip out a pen anywhere, anytime and scratch down a few sentences. A few months back, I was going through some of my old letters from high school and college, and I was amazed at how heartfelt those letters were. Pen and ink can be seductive, comforting, and fun. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten that.

So, I’m going to do it. I’m going to write a letter each day in February. I got several people already I want to write to, but if you also want a letter from me, either send me a message on Facebook or Google Plus, or DM me on Twitter (yes, I know the irony of using social media for this). You can even leave a comment on my blog and we’ll get in touch. And if you are already participating in A Month of Letters and want my address, let me know!

This is going to be fun. Now I’ll have to dig out all that stationary I’ve been saving for no particular reason, and figure out what kind of stamps to buy. Fruit? Black History Month? The Garden of Loooooove?


How Anime Changed my Life (actually, not really, but I need a title for this Speak Out with Your Geek Out post, and this is all I can come up with on a Saturday night)

I never wanted to get into anime.

Anime was for weirdos. Perverts. One of the guys on my dorm floor had La Blue Girl and a bunch of people watched it, late at night. It was…pretty gross to watch. And then there was all the comic books he had. I remember taking one off the shelf and flipping through it. It had a little fairy. How cute, I thought, and flipped the page. The fairy had been caught in a spider web, and the spider was coming towards her with appendages that definitely wasn’t what you saw on a normal spider, uh-uh. Then to make it up, the guy showed us Akira. Which didn’t have sex. Oh no. Just an overinflated guy oozing pus and blood floating over Tokyo.

I decided not to watch anymore.

Being a good little Christian girl, I avoided anime as much as I could. Anime was nothing but porn, and if it wasn’t porn, it was violent. And if it wasn’t violent, it was weird. If you’re especially lucky, it was all three. So how did I get sucked into it?

Blame my youngest sister.

Sometime between 1993 and 1995, don’t ask me when because that’s all one huge blur (and no, it wasn’t due to partying–I was working full-time as a secretary and going to classes at night and then crashing to sleep, then work, class, study, sleep, work, class, study, sleep), my mother asked me to stay overnight at her house while she left to go to some seminar. She didn’t really trust my younger sisters (teenager and just-out-of-teenage-years) to behave themselves while she was gone, so I was to be "adult supervision". I didn’t really want to, since it meant me getting up at a god-awful hour to take the train into work, but somehow, she convinced me to do it.

So on Friday, I got up, groggy, and stumbled into my youngest sister’s room to let her know I was heading off to work. To my surprise, she was already up: and watching cartoons. On screen, a group of girls appeared to be stuck in a wall while a monster roared at them. Okay, weird superhero show, I thought. I was about to leave when one of the girls, a blonde pigtailed girl, raised something up and yelled "Moon…Prism…POWER!!!"

And there were sparkles. And lights. And twinkles. And make up. And as I stood there, slack-jawed, the girl twirled around as ribbons appeared on her arms and legs and she struck a pose. And then she proclaimed:

"I AM SAILOR MOON!" (arm criss-cross) "DEFENDER OF JUSTICE." (arm swoop) "I FIGHT WRONGS AND TRIUMPH OVER EVIL!" (turn, pose) IN THE NAME OF THE MOON…" (pause, weird point of fingers) "I WILL PUNISH YOU!"

And then she proceeded to fight. Not like a superhero though. No. Sailor Moon was a horrible fighter. She ran, she screamed, she wailed, she ducked. And when she finally did dust the bad monster (in a musical flourish that lasted at least a minute), it was more out of coincidence than skill. It went against every single superhero stereotype I knew.

"What a stupid show," I said.

The following Monday, I had to get up at another god-awful early hour because I had to go into work early. So because I wanted something to keep me occupied, I flipped on the TV, flipped through the channels and hey look, there’s Sailor Moon again…and they found the fifth member of the team, Sailor Venus. But was she the princess they were looking for? "Probably not," I thought, and went to work.

On Tuesday, I didn’t have to get up early, but at 6:30 I rolled over and turned on the TV just to see if my hunch was right. Of course it Sailor Moon was, which wasn’t all that surprising….I mean…I could’ve seen it a while away…

On Wednesday, I got up *before* 6:30 so by the time Sailor Moon came on, I would be eating breakfast and hey, look at that, Darien *was* Tuxedo Mask all the time, but now he’s being brainwashed by Beryl and…duuuuude….how could he be so mean to her? He and Sailor Moon were destined to be together…

By Thursday, I was hooked.

The following week, the Sailor Scouts stormed Beryl’s stronghold and one by one got "captured" by the Negaverse, which didn’t make sense because you never saw them actually captured. In fact there were some scenes that indicated something happened, but it got edited or cut. I became suspicious. So I went online…and discovered a whole slew of Sailor Moon information, including the fact that the Sailor Scouts weren’t captured. They died. And there were video clips.

…and I got hooked.

This was during the early days of the internet when webpages were still new and strange and wondrous.  The fact that I could *go* online and find out things about Sailor Moon was relatively new. It was like looking at a mirror that you see every day, then one day, getting the urge to take a coin and scratch off the surface, like those scratch and win cards, and uncovering a deeper universe. From my searching, I was able to see that the actual Japanese ending was more intense than the DIC English ending. I learned there were more seasons. I learned there were movies. And I learned there were fanfics.

Before forums, before Facebook, there was the Fanfic Mailing List. It was a community of people who loved to make up stories based on their favorite anime. And they didn’t put up with junk stories either. There were whole threads dedicated to grammar, punctuation, developing characters, making sure they remained in character, even how not to descend into Japanese stereotypes. It was our own writers group, and it was there I leaned the basics of writing story. You could even say that being on that list changed my life, because it was there that I got the courage to start writing stories. But that’s another blog post, which you can read some other time.

The FFML was where I learned about Ranma 1/2, another anime series. They had had several episodes at my local video store, but I had avoided it because on the back it had the blurb: "A romping sex comedy!" From reading the fanfics though, it didn’t seem to be the pornographic show I thought it would be. I finally gathered up the courage to rent it, and was delighted to learn it had nothing to do with sex at all (it did have nudity in it–granted, but more of the comedic kind.), but it had to do more with martial arts and engagements and two kids who liked each other but couldn’t admit it. Pretty soon, I was wolfing down every episode I could find.

It never bothered me that I was watching essentially cartoons. Having grown up with Saturday morning cartoons, I found that I liked the medium. It could be artsy without being overly cute, and you can do so much in animation that you can’t do in real life. Samurai Jack came out around that time and let me tell you, the animation, the storyline, the music, killed. In fact, in the 90s and early 2000s, that could be considered the golden age of animation, both in Japan and America.  I didn’t care I had no life in my college years, because Cartoon Network and Adult Swim was showing awesome anime and cartoons, and it was the bomb.

But for me, anime was what I geeked over. You see, yes, anime could be zany. It could make no sense. But there are other times when the story just sucks you in. I love shows that wrestle with ideas and philosophies and made me care about its characters. And it’s not just me, either. My hubby loves anime as well. We watched every single episode of Full Metal Alchemist on Adult Swim, probably the last great show they’ve done, and I still get choked up by the last couple of episodes. Every few months we host Anime Night at our house–although I’ve been instructed not to show Revolutionary Girl Utena anymore–there are still some weird anime out there.

They say the golden age of anime is over. It’s overgrown with tired schoolgirl harem tropes. And yeah, I’ve grown more selective of the type of anime I watch. It’s so easily accessible, I wonder if all the fun has gone out of tracking it down. I can go on Netflix streaming, or Crunchyroll. I can go to my library. What am I watching now? Ehhh…Deadland Wonderland is interesting, if not a little creepy. I’m watching Ganketsuou: the Count of Monte Cristo because I never saw it in English, and it gives me a chance to focus more on the dizzying graphics. I’ve been heavy into reading Nana.

But other than that–not much. I don’t cosplay, nor do I go to anime cons. I just really want to appreciate a well-drawn story. And with that, I’m happy. Well, that and the fact that I own the entire 18-volume manga series of Sailor Moon. In Japanese. I know more people have much more collections out there, but hey, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of fine manga. And in my memory, there’s only been one series that’s been the best.

Tsuki ni kiwatte, oshiokyo!

First Ever Video Post at the Cafe

Trying a little something new—a video post by Yours Truly. Too busy to watch? Post notes are below!

0:00 Hi there!
0:53 Why am I doing this anyway?
1:15 Showing off the new office digs
2:09 Real reason why I’m doing a video: blogging burnout
5:15 Con info: Madcon, A Low Key Gathering with Neil Gaiman (I’m gonna be on a panel there!), Wiscon Book Festival
7:50 NEW STORY! "Out of Such Desperation Are We Born" is up at Expanded Horizons. Go check it out!
8:40 Other writing project updates, including Willow
10:50 Wrapup. Do you like this format? How often should I do it? Once a month? Every few months? Is it a horrible disaster and I should hang my head in shame? Let me know! (well, not the last one. Please be courteous and nice.)

Blogish Musings on a Rainy Day

As my life continue its shake-up towards new possibilities and destinations, I’ve been pondering more about the role this blog plays. Don’t worry, I’m not shutting it down. Don’t you even start thinking that’s where I’m going with this.

I do want this blog to be more, though, than just a place where I ramble on about my works, my kid, post a link or two and that’s it. I’ve been thinking about expanding the menu, if you will, on what the Cafe has to offer.

One thing I would like to do is start doing a favorite website/blog of the week. There’s a lot of good information contained at some of these sites that I want to share, but unless you’re familiar with them already, you’re not going to click on them. So starting tomorrow, I’ll do a short feature on a website that I like. Some are writing sites, some are parenting sites, some offer podcasts, and some are just fun to visit.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of doing short story reviews as well as book reviews. From what I’ve seen of the traffic that comes to the Cafe, a lot of people love the book reviews. Is there a way to get some of them excited about short stories as well? It’s hard to say, especially in this time where television appears to be the new short story medium. But I think it would be nice to include short stories in my reviews. Give some exposure to some deserving short story writers–and warn people away from badly written ones.

I also want to start linking more to writing advice and publishing news. It’s a good way to get the word out to my fellow writers out there. And it will force me to keep up with the times, too. Doesn’t hurt to be knowledgeable about such things, eh?

Hmm…I guess I need to set a schedule for myself. I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do (and what I’ll be able to do) by next week. There is, after all, a motive for this madness.

So stay tuned! Some good changes are in store!

Happy 1st Anniversary!

I just realized that the Cafe in the Woods has just completed its first year.

How about that? A full year of blogging. It doesn’t really feel like it. Seems like yesterday that I got this WordPress account and started writing. And in the time I started it, I did NaNoWRiMo, sold a couple of stories, poems, and essays, did a whole lot of book reviews, got my kid started on potty training, and I wrote a book. How’s that for productivity?

The whole idea of opening the Cafe was a place for me to share things. I didn’t want it to be a political forum or navel-gazing (though I’m pretty sure I had entries that came close). I just wanted this to be a place to talk about the craft of writing and the craft of motherhood. And the occasional rant when the crafts appear to take on leaks. And it looks like I’ve succeeded.

But I also want this to be for your benefit as well. Blogs are nice for vent, but really great blogs give their readers something to think about, entertain them, give them a chance to commiserate or give advice. So here’s some questions to all the readers who come to the Cafe, both the regulars and those who stop in on their way to someplace else: is there anything else you would like to see here at the Cafe? Are the entries too long? Too short? Would you like to read more about the writing life? Perhaps see more links to writing articles? Does the motherhood entries clash with the writing? Do you want to see more motherhood stuff? Less? Are you completely sick of Daniel? How can you be sick of Daniel? Look at him! He’s cute! Look at those curls…that impish smile…those pudgy cheeks. You can’t be sick of him! In fact, I’m going to to have more of Daniel! More, More, MORE! I’ll saturate these pages and–

Whoops. Got a little carried away there.

Anyhoo, thank you so much for coming to the Cafe. It’s been a wonderful year, and I’m looking forward to what the next year will hold. Thank you for all your comments and emails, and feel free to let others know of this place. We’re always open.

The Cafe is Closed for Vacation

Actually, my in-laws are in town. Since they bring a whirlwind of activity whenever they come, I probably won’t be able to do any blogging until at least next Tuesday. But feel free to check out the archives. Play around with the Tag Cloud that’s in the sidebar. Or check out some of the other blogs listed.

Or…why even stay hooked to the computer. Go outside. It’s a nice day. Hear that? Those are birds chirping. The sky is blue, the air is warm…unless you’re in the Antarctic…in that case, well…you’re outta luck, pal…

Are blog posts considered previously published?

So I’m facing my first dilemma.

I learned of an anthology that’s publishing essays which deadline is due at the end of this month. As I read their essay topics, I thought “You know what would be perfect? My story on meeting Tad Williams at the Festival last year.” It would be perfect. I know it will work well…

Except I’ve already posted it here as a blog entry. D’oh!

That brings me to my first ethical question as a blogger. Is what I posted considered ‘previously published’? We writers who blog are cautioned on posting stories, poems and other fictional works on their blogs because technically, it’s in a format where millions of people (or in my case, dozens) have the potential to see it. That’s why if you do post a story, you should only do so if you want publicity. Sort of a sample of what your writing is like. If you do want to send it to a magazine, you’ll have to check with them first to see if they’ll accept it.

But nonfiction seems to be a different matter. There are some magazines who, if they like a blog entry, will contact the blogger to see if they could publish it. Writers who advocate blogging say they get ideas from the posts they write. Heck, there are people who published books off of their blog entries called blooks. (And may I add a quick plug here? One of my writing list mates just got hers published. D.S. White’s Age is Just a Number just came out in paperback. Pop on over and check it out–and I gotta say, her website inspires me on how to decorate my own…)

So do the same rules apply? Does that blog entry hurt my chances on submitting it to this anthology? I did some quick research on the net here and here, asked some friends of mine, and the general consensus seems to be: yes, I should treat it as a previously published article; however, if you substantially rewrite the article, it should be able to stand on its own as a new article. That’s basically the same with any nonfiction article you write–it can be written a number of different ways and each can be considered a new article.

So I dug out my journal and compared it to the blog entry I wrote. Immediately I already see there are lots of errors in the entry. It wasn’t the 2nd annual Festival this year, it was the 4th. I didn’t meet Tad on Sunday–it was actually a Saturday. Blog writing is so raw because you’re writing it on the fly (and if you’re like me today, writing it at 7am before that first jolt of caffeine kicks in). That’s what I like about it. But it’s also embarrassing to see so many errors in that posting I’m almost tempting to take it down. It’s not like scads of people will suddenly wonder where it’s disappeared to…just only a couple of readers who commented on it. But if I did that, just take the posting down without mentioning it, well, those couple of readers will still know. And so will I. You don’t want to alienate readers when posts start disappearing for no reason at all.

That’s why I’m mentioning it here right now, in case, I actually do take it down. The actual essay would be vastly different from what I posted online, but I still feel uncomfortable with so many errors in it. I don’t want to become another William Frey. But leaving it up is also, it’s a form of protection for myself. If a writer–a very unsavory, unscrupulous, writer–stumbles across this post and decides, “Hey, I’m going to take this post and submit it as my own.” I can have this post as a backup, saying. “Nope. All that false information is still mine, and I got the timestamp to prove it!”

And as for the anthology, it looks like they accept previously published material anyway, so I shrug my shoulders, refill my teacup, and get cracking on editing that essay.

How a Writer deals with Blog Blah Blues…

This is growing into an addiction.

Blogging is taking over my writing life, bit by bit. When I check my email, I instantly pop over to the website to see if anyone’s commented (sure, I get updates via email, but why sit and wait for email to come in when I can just click the link on my shortcut toolbar anytime and pop right into the Cafe? Those trees are therapeutic!). I agonize over blog stats. (Why is it that I had 10 readers for my blog last week, but only 2 yesterday? Whyyy!) I know terms now that I’ve could’ve cared less about a month ago. Tags were what was on the back of shirts. Blog rolls? Isn’t that a misshapen doughnut? Trackback? Is that following someone backwards?

Meanwhile, as I plot out what I’ll write here for the next few weeks, my other writing suffers tremendously. Now granted, this week was quite busy because we did a garage sale, and that normally turns my hubby and I into rabid Dobermans anyway, but still. This week’s chapter of Willow was crap. Utter crap. I’m tempted to just delete it and start over from scratch, longhand.

This is what I’d feared would happen when I started blogging–that everything I hold dear as a writer would get eaten up by the Hungry Blogging Monster!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that bit of hysteria out of my system, I can now look at things more reasonably:

New tools are always fun to play with.

When I got the writing program “Writer’s Cafe”, I spent a good couple of weeks just playing around with it. My writing suffered quite a bit, but I still had a lot of fun with it. It was my way to learn how the program work. Eventually, I settled down and started using the program more efficiently, though every once in a while, I still play around with it.

Blogging’s the same thing. It’s just a tool that writers can utilize, but they have to learn how it works. In order for me to turn this blog into a superpowered promotional machine, I have to play with the nuts and bolts. And if that means getting the Write-o-Meter juuuust right, then so be it!

Like regular writing, blogging needs to be scheduled.

Being a stay at home Mom, you would think I’d have time galore to write. Reality really bit down hard on that. There are two times when I do my writing–when Daniel’s taking a nap, and after he goes to bed. If I’m going to blog regularly, I need to find time just to devote to it. I got such little time as it is, and I can’t take time away from my regular writing to blog. This may be one of those things that I may actually have to drag myself out of bed for. Well…I’ve been meaning to get up early anyway…

Building a good blog takes time. Be patient.

Come on. I just started this blog a week ago. There’s no way I’ll have billions of people logging on just to read my ramblings. According to the August 2006 issue of Computer Shopper, a new blog is created every 5.8 seconds. This blog is just a blip, a gasp of breath. You blink, and my blog’s already old news.

(And before you wonder how I knew about this article, my hubbie’s not the only one to flip through magazines while using the facilities…)

So how do I increase my readership? I read articles like the one above. I tell people–friends, relatives, the mailman, about my blog. I print out business cards (which, as a writer, I should have. It is a self-employed business, after all). I comment on other blogs. And finally, I write. I write. I write. To keep all you readers coming back, I need to write.

So to all of you reading this now, thank you for stopping by. When I’m famous, you can boast that you were here at the beginning. And remember, the Cafe is always open for business. I’ll make sure to have something simmering on the stove every day.

P.S. BTW, for all you writers, check out “Writer’s Cafe”. It’s an awesome program that doesn’t tell you how to write, but it helps you create.