Monday, March 31, 2008

Sorry About the Interruption

We're back again - even our luggage made it back eventually, though it didn't arrive until past ten last night. My original thought had been that I would blog Mon, Tues and Wed before we left, and then Sunday upon our return, thereby only actually missing three days. Instead of which I blogged none of these days, plus not having actually mentioned on-line that we were going on a trip! Whoops!

The boys and I went up to Boston for four days, visiting A. While we don't have the money for such a trip particularly, when a friend wants you to visit bad enough that they send you the plane ticket money, you go visit. A's had a rough year medically, having had endoscopic gall bladder surgery turn into full abdominal surgery, followed by two infections, peritonitus, a screw-up with an idiot giving her blood thinners, thereby delaying a needed corrective surgery substantially, and finally a stent. So I can understand the intense desire to a) have a friend come visit and have some fun (and hugs), and b) have four days where worrying about who is going to help you dress, bathe, get places, etc. is simply not an issue.

Two days before we left, Rob called from work. They had decided that he needed to go to a conference (which starts today) in Quebec. Rob has an application in for a passport, but no passport as of yet, so I had to find his birth certificate to get over the border. So my intended leisurely day of packing and cleaning (and not incidentally blogging and writing) was turned into a full house rampage as the bc was NOT in the lockbox where I keep all the vital papers. I hunted for about eight hours - until Rob came home - with no sign of the birth certificate. Rob then joined in the hunt, and found it in about an hour. It was in the glove compartment of the car he was at work with. Oi.

Apparently one can't fly into Canada with a birth certificate, but one can drive across the border that way - at least for now. So Rob flew up to Vermont yesterday, rented a car, and drove up to the meeting (which is about building chemical plants in foreign countries). On the good side, he was able to park the car where I could find it, so the boys and I had a car waiting when we flew in, but only had to pay for about six hours parking.

The next day was taken up with the now much more frantic packing, repairing some of the damage from the paper hunt (on the good side, I've now thrown out about four large garbage bags of shredded paper), and the random last minute emergencies that always happen just before trips start. We made the plane in good order, and then discovered that the ticket agent had stuck us in separate parts of the airplane. On both flights. Anybody who's travelled with young boys will tell you, this is Not On. The people on the first flight were lovely about switching, so other than the shuffling people about in a crowded plane, it went very well. On the second flight, though, the two boys had been put together and I'd been put four rows up on a window seat. The guy in the aisle seat next to the boys was upset about my asking to switch, but even more upset about being seated next to two children, and pissed and moaned about losing his aisle seat so loudly that a very nice woman on the aisle seat across the way offered to take my window seat, give him her aisle seat, and let me sit next to the boys. Which we did, but the man I had displaced continued to glare at me whenever he got the chance for the rest of the flight. Did he pay extra for no child seating or something? Because I thought that unless you paid for, oh, three seats together, you sat next to whomever the airline put you with.

Boston itself was much fun. As always with A, it was nonstop. Thursday was spent shopping, running errands, and finally driving into Worcester (1 hour drive) and back to see L, because her husband had called to say that their eldest son had "gotten into an altercation" at school and been sent to the UMass psych ward. Which is now causing much head scratching, because he was perfectly calm and cooperative at UMass, to the point where they sent him home that same afternoon with an appointment for evaluation in May. So what happened that the school would have the police drag a (small) ten year old boy away bodily? It's hard to tell at this point because the school is much more interested in justifying themselves than in providing useful information. A loaned me her van to drive up, which is much appreciated, but for some bizarre reason views this as a favor that L owes her (when she and L have very little interaction, and don't actually get on very well), instead of a favor I owe her, which would be easy to pay back.

After that entertaining day we spent 22 hours straight in the Boston Museum of Science, right down to sleeping on the floor of the Mathematica exhibit (MoS Camp-in program, highly recommended). Their special exhibit right now is Reptiles Alive!, so Aaron was over the moon. We went to a Planetarium show, an Omni show and a lightning show, plus a workshop on dinosaurs, which involved dissecting owl pellets (found two skulls - a rodent and a mole). Due to a sleeping bag mishap, I ended up sleeping on bare floor, which didn't really allow for much sleep. Then we had friends over at A's apartment from then until bedtime. (I found a second beta reader for Ghost Dancer! Woot!). At which point it was time to pack up, because the taxi was coming to get us at 4am. The boys got a whole 3-4 hours sleep, while I ended up substituting a shower and change for any actual sleep. Poor Robbie kept falling asleep at the airport, and plainly felt terrible. After he tried to walk through a plexiglas wall, I picked him up to carry him through security and the gate (being lectured on the size of your toothpaste tube while carrying a 65 lb. child and falling-over tired is an interesting thing). I managed to stay awake long enough to stagger onto the plane (the ticket agent seated us together this time. Go Ticket Agent!), where we all pretty much passed out until Charlotte. Repeated the stagger and pass out for Louisville, except that when I woke up on descent, I discovered Aaron had been awake the whole time, and had been talking quietly with the person next to him (he was across the aisle from me), and gotten a drink from the stewardess, all without feeling the need to wake me. Go Aaron! A couple of years ago, it took him up to a week to warm up to a strange adult. Got to Louisville to discover that our luggage had not yet left Logan in Boston. They did find it eventually and it showed up about ten last night, once the driver found our house (our neighbor's limosines are proving a really handy landmark).

I did get some writing done during all this, but it's all in long hand on a legal pad, so you'll have to wait until I get it typed in to find out how much it is.

And that is What I Did Over Spring Vacation.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Rob is down at his father's this weekend. In good news, it looks like his Dad is coming up the weekend of April 11th, which means I get to caravan up to Michigan for a weekend weapons camp - woohoo! I get to go regardless, but if Da is here, then I can carpool up with everybody else, pay 1/4th of the gas, and arrive in time for the evening session. Whereas if he weren't, the odds are I would have to stay until Rob got home from work (about eight hours later), and not only pay more and miss the Fri. evening session, but I wouldn't arrive until about 2am, which would leave me groggy for the Sat. session. Not good when playing with weapons!

Weapon choices are tunfa, sai, nunchuks, gusan and kama, and I need to decide which one I want to work on while I'm up there. Kama is out because they'll only teach black belts kama. If I want to do gusan or nunchuks, I need to decide now so that I can buy some, whereas I already have a pair of sais and a pair of tunfas. My initial reaction is to try tunfa - I already have them, but outside of Weapons Connection, I won't learn anything about them for another year or more. OTOH, I am already learning sais, and it might do me more good to consolidate my base level of knowledge there before heading further afield.

Aaron graduates from PT on Thursday! He's been going weekly since Sept., and he's come a long way in core strength and general coordination. This last session he managed to ride a bike (with training wheels) about 1000 feet. It might not seem like much, but when we tried him on a bike last summer, he could kind of steer, or kind of pedal, but neither went very well, and he was completely hopeless at doing both together. This coming Tuesday is an OT evaluation, so he should be able to move smoothly from PT over to OT, and with any luck get help with all the self-help tasks the school OT doesn't do, like buttons, zippers, knives & forks, or (God help us) tying shoes. Aaron retains skills very well, but gets discouraged easily when learning new stuff because it's so hard for him compared to other kids his age. In some ways I think his very intelligence works against him right now because he understands intellectual things easily comparative to his classmates and his tendancy is to stick to the areas where he shines and avoid the things where he doesn't show so well. He's so proud of himself when he learns a new skill though. It's awesome to see!

Writing progress:

A Country for Children
Finally finished rewriting the scene I lost before. For some bizarre reason it was much harder to write the second time than it was the first. Sent it back to L for updating.
Previous Word Count: 17,027
New Words: 1238
New Word Count: 18,265

Ghost Dancer:
Still working on the new scene. No precise word count, but approx. 500 new words today. I need to come up with an excuse for a third roommate to move in with Kira, since there's nothing like a little conflict to liven things up, and Ms. Gray (the potential new roommate) would definitely add some conflict. Plus she's relevent to the political background I'm trying to work in. Of course, then Kira needs to be living alone by the next big plot twist, since that's already written such that roommates will not work. But there's a year's book time in between, so I'm sure I can work something out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Alarming (and not so alarming) Things

Yoga class was interesting on Tues. Our teacher had an emergency phone call halfway into class, and then bolted out the door. Apparently one of her dogs had attacked and killed the other. Which seems likely to cost her both dogs, since she has young children. At least I can't see trusting a dog that has attacked another child-sized mammal in a household with kids. The instructor the Y sent in to sub didn't know yoga at all, so we kind of muddled on through on our own, with one of the advanced students leading the class.

I haven't discussed yoga here much, but I've been going to classes for about a year now. After I tore a groin muscle at the Break-a-thon (my holder flinched), I found I had lost a lot of flexibility once it healed. Plus had I been more flexible to start with, I could well have not torn the muscle in the first place. So I set off to work on my flexibility. It's been working, too. When I started I couldn't touch my toes even when well warmed up - in fact I was a good six inches short. Now I can touch them anything past stone cold, and if I'm well and truly warm I can get my hands wrapped around them. Other joints have been a little slower to succumb. I still can't touch my hands behind my back (one coming from above and one from below), and I'm a very long way from getting a side split, but even there I'm improving and it's nice to see.

No karate for about nine days for me. Thursday we have literacy night at the school, and we always go, even though it feels a little silly to be trooping around to all the activities to improve our children's reading. Both of our children are reading well past grade level already. Really, we're not too worried about it. It's a similar feeling to the alarmist looking-ahead-to-college class for parents that the Gifted & Talented coordinator offered on Tuesday. I didn't go (I actually went to karate), but Rob did. He reported that they were going on and on about how much college would cost, and how difficult it would be to get into any college, let alone one you could afford. At the same time, they were saying that >30 on the ACT, or >1200 on the SAT, and you could pretty much count on full scholarships. Which would tend to be the opposite of alarming for us. While we are not our children, they definitely show our same aptitudes school and test-wise. And these score levels made both of us snort in disbelief. (Rob scored a 34 on the ACT and 1390 on the SAT. I didn't take the ACT, but scored a 1460 on the SAT.) Plus, you know, we opened college funds for each boy the year they were born - to you know, to pay for college?

I shouldn't complain, really. It's good that the school is concerned and offering information on things like literacy and how to fund college. It's just occassionally tiring to have this kind of alarm aimed at us, when we're pretty sure it's simply not necessary in our case.

Writing Update: (Short today, it's late, and I'm tired.)

Ghost Dancer - no motion, working on A Country for Children - except that I accidentally managed to delete the most recent file of ACfC and lost two days worth of typing, which I'm in process of recreating.

A Country for Children - see note above.
Previous Word Count: 14,849
Current Word Count: 17,027

So forward progress being made despite brain-dead losses of productivity. I've managed to introduce the character around whom the central plot-thread revolves (at long last), so we may even get to make her vanish shortly!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Louisville SF Writers' Group

I haven't been part of a writer's group (off-line) since before Robbie was born. Honestly I hadn't been looking very hard. The Nashville group had both good and bad points, and while I wrote more while I was a member, I don't think it otherwise did me much good. The group was large, the level of writer was all over the map (I'm still haunted by the purple sapient broccoli and the walrus who wanted to date a supermodel.), and the critiquing likewise. Some of the writers could be downright brutal in their assessment of others work, which can be helpful if it's done well. Unfortunately, the most brutal critics (at least in this group) tended to be simultaneously unhelpful. Critques of a presented short story included the memorable "She should kill herself. At least then something would happen." of a first-person semi-autobiographical story (Yes, I know. I cringe too, now, but sometimes these things must be written and gotten out of the way.). Being told my work was boring, derivative and should never see the light of day (by the author with the broccoli, who also wrote poetry with metric schemes determined by fractals), was not generally useful.

So when I found there was an SF Writers' group in Louisville, I was of two minds about going to a meeting. Comraderie is wonderful, and the impetus of having to read my stuff out loud to other people does tend to make me plunk my seat in a chair and write. On the other hand, was it really worth the effort of an evening away (much greater now than in pre-kid years) and driving halfway across town for the chance it might be useful?

I mentioned it to Rob - and then tried to back out by deferring to whatever Wed. evening thing he had going (which he does 2-3 Wed. each month). Instead he immediately said I should go, and made sure he was home so I could. So off I set, first three pages of Ghost Dancer in hand.

It's a wonderful group. There were about eight people there - enough for a good number of readers and opinions without being overwhelming. The level of writing quality was high - a great deal higher than I recall from my last group - which probably has something to do with three of the eight being either pro or semi-pro writers. Critiquing was positive and helpful both - they were looking for what they liked, and then pointed it out so you could do more of that. The specific question I asked (whether I had a good chapter break, or whether I should continue with only a scene break), got a specific, detailed answer - and one which makes a lot of sense. And best of all, these all seem to be genuinely nice people. Lots of laughing, no attempts at one upsmanship, all very comfortable with one another, even though it was straight to business and not terribly much socializing. I'll be going back as often as my schedule allows.

Of course the fact that they liked my opening didn't hurt my opinion of them any either. I'm as vain as the next person. "Your writing style reminds me of James Patterson" doesn't feel bad as an opening comment!

On the karate front, I've hit the jump-lunge in Kusanku - which is loads of fun to practice on a slick linoleum floor, let me tell you. My knees may never be the same. The jump-lunge is the one part of empty hand kata in Isshinryu that I've never done before. The last time I learned it, I was about five months pregnant, and OB's tend to frown (or more accurately, explode in horror) at the idea of leaping into the air and landing in a deep lunge. If I can clear enough floor in the family room to practice the jump at home it should go easier - at least I won't have to worry about having my feet slide and ripping my muscles if I'm on rug.

I'm hoping to get to the end of Kusanku by early April, so I can be letting it ripen by the time we hit weapons camp. I feel like I'll retain more if I'm not simultaneously trying to retain other new material.

Writing Update: Sorry to miss a couple of days - I mostly vetted Chpt. 1 obsessively on Wed., but did make some forward motion Thurs. & Friday.

Ghost Dancer - second edit
Word Count: 97,900 (the general trend is down, despite new words written. I think this is good. Tightening is good, yes?)
Words Edited: 14,454
Scenes Total: 54
Scenes Edited: 10
New Scenes Written: 1.5 (about 1000 new words)
Words which confuse Spellcheck: stroganoff, reconstituted, flinched, swallowing (though oddly enough it had swallowling - which I think is a baby swallow - who the heck programmed this thing?)

Task o' the day: Trying to come up with new and exciting ways to introduce fellow students and politics. This is likely to be the task o' the week, if not longer.

A Country for Children - first draft
New Words: 3326 - not all of these are mine. In fact about 2/3's of them are L's. But we're both moving forward, so yay us!
Current total: 14,849

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Writing & Such

First the writing update:

Ghost Dancer
Status: 2nd edit
Word count: 98,300 (Not worth keeping track much closer than to the hundreds, since it's fluxing daily in both up and down dimensions)
Scenes: 52
Scenes edited: New: 6, Total: 10
Words spell check doesn't know: nutjob, stranglehold, sympathizers, trooped
Words I'm surprised spell check does know: nexon - seriously, did I teach it this and not remember? Because I'll be flabbergasted if nexon is a real word outside of Ghost Dancer itself.
The Good: Things are moving along surprisingly quickly thus far.
The Bad: Things are about to slow up, as I just hit the first of the inserted material which will need not just editing, but actual new wordage.
The Ugly: All I can see in my writing right now is commas, cliches, and uninspired generalities. The more I read, the worse it looks. So deep breaths and remind myself that people liked this. Complete strangers have liked this enough to call foreign countries and ask for more chapters. So there has got to be something there, even if I'm not seeing it right now.

A Country for Children
Status: 1st draft, collaborative
Word count: approx. 11, 523 (I'm on the wrong computer to check)
New words today: Unknown because I didn't think to count until the end.

Task o' the day: Hunting up names on the cheat sheet and inserting them in L's sections, as she tends to put in () and keep right on going when she can't remember a name. Which gets confusing over time.

Robbie is off at an enrichment class this evening. It's a free set of classes (3 in all) offered through the Gifted & Talented program here, where the graduate students of the local teachers' college who are getting certified in G&T get to gain some experience with kids while still in training. The 4th graders are doing politics. Apparently Robbie will be finding out about the Presidential candidates. He's supposed to pick which candidate he prefers (I'll be interested to see what information they give them), and then do up a campaign poster for next week's class. I'll also be interested to see how his political knowledge stands up against the other 4th graders. I've talked about this year's Presidential run with the boys quite a bit, but have stayed away from strong expressions of preference, trying to stick to more strictly factual information (though I'm afraid both boys are pretty clear that I don't think highly of W.).

Monday, March 03, 2008

Writing Accountability

A new regular feature, sure to bore most, but possibly helpful for keeping me accountable for writing progress. Having carved out a period of time for writing (which required telling some people emphatically, and not telling others at all, plus turning off the phone), I'll be posting the rough outline of writing progress for the day. Credit for the notion goes to Elizabeth Bear, who posts such things regularly, and in far more interesting fashion than I'm likely to.

Ghost Dancer:
Stage: Second edit
Current word count: 98,229
Words edited: 6930
Scenes: 52
Scenes edited: 4
Darling du jour: (dialogue) Never say one word when none will leave them more confused.
Words spell check doesn't know: pinged, quarantined, obsessing, navigated, sips, spooked
Words I'm surprised spell check does know: none
Major edit type: comma excision - the queen of commas knows no master, but she can attempt to restrain herself.

Note to self: Spend some time training the spell check. This is not MSWord, but WriteWay, and apparently their spellcheck dictionary leaves something to be desired, as shown by the above list. If it doesn't know quarantined and navigated, I can't wait until we hit black hole physics later in the book.

I should have a second writing session later tonight with any luck at all.

RIP Janet Kagan

Janet Kagan died Saturday of COPD. She was the author of three SF books, and I wish she had authored more, because all three are on my shortlist of favorite books of all time. Unusually, she was also one of Rob's favorite authors - while our reading lists may overlap extensively, our favorites usually don't.

In this case, we kept our differences by prefering different books. Hellspark, my favorite, was the most serious of her books in tone (though they were all light-hearted). It had, among a lot of other things, one of the best practical breakdowns of personal space, body language, and cultural conflict with both of those, that I have ever seen anywhere, ever. One of the protagonists of Ghost Dancer (my unpublished first novel), the AI Memory, owes her existence to the delightful Lord Margeret, the child AI from Hellspark.

Mirabile, on the other hand, is Rob's favorite of Kagan's books. Mirabile is less of a standard novel, and more of a collection of short stories, except that they all happen sequentially, to the same character, and follow a loose overarching plot. It's not a format I've seen anyone else quite pull off, though there's no reason why they couldn't. In Mirabile it works wonderfully as you follow our protagonist (a field geneticist) through a series of puzzles in the thoroughly mixed-up world she lives in. You see, Earth sent out the colonists of the world Mirabile with multiply redundant back-ups. In the case of their animals, that meant that every species contained the complete genetic code for at least one, and sometimes more, different species with their nuclei. But the colonists lost the instructions on how to turn that process on and off, and so the alternate genes go about expressing themselves willy-nilly, which combined with interactions with the native wildlife, make the field geneticist a vitally important person in the survival of Mirabile.

Kagan's third book has the honor to be the only Star Trek book remaining on my shelves. There was a time when I had scads, not because I thought they were wonderful, but because I could trust them to be decent reads. I've gotten more picky over time, and one by one the ST novels have gone by the wayside - except for Uhura's Song. As it turns out, she never intended to write an ST novel at all, but rather was railroaded into it by an enthusiastic publisher. He (a junior publisher at a larger imprint) had read Hellspark and wanted to buy it. However, he only had authority to buy books from 1) established authors (no first timers), or 2) Star Trek novels (in which case, first time authors were allowed). His solution was to contract Janet for an ST novel, and then buy Hellspark once she was no longer unpublished! I, for one, am glad she did. Star Trek completely aside, Uhura's Song is a wonderful novel, which avoids rerunning old ground with old characters by concentrating on the secondary characters (Uhura, Chekov), and new characters, with enough appearences by Kirk, Spock and McCoy to satisfy the fans.

Why exactly Kagan stuck to short stories after these three novels, I don't know. My selfish, readerly self wishes she had written a dozen more. But three she had, and those three I shall treasure. Time to pull Hellspark off the shelf and give it a memorial read. Godspeed, Janet.