Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend Wrapup

Not a whole lot has been going on lately. We have made progress with Alex's sleeping (he's learned to fall asleep on his own without us being there, though he still doesn't like it), though I still feel like it'll take me a long time before I'm fully rested--if I ever get back there.

Thanksgiving was pretty quiet. We spent the day tidying up, then we had dinner at Eugene's aunt's house. Alex enjoyed banging on the piano. I took a couple of pictures but haven't uploaded them yet.

Eugene worked part of the day on Friday. While he was gone, I managed to get the tree and other decorations up. Alex was very interested in the process; he helped move his toys out of the way and handed ornaments to me. We did go shopping, but luckily the places we went weren't crowded.

My parents came by for a visit Saturday. After they left, we went to the Kristkindlmarkt in downtown Chicago. The weather was warm for this time of year, but it didn't seem as crowded as it was last time. Alex made out with a couple of wooden toys (we wanted to save at least one for Christmas, but that didn't work out). Afterward, we stopped by Millennium Park. Alex, who had part of a chocolate pretzel, enjoyed dancing by the colored fountains in Crowne Plaza.

Today we ran a couple of errands and took Alex to the library in the afternoon. Otherwise, we relaxed at home.

I didn't get a whole lot of writing done, but I did manage to move past a pivotal scene.

Finally, I have to post a little something to remember George Harrison, who passed away eight years ago today. This song is off his final album; it may not be well-known, but it's quite good:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Priorities

Wow, I'm up again on the blog chain. This time, Mandy picked the topic, and a fitting one it is too:

How do you prioritize? How do you balance paying attention to your writing, critiquing for friends, spending time with your family and earning a living?

These days, it seems everyone has too much to do, even if you're a Disney character:

Imagine what it would be like if these guys were parents!

As a working mother, I know it's impossible to keep all aspects of your life perfectly balanced. Some days your child gets sick and you have to leave work early; some times you have to go on a business trip and leave your family. And what with a job to do, a family to look after, and a house to clean, plus a mole (that's 6.02 x 10 to the twenty-third power) of other things demanding your attentions, at times I feel like I and my writing vie for last place.

Here are a couple of tips I follow to make my writing a higher priority:

Set aside time for your writing. I find the best time for this is on my lunch hour at work. Of course, sometimes I have to run errands or choose to do something else, such as blog or play Spider Solitare. But this is the best time I have to focus on my novel. On the weekends, I claim Alex's nap time as my own.

Put your writing first above critting. I hate to say this, because I do enjoy helping others, and it helps you as much as the other person. I used to be quite active on the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, but although I'm still a member, I haven't been to the site in months. I do occasional crits for my friends, but these days my time is so limited I have to focus on my work. I've had to ignore some requests from strangers.

Don't forget what really matters. For me, that means my family. My son has a very late bedtime for a toddler; lately it takes him until almost 10:00 p.m. to go to sleep. It's frustrating because I still have housework and other paperwork to take care of, so I seldom get any writing done at night anymore. But I remind myself Alex will probably be our only child, so I should cherish the time we spend together with him sitting in my lap while I read to him.

That's all I have for now, and I have to get back to writing. Go check out Eric's blog to see his response to this topic!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Faux Thanksgiving Weekend

Every year in October or November, Eugene and I go up to Madison to have a Faux Thanksgiving with our college friends. It's a real Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the traditional side dishes, just a little early. I don't remember how many years we've been doing this, but it's been going on for a long time.

We drove up to Madison Friday evening; I left work early to prep for the trip. (I even managed to clean the living room carpet before we left.) When we picked Alex up from daycare, they were playing outside, and he was zipping backwards and forwards on a riding toy. We let him play for a bit, but once his teacher spotted us and told him, he came running.

We stopped along the way but still made good time. For dinner, we just wanted something quick and easy, so we went to the Food Court in the nearby mall. We had a hotel suite so we could put Alex in a separate room. Although he didn't seem to mind sleeping in his old Pack'n'Play at first, all the strange noises woke him up, and we wound up sleeping with him on the sofa.

The hotel offered a free breakfast, but it wasn't stocked very well when we got there--only one glass (so we split it among us) and no skim milk. Other things weren't available either. We wound up having a second breakfast at a coffee shop. Then we took Alex to the Children's Museum. He loved the toy cars in the first exhibit so much he didn't want to leave. Eventually we moved on to some other play areas, though. He seemed to have a good time. We left around 1:00 so he could nap in the car. (We took turns visiting the bookstore while he slept.)

Normally we bake a dessert, but it didn't work out this year, so we picked up a couple of tarts from Whole Foods. Alex was obsessed with them--until he tried them. He didn't eat well during the dinner; he mostly ate crackers. I guess he was too busy checking out all the toys. He was more social than he was last year, which is good. I was with him a fair amount of time, but I got to socialize too. I didn't take any pictures, though.

We met our friends again for Sunday brunch, then we headed home. We stopped to visit my parents for a few hours, so we got home a bit late. Alex had taken a late nap, so it took him a long time to fall asleep. I wish we'd had more time to go around Madison while we were there; we missed some of our usual haunts. Ah well, something else to look forward to when WisCon arrives....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Want More Drama?

It's a good thing I have the blog chain to force me to blog. Lately, my life has been like this:

Only without the Beatles or the screaming girls.

Anyway, Christine would like us to discuss drama this round:

How do you create a wonderfully dramatic story? Are there any questions you ask yourself, or specific things you keep in mind to ensure that you have the level of tension necessary to propel the story forward?

Amanda posted before me, and Eric will post next.

When I first read Christine's question, I thought I wouldn't have much to say. After all, I'm an organic writer who cranks out draft after draft, constantly tinkering with scenes in my head. However, as the chain progressed and I saw what others posted, I thought of a couple of things to add.

A couple of people have mentioned how they say "No!" to their characters, constantly denying them what they want. While that does keep the tension high, sometimes you have to let the characters move forward to advance the plot. The trick to keeping this dramatic is to have the forward movement come at a cost. Jack Bickman refers to this as "Yes, But..." in his book Scene and Structure.

Let me use an example from my current work, since I enjoy talking about it. My main character, Paul, wants to prove his great-uncle had his mother murdered; to do so, Paul plans to impersonate a famous dead ancestor of theirs that his uncle is obsessed with. To do this, he needs to visit an alternate Earth where their ancestor is still alive. Paul can travel to this Earth, since he lives on a spaceship that does visit the alternate universe, but he's never been allowed down on the planet. Paul is motivated to change his ancestor's fate (he's also murdered), which could change history, so the authorities would be better off keeping him on the spaceship. But that would be a very big roadblock for the story I want to tell. So Paul bargains with the authorities by revealing two secrets, secrets the authorities want to exploit for their own purposes. They then agree to let him leave the ship and his family--so they can run secret tests on him. This is the first "But" to the "Yes." Paul does manage to escape, but in a way that puts him in deeper trouble with the other time travelers. So even though he's making progress on one story front, he's getting deeper into trouble on another front. And when the travelers do catch up to him, there will be consequences....(insert evil laugh)

The second thing I do is take risks. Paul's best friend, Scott, is bisexual. He has an unrequited crush on Paul even though he's also attracted to Paul's sister. I didn't know this about Scott at first; I wrote him as straight in the first couple of drafts. For a long time, I suppressed it in the story, fearing it might turn readers off. But finally I gave in to the inevitable; not only does Paul know about Scott's bisexuality, but Scott reveals his feelings at a key moment. Now that's drama! As if Paul didn't have enough problems already.

That's all I can think of for now. May all of your drama stay in your fiction and not in your daily life!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Weekend

I suppose I should state this up front: I am one of the few blogging writers who is not doing NaNoWriMo this year. (That's National Novel Writing Month to those of you unfamiliar with the term; the challenge is to write 50,000 words on a new project in one month.) My main focus right now is finishing Across Two Universes; once that's ready (hopefully next year will be the year!), I'd like to go back to another project I started back in 2007.

Anyway, Alex got to celebrate Halloween for three days this weekend. His daycare center had a parade Friday afternoon; I left work early to see it. As soon as Alex saw me, he clung to me so much I wound up having to carry him in the parade. He was a dinosaur:

(We wound up leaving the hat off most of the time since it flopped over into his face.)

After the parade, we stayed a bit longer and played some games at the daycare center.

Saturday was the big day. I got dressed in my own costume -- a queen -- during Alex's nap. When Eugene came home, we got Alex dressed and took him around. It was cold and windy, but we went around for about an hour. Alex wanted to be carried again; he doesn't believe in using his legs if he can make me carry him. So I had to walk around our neighborhood holding up my long dress with one hand and balancing a toddler and his bag of goodies in the other. A piece of costume jewelry broke during our trek, and we lost a little toy we got from one of our neighbors. At least I didn't fall. Alex did pretty well, saying "Trick or Treat" and "Thank you" when prompted. He did get spooked at some of the decorations people had up; the worst one was a talking Darth Vader. When we came home, he turned over his bag and kept looking at all of his candy. I think he likes looking at the wrappers almost more than he does eating the candy. Unfortunately, he does like eating it too; I thought he was going to become a strict saccharidevore when he didn't want dinner last night. Today he ate other types of food.

Today we had a party with some other local parents. It was held at a place called Little Monkey Business, which is a combination indoor playground/coffee shop. Alex brought his bag of candy with him into the playground area; he was lucky enough not to lose any, though he did wind up giving a sucker to one of the little girls. His favorite toy was a little house; we joked he was going to take out a mortgage on it. While he did fuss here and there, overall he did very well. Now it's back to the regular routine tomorrow.

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