Monday, December 31, 2012

1,000 posts

This is my 1,000th post since starting this blog on September 1, 2007. I think it was 2007. Anyway, milestone post!

Writing-wise, 2012 was a disappointing year in some ways. Three different markets that had accepted my work went toes-up. On the other hand, I did have a story in Daily Science Fiction, which was pretty cool.

I wrote two full-length books in 2012, the YA Shadow Trail and the fantasy Wharf Rat. I'm in the final throes of revisions for the latter, which I hope to finish tonight so I can send it out to beta readers. I am no closer to getting an agent, but I have a kick-ass YA steampunk fantasy lined up for my next project, so maybe....

As for resolutions, I didn't make any for 2012 because it was so crazy and horrible with Mom's death on Jan. 3. The only resolution I've ever made that I've kept was from 2011, when I resolved to floss my teeth every single day. I have, too.

But I feel the need to line up all my ducks (OMG, I seriously didn't write ducks the first time) and make some resolutions for 2013. I will try to keep them simple.

1. Get a tattoo. (I've been seriously intending to for about 15 years. This is the year! I just need to figure out what and where and then find someone to hold my hand when I go to get it done.)

2. Take up a sport, whether fencing or horseback riding (or both) or something else. Exercise daily, even if it's just for a few minutes.

3. Hike more.

4. Travel more.

5. Reach my weight loss goal, or at least get to a point where I feel better about my appearance. Respect myself and take care of myself.

6. Do more interesting things and spend less time sitting in front of the computer.

7. Keep striving to improve my writing in every way.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Taproot: A fragment

I cleaned out my big walk-in closet today, the one that I haven't actually been able to walk into since moving into this house. Well, it's clean and organized now. One of the things I found was a notebook with the beginning of a story written in it.

I have a very vague memory of writing the pages. I know the characters Will and Francis are William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon, and I think the story was going to be about how Shakespeare was inspired to write A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I have no earthly idea where I was going with it. It seems to be titled "Taproot." So since it will never see the light of day otherwise, here's the little bit of story for what it's worth.


Midnight, or nearly midnight. A tall, thin man dressed impractically in city clothes of hose, breeches, and doublet stumbled across a field. A handful of sheep, made sinister by the moonlight, stared at him from the shadow of a hedgerow.

The man climbed a stile with caution, his slick-soled shoes making him unsteady. He jumped down from the top rather than risking more steps.

"Ouch! That's torn it. I've twisted my ankle."

A second man approached. He was shorter and rounder, and his voice when he spoke had the jocular tone of someone who relished both drinking and pulling elaborate practical jokes. "Good night, Will. Finally made it, did you?"

 Will glared. "You sent me the wrong way on purpose. Damn your eyes, Francis."

"Damn your balls," Francis said, and laughed heartily. "You should see your face. But you can't get a sense of the countryside at night if you don't spend some time here."

Will wiped sheep droppings from his shoe onto the grass. "You told me there were fairies here. All I've seen is sheep and a courting couple--who weren't very keen to greet me."

"Oh, you haven't seen any of the fair folk?" Francis' broad face went babyish with exaggerated surprise.

Will narrowed his eyes. "You know I haven't. I'm going home."

"Stop by the wood first, that way." He pointed a pudgy finger at a dark stand of trees in the distance. "I daresay all the good folk are dancing, it being such a fair night. It's not far."

"Come with me."

"I can't, Will. My niece would be terribly upset if she woke and her Uncle Francy had gone. I'll be inside if you need anything."

His face tingling with fury and shame, Will limped up a rutted lane. He was quite certain Francis had

...not finished the sentence, much less the story, apparently.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

That goose is cooked

Our local Food City carries goose. I discovered this while pricing turkeys, but I didn't buy a goose until I noticed that Walmart also carries goose but they are around $60 each. The Food City geese are much more reasonable, around $20. So I bought a goose at Food City and stuck it in the freezer for Christmas baking.

I finally got around to cooking it yesterday. I won't go into too much detail, because not too many people I know would be interested in cooking goose, but I will point out that when people say, "Goose is greasy," they are NOT KIDDING. I opened the plastic wrapping and my hands were immediately covered in grease. It's that greasy, really. Ever handled raw bacon with your bare hands? It's like that, only greasier.

But that's good, actually. Goose grease is healthier and seriously tastier than bacon grease. I have a ton of it (ton here equals about three cups) in the fridge, nicely rendered and ready to use.

Anyway, the goose itself. Goose is considered a red meat, and I overcooked it despite all my care. It's easy to overcook. It wasn't bad, but kind of chewy due to being overcooked. It tastes like dark meat turkey to me, which I like. But turkeys cost about half as much and are easier to deal with. The vegetables I cooked with the goose were excellent, as was the complicated sauce I made to go with the whole thing. See the mortar and pestle in the pic above, to the left and a bit behind the goose? I've had that mortar and pestle for at least 15 years, but the sauce was the first time a recipe has ever called for a mortar and pestle. I was so pleased that I got to grate cumin seed, caraway seed, celery seed, and a lot of other spices together.

In lighter baking news, I made cookies a few days before Christmas and they turned out great as always.
 Kind of awkward to roll them out, though, since my rotten horrible hideous counters are tiled. Who the hell chose tile counters for this house? When I'm rich I will have them yanked out and something smooth and durable put in their place. Also something more attractive. As you can see, I had to use the chopping board (the one I use only for vegetables, not meat) to roll out the dough.
 The first batch of cookies ready to go into the oven. I ended up with about 4 dozen cookies total, and could have had a bit more if I hadn't snacked on the dough.
And the cookies just after I took them out of the oven. They are mostly butter. Butter and sugar and green food coloring.

I hope everyone had a great holiday and got lots of good food to eat.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Shooting Stars

Tonight is the Geminid meteor shower. I got off work at eight, and had to stop by the store on the way home (since tomorrow after work I leave to go visit my brother and his family in Pennsylvania). By the time I got home it was well after nine and getting colder and colder. As I walked from the garage to the house, I looked up to see if the night was clear enough to maybe see a shooting star. I'd never seen one before.

The stars glittered like ice against a black sky. But I had stuff to do before I could stay out and look. I changed clothes, started a load of laundry, finished wrapping a couple of presents to take up north with me, and slurped a mug of hot tea. Then I put my heavy fleece jacket back on and went back outside.

I have a pair of white adirondack chairs out front, and I sat down in one. It was covered with a glaze of frozen dew, I discovered too late. Also I was wearing shorts since my jeans were in the wash and I couldn't find my sweatpants. I huddled in my jacket and stared up at the sky.

And almost immediately, a flash of white light streaked past in the sky. It was gone so fast I almost couldn't believe what I'd seen. It really did look like a star had loosened from its pin and fallen, vanishing almost immediately. I gasped and whispered to myself, "I saw one!"

I'd only intended to stay outside long enough to see one. It was just so cold. But I kept telling myself, "Just one more," and then I would see another and it would be one more, and one more, and one more. They weren't constant, and I had long minutes in between to shiver while I stared upward.

I thought about how the stars are so far away, and I wondered how many of them have planets around them and how many of those planets have creatures living on them. And I wondered if somewhere on one of those worlds, in an impossibly alien countryside, someone was watching the stars and wondering if somewhere out there someone else was watching the stars too....

Monday, December 3, 2012

This is why we can't have nice things

Tears were shed. That's all I want to say about that.

The cat brought the tree down, of course. I wasn't in the room so I don't know what he did, but I don't think he'll ever do it again.

So yes, I was foolish to put the glass ornaments on the tree, but look on the bright side: most of them broke so now I don't have to worry about them breaking. Also, fewer ornaments to put up after Christmas.

Some of the ornaments that broke were very old, but some of the oldest ornaments came through without a scratch, like the porcelain bells that belonged to my great-grandmother* (and which I have moved to the mantel now). I guess they've been through toddlers, dogs, and cats before. Likewise, the tree is fine. It's made of wood and aluminum so it's pretty much indestructible unless you actually set it on fire. And I hid the matches so Jekyll couldn't do that.

The clean-up was not fun, especially since I was sobbing hysterically. I mean come on, who wouldn't? But as I swept and mopped and mopped again to get all the glass up, I contemplated the ephemeral nature of Christmas and glass ornaments, and reminded myself that it's just stuff. If the whole house had burnt down (it won't; I hid the matches, remember?) it would still be just stuff I'd lost. The memories live inside me.

It still wasn't any fun to clean up. But the floor is really clean now. And the tree is up again, although I need to do a better job distributing the remaining ornaments because it's kind of lopsided. Also, I will have to get the boxes of ornaments out of the garage again because there were a lot of them that wouldn't fit on my little tree, and now they will.

*or my mom found them in an antique store, hard to remember

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Your future is too loud

Putting this here solely so I can get twitter to post it with text. Carry on. I took this picture at work--I work at a state college--and the only staging I did was to move the quiet please sign over about a foot so it would be even funnier.

Welcome to December

I put the tree up last Sunday. I was cleaning that room anyway and thought, "What the hell, it's time." I had considered not putting up a tree at all this year, but I suspect that would have made me even sadder. I did do some crying while I decorated, but was fortunately distracted by Jekyll investigating everything. He didn't try to treat the tree or the decorations as cat toys, just batted at them a few times and sniffed them, so I put the glass ornaments on. So far none of them are broken.

Here's a picture of Jekyll and the tree. I wasn't done decorating it at this point; it's even more loaded with shinies now.

Yesterday I crossed the finished line of NaNo with just over 50,000 words! I finished Wharf Rat entirely and wrote 8,000 words on Adventures in Zoology, getting me very close to the end. I'm going to try to finish Adventures in Zoology by the end of December, which will mean I wrote two books entirely and finished writing three this year.

Next year? My next project will be YA, as high concept as I can make it. I've got to start selling books, not just because it's just ridiculous to me that I haven't broken through yet despite all the effort I put into writing and improving, but also because--to be blunt--I'd like to keep my house. I don't make a lot of money in my day job and I never expected I'd need to pay the mortgage alone. So in 2013 I've got to be commercial and practical. Suggestions for high-concept, whizbang, this-has-never-been-done-before-yet-somehow-it's-very-similar-to-things-that-sell-well YA plots welcome.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The End that isn't

I finished the draft of Wharf Rat this evening, finally! It needs some work, mostly because the denouement dragged out way too long. Next week I'll reread the whole thing in one or two sittings so I can get a feel for where the pacing sags. It's only about 72,500 words in all, which is short for a fantasy; I'll probably need to add some scenes and maybe another subplot too.

But for now, I can't stop writing. I still have almost 8,000 words left in order to complete NaNoWriMo. I've opened up the old, neglected Adventures in Zoology to continue writing it. It would be nice if I could finally finish it--I've been meaning to work on it all year, and I even have the rest of it outlined, I just haven't gotten around to it.

Now's my chance!

Monday, November 19, 2012

More pictures of food

If I didn't cook (and didn't have this awesome little camera), I don't know what I'd blog about.

I made these from this recipe, only I added a tsp of almond extract to the dough, and for the filling I mixed about 1/4 c. raspberry jam with about 1/4 c. unsweetened, smooshed-up raspberries (because I wanted these to taste like raspberries instead of jam).

As it happens, I don't much like rosewater. I bought it on impulse last month and found this recipe because I wanted to know what to do with it. It's very strong and perfumey, naturally, but it makes me feel like I'm eating face cream. Next time I make these I might use lemon extract in place of the rosewater.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

1,000 words an hour

Last night was our local NaNoWriMo group's big write-in. We gathered in a big open room in an office building one of our members had arranged for us to borrow; it had lots of tables and power strips and a place to put our food. We all brought food, everything from bags of chips to a honey-baked ham.

I'd signed up to make pumpkin bread, but it was a recipe I hadn't tried before wasn't a success. Obviously. The bottom and sides were overcooked and when I tried to tip the loaf out of the pan, the still-liquid insides puked out. So I stopped at the store on the way and bought a cheese log and Wheat Thins.

We gathered at 5pm and had the building until midnight. Our municipal liaison had a posterboard where we all wrote our names and our word goals for the night, and she had glittery star stickers to put next to our names every time we wrote 500 words. By the end of the night, all the stars were used--and we only had 15 or 16 people there.

I wrote just over 6,000 words, which got me caught up from where I'd been lagging behind on my wordcount. I should reach 30,000 words total today. I also had a good time talking with the other writers, and of course eating like a pig.

It was almost 1 a.m. when I got home. I slept late--until 11 a.m., which is unheard-of for me, but I was short on sleep to start with. Then when I got up, I realized I have galleys to proof for my Etopia book Blood and Ashes, which will be released soon in print. And of course I have to write my daily words.

So I'm going to get right on that, even though I am lacking sausage balls and tortillas with awesome seven-layer dip and leftover Halloween candy (three or four different people brought their leftover Halloween candy). At least I have half a cheese log.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurray for my friends! And me

I've been meaning to do a post like this for weeks. So many people I know have books that have either released recently or will be out soon. Here is a big shout-out to as many of them as I remember. If I left anyone out, let me know so I can update.

Cate Gardner has a story in the Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top anthology! It is sure to be delightfully unsettling.

My Etopia stable-mate Charley Descoteaux has a m/m erotic romance releasing in December, Comfort and Joy, which is probably exactly what you need to get you in the holiday spirit.

Lee Collins' weird western The Dead of Winter just came out from Angry Robot Books. I'm really looking forward to reading this one once NaNoWriMo is over.

Another Angry Robot Lee, Lee Battersby, had his book release a few months ago, The Corpse-Rat King. I've read it and it was great.

Alan W. Davidson has a story in the Friday Flash Vol. II anthology, out now! It looks like a fun collection.

Paula R.C. Readman has a story in the anthology Crime After Crime (US link) which is a collection of crime stories. You probably guessed that, though. It just came out like two days ago.

Carrie Harris also has a just-released YA horror (funny horror not OMG I will never sleep again horror) book out--actually two: Bad Hair Day (sequel to last year's excellent Bad Taste in Boys) and its related e-novella Bad Yeti. I'm going to have a lot of backed-up reading to do after NaNo.

I am remiss in not mentioning this sooner (although my blogging has slowed way down lately), but Conor P. Dempsey's science fiction book The Exiles of the New World was released in April! That cover makes me want to die of love.

Mercedes M. Yardley's horror/dark fantasy short story collection Beautiful Sorrows is available now from Shock Totem. Another cover that makes me want to die, in a good way.

Michael McClung has several books available and I'm embarrassed to say I'm not sure which of his is the latest. I know The Blade That Whispers Hate is available recently although I think it's not the official release--it's mostly for people who just can't wait for it to be out in its final form. But hey, it's free, so if you can't wait....

Whew. I think that's everyone. I need to read faster and also, somehow, blog more at the same time.

Oh, and I shouldn't forget myself. Jack of All Trades has just been re-released by Double Dragon, and it includes the short story "The Neverstone." I've got a Goodreads giveaway running for a copy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wow, am I boring

You know what I've done all day? Listened to Pandora Radio and failed to write.

Actually, I did have galleys of The Taste of Magic to proof and return (for the upcoming print edition), which I did. It took me most of the day. And I did go into Knoxville for a local NaNoWriMo write-in, except that the Panera where we were meeting was absolutely packed and I couldn't find our group, so I left again. Then I took a walk since it was almost 75 degrees out. Oh, and I went grocery shopping.

See? Boring.

On the other hand, I've opened up my NaNo file at last and I'm planning to write my way to a scene where our hero is mistaken, due to a complex series of actions he has no control over, for a princess. By the princess's fiance. So I may be boring on the outside, but my brain is busy coming up with cool stuff.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pix of my new badge (with bonus Jekyll)

I almost forgot I wanted to post a picture of my awesome new Mister Ghost badge that I got from Evil Supply Company. That's why I am wearing my nightgown in the photo; I was too lazy to put a real shirt back on. I wanted to show Jekyll investigating the badge, but he was much more interested in the camera, which is odd because he'd never seen the badge before and I follow him around with the camera like his own personal paparazzi.

Here's the badge a little clearer, but I didn't want to just post this pic because it's mostly of my cleavage. Ooh la la.

I've also ordered some stationery (the Boneyard design), because I could not stop myself.

I followed @EvilSupplyCo on Twitter when I saw a post someone had retweeted. I had to follow them because I have a book called Evil Outfitters, of course, and then I found out they are a real company and I about died of awesome.

This seems like a propitious time to remind everyone that there are only three days left to enter my Goodreads giveaway for a copy of Evil Outfitters, Ltd. AND a copy of the original edition of Jack of All Trades, its companion volume. Jack of All Trades has been reissued by Double Dragon, and I got an email this morning letting me know that it's available now as a print book for anyone who wants the new edition (which includes the short story "The Neverstone").

Sunday, November 4, 2012

First world problems

Mostly, I find writing with an outline helpful. It keeps me from having to stop writing and figure out what comes next and why, and how it should fit into the larger plot.


I knew I didn't have enough plot for Wharf Rat, but I didn't expect what happened yesterday. Three days into NaNo and I slammed to a dead halt. No clue what comes next. I haven't written a word all day. (Tweets don't count.)

The problem is that I wrote a paragraph that would launch a subplot, which I need. Usually when I do that, I can come up with something on the fly, jump right in, and go back later and backfill necessary scenes to make the subplot fit in. But this time...nothing. Crickets. Dog barking in the far distance.

So now it's 9:20 pm and I spent most of the afternoon baking (pumpkin pies that turned out terrible, blueberry tarts that turned out terrible, rice pudding that turned out wonderful thank gawd) and most of the evening browsing membase (which was funny at first and then just depressed me). And I still have to write something.

*drums fingers*

I guess I'd better skip ahead and write a scene I know I'll need. I hate doing that. I feel like I'm cheating.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween is over

Another Halloween is over, and another NaNoWriMo is about to begin. Hopefully I'll get some sleep in between.

I made a complicated costume that actually turned out really well, considering that in the end it was mostly held together with safety pins. I don't have a long mirror so I couldn't get a decent picture, but here are two pix I did get in the bathroom mirror. The shiny is the batwing cape I made from some gorgeous lacy cloth.

Oh, and I got pizza on the way home from work.

Jekyll wore a costume too. It came with a little hat but the costume was made for dogs and the hat wouldn't fit. He didn't mind the collar, at least. Jekyll is shy, but as the evening progressed he got to the point that he didn't freak out so much when kids came to the door. Sometimes he'd even stay in the living room, and all the kids commented on him.

One little girl asked what I was supposed to be dressed as. I said, "An evil queen who didn't have time to fix her hair."

Incidentally, I made a lot of effort to find unusual candy. The lollipops with plastic skeleton arms as sticks were a huge hit, as were the gummy mummies. My personal favorite was the plastic vampire teeth that came with a little pouch of candy blood. How cool is that? I made sure to give them to older kids, not toddlers.

The house looked particularly good, if I do say so myself.

The cold weather kept a lot of kids away, unfortunately, and I have a bunch of candy left over. I plan to take it to work tomorrow. The last thing I need during NaNo is candy to graze on while I type.

Monday, October 29, 2012

2 a.m. A crash!

I woke from a sound sleep at two this morning with the sound of a metallic crash still reverberating in my ears. Naturally I assumed the cat had knocked something over, and since I was scared I reacted by yelling several obscenities really loudly, because ghosts are scared of yelling.

Then I got up and turned on all the lights.

Jekyll was in the hallway outside my bedroom, his tail fluffed up and his eyes big and round.

These are my thoughts, as near as I can remember them:
It's a ghost.
No, a neighbor cat must have jumped onto the outside of a window and scared Jekyll.
But what made the noise?
Is someone trying to get into the house?
I'd better look outside.

I went to the front door and peered out, then turned on the porch light and peered out some more. Nothing stirred in the yard.

Then I turned around and saw that part of a plastic "FOR SALE BY OWNER" sign had fallen out of the capped chimney and onto the electric heater that sits in the fireplace, along with a lot of soot and cinders.

I don't know what a FOR SALE BY OWNER sign was doing in my chimney. I didn't put it there. The chimney was capped something like ten years ago when the house was remodeled, long before I moved in, and presumably the cut-down sign was used to block off something up there. There's no flue in the chimney anymore and, of course, the chimneytop itself has a metal cover over it, although there are ports in the cover's sides, presumably for ventilation.

The wind gusted outside, making the house creak gently. Then I heard scrabbling in the chimney.

I pictured a sooty and furious, probably rabid, raccoon leaping down from the chimney and attacking my face. So I banged on the heater and yelled more obscenities, and the sounds stopped. I waited a long time and didn't hear anything but the wind, and there wasn't a draft from the chimney so hopefully the FOR SALE BY OWNER sign wasn't blocking off something important. I cleaned up the soot and cinders, threw the sign away, and turned off all but one living room lamp.

Then I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling, listening tensely, for the next four hours.

Further details if any come up.

Edit: I left the house a while ago to run down to the post office, and three young raccoons and what I initially thought was a white cat ran from my side yard across the street. About the time I realized the "cat" was an albino raccoon, they were gone and I wasn't able to get a picture. But, you know, mystery solved. They were probably fighting crime.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The lovely and talented Cate Gardner has tagged me! I felt like just copying her answers because they're so clever, but probably someone would have noticed. So here are my answers.

What is the title of your book? 
Wharf Rat 

Where did the idea come from for the book?
 The main character started out as a small-time thief in another book I wrote a few years ago. He wasn't even supposed to have a name--he was only supposed to steal something from one character so that another one could look good by catching him--but he turned out to be such an appealing guy that I wrote him into the story. Ever since, I wanted to feature him in his own book.

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, gosh. I don't know actors. Since the main character, Rone, is an elf, I'll say Orlando Bloom except that Bloom would need to go on a three-day drunk before shooting started and also have his front top teeth knocked out.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
When Rone, an incompetent thief, takes a job delivering messages for a businessman, he stumbles on a conspiracy involving a foreign prince and a princess who isn't supposed to exist.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Let's hope I get an agent when I'm done.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It's not done, but I've been working on it on and off for a few months. I'm planning to finish during NaNo.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
It's a kind of heist story set in a fantasy world (which itself is based loosely on New Orleans and Savannah), but any titles I list would make me sound too full of myself so I won't list any.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Hey, wait, that's sort of the same question as one earlier. That's cheating.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Rone can't read or write. I'm writing a book about a guy who can't read. Weird. Also, he's not interested in learning. Also, I think I just totally swallowed a bug. (Wait, that has nothing to do with my book.)

And now I have to tag five people. Don't worry, I won't be upset (read: I won't notice) if you don't respond:
Laura Lam (who just did a very similar or possibly identical post a few weeks ago, so technically she already responded)
Becky Regalado
Michael McClung
Rob Haines
Wesley Chu

Friday, October 12, 2012

Two-Book Giveaway!

Every so often I get an email from someone asking me how they can find a copy of Jack of All Trades, my first book. It's been out of print for almost a year now and used copies are getting expensive. Well, very soon now it'll be in print again; Double Dragon is going to reissue an updated edition with new cover art. It will also include the short story "The Neverstone," which is set after the events in the book.

To celebrate that, I thought I'd do a giveaway--not just of an original, new paperback copy of Jack of All Trades, but a new paperback of Evil Outfitters, Ltd. too, which is set in the same world. I've listed the giveaway on Goodreads and you'll have to sign up (it's free) to enter. Good luck!

I'll post the release date for Jack of All Trades when I know it for sure, but it'll be soon. My editor emailed me yesterday to let me know it might be as soon as next week!

Edited to add: I just got the new cover art, which is awesome beyond all understanding, and a note from my editor to say that the new edition should be live on the Double Dragon website within a day or two!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Questions to Ask Yourself at the Shoe Shop

1. Why do they put weird, useless buckles on otherwise attractive shoes?
2. Why is it so hard to find shoes these days with small heels? They're either flats or stilettos.
3. Cute shoe. Can I afford it?
4. Does it fit?
5. Is it comfortable?
6. Is it going to be comfortable after I've worn it for eight hours?
7. Is it appropriate for work?
8. Is it the right color for my work clothes?
9. Is it the right style to go with my work clothes?

I forgot to ask myself #9, which is why I have a pair of otherwise perfect shoes and now I have to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Sure, these shoes are both black and brown so I can wear them with anything except navy (and who wears navy these days anyway?), and sure they look great with dinosaur socks and jeans, but my work clothes are definitely on the frumpy side and these shoes aren't.

Maybe I should de-frump my closet.

This post has nothing to do with writing, so I'll bring up... [cue ominous music] NaNoWriMo! I'm in again this year, probably to finish my current WIP, Wharf Rat. Anyone else doing it?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Be happy like ice creams

Last night I set that pic to my desktop. I will be happy all month, I told myself! It's my birthday month, and Halloween is coming, and the weather is cool and breezy and drizzly just the way I like it. NaNoWriMo is next month. Harper Voyager has a two-week open call starting today and I have two projects to submit (there's no limit to how many you send them).

Then this morning my alarm clock went off and I couldn't find it. Seriously, what the hell? I have five things on my nightstand overnight: a box of tissues, a tube of lavender hand lotion that I don't use but which looks pretty, the alarm clock, my glasses, and my cell phone as a backup alarm since my alarm clock is old and sometimes doesn't go off. Sometimes it just stops keeping time, too. I fumbled around in the dark, cursing and knocking my glasses to the floor, before I smacked the alarm and got up. Then I remembered the happy ice creams.

It hasn't been a bad day, actually. I've tried really hard to keep a good attitude even when, for instance, I had to wait ten minutes for a security guy to show up at work to open the closet where I keep my stuff (and which I do not have a key to). I made beef stew and chocolate chip scones tonight and did not burn either hardly at all. I sent my two submissions to Harper Voyager--and yes, I didn't get an autoreply email for either the way I was supposed to, so I had to send an email to make sure they got them and I haven't heard back yet. And the book I was reading had a stupid ending and both ebooks I had as backup books turned out to be terrible. But I HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE DAMMIT BECAUSE THE ICE CREAMS ARE HAPPY.

I will sit here and breathe deeply through my nose now until I can be civil.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Kitchen Cupboard Meme

I've seen this one everywhere lately. I wasn't going to do it but the avalanche of 'everyone else is doing it' got me.

Kitchen Cupboard Meme: Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you had but got rid of. Oh, and I added [?] if I don't have the least idea what the thing is.

pasta machine, breadmaker, juicer, blender, deep fat fryer, egg boiler, melon baller, sandwich maker, pastry brushes, cheese board, cheese knives, electric wok, salad spinner, griddle pan [?], jam funnel [?], meat thermometer, filleting knives, egg poacher, cake stand, garlic crusher, martini glasses, tea strainer, bamboo steamer, pizza stone, coffee grinder, milk frother, piping bags, banana stand, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes [?], conical strainer, rice cooker, steam cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, spaetzle maker [?], cookie presses, gravy strainer, double boiler, sukiyaki stove [?], ice cream maker, fondue set, healthy-grill [?], home smoker, tempura set, tortilla press, electric whisk [I'm assuming this is a mixer], cherry stoner, sugar thermometer, food processor, bacon press [?], bacon slicer, mouli mill [?], cake testers, pestle-and-mortar, and kebab skewers

My juicer is one of those old glass things that you use by cutting an orange (or whatever) in half and screwing it down over the middle part so that the juice flows down into the little gutter, where you can pour it (and seeds, and pulp) into a jug or glass. I don't know if that's what the list means.

I almost bought a melon baller last week, actually, because they're so cool. But then I realized that I've lived my whole life without needing to ball a melon, why should I start now? Also, it sounds dirty.

If a "steam cooker" is the same thing as a basket steamer, I have one and use it. But I suspect it's yet another gadget you have to plug in.

Because I've moved so often in my life, I've pared down the kitchen stuff I need. It's easy to improvise if you have a decent selection of pots and pans, knives and spoons. I just bought the blender this summer and immediately thought, "Why did I get that?" It's in the back of a cupboard now and will probably only get used a few times a year, mostly for zucchini destined for zucchini bread. I only ever use my electric mixer for whipping cream (and occasionally egg whites). Otherwise I mix and chop and everything by hand. When I need to grate something, I have a metal cheese grater (that sometimes also grates knuckles).

AHA: The list came from this article. Now I can feel smug that I don't have most of those things. Also, that explains why I'd never heard of so many of the list items. The British terms are different from American. (I'm still going to look up tagine dishes, because what the hell?)

Another edit: I looked it up and I still don't know. I believe I can safely say that I have never owned and will never need tagine dishes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cooking with Spirits

I got a new cookbook last week, Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. It's AWESOME. The recipes make little bitty cakes or two scones or mini loaves of bread. I've made five or six recipes out of the book already and on the whole they're very good. I've been hitting the bread pudding hard, partly because I like bread pudding, partly because I like using my ramekins.

One of the recipes I wanted to try, and finally did, is the Butterscotch Bread Pudding with Tennessee Butterscotch Sauce (pictured, above, still puffed from the oven), which calls for Jack Daniel's whiskey. I've never gotten into the habit of drinking much, so I had to go out and buy a bottle of Jack just for this recipe. Which calls for 2 Tablespoons of whiskey.

Well, it was worth it. That's what I had for supper tonight (the bread pudding, I mean, not the Jack Daniel's), and I'm stuffed but it was sooooo good. And I have some of the sauce left over, which means I'll just have to make it again in a day or two.

I drew this on the COMPUTER using my MOUSE:

Saturday afternoon I made Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Scones. They turned out a bit dry and salty--I'm not sure if I measured something wrong or if I should try again and adjust the recipe a bit--but not bad. I made tea and set the table with my mother's beloved Royal Doulton china. You know how when you make tea you add one scoop for the pot and one for each cup to be drunk? Well, I added one for the pot, one for me, and one for my absent homies.

Mom, I wish you could have come to my equinoctal tea. We could have sat outside in the gusty, cool afternoon and picked leaves out of our plates.

A quick reminder!

My short story "Blood Oranges" will be sent out tomorrow to Daily Science Fiction's subscribers. It's free to sign up so if you haven't already, this would be a great time to do so!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Short Stories

I hate writing short stories. I find them way, way harder to write than novels, although I have no idea why. I also don't particularly like reading them. What's the point, when there's not really enough room to get to know the characters or to develop a decent plot? I like novels.

But several things lately have made me decide to write some short stories:
1. It kept coming up during Worldcon and I decided there was a reason I kept catching that message.
2. The Daily Science Fiction September lineup was published last week and my short story "Blood Oranges" will run on Sept. 25.
3. That Daily SF story is my second of three pro sales required for me to be eligible to join SFWA, and if I don't write anymore short stories, that third sale will never happen.
4. I've been on the treadmill of writing a novel, trying to find an agent, failing to find an agent, writing another novel for several years and it's worn me down badly; I need a few short story sales to regain some confidence in my writing.
5. I suspect if I start to sell to pro magazines regularly, I'll get more interest from agents.
6. Some relatively quick money would be nice too.

So once I decided to write short stories--and focus on writing for the pro markets, not the smaller magazines--I also decided I needed to read what's being published these days. I went to the book store and bought copies of Analog, Asimov's, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine--EQMM because I like mysteries, not because I expect to write any.

I read EQMM first and loved all but one story in it. I mean seriously loved them, to the point where I may subscribe. In fact, I went back to the book store yesterday and bought Aflred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, because I wanted more. I haven't read it yet, though. I was floored that I reacted that way to short stories and picked up Analog expecting I'd react the same way.

I didn't. The stories were pretty well written but I found most of them dull, pointless, and thought they were trying awfully hard to sound important. In short, the magazine was everything I remembered from trying to read SF stories years ago, and the reason why I don't like reading them now. Asimov's was better; I enjoyed maybe half the stories. I also bought The Magazine of Fantasy & SF yesterday and read the first story today, and liked it. Hopefully I'll like some of the other stories too.

After reading these short stories, I've come to a major conclusion: a huge percentage of stories in all these magazines--including mystery stories--take place in evocative, exotic settings, which I suspect is an effective way to hook a reader into a story that might otherwise come across as bland. Foreign settings usually have a white man as the main character; "normal" settings frequently have an "unusual" main character (native American, Chinese-American, woman, etc.).

My writing has improved considerably (I think) since I stopped writing short stories a few years ago. Now I know the secret to setting, I think I can start selling to pro markets. If only I can finish some wretched shorts.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Late last night I got home from Worldcon in Chicago. I had a lot of fun but I must say I've very glad to be home. I only had a few days between returning from my trip to Alaska and leaving for Chicago (at 4am on Friday, incidentally), so I don't plan to go anywhere for many months if I can avoid it.

I kept a travel journal, of course, but it rambles more than the Alaska journal and descends into cranky mode a bit too often for me to want to post the whole thing. I'll just post some excerpts, mostly about the panels I attended (but not all panels since I didn't made notes for some of them). I really really really love the panels at cons. That's why I go. I was planning to meet up with a few online friends who attended, but I don't have a smartphone and OF COURSE the super expensive Hyatt didn't have free wifi, so I couldn't get in touch with them.

Anyway, here's what I did this weekend. I know it's long but I swear I cut a lot of what I wrote.

Above: Night view out the window of my hotel. I was on the 31st floor!

Friday, August 31, 2012 8:50 am

I'm at my first panel. I wanted to attend "Writing Gender Roles in SF" but I can't find the room--or rather, I found the room and no one is in it. So I think I'm in the panel "Creating Plots," but the posted schedule is still showing Thursday night's panels, so who knows where I am? Way to go, Chicon!

Compared to DragonCon, Chicon is lightly attended and terribly mundane. Then again, it's 9am. Also, at breakfast I sat at the next table over from a SF writer whose name escapes me--and it will drive me crazy until I can get home and check my bookshelves [Allen Steele, I believe]--talking to a younger writer about his career. It was pretty interesting to overhear, and I couldn't avoid eavesdropping.

10:15 am

The last panel, about plotting, was pretty good although not really useful in my case. They talked about outlining and pacing mostly. There was one woman who said she hated writing short stories and as a result always outlined them although she didn't always outline her novels. I wonder if that would work for me. I too hate writing short stories....

Friday, August 31, 2012 11:45 am

The Violence in Fantasy panel was excellent, and I'm following it up with the "Female Villains" panel. The violence panel was all men--including two authors I've read and liked [Scott Lynch and Douglas Hulick], which is always a plus--so I hope to get a more female perspective on similar issues in this one. It looks like the panel members are fairly evenly split male/female, although they're not all here yet.

12:30 pm

Note to self: buy David Boop's book. He's the only one on this panel who's trying to keep on topic and respond to the moderator's topics, and he's getting dumped on. Why would anyone agree to be on a Female Villains panel and then refuse to address the difference between male and female characters? I'm on the verge of leaving the panel out of boredom.

1:15 pm

The panel picked up, but not by a whole lot. The panel members hardly referenced any book at all, just movies and TV shows, even when an audience member asked specifically about well-written villains. And Gene Wolfe hardly got a chance to speak until the very end, when an audience member asked him a question directly. His reply was measured and intelligent, so I wish the panel had stayed on topic so he could have said more.

Above: daytime view from my hotel room. Foggy, windy day.

Friday, August 31, 2012 7:15 pm

Wow, am I slowing down. I've been up since 4am. After this next panel on YA books translated to film, I'm heading back to my room. I can take a bath and read my ghost book, then go to bed. There are a lot of panels tomorrow that I want to attend....

I just had a wonderful thought. The first panels start at 9am tomorrow, which is 10am my time. So I can sleep as late as I like and I won't miss them, because I couldn't sleep until 10am unless I was terribly ill.

Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 8:15 am

Hey, it's September!

I slept until 6:45, which isn't bad. The YA books into movies panel last night was excellent, a small, relaxed group, a good moderator, and clever, interesting panelists. Since it was the last panel in that room we ran right up until 9pm.

I went to a nearby bagel place for breakfast and now I'm sitting outside the hotel. It's overcast and feels like rain. I wanted fresh air, but there's nowhere to sit except the 'smoker's garden,' so the air is nasty. I guess I'll go in and find a stretch of hallway to perch in while I wait [for the 9am panels].

10:15 am

I ended up going to the Men Writing Women panel, which had four male writers and one female librarian/academic on the panel. The discussion strayed pretty widely instead of focusing on, you know, men writing women characters. The men were very careful [to not say anything that could be perceived as sexist], which I think hampered their spontaneity. Of course, they were right to be so careful since the woman panelist got very sharp with a guy who made a comment (and an entirely appropriate and correct one) but used the word "femininity." She demanded he explain what he meant by that, and suggested he meant sexually available. My God, can we not have one single conversation on gender where someone doesn't derail over semantics? And you'd think she would know better. She acted like she was teaching a class, not participating on a panel.

Anyway, I'm following up with what should be a fun panel, The Art of the Cover Pose. Since Jim C. Hines is on the panel I hope it covers (ha) the unrealistic female poses that he spoofed on his blog a few months ago.

Above: Author Jim C. Hines and a lightsaber, demonstrating a particularly difficult cover pose. Hines also won his first Hugo at Worldcon this year.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 11:40 am

The covers panel was a lot of fun, especially the first part where Jim Hines did cover poses. Now I'm at a panel on worldbuilding. It should be good. I have no idea who's on the panel, but even if it's awful at least it's in a room with windows.

1:05 pm

I was waiting for the worldbuilding panel to start when I heard one of the panelists talking to a guy who'd asked him a question. His response was so ponderous and condescending that I started to worry about whether I'd enjoy the panel at all. Then I realized hey, this isn't a class. It's not required. So I left.

I went down to the dealer's room and looked around. I hadn't gone far when I found the Angry Robot booth, and recognized Wes Chu from his online icon pic (which is sort of creepy, but it's not like we aren't in the same little writing support group). I said hi, but he obviously didn't have a clue who I was, and probably couldn't hear me over all the noise. My voice gets really soft when I'm nervous. I asked if Laura Lam was there, thinking OMG, at least she'll know who I am, I betaed her book, but Wes said she wasn't around but might be by in another hour.

After that I went to find somewhere to eat. For a while I just walked, looking for a decent-looking restaurant. I went down a staircase in the middle of the sidewalk and found myself on a street beneath the street, which was cool, and right in front of me was the Billy Goat Bar and Grill. I wouldn't have gone in because it looked like such a tourist trap, but it was fantastically busy so I thought it might actually be good food. Well, it turned out to be cash only and the food was bland. It tasted like cafeteria hamburgers. I didn't even finish my burger.

Above: If you eat at the Billy Goat Tavern, make sure to bring cash and then go spend it elsewhere.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 4:30 pm

I meant to catch up but took a while to find an ATM so now the Writing Realistic Women panel is starting.

4:45 pm

Stop talking about your own books.

4:55 pm

It feels like I've attended this same panel over and over. They all reinvent the wheel. Yes, let's start with the realization that all people are people regardless of gender, and writing a rounded character no matter the gender is the important thing. Now let's discuss specifics. Or not. Let's go get pizza instead.

Also, if you only reference your own books in a panel, I start to assume that you haven't ever read any other books.

[After lunch] I had an hour to kill and tried to find a quiet corner where I could rest and read or write. Then I realized that duh, I have a room in this hotel. So I went up to my room and got some rest and quiet time. Like a toddler, I get cranky when I'm tired. Then just before 3pm I came back down to attend a panel. It was just a group of five prestigious authors telling funny anecdotes about previous conventions, mostly from the 1950s through 1970s. It was the fandom version of listening to aunts and uncles tell funny family stories. It was packed and everyone was laughing like crazy.

After that I felt much better, but unfortunately I came to this panel, which is endless. Now they are talking about men vs. women and they are not even discussing writing anymore. At least that means they're no longer talking about their own books. The only panelist who is trying to keep it on track is the self-published author, who isn't even the moderator.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 8:00 pm

The [minorities in SF] panel was very good and I have several new books I want to find now. It was almost 7:30 when it was over and I was starving, so I decided to blow off the 7:30 panels after all and went to find somewhere to eat.

It's a cool, blowy evening and every restaurant I found was packed. I wanted pizza, but the only pizza place I saw had a wait of an hour and a half just to get in. Finally, out of desperation I came back to the hotel and am in their uber-expensive restaurant. I am embarrassed to say how much I'm paying for a sirloin and a salad. I almost ordered the lamb, but it would have almost cost as much as my water bill this month. [Note to the worried: filling the tank of my car also costs almost as much as my water bill. So it's not all that much money.]

9 pm

[rant about the terrible service in the restaurant mercifully snipped] Grouchy cat is grouchy. Oh, damn, I meant to stop by the bar to see if any of my writing group are there. Never mind. I'm way too tired and not in a good mood. Besides, I walked down to Fannie May Candies after eating and got an assortment of extremely expensive chocolates, which I will proceed to enjoy in the bath.

[I forgot to include this in the journal, but right before I stepped into the bath I heard booming outside, and when I looked out the window I could just see the reflection of fireworks on a nearby building. I pulled on some clothes and went to watch fireworks over the lake from a window at the end of the hotel hallway, then when it was done I came back in and took my bath. It was a nice little surreal interlude.]
Above: Yet another view from my hotel window.

Sunday, September 2, 2012 8:40 am

I got breakfast at the bagel place, and had to fight to get online. [My laptop does not play well with others.] I finally got online via Starbucks wifi, of all places. But by then it was getting late so I only stayed long enough to check my email (nothing) and Twitter, where I found that Laura had tweeted me ten hours ago asking where I was. You know, the next con I go to, I am not staying in a hotel that doesn't have free wifi. [Or maybe I should get a smartphone, huh?]

I'm at a panel for Perseverance, for authors like me who can't see success in the foreseeable future. They didn't put it that way but that's what it is.

Sunday, September 2, 2012 10:25 am

The perseverance panel turned out to be excellent! The moderator kept it on track and the responses were brisk and interesting. It made me feel good about where I am right now instead of worse. I really appreciated that the panelists assumed the audience members weren't all raw beginners. They treated us professionally, which right away made me feel better.

Now I've checked out of the hotel and I'm at the "Committing Series" panel. One of the panelists is giving out cookies, and I have candy left over from last night. I'm set.

11:45 am

The series panel was pretty good, although whether I actually learned anything I hadn't already discovered by trial and error I don't know. Now I'm at a "Medical Myths and Errors" panel, which is in a room with actual tables. This is awesome because I can lean on a table instead of fidgeting around trying to get comfortable....

Of course, the last panel was in a big room with windows, so I spent most of the panel staring out at the trees tossing in the rainy wind and two crows who kept flapping around the courtyard. Maybe that's why I didn't get much out of the panel.

Above: View from the hotel window down the hall from my room. That's where the fireworks were on Saturday night.

Sunday, September 2, 2012 1:20 pm

The last panel was interesting and I've decided to charge right into the next and skip lunch. This one's about modern pseudoscience and should be very good. It's in another room with windows and I'm glad to see the sun's trying to come out.

4:35 pm

So, that last panel. My God, where to start? It would have been brilliant with any other moderator. A yeti would have made a better moderator; he could just grunt and point. He would not play devil's advocate so strenuously that he comes across as an obstructionist crackpot, he would not derail the topic, he would not interrupt the panelists, and he would not overtake the conversation with his own views. I only stayed because the panelists were well worth listening to, even if they didn't get much of a chance to talk. And they were all unfailingly polite to the moderator no matter how hysterical and off the wall she got.

And thus endeth Worldcon for me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Travel is broadening

I have traveled to Alaska and home again, I have eaten until even I was startled at how many calories I was able to engulf in a week, and I have been talking more or less nonstop about the trip ever since I got back--so much talking about it that I'm tired of yammering. And I haven't even unpacked and need to pack to go to Chicago and Worldcon this weekend.

The trip was marvelous. I kept a travel journal, so I'll just transcribe what I wrote and put some pictures in. (I'd include pix of my nephews, but my brother and sister-in-law probably don't want me to plaster their kids all over the internet, so I won't.) Occasionally I'll add a comment in brackets. Warning: this will be long--but, I hope, entertaining.

August 16, 2012

When I got to the airport, I was starving and thirsty, so as soon as I checked my bag, I bought an enormously expensive Coke and a donut and bolted them. About the time I had to step in the scanner and get cancered, the caffeine and sugar was kicking in so much I was shaky. It's a wonder I wasn't disappeared for appearing nervous. I was so relieved when I got through security without being arrested that I stopped at Starbucks and got a vanilla bean frappuccino, but the idiot barista added--ick--coffee. Vanilla means no coffee! It's practically the only drink on the Starbucks menu without coffee. I'm drinking it anyway (good thing I have Tic-Tacs to combat coffee breath) and the caffeine is surging through my system. They could use me to power the entire airport until my flight leaves. Hell, I could just run to Chicago in time to catch my connecting flight.

I have over an hour to wait. They'd probably object to my climbing up to hang from the skylights, so I guess I'll just sit here and vibrate and pop Tic-Tacs.

 <--Vancouver from the ship

August 16, 2012
about 7:30 pm (Chicago time)

Pizza for supper. I bought some gummis. The little bag was $4.29 and as I was checking out the cashier said, "They're four-twenty-nine," in a warning voice. I told her if I'd neglected to bring candy with me I deserved to have to overpay for it at the airport. She didn't laugh.

On my flight up I sat beside the guy who bicycled with his wife and three daughters from Kentucky to Alaska about a decade ago. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news. He told me about it when I told him I was going to Alaska, and he was the one who started the "where are you headed?" conversation. I don't typically talk to people. Ever.

There was a lot of turbulence during our flight. I had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to giggle and squeal. It really does feel like a roller coaster. The world's most expensive (and awesome) roller coaster.

August 17, 2012
1 am Vancouver time
4 am Tennessee time OMG

Made it! I had to fight a girl for my seat by the window. She had parked herself in it and spread 4,000 items about her person, including an enormous salad she was sitting there eating while I blocked traffic down the aisle and snarled at her. It took her forever to move into her actual seat, right next to me. She did apologize (and later, when we were descending into Vancouver with the lights spread out below like a fairy blanket, she said wistfully, "Is it pretty?", which made me feel a teeny bit guilty).

The flight was uneventful and seemed very long although it was only about four hours. I read some and tried to doze some and mostly looked out MY window at the stars and the lights and the pale haze above the horizon that in places seemed to climb into the sky in nearly invisible columns of gray.

I got the first stamp in my new passport, and this is the first time I have been to Canada. I hope we have a little time to explore in the morning.

Now a shower for me and bed. This is a really nice hotel.

August 17, 2012
6:30 am

I tried to sleep later, but woke at 6am. That's nine my time, and for me that's sleeping late. Richard [my brother] said we might meet around 7 or 7:30, so I have time to kill since I'm all ready to go except for my shoes.

The first thing I did when I got up was look out the window. The OCEAN is out there! Seagulls are flying around instead of pigeons!

I'm eating the gummis I forgot about yesterday. Maybe I'll read for an hour.

August 17, 2012
about 1pm

I am on a SHIP! We have embarked although we won't leave shore until around four, I think. I am sitting on our little deck and can feel the ship rocking very gently. Only time will tell if I get seasick.

about 5pm

We are underway! We went under a bridge! Tara [my sister-in-law] got glasses of wine to toast to the cruise and to departing Vancouver. We're sitting on our little deck now, watching the land slide by. The sea rushes in foamy swells from the ship and I can hear the music faintly from where they're dancing around the pool. I'm not sure if I'm feeling swimmy-headed from the ship's motion, my lack of sleep, or the wine. Maybe all of them.

8:15 pm

I am going to gain one million pounds on this cruise. I will say no more about supper.

I showered once we got back to the room, and changed into capris. Now I'm full and comfy and sleepy, and the sun is not even down. Tara is reading on our little balcony, I'm here with her, and the two younger boys have the binoculars and are debating the merits of various speedboats visible from the ship.

Tara wants to go to a documentary about Alaska at 9pm. It's poolside so I don't have to worry about my hair being wet. I just hope I don't fall asleep.

We're in deep water here and it looks almost black next to the ship. The sun is setting behind the hills--so much craggier than the ones at home.

August 18, 2012
about 6:15 am

"Early bird" breakfast means coffee and tea, not food. I am slurping down tea and waiting for a food place to open. Tara elected to sleep in, not to my surprise. She was worn out, and I'm more of a morning person than she is. It's foggy this morning. Tara said (in a creaky morning voice), "I've never been on a ship where it wasn't foggy in the mornings." This is her third cruise.

Hey, there's a clock. It's almost 6:20 am. The foghorn keeps sounding, just like something out of a movie. The dining room where I'm sitting, waiting for food, is open at its far end where the pool is. The air rushing in is cold and salty, and tendrils of mist wisp toward me until they dissolve in the blasts of heated air. The floor is wet. I can still see the ocean sliding by, although I'm up on deck 11 so I can't see it very well from here.

Man, am I hungry. 6:25. I think they're going to bring out some food at 6:30. The big buffet restaurant opens at seven, but I don't know if I can make it that long without toast.

More tea, please.

August 18, 2012

Tara came to find me before I had my second tea, and we went for breakfast once it opened. I ate one of everything I could fit on my plate. Then we went to the gym and worked out, which is probably a good thing although now I really have a headache. I should have had that second tea after all.

about 2:15 pm

I put my new [fountain] pen together, the one I bought in Vancouver. It's gorgeous.

The boat was rolling a bit earlier and Richard and the kids were feeling a bit seasick. They are all doped up on Dramamine now. I took Tylenol for my headache and feel better too, but I had a light lunch. Comparatively speaking.

Tonight is the first formal dinner. Tara and I looked at the menu and have already decided what we will order. I'm getting the duck, which is mostly why I didn't have much lunch.

I've discovered that I love strolling around outside on deck 5, which is the lowest deck where you can actually go outside. It's chilly and damp down there so I mostly have it to myself. I keep taking photos of the bow waves and our wake. Tara pointed out that I'm going to end up deleting most of my pictures. [She was right.]

August 18, 2012
9:30 pm

We saw WHALES. Or orcas [actually they were probably humpbacks] which are, I think, a type of dolphin rather than a whale. We saw a lot of them and Tara got some pictures, or at least she did after she appropriated my camera's memory card. She'd forgotten hers and my camera was refusing to focus when I zoomed in. Teamwork! She made me promise to email her the pix after we get home.

Tonight was formal dress for dinner. I forgot to take pictures, but the boys were so adorable dressed up. I had oxtail soup, duck, and berry pudding. I feel kind of sick from too much rich food. I have no one to blame but myself.

August 19, 2012

We are sailing alongside land, possibly islands. It's only a little foggy this morning, so I can see the low hills very closely, craggy with pine trees, and glimpses of higher hills beyond. And there are lights in the distance. People live here.

I love early mornings by myself. I tried hard not to wake Tara when I got up and dressed, but the way I was thumping around she was probably wide awake but too polite to say so. [She was. I woke her up every single morning.]

I have my tea and I'm waiting for breakfast to open or for someone I know to show up and say hi. No headache this morning, no queasiness. Richard has a supply of Dramamine and ginger products so big he could set up a drugstore in his stateroom. I have a ginger chew he gave me yesterday in my pocket. He says he eats them all the time--like, constantly, the way other people chew gum. They're good, but lordie, not that good.

August 19, 2012
about 7:30 am

I never thought I'd eat grits in Alaska. They're not bad, though.

3:45 pm

We went on our first excursion today, a canoe trip and little nature walk in Ketchikan. It was fun, and the foggy, gray weather turned abruptly warm and sunny while we were out, giving us a brilliant view of some mountains with streaks of snow at their summits. From the water of the small lake, we could smell the cold, clean scent of evergreens that climb the steep sides of the mountains.

I bought a brown fleece jacket with a bear stitched on it, which is snuggly warm and which is probably why it turned so warm out. But even with the sun out, the breeze has a snap to it that feels more like early spring to me than late summer.

We saw a bald eagle and found a book store.

August 20, 2012
4:50 am

I thought it was closer to 6am and got up and dressed and slipped out to drink tea and wait for breakfast. Imagine my surprise. No wonder I'm still so sleepy, but the tea and coffee things are already set up so at least I can get some caffeine down.

We go ziplining today. I probably want to be over-caffeinated for that.

It's light, which is why I thought it was closer to six, but only just. After I finish my tea, I'm going to walk around on deck and take pictures. A lot of the mountains here have snow on them. I am all snuggled up in my brown bear jacket. Best $15 I ever spent.

August 20, 2012

We're stopped at the port where we go on the zipline. It's strung up above the hills like a radio tower guywire. There's three lines [actually it turned out to be six] so we can all three go at the same time and race. In honor of that #3, I ate three breakfasts. Hobbits are amateurs.

There's no dock for cruise ships here, so we'll have to cross to land in little boats. Tara told me the name of the boats but I can't remember it. All I can think of is 'trebuchet' and 'punter,' which are just random words.

No, wait. They're called tenders. Makes me think of chicken.

August 20, 2012
1:30 pm

The zipline. OMG, the zipline! It was co cool.

We rode up to the top of the mountain in a bus, and the driver told us some stuff about the town and places we were passing. The ride was about 45 minutes and he stopped once so we could take pictures out the windows. From what he said, the zipline is owned by the Tlingits (pronounced sort of like Klinkits) and has brought a lot of prosperity to the village. The bus driver said that he was one of the village elders, and told us the traditional greeting to visitors and how he would introduce himself to them. Then he let us all out at the top of the mountain and we walked down a short distance to the zipline launching pad or whatever it's called. There was one poor lady who got scared and decided she couldn't do it, and when she found out the bus had already started back down and she couldn't catch a ride with him, she got kind of hysterical. I felt sorry for her. I wished I could reassure her that the scared only lasts briefly but the awesome remains forever.

Richard, I. [my oldest nephew; I'll be referring to my nephews by their initials], and I were among the six who went down on the very first trip. They strapped us in, had us put our feet on the wooden door thingie in front of us, gave a quick 3-2-1 countdown--and we were gone. The door dropped and we fell off the mountain and rode all the way down in 90 seconds. I screamed, but it was a lot of fun too--and beautiful. I had my camera but the first thing I did was accidentally turn it off, and it took me a few seconds to get it back on. I did take some pictures, though.

I bought a black hoodie that says "Icy Strait Pointe, Hoonah, Alaska," which is of course where we are. About half a dozen people, mostly strangers, have pointed out that I paid too much. $35 is not too much for a nice warm hoodie that's also a souvenir, plus I think the profits may go to the village so I don't mind paying a bit extra.

Tomorrow we go to Juneau and I will probably buy a tote bag, if I can find one. I need it since I am constantly dragging my spiral notebook around with me and one day I'll drop it overboard if I'm not careful.

<--My brother, obviously, not my six-year-old nephew, who is a bit smaller than that

August 21, 2012

My six-year-old nephew climbed all the way to the top of the climbing wall yesterday and rang the bell. It was unreal--he took off just like a gecko. Richard was the next person to climb and also rang the bell, but his accomplishment was a bit overshadowed by M's.

Today Richard and I go on a hike together, which will be fun. I am already wearing my hiking boots.

Obviously I don't have a lot to say since I'm sitting here staring out the window at the long silhouette of a ridge sliding by against the dim sky. It's bristly with fir trees. The water is placid, barely rippled.

Despite me taking forever and a half cup of tea to write this, it's still only 5:07. Breakfast opens at six. I guess I'll finish my tea and go walking around out on deck. Maybe I'll see a whale.

August 21, 2012
about 6:30 am

I have finished breakfast, although if today is anything like yesterday I will return for more when Tara arrives to eat, and possibly more again with Richard and the kids.

This is what I ate just now--I finished everything but the scrambled eggs:
1 poached egg
scoop of scrambled eggs with tiny shrimps
2 pieces bacon
grits with butter
English muffin (small) with butter
1/2 piece French toast with strawberries
small raspberry danish
small slice of bread with berries that I can't identify
orange juice

In future days, when I'm back to eating a bowl of Wheat Chex with almond milk for breakfast, I will look at that enormous list with awe. And irritation, since it's going to take a while to drop the weight I'm gaining. And this doesn't even include the fruit I'll probably get later, along with another slice of the mystery berry bread.

I ought to leave the rest of my tea and go down to see the dinner menu for tonight. At least it will get me out of the cafe and its enormous buffet that never ends.

August 21, 2012
about 6:40 am

2 sliced half-peaches
2 chunks pineapple
2 chunks watermelon
small piece mystery berry bread

August 21, 2012

The hike was excellent, although my feet are tired. It's gorgeous around here, lush and stark at once. This is technically a rain forest and everything is covered in moss. It's spongy underfoot and hangs from trees. In some places there is so much moss on everything that it doesn't look like a scene from Earth--surely it's Venus or Degobah or the holodeck. The mountainsides are steep, and exposed rock is scraped from the passage of glaciers thousands of years ago. The glacier here--which I've forgotten the name of [Mendenhall]--fills a valley, with its blue feet in a lake 200 feet deep. Icebergs drift along like fairy boats.

My camera batteries died halfway through the hike. Of course.

After we got back, Richard and I had a few minutes to ourselves in Juneau. I bought fresh batteries, postcard stamps, a paperback, and a candy bar. Oh, and a tote bag so I can carry my notebook around in the mornings without having to stuff it in my waistband to free my hands.

Tara went off shopping by herself and the two younger kids are in a supervised activity (Richard's just gone to pick them up). So when we got back to the ship, Richard and I went to lunch, with I. along to keep us company although he'd already eaten. While we (mostly me) were stuffing ourselves, our waiter from the nice restaurant in the evenings noticed us and said hello. I didn't realize he had to work lunch too. I feel guilty for complaining that my feet hurt from my hike when Sathish [I think I'm misspelling his name] works every single day cleaning up after me and bringing me food. I hope they pay him well and that he actually gets the tip I'm going to leave him instead of the cruise company keeping most of it.

August 21, 2012
9:10 pm

Venison for supper. REALLY. It was excellent. I started with smoked duck, and it was perfect wiht pieces of candied walnuts. After the venison, I got the chocolate-whiskey-raisin cake, which came with vanilla ice cream. I ate it all, and our server brought me the maple pudding too because he said he didn't want me to miss it, and it came with more ice cream, and it tasted like the best pancake with syrup EVER and I ate most of it. At that point I started to wonder if the kitchen staff was taking bets to see if I'd finish it or if I'd explode. I pictured them in the back, saying, "Give her more ice cream. See if she'll eat it." So I quit eating and waddled back to the stateroom.

August 22, 2012
4:50 am

It's not even light yet. Why am I up?

Today Tara and I go on a horseback ride in Skagway while Richard takes the boys to see husky puppies. This is the last port of call and our last excursion. Tomorrow we sail by some big glacier but we don't stop.

Tara and I were talking about going for breakfast in the nice dining room today instead of the buffet. I think she is trying to save me from myself.

August 22, 2012
7:30 am

Tara still felt full from last night, so she didn't want a big breakfast. Amateur. So I had my usual too-much breakfast. It's still drizzling slightly and fog has rolled in, so thick we can't even see the other cruise ships nearby.

<--Tara is on the black horse, I'm on the bay

3:30 pm

The fog mostly lifted before our horseback riding trip, although it rained. I didn't mind. Tara had never been on a horse before and was nervous. I hadn't been on a horse in 25 years and was nervous. I was put on a horse called Moose and Tara on a horse named Spike. Moose and Spike were best buddies, which was fortunate because Spike was really slow so Moose kept crowding him--so much so that he actually rubbed his cheek against Spike's rump to scratch an itch at one point. Moose also kept farting. Moose the farting horse.

Tara did great. I acknowledge that I have forgotten most of what I ever knew about riding. Maybe I'll sign up for lessons somewhere when I get home.

The ship will be moving away from Skagway in about half an hour, which means the cruise is almost over.

August 22, 2012
9:30 pm

I got chicken tonight although it was lobster night. Tara let me taste her lobster and I'm glad I got the chicken, because apparently I don't like lobster.

Tonight at 11pm they have a special chocolate dealie. I'm not sure I can stay awake another hour and a half, though, even for chocolate. Tara's staying up because I.'s curfew is 11:30 and she can't fall asleep until he's back.

It's cold and windy and rainy out. We have a lot of ocean to cover to reach Hubbard Glacier by morning, so we're racing along. Apparently two people never made it back from today's stop at Skagway. When they didn't show, their passports were left on shore and the ship left without them. I bet they're having a rotten day.

August 23, 2012
5:35 am

Last night Tara and I managed to stay up until 11pm and went to the chocolate thing. They had ice sculptures lit up with colored lights, and melons carved into ships with spoons for oars, and cakes decorated with fruit and chips of chocolate, and every delicious, fanciful thing. We filled out plates, sat down, and Tara took maybe three bites before sliding hers away and saying, "I don't need this." Then she sat there looking desperately tired while I crammed cake in my face.

We both agreed to sleep late this morning. And we did! When we both stirred and raised our heads to look outside--she did first, which woke me too--it was 5:30 am instead of 4:45.

I think I may be able to sleep on the plane tomorrow night.

Tara went back to sleep, or said she was going to try. I really enjoy my quiet mornings on the ship so I went ahead and got dressed. My jeans are too filthy to wear and my slacks don't have pockets, so I'm wearing capris. Thin cotton capris. Because before I got here, my brain simply could not fathom true cold in August.

It's getting light out. The sea is calm with swells that rock the ship gently side to side. I hardly notice the ship's motion anymore, although in Juneau and Skagway both I felt occasionally that the ground was moving underfoot like a ship. I guess I have my sea legs, or I'm just crazy.

August 23, 2012
11:15 am

Richard and I took M with us to the nice restaurant, Cascades, for breakfast. We were sailing near the Hubbard Glacier then and got to see a yellow boat full of crewmembers manhandling a chunk of iceberg onboard. I got pictures. They put it up on deck 11 for people to examine, and they'll make an ice sculpture out of it tonight. They think of everything.

I've spent most of the morning outside on deck, except when I was eating exquisite French toast at breakfast. Tara was with me a big part of the time. When we went down to deck five around 7am, we stopped first at the dinner menu near the door out. I made my selection right away, pumpkin soup, roast turkey, and key lime pie, and was ready to go on out and look at the glacier filling the horizon. But Tara was still studying the menu. She said, "Some decisions are important and shouldn't be rushed."

The glacier is immense. The water near it is full of icebergs, large and small, and as the ship moves through them they slap and crackle in the water like an enormous bowl of Rice Krispies. The glacier several times made a noise just like thunder, booming as it cracked somewhere inside. I saw the spray and big wave as the glacier calved an iceberg, but I didn't see the ice fall.

It's so desolate here, cold and empty. Tara says it's like the end of the world. The ship turned around and crept its way back through the rattling icebergs, and now we're back in the open ocean headed for Seward, Alaska and the end of our cruise.

August 23, 2012
8:15 pm

I was going to take a much-needed shower but N has a strange genius of knowing when I'm about to go into our bathroom and rushes in to grab it. So I'm waiting, since he's in there singing. Sounds like he'll be a while.

My stuff is all packed up and ready to go. Dinner tonight was underwhelming--turkey that tasted like it came from a school lunchroom--so I'm not over-full. I'm thinking about my cat and my yard and how I will need to get groceries when I get home.

Tomorrow we have to be up and out by 6:10 am in order to catch our train to Anchorage, where we fly out tomorrow evening. The train will be an adventure: I love trains, and the scenery is supposed to be spectacular.

The waves are still high, rolling the ship along. This afternoon it rained and got very choppy, but now fog is blowing in. I saw two whales earlier, but the ship is going so fast I couldn't get a picture before we'd passed them by.

August 24, 2012

We're on a train! It's moving!

4:50 pm

Richard and Tara and the boys are in line to board their flight. My flight doesn't leave for another four hours. Really. And then I fly to Houston, arrive about 6am, and fly to Knoxville (I even just writing Knoxville) to arrive around 1pm tomorrow. It's gonna be a long night. [I didn't get any sleep at all.]

They are gone onto the plane. Vacation is over. There's nothing left to do except go home.