Archive for the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Category

Seizing Opportunity

July 14, 2021
A Opportunity Accepted

Many thanks to all who helped Jim decide which photo to enter in the little local contest.  With your prompting, he chose “After the Dustbath.”  Responses overall were interesting, but this one seemed to hit people both on an artistic level, and on an “awww-so-cute” level.  It also seemed to appeal because of the sense of motion it contains.

Several comments (as well as e-mails) asked me about Jim’s photography.  So, here’s my very amateur attempt to reply.  First of all, all four photos featured last week were hand-held, no tripod.  Jim used a long telephoto lens for most of the photos, although “Cedar Waxwings” was taken with his regular lens.

None of these photos were taken at a zoo, aviary, wildlife preserve, or any location where the birds’ freedom of motion was restricted.  Three, in fact, were taken in our yard.  The sandhill cranes were photographed at a facility created as a rest stop for migrating wildlife.

In the case of the photos taken at our house, Jim often had minimal time to prepare.  The set-up was likely something like this:

“Hey!  Quail out front!  With chicks!”

Camera is then grabbed, pointed, focused, and photos are taken.

Jim doesn’t have any of those fast clicky devices used by professional photographers who specialize in action shots.

The photo accompanying this piece was taken in our back yard, by flashlight (held by me), for no other reason than that we’d never seen a toad actually sitting on the lily pads of the miniature waterlily in our teeny pond.  The toad knew us so wasn’t scared.  In fact, he started singing, and thus the photo.

This brings me to the value of seizing opportunity.  So often I’ve encountered people who refuse to do something because they don’t feel sufficiently assured in advance that it will be worth their while or “pay off.”  The recent trend of self-publishing and the related one of “monetizing” crafts has added to the sense that no one should do anything for any reason except to make money.  That’s such a pity.

The two novels I recently sold (Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge aka “The Over Where Duology”) were written without any promise of anything except that I’d really have a great time writing them.  And I did.  Even if these books had never sold, nothing could have taken that joy from me.

The Firekeeper books, my most popular series to date, come from the same happy place.  I wrote Through Wolf’s Eyes because I wanted to, even though I was surrounded by people who held forth that a professional writer like me, who already had several published novels (including some like Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls and Changer, which had received a lot of critical acclaim) should never take on such a big project without a contract.

But I did, and in addition to making me happy, I made a lot of other people happy, too.

So, seize the opportunity, whether to write or craft or dance to your favorite song…  Or join our toad friend, and sing for no other reason than that you feel like doing so.  Joy is its own reward.

In the Pink

June 23, 2021

Life here has been busy, with activities on many fronts.

The interview I did with the podcast Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy went live on Friday.  You can go here and listen to me talk with host David Barr Kirtley about writing, including some background anecdotes about how some of my stories came to be, as well as how I fit writing into my life. If you don’t have time to listen, he’s transcribed some of the interview as text, including comments about living with Roger Zelazny and one of the few occasions I saw him get really angry; the time my character out-smarted George R.R.’s in a role-playing game, as well as my archeologist husband, Jim, on finding dead bodies.

I also spent some time this week setting up to participate in the SF/F Libertycon, which is virtual this year.  I’m on two pre-recorded panels: one on the space western anthology, Shootout at Europa Station, and their traditional “Meet the Newbies,” which introduces guests new to the LibertyCon experience.  On Friday, June 25th, I’m scheduled to do a live reading at 6:00 pm EST/4:00 MST.  I plan to read from my forthcoming novel, Library of the Sapphire Wind.  If I can figure Discord out, I might be able to take questions!

I’m also still finishing setting up my new desktop.  It’s in place so that I can write and do e-mail, but there’s tweaking to do.  The adventure in finding a new printer was definitely worthy of Kafka, but it should arrive this week. 

There was silly fun, too.  Last Saturday, we had dinner with friends who make incredible gelato.  The visit before, we had brought iced tea flavored with prickly pear cactus juice.  The discussion segued into what gelato made with prickly pear cactus juice would be like, so they had the custard prepared, we brought the juice, and they finished the gelato after dinner.  It was terrific!

The photo shows a glass of lemonade with prickly pear cactus juice, and the remaining pint of gelato…

Despite all of this, I did continue working on the editor’s notes for the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge.  These two “Over Where” novels are due for release Spring of 2022, so I’d better get back to work, so I don’t miss my deadline!

Hope to “see” some of you Friday at Libertycon, but if that’s not likely and you have any questions, feel free to ask them here!

Getting Ready

December 30, 2020
Now All I Need Is Black Coffee and Some Paper!

We’re just a few days out from the New Year.  Now that my Christmas preparations are taken care of, and we’re in the middle of that lovely liminal space between holidays, I’ve been readying myself to start back into my writing routine.

Over the years, I’ve been given some lovely mugs celebrating my work as a writer, and I’m marshalling these along with a new fountain pen to launch me into creative mode.

Although the majority of my writing is done on my computer, I often start a new piece longhand.  Maybe because I started writing fiction longhand, it’s as if there’s a hotline between my writing hand and my Muse that isn’t always there with the keyboard.

Even my choice of keyboard is made to provide the absolute least interruption between the Muse and getting the story into a form I can share with other people.  I use a very old keyboard on which I’ve worn away about half of the letters from frequent use.  (I really need to get some of the stickers that have been recommended to me.)  I even have a back-up of the same old model for when this one goes, because the point for me is not thinking about the act of writing.

In that way, I guess my root perception of myself is as a storyteller rather than an author or writer.  I’m just a storyteller who prefers to use writing as the way to tell my stories.  However, as my gamers can tell you, I can spin a pretty decent yarn with nothing but the spoken word.

One of my self-assigned challenges for this year may be to use a cool digital voice recorder Jim gave me for my birthday to make short audio files of some of my work.  However, on the whole, I don’t really like to listen to myself composing.  For that reason, I hope that—unlike my buddy David Weber—I don’t find myself needing to transition to voice-activated software.

That said, if the choice is that or not telling stories, you can bet I’d learn.

Now, although I’d promised myself a break (or maybe even because I took a break), I wrote a bit (longhand) the other day that got me through a rough patch in my current novel revision.  I think I’ll go insert it into the manuscript, then see if the Muse wants to talk some more.

Baking and Decorating

December 23, 2020
Persephone Unpacks the Tree

Busy time here, as we squeeze in decorating and baking into our already busy lives. Here and there, I’m even finding time to write.

Our young cats, Mei-Ling and Roary are enjoying the changes and fuss, quite possibly because Persephone greets it all with enthusiasm.

Blissed Mei-Ling

Wishing you and yours a happy whatever your choice of celebration is!

Roary Samples the Tree

Little Sparkles

August 5, 2020

Kumihimo bracelets, lanyards, and key-chains

A lot going on here…  I’m now immersed in getting a copy of SK4 (the yet untitled fourth book in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing in collaboration with David Weber) into Jim’s hands.  My website is undergoing some revision, so it’s going to look a bit weird for a few weeks.  Also, I appreciate how many of you have signed up for my mailing list.  I will be doing a drawing for a giveaway before the end of summer (I hope), and mailing list people will get their own special “thank you” at that time.

Lately, when I’m not being a writer, a small business owner, or cat wrangler, I’m definitely spending a lot of time on my garden.  Monday night, it got bombarded by hail, but most of the plants have survived.  Yay!

Another favorite hobby activity is beadwork.  A couple of years ago, courtesy of a birthday gift from my sister, Ann, I became devoted (Jim would probably say “addicted”) to doing kumihimo with beads.  I mentioned my new interest at the time, but I thought I’d share where that has taken me nearly two years later.

The photo shows a limited assortment of the pieces I’ve created: limited, because I’ve given quite a few bracelets and several keychains as gifts.  Recently, I graduated to making longer pieces.  Ironically, I’d intended to use these as badge lanyards for future conventions but, now that everything has gone virtual, I guess I’m making them so I’ll be ready when there are conventions again!

I will admit, as much as I enjoy the bracelets, there’s something very satisfying about making a thirty inch or so rope.  These involve approximately 1,800 beads per finished piece, each of which is braided in individually.

Unlike my writing, which takes many months before anyone other than me gets to see the finished project, or a gardening project, which also takes a long time to develop, kumihimo gives me something to look at and enjoy within a few hours (although the complete project takes longer, depending on length and complexity).

There’s probably something profound there about creative contrasts, but I haven’t figured it out.  What I do know is that I really enjoy my little sparkles!

Easter Egg Hunt

April 12, 2020

Easter Egg Hunt

Jim took this picture of some of the birds in our front yard.  The male quail really does look as if he’s hunting for Easter Eggs!

Saturday Silliness

April 11, 2020

Cat In A Box!

My friend, Yvonne, has always been a letter-writer.  In these days of isolation, she’s been sending “care packages” of columns and cartoons to cheer folks up.

The packet she sent me and Jim included the cartoon above.  We both immediately thought of our eleven month old kitten, Mei-Ling, who is rather shy.  I pulled out my colored pencils and dressed it up a little.  (Sorry it’s not a perfect job, but it was a rather small cartoon!)

So, here’s a smile for you…  Have a good Saturday!

Special Saturday Surprise!

March 21, 2020

A Mysterious Hero Enters the Fray

The art above was inspired by a post I made on Facebook and Twitter recently.  It was drawn by John Poling, a New Mexico comic book artist and Army veteran.  (You can see his work at Dos Guerros Comics) In my post, which I’ll repeat here in just a sec, I challenged people to be the fighter of their choice against the menace of hysteria and fear.

Here’s what I said:

Fear.

Fear is really dangerous, but for some people it feels exciting. That’s why roller coasters remain perennially popular. You’re scared, but deep inside you know you’re safe.

Covid-19 is a real threat, but I want to encourage you to be positive about dealing with it. Not afraid. Containment can work. That’s why efforts to do so are being promoted.

Promoting safe actions through fear, though, that’s ultimately going to backfire.

I was talking with my friend, artist Elizabeth Leggett, about this the other day. When I expressed my frustration at the hysteria and fear-mongering, she reminded me that this is a fight. We’re down now. We can win.

So instead of being afraid, imagine yourself the fighter of your choice. Imagine Covid-19 slipping on a bar of soap. Drowning in a pool of hand sanitizer. Whatever. But don’t give into fear because, after the excitement is over, fear leads to stress and stress makes you more vulnerable.

Wishing you good health! Clean hands. Calm souls.

John read the shorter version of my post on Twitter, and was inspired to draw the fighter of his choice: The Liberator.  About the Liberator, John says: “the Liberator was a character I wrote and played in a wacky web series 10 years ago, and I felt a bit of humor was needed considering the epidemic.”

I wish I could draw, because I’d draw a swashbuckling two-handed fighter armed with a sword carved from soap in one hand, a bottle of hand sanitizer in the other, or hmm…  maybe a squirt gun with hand sanitizer.  That sounds like fun!

Let me know how you’d arm the fighter of your choice.  Illustrations are welcome if you know how to attach them to the Comments!

FF: Beneath the Surface

January 31, 2020

Mei-Ling Likes This Book About Fancy String

Some of my favorite non-fiction takes you behind the scenes, beyond the basic assumptions we bring to topic.  I’m certainly getting a solid dose of that this week!

For those of you new to this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

And I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Why Do Cats Sulk? by Arline Bleeker.  A light-hearted look at our assumptions about cats.  It’s strongest when the author is sticking to biology.  Some of her later material gets distinctly wobbly.  Nonetheless, a fun book.

“The Demons of Wall Street” by Laurence Raphael Brothers.  Novella.  Noir detective meets urban fantasy.  Very strong world building and a plot that forces the main character to think a lot about her assumptions.  Even the almost too good to be true romance couldn’t toss me out.  Available in March.

Kumihimo: Basics and Beyond by Rebecca Ann Combs.  I don’t usually mentioned craft books, but I wanted to give a nod to the author.  Not only has she written a fine book, she promptly answered a question I sent her when she didn’t cover a hoped-for-point.

In Progress:

Gulp by Mary Roach.  Non-fiction look at the digestive system, starting with the sense of smell (because odor/aroma is closely tied to eating) and ambling on through areas almost tangential to the topic but nonetheless fascinating.  There was an amusing section on why it’s so hard to get diners in the United States to eat organ meats.   We’re currently on saliva.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  I’ve finished Islam and put this aside for now while I let all the complex material soak in.

Also:

One of this week’s projects has been writing new cover blurbs for the three “Breaking the Wall” novels in anticipation of the new e-books that should come out sometime in February.  I went to re-read the opening of Thirteen Orphans and found myself completely sucked in.  A very odd, very satisfactory experience.

Oh, Cookie Tree…

January 1, 2020

This Past Week’s Creative Venture

Oh, Cookie-Tree, Oh Cookie-Tree…  How clueless were those instructions.  Oh, Cookie-Tree, Oh, Cookie-Tree.  Lack of organization and clarity were obstructions…

This is just one of many carols that wandered through my mind as Jim and I struggled to make a “simple” cookie tree this Christmas Eve.  As you can see from the picture, we succeeded.  The end result even looked cute and, amazingly, tasted good, too.  But there were times in the process when I seriously wanted to pull out scissors, tape, and start reorganizing the instructions.

I am, after all, a writer.

In those days of yore when I taught English Composition (aka, writing essays), I taught “process analysis” writing.  I would have given these instructions a C.  They didn’t fail because some of the component parts (like the recipe for the sugar cookies) were well-written.

But even those had problems…

As you celebrate the New Year, let me amuse you with the tale of our adventure.

The adventure of the cookie tree started when my mother bought a kit.  The box showed an ostensibly simple project.  Make twenty star-shaped cookies of graduated sizes (cutters included).  Build a stack from the bottom up, cementing each cookie to the next with a dab of frosting.  Add frosting embellishments using the included pastry bags and tips.  Add a final star at the top.  Tah-dah!

I’m one of those boring, methodical people who read instructions in advance, so the first thing I did was remove the accordion-fold brochure.  Reading these instructions was an exercise in futility.  In addition to the “basic” instructions, there were instructions for three different styles of tree.  All the instructions were in three languages.  However, the languages were not in separate sections, but in sequence for each stage of the process, so it was incredibly easy to miss a section in your preferred language.

Nonetheless, I read the instructions.  Jim read them.  Right off, we rejected “royal icing” in favor of the workhorse buttercream cookie frosting Jim has memorized.  Not only didn’t Mom have the ingredients for “royal icing” (the kit didn’t list what extra items you needed on the outside, only on the inside; since this kit looked so easy, she hadn’t opened it in advance), but also any icing that the instructions warn you will break down in certain circumstances is not my idea of fun.

(No.  I don’t remember what exactly would cause the disintegration.  Butter, maybe?  In any case, something incredibly common.)

First, I set off to make the cookie dough.  The instructions said “Do Not Chill,” so I took a section of the dough and started rolling.   I’m really, really good at rolling cookie dough thin and even.  (Want evidence?  See my Christmas WW for pictures of my cookies.)  However, even with a floured rolling pin and all the usual precautions, the dough stuck.  So I chilled it.  That helped.  But when the first round of cookies came out of the oven, rather than being the sharp-edged items shown in the photo, they were star-shaped blobs.

Deck the trays with vaguely star-shaped blobbies…

Even after being chilled, the dough was so soft that the larger cookies (say the first five sizes) had to be rolled directly on a cookie sheet.  Because the dough spread when baked, this meant the largest cookies had to be baked one at a time, because more than one cookie would merge with its neighbor.  At ten to twelve minutes per cookie, this meant hours of baking time, with someone (Jim usually) having to stay alert to the possibility of burning cookies.

Remember those “basic instructions”?  They did note that rolling on a cookie sheet “might” be necessary.  They did not include any hints on how to deal with all the flour left on the cookie sheet that would otherwise burn.  I’m an experienced baker, so I knew to clear it away.  I also found myself wondering how people would cope who did not happen to have (as we did) six or seven available cookie sheets and a selection of rolling pins that would fit within the confines of a rimmed cookie sheet.

After many hours, we had twenty-one cookies of graduated sizes and a few to spare.  (More on spares later.)  Jim had made the first batch of frosting and, using the delicate touch acquired from many years of archeological digs, he began assembling the cookies into a tree-stack.  He also figured out that a lumpy dab of frosting would invite breaking cookies as the stack grew, so carefully spread the frosting mortar over the contact areas.

While Jim was mortaring the tree together, I was rolling and baking the surplus dough.  That made at least three dozen more cookies, practically enough for another entire tree!  I found myself wondering why the kit hadn’t included a smaller recipe.

When Jim was done, we had a tree-shaped cookie stack, but we couldn’t proceed to the next step because the “mortar” was still wet, so the cookies would slide.  Thus, assembling the tree ended Day One.

Since we wanted the cookie tree to be ready for the evening of Christmas Day, Christmas morning, after coffee, presents, and breakfast, Jim and I mixed up frosting.  The pastry bags included for the frosting were so flimsy that splitting was guaranteed.  Happily, Mom had a couple of sturdier ones.

Jim tinted the icing (the kit recommended several very specific colors of food coloring but, of course, didn’t include them), and we took turns frosting the “branches” with myriad tiny icing stars.  That part was fun, if distinctly messy!  A scattering of ornamental jimmies (also not included, but Mom had some in slightly different colors) finished the task and we set the tree aside to dry.

I did resist, barely, my urge to edit the instructions…

That can wait for manuscripts, which I’ll be getting back to later this week.

Oh!  By the way, Happy New Year!  May your New Year be sweet and creative, whatever your chosen medium.