Archive for the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Category

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.

A Vision of…

December 18, 2019

Kel has Christmas Dreams

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and all through the house,

All the creatures are stirring, including the compost bin mouse.

The cats are nestled, snug on our bed,

While visions of catnip toys dance in their heads.

Jim in his cowboy hat, and me in my cap,

Aren’t able to settle for any sort of nap…

Everywhere there is such a clatter,

I find myself wondering what is the matter.

*

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Christmas is a week away.  If you’re like most modern American adults, you’re feeling stressed, rather than merry.

(I don’t know how other nations celebrate these days.  Feel free to let me know.)

Daily, my e-mail and social media remind me how little time is left to buy things.  Buying gifts is apparently not enough.  On one passing feed, a woman extolled the joys of elaborate wrapping, adding how the “package embellishment” would serve as an additional gift.  Wow!  Jim and I are lucky if we manage to get the wrapping paper more or less straight.

Hey, I like Yuletide celebrations.   Jim and I don’t have kids, but we still decorate.  We make seven or eight types of cookies.  We provide gifts for both family far, and friends near.

I’ll admit, there are times I feel more like the Grinch than like Santa, especially because, being self-employed, I don’t get any paid time off.  I’m squeezing my holiday preparations in between keeping ahead of my various tasks.

So, what to do?

For me, surviving holiday stress always goes back to counting my blessings.  Here’s one.  I can make seven or eight types of cookies, even the ones with expensive ingredients like nuts.  I remember when I’d stretch the budget so I could make my family’s recipe of butterballs using real butter (not margarine) and walnuts.  I’d look longingly at some of the other recipes and think “someday.”

And, guess what?  It’s someday.  Not only did I make the butterballs with butter, I used butter for all my cookies. I made maple pecan cookies and hermits, both of which call for nuts.  It’s someday.

Today is your someday, too, even if this year hasn’t turned out quite as you dreamed.  Why?  Because we all dream bigger than it is possible to achieve.  That’s what dreams are about, envisioning big.

Nightmares, by contrast, are about envisioning small.  The monsters under the bed make you afraid to get up.  The lost boarding pass keeps you from making your flight.  The thing you can’t quite see that is chasing you keeps you from stopping, relaxing, assessing…

I’m sure many of you are having a rough time, feeling small, feeling stressed, maybe feeling sick or tired or something else that’s making all the sparkle dim, all the jingle dull.

Dream.  Not just “I hope 2020 is better than 2019,” but about what you might do today, tomorrow, next week…

Remembering to dream big is why, no matter how busy my life is with the holiday season adding numerous new tasks to my day I’m making time to read.  On the top of my list is the new DreamForge magazine.  I’ve only dipped in, but I see that the theme for this month is “The Risks and Magic of Hope.”

Hey, that’s cool.  That sounds like the sort of stories I want to read, the sort of stories I want to write.  Suddenly, I can feel my personal winter solstice happening: the sun is warming, hope is born.

May you find a blessing or dream, no matter how small, and use it to kindle your holiday fire.

I Said It All

October 23, 2019

Fred Poutre, Me, and Michael Kilman Discuss Mythology

I said it all this weekend at MileHiCon 51.  Seriously.  So right now I’m really stretched for things to say.

On Friday the topic was Urban Fantasy, what it was, what it is, what it might become.  I read from my Asphodel, part of the scene with the creepy cherubs and the cathedral.  Fun.

Later, much chatter with friends old and new.  Went to bed still vibrating from all the talk.

On Saturday, we started with the KaffeeKlatch, because why not?  Before I’d finished my coffee and bagel, I’d discussed art, representation, and the distinct possibility that maybe, just maybe, Milton’s daughters might have played an active role in the composition of Paradise Lost.

After a lovely panel (see photo) discussing “Building New Gods: Mythologies in SF&F,” I ended up talking for an hour with a Jesuit brother about how mythologies are developed.  I was so very glad I’d recently re-read Will Durant’s Caesar and Christ, since that meant I had my data points fresh.

Then I went off to a fun panel on how hobby activities can feed your creativity.  Carrie Vaughn was there costumed as the angel Aziraphale from Good Omens, and I did kumihimo with beads live.  Our other panelists were a costumer, and a nurse who kept insisting she didn’t do hobbies, but kept giving examples that proved her wrong!

Somewhere in there, we met the local chapter of the Royal Manticoran Navy (sometimes known as the David Weber fan club), and were made very welcome indeed.

Later still there was the mass book signing.  (I’d also done a signing Friday night).  That evening we had dinner with one of the author GOH’s, Marie Brennan.  After dinner, we sat up with Marie, discussing gaming and other things, as one does at these events.

Sunday we KaffeeKlatched again, during which we had the chance to meet and chat with the other author GOH, Angela Roquet.

After coffee, we let ourselves go watch some panels.  The thing about a good panel is that afterwards you want to talk about the new ideas.  Happily, we found several interesting folks with whom we could chat, including New Mexico friends David Lee Summers and Elizabeth Leggett.  One minor regret is we couldn’t be in two places at once, because I would have liked to sample the re-boot of the Fruits Basket anime.

Mid-afternoon I gave a talk on finishing Roger Zelazny’s two unfinished novels: Donnerjack and Lord Demon.  The audience wasn’t very large, but it was wonderful.

Later still, we went out to dinner with David Boop, editor of Straight Out of Deadwood, in which I have a short story, “Doth Make Thee Mad.”  If you’re short of ideas for your themed Halloween party, I would like to recommend “Weird West.”  You can get ideas for costumes from the stories…

Eh…  This really isn’t doing justice to the weekend.  Busy.  Lively.  Chatty.  Framed on either side with long drives through mountains and plains.  We saw antelopes, hawks, a bald eagle, and a squirrel who reminded us of our kitten, Mei-Ling.  Something about how it ran with its tail straight up in the air.

And here I am.  Still beat, because I probably talked to more people in three days than I usually do in a month.  Feeling happy, because I didn’t meet a single person who was even mildly annoying.  Happy, too, because when my head stops spinning, I’ll be back to Wolf’s Soul and immersed in my writing, which is one of my favorite places to be.

More Weirdness Than You Can Imagine!