Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fun Stuff Today

Before I post the San Francisco meme, I have an "Only in Silicon Valley" story. I once told a friend that Silicon Valley runs on caffeine, the more gourmet the beans, the better. Here's proof:

Paul and I were sitting in Peet's this morning having a coffee after dropping Chris off at work. A woman came in with her young daughter. When she went to pick up her coffee, she took the little girl's hand and said, "I have to get my coffee. Can you say 'latte'?"

I've done California, where I was born and lived my whole life. I've done the Bay Area, again, where I was born and lived most of my life. Today is my actual birthplace, and the city where I lived my first three or four years.

San Francisco




You Know You're From San Francisco When...


You take a bus and are shocked that 2 people are carrying on a
conversation in English.


Someone says TENDERLOIN - you don't think of steak.

You never bother looking at the MUNI line schedule because you know the drivers have never seen it.

A really great parking space can move you to tears.

You know that anyone wearing shorts in July must be visiting from Ohio.

You assume every company offers domestic partner benefits.

Your boss runs in "The Bay to Breakers"....and it's not the first time you have seen him/her nude.

You are thinking of taking an adult class but you can't decide between yoga, aroma therapy, conversational mandarin or a building your own web site class.

You haven't been to Fisherman's Wharf since the first month you moved to SF and you couldn't figure out how to drive to Coit Tower if your life depended on it.

You were born somewhere else.

Left is right and right is wrong.

Your monthly house payments exceed your annual income.


You dive under a desk whenever a large truck goes by. (This was obviously written by a non-native. Natives don't dive under desks. Natives stand around and try to figure out if it was a 3.5 or a 4.0 on the Richter Scale.)
You can't find your other earring because your son is wearing it.

Your family tree contains "significant others."

Your cat has its own psychiatrist.

Smoking in your office is not optional.

You pack shorts and a T-shirt for skiing in the snow, and a sweater and a wetsuit for the beach.

Rainstorms or thunder are the lead story for the local news.

Gas costs $1.00 per gallon more than anywhere else in the US


A man gets on the bus in full leather regalia and crotchless chaps. You don't even notice.


Your car insurance costs as much as your house payment.

You give a "thumbs up" gesture to a car with a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker - and you mean it.


When you drive under an underpass - for one moment you think "earthquake".

You realize the only Republicans you know are your Aunt and Uncle in Texas.

You realize there are far more Rainbow flags in the city than California State Flags.


You go to your office manager's baby shower - the parent's are named Judy and Becky.

When your church elects a new Bishop who abandoned his family and two young daughters to fulfill his sexual urges with another man.

You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends from San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Responsibility of Writers & Readers

Last week a friend posted a poem on his weblog that sparked a discussion in the comments of what a writer's responsibility is. Someone worried that a skilled writer could convince a reader of a viewpoint the writer doesn't hold. Or a reader might copy a villain because you wrote him too well. And someone else said that authors should only write stories that uplift people or else they're promoting evil in the world. Lastly, someone said writers are responsible for how readers respond to their writing.

I do think a fiction writer can convince a reader of a viewpoint the writer doesn't hold, if a character holds that viewpoint and is written convincingly enough. I also think a writer who writes an engaging villain can cause people to want to be like him in some way or other. Look at how many kids dress up as Darth Vader on Halloween. But you also notice that people aren't going around killing their subordinates because they didn't follow orders exactly and promptly enough.

The next comment is a bit tricky, because the person who wrote the original made it clear he was referring to a particular set of religious beliefs. I don't want to go into which religious beliefs because they're irrelevant to my point. My point is that the person was telling the author of the poem what he should write about. He felt he had the right to do so because they have exactly the same beliefs, which is an assumption I'd not make about anyone else. No two people, even if they attend the same church hold exactly the same beliefs, down to the smallest detail. Therefore, he was telling the poet what to write based on his beliefs, not on the poet's. Only the poet knows what he believes and whether his beliefs include the stricture on his writing that the other person wanted him to make.

More generally, I don't think anyone has the right to tell someone else what to write unless they're hiring the writer to write something specific. And vice versa--it's wrong for writers to write what someone else says is their duty to write. If they do, they're shirking their responsibility to themselves, because it shifts the responsibility for their words onto the shoulders of that "moral authority". Nope, I think writers must take complete responsibility for their own words. Take both the heat and the kudos for them. Write what they stand for, whether it agrees or disagrees with other people who infer that they must believe exactly the same way the writer does because he may have said something at one time the people agreed with.

The other side of this discussion was whether a writer is responsible for the response a reader has to his words. Words are powerful. And we choose our words to have an effect on the reader. A fiction writer is usually going after an emotional reaction, a visceral reaction caused by temporarily living in the world of the story. The expectation is that the reader will put the story down and go back to his everyday life. He may think about the story, talk about it with friends, but he's no longer living it. That's the reader's responsibility--to keep the world of fiction separate from real life.

I think we were given a brain to use it, both writers and readers. We're not supposed to just take life in and blindly accept everything. We're supposed to think about what we experience. Life might be easier if you live in a world where writers write only "uplifting" stories, because you'd only experience the small bits of life that person thinks are "good". But I think life is richer if we allow ourselves to embrace ideas that aren't our own. I think it's richer if we think about those ideas and weigh them against our moral code and value systems. That's how we grow. And I think "good" shows up in the most unexpected places--places you may never hear about if you stick to a restricted world, fenced in by rigid beliefs that don't allow you to question anything.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Another "You Know You're From" meme

I was hoping to get the essay I've been working on done, but I've got a cold and slept this afternoon instead of finishing it. So, here's the Bay Area meme.

I'm posting the memes from the broadest geographical area to the area where I actually live. The San Francisco Bay Area is next in line.

Bay Area




You Know You're From the Bay Area When...


You get the same off-color email joke from 17 people in the same hour, and one of them is your wife.

Your "personal shopper" has become engaged to your "career coach".

You know that "taking the Nerd Bird" means you're flying to L.A ... for the 3rd time in a week.

You have a daughter named Meg and a son named URL.

You bought stock in Starbucks just for the free chocolate-covered coffee beans.

You recently built your children their first "tilt-up" concrete playhouse.

Almost all of the companies featured on your resume are no longer in business.

You make $120,000 a year, yet still can't find a place to live.

Your commute time is 45 minutes and you live 8 miles away.

You live an hour or more from the office so that you can afford a larger house.

You spend more time in your office and car than in your house.

You stop asking how much things cost, but instead ask "how long will it take?"

Two-thirds of the people you know are from Boston or New York, but you are living in PST.

You know vast differences difference between Thai, Vietnemese, Chinese, Japanese, Cantonese, and Korean food.

Your home computer contains mostly hardware/software that is not on the consumer market yet.

You go to "The City" on weekends but don't live there because you like your car.

You think that "I'm going to Fry's" is an acceptable excuse to leave the office for a while, and your boss does too.

You lost your alarm clock, but you'll get to work when you get there.

You go to an industrial-heavy-metal bar and see two guys get into a fight over what flavor of Unix is better.

You own more than 10 articles of clothing that have hardware/software companies printed on them. Bonus for embroidered stuff.

You know where Woz Way, Resistor Avenue, and Floppy Drive are located.

You know who and where Woz is.

You know that 280 North goes west and that 680 North goes east.

It rained ... and your birdbath fell over ... or your tree fell over ... or a utility pole fell over.


It rained ... and the spiders came in ... and the ants came in ... and the mice came in.

You realize that even though Microsoft employs quite a few programmers in the Bay Area, they only work on PowerPoint.

You see a billboard that says "FPG2ASIC" and understand what it means.

You can get the updated Diamond Monster 3D drivers by just walking across the street.

The phone company installed fiber-optic cable to your home but they can't afford to light it up.

You have more bandwidth inside your home than there is in most major universities.

Your wireless LAN is interfering with your wireless phone and your home automation system.

None of the people you work with are bible thumpers.

You get email from a co-worker at 10:00PM ... and you are both still in the office.

You scan yardsales for back issues of "Dr. Dobbs."

Your favorite computer reseller speaks only Cantonese.

Your workplace vending machines dispense "100% natural twig-bars" right next to Jolt cola and Instant Espresso mix.

No one brings radios to work because they listen to RealAudio.


There are more than six Z3s parked at your office during weekdays.

There are more than six Z3s parked at your office during weekends.

The Z3s are gradually turning into SUVs.

You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends from the Bay Area.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Something Fun on a Strange Day

Before I post my fun thing, I want to mention that since I'm done with my hiatus from writing, I put a progress bar for the WIP over on the left, at the top, where I can't miss it if I try to procrastinate by writing weblog posts. If anyone's been noticing my signature on FM, you'll notice that there's more words on this bar. Apparently I wrote more words after my last update on FM and forgot to do the update.

The Fun Thing #1

California is the first of four of these "You know you're from" jokes that apply to me. All have to do with the area where I was born and lived most of my life. So, what does it say about Northern California that there are 4 lists that apply to it? We're a bit over the top, maybe? A bit obsessive? I don't know, but they're fun. A lot of the jokes in the California list apply more to Southern California than Northern California, which are totally different from each other. It's a big state. So, I've bolded the ones that apply to me, but you'll see in parts 2-4 that as you home in closer to my exact location, the number of bolds goes up.





You Know You're From California When...


The fastest part of your commute is down your driveway.

You were born somewhere else.

You know how to eat an artichoke.

The primary bugs that you worry about are electronic.

Your car has bullet-proof windows.

Left is right and right is wrong.

Your monthly house payments exceed your annual income.

You can't find your other earring because your son is wearing it.

You drive to your neighborhood block party.

Your family tree contains "significant others."

You don't exterminate your roaches, you smoke them.

You see 25 lawyers chasing an ambulance.

More than clothes come out of the closets.


You go to a tanning salon before going to the beach.

More money is spent on facelifts than on diapers.

Smoking in your office is not optional.

You pack shorts and a T-shirt for skiing in the snow, and a sweater and a wetsuit for the beach.

When you can't schedule a meeting because you must "do lunch."

Your children learn to walk in Birkenstocks.

Rainstorms or thunder are the lead story for the local news.


You'll reluctantly miss yoga class to wait for the hot tub repairman.

You consult your horoscope before planning your day.

A glass has been reserved for you at your favorite winery.

All highways into the state say: "no fruits."

All highways out of the state say: "Go back."

The Terminator is your governor


You can't remember . . . is pot illegal?

It's barely sprinkling rain and there's a report on every news station: "STORM WATCH"

You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends from California.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Threads of Malice

Dubric Byerly, head of security at Castle Faldorrah, has seen many horrors in his life--he is literally haunted by the ghosts of those whose death demands justice. And in the kingdom's far reaches, young men are disappearing into thin air, leaving behind ghosts that bear witness to unthinkable cruelties. Racing against time, all Dubric knows is the latest victim to vanish is still alive--and that he won't be for long.

Threads of Malice is the second book in Tamara Siler Jones' three-book series starring Dubric Byerly. Her first book, Ghosts in the Snow, introduced us to the main characters and the rich world Tamara has developed for her stories. In that book, Dubric has to figure out who in the castle is responsible for killing the people whose ghosts haunt him. The second book takes place in a more remote part of the kingdom, the Reaches. Again, Dubric must figure out who murdered the ghosts, for it is his curse to see the ghosts of murdered people and his job to bring their killers to justice. If you want to read excerpts, you can go here for chapter 1 and here for chapter 2.

I know I tend to be gushy when I recommend books because I don't recommend books I'm not crazy about. These are the books I'd shove in customers' hands if I still worked in a bookstore. They're books I shove in my friends' hands, when our family income is greater than zero. This book is one that belongs on that list. I'm lucky to have received an ARC of this book and be able to read it, and recommend it, before it's released in October. It's available for preorder now.

Tamara writes about horrible things that happen to decent people. She writes about good things that happen to decent people. Ditto for the bad guys. Because Tamara shows the whole range of everyday life, the horrors are more horrible and the good things stand out in bas relief. The characters make mistakes. They do things right. Mostly, they do what you and I do, take the life they're given and deal with it the best way they can. You and I, however, don't have to deal with the horrors Tamara's characters do. We don't stumble on dead bodies and see ghosts of murdered people. We don't have to worry about horrors happening to the people we love if we're too slow in our duty to bring murderers to justice. Because Tamara brings you deep into the lives of her people and makes them face the consequences of their actions, you can't assume anyone will come out unscathed, or even still alive. She doesn't flinch from inflicting physical or psychological harm on people. That makes for a tough, but satisfying read.

This book has difficult themes in it. I wouldn't recommend it for kids or even young teens. Keep it on the shelf and give it to them when they're old enough. But you grownups? Go! Preorder! Set aside a long stretch of time or pick a night when you don't have to get up early. This is a "stay up because I can't put it down" book. It's a haunting, nightmare-inducing, emotional roller coaster.

(Note: I'm going to leave this at the top and wait until Monday to write new posts so as many people as possible can learn about this book. See you Monday.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Book Rant--Part Two

Book Two

This book is a bestselling thriller. (No, not the Da Vinci Code.) It's the author's first book, so he gets some leeway for lack of experience. I like the premise and the storyline. I do want to know how it all turns out. The plot has some interesting twists. But I keep stopping and wondering if I want to know badly enough to follow these characters to the end. I'm not sure I care enough about them.

The main characters used to be married to each other. It's obvious that the author is going to get them back together by the end of the book. I think I'd be rooting for that to happen if he'd switched their genders. The woman is written like a man and the man is both so feminine and so wimpy I want to smack him. I wonder if the author was trying to avoid writing cliches or stereotypes. Or if someone told him it would sell better if he made the lead mc a woman and the backup a man, so he switched their names and pronouns, but didn't change their reactions, backgrounds, etc. At one point, one of the villains tries to seduce the female lead and I was rooting for him to win her, even though he wants to kill her not wed her.

These people have two kids. I wonder if the author is a parent because these parents dismiss their responsibilities to the kids way too easily. I don't think that the mom's grieving for her father and being impulsive is enough motivation for her to up and leave her kids. The kids are grieving for their beloved grandfather. The parents don't seem to care. First the woman runs off chasing after the McGuffin. Then the guy thinks the woman is in danger and runs off after her. We aren't told what arrangements he makes to care for the kids when he takes off and she doesn't ask when she sees him. All the grandparents are dead and no other relatives are mentioned that you could assume the kids were left with. They're in Europe and never call whoever is looking after the children to see if they're OK. They never even talk about the kids. I don't buy that. I don't know of any good parent, and these are portrayed as being good parents, who could ignore the fact they have children the way these characters do, which brings me to what I see as being the biggest problem with the book--stakes and character motivation.

If the stakes were high enough, I'd believe the characters behavior and care about them more. At the end of the first part, the woman and the man debate whether she should go chase the McGuffin. She wants to, he says she shouldn't. Her only motivation is that her dead father was looking for it. Her dead father specifically says she should let it go. She goes because she WANTS to, not because she HAS to. She leaves her kids and chases this McGuffin more on a whim than because there's a real reason for her, and no one else, to take this chase on. Her ex follows her because he's learned she's in danger. That's high stakes. The mother of his children, who he's still in love with, may be killed if someone doesn't stop the killer. Fast forward to the end of the second part. It ends like the first part--the characters debating whether to keep chasing the McGuffin or go home. It's clear that if they go home, they'll be out of danger and everything will be fine. The woman, stating she's loving having an adventure, insists she's going to keep going and he decides to stay with her. I'm OK with his motives. He has a strong goal, with high stakes--keep the mother of his children alive and try to win her back. She comes across as TSTL*.

The villains are more interesting than the heroes. I find myself rooting for them, while hating them at the same time. They're evil. They kill, with no regrets, just to make sure the people won't tell anyone else what they know. But they have motives for their actions that make sense. The stakes for them are high because they stand to get what they want and what they want makes sense for who they are.

This doesn't read like a thriller. There's not enough ongoing, escalating danger to the main characters. For example, one of the villains fails to kill the woman. When he discovers she's still alive, he shrugs and decides she's not a threat anymore, so he's going to leave her alone. The villains are more of a direct threat to each other. But they're TSTL in one way--they kill too quickly and easily. They're supposed to be extremely smart and clever, but all they do to solve problems is kill people. One note solutions like that get boring after a while. Oh, another dead person. Yawn.

I read the rest of the book and was as unimpressed with the end as with the first parts of the book. After they find the McGuffin, the rest of the book is supposed to surprise you with the explanation. The explanation is mixed in with danger to the characters, but the mc becomes a damsel in distress by that time. She gets rescued and does kill one of the bad guys, but only after a silly bit where she sees the gun and doesn't do anything, emphasizing the impression of her being TSTL. It was an attempt to make it suspensful, but it didn't work.

I think the main problem with the characters is that they seem to have been invented to serve the plot. They were moved around like chess pieces. The events in the book could have easily happened with a totally different cast. I never got the impression that what happened was because these particular people did these particular things and the events were the consequences of those actions. Nor did it seem like these, and only these, characters could be in this story.

But I finished the book. Why would I finish a book that had so many problems? Because the premise and the main story question were so intriguing. This could have been a spectacular book. I hope this guy keeps pushing himself to write better, but this was a NYT bestseller. Do you think anyone's going to tell him he could be better? I doubt it. They're going to want more of the same, to try to keep those megasales going. His next book is out and it, too, has an intriguing premise. But I think I'll pass on it.

*For those unfamiliar with the term: TSTL=Too Stupid To Live. It comes from the Romance genre--the heroine who grabs a candle and goes up to the attic to explore the strange noise when she knows there's a killer after her.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Avast, Me Hearties!


Ahoy! It's International Talk Like a Pirate's Day.

Hoist yourself some grog. Dance yourself a hornpipe. Git yourself a pirate's name.



My pirate name is:


Iron Anne Cash



A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you a tough person. You're musical, and you've got a certain style if not flair. You'll do just fine. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from fidius.org.


And ye'll be talkin' piratical in no time.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Don't Want to Wait Until Monday

I subscribe to Williams-Sonoma's emailed newsletter. Today's was about one way they're helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Because they're only doing this for one month--from September 16-October 16--I wanted to get the word out ASAP.

Williams-Sonoma has a cookbook series called Foods of the World. One of the books in that series is New Orleans. During this one month time period, they're donating the full retail price, excluding sales tax and shipping costs, to the American Red Cross. Details can be found here: New Orleans Cookbook Donation Info.

Enjoy!!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Another Quiz

I found this one on Jean's blog a while back. I don't like the picture, because it's gross in that male kid way that always bugged me, probably because I had two younger brothers who never let up. I just got tired of it and then went and had two sons, who filled my adult life with this stuff. (sigh) But the sentiments expressed fit me, so I thought I'd post it on a day like this one. A TGIF day.





What Your Dreams Mean...






Your dreams seem to show that you're a bit disturbed... but nothing serious.
You may have a problem you're trying to work out in your sleep.
Overall, you are very content in your life.
You tend to be a very productive thinker.
You have a very vivid imagination and a rich creative mind.
You secretly want to hide your dreams from your waking mind.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Oops! & Spreading Gratitude

I know I said I'd post every weekday, but yesterday was weird. We went to do errands and I forgot I hadn't posted. I didn't remember until this morning. Oh, well. That's life sometimes.

This week has been a weird one. I've had a lot of different things happen that have sent me on a roller coaster ride of emotions. The news about the hurricane reminds me how much better I have it than a lot of people, including some who had the resources to evacuate. But a complaint on a weblog about how much time one's job takes away from what we'd rather be doing made me depressed because I know my husband would give just about anything to have a job to fill his time and pay the bills. He's busy learning the stuff to get an A+ Certification, but he'd rather be working and doing that in his spare time.

If I were to put it on a scale, the balance would fall more in the things to be grateful about than things to be depressed about category. I wish it were true for everyone. So in the interest of helping some folks get closer to having more to be grateful for, I'd like to post some more ways you can help the victims of Katrina.

Nora Roberts is matching donations for Habitat for Humanity. Here's a link to the details: ADWOFF.com.

Alison Kent's crit partner, Larissa Iona, lost everything in the hurricane. An ebay auction with items donated by authors, editors and agents is worth checking out. If you're a writer, many people have offered manuscript crits. If you're a reader, there are lots of autographed books to bid on, some of which aren't out yet. Here's a link: ebay auction.

The Victorian Trading Company is donating part of what you spend on their site to the American Red Cross. Here's a link: Victorian Trading Company. It's my understanding that the donations for the hurricane victims is on through September, but they donate to various charities year-round.

On the Greater Houston Community Foundation web site you can find a link to donate to the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund. New Orleans was such a mecca for foodies and many of the people who lost so much were from the restaurant industry. I never got a chance to try the wonderful New Orleans food I've read about for years. Maybe some donations will help keep these people afloat so they can go back and revive the great food so many people talked about.

Donations list: I checked my donation links and discovered that some are no longer valid. I recommend checking the links and editing your donations list weekly, if you have one on your site. Some sites change their links or it gets to their deadline and they take it down.

BTW--for anyone who might be wondering, I will get to the second book rant I mentioned. I have some other things I want to write about first. Like I said, this is a mishaculanza and it means "mixed up" as much as it means "eclectic".

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another Fun Quiz

This one's via Jean's Blog.

What obsolete skill are you?

It 's comforting to say that 'practice makes perfect'....
You are 'Gregg shorthand'. Originally designed to
enable people to write faster, it is also very
useful for writing things which one does not
want other people to read, inasmuch as almost
no one knows shorthand any more.

You know how important it is to do things
efficiently and on time. You also value your
privacy, and (unlike some people) you do not
pretend to be friends with just everyone; that
would be ridiculous. When you do make friends,
you take them seriously, and faithfully keep
what they confide in you to yourself.
Unfortunately, the work which you do (which is
very important, of course) sometimes keeps you
away from social activities, and you are often
lonely. Your problem is that Gregg shorthand
has been obsolete for a long time.
What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Unlike Jean, I used to know Gregg shorthand. It's totally useless in business. It's a great skill for notetaking. If I ever need to interview someone who's reluctant to be tape recorded, for example, I could brush up my shorthand skills and get as complete a transcript. So, obsolete doesn't have to mean "useless". It can also mean, useful for something other than its original purpose.

Hmmm . . . I bet that reasoning doesn't work for slide rules, though.

Monday, September 12, 2005

That "Something"

Tambo asks in her blog entry for September 11, 2005, Why Do You Write? It's a question writers ask all the time because it fascinates us to find out why other people write. I think there are a lot of layers in this question. I've seen people answer it as "Why do I put words on a page?" I've seen people answer it as "Why do I want to be published?" I've seen people answer it as "Why do I want to write stories?" The answer seems to depend on how the question is interpreted.

I don't know why I write. I know that when I was 10 my best friend and I read a lot of Nancy Drew. We played Nancy Drew, pretending there were secret passages and clues in our suburban mass-produced tract homes. AHA! "If we can play new Nancy Drew stories, I could make up my own," said my child's mind. It was a short leap from there to the non-Nancy Drew mystery story I wrote for a classroom assignment. And an even shorter leap to writing a story just because I wanted to.

I wrote the usual angst-ridden poetry many teenagers wrote. I also wrote a song or two. I conned a couple of teachers into letting me write fiction instead of a standard research paper. I did the research and turned the results into stories about the people I'd researched. It was fun and I always seemed to get As on that stuff.

It took me a few more years to decide I wanted to try my hand at novels. Thank Star Trek reruns for that one. I didn't like Star Trek when it first came on. I used to give my brother a hard time for watching it. But a few years later, I was watching every rerun I could find and buying every novel in the stores. I decided to write a Star Trek novel. I wrote a very bad outline. I wrote notes for an even worse story. I wrote the usual three chapters people who don't know what they're doing write before they run out of steam. Then Paramount stopped taking unsolicited manuscripts and I stopped writing Star Trek. I moved on to original fiction.

I got married. Wrote bad stuff. Read writing books. Wrote more bad stuff. Had kids. Got busy. I kept writing. Not every day. I wasn't anywhere near as disciplined as the pros I know do. I'd go for months or years without writing anything. I kept everything. Every so often, something made me pull it out and write some more on it. Or put ideas in my file for writing when I finished whatever project I was sporadically working on.

The reason I write is that mystical "something" that caused me to pull out my writing and write. It's that same "something" that caused my books on writing collection to expand. It's that same "something" that caused me to scour the Internet for an online writing group when life stuck me in a town I didn't want to move to. I found Forward Motion and avidly read every article Holly Lisle wrote. You can find them on her web site: HollyLisle.com.

I met a lot of wonderful writers, some published and some not. Becoming active on FM got me evaluating my goals, what I wanted from my writing. I still wrote and more regularly. Things got weird. We had the layoffs and moved in with Mom. That's a difficult situation and we'd expected to be back on our own by this time. Didn't happen. I'd taken a hiatus from writing this summer. I didn't think I could handle living with Mom and arranging to move and write my novel. And I was fine with not working on the book for a couple of months.

Life intervened again. We're back to not knowing when or if we'll have enough income to rent an apartment in expensive Silicon Valley. I'm not fine with not writing under those circumstances. That "something" is calling its siren call. I'll be miserable if I don't listen, so it's time to rearrange the schedule and get back to work.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A Book Rant--Part One

Today I wanted to rant about a couple of books I recently read. I so wanted to recommend both of them, but I can't. I'm not going to say what they are because it's irrelevant to what I want to write about. I want to write about my opinions as a writer, not a reader. And it would be a disservice to them to imply they're not worth reading because I think nonwriting readers might enjoy them more than I did. I decided to do rant number two in a separate post, since the two together were way too long.

One writer is a woman's fiction writer. I don't read a lot of women's fiction, but I like this woman's books. This book is several books into a series. In woman's fiction and in genre Romance there seems to be a convention that you have to summarize the previous books in a series, bring the reader who comes into the series late up-to-date on the character's lives as told in the previous books. This works fine, if the series is short, up to three books, maybe four. When the series is open-ended, though, the backstory sections interfere with the reader following the current story, especially if she's read the previous books in the series.

To complicate things further, she spends a lot of the book setting up the story for the next book. All of that takes page space away from the current story. You're waiting for her to get back to the story the setup from the last book promised and don't really care much yet about this new storyline.

The format of the book is a bit unusual, too. She tells ongoing stories about the series characters. The only connection between the stories is the characters' relationships. There's no connection between the events themselves. It's just the life events of the ongoing characters who live in the same place. It reads like a bunch of novellas, but instead of being an anthology, they're broken up and sections of each story take turns being chapters in the novel. This format makes the stories feel disconnected, both as individual storylines and from each other. The story she set up in the previous book doesn't get any more weight or page space than any of the other stories, so it doesn't feel like a main plot. That would be OK, if it hadn't been promoted as the "big" question for this book by having that huge setup in the last book. But the way it's written, it feels like a letdown because so little of the current novel is given to that particular story.

If I were asked to make suggestions, first I'd suggest that the author defy the convention of putting in all that backstory. It doesn't work for long series. Put in whichever aspects of it are pertinent to this story and leave out the rest. If people want to know the details, they can buy the earlier books.

My second suggestion would be to omit the elaborate setup of the next book's story. Rather than setting up the events of the next book, introduce us to the main character. Instead of having that character start to deal with the problem that will be the main one for the next book, involve her in the main problem of the current story.

My third, and strongest suggestion, would be to tell the current story in the current book. Strengthen that story and make the other stories subordinate to it. Better yet, connect the individual story events in more than one way, not limiting the connections to the characters knowing each other, being relatives, or living in the same place.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Food Meme--Parts Four & Five

Cooking

This one's not really about a specific food, but it was important to me being able to cook the way I do now. When I was between my sophomore and junior years in high school, I made a deal with my mother. I'd cook all summer if she'd teach me how. She hated to cook. She made the deal. It was a fun summer for me. I learned how to cook all the meat and potatoes dishes my dad liked. I learned to make spaghetti, which was about the only Italian dish my dad would eat. She taught me some good prep techniques.

I don't cook very many of those dishes anymore. The ones I do make, I don't cook the way she taught me. She was so afraid we'd get sick if food was undercooked that she overcompensated. We got lots of leathery meat and mushy pasta when she manned the stove. Even though the result she taught me wasn't that good, her training gave me something to build on when I got my own kitchen to play in.

Onions

During that summer of cooking, I discovered I'm extremely sensitive to onions. I'd invited my boyfriend over for spaghetti. I'm chopping the onions and my eyes are watering. Poor guy. He thought I was crying. I milked that for a hug and kiss or two.

I've tried several things over the years to keep the tears away. Sharp knives and eyes blurry with tears are not exactly the safest combination. I tried chilling the onion. That kind of works. Freezing it works a bit better, but the onion gets a bit mushy. During that time cooking shows had gotten a lot more interesting. No more boring home economists. We got Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet. I lived for the Galloping Gourmet. What I saw was that the pros didn't take their knife and keep chopping away at the bits on the cutting board until they were the size they wanted. They sliced onion halves in three directions to make cubes the size they wanted. I tried it and, voila, no tears. The pros technique doesn't splash the juice around, which stops the irritation that causes the tears. I'll never be as fast as Graham Kerr, but I don't need to be. I just need to be proficient enough to chop onions instead of fingers.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Food Meme--Parts Two & Three

Baskin-Robbins

When I was a kid, one occasional treat we used to go out for was Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream. I remember everyone trying to decide what two scoops they wanted. My brothers read all the weirdly named flavors-of-the-month. The baseball-themed ice cream was a big hit. My dad coached their Little League team. I was different. I always had the same thing--Chocolate Fudge and French Vanilla on a sugar cone.

I still like Baskin-Robbins, but I eat kid-sized scoops these days. I wonder if the scoops were smaller in the '60s than they are now. I don't think the French Vanilla is all that good anymore, either. I guess I got spoiled making my own custard-based ice cream with vanilla beans to flavor it. These days, when we go for Baskin-Robbins, I'm more partial to Jamocha-Almond Fudge.

Birthday Memories

This one isn't really a food memory, but it involves food. I remember a birthday party when I was four or five. The food part of the memory was a birthday cake my mom made. It had a red-and-white striped cardboard top and animals around the sides to make a carousel. Mom invited the neighbors. My great-aunt was there. My cousins. A few kids from the neighborhood. I don't remember a lot about the party besides what the cake looked like. What's odd is that the memory is in black and white. The photos were in black and white because they didn't have color cameras for the snapshot photographer yet. But the image in my head isn't the same as the photos. Isn't it odd how our memories work? Maybe that's why all the movie makers who do movies about the '50s and early '60s are all in black and white. That's how they remember them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Food Meme--Part One

I read a food blog meme that looked like fun yesterday. I wasn't tagged, not being in the food blog circuit, but I thought I'd like to do it, anyway. The meme is to write about five favorite food memories from your childhood. Or, if you want to do a writer's meme--do five food memories one of your characters has.

Ravioli

Ravioli has to be the first on my list. Nonee, my grandmother on my mother's side, made these incredible ravioli. They were about three inches square, with a nice, large mound of spinach and ground beef filling. She made the filling and her meat sauce in advance. Even in the freezer, they got that deep flavor you get that makes leftovers better than the first day. She made the pasta dough fresh on Christmas morning.

I remember her spreading out a large cloth on the kitchen table. She sprinkled it with flour and rolled out this huge mound of dough. Papa, my grandfather, had made a special rolling pin just for rolling out pasta dough. She put the mounds of filling the same distance apart on the half of the dough closest to her. She folded the other half of the dough over the top. Then she used a long stick to press the dough down between the mounds of filling. She had one of those serrated-edged ravioli cutters to cut the ravioli apart. She piled them on a plate and dumped them in boiling water to cook them. I don't remember how many batches she made, but for over 20 people, it had to be two or three.

We ate them, along with the traditional American turkey dinner, every Christmas. We always told her to forget cooking the turkey stuff and just do ravioli, salad, and garlic bread for Christmas. She never would, though. My mom and her sisters always squabbled over who got to take the leftovers home. YUM!!

Periodically, I try to make them myself. I get a little closer to her recipe each time, but I have to make them more often than every five years if I'm going to get it right.

Because I'm a writer, not just a foodie person, I think my blog will be way too long if I do all five today. So, tomorrow, part two.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day

It's the Labor Day holiday. I hope you whose jobs allow a holiday enjoy it. I hope those of you who must work today take your regular day off and give yourself a holiday. I hope those who are without jobs find one soon.

Chris had a good first day. He gets today off because the restaurant doesn't open until the 12th. His next training session is tomorrow and he gets his schedule for his first week then.

We're hopeful that the job hunt may be shorter this time because there are more openings listed on the job boards.

Have a great holiday, whenever you celebrate it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Spammed & Stuff

Spammed

So, does the spam indicate my tiny blog has grown up? I only have a few readers, as far as I know, but I got my first spam. I don't want to deal with it, so I guess I'll have to do what so many people are doing--put the thing where you have to type the word in order to post a comment. I guess I was hoping that I could avoid doing this since my blog is so small.

Stuff

I'm a bit heartened by the fact that this time there are more jobs on the job boards than the last time we did this job hunt thing. So, I hope that means maybe the time between jobs will be shorter.

Chris starts his job tomorrow. I wish you a good first day, Kiddo. (I doubt he'll read this, but you never know.)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina--Part Four: Yet More Ways to Help

Sheila is compiling a list of ways people can help. Some of them are in the comments, so be sure to read them, as well as her post. Here's a link: Something. Her next post, PayPal Donations to the Red Cross, has a link that people overseas or who don't have credit cards can use to make donations. She also is compiling a list of links. It's in the top right hand column of her site.

Locally, the Red Cross is doing quickie training for people who have some time and can volunteer to go to the site and help. Contact your local Red Cross to find out if they have a similar program, if you're interested. KPIX, the local CBS station has a page of links to ways people can help.

A caveat I wish I didn't have to post, but it has to be said: Given the nature of people, there will be some who will try to take advantage of folks' generosity and will set up charities that are scams. If you've never heard of a charity, check it out before you donate. Three places to look for information before you send money:
  1. Charity Navigator.org
  2. The Attorney General's website
  3. The Better Business Bureau's site--Give.org
This is going to be with us for a long time, folks. People will need help long after we've moved on with our everyday lives. If you can't donate now, please, donate later. They'll still be needing help.