Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gryffindor vs Slytherin: The Battle of the Scarves

I spent most of my weekend working on a belated Christmas present for my husband's sister.

She is a Gryffindor, you see, and she happened to be lacking the appropriate cold weather gear to properly represent her House.

I made her a scarf. And, because I had leftover yarn, I made a matching hat. Perhaps its not Harry Potter-approved, but it had a pom-pom, so it's cool.

This is her in Gryffindor Ninja mode:

Gryffindor ninja

Well, it just so happens that my husband belongs to Slytherin.

As she was opening her gift, my husband sneakily pulled on his Slytherin scarf, and the moment she had the scarf on, he attacked yelling, "Filthy Gryffindor!"

It was pretty funny.

Sadly, I didn't have a camera handy to commemorate the event, so instead you're getting two phone-quality photos of the siblings in their House gear.

Here's Nigel:

Slytherin scarf, suspicious

He is suspicious.

But, really, you should be suspicious of him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Links: Blog Traffic, Fun with Words and Diversity

I enjoyed a few articles I read recently, so I'm sharing them in this week's post.

Blog Optimization!


adorable little girl writing
I'm not nearly this adorable when I write, so I've gotta find ways to compensate.

I'm not very good at blogging. I post regularly, which I hear is smart, but to keep from going crazy I only post once a week which is bad form, you know.

I was reading through Chuck Sambuchino's (editor of Guide to Literary Agents and Writer's Digest staffer) blog post about blog traffic. One of the comments led me to this nifty link to check out my blog's SEO (search engine optimization).

traffic in a city
Traffic - like blog "traffic". Get it? I'm so clever.

I put my blog site in and learned that my title wasn't long enough, my pictures needed "ALT text" (text to describe a photo), and I needed a blog description.

That's why I did a slight overhaul on my blog. I'm not sure the headline's the best, but, hey, it's apparently the right length.


For Fun and Literature


You can always get a bad review. No matter what you've written, there are people out there who are going to hate it. It's a fact of life. Well, here's a few highlights from bad reviews of classics novels.

Pixar's La Luna, row boat and moon
From Pixar's La Luna by NASA APPEL

Nobody likes a long description. Here's the Pixar movies in 140 characters or less, à la Twitter.

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most respected science fiction and fantasy authors out there. That's why in 2004, the Sci Fi Channel that was (it's now the SyFy Channel) turned her much-loved Earthsea series into a TV Mini-series. They also turned her very diverse world into a very white world, which pissed her off. And, what the hell, while I'm at it, here's Chris Rock's take on what it means to be black in Hollywood.

Amon, Avatar villain from Legend of Korra
Awesome cosplay of Amon, the villain from The Legend of Korra

While I'm discussing diversity, here's an article on the last episode of The Legend of Korra, a very diverse cartoon with a ton of kick-ass women. Incidentally, Korra was preceded by a TV show called Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was a big hit. Its movie, however, was plagued by white-washing the title character (and much of the rest of the cast) and, apparently, a pretty crappy script. The movie was a total flop.

Also, this homemade picture book on etsy is adorable.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What I've Been Reading

I'm a conflicted reader. I don't think I'd want to be a writer if I didn't love reading too, but the truth of it is that it's not always easy to find the time to read. And when I've been writing like crazy, sometimes I get just a little bit sick of the written word. And then, when I make the time to read, I've got a whole host of genres pulling me in different directions.

Here are some of the ways I've been spending my reading time this year.

Middle Grade Books

You've got to read it to write it. That's the common consensus. Weirdly enough, I love writing MG, but I don't always love reading it. But I can't be That Sort of Person, so I make some time. I probably read some other MG books in the last year, but the ones I remember reading were:

Flora and Ulysses
Photo by Schu

Castle
Photo by Etrusia UK

I especially loved Flora and Ulysses (this year's Newberry Award winner - it's not one of those depressing ones). Actually, from this list, the only one I struggled through was The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Until I made this list, I didn't actually realize I'd managed to read so many MG books this year. Yeah for me!

Non-fiction

Patti Smith
Patti Smith by August Brill

Just Kids kicked me off on non-fiction with Patti Smith's autobiography of the NYC music scene in the 70s. I've never been a big fan of non-fiction before, but it was a very interesting and beautifully written book. Not for kids, though. Not by a long shot.

glowing Eiffel Tower
Photo by Moyan Brenn

I learned some interesting things about the way others live from these books. I ought to read more of them, but . . .  as you can see, the theme of this post is that I don't have enough time to read everything!

YA Books

This category is easier for me because I naturally gravitate towards it, and I also enjoy writing it (so, I'm supposed to read it). I love a good, light-hearted YA. I'll cover a few of the highlights below.

John Green

John Green books
Photo by RiveraNotario

This year I finally sank my teeth into John Green (the phenomenon who authored The Fault in Our Stars, amongst other much-loved YA books). My personal fav of his (co-authored by David Levithan) was Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Cassandra Clare

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Photo by Kaitlin Kühn

And I finally, finally, finally read City of Bones (of the Mortal Instruments series) by Cassandra Clare. I had tried to read it before, but got irritated by the love triangle, and abandoned it. This time around I finally gave it a real go, and I will say it was an action-packed read. I enjoyed it, but I still gave it a bit of a mixed review on Goodreads.

Stephanie Perkins

Oh, and I finally read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I think that was this year. It might've been a little more, though.

To be perfectly honest, I think the title was holding me back from diving in, but once I did, I had the pleasure of reading some good, light-hearted fun. I'm always a sucker for romance, and I enjoyed it's sequel (of sorts), Lola and the Boy Next Door even more. Although I might like to have a good chat with the people who title these books. I would be way less embarrassed to be seen with a book that had a slightly more, uh, grown-up title. Of course, these books are meant for YA, which by definition is not for adults, so I guess that's more on me than the Titler.

Other

There are a few things that fit into this category. First is the:

Guilty Pleasures

This is Nigel & I in Venice.
We are an adorable couple, of course.

A guilty pleasure typically means adult romance for me. If I'm really sick of everything else (TV, reading, writing, chores) I can breeze through a romance in a day. I've found myself less and less likely to do that this past year, partly because I've devoted so much time to writing, and partly because I'm just a bit less interested in romances this year than in other years.

However, Nalini Singh is always a great go-to for me. She writes the Guild Hunter series. It has fantastic world building and a kick-ass heroine. It's perhaps more of an urban fantasy than a romance, but she's got a few steamy scenes, so be warned.

Recommendations

Actually, Until Tuesday was a coworker's recommendation, but it's already been categorized. So what I really mean here is: Books My Husband Thinks I Should Read.

Fancy old book
Photo from Stéfan

Nigel found out I'd never read a Jules Verne (I got half way through Around the World in Eighty Days and got side-tracked) and he threatened not to give me my Christmas present until I read one.

We are compromising in that I will eventually finish Verne (but not before Christmas), and I will finish The Name of the Wind by Dec. 25. Or my present will be held hostage. The Name of the Wind is a somewhat recent adult fantasy that happens to be one of my hubby's favorite books ever. I'm enjoying it, but not as swept away as he was.

I'm sure there's more that fits into this category, but I think this post is long enough as it is, don't you?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When I'm Not Writing

laundry in Venice
Laundry Day in Venice
I thought this photo from O Palsson was cool and sort of appropriate.

This weekend, I did the following: three loads of laundry, raked leaves, spent half a day sorting old files (something I’ve been meaning to do for over a year), and finally ordered actual, physical photos from my Italy trip.

I also watched a ton of TV, but that is neither productive nor something that I can't do on a regular basis (I like to watch TV while I put away laundry and cook and when I'm taking a break from writing).

Since I finished my re-write of my MG Fantasy, Dragon Bait (yea!!) I was taking a break from writing to (hopefully) clear my head, rest my brain, and give myself enough distance to get into critical, editing mode. As it turns out, writing takes up a lot of my time.  Or, if I'm being honest, writing and telling myself I ought to write take a lot of time.

birch fall forest
Photo by Barbara

Of course, if you noticed, I was still raking my leaves in December, which does tell you what sort of things I put off in order to write. (To be fair my husband had raked at the beginning of November. We just have a ton of trees, and they dropped more leaves after that.)

this way to Hogwarts Castle
Hogwarts photo from Scott Smith

This weekend I also did a little pre-editing prep. I re-read Rue's last scene in The Hunger Games in order to read exactly how Suzanne Collins approached it. I outlined my book. I watched Goonies (It'd been ages since I'd seen it, and I was told it had great characterizations of middle school aged kids. It did. And it was awesome.) And I started re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I am in love with Rowling's descriptions, and that is one of my biggest weaknesses. I'm hoping some of her magic wears off on me (and I'll actually look at how she writes her descriptions too).

So that was my weekend.

I'm way too antsy to keep away from my book much longer, no matter how much head clearing I ought to do. So next weekend I'll be back at it - AND finally watching Mockingjay: Part I (not related, but fun).

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Which I Tell You Three Things

Sarah in Venice at Night
Yep. This is me, hanging out above a Venetian canal. As you do.
(It was super awesome.)

One: I'm Done!

Happy December! National Novel Writing Month is over, and I finished my NaNo goal - I completed my re-write of my MG Fantasy, Dragon Bait. Here were my last stats:

NaNoWriMo

The fact I actually managed 1,249 words/day made me quite proud.

Unfortunately, this puts my new draft of Dragon Bait at 71k. And since it's intended to be an upper MG novel, that is way too long (Although, I will take this opportunity to point out that the first Harry Potter, which was not crazy long, is 77k).

So next comes the Ruthless Edits. I just hope I can stand to be ruthless enough. I should probably take a bit of a break so I can be a little more objective, but I get antsy when I don't have a writing project, and I'm not certain I can stand to put Dragon Bait away when I've got so much momentum going. I guess we'll see.

Two: Coolest Summary Evar

rocket blast off

I was surfing through my Netflix account when I came across the following Summary:
When a stunt pilot stumbles across an experimental Nazi jet pack, he becomes a target for mobsters, spies, FBI agents and millionaire Howard Hughes.
That is just the coolest summary ever. It makes me want to hear this story. I am really hoping I can come up with something that sounds even half as cool when I need to write my query letters.

The movie, by the way, is Disney's The Rocketeer, which is now on my Instant Stream List. I didn't have the time to watch it this weekend, but that summary really sold me, so now I have to make time to watch it.

A Third, Dorky Thing

fancy mantis
Mantis by Mike

I felt like this was a very list-like sort of post, so I wanted a third topic to make it more listy. I could have come up with something cool and writerly. Instead I shall tell you something random.

My husband has nagged me into playing Magic: The Gathering. It is the dorkiest card game known to man. I think that's a pretty good description.

You have two dueling decks, mana, creature cards that attack each other, and spells you can cast. See? Dorky.

Well, the dorky thing I am going to tell you is this: my current favorite card is the Mantis Rider. It's a blue/white/red flying mantis. With haste and vigilance! This actually means things if you play the game. That is how dorky this game is.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Half-Assed NaNoWriMo

Dragon Bait: A MG Fantasy


I'd mentioned I'm re-writing Dragon Bait, and I'm sure you were just itching for an update. I'm closing in on the end of this re-write. I'm up to 59k, and I've probably got another 10k or so to go. That's too long, so I'll have to chop a bit, which kinda sucks since I've been editing as I go, but I'm sure it's for the best. Cutting really tightens my writing.

NaNoWriMo

I set a self-goal of 30k for the month since I didn't want to just plow through the re-write like I would a first draft. Here is my book's NaNo page, but I'll give a run-down of the deets below.


As you can see from above, I didn't bother to input my numbers as I went. I finally updated yesterday, and got a big spike in my chart (which looks a little funny), but I'm falling well below the typical NaNo goal of 1,667 words/day.


I did manage 1,018 words/day, and since my personal goal was 1,000 words/day I'm going to go ahead and put a gold star on my chart. (If I actually still wanted to pull out the 50k goal of NaNo, I'd need to write 4,088 words/day for today the next 5 days. Ugh.)

Writing this much in addition to all the normal day-to-day chores hasn't left me with a lot of creativity for my blog, so I'll just finish up my post with this:


It's the gold star for my chart! And it's also quite festive.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Painting a Queen

As I'd mentioned, this month is National Novel Writing Month. I set a goal of 30,000 words b/c (I'm hoping) that's all it should take to finish re-writing my MG Fantasy, Dragon Bait.

Having a deadline always seems to bring out the worst in us, doesn't it? Instead of writing (okay, so I did a little bit of writing, but not as much as I should have) I spent my weekend creating a painting of Queen Levana from the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer for this contest.


The Lunar Chronicles are a very cool YA, futuristic, sci-fi version of the Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel stories (so far - there's Snow White and her step-mother Queen's story yet to come). It starts off with Cinder (I think you can guess which one that's supposed to be) as a cyborg in New Beijing where cyborgs are viewed as less than human. There's a plague and an evil queen (from the Moon!), and it's a pretty cool story.

Spaceship by Lucas.

Queen Levana is a Lunar who has a powerful, magic-like control over others. It's a moon person thing. She makes everyone see this very beautiful exterior, but we find out that this is just part of her glamour, not her true appearance at all.

Photo of Blood Moon by Brian Hammond.

The contest was about creating a portrait of the Queen, so I painted a cruelly beautiful queen out front in vivid color and the shadow of her true self, hidden behind.

**I cut out the image of my artwork b/c the contest rules say the image can't be publicly displayed anywhere. I'll post it back once I've lost the contest.

I chose to make the true appearance of the Queen as a somewhat plain woman. She's not truly ugly or disfigured, just not as beautiful as she wants people to think her. In my head, she was never as beautiful as her sister (who she may have killed) and her lack of beauty ate away at her, turning her into the tyrant she is today.

Or something.

But, wait, there's more: she's got a super cool spaceship army that is descending from the blood red moon. That's somewhat based on the books, although, of course, I added my own flair. I'm oddly proud of the spaceships. I think they're cool.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Italy: Top Ten Italian Details


European Sarah
Here I am glamming it up in Rome.
Nigel and I tried to blend in with the natives.

So I said I'd have more to say about Italy, and I figured why not turn it into a writing post? Whenever you write about a place it's handy to either have been there or have some good intel on the little details of what makes a place unique. Just a few details can evoke the feeling of a foreign land or a diner down the street.

Here's my personal list of details that make Italy feel like Italy. I stuck to places, food, and things. The people of Italy are a whole post of their own, and I'm not entirely sure I can do them justice. But maybe later.

Bright arch in Rome


  1. Cigarettes. Even Italy keeps the smokers outside, but smoking just doesn't seem to have the same sort of stigma it's got in "the States." You can see smokers all over, and 7-11 type places have little cigarette vending machines, so you can get your fix no matter the time of day or night.
  2. No Washcloths. I do not get it. Italian hotels never had washcloths. I love washcloths for a quick wash after sweating to death in the hot Italian sun. But apparently these guys don't use them. Crazy sauce. (It drove me just a little bit crazy.)
  3. Bidets. Continuing on the bathroom theme, there was a small porcelain bidet in almost every hotel we stayed in. Some people swear by them. I gave it a try and wasn't impressed. If my butt's that dirty, I'll just take a shower, thank you very much. But I was thinking: adult baby wipes might not be a bad idea to get everything all fresh and clean.
  4. Stripes, Boots, and Tight Pants. There were a lot of these in Italian fashion. The boots kinda surprised me. All sorts of cool boots. If they weren't so expensive I might have bought myself a pair.
  5. Trains. You might already know this, but trains will get you everywhere in Italy. We didn't rent a car. We took local, regional, and fast trains.
  6. Two Hour Dinners. I'm not sure they actually took a full two hours, but, then again, I wouldn't be surprised if they lasted even longer in peoples' houses. Glasses of wine, evened out by small, continual servings of food, and tons of laughter and conversation. I could see everlasting dinners every now and again, but, honestly, these people took forever. My American sensibilities just couldn't handle it.
  7. Food and Drink: wine, gelato, pasta, and bitter water (a.k.a. mineral water). I am totally on board with these Italian food stuffs, but not that awful carbonated, bitter water. I did try some mineral water, but yeck.
  8. Virgin Marys. Everywhere. I swear, Italy has approximately 5 Virgin Mary’s per square foot.
  9. Insane Drivers. And crazier Bikers. Every single car had black marks on its bumper and probably a few dents. They go fast and they make ways for themselves where none exist. I'm not actually sure how any of the bikers are still alive.
  10. History Everywhere. Whether it's the Roman Empire, the Renaissance or yet another amazing church, almost everywhere you look has some artifact. They're so thick on the ground that they just get left out in the open air and people brush by them on a daily basis.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My NaNoWriMo Semi-participation

What About Italy?

I've still got quite a few things to say about Italy, but as my husband pointed out, I don't want to overload you on Italy when this is actually a writing blog.

So I'm throwing in a writing post along with a cool picture of Italy. And maybe I'll throw in a pic of me and Nigel in Italy at the end. Just for funsies.

This is Sienna's Il Duomo at nighttime.
It was quite beautiful.

Last Year's NaNoWriMo

If you are my one dedicated blog follower (Hi, Camilla!), you might remember that last year I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, aka NaNo). Here was one of my posts about it.

If you're reading this and you don't happen to be Camilla: I participated in NaNo last year! It was fun. Really challenging, but it was pretty cool to realize that I could actually write 50,000 words in one month.

My NaNo Goal: Add More Dragons

This November, however, I am still in the process of re-writing my MG Fantasy, Dragon Bait. I'm working to amp up the action; eliminate any boring bits; and add in some additional description, world building, and character motivations. Rather than a normal edit, I've just decided to completely re-write the book because I really want this to be the best book it can be.

I've written about 34k, and I'm hoping that I'll be done around 65k. I've got it all outlined, and I'm hoping to actually be able to use some of the chapters I wrote in my last draft toward the end of the book since. The end was always fairly action packed.

Actually, in re-writing one of the main things I ended up doing was adding in a bunch of scenes with dragons, but since dragons are pretty darn cool I'm good with that. Nearly getting eaten by a dragon adds a certain amount of tension to my main character's life.

My personal NaNo writing goal is about 30k words - or whatever word count it takes to finish up this re-write. I'm actually editing as I write, so this is still pretty darn ambitious. I'm partially hoping that telling you, dear blog readers, about this goal will help keep me motivated and writing.

Wish me luck!

This is me up above The Forum in Rome.
I didn't lie. This is me & Nigel.
That tiny person wearing orange in the background is Nigel.
And aren't the Italian trees cool?



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Photo Highlights of My Italy Trip

Hello, All.

I posted a little while ago about having decided to go to Italy. Well, I just got back!

I'd scheduled a few posts while I was gone b/c, you know, it's not really smart to tell everyone on the internet that your house is empty.

Anyway, I've got a ton of post-vacation things to do (like sleep, for example), but I intend to write a few Italy posts over the next few weeks b/c I've been feeling kind of un-inspired on the writing about writing front, and because, you know: Italy.

So, here's the really quick photo tour of my trip.

First we went to Rome (Roma in Italian):

Nigel at the Colosseum
My Husband at the Colosseum

the Forum ruins
The Forum
(by the Colosseum)

St Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica (The Vatican)
Here you get some idea of the crowds. These placed were packed.

funny looking guards
The Vatican guards wearing their funny uniforms.

We used trains to get everywhere. Oh, and we walked a lot. Our next stop was the very cool medieval town of Sienna (Siena in Italian):

streets of Sienna
Sienna had these narrow, super cool windy streets.
There was also a ton of laundry hung out of windows, which was oddly picturesque.

Il Duoma Sienna
Sienna's Cathedral, Il Duomo
(Which just means "The Dome" and is also the name of the main Cathedral in Florence)
This place was absolutely packed with art. It was every-freaking-where.
Oh, and it had a Michelangelo and a Donatello or two.
You know.

drinking wine in tuscany
Nigel drinking some Italian wine out on the super awesome patio of our hotel, overlooking the Tuscan countryside.

Then we moved on to Florence (Firenze), although we were sad to say goodbye to beautiful Sienna.

Florence view

italy ponte vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

super fancy museum
I love art. I absolutely do, but this is what the museums were all like.
So even I got seriously overwhelmed by the sheer amount of art there was to view.
BTW, in the middle is Ruben's The Consequence of War.

Next stop: Venice (Venezia)

venice canal sunset
It was a quick stop, but we loved it.

Last stop: Cinque Terre, a set of five seaside towns set into the mountain-scape itself.

Vernazza Italian seaside town
See? Aren't they crazy?
You can sort of see some of their vineyards chopped into the mountainside itself.
Oh, and some of their pirate defenses!

sarah and nigel by the sea
The water was gorgeous. The sun was bright and so warm, but it was also super windy.

tiny italian truck
Also, Italy had some tiny trucks.
I did not manage to get a picture of the tiny garbage trucks, but they were adorable.




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Getting Inspired By History

cool old map
"World Map 1681 - No. 1" by Gerard van Schagen
Photo by Chuck Coker.
On a side note, I recommend downloading this image. It is crazy cool and detailed.
And they had no idea what Alaska looked like.

My Dilemma

I was recently told that I ought to create a much more detailed back-story for my MG fantasy world. I ought to know how dragons came into my world and how they changed human history. This made sense to me, and I felt a little silly for not doing it before. I'd always had ideas, but I hadn't fully fleshed them out.

At first I was a bit stumped about some of the specifics, but then I started listening to history podcasts. So many interesting things have happened throughout human history! It's hard not to be inspired when the story is told in a compelling way. (Side note: not all history podcasts are told in an inspiring way.)

I mean, anybody can give the cold, hard facts. The facts alone typically aren't what make a story thrive. It's the odd little details.

Genghis Khan statue
Genghis Khan
(Photo by Ludovic Hirlimann)

Hardcore History

For me, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History helps bring history to life. He actually tries to give an idea of what life was like on the ground. And it just so happened that when I was searching for a way to deliver my dragons into my world, I listened to his series on Genghis Khan, and I thought, "What if these Dragon People had been living the rough life on the Mongolian steppe for years and were led to conquer Europe by a ruthless and brilliant leader?"

Genghis Khan

Did you know that at one point in time in history, Genghis Khan's army (his son was the Khan at this point) had stormed through Europe defeating armies left and right? I'd had no idea.

old book battle
(Picture curtesy of Internet Archive Book Images)

When the Khan's army was on the verge of finishing off France and basically owning all of Europe, the Khan (Ogedei - pronounced O - geh - die) died, and the armies pulled back so they could elect a new Khan, and that took forever and was a bit contentious, and that's why we don't speak Mongolian today. Or something like that. Seeing as how it didn't actually happen, there is, of course, debate on exactly what would have happened.

People Had Crazy Names Back Then

I've been listening to a few different history (and other) podcasts. It's good stuff for a long trip. I learned about Charlemagne and his dad, Pippin the Short, and his son, Louis the Pious, on my long trip to a wedding.

Long story short: check out a few history podcasts. You might learn something cool.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Whimsical Cake for Me

As a special treat, my husband took me to a nice restaurant, and the desserts were amazing - very delicious and almost too amazing looking to eat.

Here was Nigel's dessert:


If I remember correctly, it was a honey flavored ice cream that was so freaking good set on top of a little cake and covered with some baked meringue. A honey bee baked Alaska sorta deal.


And here is my dessert, with Nigel stealing some of it.


It was chocolate mousse inside and quite delicious, although by this point I was completely stuffed. Everything was edible, but I was informed that some of the flowers tasted a little bitter.

They weren't too bad, but the mousse was definitely the most delicious part.

And that's all you're getting for this post. I felt our desserts deserved a post all their own. I mean, honestly, they were gorgeous.