Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I Made a Pirate Hat - Avast Ye Mateys!

For Christmas this year, my husband got a Lego Pirate Ship and a Pirate Hat I made him, because, well, why not?

I'm going to save the payoff shot of the hat for last because it's super awesome. I promise.

Lego Pirate Ship
That is a Lego dragon perched on the backmost mast.
Because, duh, pirates have to fight off dragons all the time.

This is the little rowboat for the pirate ship.
The snooty captain type is fending off a shark with his little lego sword.

Sadly, I killed my camera off by dropping it (I can confirm - dropping cameras is not good for them), so all photos are from my phone. And for some reason, my phone REALLY likes to use the flash - even when it means washed out photos.

I based my pirate hat on this lady's DIY post, but instead of stretching felt to make the head bit of the hat, I put my felt on a pyrex bowl that has a similar fatness to my husband's head, made 4 long snips from each corner, and sewed it up.

There's a bowl under all that felt.
Good thing pyrex makes some large bowls. Nigel's head is quite large.
This photo also features my feet in their comfy slippers.

Made a lining for the head bit, glued the two head shaped pieces together with felt glue, and made two big circles with a hole in the middle for the brim.

Fortunately the two brim pieces went around the edges of the head bit because that part was messy looking.

Starting to come together.

I used thin, white bias tape to make the edges look purdy. I think this either looks like a cool sun hat or some odd, priest-type hat. Not quite sure which.

I'm hugging my morning tea (the yellow thing).
And wearing my big, comfy sweatshirt.
You can't tell from across the internet, but I haven't had my morning shower yet, so I wouldn't get too close.

And then, bam!
(Okay, so actually, with a lot of sewing and cutting and skull and cross-swords making):
Nigel the Pirate.
He was too busy sorting his Magic cards to pose, but it's a cool hat.
I even bought white ostrich feathers for a flare.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

And A Happy New Year!

Photo by Ray Radlein

Beepity McBeep Beeperson Beep Bop Boop. Beep!

That's R2D2 wishing you a happy holidays. (We're close, personal friends.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Jane Austen's Eternal Sass

I just read an article that said all these pretty cool things about Jane Austen, and reminded me why I like her books more than so many of the other Classics I've read.

For me, what it boils down to is that her characters and her books have this sense of Lighthearted Fun that you don't get very often from the books you've got to read in English class. Really, for me, it's that sass that all her main characters seem to have. Sure Shakespeare had some comedies, and Dickens had his moments, but, for me, if you want to smile and shake your head as you're reading, it's Jane Austen all the way.

Photo by SomeDriftwood

That's all for this week. A moment taken to appreciate Jane Austen.

Go read the article. It makes some cool points about how Jane Austen was ahead of her time in the way she wrote her books even though there are a lot of people who want to write her off as romantic fluff.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bad Beginnings: The Query Letter Edition

Another photo of my nephew watching the gorilla at the zoo.
This one more heavily features Monsieur Gorilla.
Look at that elegant (yet powerful) pose!
Monsieur Gorilla clearly works out.

Alright, so upon further consideration, I did not feel that putting every single iteration of my query letter until it evolved into this masterpiece would necessarily interest my readers (whoever they may be). I mean, it's hard to tell for sure, but it would be a bit much for the people I know in real life who read my blog.

So instead of weekly iterations of my query letter as I whittled it down to its masterful end product, I'm just going to share the starting place with you, give you some of the criticism that Naomi gave me, and mention a few of the things I did to transform my query into the letter you saw, er, two weeks ago.

Original Query Letter:

Eric Ortega has an irritating older sister, an overworked mom, the best guild on his Hooves and Halflings server, and one of the most powerful auras Nikias has ever seen.
Taking over a twelve-year-old’s body isn’t ideal, but Nikias will not allow a child to squander such a luminous, unprotected aura. With Eric's aura powering his abilities, Nikias can finally move to destroy the Sentinels who hunt him.
The winged Sentinels watch over all the world’s non-humans, and discretely dispose of those who cause a threat to their people. The Sentinels owe Eric’s sister a favor, so they free Eric, even though it means letting Nikias escape. The conditions of their help are steep: Eric's memories are erased, and he must stay locked away in their secret hideaway until they trust him. Sentinels are wary of human boys who know too much about their hidden world.
Eric wakes up missing half his memories and stranded in a secret mountain lair. He’s not okay with that. Glimpses of half-remembered memories are like accidentally biting down on tin foil: unexpected shooting pain. So what if he doesn’t remember his home or his family? He’s going to find them no matter what these freakish "Sentinel" people say.
Nikias cannot have some child triumphing over him - not now he's had a taste of that aura. And Nikias knows precisely how to motivate Eric: his family.
While Eric searches for a way home, Nikias is searching for Eric. 
Complete at 66,000 words, ERIC ORTEGA AND THE DEMON WIND is an upper MG fantasy. The story is primarily told from Eric’s POV, but approximately one-fifth of the chapters are from the point of view of Nikias and his new, scheming host – until the characters all come together. This book will appeal to fans of the Underland Chronicles. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sarah Hipple

A Demon Wind
Photo by Kelly DeLay

Big Picture Problems (the gist I got from Naomi Hughes):

Note: I am far less polite about my own work than Naomi was. She was nothing but positive and helpful.
  • Angels and demons vibe made the book feel paranormal to Naomi. Since this isn't a paranormal, I knew I needed to build on the fantasy feel of the world.
  • Need to make Eric likable.
  • Lack of clarity about where the book's story starts. What's Eric's goals and journey?
  • First paragraph: Beginning with a list is boring, and lists get skimmed rather than read.
  • Second paragraph: Who? What? What happened to that Eric kid?
  • Fourth paragraph: not bad.
  • Last paragraph: not bad.
  • Every other paragraph - confusing, burying the story, giving the reader "reader whiplash" jumping from one group of people to another.

My Revision Strategy:

I basically kept the fourth and last paragraphs and nixed everything else. Naomi kept me on track. She pointed out "fluff" phrases that were generic and could be eliminated. She helped me restructure my paragraphs at one point.

Basically, when it's my own story, it is incredibly hard to pick out the elements that I need. I am SOOO much better at doing that for my critique partners than I am at doing it for myself. And, as awesome as my CPs are, they've typically read the story before reading the query letter, which makes it harder to realize what you'd think of my book from the query letter alone.

Naomi has worked with agents and was able to give me a completely unbiased view of my letter, and I knew that's what I needed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sick Break

Sadly sick breaks are nothing like Sick Beats (and I can't seem to get my body to "Shake it off").

Gotta go. OJ and my nap call.

See you next week!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Evolution of My Query Letter

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, statue
See how upset this dude looks? That's me writing query letters.
Strahov Monastery Library, Prague
Photo by Curious Expeditions

Unlike most of my posts of late, this one is going to focus purely on writing. That was, after all, the original purpose of my blog.

Query letters are my nemesis. I've studied them, their moves, their quirks, and their weaknesses. But at every turn, they've dodged and parried and defeated me. I read blog post after blog post. Even my kindly CPs' suggestions only seemed to send me spinning down rabbit holes.

This time around, I consulted Naomi Hughes to get her experienced editor's eye on my query letter. And for my peace of mind, I went with her "brainstorming" option so that I could continually edit my letter based on her feedback and make sure I was headed in the right direction.

Note: Naomi is an editor. She is an awesome and very helpful editor, but her job is to tell me when things aren't coming across right and send me in the right direction. I want to make it clear that an editor won't write the query letter for you.

national library of sweden, books, columns
Photo by National Library of Sweden

Hmm, I just realized this post could get very long, so I decided to break it up into a post per query letter iteration.

I'm going to start with the final product because why save the best for last? I personally believe in instant gratification. (Ok, so, no, I don't, but we'll pretend I do for the sake of this post. If it's any consolation, my husband's all about instant gratification. When I was in grad school, we waited in a long line of children on release night to get the last Harry Potter book because my hubby couldn't wait for it one minute longer than necessary.)

admont library, austria, mural, statues
Admont Library, Austria
Photo by Christine McIntosh

Here it is, the polished product:
All twelve-year-old Eric Ortega wants is to make his guild the envy of every gamer on his Hooves and Halflings server . . . until his real-life body is taken over by an ancient being. Eric’s forced to watch as this creature steamrolls through his world, threatening the people he loves. Luckily, Eric’s sister realizes he’s not acting like himself, but the help she can get comes at a high cost.

Nikias is an ancient human-wind hybrid who only has a body when he steals one, and the power of Eric’s aura is too tempting for Nikias to pass up. With that aura fueling his powers, Nikias plans to launch a full-scale attack against the leader of the Sentinels. Sentinels are the bird-human hybrids who police the world’s hidden peoples, and their leader has been after Nikias for centuries. When the Sentinels help Eric’s sister free him, Nikias is infuriated. He’s not letting that aura go.

Eric wakes up stranded in a mountain lair, surrounded by unfriendly Sentinels. He’s free of Nikias, but the Sentinels don’t trust humans and have erased half Eric’s memories to protect their secret world. However, Eric’s determined to get back to his family with or without their help. As he uncovers more of his memories, he also unlocks the ability to use his aura and wield Nikias' power. But Eric doesn't want anything to do with that creep or his abilities.

While Eric searches for a way home, Nikias searches for Eric. When Nikias finds him, Eric's new powers are the only thing that might save his life – if Eric can learn to control them in time.

Complete at 66,000 words, ERIC ORTEGA AND THE DEMON WIND is a dark, contemporary upper MG fantasy. The story is told primarily from Eric’s POV, but approximately one-fifth of the chapters are from the point of view of Nikias and his new, scheming host – until the characters all come together. This book will appeal to fans of the Underland Chronicles. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Biblio-envy: Fantastic Libraries and Far-out Bookstores

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague
Strahov Monastery Library in Prague
Photo by "His Noodly Appendage"
I'm guessing this guy (or girl) is a Pastafarian.
I finished my most recent draft of my book, Eric Ortega and the Demon Wind. Yea for me! I'm working with someone on the query and have sent the book out to CPs. Now I wait.

And while I'm waiting, I browse the internet day and night - leading to fun discoveries like this post about gorgeous libraries. This one about the Prague library. And this one about beauteous bookstores.

Which lead me to surf the Creative Commons for awesome photos of some of these libraries. I picked one library and one bookstore so this post doesn't get ridiculously long.

Not sure why, but I was drawn to is the Austrian National Library in Vienna:

Austrian National Library, fresco
Photo by Nicolas Emmanuel-Emile
The people in the fresco look like they're going to fall down on your head while you're picking out a book. One would think they'd behave better when wearing dresses and toga-type apparel. Frankly, I'm surprised you can't see up their skirts.

Austrian National Library, Vienna
Photo by Patrick Theiner
Austrian National Library, Vienna
Photo by András Fülöp
I get the feeling this statue is shushing an overly rambunctious library patron. Obviously the inside is quite grand. The outside is rather impressive too:

exterior Austrian National Library, Vienna
Photo by Crash Test Mike
You should definitely take a look at those posts I linked to because there are some seriously amazing looking libraries out in the world. For my choice of bookstore, I picked one that's got a seriously awesome cramped and cozy vibe going on: Shakespeare and Company, located in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris, exterior
Photo by Michelle Muirhead
crammed bookshelves, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris
Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz
books galore, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris
Photo by Adams K.

And, just for fun, here's a link to an article written on an old interview with J.R.R. Tolkien. It's easy to forget that some of our classic writers were alive not that long ago.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I Went To The Zoo!

slightly grumpy tortoise
The tortoise was my favorite. You'll be treated to two photos of him (her?).
He says hello (rather grumpily).

With my book, I got some feedback, and I've been adding tension and chopping away any expendable slow bits I can bear to part with. I'm kind of busy these days, but I always take at least half an hour a day to work on my book. On the weekends, I set aside more time. However, none of that is nearly as cool as my pictures from the zoo!

lions, Philadelphia zoo

tiger, Philadelphia zoo
And Tigers

red panda, Philadelphia zoo
And bears, oh my!
(Red pandas count, right?)

Now, I certainly enjoyed the zoo, but if I'm perfectly honest, this little bugger (my nephew) was the real reason for the trip. Mom & Dad went along too. His favorite part was definitely the gorilla.
boy and gorilla

 My favorite part (other than the tortoises, which were super cool but not exactly exciting) was when the tiger strutted about over our heads:
tiger pacing overhead

Flamingo, Philadelphia zoo
The flamingos were quite beautiful.
Glad the zoo gives them the synthetic canthaxanthin they need to stay pink.

And of course, last but not least, the tortoise (again):
tortoise in water

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Belated Post: Better Than Burnt Toast

moon over Badlands
One of my fav photos I took in the Badlands, SD

As I settled down in my bed for the night, I gave a great start
And a small fart
And said, "Oh, my."

I had realized, you see, that I forgot to post!
And that my fart smelled gross.
I was quite sad with myself.

"I must make amends!" I declared.
So as my bedroom aired,
I typed up a poem and patted my gnome and then put myself back to bed.

ragged sunflower
Same trip. There's something endearing about this raggedy flower.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Out And About Part II: The Sarah-ing

Since my phone was being argumentative last week, I figured I'd show you my photos of the Penn State's Arboretum this week.

Disclaimer: These photos are phone quality and do not do the place justice. I was surprised by how extensive the garden was. Also - late fall isn't exactly prime flower viewing time. Obviously Penn State really needs to work on developing some magical, all-weather flowers, but until then . . . 

Penn State Arboretum sunflowers
There were some very pretty and bushy yellow flowers.
I feel like these were called willow sunflowers, but I might be completely wrong.

Penn State Arboretum pumpkins
TONS of pumpkins/squashes/gourds all about.

To be perfectly honest, I was surprised college students didn't seem to be stealing them. I was ever so slightly tempted to snag one, but of course I did not. That would have been unethical. (Seriously, I didn't.)

Penn State Arboretum dead flowers
Some of the half dead flowers were quite picturesque.

Penn State Arboretum dead plants
Others were not.

There you have it, folks. My tour of the Penn State Arboretum. The water lilies that I included in my last post (aka, of other peoples' photos) were all closed up for the night because I got there just as the sun was starting to go down. I was a bit sad about that.

Maybe some year I'll actually make it to the Arboretum during spring or summer when things are really in bloom.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Out and About

I'm off at a training for work this week. I had to abandon my husband for hotel living and excellent food. I wanted to show off some photos I took, but my phone is being a brat (it doesn't take kindly to travel, apparently). Instead, here's other peoples' photos of the same place:

water lily
Photo by Cuizoo
Only when I visited, the water lilies were all closed up.

Photo by Meghin Moore
Lots o' pumpkins. Very seasonal. Much festive.

Penn State Arboretum
Photo by Cuizoo
The flowers were much more dead when I saw them.
Apparently late fall isn't really the best time of year for flowers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Last Minute Post

Ten minutes before I left for work, I realized, "I forgot about my blog!"

And so this week you get a gorgeous picture of Iceland.

Photo by Moyan Brenn

I really want to visit Iceland.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interpretive Bed Making

So my husband was "helping" put the sheets on the bed the other day.

I'm still working with my CPs and thinking about revisions, so my writing isn't terribly interesting. But my husband made some museum quality sheet interpretive art.

bad helper
At first I think he was just being an obstructionist.

Here he's still a bit of an obstructionist, but in a sit up and greet you sort of manner.

This is where he started getting creative.

billowy sheets
I failed to truly capture it, but there was a lot of up and down sheet movement.
Very billowy.
Quite moving.

there's a boy under that sheet
Then comes The Sprawl.
This is where he feels he is one with the bed.

The End.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Different Paths

Fork In the Road
A Fork in the Road
By Bs0u10e0
From what I can tell there are a million plus paths to becoming a published author.

A critique partner friend of mine just got herself an internship at a good literary agency, and I had a moment of: Am I doing this wrong?

A former critique partner got herself an agent through a contest she'd entered, and I had a moment of: Am I doing this wrong?

A cousin of mine is a very engaged and successful You-Tuber. She got the phone number of a dream literary agent of mine through a conference panel, and, well, you know what I asked myself.

foggy forest path
A Mist-hidden Path
By Indy Kethdy
Don't get me wrong, there are amazing opportunities out there, and the people who take advantage of them are sure to get themselves, well, an advantage. For example, my friend working with the literary agent will be reading a ton of query letters and manuscripts and learning a lot about what works and what doesn't. So through her hard work, she'll be making some serious progress on the writing front (that I might get to benefit from too - because she's still critiquing my stuff  & she's awesome.)

But I can't enter every contest. I would be irritated if I spent all my time engaged on Twitter, and I don't have the time or patience (or possibly capability) to get myself an internship. So far I've shuddered at the thought of all those people at a conference, but I might need to bring myself around on that one.

So here I sit, working away at my books and slowly but surely improving at this writing thing and tippity tapping away at my blog, and I'm hoping that'll get me somewhere too.

old luggage
And what might these contain?
Photo by THOR
Hey, at least I'm not counting on someone important finding my lost manuscript in a bag I abandon on the subway. Although .... that would be awesome.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Flaming Phoenix

phoenix, flying
My Phoenix

I sent my book off to my Critique Partners (CPs) and have had a little too much time on my hands to worry and wonder what they're thinking of my book (you know, when I wasn't out digging holes and conversing with plumbers and well experts).

So this week I decided to paint myself a flaming phoenix. Mostly I wanted to paint a pretty bird, but then I got out the reds and yellows, and it turned into a phoenix.

I asked my husband what a good landscape for a phoenix would be, and he said, "A volcano!" Which seemed like a good idea to me.

phoenix close up, volcano
A Close-up!

I was going to offer this delightful phoenix to my sister. She's having her second baby this year, and I suggested a Mythical Beasts theme for the room (Child #1 got a jungle theme). My sister said she thinks that Child #2 will get the jungle themed room and Child #1 will get his very own train-themed room.

I informed her that mythical beasts are waaaayyyyy cooler than trains. She said that Child #1 loves Thomas The Tank Engine (a fact I did know) and is not really willing to love mythical beasts just because I think they're way cooler. I told her that her child's tastes are lame.

She informed me that two-year-olds are not known for being flexible (in a very sarcastic manner, I might add). And she'll get right on making him love Mythical Beasts instead of trains, but she's not so sure how well that's going to pan out for me.

I take solace in the fact that I'm right.