What I’m doing while I’m not doing the stuff I’m supposed to be doing

Happy February 1st.

OMG. It’s February 1st.

2016 has already gotten away from me. I’d like to say that it is because I’ve fallen so deep into a writing coma that I couldn’t come up for air because of all of the amazing sentences that I’m constructing… but that’d be bullshit.

I’d like to say that it’s because I’m swamped since I won the Powerball, too, but well… clearly, no.

Here at Casa Filak, things have been a bit hectic in 2016. Just before Christmas, our youngest daughter was diagnosed (finally) with Fibromyalgia. She’s eleven. That really, really sucks. She was, understandably, suffering from some pretty severe depression after having felt like crap for over a year, and we’re getting that under control, as well as learning new ways to help her cope with her pain and her new reality.

I don’t want to help her cope with a new reality.

I want to go back to the old reality, before she was in pain all the time. Before she felt nauseated. Every. Single. Day. I want to go back to the reality where she runs around and plays like a kid, where she doesn’t have to remember to do neck stretches to keep herself from getting headaches. I want her to be staring down the highway of life where the biggest worry she has is who’s going to be assigned to her cabin at 5th grade camp.

I’m kind of pissed.

But I can’t show her that, because I have to show her how to be strong. And I can’t show her that, because being angry isn’t going to do her one bit of good. And I can’t show her that, because this isn’t about me at all… it’s about her and I want her to know that she’s perfect, even though her muscles aren’t.

So… right now, a lot of the things that I’m supposed to be doing are slipping to the wayside. We have about 7 specialists appointments a week, right now, as we try to wrangle her symptoms under control and help her to learn coping strategies and warning signs. Right now, all the creative juices in my head have turned to sludge. Right now, the characters that are living in my head are a lot quieter than the kid that lives in my house… in my heart. And right now, I’m having a hard time remembering that I’m an author. That I’m a woman. That I’m anything other than mother.

I know that this will pass. Each day gets easier. Each day, she gets stronger and as she gets stronger, so do I. One day, soon, I’ll remember that I’m somebody else, besides just her mom.

But right now, I’m having a hard time remembering that, so I have to tell myself. Just as a reminder.

Quick and Dirty Review: THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z by Natalie Blitt

http://www.amazon.com/The-Distance-A-Natalie-Blitt-ebook/dp/B00WELVQSI

25131078

 

So, I’m supposed to be finishing line edits, right now. I’m supposed to be neck deep in removing all the extra commas from my manuscript (I have an addiction. I admit it — My name is Stacey and I use WAY too much punctuation.) HOWEVER, that being said, I took a night off last night.  My agent-mate, the lovely Natalie Blitt, had a book birthday yesterday with the release of her Teen Romance, THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, so I took a few hours off to read it.

And it was fantastic.

But since I have to get back to those commas I’m going to do a quick and dirty review — five things I loved about this book about a girl who travels away from home to immerse herself in the culture that she loves — to get away from the family that drives her crazy — only to find love in a most unexpected boy.

#5 – Abby and Alice. The friendship between these two is perfectly real. Both are flawed, both are strong in their own way. They have fights and make up over real things. Their friendship drew me into this book right away.

#4 – French and Baseball. Full transparency — I don’t speak French and I don’t really like baseball. We’re an NFL family, around these parts. But the immersion of the French language and the baseball — all the baseball — made these characters real. The French language and the baseball references become a part of the story. They become characters unto themselves. And they are great fun.

#3 – Trivia as Foreplay. Here’s the thing — I am a sucker for a good nerd love story, and Abby is a nerd that I can totally get behind. She is smart and funny, geeking out on all things France and the beauty of words. (You know I’m all about that.) She’s got a head full of baseball facts and all kinds of family baggage and is trying to find her place in the world. And any book that uses a trivia competition as the first real set-up to romance gets an A+ from me.

#2 – CONSENT! Zeke is a jock. He’s the exact kind of guy you would expect to push back, if a girl says, “No.” But instead, Natalie Blitt has given us a story that at its heart is about consent and that, way more than his shaggy blond locks or his easy smile, is what made me love Zeke.

#1 – Instant Gratification. The e-book is available right now. Right here. Or here. And it’s $1.99! And it is a quick, happy read that made me smile. It was lovely and I’d recommend that you use a few hours of the time you’re supposed to be doing something else to fall into it, too!

Crisis Averted

So, here it is.

Two weeks ago, my computer crashed and I lost about 65,000 words of the novel I’ve been working on, all summer. I spent some four or five hours in a frantic tizzy, trying to bribe a guy named Hutch at Google to help a girl out, before he and I finally found a way to “sort-of” recover my words. This was a big frickin’ crisis. I mean, I had a total mental breakdown–sobbing-in-the-fetal-position-lost-my-mind-kind-of-day.

BUT the words were found, and though there will be some effort required to get them back in the shape/format that I want them, all is not lost.  I have a hard copy, and that is all I can ask for. That was the worst day of the summer, for me.

Until… fast forward seven days, to last Thursday. My two big kids had gone to the high school football game. Hubby and I had finished dinner and cleaned up, and we sent the two littles upstairs to brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. A moment later, they came back down, announcing that the lights wouldn’t turn on upstairs and that there was a weird smell up there.

Hubby and I investigated and found smoke, though the source was uncertain. We checked lamps and plug-in air fresheners, radios and fans, to no avail, until I went into the kids’ bathroom. The first thing that I noticed was something odd had dripped onto the toilet seat. At first, I thought that little man had made a mess when he’d gone to the bathroom and just hadn’t told us, but when I looked up, I could see scorch marks on the ceiling. Hubby brought in a flashlight, and when he touched the metal cover of the ceiling vent fan, it was hot.

I’d like to say that we were totally on the ball, rushed into our pre-planned fire escape scenario and handled the whole thing with aplomb, BUT that would be a lie. First, he removed the cover and we stared up into the smoking remains of a clearly fire damaged fan. Then, I opened all the windows upstairs to let out some of the smoke. We sent the kids to the basement, to get away from the bad air, but at this point, we were seeing no flames and we honestly thought that the motor had blown on the fan, but had been contained by the metal box that held it.

So, we talked about electricians and told the kids that they could sleep in the basement overnight, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. Hubby called his dad to see what he thought about the situation, and I got on the Google. Turns out, a lot of house fires start in a bathroom vent fan. Turns out that it can start the insulation in your attic to smoldering, and you won’t even know you have a fire until WHOOSH! Your whole attic and roof goes up in flames.

I was sitting there, at the computer, and in the back of my mind, I could hear my dad’s voice. For those that don’t know, my stepdad, who raised me, passed away a few years ago. He was a fixer and a tinkerer, and he was my go-to handyman. If he were alive, I’d have been on the phone with him, right then. I stared at the screen and I heard him say, as plain as day, “Don’t you leave it like that. Get up. Go check.”

I took the flashlight out and shined it at the roof, and my heart stopped. I could see smoke leaking out of the roof. Our home was on fire.

The next moments were a whirlwind of activity. I called the fire department, gathered the kids and their beloved blankies. We unplugged the external hard drive that holds all of our pictures and I grabbed the file folder with the hardcopy (see above: the only copy) of my novel, and the kids and I hopped in the car and drove away. We passed a multitude of flashing lights on the road–four huge fire engines, a couple of smaller fire trucks and an ambulance, maybe a police car. To be honest, I lost track. In my mind, all I could see was that smoke, rolling out of our roof.

In the end, we discovered the fire, just in time. The damage was fairly minimal, in the scheme of things, and we have a great Home Owner’s Insurance policy. We have worked with an excellent restoration company that has gotten the mess (mostly insulation from the attic) cleaned up and livable, once more. We are very, very lucky and very, very fortunate.

10292338_10202781407120327_7624678578617225591_n

The fire department told us that we had maybe 15-20 minutes before the whole roof caught. If we hadn’t been home, or if we’d been asleep–we could be looking at a total loss. We could be looking at a loss of life. We could be looking at the kind of grief that I cannot even put into words.

10451055_10202781406680316_67043322597374327_n

The last few days have been hard. The mess was being cleaned up, but I needed to wash every piece of clothing and stuffed animal and bedding and everything from the kids’ rooms. We’re talking about 40 loads. We couldn’t run the A/C until the ducts were cleaned, and it has been hot and humid, these last few days. I got sick–whether it be stress, or back-to-school germs, or allergies from the dust, and that hasn’t made things easier. And I’ve been walking around with that feeling, like after you narrowly avoid a car accident.

1896791_10202781405920297_7760757405737373017_n

Holy Shit. Something really, devastatingly horrible almost happened. Something that changes everything, forever. But it didn’t. You know the feeling that I mean? Adrenaline shaky and checking everyone over for bumps and bruises? Waiting for the other shoe to fall.

I nearly lost my mind when I thought I’d lost my book, and now, faced with the possibility of actual, horrible loss, that feels downright trivial. It feels microscopic. It feels like it happened to someone else, entirely. I haven’t cried over the fire. I don’t need to. We lost nothing that cannot be replaced. We were lucky. We were fortunate. We are blessed.

DSCN0002

Two weeks ago, I almost lost my book.

Last week, I almost lost my home, and I could have lost so much more than that.

This week, I am just going to breathe deep, let the tears come if they ever need to (although, I don’t expect them). It’s all good. I’m going to watch both of my sons play football, tomorrow, and I’m going to try to relax. Because when that book–the one that I lost, and then found–gets published, I’m going to have a damn fine story to tell.

Stuff and Things (and Guardians of the Galaxy)

So, let’s get this out of the way, first thing. If you enjoy comic book films–Go see Guardians of the Galaxy. If you enjoy witty banter and raucous adventure–Go see GotG. If you are a fan of 1970’s easy listening–Go see GotG. If you enjoy fuzzy raccoons with a bad attitude–Go see GotG. If you like to laugh–Go see GotG. If you don’t enjoy laughter–Go see GotG (It will change your mind).

This movie, hands down, was the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater in years. Hilarious, action packed, sentimental but not sappy, engaging at every turn. It was a giant ice cream sundae, before dinner–and I don’t even feel guilty.

Chris Pratt does an excellent job of playing Peter Quill–a man/boy trying to find his way alone in the universe. His moral compass is a bit unfixed, his put-downs a staple of any twelve-year-old’s vocabulary, and his heart is covered up by bravado, but not absent. Bradley Cooper delivers laugh after laugh as Rocket–a genetically enhanced “raccoon” who is one part genius and one part Conan the Barbarian.  Dave Bautista is incredible as the well-spoken but brutal Drax the Destroyer, and Vin Diesel stole my heart as the short-on-words Groot.

But it was Zoe Saldana that, for me, made this film amazing. Saldana’s Gamora is a bad-ass–stronger, smarter, more agile, and more capable than anyone else in the room, and for the first time, I really felt like Marvel handed the reins to their female star and said, “Go ahead. Knock their socks off.” This is the heroine I wanted to see when Black Widow showed up–and we’ve seen glimpses, as Scarlett Johannson out-tricked the trickster and interrogated a mark, while tied up. In Gamora, I see a female comic character that isn’t sexualized, that isn’t marginalized, who truly contributes to the team and adds depth and heart to the group. (And–thank the Gods–we weren’t subjected to a Winter Soldier style scene shot from between the heroine’s legs, because–well, let’s hope that will be the end of that.)

Seriously. Go see it. You’ll be glad that you did.

In other must mentions, I’m going to link to a couple of very fine articles–

The first is a discussion of rape as it is portrayed in media, today, and especially in SFF. A very interesting look at the “realism” of sexual assault on women, and why don’t we see more rape of male characters in film and fiction. It’s worth a think, or two, and the numbers presented may surprise you.

The second is a couple of links to possible ways to get your hands on the Hugo Award-nominated essay “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley. Personally, I’d love to see this essay be required reading for the human race, but since that seems unlikely, I’ll just throw it out as a suggestion.

You can download Hurley’s essay collection here for free until 8/17, or you can listen to Hurley read the title essay on a podcast, here.  I highly recommend either–she’ll make you think about the way that you see the women characters in the stories that you love, and for me, she has really made me question the way that I write female characters, which I feel is contributing to a richer, deeper understanding of the characters I create, and the world in which they live.

Also, I would add that Kameron Hurley has a new novel, THE MIRROR EMPIRE, coming out on August 26th, which is getting stunningly good reviews.

Why Fantasy?

I’ve been thinking a lot, since last night, about why I love the books that I do, and more importantly, what has driven me to write the books that I am writing. As I wrote the post about Reading Month, and I was noting what my kids were reading, I started to think about the books that I read, as a kid.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves, these days, but as a kid, I didn’t read much fantasy, and I never read SciFi. I read a great deal of realistic fiction, quite a bit of magical realism, and a boatload of “teen” book (most by the time I was in third grade, or so). It’s a good thing that old school YA was a bit tamer than today’s YA. Sweet Valley High was a favorite, and that was gentler than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, I skipped right on to adult literature–I read my first Stephen King book in sixth grade, Robin Cook was a favorite in fifth. I was all over the place, and I LOVED to read, but I didn’t have a home genre.

One of my early favorites was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and although it was a realistic fiction book, there was a bit of the fantastical in Mary’s home in India and again, at Craven Manor. Dickon, who could speak to the animals was, by far, my favorite character, and I loved the sense of fate that had sent Mary to the garden. Another all time favorite was The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Snyder. I barely remember this book, but I remember reading it multiple times, and finding a sense of comfort within its pages. Reading its Amazon description, I guess it makes sense. A girl finds a safe place to hide from her doubts, in a hidden, secret library. Right up my alley.

But it still begs the question–Why do I cling so much to Fantasy and SciFi, now?

The first answer to that question is pretty easy to answer. My dad–biologically, he was my stepdad, but he raised me–was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. We watched a lot of re-showings of The Beastmaster and Conan. There wasn’t a lot that he and I could talk about and agree on, when I was a teenager, but we both admired the hell out of Jean Luc Picard and we both knew that Han shot, first. That was enough. My dad passed away, a few years ago, but every once in a while, when I write a really kick ass fight scene or create a character that I know he’d identify with, I know that he’d have enjoyed my stories. It is enough.

So, I grew up on a steady diet of words about people I didn’t really understand, and a T.V. diet of characters that made things happen. That was the crux of it, for me, I think. In so many books that I read as a kid, the events of the story weren’t shaped and molded by the character–they were formed AROUND the character. But a lot of those Fantasy and SciFi characters MADE things happen. They shaped their own destiny. They took charge.

I’m a sucker for a sword or a wizard, any day, but what I love most is the sense of fate that you get in genre fiction. Yes, bad stuff happens. But a great genre protagonist is going to wrap their arms around that bad stuff and choke the life out of it. They take their destiny by the horns.

About 15 years ago, I met a guy, and he suggested that I read The Mists of Avalon. It’s a big, slow book–and it rocked my world. Girls who took charge of their own destiny. Women who shaped the world. The female heros that were hidden behind King Arthur’s throne. That same man handed me The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and eventually a wedding ring (But that’s a whole different sort of tale) and in doing so, he nudged me toward my destiny.

There are countless stories, out there, and there are a million ways to tell them. But this is the one that I was born to tell.

Books, Books, and More Books

So, for those of you that don’t have young children, you may not know that March is Reading Month. We kicked off the annual word-fest with Dr. Seuss’ Birthday on March 2nd, and both the Elementary kids and the Middle Schooler have their own special reading calendar that they are supposed to follow, with special school-wide activities and fun dress up days.

Around here, every month is reading month, but we’ve been spending some extra time on it, what with all of the extra assignments, and it is really quite exciting to watch the kids really start to get it. Our 6th grade son has a map of the U.S. with 50 different assignments to accomplish, throughout the month. Some are as straightforward as “Read a Fantasy Novel” or “Use no screens, except for homework, for one day.” Others are a little more in-depth, such as “Follow a recipe and bring in samples for the class” or “Memorize a poem and recite it to your teacher.” Yesterday, he had to write a fan letter to his favorite author and send it, after showing his teacher.  What was really cool? It has just come to my attention that his favorite author is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson. I love him for his Mistborn books, finishing The Wheel of Time series, and The Stormlight Archives (Words of Radiance just came out! Hooray! And it is 1100 pages long! Hooray!) My son loves him for Steelheart and Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians and the Infinity Blade books, but I hear the things that he enjoys about them, and I know that someday soon, he’ll be reading the books that I love. He has never been much of a reader, up until recently, and I really love that he has found someone who speaks to him. It pleases me.

Our eldest has always been a big reader, and she has found an adoration for all things John Green. I can totally relate to this, as I think that he is a stunningly accurate, honest writer of teenagers. He gets them, and they love him for it. We are both dreading and looking forward to the release of The Fault in Our Stars when it hits theaters in June. Like so many others, we’ve both shed a few tears over that one. She’s reading An Abundance of Katherines right now, and I look forward to her review.

Our nine-year-old has just graduated from Magic Tree House books to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Three times, today, I caught her reading when she was mid-painting on a project, in the middle of a t.v. show, and just now, when I checked on her in bed. I cannot begin to express the joy that finding them stealth reading gives to me.

Our youngest, a kindergartener, is just finding his way in the world of words. We are reading Redwall aloud, at night, and every once in a while, over my shoulder, he will find a sentence that he can read. Tonight, it was “Try to be brave like your mum and dad.” I wasn’t even to that point on the page, yet, but he was looking, finding meaning, and discovering, all on his own. And, I’m not going to lie–the fact that he is fully absorbed and engrossed in a book about sword wielding mice and badgers with cudgels pleases me like a kid on Christmas morning.

As for the grown-ups–my long-suffering husband is slogging his way through my second novel’s manuscript and doing his best to put up with my inability to accept criticism. I am reading Before They Were Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book of The First Law series. I’m finding that I really, REALLY enjoy his books–mostly because they are such excellent character studies. You really come to understand the psyche of his characters, none of which are clearly in the good or bad category. He writes an ensemble of gray protagonists, often gritty, often brutal, but you really get to understand their motivations in a way that many books don’t give you. It isn’t rainbows-and-unicorns type fluffy fantasy, but it is fantastic in its ability to make you believe that the characters he writes are real, even if you wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

Writing-wise, I finished the first, revised draft of Whirlwind and have since sent it off to my beta readers. This is the tough place, anxiety-wise, for me. While I wait for feedback, I definitely start to second guess myself and develop a pretty good case of Imposter Syndrome. All will be well, though. That’s what revisions are for, right? I’m also working on a re-write of A Sown Wind, as well as beginning the outlining, brainstorming stage for book three, which I am thinking of entitling, When Gods Toss Dice.

In non-wordy stuff, I cannot recommend “True Detective” and “Black Sails,” enough. Both shows have really drawn me in, and I was sad to see the season finale of “True Detective” come so soon. We are also cruising through the last four episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” and looking forward to the return of “Game of Thrones,” next month.

How about you? What are you reading? What are you watching? Where do you get your inspiration, and what stories speak to you? Enquiring minds want to know.

Achievement Unlocked

About 427 days ago, give or take a few hours, I sat down at my computer. I had a story in my head–a story that some friends and I had been telling each other for years, and I had some new, crazy ideas to go with it. So I sat down at the computer, and I started to type.

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I deleted just about as much as I kept. I was excited when I hit ten pages, really excited when I hit fifty pages, and six weeks later, when I typed the last words of the Epilogue (at about 400 pages), I thought I would fall over dead from the joy of having accomplished the thing that I had set out to do. I had written a book.

Now, here’s the thing. I did, in January and the first half of February, 2013, write a book. It wasn’t yet a full book, and it wasn’t even close to a good book, but I wrote a book. And that, in and of itself, felt like a win. But I’d been bitten, and I knew that it wasn’t good enough.

So I kept typing, kept revising, kept fidgeting. I *gasp* gave it to people whose opinions I trusted and asked what they thought. I fought with my husband when he quite rightly showed me the enormous plot holes that I had woven myself into. I rewrote, some more. I got more advice, found a critique partner, revised, reworked, and rewrote. In a word, I was humbled. The task was a great deal harder than I had at first imagined. I revised, and rewrote until I couldn’t see a way to change it, and then I set A SOWN WIND aside.

Now, this first book was always intended to be the first in a series, and so when I put it aside, thinking, “It’s done,” I started hacking out the first bits of book #2, WHIRLWIND. And at first, that went well. The first 150 pages, or so, were a breeze, and I thought, “I’ve totally got this.” I started querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed.

But here’s the thing. As a human being, I am always learning. I am always evolving, and as I sat there, staring at the first bits of WHIRLWIND, I began to see that I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe we never know what we are doing. Maybe those authors that I admire, whose books I cannot get enough of–maybe they have no idea what they are doing, either.

I don’t know.

The truth of it was, my craft needed work. My craft still needs work. Probably, my craft will always need work.

I finally managed to type the last words in a revised first draft of WHIRLWIND, yesterday. After fighting my way past a point where I wasn’t sure if the story was capable of surviving, after pushing past a bout of, maybe not writer’s block, but at least writer’s doubt, after months of staring at this thing… I have a finished story. It isn’t a complete story. It’s probably not even a good story, yet. But I am willing to do the work to make it better. I feel the pull to fix and change it, to breathe life into it.

As of yesterday afternoon,  I can now say that, truly, I am writing an epic fantasy series. I have written two books, both of which are still in different stages of revision. It isn’t ready for the light of day in the world at large, but every day, it gets a little closer. Every day, my craft gets a little stronger, and a little tighter. I am learning something about storytelling, every day.

So, I consider this an achievement unlocked. It isn’t as if I’ve beaten the whole game–but I’ve gotten to a bonus level. I have found that determination, humility, and the willingness to accept criticism and make change are crucial, if I want to really, REALLY, in the great, wide world, be a writer. Because, sure, I can call myself a novelist, right now. I can do that, and there isn’t really anyone who could argue with me.

But this isn’t good enough. Not anymore. I want to see my name on the spine of a book. I want to see my novel on the shelves of a bookstore. I want all the success–and who’re we kidding? Who doesn’t? I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling or GRRM. But if I don’t believe that I can achieve publication, if I don’t strive, every day to make it so, then I don’t deserve it.

I could call myself a novelist, right now. But I am not going to. I’ve written a couple of books. I am still writing those couple of books. I’d feel confident calling myself a revisionist, perhaps aspiring author. I’d be happy to say I’m a writer. But I am not a novelist, yet.

But I will be, someday.

Weekly Recap and Germs, Be Gone!

What I am Reading: Still working on The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. I am still enjoying it, and it is reminding me of the in-depth world building of GRRM in Song of Ice and Fire. My favorite scenes center on Logen Ninefingers, right now, and I am interested to see how the separate groups of characters will come to interact.

What I am Reading to My Kids: We are still chugging through Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking, although I expect to finish both, this weekend. We plan to read Because of Winn Dixie and The Mouse and The Motorcycle, next.

What I’ve been watching: In order to force myself back onto the treadmill, I’ve guided myself back to my first season obsession with Once Upon a Time. Catching up on season 2 on Netflix… It’s not as good. BUT… it’s enough to get me onto the torture machine, so I guess it is worth it. My husband and I have just started watching True Detective (HBO) and Black Sails (Starz). Both are really good. True Detective has given me some honest respect for Matthew McConaughey’s acting chops, and Black Sails (while occasionally falling into the GoT gratuitous sex scene trap) has drawn me in, in two episodes, more than Agents of Shield has in half a season. I’m looking forward to these two shows’ next episodes more than I am the return of Walking Dead, for what that’s worth.

Where I am at, writing-wise: Alas, I am not much further along than I was, last Friday. The knights screwed everything up, and I had to do some edits to fix the paradoxes that they had created. Ugh. But I have done some other cool writing related stuff, this week (see below).

***********************************

I figure that if the best I can do is set aside the period between packing five lunches at 6:30 a.m. and driving the smallest heathens to school at 8:20 a.m., every Friday morning, for blogging– well, so be it. So here you have it, the second weekly recap. Ta-da! Aren’t you impressed? Thank you… thank you.

But seriously… it has been madness around here. We are all at the point where we just want to throw the windows open to get rid of the germs and the winter blahs with a little fresh air, but the wind chill is -20, right now, so fresh air = frozen flesh. Not really what they’re depicting in the sales brochure. Our five-year-old was home sick with a cold for a couple of days this week, and every one has that drug out, sort of “winter overdose” look on their faces. The snow piles next to our driveway are taller than the minivan, though, so it’ll probably be June before it is all gone.

In Valentine’s Day preparations, we are busy putting together goodie bags and the 3rd grader has to design and assemble her own Valentine mailbox. Have I mentioned how the 3rd grader is my overachiever? This process has involved blueprints (yup… blueprints), two trips to the craft store, and use of the oven on two different occasions. I’ll post results, next week when it is finished, but this is clearly not an amateur project. (Meanwhile, the kindergartner could not care less about any of it. Go figure.)

The two big kids are in the midst of mid-winter chaos, too. Our 15-year-old is on the tech crew of The Crucible, which is showing this weekend, as well as preparing for the forensics team. I think she will be home for a total of about 12 hours, this weekend, hopefully some of which she’ll spend sleeping. Sixth grade son is busy with basketball, and he has spent a great deal of time figuring out EXACTLY how many games they can still lose and make the playoffs. Its high stake stuff, here.

Speaking of playoffs, let us never speak of that Super Bowl, again, shall we? It wasn’t just that the Broncos lost… it was how truly, disgustingly awful they played. That was the single most boring game of football I have ever watched, and frankly, I was just relieved by the time it was over.

In word related news, I am excited to be heading to Art Hop, tonight. My youngest daughter and I are planning a special date to go see a show of college artists who have illustrated some pieces by local writers (one or two of which *might* have been written by yours truly). It should be fun, and I haven’t seen the artwork, at all, so I am interested to see how they interpreted my pieces.

Also this week, I participated in my first Twitter pitch party. For those of you not on Twitter, or not familiar with the process of trying to get published, a brief explanation: Once an hour, you can post a “pitch” for your book. It has to fit in 140 characters (which is about as painful as childbirth, but without the drugs), and agents and editors will peruse the posts. If they are interested in seeing more of your project, they can “favorite” your pitch, which is sort of an invitation to query them, with the added bonus that you get to say, “You WANTED to see this… Like me! Like me!” It was a fun and interesting experience, and I received two requests from agents and two from editors, so we shall see where this goes. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience, figuring out how to describe my book in such a short space and how to hook the reader, with such limited word count. I’d love to think that an agent is on the horizon, but if not… I’ll definitely do another one of these. Reading other authors’ pitches was incredibly helpful, and there are a great many books out there that sound really interesting and fun. I wish all of those that participated in #adpit, good luck.

Beyond that, I am very excited to get back to our tradition of Saturdays spent playing RPG’s, which has been on hiatus since Christmas (Stupid winter.), a weekend full of art and time with my kiddos (Except for the big one. Soon, I’ll forget what she looks like.), and a full day, today, dedicated completely to working on Whirlwind. It is like my birthday and Christmas and the county fair, all rolled into one! Happy Friday!

Week in Recap — Happy Super Bowl and some fun, word related stuff

What I am reading to myself: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie — Dark, gritty fantasy with engaging, flawed characters. I’m not too far in, but it is keeping me up past my bedtime, so that speaks highly.

What I am reading to my kids:  Pippi Longstocking and Charlotte’s Web (see below for anecdotal awesomeness)

What I just finished: The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — I wrote up a review on Goodreads, which you can see below. This book is in my head. It’s hanging around, poking at the cerebral cortex. Jorg likes to stab things, and I think he’s checking out my hypothalamus. This is not a book for the faint of heart, BUT it is a really, excellent read.

Where I am at, writing-wise:  Finished a read-through and minor edit on A Sown Wind, this week, as well as churning out about 12,000 new words on Whirlwind. I’m feeling the end creeping closer, but those pesky knights keep spoiling the cream. See below for more on this, too.

***********************

So, lately I haven’t been so faithful with the blogging, and I apologize. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve gotten a lot of writing done on Whirlwind. If not, well… screw you. 😉

So I thought I would just do a recap of what’s been going on at Casa Filak, what is coming up, and that sort of jazz.

Firstly, I have to say, “Go Broncos!” I love the gladiatorial feel of football season, and I am usually sad to see it come to an end, but I am really happy for Peyton Manning. He isn’t a spring chicken, anymore (although, I am loathe to admit that he is only 3 and a half months older than I), and at this stage in his career, this may be his last dance. I think there is a pretty solid argument that he is the greatest quarterback to ever play in the league, and to be the first QB to ever win rings with two different teams would be a fitting swan song.

Second, I have to give a shout out to Worldbuilders. If you haven’t heard of them, they are the fantastic charity started by fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. This year, so far, in their annual fundraising drive, they have pulled in over $500,000 dollars in donations for Heifer International, from geeks, all over the world. They are giving away some pretty fantastic prizes to those who donate, in a lottery-type format, and there are still two days to donate. Check out Pat’s blog for more information, or to just feel the love, because… wow. It is pretty awe inspiring to see so many geeks doing good for the world.

Book-wise, I have gotten a lot written this week, and for the most part, I am feeling pretty good. CAVEAT –  I have these characters–a group of knights. They’re good men. Loyal, headstrong, opinionated men. AND THEY KEEP BUGGERING UP MY STORY! I kind of want to hold up a little sign that says, “Zephyrs, I am not your b*$#@!” Except, well, I am. Because without them, my story has a broken backbone. And, as I’ve said previously, I sort of enjoy the way that characters highjack the story line, on occasion, but seriously, boys, this is becoming an epidemic.

As everyone in the whole country knows, the weather has been a bit horrific, as of late. We had three snow days in a row, where we live, and even my hubby took a day off, because our road was impassable. But something cool happened, while the kids were off.

My five-year-old son LOVES to read and be read to, which is awesome, but until this week, we had stuck to picture books. He enjoys a trip to the library, where we stock up on good reads, and we read two, or three, or four, each night. His nine-year-old sister gets in on the act, too, although we are usually reading a chapter book aloud to her at bedtime, too, and she is always reading one to herself, as well. (The big kids read, too, but they’re way to cool for mom to read to them, these days.)

Anyway, so the little man wants to watch Charlotte’s Web on one of the snow days. After it was over, and we were talking about it, I said, “Did you know that Charlotte’s Web was a book, first?”

He gave me this amazed-stunned look and asked if we owned the book. We did, and I found it on the shelf. He flipped through it for a few minutes and said, “It only has a few pictures.”

I agreed, and I said that we could read it out loud, a chapter at a time, if he wanted, instead of the picture books that we usually read. He was hesitant, but his love of Wilbur got the best of him.

After the required argument between siblings (Big Sister: “I’ve already read Charlotte’s Web, can’t we read something else?” Little Brother: “Shut up! You stink like Templeton’s rotten egg!”), we decided to read BOTH Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking. So we read a chapter of each a night, and it is awesome.

But that isn’t the best part. The best part is watching Little Man find words that he knows on the page. It is watching him absorb the story and beg for more (I’m not going to lie, we’re up to two chapters of Charlotte’s Web, most nights). It is having him beg for more story, as he gets out of bed in the morning. It is recognizing that he is changing from an observer, to a reader.

This is the last time I will watch this transformation in one of my children. This is the last of my brood to move from mundane, to literate. This is monumental, and heart-rending. This is as good as it gets.

*sob* I have a book to write, just after I finish looking through baby albums and eating therapeutic chocolate. Have a great weekend, and “Go Bronco!”

What I Learned: Adventures at my first SFF Convention

So, I was lucky enough to get to spend this past weekend at ConFusion in Detroit. It was my first con, and I was a little nervous/excited because I didn’t really know what to expect. I had read through the program notes, but I really had no frame of reference, so I was still in the dark.

What I found was honestly more awesome than I could have expected. I spent the last three days listening to panel talks given by some of the SFF industries greats. I learned a ton about writing as a profession, about getting published, and about social responsibilities that we as writers have. It was excellent. I met some amazing people, and I really, really had a ton of fun.

Things that I took away from my first con experience:

– Bring Airborne, next time. Not In a ‘There are creepy germs everywhere’ sort of way,but because I wanted to bask in every minute, not missing anything, I slept about five hours a night, and I’m paying for it, now. “Hello, Headcold. Thanks for joining us.”

– Pack less. The whole thing was really laid back and comfortable, and I didn’t need half the clothes I brought. My baggy geek tees and jeans were plenty.

– The biggest thing I took away from the experience, though, is hard to quantify. I guess it can best be called a sense of tribe. I’ve always been a little odd (Thanks, mom. I appreciated the snorting laughter that erupted, just then.) My mind works in ways that other people’s do not. I’ve made writing friends, and of course, I have some excellent non-writing friends, but there are very few people who really “get me.” I am very fortunate to have found a husband who does.

The thing is, everyone there was a little odd. Everyone there gets a little excited about swords and magic and spaceships. Everyone there has wondered whether they were dropped off by the mothership. Everyone there has felt self-conscious because they play RPG’s or they obsess about the magic system in Mistborn or that they dress differently, talk differently, look differently, think differently, whatever. For three days, the world was full of people just like me, and it was glorious. For three days, I didn’t hide my quirks, I reveled in them. For three days, I was unabashedly myself.

And in that time, I met and had meaningful conversations with best selling authors, award winning short story writers, amazing people who work in comics, awesome academics, and a whole string of people like me, who went there to learn, and left with a sense of renewed purpose.

I cannot express how grateful I am for the experience, and I will definitely be back *insert Terminator voice, here*.