Welcome to the blog of science fiction author Eileen Rhoadarmer--where science fiction and Mommyhood collide!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cracking Open a Story

For the month of March (on the days that I've written) I've been working on one story almost exclusively. In fact, I started working on this story in mid-February. This is unusual, as I normally can get a story written (or rewritten) much more quickly. What's the hold-up? Well, the answer is partly that it's a long story (over 11,000 words, quite firmly into the "novelette" category,) but mostly that it is a hard one to crack open.

You see, this story is a mystery story--which is outside of my usual genre, and it's been both fun and difficult to work out.  I wrote it quite a while ago, and it is one of the many stories that I never got back to after I got pregnant.  I finally decided that it was time to re-work it, and the major bit of criticism I'd gotten was that its plot was too linear, and there really weren't any other viable suspects, so it was easy to figure out who the murderer was.  Clearly, I needed to add more misdirection.

I decided I needed to add an entirely new character to the story in addition to throwing suspicion on some existing characters.  It proved to be a monumental task.

As this was an already complete story, it took quite a bit of work for me to figure out how to add my new character into the existing framework--even after I finally figured out who the new character was and why he was suspicious.  I wrote out an outline of the story and figured out where my new character needed to be added, but ultimately I just had to pick a scene and force myself to start writing.

I had several false starts before it finally "took," but once I finally cracked the story open, the rest of it was easier.  I forced the new character in (with a wedge, it felt like,) but once he was inside, I was able to modify the rest of the scenes to fit the first modifications.  It did take a while, especially since there were many other elements that needed rewriting along the way, and I'm still not technically finished.  I haven't read the whole thing as a complete unit yet, and I know it still needs a few tweaks--but I ought to be able to do that over the next few days.  After that I shall let it "marinade" for about a month (to steal the words of a friend of mine) before checking back with fresh eyes.

This process addressed one problem I need to work on, in general:  I tend to overanalyze what I'm writing while I'm doing it.  I edit in my head, sometimes before the sentence is completely on the page, and I frequently go back to change things that I realize need editing before I have anything remotely resembling a first draft.  Because of this, by the time I have a complete draft, I tend to think of it as my second draft.  And this works sometimes--but often it's also the reason that I get stuck.

Something I've had a little success with recently (very recently, I've only started doing it during the last six months or so) is something I call "barfing on the page."  I do this when I can't figure out how to get started, so I force myself to stop thinking and just start writing.  I don't let myself go back and make changes.  If I think of a better way to do it, I just start over where I am.  I'll write down the same sentence in four different ways and remind myself that I can choose the best one while editing.  (I tend to write too much in the first draft anyway, so why not add even more to cut out?)  I approach the same scene from three different angles, change directions if it's not working, and keep going when I get inspired.  I try not to worry about errors or typos (well, the typos I can't really help myself, I have to correct them.)  The idea is to just make myself write as much as I can, as fast as I can, in order to get myself moving.  Usually, something good comes of it in the end.

I had to barf on the page in order to crack open my mystery story.  And to get started on the previous rewrite.  This is something I think I need to do more of, since it's very freeing, and I likely will do so on future projects.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alphabet Magnets

This isn't intended as a crafty blog, but that doesn't mean I can't show off something I've made, does it?  I actually had time to do a craft for the first time in a long while, so I'm happy about that.  It was helpful that we had a blizzard yesterday, meaning I knew nobody would want to stop by and view our house, so I could afford to let my office get messy. 
I worked on it yesterday while my son played with some snow in the bathtub, and then I finished it after he went to bed, and during naptime today.  (The roads are already clear, despite the eight inches of snow we got overnight, so I guess I'd better clean up now.  Ah, spring in Colorado.)

Before he was born, we painted a few patches of magnetic paint on my son's wall and door, which actually proved to be relatively disappointing.  It isn't very strong at all, so the only magnets it can hold are the really thin ones, like the free ones you get with every phone book.  The next time I paint a child's room (hopefully in the new house) I will use drywall compound to fill in the gaps in the texture before putting on the magnetic paint, and I will use something like eight coats.  Hopefully the combination of a totally flat surface with a ton of the magnetic paint will result in a wall that actually holds magnets.

But anyway, on to my project.  Since the walls aren't strong enough to hold traditional alphabet magnets, I decided I would make some of my own--recycling the free magnets from the phone books.  My friend Sela has posted several times about projects she's made using a glue/sealer/finish called Mod Podge, so I decided to give it a try.

I attached pieces of cardstock to the magnets, and then traced the letters onto the back of the magnets.  I cut them out, and then applied two more coats of the mod podge to the front to give it a finish (and hopefully keep them from dissolving if my son decides to give them a taste.)

He's been playing with them as I write this, though most recently he keeps coming to my door, reaching over the baby gate, and handing them to me one by one.  This, after the fuss he made for me to give them to him in the first place.  Ah, toddlers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food Fights - Raining Food

Don't you just love the sound of a boisterous child expressing his opinion of your dinner by throwing it on the floor?

Yeah, I don't either.

The dropping or throwing of food onto the floor was a big issue in our household about a month or two ago. When my son first started practicing for the discus, we were both regularly in tears during mealtimes--him because something wasn't going his way, and me because...well, because something wasn't going my way either. My son was chucking food off is tray left and right (mostly left) and being picky about what he ate to boot. I didn't feel like I could get anything other than bread, soy butter, cheese, and oatmeal into his little tummy. I was coming to dread mealtimes.

I knew something had to change, and cutting meals out of our daily routine wasn't an option. I racked my brain for age-appropriate ways to alter behavior and came up with a solution that has been working very well for us.

Now, whenever my son drops food on the floor, I take away his tray, spin his chair around to face away from the table, tell him "don't drop food on the floor," and walk away. It doesn't take long in his little exile for my son to decide that he doesn't like to be isolated and not have his food, so after picking up whatever he has dropped, I soon can ask him if he'd like to come back to the table and spin him back around.

I do my best not to exile my son for accidents--although the problem is that he has yet to grasp the concept of "on purpose" versus "an accident." Most of the time, if something gets away from him he'll look at me with a worried expression. When I tell him, "It's okay, you didn't do that on purpose," he will usually look me in the eyes while deliberately dropping something else on the floor. *sigh*

However, I am happy to be able to report that I have had a great deal of success with this technique. There were a handful of meals, early on, in which we repeated this process at least a dozen times in a meal, but gradually he caught on. In fact, we had a stretch of about two weeks in which we didn't have to exile him at all! We've even expanded it to include utensils purposefully thrown to the floor.

During this past week, unfortunately, he's testing boundaries again--but I feel confident that this will continue to be successful. One more parenting challenge is now under my belt. Peace reigns--so long as the rain doesn't consist of peas!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My House is Angry With Me

It appears that our house does not want us to leave.

I can understand the sentiment; we love our house, we just don't love its location.  But unfortunately, the house is taking the "jealous lover" approach to showing its dipleasure--something along the lines of "if I can't have you, no one can," only reversed.  Things have been going wrong left and right.

Just before we really got down to business with the selling process, one of the burners on our stove went "POP," and from that moment on, it had only one setting--HIGH.  Much higher than usual--there was a bit of an ozone-ish burning metal smell in the air when it was on, and it never stopped glowing red-hot.  Some online research and a test with my dad's ohm meter told us that the Infinite Switch had gone, so we bought a new one.  Only they didn't make the exact model anymore, so we got to muddle around with the new model (and the knob is a little off.)  But at least that was a minor repair.  After all, we had three other working burners in the mean time, and the switch itself only cost about $30, plus the time we spent fiddling with it.  Not really a big deal.

Then, about two weeks ago, we woke up one morning to a 63 degree house with the furnace fan blowing cold air constantly.  Well, that was lovely.  The internet was much less helpful with this issue, and when I called a heating place (I'd used them before) to ask their opinion, they said it could be any number of things; that they'd need to send somebody out who could test the circuits and equipment to determine the problem.  Of course, the tech fixed the problem within a few minutes, and it turned out to be a $100 lesson in why you need to change your furnace filters regularly.  Now, in our defense, we usually do.  We usually keep a stock of filters on hand, and have it on our calendar to change them every three months.  But our filters are not that easy to come by (an unusual size, apparently) and we hadn't repleneshed our stock in a while.  Lesson learned:  it's important to go out of your way for that.  Since the tech told me this is the most common thing he gets calls for at this time of year, I wonder whether the person on the phone just wanted to charge me for the service call, rather than tell me how to reset the circuit-switch-thingy myself.  Although, as my husband pointed out, if you give out too much free information, you don't stay in business for very long.  I guess.  At least the furnace wasn't broken!  But this was when I first wondered whether the house was unhappy with us.

Today, however, really took the wind out of my sails, because I thought we were done with everything except maintenance.  But no.  The house decides to flex its muscle once more by thawing the freezer portion of our refrigerator.  And the refrigerator portion doesn't seem to be as cold as it should be, either.  They're both still spewing out cold air, but not enough.  Fortunately, we have a deep freeze in the garage, so it is now stuffed to the absolute limit with items.  And since the freezer now feels like a cold fridge, we moved some of the more perishable items from the fridge up to the freezer for safe-keeping.  But now we get to make the big decision:  try to get it repaired ($100 service call to tell us it's dying??), buy a cheap new fridge to keep with the house (or a used one) which we'll get to live with if we don't sell, or buy a really nice fridge and take it with us (potentially scaring off virgin buyers with the lack of the most important kitchen appliance AND run the risk of it not fitting in the new kitchen.)  There are pros and cons to each, and I'll probably spend a good deal of time and emotional energy comparing costs tomorrow.

I hugged my house today (well, a wall) and asked it to please not be angry with us, and that we're trying to find somebody else who will love it as much or more than we do.

Please don't send the Nice Men in the Clean White Coats with their straightjackets over to visit me just because I'm talking to my house.  Anthropomorphizing my house is not straightjacket-worthy.  (If it starts talking BACK, well...)

But there is one bit of circumstantial evidence that the house has done this before, which I will leave as my parting thought.  When we looked at this house as buyers, the sellers had listed the washer and dryer as exclusions.  We wanted them (they were nicer than the old ones we had in our apartment) so we asked that they be thrown into the deal, and the sellers agreed.  The sellers had even been doing laundry during the home inspection, so the inspector told us they worked fine.  However, after we moved in and tried to run our first load, we found that the washer would run for about a minute and then stop for five, making a horrible noise in the mean-time (and no, it was not the noise washers make when they're jammed.)  Something was wrong with the motor, and we were extremely grateful that our attempts to sell our old washer and dryer had been unsuccessful.  We replaced the washer, but when we moved the first finally-laundered clothing into the new dryer, we discovered that it would tumble, but not heat.  So we wound up using our old washer and dryer, even though we'd bargained a much newer set out of the sellers.

Did the house not want to say good-bye to them, either?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Back on track

Okay, so if you follow this blog at all, I'm sure you can tell that I am not meeting any of my goals for the month of March. Unfortunately, I have been just too busy getting my house ready for showings, and even when I tried to make time for writing, I was just too tired and preoccupied to focus. Just an excuse? Well, yes, but a darn good and tiring one. But now I'm done--the house is on the market, with nothing to do but keep it in good shape while we sit back and wait for the hordes to come thronging to our door, demanding to see it and then competing for its purchase. Perhaps I'm being a little too optimistic; but in either case, we're done with packing and cleaning until the time comes to actually move.

We celebrated last night by turning off all the lights in the basement and running around with some glow sticks in the first evening of uninterrupted fun we've had in a while. It was great exercise and stimulation for the munchkin--I don't know what was going through his little mind, but he thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it--and great stress-relief for us. Today, I'm celebrating being able to use naptime for something other than packing and cleaning.

The problem is, I think my to-do list is a bit too ambitious. I want to update this and my private family blog--that's do-able. I want to get the most-recently-rejected story out to another magazine--again, do-able. I want to do some actual work on a story--doable, but probably at my limit, considering that creative ventures take a big chunk of time. My husband found some recalls online that I need to check out: one for some frozen Mexican food we sometimes buy, and one for a high chair that looks suspiciously like ours. I need to do the research to find out if our products actually match, and figure out what to do about it if they do--not a big deal, but could be time-consuming, and naptime is slipping away. Oh yeah, and I wanted to make some cookie dough so I can pull a sheet of freshly-baked cookies out of the oven right before leaving when somebody comes to look at our house, to give it a yummy, homey smell. The actual making of cookie dough doesn't take all that long, but still... Hmmm......... I think I may be overstretching myself. Just because I have naptime to use as I see fit again does not mean that naptime will stretch to six hours. If you add to this the fact that, even though I got more sleep last night than I have in a while, I somehow feel more tired today (I must've been running on more adrenaline than I realized) and I think it is unlikely that I will complete everything on my list. Oh well, at least I can make such a list again. And we'll see if I can't meet my goals for the rest of the month, at least.

Goodness knows that with the whiteout conditions suddenly outside my window, sitting at my desk with my computer and some tea is all I want to do. Although heating up the kitchen to bake a tray of cookies (you know, to test whether the smell properly permeates the house) is tempting, too...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Good Old-Fashioned Sci-Fi

Awhile back, I promised a post on reading, so here it is. While leading the busy life of a parent, how do I find the time to read for myself? By depriving myself of sleep, of course!

Here's my typical (weekday) evening:
  1. Put child to bed
  2. Spend 15-25 minutes getting self ready for bed (this is so I can hit the sack immediately once I'm ready for sleep)
  3. Spend 1-1 ½ hours in office writing/blogging/wasting time on the internet (husband goes to bed sometime in this range)
  4. Realize that I should be getting into bed within 10 minutes. Decide to look at just one more thing online
  5. 20 minutes later, leave office
  6. Sit in comfy chair, determined to read for just five minutes to relax and wind down (if I haven't brushed my teeth earlier, I tend to snack now, too)
  7. 45 minutes later, slam book down, chide self for staying up too late, vow to start taking better care of self the next day, go to bed
  8. Repeat nightly
(I wrote part of this post a while ago, and this routine ended about two weeks ago. Now, you can replace writing, blogging, and reading with packing [though I'm still wasting time on the internet.] But I'm sure I'll return to the reading/writing routine once things calm down.)

And what do I read that is so engrossing as to keep me up too late, night after night? Connie's latest book, which I mentioned attending the release of a while ago? Something new (or old) that I've never read before? Now why would I do something like that?

It's a bit of a guilty pleasure for me to read and reread (and reread again) some of the books that I enjoyed as a kid/teenager. I think of them along the lines of security blankets or comfort foods--they gave me pleasure during my impressionable years, so they're easy and relaxing and fun to read, even now.

The most recent thing I have revisited from my past was the Tom Corbett series by Carey Rockwell (a pseudonym for who-knows-how-many authors.) This is a science fiction series from the 1950s about a group of space cadets learning to become officers in the Solar Guard, the military organization that polices the solar system (and beyond) after humankind has colonized the stars. They are (of course) the best team in the Space Academy and they (of course) have numerous adventures, typically involving the taking-out of intergalactic criminals bent on being greedy or undermining the principals of the Solar Alliance.
It is also very corny. You could feed cows with the contents of these books (a fact I did not fully appreciate until recently.) Parts of it just made me crack up (like the King Kong-esque battle between a giant snake and a Tyrannosaurus on the planet Venus.) It springs from an era of science fiction where if you're going to write about space cadets, everything must relate back to space. People don't wear boots, they wear space boots. They don't drive cars, they drive jet cars. They eat spaceburgers and drink Martian water. They live in Atom City. If they want to tell someone to f*** off, they tell them to "blast their jets," and when they swear, they swear "By the Rings of Saturn!!" (This same expectation of like-mindedness in the future causes science fiction movie producers to dress everyone in identical silver jumpsuits.)

According to Wikipedia, Tom Corbett (along with his cronies Astro and Roger Manning) also existed in television, radio, comic books, comic strips, coloring books, punch-out books and View-Master reels. It was interesting for me to read about all this, since I had no idea the legacy was so wide-spread. I only knew that my father had four of the eight books and he gave them to me when I was a child.

The books are written for adolescents and are easy to read, and the issues within are typically black-and-white. Mostly they're just simple and fun adventure stories; but for a child enamored of space-travel, they were a blast. Now that I'm older, I see a lot of holes and contradictions, but it was still fun to trip back through memory lane.

The books are also very much a product of their time, meaning that a lot of their science is bunk (although they were pretty accurate for what was known at the time, or so I've heard) and they're very sexist--but even as an adolescent I was willing to look past that for a good story. With one exception, the female characters fall into three categories: 1) the nurturing mother-figure, 2) the pure, innocent sister-figure, and 3) the object of sexual attraction (although this was pretty tame, considering the age group--no femme fatales or whores, these usually fit the "sister" type if they became more than eye candy.) But in my mind, there were girls as well as boys in the Space Academy.

As I said before, my father had four of the eight books while growing up (a friend of his had the other four) which he shared with me. So I got to read books 1, 3, 6, and 7. Therefore, the way the series ended was left to my imagination. I remember once asking my father whether they graduate from the Space Academy at the end, and he said he didn't remember, but he thought so. I very much wanted to read the other four books, so for years I did some searching at local libraries (I was a bit too young to grasp the concept of out-of-print and did not understand why they were so unhelpful) and the dealer's room at science fiction conventions--but to no avail.

It wasn't until I was a sophomore in college that I discovered the magic of alibris.com and, by extension, used books on Amazon. Within a few weeks, I was able to find decent, reasonably-priced copies of the four missing books. What a treasure, to find something like that from my childhood! I promptly set about reading all eight of them in order, and things went great until the final book, when I experienced the worst letdown I've ever encountered in the literary world.

To begin with, they got rid of my favorite character early on. Tom and Astro were just a little too perfect for me (I guess I understood the merits of literary conflict even at a tender age) and so Roger Manning, with his sarcasm, jokes, and his all-too-human tendency to make errors in judgment, was my favorite. (On this latest read-through, I didn't like how he often tended to be a scapegrace.) And in book 8, they went and transferred him to a different school at the beginning.

In addition to the fact that Roger was my favorite, there was another major problem with getting rid of him. Throughout the previous books, they went on and on about teaching the three boys to be a team--"the unit is the backbone of the academy"--and then they went and broke up their best group. They replaced him with another character, T.J., who personality-wise could've been his clone, and then carried on as though nothing had happened. All throughout the story, I kept expecting the narrative to follow Roger for a while and then for them to converge, but that never happened. In fact, there was no closure to the series at all; it ended the same way the rest of them did: with reflection on what they'd accomplished and expectation for the next big adventure. When taken as the individual ending of a kids book, this might not have been bad, but when you consider that it was the end of a series--and particularly an ending that I had been anticipating for the better part of a decade... Well, it left me in shock and dismay the first time I read it.

In retrospect, they probably had no intention of ending the series with only eight books. Perhaps Roger would have reappeared later on, if things had kept going. Or perhaps not; according to the Internet Movie Database, while Tom and Astro appeared throughout the entire TV series, Roger appeared in only half of them and was replaced by T.J. for the latter half--so perhaps the actor playing Roger wanted out, and the books were simply following the same progression as the TV show.

I discovered a few weeks ago that bibliobazaar has reprinted the first seven of these books, and that Amazon has come out with kindle versions of them (also the first seven,) so if anyone is interested in reading them, they are much more readily (and cheaply) available than they were to me. (I can't help but think that the omission of book 8 means that I'm not the only person to be upset with the ending!)

I reread this series recently partly for something easy, relaxing, and fun, and partly because I haven't touched the books since the huge letdown, and I wondered how it would be on a second read-through with lower expectations. I was still annoyed. I also discovered that I'm way too old for the series now--I guess adulthood and parenthood will do that to you. But this series will always have a place in my heart as something that fueled many dreams during my childhood.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It has begun

I did not expect it to happen this fast. First of all, there is a "For Sale" sign in our yard. That happened pretty fast, although there's no listing on our house yet--they're waiting until we have it properly cleaned and staged before doing that. Our living room is full of boxes and we're in the process of cleaning and packing away knick-knacks, photos, and clutter. Our kitchen (when not covered in dishes or being used to keep cleaning supplies handy) looks like an appliance store. A WHITE appliance store. We probably need to add some color there.

But none of this is what I mean when I say I did not expect it to happen this fast. What I'm referring to is my son's behavior. "Extreme clinginess" is probably the best way to describe it. My husband and I can't both be working unless he's asleep or being occupied by a third party, because after a few minutes of playing with something (ooh, these clothes hangers are new!) he comes running up to one of us with his arms in the air in a clear "Pick Me Up" gesture. If we don't, he starts to fuss, and then cry, and then throws a total fit. It's the way he acts while we make dinner but to the nth degree, and all day long.

I suppose if I'd thought about it, I should've seen this coming. After all, we've changed the landscape of his world with all the boxes, and by taking so many of the decorations down. (According to my husband, the look on his face when he first saw that the dragon figures were gone from the bookshelves was pretty tragic.) Even though the process of trying to move is only just beginning, he doesn't understand what's going on so this is a big transition for him. "Mommy and Daddy are doing something major, Mommy and Daddy don't have as much time for me--something is wrong." He's probably also picking up on our stress (which is compounded by an illness in the family--when it rains, it pours.)

All in all, his behavior is just further impetus to getting the house cleaned up and staged quickly. Once that happens, his life (apart from stress he'll pick up from us) will settle back down to normal again. Until it becomes time to actually move, and then I suppose I can expect him to be twenty times worse. Banshee Baby (or perhaps I should start calling him Banshee Boy) will probably make numerous appearances. Poor little guy.  We'll just have to be extra generous with hugs and kisses!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


It's truly amazing when your baby learns to kiss.

We've been working on this for a while, but my son only just started doing it willingly a few weeks ago.  When we ask him for a kiss (or, better yet, when he decides he wants one!) he will tilt his head back and stick his jaw out a little in order to give us access to his lips.  It's so sweet!  And for the last few nights, as I've been singing to him before bed, he has suddenly started moving his mouth close to mine and holding still for a kiss about four times per verse.  That's one of the parts I love about watching him grow:  seeing him develop emotional relationships and learn how to express them.  It more than makes up for the fit he threw this morning when I wasn't making his breakfast fast enough.

I'm afraid I'm not being very clever with wordplay tonight, but that is because I am tired.  The realtor is coming over tomorrow to help us get our home ready to be staged for showings, and between cleaning up, giving the bathroom some repair and a facelift, the normal minutae of life with a toddler, and some family health issues--I'm beat.  I hope to get to bed earlier tonight, and maybe I'll have a burst of energy tomorrow to help me really make some good progress on the house.  Hey, I can dream!  (...especially if I get to sleep)

Monday, March 1, 2010

February Stat Check

During the month of February, I wrote on 13 of the days
I finished the first draft of a completely new story, and worked on (am still working on) the rewrite of an older one
I sent 3 submissions
I received 2 rejections
I have 7 stories currently in slush pile circulation
I took no more than 6 days to resubmit a story after a rejection
I worked on this blog on 14 days
I made 12 blog posts
Between writing and this blog, there were only 6 days in which I did nothing

I would like to have written on more days, so that is one of my goals for March.  There are 31 days in March, and if I can't manage to write everyday, I hope to do so on at least 20 of them.  My goal for submissions for the year is to never keep a story longer than 7 days without resubmitting it, so I'm doing good in that regard.  Although when a story stays in my possession it isn't being considered by anyone, so ideally I will get things back out within maybe 4 days.  I have two stories that I think are ready for submission, so I'd like to get some thoughts on them, and get at least one of them sent out by the end of March.

I've kept up with the blog about as much as I'd been hoping to.  There were a few larger gaps than I'd wanted, but I think I'm doing pretty well there.  With 31 days in March, I ought to have 14 or 15 posts.  My blog goal is to start networking more.

I am also going to be super busy, because we have decided to put our house on the market, so we've got a lot of tidying up to do in order to stage our house to its best advantage.  Lots of cleaning, packing, and organizing.  Hopefully I won't lose much of my mind!