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

Monday, June 28, 2010

"What I Learned on My Summer Vacation"

Two weeks ago, my husband, son, and I went to Tehachapi, CA with my in-laws for a mountainous Californian vacation.  Mountains are not typically what I expect when I think of California (that's what my own state is known for, after all.)  I didn't even realize, when my father-in-law talked about seeing giant Redwoods and Sequoias, that they'd be in the mountains (duh, Eileen, evergreens thrive at higher altitudes.)

We all had a great time, although I suspect that my sister-in-law's days of being willing to sleep on a sleeper sofa are about at their end--just as mine ended a few years ago.  My poor in-laws won't be able to fill their timeshares to capacity for much longer--at least until they get more grandkids, and the grandkids are big enough to need beds instead of cribs.

Here are a few things I learned while on vacation:

  1. I think my son has chosen a new lovey--his monkey, which he carried through the airport without losing it or needing us to carry it for him
  2. An ostrich egg is equivalent to 18-24 chicken eggs
  3. Ostrich eggs require hammers to open (which we didn't have, so we used the knife block)
  4. My son is still allergic to eggs (learned this from a cookie, though, not the ostrich egg--and kudos to my cousin-in-law's oldest son for tipping me off before my son had eaten much of it)
  5. Alpaca yarn is very soft
  6. Alpacas require big, friendly (to humans) dogs to protect them from predators
  7. Ostriches are perfectly capable of protecting themselves from predators, thank you very much
  8. A positive genetic link has been found between the ostrich and the t-rex (must be why they're so capable of protecting themselves)
  9. My father-in-law seemed a little serious about the idea of starting an alpaca farm
  10. Although my son can say the word "baby," he is wary of tiny babies, especially ones that make noise
  11. I still sometimes get motionsickness, especially when paying attention to a wiggling child during turbulence (no barf bags needed, thankfully)
  12. It took me 14 armspans (I'm 5'8") to encircle a giant Sequoia
  13. Sequoias live up to 3,000 years, and drink 100 gallons of water each day
  14. Farmers used to use the hollows in sequoias to house geese
  15. Tehachapi has the largest wind farm in California
  16. My son loves wind turbines
  17. After standing directly beneath a giant 1.5 megawatt turbine, I have no desire to play Don Quixote (it was eerie standing beneath the blades, watching them swing down, and hoping they wouldn't break)
  18.   Oh yeah... and my son can climb out of a crib by himself

Wait... what was that last?

Yes, my son learned to climb out of the portable crib while we were in California.  I had just put him down for his nap and then prepared to go to a wine tasting.  I was coming out of the bathroom (right next to our bedroom) when I saw the doorhandle moving.  The half-formed thought in my mind was that somebody had gone into the bedroom again, which was odd, when the door opened and my son peeked out at me.  I'll never forget that moment.  We stared at each other for a moment, me in shock and him with a mischevious smile, before he closed the door and scampered back into the room.  I walked in a daze to the living room (where my father-in-law, who had been sunbathing by our bedroom window, had just come inside because he'd heard a thump) to ask whether anyone had gone into our son's room.  No one had.

Finally my brain, almost in slow motion, made the full connection that he'd gotten out on his own.  I headed back to the room to put him back in the crib when I started laughing, and I had to stay out until I'd regained my composure.  I couldn't stop marvelling at his accomplishment for the rest of the day--my son had hit a major milestone!

After we got home, I checked the height of the rails of his crib against the height of the portable crib, and they were pretty darn close--so it was time to consider Big Boy Bed options.  My husband wants to get him a racecar bed.  Low-end toddler beds start at about $70, but racecar toddler beds start at $200.  If we're going to spend that much on a bed, it had darn well better last for a while, so we're thinking of doing a twin-size racecar bed.  We've found a few options, including these two woodworking plans that we could make ourselves--and when I say ourselves, I mean with the help of our dads :)

Which do you like better?  The second one requires more wood, probably because it boasts a "hidden storage area" (presumably a drawer underneath) and also sounds like it's a little more complex (i.e. harder for us novice woodworkers.)  I like how they both use the spoiler for a shelf.

Then my husband found this bed.  It's $900 ($1100 if you count shipping)
He wants to modify the woodworking plans to put the bat signal on the hubcaps and side, make the edges more wing-shaped, and of course paint it black.  And here I thought he was already living vicariously through our son with the racecar bed!

Of course, none of these beds match the jungle theme in our son's room, but hey, the kid loves cars.

For now, we took the dropside off the crib and added a bedrail, making our own daybed.  So far, he's stayed in bed at naptime (knock on wood.)  We'll keep it like this until we figure out (and possibly build) whatever bed he'll use for the next ten years or so.

I love this picture.  "What's this?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Critters responses and Submission Dilemmas

I got much more positive responses from my second round of Critters than my first--mostly, I think, because Pandora's Time is a much tighter and well-written story than The French Maid.  The French Maid is still giving me trouble.  I started working on a complete rewrite, and I'm already stalling again.  I don't think any other story I've written has gone through so many incarnations, nor caused me to fret so much over how to approach it.  Hopefully I'll be happy with the end result, but right now it's sapping a lot of energy.

Pandora's Time got ten critiques, as opposed to the 25 from last time.  This is probably due to the fact that Pandora's Time is 10,000 words long, twice as long as The French Maid was.  Based on the responses I got, I'll probably quickly tidy up of Pandora's Time and then get it out into the world.  I'm having a bit of a dilemma though:  there's an anthology with an upcoming deadline that I'd like to send it to--it's called Times of Trouble and is to be full of time travel stories.  It sounds like a really great fit for the story--but I just realized that Pandora's Time is over their word count limit.

I'm torn.  Usually I try to follow submission guidelines to the letter, but I really feel like this would be a great fit.  And it IS an anthology, meaning they'll probably have some flexibility in lengths.  Do I send it anyway?  And if I do, do I say "my story is over your word limit but I feel it is a good fit..." (something editors probably get regularly and cringe to hear) or do I just send it without drawing attention to the length?  Gaahh!  I don't know what to do!

If anybody from Critters stops by, thanks for your helpful critiques!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's Never Too Early to Introduce Your Children to Science Fiction

I found this excellent book at the library the other day.
Space Case by Edward Marshall, with pictures by James Marshall

Mostly I only get my son board books, since it's too easy for him to tear paper pages (in fact, he currently lacks the manual dexterity to turn paper pages without skipping a ton) but when I saw the title and cover, I couldn't resist.

It's a very fun story about a space alien who comes to Earth, discovers Halloween, makes a friend and follows his friend to school.  It has no real science of course--but that's part of its charm.  I cracked up at the line "After studying the dictionary, the thing found it easier to communicate."  And I love this page:
In case you can't read the narrative, it says "[It came] to meet the natives, who were not especially friendly."  The picture, and the implications that go along with space-alien-lore and cows was funny to me.

I definitely recommend this book to parents of young children, since it's a fun, silly little story.  It even has a tiny bit of a lesson in acceptance.

This is not my first attempt to indoctrinate my son into liking science fiction.  He has two Star Trek bibs:  one says "Jean-Luc's my hero," and the other has a picture of a baby Vulcan and says "Mind meld This."  He also had a onesie that said "Future Trekkie," which he has long since outgrown.  Here are some pictures I took of him last May, on the day the most recent Star Trek movie came out
I just love scifi, and I'm working to keep it going into the Next Generation!

Monday, June 14, 2010

NaNoWriMo this November

Okay, hands up.  How many of you have heard of NaNoWriMo?  It stands for NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth, and it refers to an absolutely insane event where writers and wannabe writers from all over the world sacrifice the entire month of November in the pursuit of writing a lucid, cohesive novel of 50,000 words or more.

50,000 words in 30 days.  That's 1,666.67 words per day.  (Or 69.44 words per hour, or just 1.16 words per minute, which doesn't seem too bad, until you remember that you still have to eat and sleep, and maybe take care of your toddler as well.)

My kneejerk reaction to NaNoWriMo, when I first heard of it five years ago, was a resounding "WHY???"  After all, I reasoned, anything I could write that was that long, written in such a short amount of time, would be absolute crap.  Why rush myself?

However, the answer is starting to dawn on me.  I've been writing for years.  Even before I decided it was What I Wanted To Do With My Life, I was writing a story here, jotting down an idea there, and making up an unending stream of fictional scenarios in my head (most of which nobody else would ever want to hear, but at least they keep me entertained.  Sometimes they even keep me from getting enough sleep, as they just keep growing in the middle of the night...)  I've also been writing seriously for about six years, and working hard and consistently for the last year.  I've got six stories that I'm currently trying to get published, one that is scheduled to be published, another half-dozen or so that just need a round (or two, or twenty) of critiquing and rewrites before I can try to get them published, and a children's book (technically story-length, for word count purposes) that also needs a bit of work before trying to get it published.

But in all this time I've never written, or even completed one chapter, of a novel.  I feel that it's time to take the plunge, especially since I've been working hard these last few months to write very consistently.  And what better way to take the plunge than by enforcing a crazy deadline?  I've already signed up on the website, with the username ScienceFictionMommy.  At the very least I'll be able to find out whether I will sink or swim (or swim with the literary fishes...)

My plan is to spend most of the month of October doing research and outlining, so I'll have a framework to build on come November.  In fact, the title I mentioned in a previous post, Smooches by Proxy, seems to have the potential to turn into this novel.  Maybe.  If I can just develop enough of a plot for it, hee hee.

Interestingly enough, the conclusions I outlined above mirror something NaNoWriMo has in their FAQs, which I will quote below for your enjoyment.  I'll blog more (probably a whole lot) about this venture come October and November, when you'll all get a firsthand account of how crazy this will make me.  :)

If I'm just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It's just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you'll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you'll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you'd never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art's sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and "must-dos" of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yes and No

When was the last time we all said "yes" to our children?

I wonder, because my son recently learned the Dreaded Toddler Negative, or "No."  Knowing that all kids use "no" a lot, my husband (and myself, to a lesser extent) tried to say "Please don't do that" instead of "No," hoping that it was too many words for our son to string together.  I suppose it worked, since he's not actually saying "no," but he has figured out that he can shake his head to negate something.  *sigh*  I suppose it had to happen sooner or later.

After he learned it, my husband and I started discussing why toddlers don't say "Yes" as often as they say "No."  Is it because we don't use the word as frequently around them?

After all, they hear "No" a lot:  any time they do something they shouldn't, for whatever reason.  So it's no surprise that kids pick it up quick.  Even when we tried not to use it, it slipped out a lot--it's just the first word that comes out when you need to react quickly.  But how often do we say "Yes?"  He does hear it, don't get me wrong (along with "yeah,") but most of the time when he does something good (or new or milestone-worthy,) praise comes in other forms, like "Good Job," "Good Boy," "Thank You," or "Hooray!" 

In the great irony of behavior, we say some variation of "No" every time he does something he oughtn't, but we don't always praise him (or even notice, *hides face in shame*) when he does something right.  I do try to notice and say something when he doesn't make a mess of his food, or when he obeys when I ask him to do something, but I know I don't always succeed--and really, we don't want our children to expect praise when they do something right, especially something mundane.  Too much praise could become a crutch.  I'm not just referring to myself here, I'm referring to all parents, teachers, etc.  Bad behavior always gets noticed (and gets attention,) but good behavior is often taken for granted.

Not all children don't use "Yes," of course, it's just not as common.  I met a friend at a Playplace a few weeks ago, and I once had to keep her son (six weeks older than mine) from sneaking out an open door.  When I asked him if he was trying to escape, he said "Yes!" :)

It is because of this revelation that I will be trying to say the word "Yes" more often.  "Yes, you just climbed up into the chair."  "Yes, you may have your milk."  "Yes, it's time to tickle Daddy."  My son has nodded a few times--enough that I'm pretty sure he means "Yes" when he does--and I'm hoping to get more of that from him.  And perhaps, if I can remember this bit of wisdom with the next child, I might be able to insert the word "Yes" into their vocabulary just a bit sooner.

It's worth a try, anyway.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Critters Round Two

A story of mine, Pandora's Time, goes through the Critters queue today.  I'm wondering what kind of turnout I'll get this time, since last time I got 25 critiques, which took me several days to sort through.  I'll be happy if I just get close to average (15,) though I'd be flattered if I get so many again.  I think this is a tighter story than the last, though it's longer, so it'll be interesting to see what holes people find in it.

It takes about four weeks for a story to reach the head of the queue after I submit it, and each person is only allowed one story in the queue at a time--although I'd mentioned before that there's one way to jump to the head of the queue:  by doing 10 critiques in one week.  I know I'd talked about trying to do this but...  Well, it's probably not necessary (even if I could make the time to do it.)  Yes, I currently have a backlog of stories I'd like opinions on, but I'm also constantly working on rewrites and new drafts, so there's no shortage of things to occupy my time.  I haven't even rewritten The French Maid yet, and it's been four weeks since I finished getting those critiques.  I've been busy working on something new instead, and The French Maid rewrite is the next item on my list.  (Unless something else inspires me first.)

Yes, this way it takes a while before a story is ready to be sent to the slush piles, but it will always take a while.  After I finish a first draft, I let it sit and marinade for at least a month before reading it again, and I always have things I want to change at that point.  It's only after this month-long cooling-off period and rewrite that I offer it to anyone else for opinions, and who knows how many times the process gets repeated before I feel it's ready to enter the world.  My point is that one story critiqued every month is plenty, since that's probably about what I produce.  It will probably even help me fall into a nice groove once my backlog disappears (if it ever does.)

Now, some people send novels through the queue a few chapters (no more than 20,000 words) at a time, and if I am to ever do that, I probably will want to get some Most Productive Critter awards, in order to keep my novel fresh in people's minds.  There's another way to crit a novel, which is to ask for dedicated readers to read the whole thing as quickly as they can/want to.  Being inexperienced when it comes to writing and getting critiques on novels, I would think that the Request For Dedicated Readers (RFDR) would be superior since it will guarantee that all readers will know the whole story.  However, in my limited (two month) experience, I've definitely seen more chapters go through the queue than RFDRs, so I have to wonder if chapters attract more readers.  I guess I'll find out when I'm ready.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Introducing the Sensory Bin

Lately, I've been feeling that my son needs more to do during the day, and more to stimulate him.  Not that I don't think he's having fun with, and learning from his cars (there's only 14 1/2 more years before he gets his license, he's got to practice!), books (who doesn't want to read Brainy Baby's Animals or Goodnight Moon twenty times each day?), blocks (you don't get a degree in architecture overnight), running around outside or at the park (Olympian in the making, here), or helping Mommy run errands (by carrying items through the store and flirting with checkout clerks.)  It's just that on days we stay home, I sometimes get bored with our options, and I don't want to fall behind his curiosity.

Now, my son is still too young to participate in any craft with an end result in mind, so I've been looking for activities that are more about exploration.  Enter the Sensory Bin.

A friend of mine, Sela, homeschools her children, and she has a sensory bin for her preschooler.  After looking through her blog and some of the blogs she uses for ideas/curriculum, I decided to give it a shot.

It's a 28 quart plastic tub I got from Target, and I filled it (for now) with elbow macaroni and kitchen utensils I got at a dollar store.

I'm enforcing strict rules:  the macaroni stays in the tub, and the tub stays on the blanket.  As soon as he purposefully removes macaroni from the tub, we put it away.

It's definitely a hit.  On day one, he played with it three separate times, each for a pretty long time.  It's a hit with my husband too, who gave me a tragic look before agreeing to put it away after our son poured a handful on the floor while they were playing together.

On day two, he played with it half-a-dozen times, requesting it frequently throughout the day (by banging on the lid with his hand.)  He wanted to play with it so much while I was fixing breakfast that I relented and put it in the kitchen, so I could keep an eye on him and make sure he was following the rules.  It's been in the kitchen during meal prep several times since.

After the first few days its appeal died off a little, but he still wants to play with it just about every day.  Sometimes he wants to play with it so badly that he'll try to spread the blanket on the floor himself.  He's been practicing things like burying items or his (or our) hands, scooping and dumping from one container to another, and filling containers to the brim.  He's even climbed into it a few times and buried his feet, and yesterday we showed him how to lodge macaroni between his toes (we're definitely NOT eating this macaroni!)  I'm very glad we introduced it.  I plan to change the filler material approximately every month.

I'm pleased to report that he's been very good about following the rules, even going so far as to pick up stray pieces that fall out as he notices them.  I guess clearly defining rules before introducing a new activity, along with follow-through, is the way to go!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Name In Print

Library of the Living Dead, who will be publishing my story Night Terrors, has the table of contents up on their forums!  My name is in print, connected to a publication, on the web!  Woohoo!!

Click here for a link to the forums
Then click on "Library of Science Fiction & Fantasy Press" (fourth one down)
Then click on Doomology : The Dawning of Disasters TOC (currently the top option)
Assuming they'll retain this order, I'm number seven!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May Stat Check

During the month of May, I wrote (or did research) on 27 of the days (woohoo!)
I worked on research for a new story (that might become a novel,) came up with some ideas for a rewrite after receiving a ton of critiques from Critters, and worked on a new story.
I made no submissions (because everything was out already)
I received no rejections.  Instead...
I SOLD ONE STORY!!!  (Hooray for an acceptance instead of a rejection!  WOOHOO)
I have 6 stories currently in slush pile circulation
I made 12 blog posts
Between writing, this blog, and Critters, I took 4 days off.

This month will always hold happy memories for me as the month when I made my first fiction sale.  I am still quite jazzed from that.  I will keep everyone updated, and will shamelessly promote myself (hey, it's my blog) when the anthology is ready for purchase.

Something I learned this month is that I don't feel very productive when I'm doing research.  I've been researching orbital space colonies (yes, I know there aren't any yet, but that doesn't mean there isn't information on them!) for a story (or possibly a novel) that I want to write.  At the beginning of the month, my creative time each day was mostly spent on the research, and I felt a bit unsatisfied because I wasn't actually producing anything.  However, while we were away on our writing retreat, I decided to pause the research and start writing a different story (my hope had been to finish a short story while up in the mountains.)  I didn't finish the new story during that week, but I'm making steady progress on it even now.  However, I have stopped doing research entirely--which means that I don't have enough time to do both.  I know intellectually that research is important to the creative process, but I guess that I'm going to have to learn to silence the voice that says "But I'm not writing," at least in order to do the major research required for a longer work.

I'm keeping up with Critters pretty well, although I took a week off when we were on vacation (you need to keep your ratio between number of critiques to number of participation weeks at 75% or greater to have your own stories go through, so I'm still in good shape.)  The one thing that has NOT happened is any attempt to do ten in one week.  It really would require a huge time committment to do that, so I'm not sure it'll happen anytime soon.

When it comes to networking, I get a huge fail.  I did a tiny bit at the beginning of the month, but just haven't been very good at browsing the blogosphere and leaving comments.  Maybe this month will be better.

For June, I'd like to have another good month like May (it'd be really nice to have another acceptance again!) with more networking thrown in.  Have a good June, everybody!