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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kiddie Crafts - Snow White

Some of you may remember my excitement when I started exposing Zaxxon to fairy tales, realizing that most of the prep work of crafts was done already.  The Three Little Pigs was very easy for me to throw together.  Well, this doesn't extend to Snow White.  At least, not if you don't want all your crafts to be Disney coloring pages.  With the internet mainly failing me, I had to make stuff up myself.  (Not that that's a bad thing, but I like to find easy craft ideas online.)

After we read the story of Snow White, the first thing Zaxxon and I did was make a magic mirror.  We cut a frame...

...made a face...

...glued on some foil...

...and examined ourselves in the "reflection."

Next we did some freehand drawing to make Snow White, who is very Picassoesque with her nose on top, then her mouth, and her eyes at the bottom of her face--not to mention the arms coming out of her head.  :)

We also drew the belt, comb, and apple the queen used to try to kill Snow White.  Then Zaxxon announced that he wanted to eat an apple, so we cut one up and shared it.

The next day we colored in seven dwarfs

Cut them out

And pasted them to a number 7

Then I had him draw a queen

And decorate her crown

We finished this up by formally introducing the letter Q.  Zaxxon decided to draw lines between the pictures where we needed to cut the paper,

and then he followed them pretty well.  There were no other Q crafts, because I could only come up with five kid-friendly Q words to show him.

Crafts have slowed to a crawl these days, but I think we both miss them.  Zaxxon often seems to be in a better mood and more cooperative when we share this time together, so I'll probably try to get more done again.  The biggest hurdle is the prep time on my part--time has been in short supply lately.  But it's worth the time and effort.  It's also a lot of fun.

Tot School

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Interview at Myself as Written

One of my blogging chums, Charlie Holmberg at Myself as Written, runs a series called "Someday Stars."  This week, she interviewed me!  Check it out at the link:


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Allure of Self-Publishing

Some time ago, I made the decision that I would not submit to any market that paid less than semi-pro, because I wanted to get compensated for my work and there are quite a few pro and semi-pro markets out there.  I still believe that I (and all writers) should get compensated for my work, and except for special circumstances, my conviction stands.

However, a few of my stories--one in particular, which I like but is rather long--are rapidly running out of markets.  While it's true that new markets form and disperse all the time, that will not provide me with enough markets to keep up the steady flow of submissions.  I will soon be faced with a choice:  stop submitting said stories except when new markets appear, submit to token-paying or non-paying markets, or explore the self publishing option.

So far, I haven't been very tempted by self publishing, and I'm not certain I can fully articulate why.  Partly it's a desire for validation:  someone--often someone with lots of experience in publishing--has to like a story in order for it to be published through traditional means, whereas any one can self-publish.  It's also partly fear of the unknown:  life is crazy busy and hectic these days, and taking the time to learn the policies and procedures to self-publish hasn't tempted me.  Yet.

But I'd be lying if the thought hasn't crossed my mind a little more frequently these days.  After all, if I run out of good-paying markets, I might as well do it myself.  It may make nothing or only pennies, but if I just trunk a story it won't make money anyway, and it wouldn't take too many sales to match what I'd earn from a token market.  And at least it would be out in the world where people could read it, instead of gathering dust at home.

Bottom line:  I'm not ready... yet.  I still have too much going on to spend the time learning how to do it (take this post for example, I would've completed it hours ago if I hadn't had to suddenly take my baby to the pediatrician for an eye infection.)  Plus I haven't quite run out of paying markets.  But I'm thinking that small-scale self publishing may be appearing over the horizon.

How about you?  Have you self-published, or do you plan to?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hiding in Plain Sight

Since one of my 2012 goals was to get more new story submissions this year, I decided it was time to resurrect a few that were nearly ready but had sat on my computer for a while.  One of these I wrote about a year ago.  I'd gotten some critiques for it last summer, and then edited it back in September.  I asked for a few more opinions in January, expecting a quick and easy polish before submitting.  Upon getting some more opinions and rereading it, however, I realized that it still had one big issue.  Even though I believed I had tidied up the story's main problem, I hid the information that made it tie together all too well.

The problem was, I hadn't been trying to hide anything--I had simply hoped to make it subtle enough that I didn't bang anyone over the head with it.  Upon rereading it, though, I realized that far from banging anyone over the head, I'd be lucky if anybody even noticed.  I had delivered an important piece of the protagonist's backstory as just one stand-alone factoid on the very first page of the story, and then never made mention of it again.  No one could say it wasn't there, but I did nothing to make it memorable.  No wonder none of my readers remembered.

I fixed the story, of course, but it got me to thinking.  We cram a lot of information into the first page or two of our stories.  Everything is new to the reader during that time, and they rely on us to get them oriented quickly.  Especially in speculative genres, the reader not only needs to get to know the characters but also figure out what kind of world they're in.  Therefore, anything that gets introduced at the beginning but doesn't get reinforced is easy to forget.  Therefore, it occurred to me that the beginning is the perfect place to hide information, if that is your goal.

It seems counterintuitive to state a hint that you want to be subtle about right at the beginning, but sometimes hiding in plain sight is the least obvious place, and the best to plant the seeds of a big reveal without suspicion.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Walnuts Scare Me

You probably don't know this about me, but I have severe food allergies.  I'm allergic to tree nuts.  I don't think I've ever mentioned this before, in large part because it doesn't take up much mental effort on my part.  I've been allergic since I was tiny, so label reading, asking questions, and avoiding certain foods/situations are all par for the course.  I've been bitten on occasion if I assume too much (after all, who puts nuts in egg rolls?), but by and large the situation is under control.

By the same token, I don't have to expend too much energy on Zaxxon's food allergies either.  The little guy unfortunately inherited my flawed genes, and is allergic to egg (confirmed) and peanut (unconfirmed.)  When we went to the allergist after his first taste of scrambled egg, my primary reaction was "Really?  He didn't get the memo that he was supposed to take after his Daddy?  *dramatic sigh*"  And then I incorporated egg and peanut into my existing food avoidance routine and moved on.  It wasn't the earth-shattering diagnosis it is for newly-initiated allergy parents (like my parents nearly 30 years ago) because I already knew how to live with it.  The allergist and pediatrician also advised that we keep tree nuts out of Zaxxon's diet until he was three or four as a precaution because of my allergies, even through skin tests were negative.  Which we've done.

Well, Zaxxon is now three.  He communicates fairly well.  He still doesn't have the words for a lot of things, but he can say enough to give us the idea of what's going on, especially when we ask him questions.  And even though he's never going to encounter tree nuts regularly (at least not in this household,) I'd like to know whether we have anything to fear from accidental exposures.  So I've decided it's time to introduce him to tree nuts.

Our first forays were uneventful--and inconclusive.  He said he didn't like the foods we offered him, which consisted of an Almond Joy from his Halloween candy and a piece of Pecan Tart from hubby's Christmas treats.  Nothing happened after these tastes, but I wanted to be certain "I don't like it" didn't mean "it makes my mouth feel funny."  So I enlisted my parents and in-laws to make eggless cookies and/or brownies with ground up nuts in them.  This way I could be certain he likes the delivery method enough to eat a significant amount of the nuts--thus ensuring me that nothing will happen.  My mother arrived the very next week with a bag of chocolate chip cookies.... with WALNUTS.

There's nothing like facing your fears head-on.  When it comes to other nuts, I can recognize them as food.  I'm disappointed when I learn that they're an ingredient in something that looks tasty, but they don't diminish a food's integrity.  I understand that other people like them.  Walnuts, however... well, they've got to be the scariest nuts on the face of the earth.  Even as an adult, when I learn that something has walnuts in it I wonder, "Why would anyone do something like that?  Why would you ruin a food?"

It's a reaction purely driven by instinct.  After all, walnuts are my kryptonite.  Every time I've had the misfortune to encounter them, they've knocked me flat.  (And really, who puts walnuts in egg rolls???)  So when Mom handed me that bag (carefully double-wrapped so I wouldn't touch the contamination) my blood pressure raised by a few points.

I pondered the repercussions for the rest of the day, until halfway through dinner I decided that that night would be the night.  Walnut cookies for dessert.  Then I proceeded to worry through the rest of dinner.  Zaxxon was in a funky mood already and didn't want to eat dinner very fast, which only served to extend my anxiety.  By the time he finally finished his dinner, I was wound as tight as a spring.  Then, with Epi-Pen tucked close in the pocket of my hoodie (I didn't want to hover and worry him, after all) I had hubby offer him one of the poisonous cookies.

I quite literally felt like I was holding a gun to my child's head.  I mean, these were walnuts.  Something was going to happen.  Something was supposed to happen.  That's just the way it is.  Nobody who eats cyanide thinks it tastes good.

Well, I'm happy to report that nothing happened.  Nothing except that he loved his Ama's cookies.  As the tension began to release, it was replaced by a new concern--concern for myself.  Have you ever seen a three-year-old eat a cookie?  Or any food, for that matter?  M-E-S-S-Y.  Crumbs everywhere.  Having hubby wash his face and hands afterwards wasn't going to be enough, the whole table needed a scrubbing.  With soap.  And his chair.  Plus, he made like he was going to touch every wall and surface between the table and the bathroom sink, which hubby had a job preventing.  Maybe this wasn't such a hot idea after all.

It wasn't until the fourth and final day of walnut cookies that hubby and I figured out that he ought to eat them outside.  Let the birds, bugs, and elements wash the allergens away for us.  Much easier that way.  Safer too.

I learned a lot of things during this experiment, mainly about myself, but also about how we're going to have to handle food allergies as Zaxxon (and Kal'El) get a little older.  For now, I'm happy to have the walnuts out of the house, and I'm very happy that they aren't going to kill my first baby.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

...or maybe there just isn't enough time in the day.

Well, the good news is that using my netbook at the kitchen table rather than allowing myself to get distracted in my office has continued to work.  I'm having to get used to typing on a smaller keyboard and the junk food is closer and more tempting, but I've felt very good about being able to focus on my novel.

Part of the problem I've been having lately is that I'm at a place in the editing process where I can't just jump in and out.  I need larger chunks of time to get reoriented, examine large passages, think things through, and figure out where a change will ripple to.  I've decided not to leave anything behind on this edit.  I'm going through from beginning to end and if I make a change that will affect later sections, I find those sections and make a note to myself.  If I make a change that affects things that are earlier in the text, I go back and make all the necessary alterations before moving on.  I can't do this in 15 minute segments (which is all I would sometimes leave for myself) because that isn't enough time for me to fully analyze the text from all angles.  Some portions of the book I will probably be able to just read, make a few tweaks, and move forward, but right now I'm in the middle of a section that needs a major overhaul.  So moving to the kitchen has been a good move.  It keeps me focused for most (sometimes even all) of naptime, and I've made good progress.

On the other hand, I haven't gotten as many other things done.  I am behind on my photos (as always,) on my submitting, on researching various projects both related and unrelated to writing.  I want to create a mobile app, it's important, but I'm having trouble fitting it into my schedule.  Registration deadlines for preschools are coming up fast and I haven't finished looking at the options.  We have a lot of family stuff that needs to get done SOON.  I think some of the pressure I've been feeling lately isn't just writing related, but due to the fact that life is so hectic, full, and uncertain right now.  Making more progress in one area means that something else has to give.

I think I'm going to start scheduling my posts.  On Wednesdays I will blog about something writing/submitting/business related, and on Saturday or Sunday I will blog about life, family, or kiddie crafts.  Other posts may pop in if I have something important or timely to say, particularly if it's short, but I know enough about myself to know that having this structure will help me know when to think about the blog and when to ignore it.  I will also make my normal stat check posts on the first of the month, regardless of what day it is.

I'm also going to have to restructure my goals for 2012.  I didn't quite know how much work I was getting myself into when I aimed at a new story to submit every month.  January and February were easy enough to do, as I had stories that only needed final tweaks.  I also wrote new first drafts in each of these months, but the real problem is going to be getting them from first drafts to ready for submission.  I need critiques for that, and in order to get critiques, I need to give critiques--and right now, trying to figure out when I would fit critiques into my day just makes me want to curl up and hug something (a cuddly 9-month-old would fit that bill.)  Besides, now that I'm making good headway on the novel, I don't want to pause it for stories.  So I'm going to put the stories off.  Sooner or later I know I'll long for a break from the novel, so I'll worry about the next batch of stories when that happens.  I'll worry about critiquing after some unrelated deadlines pass.

Another thing I didn't think about when aiming for 12 new story submissions this year was the maintenance.  I don't count researching markets and submitting towards my writing time, simply because I could focus on that and never do any actual writing.  Keeping up with submissions is already a hefty job, and it will only get more time consuming as I sub more stories.

To these ends, I think I'll halve my 2012 goal.  I'd like to get at least six new stories subbed this year, and I'm already a third of the way there.  If I meet this goal early I'll try for more, but I think this will relieve some of the pressure--at least the pressure that I make in my own mind.

How about you?  How often do you get too ambitious or change your writing goals?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Habits, Writing and Otherwise

Take a look at that counter.  500 days.  That's 500 days of solid writing and/or editing.  Half of 1,000.  I feel pretty good about that.

I read an article recently about habits, both forming them and breaking them.  Actually, it was primarily about retailers trying to manipulate our shopping habits, but it had a lot of the psychology and science behind habits in general.  It's a huge article, but an interesting read.

Clearly, I've created a good daily writing habit, but the way I go about doing it is still a matter of flux.  My preferred time to write is during naptime.  I get an hour, maybe an hour and a half, of solid no-kids time when Kal'El's second nap coincides with Zaxxon's nap/quiet time.  This can be my best time, as I'm awake and generally feeling productive.  However, I seldom use it all for writing.

I usually lose some of it to household chores that I couldn't get done with the boys underfoot.  Then once I feel the house is under control, I face the dilemma of the internet.  I usually feel like I need to have email and blogs under control before I can truly focus on my writing.  This can be problematic.  As everyone knows, checking email/browsing the blogs you follow can be quick, if there's little new info, but most of the time it's very time consuming.  Therefore, I often have only 20-30 minutes remaining when I really knuckle down and start writing.  The result?  I don't get much done.

On these days, and especially on days when naptime gets completely swallowed by a non-writing-related activity, my only remaining option is to write after the boys--and usually hubby too--are in bed.  This is also problematic as I'm usually pretty darn tired by then so I'm slow.  The result?  I don't get much done.

Do you see the pattern here?

I started noticing this about a month ago, and began trying to ignore my email until after I'd written.  That didn't work, however, because part of my mind kept nagging at me, wondering what was in my email or who had posted what today.  Generally I gave up, figuring that I wouldn't be able to concentrate until I'd gotten my mind organized.  I also started to realize that this had the shape of an addiction or habit, so this article reached me at the right time.

According to the article, habits form a three-step loop in our brains:  cue, routine, reward.  When we experience the cue, we go automatically into the routine, or at least we crave the routine, in expectation of the reward.  Our brains work less during this process as it becomes habitual.  For me it was cue:  go into office during naptime; routine:  check email and blogs, then write; reward:  sense of being connected/up-to-date/accomplishment.  Except I wasn't accomplishing as much as I wanted with my writing, and that was nagging at me too.  It was time to change my habit, but as the article said, that's no easy thing to do.  When you experience the cue, it's natural to crave the rest.

I also recently noticed, while using the hour-long drive to my parents' house to write while hubby drove, that I was extremely productive on my netbook.  There was no wi-fi in the car, so no distractions to check the internet.  I'm similarly productive when I have my netbook with me and the boys are busy at a class or something.  So taking these bits of information, I decided to attempt to forge a new habit.

Since my netbook doesn't cue distractions, I've set it up at the kitchen table at the beginning of naptime for the past two days, and I definitely got more writing done.  I didn't have the desire to hop online and find out what was going on in the world.  Two days is hardly enough to say it will always work, but it's a good start.  There were downfalls, of course, most notably that I was closer to the boys' rooms so I could hear Kal'El crying as he settled himself for his nap, and I discovered that Zaxxon opens and closes his door every few minutes during quiet time, presumably to see if anything interesting is going on.  Normally I'm downstairs and miss all that.  BUT...it's a good start.  And if I can keep from browsing the internet on my netbook, I can hopefully create the habit of cue:  open netbook; routine:  write a lot without distraction; reward:  sense of fun and accomplishment.

(I am aware that there are programs that will lock down the internet for you, but the cue of being in my office wouldn't go away, so I'm happy with this experiment for now.)

How about you?  What tactics do you use to avoid distraction, or what writing habits do you wish you could rewrite?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February Stat Check

During the month of February, I wrote/edited on all 29 days
I made final edits on an older story, edited my novel, and wrote the first draft of a new story
I made 3 submissions
I received 5 rejections
I took between 4 and 6 days to resub a story after a rejection
I have 12 stories currently in slush pile circulation
I made 8 blog posts
I took no days off

Volume.  That's what I'm needing more of.  I'm writing/editing every day still, but my progress has slowed to a crawl.  It shouldn't take me 13 days to write the first draft of a 6,600 word story.  I should get more than a page of edits done in one day.  Granted, I made some big decisions on the novel which will carry throughout but don't affect where I currently am, but still, I ought be be able to work faster than this.

Some good points of February:
I met my new-sub goal
I got another first draft, so I'll have something to edit and sub later this year
I made some important decisions regarding the novel and kept plugging at it

Bad points:
Glacial progress in some areas
I did not revisit my January story, meaning time will be crunching for meeting monthly new-sub goals later this year, if I don't pick things up soon
I'm getting easily distracted these days, and psychologically feel as though I need to accomplish more and more before I give myself "permission" to write.  This is a habit I need to reverse, and soon!

I have a lot on my mind these days.  Hubby's getting laid off, as I mentioned a little earlier, and that throws a lot of questions into the mix.  Kal'El has learned to crawl and is getting into everything (including licking toilets--yech!) and has been sick (unrelated to the toilets.)  Zaxxon has been acting out a lot more than usual, probably due to the combination of increased household stress, the fact that his little brother can now get into all his toys unless he keeps them up high, and the fact that he's been sick too.  I'm thinking of creating a mobile app, hoping it might ease some of our impending financial difficulties in addition to it just being a good idea--and thinking about/researching/planning for that all the time doesn't help the writing front.  Thinking about whether I'll have to rejoin the work force doesn't help it either.  And some days my imagination takes me everywhere except into the worlds of my characters.

It's going to be an interesting few months.  I still want to write everyday, but goals may change.  They may have to.  I still don't know.