Monday, November 30, 2015

Alaska

In October, I traveled to Alaska to stay with some friends. I was a week in Anchorage, a week on Kodiak Island, and made a brief stop in Portland on my way back to my own bit of California.

I'd never been to Alaska before, but had heard enough stories from my friends that I'd formed a pretty solid image of snowy wasteland and turbulent seas populated with almost mythical beasts.

I didn't find a wasteland or mythical beasts. Though I did see a lot of bald eagles and there was a moment when my boyfriend--N--and I were driving through the mountains when he turned on the radio and the only thing playing was static. What I did find was a rich and varied land far more magnificent and strange than I'd anticipated.

One of my favorite parts of the whole trip was the day that we took the approximately five hour drive from Anchorage to Homer. Half the drive was through snowy, rugged mountains that rose abruptly on either side of the road. The other half was through strangely flat swamp populated mostly by what appeared to be very stunted conifers, but might have been some exotic, northern swamp plant I couldn't put a name to.

I almost felt like I'd seen it all before.

Not because of pictures or ordinary deja vu, though, but because I had imagined a similar setting for a story I have yet to finish writing. Similar, I said, but not the same. I could never have imagined mountains that abrupt or the strangeness of the misty, alien swampland. As soon as I saw them, my unwritten story gained a foundation of truth that hadn't been there before.

Fiction and reality are inextricably linked for me. I filter my experience of the real world through the stories I have read, and judge the stories with the practicality of the real world. Despite their close relationship, though, fancy and everyday world are usually no more than distant reflections of one another. Unfortunately for imaginative souls like myself, we can't expect the world to conform to storybook rules.

Yet, now and then, I stumble across a wonderful moment like this where the two seem to converge. Suddenly, the fairy tale is real and the real world is far more beautiful than I usually give it credit for.


snowy mountains and shoreline outside Anchorage, Alaska
Mountains on the way out of Anchorage


Giant red and green cabbages in Homer, Alaska
Giant cabbages in Homer, AK


me taking photographing snowy mountains somewhere between Anchorage and Homer, Alaska
Me, taking a picture of mountains somewhere between Anchorage and Homer
Photo courtesy of N


smoked salmon flavored vodka in Safeway on Kodiak Island, Alaska
Only in Alaska


beautiful sunrise over Kodiak Island, Alaska
Sunrise on Kodiak


fishing boats in the St. Herman Harbor on Kodiak Island, Alaska
A gray day in the harbor


The view from the top of Pillar Mountain on Kodiak Island, Alaska
The view from the top of Pillar Mountain on Kodiak Island


Moss and lichen growing on a tree in a forest on an island near Kodiak, Alaska
Crazy, vibrant moss on a small island near Kodiak


Abandoned outbuildings in the amazing moss forest


Shakmanof Point at sunset from on the water
On N's skiff near Shakmanof Point

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Recent Shakespeare Favo(u)rites

Poetry round-up with Susan returns!  A little different from last time:  I don't have these memorized, and we're exclusively Shakespeare-themed today, but this is some of the poetry I've been loving lately:



Selections from Shakespeare's Richard III 

I follow @IAM_SHAKESPEARE on Twitter, which is probably my favorite bot on the internet.  Are all the bots in your life trying to spam you?  Well, then, it's time to acquaint yourself with the Twitter account that has been programmed to continuously tweet all of Shakespeare's plays (and maybe his sonnets??) at the rate of one line every ten minutes.  Delightful thing, really.  The other day it was catching my eye and I discovered we were in the middle of Richard III's amazing monologue from the eponymous play: 

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!
The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? myself? there's none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.

(Act V, Scene 2)

(Bolded emphasis added by me, of course.  That is the part that made me turn my head and say, "That is no mere mortal tweeting!") 

If you haven't acquainted yourself with Shakespeare's deliciously diabolical Richard, you should.  Here, do it now.  You don't even have to move. 


Sonnet 154

More Shakespeare (surprise!):  the last sonnet in his sonnet cycle.  I remember reading this when I was a young teenager and thinking it was pretty but having not the faintest mumbling of a clue what it was about.  Now I have the (over)confidence to say I understand it completely.  These moments of noticing the effects of a liberal education are sweet.

But seriously, this poem is a beautiful, important thing.  

154.
The little Love-god lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vow'd chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warm'd;
And so the general of hot desire was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm'd.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by, [<--notice how the rhythm slows down here! the fire is cooling! *ahem* carry on...]
Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove,
Love's fire heats water, water cools not love. 


Greetings from Susan and the Bard....


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Celestial Seasonings

Writing is slow and unexciting to the outside world right now.  So let's talk about something else.

An outrage.

An outrage committed in the name of progress-for-the-sake-of-progress--one of my favorite kinds of outrage to be outraged about.


So here it is:  Celestial Seasonings is CHANGING THEIR PACKAGING.


I like a lot of their tea.  They're at their best in the herbals.  I might even continue to consume Bengal Spice after this change.  But the packaging is really what makes this brand fun.  It's what makes trying new flavors fun.  And...  Well just look at this:


Old packaging:  White-tailed deer look on in wonder as preternaturally large peppermint candies come white water rafting down the river that flows from majestic pine-spotted mountains. 


New packaging:  Oh.  Ecchh.  Um.  I'm remembering that I actually like Twinings Peppermint better.  A LOT better. 


Old packaging:   AMERICA AT ITS LEAST UGLY.  HURRAH.  This tea tastes like freedom and nature (and, kind of, if you try really hard, coffee). 


 New packaging:  "Crud.  Just realized our old packaging was all about the landscapes.  But we're supposed to take out the landscapes and superimpose something from the old design on an icky shade of grey-beige, so here goes..." 


A group example:  

Old packaging:  We are in Santa's Workshop.  The tea tastes like peppermint and the kind of magical joy that can only be had when grinning polar bears are drinking from teacups. 


Old packaging:  LOOK LOOK LOOK THERE ARE BUFFALO IN THE CLOUDS LOOK.  This one's honestly just beautiful.  My little brother said he would buy a poster of it, and he hates most decorations.  


New packaging:  "Here is a complimentary mug.  We hope it will make up for the pain this causes your eyes."

Candy Cane Lane:  Why are there grinning polar bears???????!!!!!????  This is scary.  :'(

Morning Thunder:  Oh, look, a boring buffalo.  In front of a few totally fake and boring clouds.  



My personal favorite, also watered down...





And one more...  The cozy lion and his teacup get cut entirely.  </3





The tea is tasty.  My favorite flavors are Bengal Spice, Tension Tamer, their "smooth" greens, and the Sleepytime varieties.  (Thankfully, the new packaging did not obliterate Celestial Seasonings' unfailing and inexplicable association of bedtime with bears.)  

We'll see how much I end up consuming after this change, though.  Right now, I'm predicting Bengal Spice will endure in my cupboard and nothing else.

And now, since everything is a writing analogy if you try hard enough:  As I've been gutting and totally rewriting a novel, I've found myself hoping I don't get rid of good stuff.  The things that were my beta readers' absolute favorites.  The things that made me want to write this story.

My solution to this worry?  I pay attention to these things.  I've thought hard about what made me, and others, love the characters (etc.), and I try to be faithful to that--not for the sake of keeping things the same, but rather for the sake of making them even more lovable and admirable and great to spend time with when this draft is done. 

I also try to have a good handle on what is the central good thing I'm offering.  For Celestial Seasonings, it's the tea, so the packaging is ancillary.  For me, it's a good story, so this or that fun/quirky scene is (sigh) not always essential. 

Looking ahead, it appears that this problem faces a writer every time they write a new book.  Unless you find a way to successfully write the same story over and over again (which happens, but that doesn't sound very fun or worthwhile to me), you're going to have to try new things.  And trying new things means that old things change.

So, this is the risk we take.  For Celestial Seasonings, I may be the customer who got away.  I think the best we can hope, as tea merchants or writers or whatever we may be, is that those who leave are few, and those who like the new look are many. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Link Round-Up

I collect links the way I collect books. That being: a little obsessively. I thought I would share a few of the ones that caught my eye this week.

Medieval Recipes in Translation
Learn how to make "Cripels" in both Middle and Modern English. Look for an upcoming recipe post regarding these lovely-sounding, honey-covered dainties.

Fifteen Ways to Write a Novel
This caught my eye because my first reaction to the title was sort of "Huh, isn't there really only one way to write a novel? Kind of one word after another?" While the article does not answer the eternal question of How You Actually Write a Novel, it does have some good advice on getting work done on any given day.

A Small and Very Polite Rant about the Importance of Writers to the World
Apparently the Australian government is considering (already has?) cut funding that was previously designated for writers' grants. While this is somewhat politically irrelevant to me, I like what the author has to say about the writer's place in society.
  
Six Things Not to Do when Writing about Forests
There is a forest in my novel. I don't spend a whole bunch of time in forests. A reality check was needed. 

And an autumnal picture, just for good measure:

a bottle of apple cider and a bag of sugar donuts
This is just what I'm craving right now.
Do other places besides Michigan do cider and doughnuts for fall?

Happy Friday, blog-friends!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Change of Residence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Great news!

Since you probably haven't noticed, I thought I would just tell you that we are no longer impoverished squatters living in the (very nice and very free) .blogspot.com tent city Google and Blogger kindly set up and invited us to stay in for as long as we liked.

We were quite comfortable there, but I decided it was time for a change and dragged a tired Susan along with me. We have now completed our move up the street to the edge of the city proper and are in possession of a wonderful, very real street address of our very own.

Callers and visitors are welcome at all times (especially if they bring food) and can now find us at:


Don't worry if you type the old address by mistake. The friendly googlebots will redirect you to our new home.




Monday, August 24, 2015

Some Days are Rough

What follows is the transcript of a Facebook conversation Susan and I had sometime last week.
 
&&&&

10:17am

Susan Francino

Damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn. Novel. Dammit.

10:18am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Yeah
I've changed about two words in the last half hour
and it wasn't because the thing is perfect
more like I was petrified by its sudden overwhelming awfulness

10:20am

Susan Francino:

UGH i was hoping you were in the mood to talk me off a ledge.
I guess We'll just stare over it together.

10:20am

Tyler-Rose Counts:

NOPE

10:20am

Susan Francino

DAMMIT
The only comforting thought i have right now is that I REALLY THINK a huge part of my problem at this moment is that my routine has been exploded, repeatedly, for days on end, and THAT HAS TO STOP.

10:22am

Tyler-Rose Counts

EMPHATIC NOPE


10:22am

Susan Francino

bUT I'M GOING TO SEE KATE
AND OF COURSE I WANT TO DO THAT

10:22am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Kate?

10:22am

Susan Francino

BUT IT'S NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NO TNO TNO T NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTTTTTT
KATIE.
SORENSEN. (a.k.a. Katie the Roommate)
IT
S NOT

10:22am

Tyler-Rose Counts

AWWWW
 

10:22am

Susan Francino

a situation where
I need to take a break.
No no no no no no no
I have BEEN BREAKING.
BEEN TAKING A BREAK, THAT IS

10:23am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Sounds like maybe both
ME TOO

10:23am

Susan Francino

AND if I take a break much longer, it will break me.
exactly.

10:23am

Tyler-Rose Counts

*WEEP*

10:23am

Susan Francino

SOBBBBB

10:24am

Tyler-Rose Counts

it's all so BAD

10:24am

Susan Francino

I KNOW
And I know I'm getting better too but it's just SO HARD
AND IT TAKES SO LONG
AND IT'S ALSO IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL

10:24am

Tyler-Rose Counts

SO SO LONG
RIGHT

10:24am

Susan Francino

IF I'VE ACTUALLY GOTTEN THAT MUCH BETTER

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

ONLY FIRM BELIEF IN SELF
WHICH IS NEVER FIRM

10:25am

Susan Francino

BUT I KNOW I HAVE, BUT -- RIGHT
RIGHT

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

YOU HAVE THOUGH

10:25am

Susan Francino

THANKS

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

I KNOW THAT
YOU'RE WELCOME
 

10:25am

Susan Francino

*INTERNAL SOBBING*

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

*EXTERNAL SOBBING*
 

10:25am

Susan Francino

OOOHHHHHHHHH
*TOTALLY INADEQUATE INTERNET HUG*

10:26am

Tyler-Rose Counts

*TIRED HEADDESK*
 

10:26am

Susan Francino

So I'm sitting here with this scene I have LITERALLY WRITTEN -- I DON'T HAVE TIME TO CHECK NOW--BUT I BET IT'S LITERALLY SEVEN TIMES
AND I CAN'T EVEN FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPENS IN IT.
LIKE, HOW DO CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE?
CAN'T TELL?

10:27am

Tyler-Rose Counts

I think I'm writing a scene I've written five times

10:27am

Susan Francino

DAMN I BET I HAVE TO CUT IT
BUT I CAN'T BUT I CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHY
 

10:27am

Tyler-Rose Counts

DOES IT CONTAIN A MAGICAL COOKIE?

10:28am

Susan Francino

I THOUGHT IT HAD FIVE MILLION IN IT

10:28am

Tyler-Rose Counts

FIND THE COOOOKIES

10:28am

Susan Francino

FIND THE COOKIE.
THAT'S RIGHT.

10:28am

Tyler-Rose Counts

IDENTIFY THE COOKIES

10:28am

Susan Francino

FINDING.
LOOKING.
*SILENT SCREAMING*

10:29am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Can I write a blog post in which I just copy past this conversation?
*copy/paste
 

10:29am

Susan Francino

YES THAT'S FINE I THINK
YES
I AM EXCITED TO LEARN WHAT THAT MEANS
TYLER-ROSE, FINDING THE MAGICAL COOKIES IS HARD BECAUSE I GET AFRAID THAT I DON'T KNOW HOW TO ENJOY THINGS ANYMORE
WHICH IS SO NOT TRUE

10:31am

Tyler-Rose Counts

I THINK IT MIGHT BE FABULOUS
BUT DON"T THINK OF THAT, THINK OF COOKIES

&&&&

Critique partners save lives and manuscripts. Get one now. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Do's and Don't's of telling people you're an aspiring novelist

Check out my latest motivational mug:



It's perfect for writing.  "Making it happen" at the notebook/keyboard is what it's all about, right?  For us writers, that's where the battles are fought and won. 

Yes. 

But there are also battles to fight when the writer is not writing.  One such struggle, which I find particularly rough, is telling people I'm actually going for it and trying to make it as a writer.  As a recent college graduate, I get asked "So what are you DOING?" constantly.  CONSTANTLY.  THINK OF A NEW QUESTION, PEOPLE. 

They haven't yet, so I'm getting better at dealing with this.  Here are my top tips: 


DO be honest.  Lying is bad for you. 

REALLY DON'T lie.  I know, it's easy.  It shuts people up.  But I have done it, and it's harmful to your self. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are some examples of lies I have told: 

"I am considering going to grad school."

"I don't know what I want want to do with my life."

"I might teach, yeah.  Sure." 

"I don't know what I want to do yet." 

"Yeah, teaching.  *mumbles*  That would be cool." 

"Music is the most important thing to me." 

"Career plans?  Oh, I'm still thinking." 

"Of course I am considering going into politics." 

"Oh, I don't know.  But law school is an option, obviously."

"I am an aimless student who takes random classes at a liberal arts college because she is aimless and fluffy and doesn't know what the heck she wants to do with herself and really has no sense of purpose whatsoever and doesn't really mind because she is terrifically apathetic." 

The problem with lies is that, no matter how untrue they are, you may start to believe them.

TELL THE TRUTH.

Now that we're sure you're telling people you want to be a writer, some further tips:  


DO steel yourself for rudeness, indifference, curiously selective deafness, and nauseating requests for plot summaries. 

DO use repetition for emphasis.  Saying, "I'm going to write, write, write, write, write!" is actually a better way to communicate this than "I'm going to write."  That sounds silly, but I'm serious.  I have tried this.  I think it helps people imagine the thing as what it is:  a constant, energetic process, rather than some vague aspiration. I suppose "revise, revise, revise!" and "query, query, query, query, query!" are likewise effective, if you ever need to get more specific. 

DO be ready to repeat yourself in general. You may have to tell certain people multiple times that you are serious when you say you are going to try your darndest to make it as a novelist, and are in fact currently entrenched in the process of doing so.  This could be because they are inattentive or think it's a bad idea, but don't take it personally.  If you're anything like me, it is just as likely that they didn't believe you or didn't understand because you didn't do a good job of telling them. 

DON'T (EVER) respond in a way that expresses uncertainty, angst, or apology.  Unless it's someone you know very well and share all your troubles with, that will only translate to, "This writing thing is a failure already."  Now, why does this matter?  It doesn't matter what they think of you (usually/probably).  It does matter, even just on a practical level, what you think of yourself.  Projecting under-confidence will make your confidence issues worse. 

DO--wait, who mentioned confidence issues?  I did.  If you're an aspiring novelist and you don't have confidence issues...good for you, but.... *blinks in confusion for a few minutes*  Maybe you should think a little more about what it is you're trying to do. 

DO be confident.  Confidence is called for, by all means.  So is a little healthy fear, though.  Confidence and fear can live together in one soul.  Think of it as practice for microtension.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about and you're a writer, get yourself some Donald Maass stat.) 

DO mention whatever else you may be doing to make money, etc.  This is part of being honest, after all, and it will take the pressure off a bit.  Just be prepared that they might then assume that your writing is a mere hobby or pipe dream. 

DON'T feel obligated to tell people every detail.  Honesty is important.  So is privacy.  

DON'T care what other people think or seem to think about you.  That is really the main thing, if you can manage it. 

DO identify "polite conversation" and change the topic.  Someone who asked you about this to be polite doesn't really care about you, and you're not hoping for them to achieve some sort of deep understanding of who you are.  Save yourself the stress and redirect their attention.  They will chase whatever conversational ball you decide to throw, especially if it relates to them.  People like to talk about themselves.  Except...well...  Hm. *cough*

Just a note, this ^^^ was the biggest breakthrough for me.  Being someone who hates small-talk and likes all conversations to be meaningful, for a while I thought I had to thoroughly explain myself to everyone who happened to ask.  Then I realized:  most of them don't care.  Most of them are just TALKING.   And that's fine.  That's kind of nice, actually. 

DO ALWAYS actively take charge of the conversation.  If you are going into this process well-informed (You'd better be!  See our links page for a start if you feel clueless.), do yourself a favor and talk like you're well-informed.  There may be no entry-level job for novelists, but there are certain steps everyone has to take to break into this profession.  Talk about those steps.  Talk about the fact that there is no entry-level job.  Talk about the fact that the first thing a novelist has to do is write a really, really good book.  (To accomplish which thing you must "write, write, write, write, write!")  You will sound like you know what you're talking about because you DO.  You will sound like you're headed for success because you ARE. 

Any questions? 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: SWAY

I must admit to being a total sucker for a good Austen spin-off. Perhaps I should be content with the novels themselves, and they are glorious, but like many people I want more of the characters I love. I love it if an old story can be rewoven into something remarkable and new. My family has a whole shelf *cough* *three* *coughcough* dedicated to our Austen retellings and I would say that it is as often read and nearly as beloved as the originals.

Without further ado, I am pleased to introduce a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion which I am rather looking forward to. I give you . . .



Ava Elliot never thought she’d become a couch surfer. But with a freshly minted—and worthless—degree from Julliard, and her dad squandering the family fortune, what choice does she have?

 Living with her old high school friends, though, has its own drawbacks. Especially when her ex-fiancĂ© Eric Wentworth drops back into her life. Eight years ago, she was too young, too scared of being poor, and too scared of her dad’s disapproval. Dumping him was a big mistake.

In the most ironic of role reversals, Eric is rolling in musical success, and Ava’s starting at the bottom to build her career. Worse, every song Eric sings is an arrow aimed straight for her regrets.

One encounter, one song too many, and Ava can’t go on like this. It’s time to tell Eric the truth, and make a choice. Finally let go of the past, or risk her heart for a second chance with her first love. If he can forgive her…and she can forgive herself.


Melanie Stanford reads too much, plays music too loud, is sometimes dancing, and always daydreaming. She would also like her very own TARDIS, but only to travel to the past. She lives outside Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her husband, four kids, and ridiculous amounts of snow. You can follow Melanie over at her blog or on Facebook.

Sway will be released this winter, but if you're as excited about it as I am, you can check it out on Goodreads.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Of Feathers and Other Such Matters

Due to a number of factors* the chicken population declined alarmingly in my absence. When I returned from school, our original ten ladies had declined to a stalwart four elderly hens who lay eggs unreliably but still eat a lot.** To solve the problem we have acquired some new house guests.

Say hello to the newest members of the Counts' Family Hobby Farm!

video

I didn't know this until recently, but you can order day old chicks from the internet. You order them in bunches by breed and hatching date and a hatchery somewhere incubates the eggs, vaccinates your teeny tiny damp chickens, and sticks them in first class mail.

About a day after the hatchery tells you your chickens are hatched, you get a call from the post office.

Post office lady:  . . . . We have . . . uh . . . Your baby chickens. Could you come . . . uh . . . pick them up maybe?

Later in the day our postal carrier stopped in our driveway to ask if my chicks were doing alright since she'd heard them cheeping in the post office that morning. Small towns <3

cold chicks huddling for warmth
Looking all cold and pathetic upon arrival. Poor babies.


chicks driniking water
Getting settled

chick being held
Such a cuddly little lady

brahama chick feather feet
You can't see it in this picture, but this chicken has feathery chicken socks.


polish chick sleeping on feeder
They sleep everywhere. That's the feeder.


No doubt I'll post more pictures as they continue to develop adorable little wing feathers. Also, since chick mortality seems to be so high, I would like to add that I've had them for a week and nobody is dead.*** Yippee!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


* Mostly creature incursions, old age, and general poultry stupidity.

** They also enjoy escaping from their pasture and eating the cat food. Our cats are scared of them. They run away when they see the chickens bearing down on them with fire in their eyes. We have to time the feedings so that I let the chickens out of their coop well after the cats have finished their breakfast. Otherwise the cats will go hungry and all our eggs will taste alarmingly of stale fish.

*** Not for lack of them trying, however. I've had to fill up their water dish with aquarium stones so they don't fling themselves in and drown tragically like Ophelia. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Spark of Joy Test

I come to you today from what I know is my bedroom floor, but I can't see much of it.  It's covered in bags and boxes full of college things. 

The Suite being pretty.  I miss it.


Mostly clothes, tea, and books, now that i think about it. 

Very important things. 

Seriously, if any of you can locate my Rose Puchong tea, you will instantly be my Favorite Person #5.  (Pause for inside joke:  I am still confused by that, Tyler-Rose.  Just so you know.) 

Needless to say, the next few days will consist mostly of me trying to put the material side of my life back together.  For which process Tyler-Rose and Katie the Roommate have suggested this excellent trick: 

The Spark of Joy Test.

Envision:  It is 9 pm and Susan, while unpacking, has already gone through both the 7th Harry Potter movies and is now halfway through the 2005 Pride and Prejudice.  She reaches into her backpack and pulls out, not yet another grey translucent black-ink Bic ballpoint pen, but Pair of Fuzzy Socks #10.  She holds the socks in her hands for a moment and asks, "Does this give me a spark of joy?"  The answer is "no," and she tosses them in the garbage bag destined for Goodwill. 

Fast-forward:  It is now 10 pm and Susan, still unpacking, has just managed to stop the 2005 Pride and Prejudice before the awful, out-of-character end scene in front of Chatsworth comes on.  She looks down and finds Pair of Fuzzy Socks #11 in her hands.  She asks, "Does this give me a spark of joy?"  The answer:  Yes.  She keeps them. 

It's that simple.  Tyler-Rose tells me it worked quite well for her. 

Specifically, though, she said it was more efficient than asking the usual question:  "Will I ever use this?  Will I ever wear this?  Is there any conceivable future situation in which I might need this?" 

This is starting to remind me of something..............  Writing.  (Surprise!!)  But isn't that how we usually judge whether a scene belongs?  "Does this advance the plot?  Does this show character development?  Does this set up X essential detail for later?  Does this NEED to be here?  Do I NEED this?" 

I dare you (and...myself.  Yes.  I dare myself.) to try this:  Open your manuscript and try the Spark of Joy Test on every scene.  If it passes, great.  If it doesn't, delete it. 

How much of your manuscript is left standing?? 


What's more:  It shouldn't just be every scene, people.  It should be every page.  The bar is high, and it's time to reach for it.  We here at the Feather and the Rose are reaching, anyway. 

Nota bene:  This reminds me a lot of Susan Dennard's "Magical Cookies" strategy, which is brilliant and game-changing, so if you're a writer, go check that out as well! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Time of Mourning

It seems to me that a proper period of mourning has been allowed to elapse.

Perhaps you find this confusing. You may not have observed anything unusual except our absence, but spiritually and truly the blog has been hung in dark draperies. We have decorated it with flowers--with roses that bloom black as despair. We have wept for what is lost. I thought for a short time that perhaps my heart would break.

It has not broken. I live on with my continuing grief. It is a heavy burden that I think will not grow easier to bear over time. Despite this, we have been silent long enough.

But what are we mourning, you might ask.

Have Susan or Tyler-Rose lost a pet? A beloved? Received a simply scathing rejection letter? Given up writing and become accountants??!

IS SUSAN DEAD AND THAT'S WHY TYLER-ROSE IS WRITING THIS POST?!?!!?!?!?!?!??!

Happily, the answer to all these questions is: no.

We're both alive and well and so are those we love best. Really, the grief that caused us to drop off the face of the earth is simply this:

WE'VE GRADUATED!!!
 CONGRATULATIONS TO US!!!!!


Yes, after four years of late nights, tears, hard work, and the best kinds of fun we walked across a stage in flowing black gowns and funny hats and received our diplomas. Susan took a BA in Latin and I in English.

Why is this a cause for mourning? Shouldn't we be celebrating our accomplishments and our new-found freedom?

Of course. We did. We are. However, graduation day heralded the end of more than our college career. I quote from our "About Us" page:

We share a college, a suite, and as you have discovered, a blog!   
Having met on a fateful trip to England and discovered we were both writers,we were friends as soon as Tyler-Rose stopped being terrified of Susan and Susan was satisfied as to Tyler-Rose's bathing habits.

 My dear friends, while Susan and I will always share a college, *places hand over heart and hums her and Susan's shared Alma Mater* we no longer share a suite, a building, a block, a town, a county, a state, or a time zone. In fact, it would be hard for us to get farther apart and avoid falling into opposing oceans.

We are separated by an entire country and likely to stay that way for a while. SCARF-A-SCONE SATURDAY IS NO MORE* 

*WEEEEEEEEP*


There are some plans of reunion in the works, but they are long rather than short term affairs. Meanwhile, we do indeed intend to continue writing on the blog. Those who have asked us about that can now relax. We're not going anywhere. 

Besides graduating, a lot of other wonderful things have happened to us in the last few months which you should probably hear about, but I'll save those for another post.

Have a charming Monday!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Now transformed into Skype-a-Susan Saturday :)

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Surrogate Sea and its Illustrious Author

In this rare, magical Friday Post we would like to congratulate our marvelous friend Danielle E. Shipley of Ever On Word on the release of her latest whimsical Wilderhark novella: The Surrogate Sea!!!


In honor of this momentous occasion, we have persuaded the elusive author herself to answer some our impertinent questions.

Without further ado . . .

What are some of your favorite books? We won't ask you for your favorite book because that would be mean. Just give us your top 3 or 10 or however many you would like. 

 Bless you for your kindness. Always good to encounter interviewers who understand the struggle. ;) A few tops picks o’ mine, in no particular order…

 Long-standing favorites:
- “The Story Girl” by L.M. Montgomery – perhaps uncommonly enough, it’s laid a bigger claim on my heart than her best-known work, “Anne of Green Gables”
- The “Montmorency” series by Eleanore Updale – historical fiction featuring the first British thief I ever loved, since I had yet to appreciate Robin Hood. Speaking of…
- “The Outlaws of Sherwood” by Robin McKinley; also “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” by Howard Pyle

 More recent favorites:
- “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater – especially Books 1 and 2; Book 4 can’t get here soon enough
- “Mistborn: The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson – which I read for the first time maybe a month ago at a friend’s strong recommendation, and it’s just so darn good
- “The Archived” by Victoria Schwab – also just so darn good, much like the first work I read of hers (under her alter ego, V.E. Schwab), “Vicious”
- “Inspired” by Danielle E. Shipley – …what? I don’t go two days without wishing I were reading it. If that’s not true love…


When did Will Scarlet and his friends first make their merry appearance in your life? 

 *cracks up* Good mercy, if you could hear Will carrying on with ecstacy at the mention of his name…

 I met my Merry Men in November of 2010 – my first National Novel Writing Month! – having no idea at the time just how big a part of my life they would soon become. Will, in particular, was a pal to me from the start, using his mad skills of improvisational chatter to help me meet my daily word-count goals for the duration of NaNo ’10. We’ve since then grown to regard each other as besties/long-lost siblings. And despite the fact that I won’t begin publication of the “Outlaws of Avalon” trilogy in which he features until I’ve finished with the Wilderhark Tales novellas, he may well be more popular online than I am. XD


If you had to pick one of your fictional worlds to live in, which would it be? 

Oh, Avalon Faire, for sure – home of Will’s scarlet shenangins, Allyn-a-Dale’s matchless music, and good old-fashioned immortality!

Unless, of course, something tragic were to happen to Rosalba in the Wilderhark world, leaving me little choice but to marry her widower, Edgwyn Wyle.

Who would totally propose to me once he’d had his fill of grieving.

Please don’t choke yourself laughing, Edgwyn.


What is your preferred writing utensil?

My laptop, Fantasia – whom, full disclosure, my mother took the initiave to christen after I’d gone far too long without settling on a name. I enjoy the feel of typing (so much like playing piano), and the ability to edit as I go in a way I can’t do half as tidily in pencil or pen.


How do you balance your writing career with other parts of your life?

*blinks* There’s more to my life?

Seriously. It seems it’s easier to force myself to keep my nose to the grindstone than to take a break for so-called necessities like food and fresh air and… what’s that thing people are supposed to do in their pajamas? Riiiiight, “sleep”. I’ve heard of that.

But I’m trying to get better about it. Will Scarlet has dragged a promise out of me to take a mental health break once I’ve pubbed the last Wilderhark Tale this fall – which, considering it will mean months of delay before his books come out, is one of the most selfless things he’s ever done. And around that same time, I’ll have moved from my childhood home in the Chicago area to ever-lovin’ Germany, of all places, which is what I call adventure with a capital A! If living within sight of the Black Forest – basically THE fairytale forest! (No offense, Wilderhark) – isn’t the whap upside the head I need to turn me into a cool person who makes time for fun, then color me hopeless.


 The Surrogate Sea is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also check it out on Goodreads.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Responding to the Spam Filter

Remember when we did a post in which we personally responded to the search terms that brought people to our blog? Well, in case you missed it, here is a link to that post so you too can revel in the Gerard Butler-ful glory.

This is post is sort of an off-shoot of that idea. Actually, it is something which our friend Colin D Smith suggested in the comments of that post.

So, for your delectation, I have cracked open that Pandora's Box which is our spam filter and selected some gems to respond to.

Here goes nothing.



Pretty section of content. I simply stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I acquire actually loved account your weblog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your augment and even I fulfillment you get right of entry to constantly quickly.

Dear Anonymous Spam Bot,
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you think our content sections are pretty. I do rather like our font choice, if I say so myself. I did pick it, after all.  Also, I've always thought paragraphs are a rather nice way to break up long sections of text. I know there are a lot of people who don't agree with me, but I'm radical that way. I'm so pleased to hear you are going to subscribe to our augment (whatever that is) and equally pleased to hear of your personal fulfillment. Keep climbing that self-actualization tree!
                                                     Bunches of love,
                                                                   The Feather and the Rose


Its such as you read my thoughts! You appear to know so much appropximately this, like you wrote the guide in it or something. I think that you simply could do with a ffew % to force the message house a bit, but instead of that, that is wonderful blog. A great read. I will definitely be back. 

Dear Internet Creature,
I'm so glad we've been able to connect so closely with the essence of your being. Our goal is always to read the thoughts of our followers. And yes, we did write the guide in this. That's why our careers are flourishing so marvelously. I would have to disagree with you about the % since I think our message house is actually just fine. Thank you for your input, though. We really appreciate it. Do return when you have the time.
                                                      Solicitous salutations,
                                                                    The Feather and the Rose


I have read so many content concerning the blogger lovers except this paragraph is genuinely a nice paragraph, keep it up. 

Awwww. You've made me feel all melty inside, Little Minion. 

 
I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz answer back as I'm looking to construct my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. thanks

Dear Friendly Widget,
I love our blog too. Interesting fact about the color combination: Susan and I find ourselves wearing it by accident all the time. We made the website ourselves with the help of the Blogger Hive Mind with which I'm sure you are acquainted. No matter how much you try, Mr. Widget, I'm fairly convinced you would never be able to bring into being something as lovely as this blog.
                                                      Snarkitudinously yours,
                                                                   The Feather and the Rose


This piece of writing is in fact a fastidious one it assists new internet people, who are wishing in favor of blogging. 

My darling Google Spider,
Our hope is to be fastidious in all things.Especially when it comes to personal hygiene. This is why Susan and I are friends, you know. If you are a new internet person wishing in favor of blogging I suggest you go to the blog nursery and pick yourself up a baby blog. They are adorable, fascinating creatures and are fairly simple to care for. All they need is, at minimum, weekly watering to eventually grow into a mighty beast with a wingspan so wide it will block all the free time out of your life.
                                                       Keep wishing,
                                                                 The Feather and the Rose


You should take part in a contest for one of the finest sites on the internet.

I'm inarticulate with pride. 'Nough said.

 Gold star for us.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Living and the Dead

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

                                                                                     ~ James Joyce, The Dead

~~~~

It has been a long winter, my friends. Perhaps the longest of my life. The snow has been falling for weeks and there's a biting wind that comes blasting down the hill in front of our building to burn your skin and blow chips of ice into your eyes and into your heart.

Our world is a wash of grey and white. The sky is exactly the same smooth, colorless surface as the earth. If you are so lucky as to find a patch of color, it is a feast for the eyes. Even the small scurrying animals and the hardy winter birds are utterly silent and vanished.* The only noise at night is the skeleton trees creaking in the freezing wind. I think their bones are almost as cold as mine.

Yet, a miracle. 

Yesterday, there was sunlight.

And it filled our living room with gold.







~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Except for Susan's Squirrel.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Very Large Squirrel

Do you ever have one of those mornings, evenings, days--or maybe longer--where you feel like you're just spinning your wheels? 


You're trying to go through the semi-routine that you have established for this part of the week, but new things keep cropping up? 


Naturally, (almost) all the technology chooses this time to malfunction.  Those little bits of important information you never wrote down come back to bite you. 

Like a squirrel biting a thrice-frozen crab apple.

And you find yourself wondering:  How have I ever gotten anything done in my whole life?  


But you have before, so it's a good bet that you will do something, someday, again, other than fumble with technology and drop things and forget things and post cop-out blog posts full of totally random squirrel pictures. 


Monday, February 9, 2015

Guest Post by Arena the Roommate

Hello Friends of "The Feather and the Rose"! 

My name is Arena the Roommate.  Susan and Tyler-Rose are currently both inundated by work, and I have offered to fill in for this Monday blog post.  They obviously trust me a lot, because I am not exactly a skillful writer.  In fact, the last thing that I wrote that was not a research paper or an essay was a very depressing short story about cancer which was written in French when I was in Tours, France for a summer study abroad in 2013; I was very jet-lagged.  Prior to that short story, I think I wrote a short story for my 7th grade English teacher about slumber parties. 

While in Tours, France, you must go see all the cool chateaux.  This is a front view (non-bridge view) of Chateau, Chenonceau.

You may ask why I haven't written non-factual/opinion papers in such a long time.  The truth? I am not a writer.  Nor am I interested in writing.  In fact, I am a Math/Economics/French triple major.  I do not share any majors with Susan, Tyler-Rose, or Katie the Roommate*, so it seems a little surprising that we've all become such good friends.  However, we all seem to balance each other out.  Part of why this is, is that we all have different schedules for life.  After I graduate in May, I will be working for an insurance company as an actuarial assistant with the end goal of becoming an actuarial fellow**.  Thus, I have more free time this semester, while my roommates are continuously working on projects and job prospects. 

Now that I've talked about myself for multiple paragraphs, I will talk about what I've been meaning to talk about, which is... 

Time and the Necessity of Doing. 

You may ask what I mean when I say the "Necessity of Doing".  I'm talking about having to do something because there is no other option.  I experience this best in the actuarial exam process.  To become an actuarial fellow, I have to take twelve long, arduous exams.  I've passed one, and I hopefully will pass the second at the end of February.  The process of taking exams isn't very fun; they're expensive and difficult.  I've been studying for this exam since June.  However, I know that I MUST pass this exam, or I will get fired from my job before I even begin it.  If one can't pass his exams at fairly regular intervals, he will not get raises or promotions, which means he will get fired.  For me, it's also something that I must do as I feel it is what I'm meant to do, just as Tyler-Rose and Susan feel they must write. 

It's been important to recognize that things must be done, and that things will be done, whether you believe it's possible or not.  While sometimes the timeline for these things isn't as you expect, they will be completed.  In reality, everything is going to be alright.  If they're not alright, they will be.^

This probably all seems cryptic, but I've adopted it as my guide, and I'd venture to say that I'm the least stressed of my friends with the least amount of panic attacks.  Many people are amazed at how calm I am with so much on my plate, but I've managed to triple major without a time-turner and without going crazy.  If you can adopt the right mindset, you can do anything, because you have to.  If you don't have to do something, then why do it? 

---

*See Katie the Roommate's posts here.   And here. 

**What's an actuary, you ask?  See here. 

^My dad has a penchant for reggae music, so perhaps I listened to this# so often in my childhood, that it has pervaded my life. 

#https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaGUr6wzyT8