Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Fan Siu-Wong

Also known as 樊少皇. Also known as Louis Fan. Also known as the foxy, evil Northern gang leader from Ip Man, a 2008 Kung Fu film chronicaling the rise of one of the modern Grandmasters of Wing Chun (and Bruce Lee's mentor).

This movie, or rather the version of it that I watched, had a major drawback—it was dubbed, and the American voiceover actors were truly terrible. But Fan Siu-Wong stood out despite the corny audio distractions. Ooh, I love me a good baddie. Give him kick-ass martial arts skills and I turn to goo. I couldn't find too much biographical info in English about Fan Siu-Wong, but here's what Wikipedia had to say: "At the age of 14, Fan traveled to Xuzhou on the request of his father to take up martial arts because he was virtually a toothpick. There, Fan studied gymnastics, kung fu, and taekwondo." Well, he's certainly blossomed. Want to see him in action? Here he is doing his evil Kung Fu thug thang in Ip Man:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Recipe: White-Girl Chicken Masala

Photo stolen with thanks from Food 
Network, but you get the idea.
Another Trader Joe's-centric recipe! I promise I'm not getting any kick-backs from them.

I love Indian food, but lack the skill and spice-knowings to make the authentic stuff myself. Instead I employ TJ's Indian simmer sauces to modify my usual stir-frys into something a bit more filling, but still healthy. Here's an easy recipe for faux curry that'll feed 4–6 people, depending on their appetities.

2 bottles Trader Joe's Masala Simmer Sauce, from nearish the store's marinara sauce section (the Korma and Curry varieties work great too)
1 large boneless chicken breast, cut into small pieces (cage-free organic if you want to go to heaven)
½ head cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized florets (if you don't like caulifower, you can substitute potatoes, though they may extend the cooking time)
1 cup sliced white or button mushrooms
1 cup carrots, chopped into small medallions
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ cup onion, chopped
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup frozen sweet corn kernels

1½ cups brown rice, dry
3 cups water
1 tsp olive oil

1. Dump the sauce into a large sauce pan and set the burner to medium-high.

2. Chop the chicken, cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, onion, and garlic as noted. Add chopped ingredients plus corn and peas to sauce and stir. Once the sauce has begun to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and let simmer, stirring very occasionally.

3. Once carrots have begun to soften (15 minutes, give or take), begin the rice. If you don't have a rice cooker (like me), combine rice, water, and olive oil in a medium sauce pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer until water is absorbed and rice is soft (about 35–45 minutes). Do not stir.

4. Add salt to sauce to taste. Serve over rice.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bad Reviews: The Price of Admission

I'm not sure exactly why, but it seems that in the past couple of weeks my fellow authors (and myself) have been hyper-aware of reviews. Comments have been flying around Twitter in the vein of "Egad, some mean person hated my book!" And much commiseration hastily ensues, because romance writers stick together.

Authors, for the most part, are sensitive creatures. Most creative types are. I find it hard to imagine writing an entire book, struggling to get it published, and not taking it personally if a reader or reviewer slams it. Publicly. What I do find a bit puzzling is the surprise factor.

Of course somebody won't like it!

Has a movie ever been made that pleased every single person who watched it? (I'm not talking about The Shawshank Redemption here of course, as that movie is perfect.) And what about songs? Albums? Works of art? Hell, individual people? And that last one, I think that may be the crux of the issue. After we sweat and suffer and churn out a book we're proud of, convince someone to buy it, wait for it to release and gnaw our nails off, it does feel like some unseen stranger is jabbing hot pokers into our bodies (or perhaps our children) when they lambaste it on the interwebs. Two minutes' worth of snark can suddenly tumble out of some anonymous keyboard owner's fingertips and belittle months of our hard work. Yeah, that fucking stings.

I don't fault anyone for having their feelings hurt when that happens. It'd be odd if they didn't. And I don't fault readers and reviewers for writing criticism and sharing their opinions…unless it's vapid and petty. Anyhow, a "This book sucked! I won't bother articulating why but it totally did!" criticism is never taken seriously—it discredits the person who wrote it far more than the author.

But I'd like writers to take this to heart: bad reviews are the price of admission you pay if you want to play in the deep end of the author pool. You can't please everyone, and I'll suggest that hearing the worst is a tiny fee to tender for a chance to do what you love at a professional level. So your book got slammed. Congratulations! You're an author now, my child.

Writers on the cusp of a first release, I promise you, you will get slammed. You want to get slammed. Hopefully your skins got thickened by all the rejection letters en route to published status, but even if they didn't, revel in this new pain when it inevitably arrives. Like a ninja punching the bark off trees to strengthen his fists, this pain sucks ass, but think of it as training. Not for punching reviewers, mind you—for recognizing the pain and knowing it won't kill you, knowing it will pass and that each time you get through it, you're growing more well-adjusted about this ridiculous, masochistic job.

My erotica-writing alter ego received her first high-profile review this past weekend, on the romance review blog Dear Author. DA is notoriously tough, one of the "mean girl" snarky review sites, as many scorned authors would call it in confidence—a hulking Nelson Muntz point-and-laugh-at-your-hard-work digital bully. I wouldn't elevate or demonize it quite so grandly, but I lived in understandable fear of such an eventuality. But the hazing had to happen sooner or later, plus it meant I'd cleared another hurdle in my little career. I was pleased to come away with a B- grade and a very thoughtful write-up, an overall highly positive experience. And damn, it didn't hurt my Analytics traffic.

What was tough, however, was the odd sensation of being talked about by others. I don't follow Dear Author normally, but luckily Google Alerts tipped me off and I was able to be the first commenter, doing my authorly etiquette duty and thanking the reviewer for her time and kind words. I was in the conversation, but I nevertheless felt very…separate. Like I'd walked into the lunchroom in 1997 in my combat boots and army jacket to discover all the cheerleaders were talking about me. Nothing nasty, even, but I felt exposed. It was the same sensation I get when I do a guest appearance on someone's blog and the post goes live, but on a far grander scale. Standing naked on the end of a high-dive board. But at the same time, it was rather fun. Like many writers, I crave both anonymity and attention. Writers are performers of a highly passive breed.

I hadn't seen this review coming. I knew the reviewer had read my book, because I'd spotted her kind write-up on Goodreads. It was flattering that she decided to feature it on Dear Author. But I also know from Goodreads that she deeply disliked another of my books. Whether she decides to take that to the blog remains to be seen, but I sort of hope she does…even terrible reviews are good PR, if as an author you handle them with grace and good humor. Which I trust I would.

If a nasty review happens to you, take these tips to heart. Don't apologize for sucking (you don't, just ask your mom), just thank the reviewer for their time, and if appropriate, clarify (non-defensively) anything that befuddled them about the story. Don't denigrate their opinion. Don't act wounded. Don't act righteous, either. Just be honest and gracious. "I'm sad the book wasn't to your taste, but thanks so much for taking the time to read and analyze it." For the love of God, don't go on the attack, or recruit your friends to act as your pit bulls. We've all seen those horror show chains of scathing comments. A bad, high-profile review is a great chance to show readers how well-adjusted and, frankly, mentally stable you are. Don't let angry brain chemicals send you into fight mode and blow your chance. Or your professional reputation.

Also, once you're done licking your wounds, contemplate what the reader or reviewer had to say with as much detachment as you can muster. It may be a case of your book or style simply not being their cup of tea, but if it goes beyond that into a question of your skill as a writer (uh, ouch), is there something in their analysis that you agree with, something that can help you become a more effective storyteller? Well-written criticism isn't about You Suck or You Rock, it's about analyzing what you did well and what you perhaps didn't do so well. It may be too late to fix flaws in the published book, but take to heart any negative comments that ring true for you, and let them make you a stronger writer going forward.

I suppose that's about it, except to add, don't forget to savor the highs that come from the good reviews, which are also blissfully inevitable. They won't preclude negative criticism, but they might take the edge off. Enjoy them as they come. And remember that every bad review is a new callous on your writerly fists, easing the blow of the next one. Keep on punching those trees, ninjas.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Free iPod Shuffle

Totally random post. I have a super little mint green iPod Shuffle that I don't use anymore. It works perfectly and it needs a good home! I'm giving away the Shuffle, its dock, original packaging and manual—everything but the headphones—to whichever commenter with a US mailing address I deem most worthy. I'll even ship it for free. Just tell me why you want it by next Saturday, October 2 at noon EST.

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist 
extraordinaire, Will Shortz 
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon if you want a chance to play on the air).

Without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

From Elizabeth Gorski: Take the phrase "patron saint," remove a letter, then rearrange the letters to create a new, familiar two-word phrase that names something important in life. Hint: The first word has three letters, the second word has seven.

Call me cocky, but that doesn't sound too tough. Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Le Jeudi Frotteurible: Cyril Raffaelli et David Belle

I've gone French this week on old Thrusty Thursday, and I'm encouraging everyone to not merely thrust against two worthy men, but against an entire movie. The movie is District B13 (originally Banlieue 13), a French action film from 2004 starring Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle. Both garçons on their own are pretty foxy, but add them together and hot damn! Deux renards pour le prix d'un!

District B13 isn't your typical action movie, though there is plenty of general mayhem and car chasing. However, I'm tempted to label it instead a martial arts movie, as the truly outstanding action lies in the physical feats the actors pull off. The plot in a nutshell is that a goodhearted thug from the ghetto and an idealist cop team up to take down a drug ring in Paris's down-and-out B13 district. It's set in what used to be the future—2010—but it's not futuristic at all, just a bit dystopic…come on, it's French. What else would you expect?

I'm prepared to beg anyone who has a Netflix subscription to check this film out on Instant Watcher. Don't fret about subtitles, as it's an action movie and hence the dialogue is succinct and easy to follow. Don't worry about squicky violence, either—very few times did I have to look away from the scene, fearing something disturbing, which I do nearly constamment during American action flicks. You'll be too focused on the superbon stylized action and fight choreography to care, anyhow.

Without further ado, voilà un morceau. Watch David Belle do his foxy French thang and try to imagine a whole movie's worth of this awesomeness:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Great Twitter Blackout of 2010

No longer breaking news, I know. In fact, it may be old news, now—I haven't logged onto the Twizzah since before I left the house for my run, and it may have been fixed in the last couple hours. But since the social networking site got hacked and spammed so mightily this morning (I was one of gazillions who got punk'd) I've made two observations about my own relationship with the Twiz.

1. Twitter is very much like a little blue bird. It sits on my shoulder, in my periphery, and although I think I'm focused on other things, I still feel its weight and presence on me. And occasionally, like today, it takes a dump on my lapel. When I have a deadline or can admit my own goof-offishness, I quit my browser and Gmail notifier and go stealth, hiding under the web's radar until I've reached my goal. When Twitter broke today, I was having a good writing morning, typing along quite friskily, feeling impervious to distraction and therefor allowed to have Firefox running. Love those mornings. Then Twitter broke and I decided to just stay off the site for the morning, or until it seemed fixed. Sounds like it's okay in some desktop and mobile apps, unlike the website, but I decided to just skip it entirely. And yet I caught myself clicking over to my browser to check it, like a physical tic. Normally I guess I do this without thinking, but because this morning I had to pause and remember why I didn't have that tab active, I noticed just how often I do it. Not a condemnation of the Twizzah, just a curiosity. I still maintain that any minutes it gobbles up in a given day is worth it for the friendships and industry contacts I've made by participating. That said, you won't catch me on the MyFace. I don't trust myself with too many points of entry into the digital playground.

2. The second thing I've noticed is that I don't miss Twitter much. This is probably because I know most other folks aren't on there right now either, so I don't feel left out. That's what makes social networking a bit anxiety-inducing, especially to the young whippersnappers—you don't want to be the one missing something, out of the loop. But today it's like we've all been given silent reading period, everyone with their head down, tackling their assignment for a change. There may be a few people out in the yard playing kickball, but I'm not the only dweeb doing their work. And yes, blogging counts as work, not a Twitter substitute…even if I do have six hundred more words I need to be writing on the work-in-progress.

So, no point here, just thought I'd share those experiences during this, the Great Twitter Blackout of 2010. Can't wait to tell my kids where I was when it happened. Though by then they'll surely have moved on to the next next next next big thing… Better wrap up now. Don't get me waxing philosophical about the Interwebs. Me and philosophical waxings go alarmingly well with too much red wine, and it's still firmly in the a.m.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist 
extraordinaire, Will Shortz 
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon if you want a chance to play on the air).

Without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Name five countries whose names are five letters long. Using the middle letter of each country's name, spell the five-letter name of a sixth country.

Nice…sounds good and tricky. Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A post wherein I rant about The Fast and the Furious

It's my manfriend's job to take my direction and choose our nightly viewing fare while I'm making dinner. Last night I just said, "Something entertaining!" and waved my arms around to suggest hilarity or action. He poked around on Netflix Instant Watcher (we don't own a TV so we subsist on Hulu and Netflix) and eventually said, "How about The Fast and the Furious?" I thought this was a fine idea, as it would give me some insight into the noisy yahoos (simmer, grandma) that go bombing up the road on occasion in their souped up [learned the correct spelling of 'souped' for this entry, what an education F&F has been already] Civics and Jettas. I also thought it might clue me in to the appeal of Vin Diesel, a man that some of my erotica alter ego's sister smut writers go all weak over. So, a cultural revelation I was surely in for.

Now let me say, this isn't a proper film review, plus I think a lot of people have already seen this movie, so I won't summarize it. But I will pose some of the major questions this film left me scratching my head over. The main one being:

1. What on Earth is the moral of this story?

I think we're supposed to admire Vin Diesel's character, Dom, because his dad died…but he's still the ringleader of the criminal gang that the undercover cop main character, Brian, is trying to infiltrate. In the end, the cop lets the criminal get away. So the main character isn't a very good cop. It's tough to know if Brian lets Dom go because a) he admires him, b) is in love with his sister or c) I don't really understand if he's actually a cop or if it's part of his own sentence-reducing legal bargain.

2. Who are we rooting for?

It's not the innocent people. The only people in this film just trying to do their jobs are the truck drivers that Dom's gang are hijacking in order to steal their cargo of flashy 2001 state of the art electronics. But you're totally not supposed to cheer for the driver as he's attempting to defend himself by fighting back in the big finale chase scene at the end of the movie. You're supposed to cheer for the crims, because they can drive their cars right under the semi! Snap!

3. What was up with the Japanese bike gang?

Were they a red herring to keep us from thinking Dom was behind the crime? If so, it worked. Not just on me, but on Brian, the undercover cop. As I said, he wasn't a very good cop…he followed the wrong lead then let the real criminals get away, and the movie ends before we find out if he's punished for this. Anyhow, the Japanese bike gang members were pure evil, but they didn't really need to be in the film.

4. Who played Vince? He was a fox!

So I IMDb'd him. The actor's name is Matt Schulze. He's 38ish now and probably still foxy. And as far as I can tell, his tattoo is real. Grarrr! Thank you, Matt Schulze, you made this movie watchable.

And actually, it was a very watchable movie. It didn't adhere to any of my writerly criteria for admirable characters or core story morals, but it was full of cool car stunts and biceps and an appropriately grindy soundtrack. Note to any sequel makers: don't add that tinkly piano music in the poignant scenes of any forthcoming follow-up films. It's really cheesy à là Full House.

5. So…what happened with the big race?

This movie started out as the man equivalent of a teen girl dance-off movie, and they built up this big race weekend event toward the end, but we never see a big race! Instead they run off to jack some more electronics. I felt like I'd watched a version of Grease wherein Sandy doesn't attend the Vince Fontaine show taping, or Dirty Dancing without the lift at the end. Flat and confusing.

6. What's the big deal about Vin Diesel?

Well, I sort of get it now. He's very muscly and blasé in that alluringly over-it way, and his voice makes you imagine him barking you orders at you, ones that involve knee pads. He oozes something or other that does things to lady-bits, and I think it's about 50% aural, 40% visual, and 10% unidentified charismatic voodoo. And he's really a decent actor. So okay, ladies, I submit, he's sexy. But he's no Matt Schulze.

Can anyone guess who'll be spotlighted on Thrusty Thursday this week?

So in conclusion (not that I had a point) I enjoyed this movie. But I still don't get what I was supposed to take away from it. The manfriend suggested the moral of the story was, "There is true justice when the criminal walks free." He said this with airs of deep Zen wisdom, because he knows as well I do, there was no lesson in this movie. The protagonist was a lousy cop and not such an amazing racer that we can admire him for his driving chops. Everyone seems to like Dom, but he's a violent criminal with daddy issues who doesn't get taught a lesson in the end. My take-away wisdom was, "Don't live near these people. They're loud and there's Japanese yuppy bike gangs what will spray you with automatic machine gun fire."

But do watch this movie for cool stunts, random acts of manfulness, Matt Schulze in sleeveless shirts, and for all the questions it will leave you pondering. If you get Netflix, you can watch it for free on Instant Watcher here. Or raid the DVD collection of your favorite teenage boy. And if you know any better answers to my various questions, for the love of God, please share them.

For now, here's the trailer:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Michael Sheen

I must admit, I didn't know who Michael Sheen was a week ago. I saw him for the first time as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on a repeat 2010 episode of Top Gear, when his squinchy eyes make my heart go all gooey. I guess he's in one of the Twilight movies and lots of other stuff, but I can't claim any earned fan-girl cred on this one. I just dig his tired-ass eyes and understated dress sense. So here, for your enjoyment, is everything I know about scruffy Welsh dreamboat Michael Sheen from his appearance on Top Gear:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Farewell, Oregon

It's our last day in Oregon before we have to get up at a truly ungodly hour and fly home to Boston. The past two days were spent in Silverton at a nice resort (don't let the label fool you—there were no facials or massages being had by yours truly) which the manfriend and I used as base camp to take a couple of very nice, scenic, waterfall-riddled long hikes. The best part of the resort (no offense to the Frank Lloyd Wright house on the edge of the property) was the quails. Quails quails quails!!! I thought I'd struck it rich when we spotted those three back in California, but the resort had oodles, oodles I tell you! We were walking around the resort's vast gardens and along a brush-lined area, and KA-POW! Like thirty quails, parents and bumbly little quailets all scattering this way and that. Ah, bliss. Keep your spa treatments, everybody. I gots my quails.

The first hike we did was Opal Creek, where we enjoyed a seven-mile trek through the certified wilderness, and what used to be old mining land. There was ancient rusting equipment strewn here and there, giant mysterious gear-laden monstrosities. The terrain was largely smooth and semi-gravel-paved, with the exception of a loop that offered some more strenuous climbs. A nice mix. I love the streams here—they're freakishly clear and the coolest color, a subdued greenish blue, from algae, maybe? We did the hike without snacks and not quite enough water, plus the manfriend had puked his guts out that morning from what we suspect was food poisoning. He's such a trouper. So by about mile five we were both dragging, but we made it. And I got yet more valuable experience peeing in the woods—a skill I hadn't really cultivated before taking up with an Oregonian.

Hike number two was Silver Creek Falls. That trek was a little over four miles, nicely paved, and pretty quiet, although when peeing in the woods I had to make the manfriend stand guard. We must have seen about six waterfalls. None were gushing magnificently this time of the year, but they were still very impressive. And one of them cascades from a shelf that juts way out from the rest of the hill, and the trails goes right behind it. Very cool.

That's about it. Today we do laundry, have one last family dinner, and generally take it easy before jetting back home at about four a.m. Well, I take it easy, while the manfriend troubleshoots a gazillion technical issues for his mom. It's been a fabulous trip—just the right mix of outings and down time. I require a lot of down time. I even got a decent amount of writing and brainstorming done. Hopefully I'll have Thrusty Thursday ready to go tomorrow to keep you company while I'm shooting through the air due east. See you around.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist 
extraordinaire, Will Shortz 
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon if you want a chance to play on the air).

Without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Think of a common compound word in which each half starts with the letter C. Change both C's to B's, and you'll get the names of two related objects. What objects are they?

If you'd like to see the original puzzle posting, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer, click here. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Mike Rowe

Welcome to another installment of Thrusty Thursday, your weekly Meg-led tour into a ponderous world of alternative foxiness. I chose Mike Rowe for this week's honor because I owe him. He's the host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, and if you haven't seen it, he basically travels around the country doing the most disgusting things imaginable. I don't actually recommend thrusting upon him unless you know for sure he's gone through a de-con shower.

I got into Dirty Jobs when I needed a visual idea of the duties of large animal veterinarians for a Montana-set romance I'm writing. There have been multiple sequences on the show featuring equine docs and cattle docs and llama docs…castration and insemination and all kinds of glamorousness. Mike Rowe has learned how to cut off horse nuts so that I don't have to.

Now for your enjoyment, someone else's lovely fan-girl montage of stills from the show:

Actually, now that I think about it, Mike is really quite properly handsome, which isn't like me… But anyhow, thanks Mike! Keep up the dirty work.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yet more random travel musings…

Greetings from a surprisingly sunny and cheerful afternoon in Portland, Oregon! My manfriend is taking a few days out of his vacation time to attend a nerd convention, and I'm using the opportunity to get as much writing done as humanly possible during the day, then meeting up with him and an assorted cast of old friends (he lived in Portland for ten years) for dinner and drinks in the evenings. Our hotel is super crazy awesome… I wish I could tell you where it is, but I'm pretty sure that's high up on the list of How To Get Stalked Top Tips and I'd get berated for being so foolish.

Speaking of nerd conventions, the first afternoon we were here (I haven't been back to Portland for a proper visit in four years) we were bumming around a sunken brick courtyard area, sort of a displaced Out of Town News type scene, if you know Cmambridge's Harvard Square at all. There were shenanigans galore going down in this square! Young people prancing around in colorful wigs and weird clothes, playing a game that combined spin the bottle and red rover and involved a LOT of hugging and spirited yelling. Naturally we got comfortable and gawked ad nauseum. I said, "Jesus, I knew it was nutty in this city, but I didn't remember it being this freaky!" We later found there was an anime convention going on down the street. Sigh of relief. I'm all for Portland flying its freak flag high, but thank goodness that wasn't typical.

An awesomely handy thing for my evil conjoined erotica writing twin (Cara McKenna) is that she's writing a follow-up to a story whose characters are all from this town, so she gets to walk around in their natural habitat while she brainstorms the nasty things they're going to get up to with each other. Everywhere we look, it's like, "Oh, that guy on the bike could be Rich!" Or "That chick would definitely be friends with Margie" or "I bet Evan would eat lunch there." Pretty cool.

I'm in the hotel lobby right now, waiting for my room to be cleaned before I head back up so Cara can pound away some more on this little Bluetooth keyboard. I'll say it again—love love loving the iPad as a mobile writing device. Perfect for me. Tomorrow I get kicked out at eleven or so when we have to check out of the hotel, so I'll be walking all around the city while I wait for the programmer mafia to release my manfriend from his convention. The only place I MUST go (upon threat of death, should I fail) is Powell's Books. I'm also in the market for a new pair of pants (excitement!) and maybe a cool piece of jewelry as a souvenir. Praying for another sunny, cool day like this one. After that it's back to cougar country for a couple more days.

Okay, room's probably clean now. Back to the writing trenches.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mid-coffee ramblings

Forgive me, my coffee's only half-drunk and I'm not fully awake yet. No clue what I'm about to blather at you. Mmmm, coffee. Cream, no sugar. Pale and bitter like I like my men.

Did we all solve the Sunday Puzzle yet? It's hard to know if you've got the best answer with this week's challenge. The longest word I've come up with so far is DETECTED. Not bad, but I suspect the real answer's more impressive.

Today on vacation I'm heading up to Portland, Oregon for a few days. While my manfriend attends a nerd conference I'll be set loose in the city, hopefully to get a bunch of writing done. My evil conjoined erotica-writing twin is hoping to finish her WIP while we're in its characters' natural habitat. That'll mean about 4,000 words a day, normally a tall order for me, but doable given that it'll be my sole focus this week.

On a typical working day, if I'm not consumed by intensive edits or revisions, I try to write between 1,000 and 3,000 words. During a focused writing jag, it takes me about an hour to write a thousand words. That's an hour where I'm in the zone, and the temptation to check my e-mail or Twitter is nil. I love those hours. Often when I have a deadline I want to hit, the starry-eyed optimist in me thinks, "Okay, thousand words an hour, I'll just write for five hours today and hey, there's 5K!" Right. Five hours may be a short day for shift worker, but five hours of pure, speedy writing is like five hours of sprinting. Exhausting, grueling, physically impossible. But five or six hours of semi-focused writing—jags interspersed with lunch, coffee breaks, the day's expected distractions—can equal a very healthy 3,000 words by the end of the day.

I heard once that our brains get "flipped" halfway through the day—between two and four p.m.—our minds going from analytical and focused to emotional and reactionary. Sorry, can't remember the chemistry or anthropology behind that shift. But it explains why I used to lose the will to live around three every afternoon when I worked in an office. And it still happens to me now, regardless of what I've gotten done. I can only count on writing between 7:30 and 2, really. Before that, I'm asleep or running or showering, after that, my brain's Jell-O, because writing is truly an exhausting activity. So I switch tracks in the mid-afternoon and do less creative tasks, like website updates, simple edits, and dicking around on Twitter.

Hmmm… Is there anything less enthralling than hearing about somebody's writing routine? Well, maybe hearing about their diets. Can I just say I've managed to gain four pounds in the past week? Inexplicable…oh wait, no, it must be the extraordinary amounts of food I've been eating on vacation. Mystery solved!

Okay, I'm off to get a little writing done before it's time to head up to Portland for the official kick-off of my week of [fingers crossed] intensive and distraction-free writing. To my fellow Yanks, enjoy your Labor Days.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist 
extraordinaire, Will Shortz 
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon if you want a chance to play on the air).

Without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

From Eric Iverson of Eagan, Minn.: What is the longest common word in which all the letters rhyme with E?

If you'd like to see the original puzzle posting, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer, click here. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Roadtrip report

Just got back from a two-day road trip with the manfriend last night. We drove down to Northern California to the redwoods and hiked around the unreasonable large foliage. I got some good ideas for a novella my evil conjoined erotica-writing twin is percolating, ooh'd and ahh'd over the massive trees, and didn't twist an ankle in my Chucks, contrary to my hiking boot elitist manfriend's prediction. The Smith River is crazy pretty—a fascinating shade of clear green-blue, with very gradually sloped banks comprised of smooth rocks, way different than the granite drop-offs and coarse sand I'm used to in New England. Also saw an interesting dark blue jay which I've yet to identify in the bird guide.

After the hike we headed to Crescent City, walked down a cement jetty we probably weren't supposed to, and I got to bag a few new bird sightings…though I haven't ID'd them with my Peterson's guide yet. One was definitely an oystercatcher of some kind—can't mistake that beak. It took off with a call that sounded a lot like a rape whistle…I must have looked ill-intentioned. Also saw some little cousins of my local coast's ruddy turnstones, or maybe purple sandpipers. Bigger than the sandpipers I'm used to though, with a dark purplish back and a pale belly. Down on the sand we saw a tiny gull-like bird, like if a plover and a seagull made fruitful love.

That night we stayed in Klamath at the ReQua Inn, a super neat historical hotel overlooking the river. No TVs in the rooms, very few outlets, but an awesome staff, amazing local food and wine, and a big old cozy lounge full of board games and books.

The next morning we did a quick hike down from the outlook near the inn then hit the road for some scenic driving. Twisty, rugged roads run along the mountains with a sea breeze like nature's AC—a godsend, given it was in the 90s there. I got my vacation wish and spotted not only one quail, but three! You would have thought there was a baby in the road, the way our car skidded to a halt for a better look. We then headed back into Oregon to Ashland, my manfriend's erstwhile stomping grounds, and stayed outside the city at his old professor's house. Well, farm. They keep goats, chickens, and pigs. They built their house and it's indescribably cool, so I won't even attempt to describe it. We had pork chops, chutney, corn, tomato salad and potatoes for dinner, every last bit of it (minus the vinegar) from the premises. Hot damn, best pork chop ever. The next morning we had veggie omelets and bacon, also 100% über-local. Oh and goat milk in my non-local coffee. My manfriend was an old hand at milking the goats, but I hadn't milked anything in a couple decades. I was a bit slow. But I was an ace at gathering eggs, even from beneath one grumpy chicken who refused to move as I rummaged around under her feathery butt.

After we left the farm we drove to Mount Ashland and enjoyed an excellent six-mile hike. Mount Shasta loomed in the hazy distance, all purple and majestic. Mount Ashland's trails are very nice, well worn and not nearly as craggy as I'm used to. Got a little bit too much sun, so my dreams of ditching my farmer's tan before the next time I have occasion to wear a sleeveless dress may fail.

After that we drove four hours back north for dinner with the assorted parents-in-law and their partners. Today should be nice and lazy, and I may even manage to bang out a couple thousand words on my work-in-progress. Hope everyone has a stellar start to their weekend. See you for the Sunday Puzzle tomorrow.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Martin Freeman

It's Thursday again? Time to find a new fella to highlight for Thrusty Thursday. Let's see… I like accents, tired eyes, men without too much swagger and flash…putting all that into the dreamboatometer…

Looks like today's dish is British actor Martin Freeman! He's probably best known for playing Tim in the original version of The Office. Sorry John Krasowhat'sit, but Martin will always be my favorite long-suffering salesman with the boss from hell and the coworker from…wherever Gareth is from.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Off to the Redwoods

Quick post. Granola has been nommed, coffee nearly drunk. Soon me and the manfriend are hitting the road to drive down to the tip of Northern California to see the redwoods and take a hike. I'm nearly as stoked about the drive as I am the world famous trees—I love long drives when I'm the passenger. It gives me lots of time to absorb new landscapes, listen to unexpected songs on the radio, and daydream about characters and scenes, and scenes and characters yet to solidify. Travel is like taking your mental snow globe and giving it a good shake, getting the sparkles all riled up. My evil conjoined erotica-writing twin wants to brainstorm about her next novella, but I want to ruminate more on the seedling of my next Blaze proposal. We'll see who wins! And the hike will be much appreciated by my body. A combination of rain and my own semi-irrational fear of the cougars has kept me from my daily runs…that, and it's vacation. But today should get the blood pumping and hopefully cancel out some of the excess wine and home-cooking from the last couple days. Enjoy your Wednesdays!