Archive | February 2013

Life and the Art of Living

That is one heck of a presumptuous title. Maybe I'll start here, then.

We worry too much.

Yup. That feels better.

We worry too much. What I seem to be working on right now is worrying less. I didn't realize how much concern I had over certain silly things until I started to take a look at it.

Here's some examples that may sound familiar to you. Will I ever get this organized? Will I get all these papers checked? Why do I keep having these stupid little medical things? What if they aren't stupid little medical things? Will someone like my new book, or will this effort be another wasted year? When am I going to find time to cook dinner?

You know, mostly paranoid, pathetic first world stuff. All of these questions are real concerns at some sort of level. It's very unlikely that I have heart trouble instead of heart burn, but you know, I think of Ferrett and how lucky he was to go to the doc when he did. I never waste any writing time, because publication would be a nice outcome, but it's not my sole goal. I only have the publishing thought when I get confused about status and what writing means to me. Work descends on me all the time. It's a fact. It's also job security. Completion is a myth from an earlier part of my life, and I can live with that ambiguity (God bless you, publishing industry, for teaching me about ambiguity.)

Many of the things I worry about are going to be there and there's no real reason to worry about them. What if I spin them? Behold, Pollyanna time! Here is a different way of looking at something.

Look, I've done this many cool things at work this year. Think of what will happen when we do . It'll be cool.

You know, your health problems aren't major, and you manage risk with diet and exercise. You see your doctor. You do the best you can.

You know that the new book is better, and you care about your writing improving. You were going to write anyway, and you're growing in your art. The point is to write, not to be published.

If you're tired, you can go out to eat in a healthy way. You also know that once you get into the groove, you enjoy cooking.

Look at what I did, right there. I re-framed all that negativity into positivity. I will grant you, this is not possible all the time. If Jay Lake wants to be down about dying of cancer, he doesn't deserve to be bright-sided. But with the minutia, I can do better, because all I'm doing is making my life harder to live if I don't. It's okay to be sad. But I'm sure I have very little to be sad, stressed, or worried about in reality.

And of course, now that I've laid this groundwork, let's talk about how this applies to one of the biggest areas of rejection in my life, my writing.

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TT Profile #12: Lauren C. Teffeau

New Mexican and YA writer Lauren C. Teffeau is our next interview. Lauren lives pretty close to the location of Taos Toolbox, and we all benefited from her help and expertise.

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Tamago: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Lauren: There was never an a-ha! moment where I just knew. Instead, I’d say there was a series of smaller moments that collected in my subconscious until writing became the only thing I wanted to do. And now that I’m in a position to do just that, I haven’t looked back.

Tamago: How would you describe your writing?

Lauren: I write primarily speculative fiction, with a preference for science fiction over fantasy (though I’ve done both). I also have a tendency to write younger protagonists, though not always. And usually my novel-length works have a bit of romance in addition to the other genre elements I’m exploring.

Tamago: How much research do you do for your work?

Lauren: It depends on the project. I have a background in social science, not hard science, so I often have to do research on whatever scientific topics I’m using in my stories. Graduate study and a brief stint in academia helped hone my research skills, so I’m very comfortable finding the information I need. It also helps that I love to learn—whether it’s seismology, how to kill a chicken, or carpet weaving techniques of the Ottoman Empire. I am still amazed at just how much there is to know in the world.

Tamago: What are you working on right now?

Lauren: Right now, I’m nearing the end of a draft of a young adult science fiction project with adventure and romance and terraforming and pirates. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Tamago: How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox?

Lauren: I applied to Taos Toolbox for a number of reasons, but primarily because I had reached a point in my writing journey where I wasn’t sure what came next. I’d been writing for a while, had a few modest short story sales, joined a critique group that I soon grew out of. I wanted to keep moving forward, and I hoped a workshop like Taos would help me do that. At the time I also didn’t have very many writer friends who wrote SF/F, and I wanted to change that.

Tamago: What advice would you give to someone attending their first writing workshop?

Lauren: Treat it as a professional endeavor. Be engaged with every aspect of the workshop. You’d be surprised by what you can learn just by listening to a critique of someone else’s work. I would also recommend you try to have a one-on-one conversation with each of your peers over the course of the workshop—these personal connections will serve you better than any lecture on how to punctuate dialogue ever could.

Tamago: What is your writing goal for 10 years down the line?

Lauren: I hope to be traditionally published. Everything else is gravy.

Tamago: Which writers do you feel your work is similar to?

Lauren: This is tough. I really don’t know. My writing style can vary quite a bit especially across my short stories, my novels less so. But I do try to write as sparely as possible. For me, simple efficiency in storytelling is more effective than beautifully written passages that have no movement. That said, beautiful writing and efficient writing don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and I try to incorporate both into my work.

Tamago: What is your dream project?

Lauren: Every novel I sit down to write is my dream project at the moment. I have two novels in the queue waiting to be written, one science fiction, one fantasy. The one has been in my head for a number of years now, but I found the world building too onerous to tackle when I first started writing. I hope I’m a braver and better writer now. The other was a happy result of a short story I wrote for an anthology call. And I’m looking forward to the time when I can expand it into a novel.

Tamago: Where can readers find more of your work?

Lauren: My story “Chicken Feet” from http://www.wilywriters.com/blog/ and my story “Daughters of Demeter” from Eternal Haunted Summer are both available online.

I blog about the writing life at The Blue Stocking Blog and you can find my full list of publications there as well.

Thanks so much for the interview, Cath!

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Delighted, Lauren. Keep writing us stories!

Ennead: The Second and Third Generation

Back to Egyptian Mythology. If my narrative were a movie, this part would be a montage, because unlike Ra, these deities pretty much serve the function that they serve, and they exist mostly to get the major players of the stories into existence. Without further adieu:

Shu: God of Air, or the space of the universe. His is an important, if not glamorous job.

Tefnut: Goddess of Moisture. Again, an important, if not glamorous job, and one that probably meant more to the people of Egypt than to you.

Shu and Tefnut are brother and sister. In incestuous mythological tradition, they give birth to another set of siblings, also brother and sister, and also ultimately lovers.

Nut: Goddess of the Sky. Well, okay, technically Nut is the sky.

Geb: God of the Earth. Again, Geb is the actual soil you walk on.

Nut was cast above Neb to stop their continual public displays of affection, and these two are the parents of Isis, Nephthys, Osiris, and Set.

In the Klarion stories, Nut gets her due as the mother of all these gods and goddesses. Next up, just because we can, it's Isis time.

Snow Day, Writing, and Workshop

Today we have an unexpected snow day. Yes, there was snow, so you may wonder why we are surprised. Many schools around us delayed for two hours, but both our schools just said no.

I can only think that it must have been worse in the city. Because out here things are kind of clean and melting off now. Karmically, that makes up for at least one of the days that they should have cancelled last year.

It is theoretical we could have another snow day Monday, as it looks like we are going to get some more Weather. I don't want it, but it could happen.

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But, never one to look a gift horse in the proverbial kisser, it is my plan to write at a feverish pitch for the rest of the day. After all, we got up at 4:30 am, and Bryon did all the scooping, while I did the indoor morning stuff. We thought we were going to have to drive in, you see. When it became apparent we weren't, we slept for a while, got up, and cleaned off the inch that had accumulated after the big snow removal. What I'm saying is that I don't have a lot planned for the day, and there's no reason not to sprint. After all, the comp essays can come with me in the car when we go to get our taxes done tomorrow. This? Not so much.

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And, with the kind assistance of Kirkwood, I will be attending Paradise Lost 3 in San Antonio April 11-14. Jay Lake was going to be there, and that was the icing on the cake.

Okay. Did I say I was writing?

Blue Zones Project: Take Five (or Goofy Takes a Break)

Oy. I am so bad at this one.

In my office, thanks to my sweetheart's Valentine's Day present, I have a print of Pete McKee's Goofy Takes a Break.

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In my imagination, I always think of Goofy as the hardest working guy at Disney World. He's everywhere, right? Warming up the crowd at Chef Mickey's, greeting people before the parade, cheering up little kids.

Sure, Mickey is also everywhere, but he's the star. I'm sure he gets paid substantially more coin than Goofy, and I'm sure that Goofy is sort of taken for granted. You know, Donald might be in the same boat, but he's pretty vocal about what he should and shouldn't get. Donald can look after himself. But Goofy? Well, since he loves his work so much anyway, they might take advantage of Goofy.

In this picture, we see Goofy taking one of those brief moments for himself. Just looking out the window with Goofy, whether he's on a train or in a cafe, or even in the staff break room at Epcot, I feel this sense of longing. Like Goofy, I do a lot and I don't stop myself often enough.

That's the point of the second of the Blue Zone Power Nine I need to discuss--relaxing. Every long-lived pocket of our society take time out to relax, whether it's prayer, or meditation, or taking a nap. Every day.

Myself, with the psychological baggage of defining myself by my accomplishments, and the cultural disadvantage of the Puritan work ethic, resist the relaxation part of the Power 9 with all the power my Type A self can muster.

And yet...that picture just makes me want to slow down and look at a window and be myself for its own sake. You know, maybe that picture shouldn't be in my office. Maybe it should be in a meditation room at home. Or maybe I need to be studying it when I eat lunch. Food for thought (get it?)

So, definitely one I have to work on--finding time to relax each day. BTW, I do tai chi two days a week, so I'm not a total loser in this regard. There is definite room for improvement.

The Writing Process and Cassie Alexander

Cassie Alexander is the writer of the UF Night-Shifted series, and a very prolific author. Here, she's kind enough to share her writing process with us.

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Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book. Can you describe it to us generally, or at least for one project?

Cassie: You know, even after fourteen books, I do it all pretty much the same. It works for me, so why change? I write novels in one looooong word document. I title it Title1, Title2 as my revisions reach significant points where I make big changes and I get scared I'm screwing things up, but the version I'm working on all stays in the same .docx until I reach the end.

The very last thing I do is put chapter breaks in. I think this works for me because it forces me, as I write, to make sure that each scene is punchy -- I don't think, 'oh, this is in the middle of a chapter so it doesn't matter'. And that doesn't allow me to do 'here's a time-killing word montage to get me from A-D'. I just get my characters there. And then when I do chapter breaks at the end, I find that they naturally go where the scenes end, or at the turning point in the scene, where the cliffhanger is happening, which I have a lot of because of the way the no-chapter-method forces me to write.

(The second to last thing I do is take out all my extra commas, which I won't be doing here, since I'm writing this very late at night. ;))

Tamago: Which part of writing--drafting, revising, critique from others--do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?

Cassie: I like the part where I actually know what's going on and I'm just writing it. That's the best. Revision -- once I know what's going on -- is a close second. The knowing what is going on is key ;).

Getting edits, from my reader Daniel or my editor, is like being freezingly cold and stepping into or out of a too hot tub. Every other page feels grand, where they've said nice things, and lord do I love that they both do that, but the ones in between are like a horror movie, I can barely peek through my fingers at the page. It's so important, and reallllly hard, to get into that zen, "This is what's best for the book, and thus, it must be done," state. I usually fake it until I get there for real, or until the edits are through.

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Taos Toolbox #11: David McAmis

David couldn't be reached for an interview, so I am leaving this spot for him.

I can tell you that David is an incredibly talented Australian entrepeneur, whose talents include not only writing, but also singing. David was our official social chair, and brought charm, urbanity and wit to our workshop.

David's latest venture is adopting several young children. I wish him and his partner the best of luck with parenthood.

Paradise Lost 3

You all remember that we had our first Paradise Icon last year, right? Well, a lot of the success of that event is owed to the fine folks down in San Antonio who put on Paradise Lost, which was the first of the continuing ed opportunities for Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox alums.

Paradise Lost this year features Mary Robinette Kowal, Lynn Thomas, and Stina Leicht as the lecturers, and it is a great opportunity to meet and critique with fellow writers. It combines the best of the writing retreat, the writing workshop, and a pro opportunity in a 3-day weekend, all for the low price of $299.99.

If that's not enough to get you interested, let me share some more exciting news. Jay Lake is coming this year. Originally, Jay had anticipated that he would be undergoing chemo, but unexpected twists in his cancer journey now allow for him to be there, so you would be getting his sage wisdom as well.

Sean Kelley, the man who runs the workshop, tells me there's room for five more writers. So, if you're a writer who has a story all ready to go, and you can get yourself set up to go by February 25th, this might be the jump start you're looking for. The hotel room rates are down this page, and you can see what a rocking town San Antonio is here.

Think about it. This year is a very rare opportunity. Four pro writers. Thirteen neo-pros. You should go.

This entry was posted on 2/15/2013, in General.

Ra

Caveat: I don't represent myself as a scholar in the area of Egyptian mythology. I'm merely a writer putting my graduate school research skills to good use.

The Egyptian gods are different than the pantheons of the Norse and Greek gods. Norse and Greek mythology tend to be about personalities and characters. Egyptian mythology has a tendency to be conceptual. This is one of the reasons that Egyptian gods morph easily into other aspects. Some also assume it captures their ability to change and meld into animal forms.

Another reason that Egyptian mythology lacks a through narrative is because it is hypothesized that the Egyptian stories are a blend of several regional theological structures. This seems feasible, given a variety of archaeological findings.

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Ra is considered to be one of the oldest Egyptian gods. In some versions of the creation myth, he is the boy that creates the universe. In other stories he is the direct descendant of the entity that does so. Ra is chief among the gods because of this. He is the ancestor of a core group of Egyptian gods called the Ennead, consisting of Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, and Isis, Nepthys, Osiris and Set.

Besides creating the universe, Ra is considered the god of the sun (in both of his incarnations blended with other gods as Amun-Ra and Re-Horakhty). A couple of stories about Ra will be discussed in entries on Isis and Sekhmet.

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As I am working on the first Klarkon Book The Poison in thy Flesh, Ra will be the first familiar/demon that readers will encounter. His familiar incarnation will be a falcon. With that in mind, I have made an appointment to visit my college's raptor center next Wednesday, and I will also be talking to members of the Iowa Falconer's Association. Lots to learn.

This entry was posted on 2/13/2013, in General.

Blue Zones: Purpose

A request for a full manuscript today makes me happy. I have had many requests for partials, but historically this is my first request for a full, as Hulk Hercules was not written when I received the contract for it. This is not a big deal to anyone but the Writer Tamago. But you know, experience joy as it comes and all that.

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You might remember from last week that as part of our wellness program at work, one of the ways we can earn points is to take the Blue Zone pledge and try to change our lifestyles to more healthy lifestyles. I thought that it might be interesting to reflect on some of the changes that are suggested by the Power 9, those 9 traits that are the same from those areas of longevity from all over the world. Because I don't have to go in order, I thought I would start by talking about number 2, purpose.

Let me quote that sucker for you: The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy

This seems to be a very important idea. I could quote all sorts of cliches about work being fun, or enjoying life, but I will spare you. In my own case, I find that teaching gives me a sense of giving back, so I wouldn't want to give that up. I also find that I have to create, and art is an important part of life, whether I'm working on a fabric project, music, or writing. Creating makes me feel like I am closer to the divine.

Many people may not have a good sense of purpose. I am a lucky person--I have a job that I love and the ability to make art, so I feel like my life is aligned with my sense of purpose. How do you discover your purpose? If you can't work in the zone that makes you feel purposeful, in what other ways do you find your purpose? What if nothing in your current life makes you happy?

A good place to start is the Blue Zone site. There are quizzes you can take, books you can read. These things can lead to other explorations. I'm not a trained counselor, but sometimes I wonder if we would find more purpose if we were less isolated, or less stressed. Or even drank more. And, coincidentally, all those things are more Power 9 strategies.

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Next time, I'll skip the self-help groove. I promised you some research, and I think I will begin talking to you about Egyptian gods. Be there or be square (as in a pyramid base.)