As 2013 pulls out of the station and 2014 pulls in, I find myself getting ready to go back to work on Thursday, and all that entails. I’ve had a good break. Bryon and I have spent some quality time together, and we’ve actually done some home maintenance. For example, we actually have some place to hang up coats and put our gloves when we come in the door! I bought a curio cabinet for the (soon to be) six Couture de Force Disney figurines I received for Christmas! New art is up!

Next weekend, the excitement really begins, as I sort through old magazines and cardboard boxes in the dining room. Maybe a new table cloth and curtains? My resolution to de-junkify and spiff up my home is well underway.


If such domesticity bores you stiff, one can hardly blame you. I begin my writing every day regimen tomorrow, which is much like skin care and exercise–it’s a good routine to get into. I do all three with no agenda, other than to do them and enjoy them, and to keep myself healthy physically and mentally. I intend to have one more appointment with David to follow through that I kept myself reasonably healthy and well-tuned during the holidays. (Nope, haven’t stopped the weight loss posts. One is coming soon.) Another reason that I intended to follow up with David is to successfully report to him that I resigned from the Mindbridge Board and the Icon treasury.

I admit to great trepidation. I did this with the best of reasons–I’m trying to balance more demands at my job with writing time. I’m still weighing whether I want to go back to regular teaching, but I will tell you this–the Mindbridge resignation has been a real eye-opener.

Continue reading “Ego”

Alpha Completed

That’s the last rewrite of Alpha. Bryon, my faithful husband and reader, will take a last look at it to make sure I have no continuity glitches, or stupidity, and I myself will comb through the Word version one more time tomorrow for proofreading and the same thing.

That means we did, lessee….five rewrites and one proof through.

So, that puts something new on the market. Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends still has a little bit of circulating to do, as does O-Taga-San, and Alpha will be three things running around on submission.


What’s Catherine’s next goal? I’m glad you asked! It’s to have the first draft of A Lasting Storm completed by the end of January. I really want to have this book circulating in the second half of 2014.

Happy Holidays!

Hi guys!

I’m just back from taking the Christmas detour. Sunday we were snowed up, and I made a great deal of progress on Alpha. I have the general new gist, and I figure one more draft for straightening that out, and one more after that for proofing, and then that guys done. Give me a couple of days…

…which I haven’t had quite yet. Monday and Tuesday were Christmas whirlwinds: dinner with two sets of friends on Monday, and dinner with Bryon’s mom, a dinner out, and a faraway Church service on Tuesday. Yesterday, we did presents and a dinner of our own, and today we went out for massages.

So…the holidays so far? Good…ish. Bryon and I had a great dinner yesterday. I have received some gorgeous collectible figurines for Christmas from Disney and DC, and some great Spy Fi autograph photos. Bryon made out pretty well, except that once again, the region free online player we ordered for him just didn’t work. So, we’re sending that bad boy back. Two times fooled, shame on us. So the current plan will be to buy a not region free Blue Ray, and investigate purchasing a dedicated PAL player as well. Sony, you have failed us.

Well…tonight I will be exercising. With the travel and the shock of vacation, it’s been a slouchy few days. The weigh loss hasn’t suffered, but still, don’t want to get out of the habit.

I’ll be back soon.


What I’m Re(writing) Now: Alpha

I will do a book post about the current novel, after I do another Venice post, after I do a Scotland post. Or I’ll do whatever I want. But what am I writing RIGHT NOW? Yes, okay, this entry. But you know, fiction-wise?

I would like to get something out the door for next year, so I have returned briefly to the novella formerly known as The Were-humans. I’ve read through notes from two workshops, one contest, and some feedback from some careful readers, I have a steady compass on where I’d like the story to go, and I’m using the comments that resonate with me. I also had a conversation with the husband in the car the other day that should help me solve my problems with the ending.

The new title for the novella is Alpha. Many readers suggest that Alpha should be a short story, others a novel, but for my purposes, I want it to be a novella. I believe that it does need to lengthen, and it should. I can see ways in which I can get another 5-10K in there. The largest change is going to be our main character Alice’s pro-activity. Previous endings have found Alice unbelievably Rambo and unbelievably a victim. This new approach helps make sense of Alice’s growth in the situation, and is a much more organic outgrowth of the events that happen in the story.

For those of you not familiar with the piece, Oscar Springs is based on the town where I grew up. That’s why Oscar Springs has gotten a little too descriptive in the initial drafts. I’ll really be toning up what’s necessary to move the story forward, and, alas, cutting some beautiful writing. (By the way, the real writing strength I have is beautiful prose. It can often fool people into thinking there is more plot and character there, and I’m working on making sure there is something behind those poetic turns.) The other inspiration for the piece is, strangely enough, Pinnochio. There are mutations in my story like those kids being turned into donkeys in the film. Scary stuff, man.

Also, I need to be thinking about some of those other characters’ interactions with Alice and what they’re doing when they aren’t front and center, because some of that will intersect with Alice’s activities. I also have to commit to some ideas. As a drafter, I’m a muddy writer, and I sometimes won’t commit to ideas or make definite decisions until the very end of my drafting process. Now, I have a pretty clear idea what the town knows about the situation, what it doesn’t, where and when the supernatural bits should happen, and where the showdown will take place.

Feeling pretty good about that. My goal is to see to this polish and triage as soon as I can and send it off to its first locale. After that, it’s back to the Klarion novel, so I can start seeing how the second act falls out from the first. I still want the first draft of that done by the end of January, and I want it circulating by the end of June.


In other news, there are 4 movies coming out over the holidays, for good or ill, that I want to see: Saving Mr. Banks, Walking with Dinosaurs, 47 Ronin, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. That’s a lot of holiday movies still coming out for us. I think there’s a lot of popcorn in Bryon and my future. I know some of those are of dubious quality. Don’t judge me.

Dear 2014

Dear 2014:

How are you? Are you getting ready to spring on us in all your winter glory in a couple of weeks? Sorry about not having the party this year. I’m just not able to stay up as late as I used to be, and I appreciate being able to go to sleep, and greet you in the morning when I’m a little more awake.

So, this year, I’m gonna set some goals. And they might not be the usual goals, but some of them are past due. Like…you know all those ratty dish towels I have? The scummy trash can, the junk in the garage, the dusty collections of DVDs, and stuff like that? I’m going to have a modest goal of trying to sort out one or two of these things during each month of 2014. Like…I’ve already bought new silverware, because I’m tired of only having 5 mismatched forks. Next, I should sort out the old silverware and get it off to a donation sight. Stuff like that.

I know, I know. It sounds like a goal that I’ve borrowed from Oprah magazine. But really, life’s too short to be using junk when you’re almost 50, and I’m just tired of clutter and hidden dirt.


It looks like I am going to finish this year lighter than last year. Who knew? For whatever reason, be it thyroid meds, paying more attention to what I’m eating, getting more exercise, meditating, being happier, relaxing more, I am dropping weight. It would suit me to finish the year in the 205-210 zone. But more important for you, 2014, is that I keep doing it. Given the rate that I am losing weight, if I continue the trend of losing about 4-5 pounds a month, that means that by this time next year, I’ll be around 48-60 pounds lighter, and that would mean I’d be 150-160. That would be almost my goal weight. So, let’s see how that works out, okay? It would be nice to move toward retirement with health at the forefront.


I know you can’t help me with the agent search. Many years I’ve secretly hoped that the next year would be the year I break through. I’m treading the right kind of water. I’m doing the work and sending things out, but 2013 seems to have hit me hard with two factors regarding writing: 1. The arbitrary nature of the luck involved and 2. I got nothing to prove to anyone except myself, and I’ve proven that. If I want to keep working on improving my anxiety and stress, I gotta take it off myself. So, 2014, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to write stories that please me. I’m going to send them out. I’m not going anywhere beyond that because the future is not yet written. I intend to keep writing what interests me and what I write. Same as usual, except without the hidden internal stress-driven agenda. And I will write every day. The Jim Hines (TM) way. Like working out a lot, writing every day will be good for my psyche. I think I will focus on only 10 hours a week to begin next year. If I want more, I know how to make that happen.


2014, it should come as no surprise to you that I intend to keep the love of my life. I am so happy here, and I want you to help me make him happy. So, if you could make sure good things come his way, so it is easy for him, I would appreciate that.


The most important thing in 2014 is my health. Of course, we’ve talked about weight loss, but the stress and how it affects me is what I want to work through most. So, most of all, I want you to help me cultivate the word “No.” I want to cut back to have more time to relax and be myself. Since work is ramping up, I will have to say no to some of the extra activities I do. My priorities are clear: my job, which will remain at work; the love of my life, because he improves the quality of my life; and finally, my art, because that’s how I want to spend my spare time. I don’t intend to not see friends or become a hermit, but I do intend to take better care of my self and my own desires.

I think we’ll have a good year, because frankly, there have been some changes. Some things that seemed awfully important before no longer do, and vice versa. I’m tired of words like “hungry” and “career driven.” I’m interested in words like balance, happiness, self-satisfaction, and peace. So I suspect I will lose some hungry artist friends and pick up some that are perhaps motivated in different ways. I’m down.


I’ll be seeing you, January 2nd. Let me know if there’s anything you need before you get here.


Getting into Shape: End of Week 8

Um…so WTF, Week 8?

Let me explain that. A stressful early week caused me to plan poorly and use many of my flex points in my Weight Watchers pool unwisely. I kept track of exercise and overall input, and I was like a full day off in my points for the week. In short, I ate last week’s 7 days like they were 8 days.

I’m also on steroids this week, and have had to eat a couple of snacks to keep the pills from affecting me. Steroids usually make me gain weight. So, I am mystified.

I didn’t let these problems go unchecked. I exercise for 42 points, mostly stepping while watching television, but also some snow scooping and some stretching. I kept track of all the food. And the only thing I can figure? Well, I’m exercising a lot more than I was, and even though I indulged during this week, I would guess that since I’m not eating pretty much whatever I want, (and I did by ignoring some of what I ate, or lying to myself about it being okay) at an over 200 pounds weight one loses weight if one exercises more and eats less sweets, even if one is not religious about the Weight Watchers plan.

I just usually don’t drop a huge chunk like this in one week. Given that I didn’t relax or meditate, and I ramped up my stress on food, well, I can’t explain it. I’m not knocking it, but I can’t explain this kind of loss.

Beginning Wii Weight: 223.8 (My heaviest ever after this summer.)
Wii Weight on 12-17-13: 209.7
Total: 14.1 pounds LOST

Notes: I expected to gain this morning. I weighed in late Sunday and was 211.9, and thought that was fake. Yesterday I scooped snow and didn’t have time to weigh in. Today’s weight at 5 am knocked me flat. That means I lost 4.1 pounds this week. Unexpected and a bit on the unsafe side. I did weigh myself upstairs to see if the machine was broken, and no, it looks like that too. Ah well. If the trend continues, I’ll talk to my doctor. Right now I’ll just be grateful.

Weight Watchers on Initial Weigh In: 224
Weight Watchers on 12-17-13: 213.2
Total: 10.8 pounds LOST

Notes: That means I lost 3.2 on their scale. Pam, the leader, told me that this can happen if you’re following the plan. Which I’m not exactly, but she told me not to worry. So, okay.

This brings me down to 30 points for my daily total, with the same old additional 49 pool for the week, and any exercise points I can earn. Also, I am a mere 0.4 pounds away from my 5 percent goal weight, which is awesome. That means I’ve lost 5 percent of my overall body weight. This should be a motivating factor over Christmas.


There will be no Weight Watchers meeting at work for the next two weeks, because I will not be at work for the next two weeks, but I will continue to monitor the Wii weight, and update you on my progress. This week I already know that I am eating out tonight (something quick before registration), Thursday (dinner with a friend at a nice Italian restaurant), and THREE potential time bombs this weekend (lunch and supper with Des Moines friends, lunch again next day with Bryon’s mom), so I am truly working hard on saving my points. Not like last week when I let the stress be my guide.

This afternoon when I get back from the meeting, there’d better be some stepping as well, although I get some free points for unloading and loading orientation all by myself. 🙂 I’m also buying some lower calorie snacks for the hols. There will be a lot of food around, but if I stick the candy in the freezer and limit myself to one a day IN THE FUTURE, that will minimize it. Christmas desserts? Just can’t have them at every meal until they’re gone. Etc, etc, etc.

Sounds good right now, yes? So, here we go.

A General History of Early Venice

It’s 568, and you’re living in Torcello. Bad news for you. The Lombards are coming out of Germany to take over your island. What do you do? You decide it’s a good idea to abscond to the local swamp and live on sticks.

That’s right. The founding of Venice was the action of refugees who moved away from invasion. Essentially, the matter of building the city was along the lines of St. Petersburg’s building: when something sinks, build on top of it. Eventually, it will stop sinking.

What makes Venice a unique city is that Venice has incorporated so much water into the actual design of the town. Rather than fight the water flow, they have used it to their advantage for such things as water conservation and sewage control. Canals are drained in Venice so that gunk and other unmentionables can be scooped out of them and taken away on barges. The beautiful waters of Venice are a bit murky underneath.

In my research about Venice, I have glossed over a great deal of the early material, because the section that I wanted to study was that of the 19th century. There are a couple of things that you need to know about the city. First of all, Venice and the rest of Italy were a series of city states, not unified, and that would make them particularly susceptible to attack from other European cities. Secondly, in spite of this, Venice was an aggressive, rich trading city, always on the attack, gaining artifacts and and protecting its own port with a strong navy. Venice was in the position of the conqueror for a great deal of the Renaissance.

The system of government was built largely around the economy and the nobility. Some families were better than others, but if you were successful, you could buy your way into the noble families. At the head of the ruling body into which these families had input was a doge, elected and/or appointed, depending on your viewpoint, through a series of arcane and unusual rules.

Venice continued along in this vein until roughly the 16th century.

Mind you, there’s a lot I’m not covering. Venice has serious Byzantine influence, trade with the east, the sheltering of a Pope during a time of turmoil in the Catholic church, many wars with many traders, and an entire soap opera with the reputed remains of St. Mark. But that’s not the time frame of Venice I needed to know about, so I didn’t go too deep.

However, next time, we’ll talk about Napoleon and the Austrians, and the unification of Italy.

Frozen, Thor: The Dark World, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Well, I’ve seen Frozen three times now. I’ve seen Thor: The Dark World Twice and I’ve seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug once. Let the reviews begin, underneath this spoiler-ific cut.

Continue reading “Frozen, Thor: The Dark World, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

Are You Still Writing? Or What?

Hey guys.

There is a list on here of things I mean to write about, and guess what? While I am still working, finals week is over, so I have a wee bit of breathing space. So I thought I would sort of talk less of lists and weight, and more about writing.

I haven’t been writing a lot lately. I put in some time each week, but I’ve been putting in so much at the day job, there hasn’t been a lot of umph to spare. Plus Icon and Disney. See my writing excuses. Since I’m no longer pretending to be a machine, I’m cool. That was a time in my life that I couldn’t write much, but as Kleon says, my whole life is a work of art. So neener, neener. Also, I have no deadlines or agents. Free irresponsibility! Rock on!

That said, I see December as a time to write. It is the 13th, and I just put the semester to bed. I have to do some things to prep for the next semester, but it’s not gonna be like it was. The Man (TM) and I have very little planned for the holiday, so there will be writing to be had.

And I have two goals. The first is to finally get the novella I started some time ago out the door. Easily done. It’s mostly tweeking. Some cutting and some additions, but not out of the scope of a few short days. Then, we continue working on the first Klarion novel. The first act I’ve spent a lot of time on, because everything falls out of that, but it would be my fondest wish to have the whole thing roughed by the end of January, and the project done by the end of June. And this I think is doable.


Next year, I am writing the Jim Hines’s way. Jim writes for fewer hours a week than I do, and he is more productive. So my plan is to take an hour and fifteen minutes out of my work day each day, sneak up to the quiet floor of the library, and hammer out words. I’m hoping that the continuity will mean I have shorter start up times each day. I also hope that this more disciplined approach will get me into an automatic approach to writing. Of course, that means I will only be writing at work for about six hours a week, and to keep up with my Gladstone goal, I hope to write for another six hours a week. That means I’ll have to find a little evening time and a little weekend time too.


And speaking of my Outliers 10,00 hours, I’m not quite done logging them for the year. I expect to be about 120 hours short of making my 624. Well, too much traveling this year, and not enough staying home and writing, I fear. The good news is that we’re filling the well with experiences that I hope help with the writing.


What’s out there right now? Just a couple of things.

O-Taga-San is with the Kaleidoscope anthology.
Whatever I re-title The Were-humans, it will be on its way to Paper Golem.
Abigail Rath Versus Blood Sucking Fiends is still at 5 agents, but I believe she has about reached the end of her door knocking, and will be put back on the work desk for a future time.

So. Feeling productive. If I could get A Lasting Storm out and about for next year and start on The Poison of thy Flesh, there would be no complaints here.

I also need to tease Manuel’s story out of the troll novel. It would be a good short piece to send somewhere. The troll novel just needs an overhaul, but that’ll stay in the queue until the right time.


Publish or not, I’m writing, and that’s the most important thing. The school paper is doing a feature on all of us Kirkwood writers (some 30 of us publish, write, or illustrate), so there’s that.

Happy writing to you all over the holidays. I hope you get loads done. No. Wait. That’s way too type A. How’s about: I hope you have a season of great joy? Yeah. That works.

Writer Tamago’s Top 12 Books for 2013

And…as with the movie list, the criteria is that I read the book for the first time in 2013, not that it was published in 2013, although some of them were. In no particular order of preference, then…

1. Goblin Secrets by Will Alexander. Will haunts the reader with this innocent story of childhood. His city is mystic and his use of folk lore is masterful.

2. Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold. I was introduced to this book for the first time in our SF book group, and Miles is amazing to watch. It’s like trying to catch a runaway train. The complicated plots and vivid characters make for exciting, clever storytelling.

3. The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney. One of the first historicals I’ve read in a long time that is NOT anachronistic. Solid writer, excellent characterization, and by God, frustrating but satisfying romance.

4. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Classic old fashioned science fiction meets Disney World. It works. It really does.

5. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Asks us to consider our entire lives as a work in progress, so we can free ourselves up to be more creative.

6. BPRD 1948 by Mike Mignola. The background of the Hellboy universe, with extra servings of Dr. Broom.

7. Courtney Crumrin Volume 3 Collected by Ted Naifeh. As long as there are Courtney Crumrin collections coming out, Naifeh will most likely make my list.

8. Machine by Jennifer Pelland. Why haven’t the major companies picked up Jennifer Pelland? She’s been nominated for big awards, and she wrote a novel like Machine. She is perhaps the most under-rated author in SF today, and that aggravates me. As to this book, it’s definitely for adults. I would call it an intense thriller of a book, with a horrific answer to the question of what is and isn’t alive.

9. My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jerry Schechter. What started with Walter Jon Williams at Taos Toolbox, continues in me through the good graces of Lou Anders, who presented about Schechter’s book at last year’s Convergence. This plotting mechanism really, really works for me, and I think my writing continues to improve because of it. Thanks to all 3 gentlemen.

10. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. The patron saint of working writers everywhere, Trollope is funny and farcical, yet heart touching and genuine. And what’s more, his writing still resounds as relevant among his fans. As soon as Bryon and I finish the Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster run, I will recommend that we read Trollope together, which means given the respective output of both authors, you may see another Trollope book lauded here in 2030.

11. Saga by Brian Vaughn. A Christmas present from my exquisite friend Lisa, I can’t say enough good things about this series, with its offbeat mercenaries, star crossed and strange lovers, and serious championship of the abused. My favorite bit from the most recent issue of the series was when Slave Girl, who is a tiny child who was sexually abused, but then rescued by The Will, that mercenary I mentioned, was telling The Will’s partner that she was dirty because of all the awful things she had been made to do. And Lying Cat, The Will’s partner, whose major ability is to tell an untruth, hissed out “Lying.” And she hugs him. And I went off to cry for half an hour.

So, you should read that.

12. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. From the blood of the same vein that Pelland opened to write Machine, I think, the main character is a mangy woman who can see how others die, and shows up to capitalize on it. And then, there’s this interesting journey with horrible men and good men and just too much drama. I ate it with a spoon, have read the sequel, and look forward to the next that’s coming out.


I’d love to hear about what books you might recommend.