Wednesday, June 29, 2016

So close I can taste it

The cat room transition is almost complete. Yesterday I painted baseboards, then once they were thoroughly painted, I nailed ’em up. The only thing left is doing the final cut of the carpet and installing the transitions.

Oh, and everything else we can think of.

This morning, Branden suggested maybe sealing around the bottom of the baseboards with silicone. Normally, of course, that would be ludicrous, but since this is a room in which kittens are being potty-trained, and we installed vinyl flooring exactly because we wanted a non-absorptive surface: making it impossible for… undesirable substances… to get under the baseboards and subsequently under the floor“boards” is probably a good idea.

Oh, and Branden wants a new bookshelf. Oh, and I want to make a bookshelf cause I’m sorta over the $35 Target bookshelf lifestyle. So. You know. This project will be over never ever.

I want to have a bookshelf whose bottom shelf is actually a kitten habitat. A bed, a scratching surface, an agility playground… I would love that.

I really want to get the endless crap that is currently in our office, hallway, and bedroom back into the cat room where it belongs. On the other hand, why not do all these projects? Sounds fun to me. I haven’t had so much energy in a really, really long time. I’ve been super productive this whole week, and efficient, and organized. I almost feel like a real human being! I want to keep up the tidal wave of awesome, and why shouldn’t I? Maybe my real calling is craftsmanship.

We are coming up on the MuckFest so dang fast, now. Please consider donating to my team! Every dollar helps get us one step closer to a world free of MS. Plus, you’re helping me earn a warm shower on the day of the event. You don’t want me to freeze my fingers off, do you? I didn’t think so.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Home Improvement

It’s summertime, and I’ve got the bug.

Last winter, a picket fell off our fence. The wood was too rotten to hold nails anymore. Branden and I couldn’t adult our way through it at the time, so we just let the picket lie on the ground near the fence, whose gate was no longer secured and was now swaying in the breeze. Until, that is, our neighbor came over and screwed the picket back onto the fence, presumably because he was ashamed to be associated with such a pathetic structure so near his property.

After that, Branden and I realized that we couldn’t ignore it; we actually had a responsibility to our neighbors to keep the fence to at least the bare minimum of presentability.

But… it was also winter. So we resolved to deal with it once the weather improved.

Winter was extremely weird this year. We had winter-storm-warning-level snow storms all the way through May, then all of a sudden it was in the 80s (if not higher) every day. So, spring sorta rushed by, and then it was summer, and I said—Now! It must be now! before it gets more hot, before all the rest of the pickets fall off. We must take care of it!

Luckily, the pressure-treated posts and cross-bars of the fence are still in relatively good condition. (Not perfect, but they’ll last another five years, easy.) So we decided to do a 75%-assed job and only replace the pickets. My family all flash-mobbed my house over a weekend and got the pickets put up, lickety-split. Branden and I painted the whole arrangement with linseed oil over the remainder of that weekend and the following weekend, and I’m so proud of the result. It looks great.

But it may have created a monster.

After that, Branden and I agreed that it would be way smarter if our cat room had some kind of hard floor, instead of the carpet that was in there at the time. We were trying to keep it “clean” by putting down painting drop cloths when we had kittens, but here, “clean” is a comparative term. It was way, way too much trouble. So we agreed to lay down a floating vinyl floor… ourselves.

Well, we tackled that project this last weekend. I can’t believe how much we got done. We pried off the baseboards. We pulled up the carpet, carpet pad, tack strips, staples, the whole shebang. We bought paint and painted the room. We bought new baseboards. And finally, we laid down the floor. (Check out the kitten blog below for more pictures.)

We still have to put the light switch and outlet faceplates back on. We still have to put down transitions between the carpet and the vinyl. We still have to put up the baseboards. And, of course, we still have to move everything back into the room. But I am so happy with everything, so far. It looks so great, and I can’t wait for it to be done!

This may or may not be obvious to you, but I haven’t been writing much recently. I’m making myself be okay with that. I want to pursue other creative endeavors for the moment, and as long as I’m not being a human slug, I think that’s probably okay. Plus, once Becky’s all moved in, we will surely resume our weekly writing dates, which will get my writing back on track.

Thanks for hanging in there, friends and fans! Until Wednesday!

Friday, June 24, 2016


Recently, I decided that I am interested in being an editor. Possibly professionally, since it’s something I can do from home. I read a ton anyway, and I really do love giving critique and feedback, so I figured, why not give it a try? I posted on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook that I was interested in being a workshopper, thinking it’d probably be a cold day in hell when someone decided to take me up on it.

Much to my shock and delight, though, someone did contact me yesterday. I’m so super excited about this, guys. I can’t even.

I critiqued Becky’s novel, New Year’s Revolution, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. I let my friend Rachel, who is a professional editor, read the editor’s letter I sent to Becky. She told me that I had good instincts for what improvements could be made, but that my delivery needed work. I’m excited to work on those things.

For example, I always approach a perceived problem with how to fix it. As an editor, I need to quash that impulse. It’s up to the writer to fix it, if they even choose to. So, that requires me to think more deeply about the problem itself. In order to present the issue to the writer, I’m going to need to really put my finger on what the specific problem is, and why it’s a problem. Sometimes even what leaving it unchanged could mean. But not how to change it.

I also feel like I need to work on the snark. I always have an impulse to snark on things that bug me, like the overuse of a word, or too many rhetorical questions. That might be okay when it’s your friend’s writing and they can intuit your tone of voice, but when it’s someone who is (basically) a professional colleague, I need to put a lid on it. This is just another way of saying I need to be able to put my finger right on the problem that I’m perceiving, not to diminish or trivialize it (or for that matter, the author) by making fun of it.

Of course, my first critique is going to be unfiltered Elly. I just need to get comfortable with the idea of a rough draft of feedback itself. To go back through and make world-safe my very internal monologue before releasing it upon an unsuspecting vic… ahem, public.

Until Monday!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Last weekend was awesome. Branden's boss gave everyone Friday off, and at the end of Friday I was sure that it was Saturday—not because of losing track of days, but because it seemed like we'd spent two days doing… whatever. I don't actually remember, specifically, but I remember feeling awesome about it.

Saturday was equally awesome. We got shit done and had some fun and wooo! we were killing this weekend! It almost felt like a vacation. The only bad thing was that, sometime in the evening on Saturday, Branden started having some pain in his stomach; just a little discomfort, no big deal.

But in the morning on Sunday, the pain was still there. It had caused him discomfort throughout the night. We decided he should probably go to the doctor.

It being Sunday, our only real option was Urgent Care if we didn't want to go straight to the ER (and we didn't). Our desires were irrelevant! The urgent care people decided it was either a kidney stone or appendicitis, and either way they weren't equipped to treat it. They sent us to the emergency room.

There is an emergency room just down the street from us. I believe it's fairly new—they still have a banner on the building saying “24-Hour ER Now Open”. I had to go there on Wednesday night at 11pm, and it was completely empty, which is how I knew I'd taken an ambulance straight into… the Twilight Zone (I didn't take an ambulance. I just couldn't think of anything else that would be appropriately pithy). I chalked it up to luck and good timing, but I wasn't looking forward to this visit. I'm familiar with the zoo of human misery that is most emergency rooms; the uncomfortable chairs, the lack of electrical outlets, the lack of food, and the interminable, interminable waiting. But when we walked into the ER, it was empty, again. I wonder if Westminster just doesn't know it's there? So bizarre. But I'll take it!

Branden saw the same doctor I'd seen on Wednesday night (also Twilight Zone-y), had some scans done, donated more bodily fluids, and was quickly diagnosed—his appendix was enlarged by 14mm, which is considerable for such a shrimpy limp-balloon of an “organ.” But apparently the ER was not part of a larger, more general hospital, and we had to go to yet another campus for the procedure.

The nurses got the transfer all set up so that the hospital would be expecting us, and we went home and packed a bag. We knew what to expect; we were old-hat at this after my 2009 appendectomy. We got to the hospital at just about noon.

It was still Sunday (what?!) and there was only one surgical team on staff, and they were in camera when we arrived, so they got us all set up in Branden's room for the wait. I'd let Carlie know that we were at a hospital in her neck of the woods, so she, Dan and their brood Eleanor and Wes came and kept us company; Fletcher showed up shortly before they took Branden down for surgery at 3.

At 3 they started him on antibiotics, which the nurse had said they wanted to get started ½ hour before the procedure, so I anticipated that the surgery wouldn't start till 3:30. My parents finally arrived and the Branden Fan Club hung out in the surgery waiting room for… approximately three years.

All things considered, it went much better than it had any right to. There were no meltdowns, either on the part of myself or the children. The Amazing Indestructible Fletcher chased Eleanor around almost the entire time (and I mean chased. Running, running, running). My dad went on a long and fruitless mission to find the TV remote so he could watch golf. (He and my mom had already had a long, exhausting and somewhat frustrating Father's Day, and this was just helping make it more awesome. I'm sure after the fact it felt like the lamest nightmare ever.) Eventually they went to a grocery store for the universal cure for everything: love-food (in this case, smoothie supplies) and were still on that errand when Branden woke up from anesthesia and we all moved back up to the room.

Well, the surgery was successful and Branden did great. Everyone kept telling him how good he looked, even though to me he looked decidedly yellow. Carlie, Dan & co went home not too much later. My parents dropped off their booty and gave Branden some love, then they, too, went home, and it was the Three Musketeers (Branden, Fletcher and myself) until they finally discharged Branden at 9pm. (Which, hooray! I definitely thought that we were going to have to stay the night.) Then Fletch went home and Branden and I had to go to the only 24-hour pharmacy in the area to get Branden's pain pills (he had to be there for controlled substance scrip), then the grocery store because the birthday boy (did I mention that?) wanted ice cream. Then we were able to go home.

Tl;dr: Our awesome weekend got longer! B's been home since then, recovering diligently. He'll probably head back to work tomorrow, but these three extra days have been so great. And it felt like an adventure in grown-up-ness. Now I just get to look forward to the bill. (Yay insurance!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Write what you know?

So, the conventional wisdom has long been to “write what you know.” Recently I’ve seen a lot of seemingly embittered writers decrying this advice. “If we don’t get outside the realm of what we already know, how will we truly exercise our imaginations?” I, personally, think that the advice “write what you know” has evolved and changed since its inception.

It is perhaps even true that when those words were first spoken, the person giving the advice truly meant, “your experiences are valuable and interesting and I want to read about them.” In current times, though, I think the far more relevant interpretation of this advice is, “know what you write.” A generation ago, stereotypes and cultural appropriation and other forms of ignorant writing were acceptable. Now, if you’re going to have a Japanese-coded culture in your novel about dragons, you’d better know a lot more about Japanese culture than what you learned from Seven Samurai and anime.

In other words, there are things that aren’t yours to take and use. If you are going to incorporate these things into your writing, do so respectfully and knowledgeably.

If you don’t already know the thing you want to write about, learn about it. Don’t just assume you know all there is to know and go prancing off into the sunset, pen grasped in sweaty fingers and cheeks shining. We all have a responsibility in this fraught time to be sensitive and well-informed, and it’s no one’s responsibility to teach you things—you have to go out and self-educate.

I hope that it’s clear that I’m talking about writing that is meant to be read by people other than yourself. Write whatever you want if you’re keeping it on your own computer, of course.

Write on, word nerds!

Monday, June 13, 2016

And after doing all that research, too…

Guys, I have come to a hard realization. You may want to sit down.

My novel… isn’t a hardboiled detective novel.

You’ve been with me through my many drafts, versions, and imaginings of my novel. You’ve watched me do endless research. You’ve seen me through the frustration of outlining and writer’s block and plot holes. So it’s probably just as hard on you as it is on me to make this difficult change of heart.

It’s okay guys. I promise. Let me tell you why.

One of the premises of hardboiled fiction is: the story is about the case, not the detective. The detective takes it in, lets it get personal, makes judgement calls and moral calls and such, but the case is the thing. In my novel, the case ends up being very personal to Cassidy. The story is about her, because the case is about her, and the two cannot be split.

After I read all my research material into hardboiled fiction, I read a book series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s about a wizard detective in modern-day Chicago. I loved this series—it managed to capture everything I loved about the hardboiled genre and eschew everything I didn’t love, and it made me realize that I love the trappings of hardboiled mystery. The idioms, the sardonic tone, the mean streets and the almost-corrupted yet incorruptible protagonist. But it also was very much about the main character. He sees everything through the filter of his own biases, which is true for hardboiled fiction as well, except that in the Dresden Files, his biases are important to the story—to the case, to the way he ends up solving the mystery and resolving the conflicts.

I realized that that was what I wanted out of my book. I wrote a mystery about a character, then I selected a genre that divorces the main character from the mystery—smart going, Elly. But giving up the official genre of hardboiled doesn’t mean I can’t rub right up against it, try on its shoes and makeup and steal its change from its bedside table.

Stressing about genre is probably the least productive thing you can do when you’re trying to give birth to an idea, but knowing your genre can determine the direction you go when you’re writing, so… it’s a conundrum. I’m glad I got this figured out. At this point, pointing it out doesn’t really change much, but it feels good to do so.

Friday, June 10, 2016


There is much banter in the writing industry about the terms “pantser” and “plotter.” I believe they were coined by the NaNoWriMo community. To be a “pantser” is the write by the seat of your pants, to have no set route and to go where the story takes you. To be a “plotter” is to have a comprehensive outline, to know where you’re going and how you’re getting there before you even start writing.

I’ve tried it both ways. NaNo 2014 I was a pantser. I basically had a character idea and some settings ideas and I went from there. It was the seed to my novel, and I’m super glad I just did it. But to be totally frank, the result was… unsatisfying, to be diplomatic about it. For my second and third drafts, I was (/tried to be) a plotter. Even though I loathed writing outlines and the process was disheartening and soul-sucking compared to just writing narrative, I was sure that the reason my first draft had failed was because I didn’t know where I was going when I started.

Well, my second draft, while being much better than my first, was still far off the mark of what I want to eventually end up with. I don’t believe that it benefitted from an outline as much as I had learned a lot from the first try, but after I finished it, I didn’t have that perspective. From where I was standing, it looked like I had a second draft that was much better than my first and it had had an outline: ad hoc, ergo propter hoc. But I was several chapters into my third draft when I realized that I was going at my story from completely the wrong angle.

And I realized that writing the outline had contributed to cementing this wrong angle in my head.

Not to mention that starting over after writing a comprehensive outline was… well suffice to say that I was more ready to give up writing forever than to write another comprehensive outline. More than that, though, I wasn’t sure yet where the story was going to go. I kept trying to work on an outline and getting stuck on things that I couldn’t predict. And I was getting very frustrated with not writing narrative—the only fun part of writing. (Hashtag my own opinion kthxbai.) So I decided to start writing and see if it went anywhere.

The beginning I wrote was both strong and terrible: strong because I think I started in the correct place, narratively, and terrible because it was disjointed and semi-coherent. That was partially because I was in a semi-panic while writing it and as a result was having terrible aphasia. I kept not being able to find words, so instead using the much more formal words for things than my narrative voice justified. But I said fuckit and kept writing, because it felt like running away from a predator: didn’t matter if I tripped, I fucking got away.

As I write more, my voice comes more easily; the sequence of events happens more naturally; and as ideas come to me I feel very free to incorporate them if I want to—no restrictive outline to stick to like glue. As a result I really feel like this draft is where I’ve been wanting to get to all along. I still feel like it is almost certainly not the final draft. Much polish and sanding and restoration will be needed once I’ve finished writing it. But I may have finally found the thing that I won’t have to rewrite from the ground up.

Anyway. I recently read a term that I had previously not heard of: “plantser.” This is a hybrid planner-pantser. For me, that means I know the starting point, I know the themes, I have a cast of characters (some of which may not end up making appearances), I know the twist, and I know what Cassidy needs to do to “win”—but I don’t know the exact journey she takes to get there, and to be honest, I don’t know if she wins or not, yet.

So, put me in the plantser camp, because I need a little structure—a little, but not too much.

Word count: 10,916 (⪤)