Fly Specks

crystals (2) We’ve been having interesting weather this past week. It’s been unseasonably cold – we’ve had highs of -1°C, which is not normal for this time of year – but to make up for it, it’s been brilliantly sunny. The winds have whipped most of the leaves off the trees now, so the light falls through the bare branches, and the brightness is dazzling.

My house faces east, across a small valley, and my spot at the kitchen table looks out through the windows. So this time of year, when the sun comes up over the hills – around 8:30 AM – it hits me full in the face where I sit reading my emails and flipping through my Facebook page. It’s glorious.

But the last few days, it has also illuminated, in full splendour, the specks of fly shit on my kitchen window. That’s right – fly specks, all over the glass. With the amount of canning and food processing we do in the summer and into the fall, the kitchen is usually swarming with fruit flies throughout late August and September. (Important fact I learned in the FoodSafe class I took recently: one of the signs of a fly infestation in the kitchen is that there are a lot of flies. Yup. Aren’t you glad I shared that with you? Now you don’t have to take the class.) And when there’s a lot of fruit flies, they crawl all over the windows. And while they do so, they do – their business. Defecate. Poop. Yes. Now, fortunately, fruit flies being of a rather miniscule persuasion, the little specks they leave behind are also really tiny. No worse than the tiny speckles you get on your bathroom mirror when you stand too close while rinsing your toothbrush. Really, they’re no big deal.

Now, this morning, my daughter decided to take action. She took arms against a sea of troubles (well, okay, she grabbed a bottle of window cleaner and a wad of paper towels), and by opposing, ended them (aka cleaned the fly specks off the windows). And while she was at it, I took down the crystals we have hanging on those windows, and took the glass bottles and ornaments off the window sill, and washed them too.

crystals (3)And here is the thing: as soon as we hung the sparkling-clean crystals back on the window, the kitchen was dancing with rainbows. The little sculpture I have sitting on the window sill over the sink, which is really just an assortment of prisms, a clear acrylic rod, and a cobalt blue marble, stacked for random reflections, suddenly once again threw razor-sharp patterns of light across the window sill.

I had not even noticed how the rainbows and the prism patterns had become dulled. It was only tiny fly specks, wasn’t it? Tiny little translucent-white spots, no big deal. But once they were washed off, the world took on a new sparkle.

crystals (1)I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the metaphor to you – you’re bright enough to catch it without needing the fly specks washed off your glasses first. Tiny spots of fly dirt – the flies that produced it long gone to fruit fly heaven – dulling the brilliant sun’s reflection. A wad of paper towel and a bottle of window cleaner, and the sparkle is back in the world.

Life, the Universe, and Fly Specks. A lesson on a sunny morning.

Jane Austen Centre at Bath Unveils Wax Figure of Jane Austen

I just saw this when I found out about this new book, JANE AUSTEN COVER TO COVER (written by the owner of this blog). I like this wax figure, don’t you? Particularly put side-by-side with Anna Chancellor’s image.

AustenBlog

It’s probably safe to say that all Janeites have had at least one moment of curiosity about what Jane Austen looked like. We don’t have much to go on–a dashed-off, incomplete, badly faded watercolor by Cassandra Austen is the only authenticated image of Jane Austen’s face, which has both frustrated Austen fans as well as inspiring them to create something better.

Today, the Jane Austen Centre at Bath unveiled a wax figure of Jane Austen, created by sculptor Mark Richards (the BBC has a shorter piece with a video interview of the sculptor), inspired by Melissa Dring’s forensic painting of Austen, done several years ago also for the Jane Austen Centre. The painting has received a mixed reception from Janeites, and we are not terribly fond of it, but we like this wax figure rather better. In fact, we like it quite a bit.

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Playing With Matches

It’s Remembrance Day in just a couple of days, and I’ve written before about how the perspective from the other side of the trenches is, in many ways, not so different from that of “our” side. War kills. War sucks in innocent people and destroys them.

Lee Strauss has a great book on sale this week (links at the bottom of this post) that tells that very story, the tale of World War II from an angle that most English-speaking people rarely hear. Playing With Matches is the story of Emil Radle, a young German boy in the 1930s, and his experience of the war. The book is fiction as far as the actual characters and exact events go, but it could be absolutely true. The boy in the cover picture, on the far right edge, the one with his blond lock of hair falling over his forehead, could be my uncle, the one who was just the age Emil Radle is in the book. Or, for that matter, my favourite high school teacher, who spent hours regaling us with stories of how he was drafted in the last years of the war, at the age of sixteen, to become cannon fodder; and who said the best moment of the whole thing was when he could drop his gun and raise his hands in surrender to the British armed forces.

That’s Emil’s story in Playing With Matches. It’s well worth the read.

Lest We Forget.

PLAYING WITH MATCHES

 

 

Heinz Schultz’s word could send a man to prison. Though only a youth of fifteen, he was strong, tall, and blond. The boys in his Deutsches Jungvolk unit esteemed him and feared him.

And they wanted to be just like him.

Emil Radle wanted to be just like him.

A dedicated member of Hitler Youth, Emil was loyal to the Führer before family, a champion for the cause and a fan of the famous Luftwaffe Air force.

Emil’s friends Moritz and Johann discover a shortwave radio and everything changes. Now they listen to the forbidden BBC broadcast of news reports that tell both sides. Now they know the truth.The boys, along with Johann’s sister Katharina, band together to write out the reports and covertly distribute flyers through their city. It’s an act of high treason that could have them arrested–or worse.

As the war progresses, so does Emil’s affection for Katharina. He’d do anything to have a normal life and to stay in Passau by her side. But when Germany’s losses become immense, even their greatest resistance can’t prevent the boys from being sent to the Eastern Front.

Post-Success Depression

You know the Euphoria of Completion? The incredible headrush you get from finishing a huge project, completing an exam you’ve studied for for so long, getting done the program you’ve been working so hard on for the last several years? I certainly do. However, there is also another side to that coin. Sometimes, when you’ve completed a REALLY major project, something that matters to you enormously – then sometimes, you fall off the cliff.

mural (2)It didn’t happen to me this time, thankfully – at least not yet. I finished my Master’s, and published my first book, and (thank God) my head’s still above water. But there’ve been times in the past when I went under just after I had a major triumph. One of them was ten years ago when I finished painting a big mural on my son’s bedroom wall. I’d been wanting to do that for a long time, paint a mural, I mean. I pushed myself to absolute exhaustion doing it, and I was extremely pleased with it when it was finished. And then the waters closed in over my head. I remember driving down the road one day a few weeks later, and thinking the whole world looked like it was behind smoked glass. It wasn’t – visually, it was perfectly clear – but it’s like all the colours were dimmed, sort of greyed out.

I don’t know what your opinion is on religious matters, but whether you do or don’t take them as literal truth, you can still get the benefit of the stories (says the embryonic folklorist). There is one story in the Bible which I really love in this context. It’s the tale of the Prophet Elijah, who spent most of his life fighting with the corrupt king and the worshippers of Baal.

One day, he had a massive victory over them; the biggest success of his career. You’d think he’d be out partying and slaying more monsters, wouldn’t you? But no. He goes into the desert, lies down under a bush, and says “God, I just want to die. Please take my soul.” And what does God do? Does He send an angel with a can of Red Bull and tell Elijah to buck up, pull up his boot straps and his jogging shorts, and quit being such a whiner? Does He dispatch a psychologist to give Elijah some cognitive-restructuring therapy so he can get out of his streak of negativity and start doing some positive thinking? Does He commission His heavenly nutrionists and personal trainers to tell Elijah to stop eating wheat and start a program of daily exercise to purge his body of all this toxicity and get the endorphins flowing? Nope. He does dispatch an angel, it’s true. And what does that angel do? He feeds Elijah. The poor prophet is so exhausted emotionally, his body has just knocked him over; he’s sleeping. The angel wakes him up with a gentle touch on his shoulder, and says, “Eat, man.” He’s got a fresh-baked cake, and a jug of water. Elijah, probably only half-awake (I made that up; it doesn’t say that in the text), eats, drinks, and keels over again. The angel lets him sleep, then he wakes him up again: “Eat, man.”

The story carries on from there with one of the most amazing revelations (it’s in 1 Kings 19, if you want to read it), but that’s not the point I’m after here. My point is that right after Elijah had the biggest victory of his life, he ended up suicidally depressed. And God just let him sleep, and gave him food. He let him sleep.

mural (3)I don’t think I need to spell it out for you. Somewhere I read that depression is our body’s way of saying “Enough already!”, of making us sit still so we stop doing these things that wear it down to a nub, just like fever is the body’s way of killing bacteria so it can heal. Post-success depression, in addition, is the rebound from all the adrenalin we’ve sent coursing through our body so it could keep doing what we wanted it to do to reach our great big goal. There is a point to all this. And we need to be as kind to ourselves as the angel was to Elijah. Sleep, a fresh cake baken over the coals, and a cruse of water.

Life, the Universe, and Post-Success Depression. Look after yourself, my dear.

NaNoWriMo

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonOf course I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year – what did you think? It’s mandatory for me. This’ll be my fourth year; in fact, the NaNo 2011 is what became Seventh Son. So I have to keep doing it, right?

Oh, in case you’re wondering what on earth this NaNoWriMo thing is: it’s a form of insanity. A yearly reoccurrence of a particular fit of insanity, in fact. Thousands of people from all over the world sign up to write a novel in one month. That’s right: a Novel. In One Month. To be precise, in the thirty days of November. And it’s got to be 50,000 words long.

Now why, do you ask, would anybody do this? Well, there are a number of reasons. And right off the bat, no, you don’t win anything; it’s not a contest with anyone but yourself. Well, okay, you can get “prizes” – such as a 50% discount coupon for world’s greatest writing software, Scrivener. Or a couple of free print copies of your book from CreateSpace (for a given value of “free” – you’re still paying for shipping & handling, which is considerably more expensive than the printing itself). But really, the only thing you “win” when you “win Nano” (yes, us Wrimos do talk in those terms) is that you’ve mastered a challenge. And you have a book, a whole novel, that you wrote all by yourself. That’s the biggest, most overwhelming reason to participate in this novemberly fit of mass insanity.

There are others: it’s FUN. Honestly, it is. No, I’m not one of those people who think fun consists of poking myself in the eye with a pointed stick; my idea of entertainment isn’t that warped. It really is fun to go on this website, and talk to all those other crazy Wrimos out there who think it’s a good idea to try to hammer out a full-length novel in just thirty days. Also, the NaNoWriMo people, or The Office of Letters and Light, are funny. The Nano Logo is a viking helmet – from all I can gather, just because. I mean, what’s not to like? (No, I don’t have a viking helmet for writing my books. Although I was kind of tempted to get one when we saw an exhibit on Vikings at the Royal BC Museum in the summer. They had real steel ones, only around $300… but they didn’t have the horns, which are apparently not authentic. For those, you’d have to get one of those kiddie plastic ones. Anyway – sorry, where were we?) So, yes, if you’re one of those people who’s “always wanted to write a book” (I wasn’t. But that’s another story for another day), this is the perfect time for it.

So, all that to say: of course I signed up for NaNoWriMo again! I can’t not. But – here’s the snag. It’s the third of November already, and I’ve written, uh, about 600 words. In case you’re wondering, writing 50,000 words in 30 days means you have to get down an average of 1667 words per day (every third day you can slack off, and only do 1666). So, as of right now, I’m about 4400 words behind on my word count. I’ve done other stuff – really, I did! I plotted. And I built characters – I trawled Google Images, and found the perfect pictures of red-headed children and gave them names, so now they look at me from the right side of the split window in Scrivener and inspire me to write about them. And then I looked at the news about the latest Canadian public scandal, and last week’s local violent crime, which probably wasn’t such a good idea as those things really depress me. I went on Facebook (yeah, well…). And I found a hack online to solve the extremely irritating issue of the keyboard layout on my new computer – the tiny left shift key was driving me crazy. It’s fixed now.

You see? I’ve done lots of stuff. Just not cranked out proper NaNoWriMo word count. And I was starting to feel stressed about it, because, well, it’s NaNo! Must Have Word Count! But then, actually – no, I don’t have to have word count. What I must have is fun. And I must do writing. But even choosing names for fictional red-headed toddlers is part of writing. I’m not going to rush through this in the name of NaNo badges, lovely though those are. I think this year, I’ll have “won” NaNo if I’ve written something I like. If I made progress on the latest story about Catriona (yes, there’s sequels). And above all, if I’ve enjoyed myself doing so. Because that’s really what NaNoWriMo is all about – the joy of writing. And if I make my 50k, so much the better; but if not, whatever.

Life, the Universe, and NaNoWriMo. If you sign up, do find me on the site and be my buddy – I’m amo1967.

Subscribe By Email

Did you know you can subscribe to blog posts on here by email? That’s right, on the top right corner of the “Home” page (here) there is a lovely little box where you can enter your email address, and then every one of Steve’s and my erudite effusions will land right in your inbox. As a matter of fact, even if you’ve already subscribed once, do it again – I think there was a glitch when I first launched this page, and people haven’t been getting the posts when they should have. Go ahead, try it out! What have you got to lose?

The Books Are Here!

book boxMy books have arrived! One lovely box full of shiny copies of Seventh Son. Aren’t they pretty?

So, anyway, for you paper-book lovers out there, this means that those of you who live close by can buy a copy straight from me for CDN$ 10 (Introductory Offer! Special Deal! yadda yadda and so on). If you’re Canadian, and want an autographed copy by mail, contact me at amo@amovitam.ca, and I’ll let you know the rate; just to warn you, though, it’ll be a minimum of $25 (blame Canada Post; they’re the ones that charge arms, legs, and other appendages for small parcels). If you don’t care about having it authographed (and really, my signature isn’t all that amazing), you’re better off buying it straight from CreateSpace or Amazon.com, at this point; the shipping should only be $7 or $8. And hopefully, eventually there’ll be print copies for sale on Amazon.ca; I hear it can happen.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and Lovely Print Copies of Seventh Son. If you read it, let me know what you think!

Scarlet Runner Beans

scarlet runner beansDid you know that the magic beans from “Jack and the Beanstalk” were scarlet runner beans? It’s true, Andrew Lang says so in The Red Fairy Book:

When [Jack] brought [the beans] home to his mother instead of the money she expected for her nice cow, she was very vexed and shed many tears, scolding Jack for his folly. He was very sorry, and mother and son went to bed very sadly that night; their last hope seemed gone.
At daybreak Jack rose and went out into the garden.
‘At least,’ he thought, ‘I will sow the wonderful beans. Mother says that they are just common scarlet-runners, and nothing else; but I may as well sow them.’

scarlet runner beans (1)Of course, you know the rest of the deal: massive beanstalk, Jack climbing, doing a spot of breaking and entering and theft, Fi-Fi-Fo-Fum, giant dropping off beanstalk, happily ever after. Incidentally, the Lang version has Jack helping himself to the giant’s stuff quite rightfully, because he’s really not a peasant at all, but the son of the knight who used to own the castle and was killed by the giant along with all of Jack’s older siblings. Fortunately, the knight’s wife was on a visit to her old nurse in the village, along with Baby Jack. When she got the news about the massacre she just stayed put and pretended to be a peasant until her son was old enough to take revenge on the giant and get the castle back, meanwhile earning their living with her spinning wheel and the produce of the little cow she’d bought. Enter the plot of the story as we know it.

I’m sorry, Mr Lang, that elaborate backstory just doesn’t work for me; part of the fun of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is precisely that Jack is a peasant boy, and not a very bright one at that. Stop making excuses for his B&E and robbery-with-violence; this is a story of a poor little guy defeating a big rich one and making it against all the odds, winning his fortune not because it’s his by law, but because of sheer dumb luck and gutsy opportunism.

However, that’s not really what I was going to talk about – my point today was Scarlet Runner Beans. I love those things, and I’ve planted some every year. I like eating them as green beans, but the problem I have with that is that I hardly ever get around to picking them when they’re still green and tender – I can’t find them in the tangle of leaves, and quite frankly, I’m too lazy to search for them. So I’ve been growing them pretty much as ornamentals. I figure if people grow climbing vines like clematis for their flowers, I can grow beans for the same purpose. And they really are pretty, with their bright red flowers.

scarlet runner beans (2)And then usually, at the end of the season when the vines die off, I find all these plump, dry pods with those funky black-and-purple-spotted beans inside. I’ve been collecting them just to have more to plant the next year, but then this year I got to wondering if you could just eat them as dried beans, like kidney beans or something, and sure enough, according to the Internet you can. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to – I got a small bowl full of beans off the four or five bean plants I had, it should be enough for a meal.scarlet runner beans (3)

So, climbing foliage, pretty flowers, tasty fresh green beans, lovely speckled beans, and beans to save for eating in winter. What a great plant. Never mind giants’ castles at the top, there’s enough here to make them worthwhile just like that.

Life, the Universe, and Scarlet Runner Beans. I’ll be sure to save a few for planting next year.

Bye Bye Macbook

macbook (2) My trusty old Macbook packed it in on Sunday. I was all done everything I had to do, including fixing my big fat blooper, and was just about to start beta-reading a friend’s story, when everything froze. So I did a hard reset, and the computer started up with its customary Apple “Brrrring!” – and then nothing. A blank white screen; not even a friendly apple logo in the middle. The fan was still running, but that was it. White screen of death.

Now, it wasn’t a tremendous surprise. In fact, the Macbook had been kind of temperamental for a while, crashing pages, even occasionally freezing (which is par for the course on PC’s but not on Macs), so I had sort of expected it. It was, after all, an old machine. Well, this particular one was actually relatively new to me – I’d only had it something over a year. But it was a hand-me-down then, which was replacing the identical model I had bought myself seven years ago with one of my own paycheques from working at the library. I was so proud of myself – my very own computer. It took me through four more years of part-time undergrad studies, two-and-a-half years of grad school, the writing of three novels, the first four years of my blogging life, and all the editing, formatting and publishing of Seventh Son. I loved that little white machine.

And now it’s, well, a paperweight. And a not very convenient one at that; perhaps I’ll use it as a coaster, instead. A trivet for my teapot. Or it’ll just go to the graveyard of croaked electronics (yes, we do have one of those in the house; it’s a big brown box in the basement). Bye bye, Macbook (sung to the tune of “Bye Bye Blackbird”).

Unfortunately, this is the end of my Mac usage, period. I can’t afford a new Macbook, and besides, Apple has decided to discriminate against DVD watchers (“It’s all online now,” the guy at the Apple Store told me. Pfft – not my DVD collection, it isn’t! Or the free movies from the library, either). So even if I had the lolly for a lovely new Mac machine, I might still get a PC, because I love watching movies on my compy.

In fact, I don’t really have any lolly for a new computer. So I was really lucky that there happened to be a currently unused PC laptop sitting around the house – a fairly newish machine which the resident geeks replaced with the newer, better and more-powerfully-geeky machines they need for their work. So I inherited it. And spent the last few days moving in. I’m slowly getting used to the positions of the buttons on the keyboard; now I hit the left shift key about 50% of the time, instead of typing “\i” every time I look for “I” (why on earth Acer had to make the left shift key a quarter the size of the right one, no bigger than one of the letter keys, and put a “\” key between it and the “z”, is beyond me. It’s extremely irritating).

However, it’s like driving a new car – after you’ve sprayed the windshield a few dozen times when all you were looking for was the switch to turn the lights on, you get used to doing it the new way. And while you can’t rearrange the buttons on the keyboard (more’s the pity), you can set up your desktop the way you like it. So now I’ve got my lovely picture of Long Beach (the Vancouver Island one) put up as desktop wallpaper, have the icons for all my favourite programs arranged along the left hand side of the screen, installed f.lux to adjust the screen brightness to the time of day, and I’m starting to feel quite at home in my new computer.

I miss my lovely white Macbook, but seasons come to an end. For me, Apple season is over – at least the computer kind. The fruit kind is still in full swing; in fact, I have some Macs in the house as we speak. Maybe I should try how one of them combines with a real book?

Life, the Universe, and Bye Bye Macbook. It’s been great knowing you.

Macbook (no, really!)
Macbook (no, really!)

Humility, Forests and Trees

I pride myself, in certain cases, on my perfectionism. Not always, by any means – there are lots of occasions where I’m not perfectionistic at all. House cleaning, for example. Or yard work. But when it comes to my writing, oh yes, the perfectionist in me is out in full force. As far as content of writing goes, you can’t really make it perfect, you can just make it as good as you can; the rest is a matter of opinion. But form, and formatting – well, there is such a thing as absolutely correct. Spelling, grammar, having everything look right, it matters.

So I released Seventh Son yesterday to great fanfare – drum rolls, fireworks, the lot. There it was, all neat and shiny, on Amazon and Smashwords and CreateSpace. My friends were all patting me on the back, and I felt so proud of myself.  And then, in the early afternoon, a friend messaged me on Facebook: “It might just be my ebook reader, but it looks like chapter 3 and 4 are identical.” WHAT?!? I grabbed the hardcopy I had sitting beside me on the kitchen table, flipped to chapter 3, then to chapter 4 – and said some swear words, loudly. Jumped up, clapped my hands to my face, swore again, frantically paced three steps back and forwards again, hyperventilated, clutched at my hair – you get the picture. Full-on panic mode.

I had, right at the base level, dropped out chapter 3, and instead put in a duplicate of chapter 4. Right in the base file, when I exported the text from Scrivener to a Word document – the file that I used to do all my formatting from, for print, Amazon, Smashwords, everything. And I never saw it. I went over those files over and over again. I had even noticed that it said “Chapter 4” twice, so I fixed the first one to say “Chapter 3”. But I never noticed that it was the wrong text in that chapter. I read over that file so many times since I wrote the story, over and over. It was a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees – so many chapters of text which I was so familiar with and had looked at so many times, I never saw the glaring error. And I blithely uploaded the file to all the ebook vendors, even had a couple of proof copies printed.

So here I put myself out there, telling the world how great I am and what a great thing I accomplished, and it’s got this big fat mistake in it. Talk about a humbling experience. I’m not perfect, not even where it matters, and now the whole world knows it.

My friend Lee Strauss, whose mentorship has been instrumental in getting Seventh Son off the ground, tells me that every self-published writer does something like this at least once. Phew – at least I’m not the only one. I guess you’re not a proper indie writer until you’ve screwed up for the first time; so I’m lucky I did it right on my first release date and got it over with.

And now that you all know I’m not perfect, I have nothing more to lose. I can just carry on being me; write my stories, drivel on in my blog posts, and you won’t expect me to never make mistakes. Which you probably never did anyway – the expectations were all in my own head – but now I know you won’t. And that’s a really freeing thought.

Life, the Universe, and Big Public Bloopers. The freedom of dispensing with illusions.