Manzanita Adventure Weekend

This past weekend Byron and I packed up the dog and the car headed down to the Oregon coast. We met up with a group of my best college friends — and I just about exploded with nerdy glee when my new camera arrived just in time for the trip. I realized a few weeks ago that my old camera is now technologically outdated — the photos it takes, they just ain’t lookin’ so hot. So based on some friends’ recommendations (thanks, Lauren and Hen!), I took the plunge.

Oregon proved to be the perfect testing ground. Sun, beach, epic trees… what more could a gal ask for when trying to figure out the difference between shutter speed, F stops and ISO?

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford. Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Peaches and blackberries. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford

Louie the Dog. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

 

Rockaway Beach. photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Swimming at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

If you get a chance to visit the small sleepy town of Manzanita, I highly recommend it. It is a magical beach in a special corner of the world.

The One Glaring Problem with “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Spoiler-phobes, this post should be relatively safe for you — there are a few minor plot points discussed, but nothing big.

I’m going to start off by saying that Guardians of the Galaxy — the new Marvel flick starring Andy Dwyer, erm, I mean Chris Pratt — is FUN. Just pure good entertaining fun. I haven’t grinned that much in a theater in a LONG time. Go check it out if you haven’t, it comes highly recommended from this camp (and literally everyone else I’ve talked to who’s seen it).

That said — when Byron and I left the theater and got in the car to head home, I turned to him and said, “You know what my one annoyance with the movie was?”

“What?”

“They didn’t let Zoe Saldana’s character DO anything.”

His immediate reaction: “I KNOW!”

Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, billed as “The Deadliest Woman in the Whole Galaxy.” This is well established in the movie, her supposed deadliness. She’s been programmed since childhood to be an assassin — she’s even been surgically modified to be more of a Badass Killing Machine — and the viewer gets the impression that she’s unstoppable.

UNTIL she meets Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, aka our main hero. And then apparently she can’t do anything.

Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, she meets Quill and can’t even steal a small orb from him. Because she gets knocked out by a raccoon. I mean, a kickass raccoon, but still. Raccoon vs. Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy? Come on. Throughout the rest of the movie, she gets saved by Quill not once, but twice. Once the cogs of the movie start turning, Gamora seems to exist to either a) motivate our hero, or b) serve as his new love interest.

Which just… UUUGGGGHHH.

Gamora’s character made me immediately think of this article by Tasha Robinson: “We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome.” Robinson’s article starts out with an example from another movie — but this quote applies directly to Gamora as well:

She’s wise. She’s principled. She’s joyous. She’s divided. She’s damaged. She’s vulnerable. She’s something female characters so often aren’t in action/adventure films with male protagonists: She’s interesting.

Too bad the story gives her absolutely nothing to do.

Robinson gives a checklist to see if your female character perhaps fits the bill of the Trinity Syndrome — “the hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene.” Gamora hits a lot of the marks.

(Credit where credit’s due — Gamora DOES have a big fight scene at the end of the movie. But that felt weirdly anticlimactic to me after everything else.)

This may all seem like minor quibbling. And it kind of is — I really DID enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy. But I’m annoyed because it was SO close to being a perfect movie. There was so much potential for Gamora to be a really kickass character. Instead, she’s given wooden, exposition-laden dialogue and serves as a catalyst for our hero. Excuse me, but I think I’ve seen this play out before.

Maybe there’s still hope. There’s obviously going to be a Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Maybe they’ll give Gamora something really kickass to do in THAT movie. You’re ALMOST there, Marvel — I know you can do it.

Desert Memos: A Mini Travelogue

When you think of Washington state, what do you think of? Coffee, Amazon, Nirvana? Lots of trees and rain? Washington IS all these things… but there’s another side, too.

Columbia River at George, Washington - Buffalo Writes

The eastern half of Washington state? Pretty much all desert. Well, ok. TECHNICALLY not desert. But compared to Seattle’s maritime qualities — yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and call it how I see it.

A collection of yurts in the middle of a desert winery. Glamping at its best. Adirondacks and wine and tawny rabbits nibbling on sage. Twenty feet from your door, the descent to the bottom of a gorge — the river below receded, hexagonal tiles baked into the dried mud. And wouldn’t you know it, down here with the lizards and the snakes and the cactus flowers, sits one beat up desk, gradually becoming the desert. The office-supply life, it follows you everywhere.

At the start and end of summer, a lot of Seattleites hop over the mountains and drink up some of the eastern Washington sunshine — summer starts earlier and ends later over there. In May, my friend Hen and I did just that. We spent only 2 days in and around George, Washington, but it was enough to once again become totally smitten with the landscape. And when I got home, I was temporarily possessed by Barry Lopez.

Everything feels new and familiar and BIG. The vast space opens your brain and invites you to float from one thought to the next until you settle like pink dusk in the night. Record the thoughts acquired during such downtime, such non-thinking. Sift through them later, see what you find. Back to reality, desert memories rest heavy on the brain.

Alright alright, maybe I wasn’t possessed — maybe I just read Desert Notes and was inspired. Either way, I wrote up a little something — an experimental piece, very unlike my usual stuff. I’ll leave the dreamy landscape writing to Mr. Lopez in the future, but it was fun to try my hand on it.

You can check out the full deal over at RAD AND HUNGRY’s blog (or hey, if you’re on Medium, it’s there, too).

Columbia Gorge at George, Washington - Buffalo Writes

Writing Words from Neal Stephenson (Or, Hidden Treasures at the Doctor’s Office)

Last week I had a doctor’s appointment. I was in the waiting room — waiting, as you do — and spied a copy of Seattle Met magazine. The cover touted “52 amazing weekend getaways!”, or some such numbered list that always sucks me in. So I picked it up and started flipping.

Halfway through, I stumbled upon an interview with none other than Neal Stephenson — local speculative-fiction writer who’s penned approximately one zillion books. Byron loves his writing, and I very much enjoyed Snow Crash, so I stopped my page flipping to read the interview.

It was then that I noticed that this particular issue of Seattle Met was from January 2011.

Seattle Met - Interview with Neal Stephenson

January 2011. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that? Doctor’s office, you have officially outdone yourself when the magazine in your waiting room is 3 1/2 years old.

But at the end of the day, the past-due expiration date didn’t particularly matter — I still very much enjoyed Stephenson’s responses, and found them relevant to where I am as a writer.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson_2

“Fiction is a pop culture medium.” I love this quote so hard — it describes how I currently approach my writing. Yes, fiction CAN be artful and poetic (and so much of it is) — but it doesn’t HAVE to be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking pleasure in a page-turner.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson_3

Writing my first draft, some of the minor characters surprised me — they had relationships I didn’t expect, back stories that were news to me. Now that I’m working on revisions, they’re being given their due — getting fleshed out where appropriate, rearranged so they have more importance to the story. I did have an outline, and it saved me from drowning in first-draft despair — but deviating from it to follow these minor characters makes the story richer.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson4

“I like to write” — and at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be what it’s about?

If you’d like to read the full interview, you can check it out over yonder. And next time you’re at the doctor’s office, give the old, old magazines a spin. You never know what you might find.

 

Don’t Let It Go

Last week, Lauren at I’m Better in Real Life wrote a blog post reviewing her 2014 goals, taking stock, seeing how she was doing. It’s a great post — well written, introspective, encouraging conversation — but it depressed the hell out of me. Here we are, halfway through 2014 (HOW IS IT JULY, C’MON), and my book is still unedited. I blew past my self-imposed July 1 deadline. The farthest I’ve gotten is chapter 3. It’s just sitting there on the desktop, sad and lonely, judging me in its unrevised state.

So I’ve been in a funk the past week, thinking about the book — how the task at hand feels huge, how I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get it done, what with working a demanding 9-to-5, keeping up on house projects, and you know, just making sure the general necessities of life get accomplished. (Laundry. Is laundry a necessity? Let’s discuss.)

Last Thursday, I got off work later than usual. Tired, hungry, I went out to the elevator bank. Waiting for an elevator was one of my former creative directors, someone I used to work with a lot, but don’t get the chance to anymore. He, too, was looking a bit ragged. We nodded hello’s, waited for the elevator to arrive.

We’d gone down a floor when he said, “What’s happening with the book?”

I laughed and gave a half-shrug. “Nothing. Not really.”

“Why not? Do you not think it’s good anymore?”

Defense mechanism engaged. “No, it’s not that. I DO think it’s good. I think it could be good — I still need to edit the thing. I just haven’t been working on it, with the new job.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I know how that goes.”

We rode in silence a minute, before he said:

“Don’t let it go.”

I laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“No, I’m serious. I’ve stopped working on projects outside of work, and I feel like my soul is corroded.”

The elevator doors dinged — we reached the lobby. As we walked out, I said, “That’s both depressing, and I totally understand.”

That’s where the conversation ended — on a totally low note. But something clicked. I walked to my bus. I got home, broke out the iPad — dinner be damned, cooking can wait — and edited for about 30 minutes.

Because look, he’s right. I’ve mentioned before that “not writing” has this effect on me — I lose my edge, I feel stagnant. And the only thing that’s going to change that is to get my ass in gear and write. Work? Work will always be there. It’ll always be hard and exhausting and challenging and an excuse. There’s never going to be a magical time in my life when all the stars align and say, “Oh hey! It looks like you’ve been needing some energy to write. Here you go!”

Byron asked what he could do to help, and I said, “Honestly? Just tell me to write.” The past couple days, I’ve gotten more editing done than I have in the past month. Granted, it’s all still in chapter 1 — but it’s good progress. I finally feel things coming together. (Largely thanks to the wonderful Wonderbook — but more on that later.)

This is my mid-year kick in the pants. I’ve assessed my 2014 goals, and found the progress lacking. I can remedy that. It’s in my control. Consider this the antithesis to the Disney anthem — no letting go here. I’m sinking in the talons.

Writing Process Blog Tour

A little back story: I met Margaret on the second night of AWP, in the Sheraton hotel bar in downtown Seattle. The entire bar was filled to the brim with writers and other literary-minded folks — a surreal yet dazzling experience. I “knew” Margaret through our mutual friend Lauren (via the internetz, naturally), and we spent a fun hour or so drinking and talking about writerly things (two activities that go together so well).

Last week, Margaret emailed and asked if I’d like to participate in a “Writing Process Blog Tour” — a set of questions that have been making the blog rounds. The idea is this: a writer gets “tagged,” and then “tags” other writers to answer the questions in turn. At the end of the day, we’re all talking about the creative process in one nerdy gabfest. Um, SIGN ME UP.

Margaret’s responses can be found over here (her talk about “non-process” is wonderfully honest). And mine? Well…

1) What are you working on?

In theory? Edits to my book (I finished the first draft in December). In reality? I haven’t touched it in several weeks. I’m rapidly realizing I’m not going to hit my self-imposed July 1 deadline, and that is… a bummer. BUT. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I got a new job a few months back, and it’s taken a lot of time and energy to get up to speed. Which means other things fall by the wayside. Including, in this case, book edits.

That isn’t to say I haven’t been writing — I just haven’t had the energy for that particular project. I wrapped up a short story a few weeks back, a wild little romp set in backwoods Louisiana. Short stories aren’t typically my forte, but I’m feeling good about this one. Besides, it’s good to write in different formats from time to time — strengthen ye ol’ writing muscles.

2) How does you work differ from others of its genre?

Oh boy. That’s a tough question, isn’t it? First I’d have to figure out what my “genre” is. Lately, I’ve been drawn to speculative fiction (I don’t really count my writing as science fiction, because the science is… well, nebulous at best). In the past, I’ve written historical fiction and dabbled in literary fiction (a genre I don’t think I’m particularly good at, and have since largely abandoned).

How does my work differ? Well, this is the obvious and cliché answer, but I’d like to think my voice. Every writer has a distinct, evolving voice, and I’m growing into mine. I also hope that my stories are easily accessible — you don’t need to be a speculative fiction fan to pick them up and enjoy them. But I guess that largely remains to be seen.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s fun! Because I enjoy the stories I tell. Look, most of us are NOT doing this for fortune and fame, so we should damn well enjoy the writing itself.

Another way of saying it — these are the stories I have to tell, the ones that bore into my brain and refuse to move. When you have a story like that,  you can’t ignore it. Try if you want, but years later it’ll still be there, waiting to be put to paper.

4) How does your writing process work?

If I’m good about it (aka, consistently producing work), I have a strict writing schedule. When I was finishing up the first draft of my book, I got up at 5:30am every weekday morning to get in an hour+ of writing before work. For me, a set schedule is the only way to add up that word count.

Other than that — my process is not really all that consistent. A lot of times I prefer writing first drafts by hand; for me, handwriting unlocks different parts of my brain. Of course, this doesn’t work as well with longer pieces. For writing large chunks or revisions, I work on either my iPad or desktop (everything syncs up to Dropbox, so the files are always updated no matter which device I’m on). When I sit down to write, there’s a good 10-15 minute window where I sort of dawdle, re-read what I did the day before, get my brain back into the game. But once I’m in, I’m in. Poor Byron knows this well — it’s hard to get my attention once I’m in the middle of writing.

That’s a wrap! And now that my questions are answered, it’s my turn to play tag… and the torch is going to Tayler of The Awkward Olive. Tayler and I were in the same creative writing program in college, and I was lucky enough to go on two study-abroad trips with her (one where we studied expatriate writers, and the other where… well, essentially we wrote in pubs. It was glorious.). Tayler currently lives in Oregon, eating delectable local food and working in her envy-worthy garden. At her blog, she writes honestly and eloquently about everyday life — look for her answers to the Writing Process Blog Tour soon!

And if you are a nerd like me and really enjoy reading about writing processes… might I recommend some other folk who have played the game?

  • Lauren (yes, the Lauren who introduced me and Margaret) answered in regards to writing both creatively and professionally.
  • Brian Benson, who I do not know personally or even via the internetz, but I found his answer to the “How does your work differ” question quite intriguing (and now I totally want to pick up his book).

When the internet connects diverse and widely spread groups of people over one common interest — well, that’s clearly why it was invented, right? (I mean, aside from cat gifs. Obviously.)

Spring Book Reviews: Part 2

OH HAI! This is a tad bit late. Part 1 went up two weeks ago, and I meant to have Part 2 done the following week… but, well, the last book took longer to finish than anticipated. That’s one downside to the Kindle — even with that little percentage bar, it’s harder to judge your reading progress than it is with an actual, physical book staring you in the face.

But! Without further ado. The rest of the books I read this spring…

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles

Honestly, I’d never heard of this book and never would have picked it up if it weren’t for Lauren’s Better In Real Life Reading List. She asked people to participate in book reviews/discussions, and The Age of Miracles was my assigned book (just like school! But without the tests and drama). I’m definitely glad I read it — it was thought provoking and fairly well-written. But let me warn you, this book put me in a DEEP FUNK. If I may quote myself… (Is it weird if I quote myself? Whatever.)

It’s fitting that the book brings up those uncomfortable middle-school feelings, because they tie in well with the main theme: the haunting passage of time. How quickly it goes by, how cruel and unrelenting it is. Time spares no one and nothing and makes you realize that, ultimately, you are alone in the world. If that all sounds depressing… well, yeah actually, this book was a bit depressing. I kept waiting for the uplifting twist, the silver-lining ending… and it never really arrived. This book has loneliness and fatalism at its core.

Seriously, NO SILVER LINING here. You’ve been warned. If you’d like to read ALL MY THOUGHTS on this book, pop on over to Better In Real Life to see the full discussion.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

The Once and Future King

You guys… I feel so much guilt over this one. I seriously considered not including it here, because I’m ashamed by what I’m about to say.

This book is a titan — a classic of the genre. It’s influenced so, so many writers, and many consider it to be the best fantasy novel ever written. I use the title to make puns all the time — “Oh yes, that’s our Once and Future Garage” — but my dirty little secret? I’d never actually read it. So I figured, you know, if I’m invoking this book to make bad jokes, I should actually read the thing.

And I… didn’t like it. I tried, really I did — I went well past Nancy Pearl’s 50-page rule — but I kept running into 2 problems: 1) I couldn’t get the Disney version of The Sword in the Stone out of my head, and 2) I don’t really like White’s writing style. He goes on for ten pages about the rules and techniques of jousting, and all I could think was Oh my god I don’t care about jousting I don’t care about this stupid knight please get to the stupid story.

But I wanted to stick it out. I figured if I could just get through Part One, maybe it would pick up, maybe I’d get into it… but I finally had to give up. I was skimming entire sections just to try and get to “the good part.” Eventually, I realized that “the good part” would never come for me — The Once and Future King and I were not meant to be. Pour one out, move on. (I still reserve the right to reference the title in my bad puns, though.)

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl

A while back, a coworker and I were exchanging book recommendations. MaddAddam had just come out, so I enthusiastically recommended that series. With equal fervor, my coworker recommended this book (while also suggesting a nerdy-girls book club at work — YES, PLEASE).

And now I’ve finally gotten around to reading it! And general consensus — definitely glad I did. The Windup Girl is set in Bangkok, in a future world where horrible blights and crazy pesticide-resistant beetles have destroyed global agriculture. Most countries have fallen into chaos and famine, but the Thai Kingdom remains, self-sufficient and sealed off from the outside world. The book follows a cast of characters — some intent on Thailand’s continued independence, some who would like Thailand to open up trade with the outside world. Conflict ensues.

The world building drew me into this book — Bacigalupi does a fantastic job painting this futuristic society, where calories are currency and an ice cube is considered a huge waste of energy — but the characters didn’t quite do it for me. Each chapter is told from a different point of view (there are, if memory serves, five rotating narrators), and this switching made it a harder for me to get into the story. And our titular character, Emiko the Windup Girl… well, I had issues. She’s “New People”, a humanoid sex slave designed to serve without question. And that ingrained desire to serve makes for a weird main character. She remains passive as horrible, terrible things happen to her, and when she DOES act, she regrets it afterwards and constantly apologizes for her actions. I wanted her to stand up for herself, take charge, leave all the assholes behind who kept hurting her — but that wasn’t the character. Which annoyed me, because I wanted her to be that way. At the end of the day, I did enjoy the book — but I felt like I could have enjoyed it more. Which is an odd experience.

That’s a wrap for spring! And next we have summer… oh, summer reading. The most wonderful reading season there is (why else would everyone and their mom put out summer reading lists?). What will you be reading in a sunny hammock, while sipping on a beer and kicking off your sandals? I haven’t quite decided on my list yet, so I’m quite eager for suggestions.

Sharing Inspiration

Last week, I attended a workshop about staying creatively inspired when you do the same type of work over and over again, day in and day out (whether that be writing, design, architecture, whatever). If you work in a creative field, it’s a subject that pops up frequently — the relationship between inspiration and creativity, those two nebulous forces fated to be entwined. Inspiration is viewed as the force that drives creativity, something vague and elusive that can’t really be pinned down. When we say that “inspiration strikes,” it implies that it comes out of the blue, when we’re least expecting it.

Over the workshop, two themes emerged: in order to find inspiration and be our most creative, we must 1) seek out inspiration, and 2) create. Both are important (particularly #2, I’d argue — you literally can’t be creative if you don’t create), but #1 has been consuming more of my thoughts. People think that inspiration finds you – that the muse lands on your shoulder and sparks the next idea. That’s wrong. At its core, inspiration is pretty lazy; it’s not going to come and find you, you have to find it. You have to actively work to be inspired — you have to seek it out.

In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon talks about sharing your inspirations, so that other people can also discover the awesomeness and be inspired. So I’m giving it a shot, this whole sharing thing. What’s been inspiring me this past week? A whole lot of random, including…

John Cleese quote via Austin Kleon and 99U

    • The words of Maya Angelou. Lots of people have been sharing her words this past week, which is rad (when was the last time you can think of a poet’s work being widely shared?). The poem particularly resonating with me? “Still I Rise“:

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

  • This old New York Times article about Police Officer Frank Chiafari, the officer who responded to the 911 phone call about a horrific chimp mauling. (Warning: this is a graphic and incredibly sad story. Highly likely to be upsetting.) Seem an odd thing to inspire creativity? Yeah, I agree, it IS totally weird. But — I just finished writing a short story, and this article was swirling around my head the whole time I worked on it. You never know where inspiration will come from.
  • This random quote from musician Kathleen Hanna, via Austin Kleon’s tumblr.

Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the Internet, and we shouldn’t either. I just think, Would Beyoncé be reading this? No, she would just delete it or somebody would delete it for her. What I really need to do is close the computer and then talk back to that voice and say, Fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m Beyoncé. I’m going to Ibiza with Jay-Z now, fuck off. Being criticized is part of the job, but seeking it out isn’t. That’s our piece to let go.

(“Would Beyoncé be reading this?” should become my new life mantra.)

What’s been inspiring you this week? Any goodies to share?

 

Spring Book Reviews: Part 1

IT IS TIME! For a recap of the books I read this spring. I normally try to do a seasonal recap all in one post, but as I was writing this one, I realized it was getting looooong. I don’t feel like I did a ton of reading this past spring, but maybe I did? Or maybe I just have more thoughts than usual. Whatever the reason — here is Part 1. Part 2 shall be revealed next week.

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton

Lost Cat

As I read this book, one word kept popping into my head: charming. Which, I have to say, doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for a book, but in this case it is. This book follows the exploits of Tibia and Fibula, brother and sister cats living with their humans in San Francisco. At the story’s start, Caroline Paul crashes an experimental plane, an accident that results in a lot of broken bones and time spent at home with the cats. And then one day during her recovery… Tibby disappears.

He comes back. And I’m not ruining anything by telling you that! The book follows Caroline’s exploits as she tries to figure out where Tibby went to, and more importantly (to her) why he would even leave in the first place.

This is definitely a book that requires a hard copy. MacNaughton‘s illustrations add SO MUCH wimsy and delight to the story – I’d go so far as to say the story isn’t complete without them. Seriously, don’t even THINK about buying an e-ink version.

Now, it goes without saying that this book is pretty much only for crazy cat people (like myself). BUT. I would also say that it’s a good read for someone who loves a crazy cat person and wants to understand the depth of the crazy. It’s a really loving portrayal of the relationships we form with our pets and the value of animal companionship.

I’m Starved for You and Choke Collar by Margaret Atwood

ImStarvedforYOu ChokeCollar

So… you all know I love me some Margaret Atwood. When I found out she was writing a Kindle Singles series? SIGN ME UP. The series is called Positron, and it’s set in a seemingly lovely but actually horrifying dystopian future (so, you know, par the course for her). I eagerly read the first installment, “I’m Starved for You”… and wasn’t completely hooked. But I was intrigued enough to pick up the second, “Choke Collar.” And after that… I felt done. No need to pick up the third.

I think part of my problem with these is the format itself: serials. I’m slowly learning that it may not be the story format for me. Once I get into a story, I want to dive in — the inherent breaks that come with serials stall me. I had the same issue with Chuck Wendig’s “The Forever Endeavor” (found in the lovely Fireside magazine). Loved the premise, was super intrigued — but couldn’t keep up the momentum. If it’s ever collected into one volume that I can read in one chunk, sign me up.

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

You’ve probably heard of Austin Kleon — he’s a bit of a golden boy these says. Rightly so, I’d argue. I was a big fan of his first book, Steal Like an Artist, so was super eager to pick this one up. Show Your Work! completes the cycle set forth in Steal Like an Artist — you’re influenced by others, you “steal” from them, and in turn you should share your work and your influences so others can discover and steal, too.

For me, personally, Steal Like an Artist was the more valuable book — it had more insights that seemed directly applicable to me. But I’d definitely recommend this new one, too. The thing that struck me most about it is how it advocates for generosity — not something often talked about in creative circles. No one is an island (despite the prevalent myth of the lone creative genius), so we might as well play nice and share our enthusiasm with one another.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

When I traveled to Stockholm and Copenhagen with my friend Hen, she raved about this book. She said I had to read it, especially after traveling to Viking lands. It took me a couple months after our trip to pick it up, but I finally did.

Considering that I was a history minor in college, I’m kind of surprised I don’t read more historical fiction. That may change after reading this book. It’s set in England, during the Viking raids of 800’s, and follows the story of an English boy who’s taken in by Vikings. I really enjoyed learning more about this time period (which I previously knew very little about), and it encouraged me to do my own research outside of the book itself. And I have to say — Cornwell did his homework. The book has just enough detail to make you really feel this time period. (One reoccurring thought: SO DIRTY.)

All that said — I felt like the book was a bit bloated. By the last 100 pages, I was just ready to be done with it (never a good sign). And the main character Uhtred didn’t totally do it for me. He wasn’t a Mary Sue… but at times he felt dangerously close. The Last Kingdom is the first book in a seven-book series, and I’m still undecided if I’ll pick up the rest.

That’s a wrap for Part 1! As I work on getting Part 2 together… Have you read any of these? Your thoughts? What have you been reading lately? My reading list needs an injection of fresh material, so I’m eager for recommendations.

Trying New Things: Tarot Card Reading

Let this be a lesson: if you put something out in the universe enough, sometimes the universe will respond by tossing it in your lap.

In this particular instance, the universe took the form of good friends: Jenny and Adam. These two have heard me yammering on and on about how much I want to do a tarot card reading that they decided to do something about it. For my birthday, they got me a session with a local tarot card reader. Rad friends — I got ‘em.

Now, I know that astrology, tarot cards, palm reading… some people argue that all of these things can be wrapped up under the umbrella of “a bunch of horse shit.” People argue that it’s a fraud, that astrologers and palm readers and tarot card readers are just attune to people’s emotions and mental state, and use that to give an “accurate” reading. Which… yeah, I mean, I get that. Maybe it’s true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. And besides, I tend to be a bit hippy-dippy myself. So I went into the reading with an open mind, not knowing what to expect but eager to see what this whole tarot card thing was about.

About 10 seconds after meeting me, the reader said, “Happy birthday! I do some astrology stuff, too, and since your birthday just happened, I’m guessing last month was a really hard month for you.” Which YES, YES IT WAS. Last month saw the introduction of a new job, new responsibilities, a new jam-packed work schedule — all in all, a trying month. But more than that, it’s had me wondering how I can possibly find time to write and edit a book  when life is so damn busy. When other obligations are so demanding, when I need to step up to the plate in other arenas. How can I do all that, and still have the energy to focus on my own pursuits?

The tarot card reader and I settled in. She sprinkled some salt (I’m not too sure what this was for? But I love salt, so I was down), she arranged a white napkin on the ground, and then she had me shuffle the tarot card deck. I drew My Cards. And then we started flippin’.

Six of Wands Tarot Card

What quickly became apparent — a WHOLE lot of fire and water was goin’ on in these here cards.

Tarot Card Reading

Tarot Card Reading

In fact, it was ALL fire and water cards — the Suit of Wands and the Suit of Cups. The Wands are apparently all about “movement, action and initiatives and the launching of new ideas”, while ye ol’ Cups deal with “displays of emotion, expression of feelings and the role of emotions in relation to others”, as well as being linked to “creativity, romanticism, fantasy and imagination” (according to the first website I found, Biddy Tarot). 

That dude on the far right? He represents the big ol’ grand vision — my future self, where this is all leading. He’s the Knight of Cups, with a sweet white horse and winged feet and a “cloak covered with images of fish, the symbol of the spirit, consciousness and creativity.” And what does this knight in shining armor instruct you to do?

Be open to exploring your passions and your grand ideas at this time. You may find that you have been drawn to a particular passion or hobby and now is the time to start turning into ‘something’. You do not need to go at a cracking pace but it is important to balance your ideas with action and ensure that you are taking proactive steps to achieve your goals and ambitions. — Biddy Tarot

You can probably tell where I’m going with this. How have I interpreted my tarot card reading? That I need to get cracking. That I need to get down to business, and stop with the excuses. Write, edit, create. Life has been crazy for the past month — but that doesn’t matter. Work will always be there — crazy life obligations will always be there. In five years, I’m not going to regret an hour less sleep every night. I’m going to regret the stories I didn’t finish, the publications I didn’t submit to, the runs I didn’t run to get my creative juices flowing. I’m not going to regret the minutes of hard work — I’m going to regret the words not written.

Sometimes we need an outside source to refocus and get our rears back in gear. Maybe tarot card reading is all baloney — maybe it’s not. At any rate, I’ve gotten what I needed out of it.