Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Devil Has Eight Legs - A (True) Horror Story

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "Random Musings" and "Travel Stories"

Warning: Contains mild, spider-induced foul language and descriptions of creepy spider snafus. Discretion advised. 

Spiders. Arachnids. Little eight-legged creatures. There are approximately 2 billion creepy-crawly insects on earth per each human being, probably more, so why is it that so many people have issues with spiders,* in particular? People like me.

I hate spiders; they set my teeth on edge. At the sight of them, my lip curls and icy cold shivers run up and down my spine. There's a ridiculous dance I do when I discover another eight-legged roommate. It involves weird jerks and stomping and usually a shrill shriek. I'm not proud.

I remember a childhood summer in Oklahoma, visiting family and camping around Lake Tenkiller. On a hike, one afternoon, we came across a tarantula on the pathway, swear-to-god it was the size of a softball. I froze in place, it stopped to face us. My cousin threw a rock at it, but all that did was piss it off. It reared back on four legs, front legs waving menacingly, and it hissed. The others wanted to go around it, but I refused. Hell no! I stood there waiting patiently in the sizzling Oklahoma sun, and I let that bastard cross the path in its own damn time.

Then, fast-forward a few decades, and I've moved to the UK, a spider's paradise, because here, in Great Britain, they don't kill spiders. Uh-uh. The English people I know run around with cereal bowls and slips of paper, and they try to catch the little beasts so they can go out into their gardens and let those crawly denizens of hell go!

I first witnessed this in one of my Spanish classes, at the local university. I caught sight of some speck or debris floating in the air in my peripheral vision. Before I even turned my head, I knew - it was a sneak attack, an aerial invasion. It was a spider sliding down on a silky line. Along came a spider, I thought, then I jumped up and screamed.

A dozen or so English faces eyed me with a mixture of disgust and amusement as the teacher grabbed the silk spider thread and used it to ferry the spider out a window. I choked back a dry-heave as she wiped a stubborn bit of spiderweb on her skirt. In a shaky voice, I asked my classmate to my left, "Why didn't she just kill it?" and she looked at me as if I'd farted loudly in church.

Later that day, I recounted my close encounter to my English buddy James**, hoping for some local insight into this strange behavior. James informed me that English people don't kill spiders indoors as it is considered bad luck. He then told me the most horrific story I've ever heard. This is my version (paraphrased from memory) of what he told me:

I was on holiday, far away from the tourist scene, staying in a small hotel in rural Mexico. It was a small stucco building in the Spanish style, and I'd just checked into my room after a long and hot journey. All I wanted to do was take a cool shower and put on a clean shirt, but as I sat on the edge of the bed, I noticed something fuzzy scurry across the floor. Great, I thought, a mouse. But, as it moved from shadow to light and back to shadow, I caught a glimpse of too many legs. At least, too many legs for a mouse.

Well, that's a relief, I thought. Not a mouse at all, but a spider. I looked around the room for something to scoop it up with, but all I could find in the sparse room was a half sheet of laminated paper with instructions for making local and international phone calls. It would have to do.

Armed with my small rectangle of paper, I approached the spider. Now it was facing me, backed into a corner. As I approached, I began to think twice about my spider-retrieval plan. The spider was too big for the laminated paper and it certainly wouldn't hold the spider's weight. Furthermore, I'd have to to keep the spider from leaping off the paper, and I didn't want to squash it with my hand.

On a small table in the hallway outside my room there had been a small, decorative bowl, about the size of a large cereal bowl. That would be perfect. I'd plop the bowl over the spider, then slide the paper under the bowl and spider to keep it tucked safely inside for relocation.

A few seconds later and I was back in the room, bowl and paper at the ready. But, the spider was gone. Damn. I looked around for several minutes, under the corner table and beneath the tattered luggage rack. I looked under the bed. Nothing. I thought perhaps it had followed me out, escaped when I went for the bowl, but then I caught a flash of motion out of the corner of my eye, this time, at shoulder height. It was on the wall.

Advancing on my quarry, we were now eye-to-eye (or eye-to-many-eyes). It looked even larger. I hefted the bowl and sized up the spider. The bowl might cover its body, but the legs would be a problem. I tried to hold the bowl over it, to get a better measure, but it waved two legs at me and it hissed. This was something I'd not encountered before, but I was tired and I wanted the whole ordeal over with, so I advanced anyway. Besides, the bowl was my only option.

I lunged at the spider, but it scrambled away and I only managed to slam the bowl against the wall. It was on the move now, and I gave pursuit, lunging and missing until we had moved halfway around the room. I followed it over the bed and across a nightstand. It ran for a small tapestry on the wall and I smacked the bowl against the wall again. This time, I caught its leg and it turned on me and lunged. I shouted and jumped back, alarmed, and dropped the bowl. It shattered into a dozen, useless pieces. The spider hissed once more than ducked under the tapestry, forming a small, darting lump.

Then it hit me - use the tapestry, so I slammed my forearms against the tapestry, trapping the spider in a confined space. Now what? There was only one thing I could do, so I scooped the rough fabric around the spider and yanked it free from the wall. It came away easily (along with a chunk of the wall) in a cloud of loose plaster. I was sweating now, the moisture dripping into my eyes, but I carefully wrapped the spider into a bundle and headed out the door, down the hallway and out to the courtyard.

I burst through the patio doors, red faced, sweating and covered in white plaster and came to a halt. Several men were seated around the patio, sipping drinks, some playing cards. I paid them no mind. I flipped the tapestry open and out flew the spider. It landed in the middle of the patio. Everything stopped for two heartbeats, the spider hissed and every man, without exception, sprung to their feet and ran from the patio. They stopped and cowered just outside the tiny courtyard gate and peered back at the spider. One man shouted something to me in Spanish - it might have been something about poison, I've never been sure. The spider gave one final waggle of its front legs, then scampered away. I didn't bother to see where it went. After giving the tapestry one final shake, I turned on my heel and returned to my room. 

*   Yes, I know spiders aren't insects.
** Name changed to protect the utterly bonkers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Linkity-Link: News & Noteworthy from the SFF World

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Science Fiction (and Science Fact):

For the Science Fiction comic fan: a full-color, hardbound collection from Simon & Kirby.

In defense of Tom Cruise and his Sci-Fi movie career: an interesting article, here. I must confess I have a love-hate relationship with Cruise, myself, and the author makes some good points.

A Science Fiction film from Chile - the trailer looks interesting.

Space Elevators! Going up?

Scalzi's fans bring him...buttercream frosting? Love it. Ah, to one day have such fans as these.


A nice two-part article from Fantasy Faction on the history of the Fantasy Young Adult genre. If you are a YA fan and/or writer - this is a good one to read.

A three-part series on women authors of Fantasy Fiction. If you read the genre, you probably know these names, but there might be some new authors to add to your list.

Fantasy Faction has a lot of nice, in-depth articles on the genre (this the second link from the site in today's Fantasy links). Here's one on creatures from Greek mythology.

Publishing News

The publishing industry's plans for a new year. Are things looking up or is it just the calm before the storm? In any case, here's what some of the Big 6 have to offer in 2013.

Short write-up on Amazon Publishing's new dedicated website.

Kuttab Publishing out of the UAE helps those with special needs or disabilities to get their stories printed. Read about this wonderful project, here. It is a new venture, one I've not heard of before, but it seems like a great idea.

New Chief named for independent, queer publisher Cleis Press. Interesting writeup about the "largest independent queer publishing company."

Bric-a-Brac for the Reader and Writer

Need something inspiring to hang over your Writer's desk? Serious Penguin book fan? I always love book-themed prints and this one looks interesting - whether you're a Reader or a Writer.

Looking for some short Fantasy fiction? Lois Tilton reviews a couple of anthologies, here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Brendan O'Connoll Had Better Watch His Back

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "Travel Stories"

The Cashel Dancers- Rowan Gillespie
The trip to Ireland was fantastic. I always enjoy my time there. The people are great, the pubs lively and the landscape is magical. And, I always seem to come back with a random story or experience. 

The Husband (hereafter "TH") and I were enjoying a meal in a restaurant in Derry/Londonderry one evening, about halfway into our trip. This was our first night in Northern Ireland, having been to Dublin many times and once before around the Republic of Ireland's coast. We were pretty exhausted by that time, as we usually are due to TH's "climb every mountain" approach to travel itineraries, and I felt a little weary as the Irish trad band started up in the adjoining bar. 

I was two pints in and needed to visit the loo, so I headed toward the back through the bar area to get to the toilets. As I passed the bar, I couldn't help but overhear a short snippet of conversation between the only two men listening to the band. 

It went something like this:

"Can you imagine? What if someone came into their country and acted like that? What do you think he deserves?" a muscular, bald man wearing a white t-shirt said, slurring his words a bit. He was hovering over his mate who was seated at the bar. The guy was pretty beefy - he had no discernible neck.

"I'd thrash 'em," said his companion with a shake of his fist. 

"Exactly. He had no call to act that way. Who does he think he is?"

Needless-to-say, I walked right past these two gentlemen and continued to my destination, glad I wasn't the stupid tourist who had angered the locals. All of Ireland was crawling with American tourists this trip, and I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't one of my compatriots who had angered the two men. I cringed at the thought. American tourists don't have the best reputation in Europe (as Europeans are always eager to remind me), but the Irish seemed to cut us a bit more slack and even, dare-I-say-it, like us.  I hated to think we were wearing our welcome thin, here, too. Damn - there's always someone to spoil the party.

On my way back to our table, I stopped momentarily to listen to the band, and noticed that the two men had gone. After the song ended, I started back to rejoin TH. We were seated in the front window of the restaurant, right next to the door, and TH's back was to me as I approached our table. 

As I sat down, he looked at me, wide-eyed, with a funny expression on his face. 

"What's up?" I asked.

"Um, I think we'd better go back to the B&B."

"Okay. Are you all right?"

"Yeah, but I think I almost got my ass kicked."

I just raised an eyebrow at this. I mean, my husband is not the type to get into brawls. Ever. "What happened?"

"These two guys came through to the front door, and the first guy stops at the table and shouts something at me. I think he was shouting in Irish."

"What the hell? Are you serious?"

"Yeah, then he storms out the door. Then, his friend opens the door to leave, but turns to me first and says: 'Are you Brendan O'Connell?' I shook my head and said, 'No,' and he said: 'Good. You're lucky,' and then he stormed out the door, too."

"Holy shit. That really happened?"

"Yeah, what the f*ck?" TH shook his head in disbelief.

"Wait, was one of the guys bald and real solid, with no-neck?"

"Yeah, you saw them?"

"They were at the bar talking about clobbering a stupid tourist."

"Oh shit. Who the hell is Brendan O'Connell? It sounds Irish. Do I even look Irish?" Then TH starts laughing.

Sizing up my six-foot-two, olive-skinned husband, with his Roman nose inherited from Italian ancestors, who had not one drop of Irish blood in his body, I shook my head 'no.' "I don't even think you could pass for Irish-American. Who knows what that was all about." 

We laughed it off and eventually returned to the B&B. Even after that incident, I can't say I felt truly threatened. It was bizarre, yes, and random, but not really frightening. Maybe I'm naive, but I feel safer walking around European cities than US cities - even cities with recent histories of violence, such as Derry. Plus, we're not unseasoned travelers - we do our research and try not to act like idiots. 

In any case, after we returned home, I looked up the name "Brendan O'Connell." Turns out there is a football player by the name, who played for several English teams. Maybe they were making a joke?  They were at least a little drunk, so maybe after a few pints TH might somehow resemble this football player - who knows? 

All I know is - Brendan O'Connell, whoever he is, had better be on his p's and q's in Derry.

Anyone else step into a strange or sticky situation while traveling?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Links-a-lot: Writing News and Inspiration

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Just a general, hodgepodge of links today. Publishing news and interesting bits related to Science Fiction, Fantasy and general writing.

I know the Internet is chock-a-block with blogs and articles on self-publishing tips. I can't say that there is anything totally new or earth-shattering in author Russell Blake's approach, but Karen Woodward does a nice recap of a post by Russell in the Kindle boards on her blog. It is a peak inside his self-publishing and marketing process and methods (and boy, does he churn out the novels).  Here is the original Kindle board post, if you're interested in the discussion, there.

For you Margaret Atwood fans, an article where the author discusses e-publishing.

The publishing industry just gets sadder - a write-up on the fallout from the Borders bankruptcy. Can't imagine this helps the cause of those writers trying to get published with these US publishing houses.

The SciFi future of your dreams is one step closer with advancement in the flexible battery technology!

Marvel fans rejoice - a taste of what's coming for future Marvel Movies.

Copyright protection: Tor's experiment - an article discussing the statement made by Tor on their experiment with copy-protection-free e-publishing.

The Locus Awards Ballot is announced - see what's hot in SF&F.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Something new...coming up!

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at  The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "Literary Pilgrimages."

I've been toying with this idea for a while. As you may or may not know, I'm quite the travel buff. And, in the six years that we've lived in England, I've visited a lot of places and come across a lot of homes or estates of famous literary figures. So, the idea is to write articles about these literary pilgrimages, including pictures, and post them here.

Today, I'm heading out to visit the grave of a famous poet. She's no English rose, either, but a fellow ex-pat American. I'll have some pictures for you next week. Can anyone guess who this American poet, buried in an English graveyard, might be?

Also, does anyone have any place in Ireland or Northern Ireland that I should visit? Outside of Dublin, please, as we will be traveling by car in a loop around both countries in the coming weeks and I'd love some input on a literary site to visit!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Giving up and Moving on

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Mental Game."

I came across this post, "15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy." It's a spot-on list. Thankfully, neither chocolate nor alcohol were included. If you are struggling to follow your path, to get that first novel written, to submit a first short story or wavering in whatever it is that you dream of doing, you should go read this post. Even if the last sentence doesn't describe you, go read it. Everyone can get something from it, so go on, read it now. Plus, this post won't make as much sense otherwise.

I'm going to write about the things from the post's list that spoke to me the most, as a writer, and as a person struggling to carve a place for myself in this world.

Give up your need for Control

This has been a big one for me, in accepting myself as a writer and allowing myself to pursue my dream. An artist's life is full of unknowns. Will your work be any good? Will it appeal to anyone enough for them to purchase your art? Will you be able to pay the bills?

My corporate career gave me a sense of more than a modicum of control (one might argue, an illusion of control, but that's another topic). I knew that, if I completed XYZ task, I would be paid ABC dollars. There was a career path I followed and I had constant feedback and could know, to an extent, how successful I could be.

I had to accept that pursuing writing full-time would mean giving up my financial freedom and control, perhaps for good (my kick-ass husband pays my bills, now*). A one-paycheck household is riskier, though. I also had to come to terms with the fact that I can't know how good my writing is until I spend a lot of time and effort writing and put my work out there for feedback. Even if my writing is good, there are no guarantees I'll ever sell a single story or make one thin dime. The structure and safety-nets of a more conventional career just don't exist for a writer, and I cling to my fantasy that control means escaping pain like a drowning man will clutch at straws.

Give up your self-defeating self-talk

Holy hell I am guilty of negative self-talk. Damn the cliche, I am my own worst enemy. For years, I've woven a detailed story about why I can't be a writer: I'm not that clever, I'm not that disciplined, I'll never be anything but a dreamer, I'll never measure up, and on and on and on.

When I sit down to write, I have to first do battle with that little writing demon who likes to tell me how hard it is, how crap my sentence structure is, that my stories are derivative tripe - you get the picture. I have to slay that little shit every single time.

Over the last two years, just doing, moving forward with the plans that scare me the most, seems to have quieted the voices of self-doubt slightly. Every story written, shrinks the demon. Still, I'm not very nice to myself, and that gets in the way.

Give up your limiting beliefs

This one coincides with the previous one in a way. I kept telling myself that writing was too hard, too competitive, too out-of-reach and not very sensible. Successful writing careers are as realistic as unicorns - that sort of thing. Jeez, I sound like a damned librarian.

I used to believe that I could do things, that things would happen, and usually, somehow, but not always in the way I expected, they would. Somewhere along the way, that sense of belief got beaten out of me. Not sure how to repair that damage. I've taken on board a metric ton of fears.

Give up living your life to other people's expectations

I almost want to qualify this one with a "real or imagined." I'm sure I sometimes project my fears onto other people, and decide they are judging me, if that makes any sense. For example, I assumed people would think me a lazy, delusional dreamer if I chucked it all to pursue my dream of being a writer. A lot of my fears about leaving my career had to do with feeling like I'd be letting people down by abandoning the corporate ladder. Here I was, a woman making her way in corporate America, making oodles more money than most everyone else she graduated from college with - well, wasn't that the very definition of success? Ugh, it doesn't sound so hot when I write it out like this.

But, dreams of scaling the corporate heights and smashing through glass ceilings, they weren't my dreams. I honestly don't give a shit about that stuff. I'm not going to lie, it was very hard leaving that kind of money and financial stability behind, but I had my own dreams and they were dying terrible deaths so that I could be a "success" as defined in my money-loving culture.

Then there are the very real expectations people have of me, beyond societal pressures. I've told a couple of friends about my novel writing, and it wasn't a great response. I got that look you get when you are slowly backing away from a pissed-off, soft-ball sized tarantula that you've interrupted as it goes about its morning crawl through your camp site, AKA: its former home (oh, you haven't had that experience? There's a look, trust me.) I suppose, if you're going to be an artist, you have to expect that some people will not think much of that choice, for whatever reason.

These are just a few of the 15 things to give up, and I completely agree with every item on the list. In fact, I think I'll have to print out the list and tape it to my mirror for a while.

What about you? Did you agree with the 15 things to give up? Do you struggle with any of these? Or, are you giving my post the tarantula look?

*Yes, I realize that I'm very privileged that we don't have big expenses (no kids, for example) and that we can afford to live off the husband's paycheck. I'm not suggesting that everyone can or should do this. For me, leaving my career was still about choosing to be dependent on my husband and losing my financial freedom and letting go of my identity of "successful business woman," not so much about taking on a financial hardship. I had this ideal about women paying their own way in life, but sometimes life is also about allowing others to help you. It does put all the financial pressure on my husband, which I still struggle with. I'm a terrible housewife, too!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Even cowgirls get the blues

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Mental Game"

Sometimes, life is just shit. Inelegant, I know, but true. Life has handed me a bit of a turd in the last few months, and once again, I'm struggling to keep myself on course with my writing, my studies, my piles of dirty dishes and laundry, and with just about everything else, actually.

It isn't really that hard to keep on going, is it? People do maintain their lives while managing some pretty stressful situations, don't they? What is the matter with me? I think I'm depressed.

Yes, things have not worked out the way I had hoped (sorry for being vague, but I'm not quite ready to discuss this particular issue at the moment), and it is no small thing I'm faced with. The timing for this new crisis, is as always, fracking unbelievable. However, it is also not the end of the world and many people have been dealt much worse in life.

I admit it, I've been alternating between avoidance and wallowing. I've gained six pounds due to stress/grief-induced-chocolate consumption. I've fallen behind in my language and yoga studies, and even dropped my entire semester of language classes. I haven't touched my novel. The only reason I've written any short stories is that I do still make it to my writing class every week. I've logged a ridiculous number of hours on Skyrim, but I've yet to finish the damned game. I weep a lot. 

This is one of those moments where I need to break out a little tough love (or a can of whoop-ass) and use it on myself. Not-so-deep-down, I'm not at all convinced I can do it. Part of me is ready to adopt another cat, gain another twenty pounds, call it a mid-life crisis and surrender utterly to the madness and self-loathing. I didn't say this was a proud moment in my life. 

There's a fork in the road, people. I've got to make a decision, got to decide what kind of person I'm going to be. I can give in to the familiar and easy or choose something better. I could wallow in grief forever- I've had my share of it the last three years. Still, it would be a damned shame, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?

Thankfully, I have a husband whom I don't want to disappoint. And a sister who wants a creative business partner. And friends and family. 

It is all so close...if I can just get out of bed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

IndieReCon - It's happening now!

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "Publishing"

Hi everyone. I'm over enjoying the free IndieReCon: Making indie-publishing a mission possible.

Posts, live chats, vlogs and giveaways around the topic of indie-publishing - check it out. It is just starting today and everything will remain available on the website for later perusal. I'm hoping to get some interesting information and read/hear some thoughts on publishing in 2013.

In other "news" - I've been on overload overhear with deadlines and school and husband's business travels and a holiday abroad. I'll be back next week when things finally settle down (here's hoping).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Feed your Creativity - A List

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  

I've been going through a bit of a slow patch the last week. I still managed some free writing and wrote a short story (it received rave reviews from my readers - hooray!), but I've not worked on The Beast (AKA WiP1) in a week. The creativity impulse has been wavering, wilted, waning (Yes, already...funny how these things go).

I saw this list, 33 Ways to Stay Creative, on Google+ (thanks, Girl Writer) and it made me think about how we creative types need to take care of ourselves and protect our creativity from perfectionism, insecurity, boredom, isolation, negativity, burn-out and fear.

The list has some good ideas ("carry a notebook everywhere"), some ideas I subscribe to but that are not as universal ("drink tea or coffee"), and then there are some ones I'm not sure what to do with ("be otherworldly"). The list made me ask myself: how can I do a better job of nurturing my creativity and protecting this still-fragile writer identity?

So, without further ado, I present to you (I've borrowed a few suggestions from the above linked list where noted with an *) my version of the list:

Feed Your Creativity - A List
  1. Carry a notebook everywhere.* (I have tiny notepads with tiny pens. They fit in the tiniest of bags or pockets. I record: overheard conversation snippets, funny signs, random thoughts, etc.)
  2. Take a daily walk outdoors. (Preferably somewhere pretty or inspiring and filled with nature.)
  3. Write badly, boldly - just write. (or draw or paint or whatever you do)
  4. Experiment with various hobbies/activities (I took boxing lessons for a while, for example, and I want to learn to pick locks.)
  5. Take up a creative hobby different than your main passion. (For example: if you're a writer, do something wordless, like knitting or painting or photography.)
  6. Create a pleasant, healthy ritual around your work. (Sit down to your workstation with a cup of nice tea or cocoa, start your day with your favorite song, or light a candle or incense. Don't start your creative sessions with a cigarette (or something addictive and bad for you) - trust me.)
  7. Collect "found objects" and keep them in a box for inspiration. (This came from a writing teacher. I collect pine cones and dried leaves/seeds, bits of fabric or buttons, weird items from thrift shops, toys, old pictures and postcards, etc. and keep them in a nice tin or box.)
  8. Take breaks and get plenty of rest.*
  9. Learn how to accept criticism graciously. (Don't take it personally - you are not your art. Also, recognize when criticism doesn't feel true for you. Which leads to...)
  10. Trust your gut.
  11. Meditate daily. (Seems like creative types have a lot going on upstairs - ten minutes of quiet every day does wonders). 
  12. Drink your water. (Hydration - it's important)
  13. Take a class or join a group. (A lot of art work is solitary work. Being with others who share your passion can be invigorating.)
  14. Read books, watch plays, see a film, go to a museum. Travel if you can.*
  15. Study a foreign language.
  16. Learn to like yourself. 
  17. Don't always wait on the Muse. (Sometimes you just have to make things happen. )
  18. Have goals you can control, and know how you're going to make them happen.
  19. Put yourself out there: be vulnerable.  (Go ahead and create a blog, submit a story, tell your friends you wrote a book, etc.)
  20. Finish something.* (Nothing feels as good as finishing a project. It will keep you going for quite some time.)
  21. Cut negative people out of your life. (If someone is sucking the life out of you - take a hard look at their place in your life. Some people are vampires.)
  22. Make note cards with creative, inspirational or funny quotes or images and hang them around your work station.
  23. Laugh daily. 
  24. Don't take yourself (or your art) too seriously. If you can laugh at yourself or your work every once in a while, it takes the edge off.
  25. Share your work with others. 
  26. If you can, change your work setting once a week. (For writers, it is easy: grab pen and notepad and go to the local coffee shop, park or library.)
  27. Take care of your health. (Go to the dentist, already!)
  28. Let yourself cry.
  29. Love a pet. 
  30. Enjoy the small things: a sunset, a sleeping cat, holding hands, quiet mornings, the smell of a flower, dark chocolate.
  31. Be content with now, enjoy where you're at in your artistic journey. 
  32. Don't expect to master your craft immediately.  (Goes along with #31)
  33. Accept that there will be bad days.
  34. Create a space dedicated to your art. (My "writing space" is the corner of the guest room/sewing room/exercise room/storage room, but that corner is organized with all my "tools" and decorated with stuff that inspires me.)
  35. Respect your art. (Dedicate time to it, study "the masters," have your work critiqued, commit yourself to your work, finish your projects.)
  36. Enjoy what you do. (If you don't, do something else.)

What do you do to protect your creativity?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sometimes I don't brush my teeth at night...

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Mental Game"

...nor wash my face. I know, you're judging me, probably thinking, "My God, the plaque!" It's okay, I judge me, too. But, there are some nights, when I am cozied-up in bed, reading a book and the room is already cold because we've turned off the radiators - and it is too easy to reach over and turn off the reading lamp and snuggle down to sleep. I don't want to throw back the duvet and brave five minutes of exposure to get clean teeth and face. Hell, I'll only clean them again in the morning. 

If only it were just my teeth I neglected.

I have this back injury due to a car accident, a dysfunctional sacroiliac joint to be precise, and it took me years of pain and ever-more-limited movement to finally get it sorted with the help of a phenomenol physiotherapist. It happened seven years ago, and I have only made progress on resolving the issue in the last year. Before the accident, I was a very fit runner. In fact, I was training for a marathon when the accident occurred. Today? I'm still battling to get back to where I was, but it took me six years of misery to even get here.

What in the name of all that is holy, is my point?

My point is, sometimes I'm a bit lax about taking care of myself. I've been throwing myself into my writing all year (all fifteen days of it), which is great, but I've gone a little overboard. I'm supposed to get in my 2 mile walk, some yoga, my physio exercises and strength training every day. I'm supposed to take a break from sitting in front of my computer every half hour.

At first I was vigilant, setting a timer on my computer to remind me to get up, walk a bit on the treadmill and stretch my upper body and arms. But, then there was the day I was so into my scene, I forgot to set the timer. A few days later and the timer was already a memory, and I've been working very long days.

My back began to ache, but I ignored it. Flash forward a week, and I was back in my PT's office, barely able to sleep because of the pain. You'd think I'd know better about office injuries. Remember the girl with tendinitis in both wrists?

It's all about moderation

My back was killing me, but I didn't get up and move. I wasn't listening to my body. It wasn't until I went to yoga class this morning that I got a clue. My teacher read a quote about having moderation in your life. Ah yes, then it hit me: my back being out-of-whack again was the symptom; I was being too extreme. I like extreme. Extreme is exhilarating, but it usually has some sort of repercussions you have to face up to.

Um...what does this have to do with writing?
We creative types can be a bit...obsessive, focused, determined, extreme, etc. But, we have to remember to take care of ourselves while following our passions. We can't let everything else fall apart because it will kill our creativity in the end.

I know it's not sexy. I've been seduced down the road to extreme too many times. What is less sexy than the word moderation? Extreme is a lacy black thong and moderation always seems so...granny pantie.

However, I've got to stop letting myself be seduced by the dark side. If my body falls apart, my mind follows and then where does that get me? Plus sixty pounds and depressed, that's where. Very difficult to write anything when you're back hurts so much you can't think and you're too depressed to get out of bed.
Time to check in with reality

I can't sit for hours on end, without a break, and expect to be able to walk when quittin' time rolls around. I know this. Plus, I've been wearing myself out with long days without breaks. I need to be more focused, get my work done earlier and take care of my body throughout the day. This means less time futzing around the forums and blogs (thanks JeffO for the reminder) and more regular breaks for activity and movement. Simple.

What about you? Anyone else out there go to extremes in pursuit of their passions (or just because it's Tuesday)? Have a good story to share? Leave a comment so I know I'm not the only crazy artist out there.

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon

Sunday, January 13, 2013

SFF Links to cure Sunday "Blahs"

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Storm Troopers invade London
It is Sunday, and I'm "sharpening pencils." Over on Google+, +Jeremy Menefee made a comment about a phrase his dad used to indicate when one is wasting time preparing instead of doing - sharpening pencils. I love it, it's my new euphemism for procrastination.

It was a brilliant, sunny morning for a change, and I watched the sun slide along its near horizontal path, low in the sky, through my office window. I thought the solar charge might make me extra-productive, but not so.

It isn't even mid-month and the enthusiasm over goal setting and manifesto writing is starting to wane as I get down to what writing is really all about: hard work. But, I've been chugging along, keeping to my minimum daily writing goals. I've even submitted two short stories. Still moving forward. I just need to be more efficient with my time in order to keep it all together.

But, this is a link post, so on to the links (only if you've finished your work).
A few links related (sometimes loosely) to the world of science fiction and fantasy writing, reading and viewing 

I've been following Jay Lake's blog for quite some time. He is a speculative fiction author, in case you aren't familiar with his work, but he has also been fighting cancer since 2008. There is a fundraising effort underway to help with the costs of his treatments. For anyone who's interested or a fan, check out the links to his blog and the fundraising site. It is nice to see the writing community coming together in support of Mr. Lake.

Here's a great article from io9, which gives great tips for how You, the consumer/viewer of science fiction films, can help to improve the quality of the films that get produced. Great ideas in here for the SciFi fan.

There is a scam going round, targeting science fiction authors and speakers. Over at the Skepticblog, they have a little fun trying to out-scam the scammer. Hilarious. I had tears.

More about films. What goodness can we expect on the superheroes and science fiction front in 2013?

Found this link via Jay Lake: Barnes and Noble bookstores closing- the end of bookstores? Or, the end of books?

Brain parasites - we all have them. Gah! Zombie apocalypse, this is how it starts.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Snapshot Saturday

Wow, I haven't participated in a Snapshot Saturday in over a year! Glad to see it is still going strong over at Alyce's blog, At Home with Books. Visit her page if you would like to participate.

In celebration of my two cats surviving severe health woes in 2012, I'm posting their pictures. (Plus, I'm a writer - writer's love cats!) I was inspired by the joy in Alyce's pictures of her son playing so happily with dominoes. Here are my beasts at their happiest.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ludic Poetry as Writing Exercise

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  

Sunflower field: Provence

In my writing class this week, we started off with a little ludic poetry. This poetry is more like a word game, and it is great for getting you to think about word selection. 

I particularly liked this exercise as I've been writing a lot of flash fiction lately. With flash fiction, you are forced to distill your story to its core and choose your language carefully in order to maximize your story writing potential.

Are you ready?

The exercise I'm starting with is the univocalic poem. It is simply a poem in which you use only one vowel (let's begin with the letter 'o'). To start, I wrote a list of o-words, divided by noun/verb/adjective/conjunction/etc.  The exercise was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Now, for some really odd/bad poetry!

Only Sorrow 

No moon, no glow
Sorrow won't go
Tomorrow blows cold
Comfort grows old 

 Top Show

Stop to pop corn
Hot dogs, top notch
Won't borrow no flops 
Only mock crock plots     

Storm's Doom

Gloomy snows follow storms
Downtown grows cold
Comfort fools forlorn folks
Rooftops won't hold. 

Bloody socks do no good
Footsteps grow slow
Sorrow knocks sorry moods 
Only doom to sow

Poor Frogs

Horned frogs slowly hop
Onto stools or rocks.
Soon flocks boldly drop,
Down to scoop frogs off.  

Before you laugh at my efforts, give it a go yourself. Post your own poems and link back to them in the comments - I'd love to read someone else's poems. Someone has to be better at this than I. Anyone have some good two and three syllable words with only 'o' as its vowels?


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Linkity-Link: Fantasy Reading Lists

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Everyone says that to be a good writer, you have to be a great reader. As it happens, I've always loved to read. I've read so many books, I can't keep track of what I have and have not read.

However, this is not to say that I couldn't use a good reading list or two, or that my reading is sufficiently varied. Like everyone (presumably), I get into reading ruts.

I'm particularly bad about finding new authors of the up-and-coming sort, usually being the last person to read that new book everyone is raving about. What can I say, I like authors who have been out for a while and thoroughly vetted, like, say Dickens or Shakespeare. 

I'm only kidding. Sort of.

So, I went digging through the Internet, looking for some inspiring fantasy novel reading lists and came up with the links, below. I may go through and compile my own master list, and if I do, I'll add it to the blog.

The Best of 2012 and Most Anticipated in 2013 

 From io9: Their best sf&f books of 2012. At the bottom of the article are links to their lists for previous years. I haven't read a single book on this list, but I have read some of the authors. 

This site has a list of the "most anticipated fantasy books of 2013." Some very interesting looking offerings. I don't think I've read any of the authors on this list, so definitely will be checking out at least a few of these titles.

Fantasy Books Every Author Should Read

Again, from io9, their list of ten books every fantasy author should read is here. I've read a couple of these, and some are reference books for fantasy fans and authors rather than novels. Reference books for fantasy authors - that's a whole other post.

This list of books for fantasy authors comes from Viable Paradise and has contributions from some well loved authors. It also has a link at the bottom to suggested non-fiction for the fantasy author or fan.

Another page I came across here, has a list of the twenty best fantasy writers, ever, from I've read a lot of these, so you probably have, too. Still, it is worth a look. I'm not sure I agree that some of these authors are in the top twenty, but I haven't read others on the list, so what do I know?

Fantasy Books Written by Women

Here is a great list of eleven books by female fantasy authors from a great little site I used to read (she no longer posts, but the blog is still there). I have read quite a few of these books and authors and it is a good list.

Over at Worlds Without End, they have a Women of Genre Fiction challenge starting, which asks that you write reviews of what you read. I've signed up and started to read my first book (science fiction, though). Still, they have a lot of reading lists you can peruse with plenty of fantasy books.

Other Fantasy Novel Reading Lists

I've been writing a lot of urban fantasy (and reading, too), so here's a little list I found of the best urban fantasy at Best Fantasy Books. Actually, this site has a lot of fantasy reading lists at your disposal.

Back in 2011, NPR compiled this list of their readers' top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. A good list to gauge how well-read you are compared to your average speculative fiction fan. 

Finally, there is this list from a blog of the same name: 101 fantasy challenge book list. If you click through the tabs, there is a mammoth list of 813 fantasy books compiled from a reader poll conducted by several book bloggers. Just in case these other lists leave you with spare time in 2013. 

Okay - who's got some good links or reading lists?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Setting Goals: Anyone can do it

Shah Jahan met his goals.
 Setting Goals is Child's Play

Setting a goal (or announcing a resolution) is very easy. All it takes is a whim and a moment’s thought, maybe some time putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. Even if you spend quite a lot of time thinking about and analyzing what you want to do, it is only the first step and let's face it,  the easiest step. I can set goals and make lists all damned day. (See, I've done it, here.)

Making Dreams a Reality is a lot of Hard Work
Meeting goals, now that is a whole different kettle of fish. This is where I fall down. Perfectionism usually rears its head in this phase, that’s my kryptonite. I have a dream, I create a goal, then I go completely insane and make schedules and lists and plans that very few humans could endure until I’ve strangled any ounce of drive or passion out of whatever it is I’m in pursuit of.

 But, this time is different! Again

Given my above confession, I’m  a little hesitant to make sweeping, bold proclamations, but here goes: This year will be different! Go ahead and picture me pumping my fist triumphantly into the air as I say this. Maybe I’m even wearing a viking helm or something, hair blowing in the wind as I stand on top of a mountain, proclaiming my intentions, grandly for all to hear.

Flexibility, not just for my yoga mat

There is this little thing called flexibility; I’m going to try it. Hell, I’ll even give "realistic" and "sane" a go, too. I don't have a magic formula, but get this: I’m going to expect to struggle and find myself in need of a rethink or revision of my plans. I will look at my goals for the year and  figure out how to meet them, one day at a time. At the end of the month, I’m going to see how I progress and adjust my goals accordingly. See, no failure in 2013 here. I’ve got a plan, and it’s flexible.

January’s Plan to meet Writing Goals:
  • Daily Plan:
    • Improve writing skills - Need to write new words, every day. So, at the very minimum, I will free write in my writing journal (10 minutes timed writing with or without prompt) six days a week. This is my very minimum daily writing goal for January.
    • WiP1 (novel) - To finish the redraft of my first novel by June, I need to write 550 words per day, 6 days per week. I do type and write fast, so in theory, this should be very doable.
  • Weekly Plan:
    • Write 1/ Submit 1 - I have at least 6 completed short stories that I can revise and submit in January. I know where the first story is going. So, there is no reason I can’t submit 2 stories in January. I plan to do it the first two weeks in January, so that the hurdle of hitting “enter” on the keyboard to send off my submission is past, and I start off with a success in January. I may even submit more than 2 stories. I have have to write one 1,000 word story per week for my writing class, which starts next Tuesday, so that should keep me going on producing new short stories. 
      • Need to assemble the submissions folder/binder and get organized.
    • Take a class/workshop - Done! I’ve signed up for the second trimester of a writing class/workshop I started back in September. I’m so glad I did this and wish I had done it earlier. Second trimester starts next week.
    • Critique Group - I’ve joined a few on-line, but I’d like to form one in real life. There is one woman from my writing class with whom I’ve exchanged emails. I will post one story to one of the on-line forums and post one critique - see how it goes.
    • Read books on writing - I have a long list of writing books, and already own half a dozen from said list. I’ve never read any of them. Going to start with “The Making of a Story” by Alice LaPlante. I’ve been on page 165 for over a year. Time to finish this (enjoyable, really) book.
    • Read 52 books -Not a problem. Right now I'm reading "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" by James Tiptree Jr, a compilation of her short stories. Nothing like reading the short stories of a master to intimidate you. 
 For some links to help with goal setting, read here.

How about you? Are your goals just a static list sitting in a file folder on your computer? Do you know how you're going to get there (wherever that may be for you) in 2013? Do you think my plan makes sense?

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing 2013 - A Manifesto!

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Writer's Desk"
Taj Mahal: What's your passion?

Happy New Year and welcome to 2013!

Time to post my 2013 writing goals. First off, I'd like to thank Lisa Walker England for her blog post 6 Reasons to Trash Your Creative Resolutions.

What a great post - hit all of my goal-setting issues right on the proverbial head. I highly recommend you read her post before finalizing your own goals for the year. My favorite part was the idea of a writing manifesto. Sounds so grand to say, "My Writing Manifesto." She has great links to creative manifestos to inspire you, too.

So, without further ado, here is my 2013 Writing Manifesto:

I believe that writing is one of the highest callings, and that we, as writers, have the power to help people to laugh, cry, think, or escape. We can make our readers feel empathy, anger, love, hate, wonder and joy. In short, we can shape reality with our words.
In 2013, I will embrace my writing with joy and a sense of responsibility, both to myself and to others. I will respect my projects and finish the stories I begin, then send them promptly out into the world. I will honor my writing time and space by setting and meeting challenging, yet realistic goals, and I will take steps every day to meet those goals. I will take pride in my work, approach it as a professional and share it with others.
Now, keeping in mind my manifesto and all the helpful advice I've received from my fellow writers on the web, I give you my 2013 Writing Goals:

  • I will write what I enjoy and send it out into the world, either by submitting to contests or publications or posting on my blog.
    • Write1/Submit1 - Write two short stories per month and submit to contests and publications. 24 short stories submitted by end of year.
    • Critique Group - find a critique group to join by the end of March.
    • WiP1(First Novel) - I will rewrite my first novel (WIP1) by June 1. Then I will send it to beta readers. By the end of 2013, it will be ready to query or self-publish (or both).
    • Skills development:
      • Free-write, every work day.
      • Read at least two books on writing. 
      • Take a writing class (signed up for one class) or attend a workshop.
      • Read a book or attend a workshop on editing/proofreading.
      • Read blogs and books on self-publishing.
  • I will write a minimum of 100,000 words in 2012. 
  • I will attend at least one writer's conference. (Possibly WFC in Oct.)
  • I will read 52 books. 
  • I will follow Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Freelancer's Survival Guide" and develop my professional writing career (it is not a hobby).
  • I will review these goals at least once per month and re-evaluate and revise as necessary.
  There it is - my high level plan-of-attack for 2013. Anyone else have their goals written down? Anyone looking to finish, self-publish or submit a novel in 2013?