Monday, March 22, 2010

Bells Will Be Ringing

Looking back through the last few weeks, I can see I've been neglecting this blog. My goal is usually to post at least five entries a week: you folks are nice enough to visit my blog and comment on my thoughts, and I feel the least I can do is be consistent in my posts.

My goal, however, did not take into account the very exciting event coming up in my life: I'm getting married!

Between dancing around the house to my own internal celebratory orchestra and admiring my lovely wedding band, I've been wading through the plethora of details involved in a wedding—even a wedding as simple and small as ours! Most of these details are fun and exciting in their own way (like cake tasting and dress shopping and shoe shopping and color selections get the picture), but they've taken over my life for the time being.

My regular posting routine should resume in the middle of April. Until then, thank you for checking back every once in a while to see if I've surfaced for a breather from the wedding vortex.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Hidden Costs of a Couch

That lovely big couch and love seat that we recently purchased might end up costing us a lot more than we originally paid. There are hidden costs in this new furniture that we just found out tonight when we finally got around to moving them from where they've sat askew in the front room into a proper arrangement.

We moved the 36" box TV (which weighs as much as I do, I think), and the stereo, sub woofer, and speakers, got everything into place along a new wall and realized we needed about two more inches of room. That's it, just two more inches and we'd be able to fit the love seat along an adjacent wall. Those two inches were being taken up by the jack to the cable, which juts out from the wall.

So we sat back and rethought the arrangement. We tried the sofa on a different angle, then a different wall. Neither worked. Then we looked around for other options. The problem is, there are just too many bookcases. They're taking up the "extra" space in the living room, dining room, and the office. Even if we moved them around, at best we'd fit a love seat in the dining room with the table, leaving the occupants of the love seat about one foot of leg space. Not good.

So Cody is currently running to Fry's to see if they sell something that can flatten the cable closer to the wall so the love seat can be squeezed in next to the TV. He also has a new 36" TV on his list, a flat screen because that would give us more space. And if we buy the flat screen, we'll need to buy a TV stand, and of course, with couches, we need an ottoman... And I'll need more books to read on the couch and a new reading lamp and a table to put it on... Maybe another bookcase... Basically, by purchasing this couch and love seat, we realized we need to buy a larger house!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Year of New Authors

I finished Janet Evanovich's Twelve Sharp yesterday and entered it into my Excel sheet that tracks the books I read each year. Twelve Sharp was number seventeen on my reading list this year, but it was only the fifth book I've read of an author I've read before. More clearly, that means that twelve of the books I've read this year have been by new-to-me authors.

Which means that seventy percent of the authors on my list are new, which is double last year's average of new authors. I was surprised when I noticed and I've been thinking about it since.

I've been incredibly restless this year, at least when it comes to reading. Not listed in those seventeen books are the half dozen I've started but haven't had the desire to finish. That means that I've purchased at least six books that at one time looked really good to me, but have now become castoffs in my used-book donation pile. That in itself is odd.

Furthermore, of all those new authors, I'd only read about three again: Gail Carriger, C.J. Barry, and Sara Bongiorni. Not good odds.

But what does it all mean? The best answer I have is that my tastes are changing. That genres that before were sure things now only partially hold my interest, and only if written exceptionally well. It'll be interesting (to me, at least) to see what my totals look like at the end of June and to see if the trend of new authors continues.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Views on No China

I finished Sara Bongiorni's A Year Without "Made in China" in record time. It was a well-written book, if a vaguely unsatisfying one. While her tale explores the hassles of living without Chinese products for a year—all the things they gave up, the compromises they made with their children, the conflicts that arose in their marriage, the things that they lived without, if only for the year—the conclusion is a letdown.

Bongiorni doesn't come to a solid conclusion, not one that I wanted. I suppose it was unfair of me to want a concrete answer or directive, just as I wanted her entire book to have more specific, factual data about where to buy things not made in China. I was unrealistically looking to her and this one book and her year of experiment as a guideline, hoping to find a relatively easy way to live without China mapped out for me.

Instead, I got an interesting story, with a limp conclusion. Bongiorni ends the book saying that the year showed her the general global independence on China, raised her awareness of where the items she purchased came from, and prevented her from buying a lot of crap (because most useless, cheap stuff is manufactured in China). She notes that she was lucky: their TV did not die in that year, their computer did not need to be replaced, and she was able to live without a few electronic things like a blender and a new vacuum for the year. Lucky, because China has the monopoly on these items. Lucky, because she didn't have to test her resolution to her boycott by living without these items.

But did she go back to buying Chinese items? Yes. Was I let down by this? Yes. Was that unrealistic of me? Yes.

Since I finished the novel, I've done random hunts for where products are made. In the vet's office during a recent trip, I discovered they had a poster and a soap dispenser made in Canada, a calendar made in Singapore, but the plastic models of hearts and cat reproductive organs were made in China. I happened to be wearing a shirt made in Guatemala and a coat made in Canada (I decided not to drop my drawers to see where the pants were from). I'm sure the cat carrier was made in China, but I didn't traumatize my cat more by flipping over her cage while she was in it.

Thanks to TikiBird's comments to my "China, China Everywhere" post, I have a lot of places that sell USA products to research for future items. And TikiBird's response also prompted a set of new, unanswered questions: Has it gotten easier to live without China since Bongiorni's book was published in 2005? Has a greater emphasis been placed on locally made items? Have advances in the Internet and online businesses made it easier to buy non-Chinese products from smaller dealers?

But I think the question that is weighing the heaviest on me is the obvious one: Do I want to attempt my own boycott of China? The answer is as unsatisfying as Bongiorni's conclusion: I don't know.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Belated First

My body is sore. My back, my arms, my hands when I close them. My hip. There are two very good reasons for this. Okay, there's one good reason and one peculiar reason.

My left hip is sore because of the Olympics. Yes, they ended a week ago, but just as I was late to start watching them, I was also late in making my attempt to emulate them. Specifically the ice skaters.

For unknown reasons yesterday while I was chatting on the phone with my father, I felt compelled to try this ice skating move.

(Picture a phone in her right hand, and you've got me.)

Every ice skater out there makes this look amazingly easy, and I was in my socks on carpet, so my distracted mind (remember, I'm on the phone with my dad) decides I've leveled the playing field, so to speak, and should be able to pull this move off.

The move works great on the right leg. Perfect balance, a nice stretch. All is good. Then I try the left. Not good. My hip and every muscle surrounding it attempted to seize into this remarkably uncomfortable position.

I collapsed, slowly, to the floor and gently stretched my hip back into a normal position, massaging the charlie horse away with my fist. I also managed to maintain a normal conversation, being too embarrassed to mention to my dad what I'd just done, especially not while he was being so kind and offering me the use of his truck.

Which brings me to the less embarrassing and more exciting reason why the rest of my body is sore: Yesterday Cody and I purchased our first-ever sofa and loveseat! I made it to thirty years of age before owning a sofa!

We hauled these two monsters up two flights of stairs last night (with a little last-minute help from some neighbors, thankfully). We're still trying to figure out how an inanimate object can grow while riding in the back of a pickup, going from normal looking in the floor room to gigantic in our apartment, which also means we're still trying to figure out how to squeeze these delightful pieces of furniture into our tiny front room. I have no fear that we can do it...after my body gets some much deserved down time.

(Zenzo claimed her spot already.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cover Magic

I don't know why I'm almost always surprised when I see something artistic that looks perfect and I find out that it wasn't exactly that way on the first attempt. When I read a well-crafted novel, I have visions in my head still that the novel wrote itself, each word perfect as the author sat typed, no changes necessary once the first draft is completed. (It's a ridiculously high expectation to have sitting in the back of your head, too!) When I see a piece of art, I imagine every brushstroke was perfect the first time, without having to sketch it out or redo any sections.

When it comes to book covers, I fell prey to my usual thinking: The covers simply come out perfect with little effort on the artist's part since they look so right. I mean, maybe a few things with fonts need to be tweaked later, but on the whole, it's just a good look from start to finish. I also never thought about the fact that covers can be PhotoShop creations and collages of images as often as they can be paintings or photographs.

Today, Pub Rants has a great post on the creation of the newest cover in NON-interviewed author Gail Carriger's latest novel. I've linked to the creative ad for the upcoming third book in this series here for your ease, or you can slip over to Pub Rants to see it there. It's cover magic in action, and there's a lot more than one take of cut and paste and, ta-da, perfection.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

China, China, Everywhere

About four years ago, I learned of Sara Bongiorni's book A Year Without "Made in China" completely by accident, while sitting at my desk attempting to work, overhearing my boss and my boss's boss chat on their extended lunch break, loudly, on the other side of my cubicle wall. It was impossible to block out the sounds of my boss's boss's harsh voice as she bellowed her opinions about Bongiorni's decision to boycott Chinese products for a year as an experiment to see if it was possible.

At the time, I was more annoyed by the rude intrusion upon my concentration and my work environment than I was interested in the book. But the idea of boycotting products made in China took root in my subconscious and has festered there for the last four years.

About six months ago, when I learned of China's horrific propensity to manipulate the weather, my subconscious split open around the memory of this book. I began to notice "Made in China" tags everywhere in my household. On my towels, my plates, my knives, and the majority of the clothes hanging in my closet. I began to look at the tags of items in stores. All the holiday decorations for Thanksgiving and Christmas were made in China. All the calendars but two in Borders in December where made in China. I can't find a dress that isn't made in China, or shoes. There doesn't seem to be a single plastic item left in the world not produced in China.

I subtly began to shift my buying: If there were two similar items that I liked, I would buy the one not made in China. I began to feel guilty when I did purchase something made in China. I wasn't making a conscious decision to boycott China, but it was there in the back of my head, idealized. I thought, I've managed to boycott Walmart for the last five or more years, how hard could it be to boycott China?

The answer: ridiculously difficult. In registering for our upcoming wedding, I noticed that nearly every kitchen item I wanted was made in China. The one time I had the choice between made in China and not was when selecting a colander. The one made in the United States was a Martha Stewart colander. I chose it. How sad is it that the better choice (in my mind) between China and Martha Stewart was to support the ex-con multimillionaire!

As I scanned the colander to add it to my registry, I decided that I needed to finally read Bongiorni's book. I needed to see for myself what she went through to live without China for a year. I also need to do more research on China. If I'm going to boycott an entire nation, I'm going to boycott it for a more platform-worthy reason than Bongiorni's.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mistborn Bliss

I finished Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn an hour or so ago. I sat down here to dissect my feelings about the novel as a whole now that I finished it, and I'm rather disappointed with the conclusion: I've nothing really to say. I loved it. I loved the characters, the setting, the magic, the amazing world he created, the ending—everything. I can't think of a single controversial comment, a flaw to point out, or a disappointment to bring up.

It's not a bad thing to love a book, but it doesn't make for an interesting discussion. I guess the most I can say is this: If you like fantasy, try out Mistborn. I've already purchased the second in the series and plan a back-to-back reading (and it's a rarity for me to read the same author two books in a row, but I can't wait to find out more about the characters!).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sextuplets or Nothing

I've been making up stories in my head for as long as I can remember. They make good company, and they're a lot better than a lot of other things I could be thinking about. I don't think I can pinpoint the first story I made up, at least not the first one I contemplated writing. I can remember key phases, though.

At first there were dragons in every story. Specifically, Pern-type dragons. Ones who could talk telepathically. Then there were large cats with similar telepathic skills. And then there was this bizarre time, when I was no older than twelve, if that, when every story I thought of had six children in it—and they were always sextuplets.

Sometimes it was the main character who was the mother of six children. Now, this is particularly odd for me. I don't want children and never have, and at twelve or younger, I couldn't fathom why anyone would want children, so having a character have six was peculiar. Something about the nonstop struggles of a parent with six children was vastly appealing to my preteen mind. Then there's the fact that I have only one sibling. Which meant when I imagined writing the story from one of the children's point of view, it would be about the camaraderie and sibling rivalry of a big family. Again, vastly appealing to my preteen mind. There was even the moment when I envisioned the series, each story showcasing a different child's adventures.

Since that phase, I've not thought of a single character or story where the main character has a sibling. At best, Aria has a half-sister and an pseudo-brother. It simply didn't occur to me to provide Madison—or any of the dozens of characters I've written about in the last two decades—with a sibling.

That realization was enough to stop me in my imaginative tracks. I've been limiting my characters without even realizing it. I was so focused on them and their journey that I missed out on some key secondary characters.

I'm not going to change Madison, but some of my secondary characters in Aria are getting larger families. And it's given me something to keep in mind for future novels I write.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Inspiration

I was in Borders today, researching a non-book, non-writing related project, but that didn't stop me from checking out the writing section. At first, I skimmed the titles, my eyes naturally drawn to the books I recognized from my own shelves. I thumbed through the latest edition of The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, I eyed the massive hardback Story by Robert McKee, I noted that Nancy Kress has a new book out (or was it a new cover on Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction?).

Then I got serious about my examination of the selection. I pulled out books with interesting titles and thumbed through their table of contents. I read back flaps and front bursts. I found a book on how to write memoirs (and though I've searched Borders' site and Amazon, cannot find the book's title now). It was filled with writing suggestions to prompt memory: write ten minutes about your happiest memory; write ten minutes about ice cream; write ten minutes about an unexpected trip or a trip you never took.

I immediately wanted a pen and paper or my computer. I was inspired to write. Now!

I don't know if it was the memoir book or simply being in that section, reading through all the books that promised to teach how to be a better writer, but I was ready to write. If I thought it was the result of the memoir book, I would have purchased it right then, but I wasn't completely sure. A source of inspiration is not something to idly pass up.

It's always satisfying to find a new source of inspiration. Just knowing that the writing section is there at Borders (or the memoir book) to prompt me into literary action is soothing. If ever I run out of ideas or gumption, there it is, ready to goad me forward again.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Importance of Dialog

Last night Cody and I watched Radioland Murders for the first time. The movie is incredibly fast-paced, filled with action, suspense, and humor, and truly enjoyable. It was like 30 Rock on speed. What I found myself admiring again and again throughout the film was the dialog. Every line, every delivery was well formed and executed, almost all of it at top speed, too.

Perhaps Radioland Murders isn't as exceptional as it seemed last night. Perhaps it is only by comparsion to today's films that it shines as a well-written script. Much of recent cinema has dulled my expectations when it comes to good dialog. A lot of movies lately seem to rely on explosive action, stunning visual effects, and audience expectation more than they do a well-written screenplay.

All of the exceptions I can think of are older films: L.A. Story, The Princess Bride, even Caddyshack (to throw out one of Cody's favorites). Perhaps the most recent truly well-written movie I've seen is Stardust. Maybe I'd include Up, though I suspect if I read the script I wouldn't have loved the movie as much as I did while watching the visuals. None of the summer blockbusters spring to mind. Not Avatar for sure. In fact, I find myself struggling to remember any other of last year's "big" movies now.

Tons of money, huge special effects, action packed in around the gills, and these films lack that essential appeal that satisfies: they lack good dialog, the meat and bones of a film.

I suppose if you're in it for the opening-day sales, then you're not in it for the dialog; but if you're in it for the story, for the fans, for the audience, even for the sequel, you've got to have good dialog.