Jun 29, 2011

Writing = Sanity

My biggest reason for writing is it makes me happy. Makes me feel lit up inside, like the light switch is 'on'. I say it keeps me sane, and in many ways writing does. Keeps the mind churning and gives my creativity a place to play.

Too many years I had to stifle it. Along with my creativity, my passions and attitudes were stifled. Writing lets them breathe and makes me whole.

Life is better since I started writing again. It's rosier. It's everything. Like breathing. That's why I write. Why do you?

Why I Write Blogfest, hosted by Kayleen Hamblin of Kayleen's Creations Corner.

Jun 27, 2011

Chills and Thrills

Congrats to the following:

My buddy, Nomar Knight, of Knight Chills released a short story for Kindle. Fountain of Death. US buyers can go HERE. Elsewhere, see Nomar's blog. Cool blog. Great dude.

N.R. Williams released a new short story, The Magic of Windlier Woods. Free from Smashwords and B&N. Go to her blog for links and how to help her out.

Coming out July 25th is Craving Perfect by Liz Fichera. Can preoder on Amazon.

Congrats to all of these great writers.

Summer Ross of My Inner Fairy is hosting a blogfest on July 18th. Inspiration Blogfest. Simple, easy and a great topic to get everyone's creativity charged up. Click on her blog name to sign up.

Was a great weekend up at the observatory. Friday night was crystal clear. Saturday started iffy and Cassiopeia stayed in clouds, but was otherwise pretty good. Both nights were cold. I wasn't sorry to have on two coats and sweaters, a scarf, a hat and hood, mittens, thermal socks, my winter boots and thermal underwear. Not sorry at all. Moon didn't rise until 2:00 a.m.. So, I got in a lot of fantastic viewing. The Milky Way had moved up on the horizon and spread out in all its glory. Saggitarius was up high enough to look at for the first time this season. Some of my favorite objects are in Saggitarius - the lagoon nebula and M24, which is a star cloud. It fills up the eyepiece with sparkly stars in the most spectacular way. I never tire of looking at it. Another favorite, because it's one of the first objects I learned, is M22. I have a picture of that off the camera piggybacked onto the 24" telescope. My camera is not up to the task of taking photos beyond the brightness of the Moon and the brighter planets.

We had good crowds. Lots of nice and interested people. Looked at the supernova in the Whirlpool galaxy again. It already seems dimmer. I'll be sad when it fades too dim to see.

The sunsets were spectacular both nights. Click on photos for a larger view.

This deer sauntered across the road then up the moutain.
Sunset Friday night.
Taken Saturday evening. Sun is still pretty high.

I was struck by the light off this cloud.

Clouds make for fantastic sunsets, but lousy astronomizing.
Fortunately, most of the clouds burned off and left us with
clear skies.
M22 - a globular cluster off the top of Saggitarius.
Globular clusters are millions of stars that revolve around
each other. I call them star old age homes, because they
are old stars.
So, there we have it -- releases by our bloggy friends, a blogfest and a recap of my weekend at the observatory. How was your weekend?

Tonight ... Monday, June 27 -- an asteroid will come within 7500 miles of the Earth. Can be viewed from southern latitudes. For more information see: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-197&rn=news.xml&rst=3049

Jun 24, 2011

Para Sailors and Antelope

Last two weekends at the observatory ...

Sounds like the start of a joke. Two Friday nights ago was clear in town, but it kept spitting rain on us up at the summit of Pine Mountain. The play of light and shadow on the mountains was stunning. Click on any photo for a larger view.

Black clouds like the one in this photo kept spitting on us Friday night.

Shadows of clouds and dapples of sunlight .

Here's looking east from Millican Valley

The 32" dome and looking to the east. Some of these peaks
were once under water. Pine Mountain sits on the eastern
edge of the Great Basin.

You can see rain moving across the Moon.

Didn't run into any gangsta cows, but these guys sprinted across the road in front of me.


The Moon came out and dried up all the rain ... no, not really. The Moon was out though. A waxing Moon, moving toward full.


The Moon above Orson Bradbury

It was damp, but I got off some shots of the Moon. Viewed it, Saturn, the Ring Nebula, Alberio, M80 and M4 then got my first glimpse of the season at the Owl star cluster under Casseopeia, one of my two favorite objects to gaze at.

The blue color is because it's not fully dark yet.
Doesn't get so in these parts now until after 10:00 p.m.
Took this shot through the 10" dob.

Took this through my 8" dob with moon filter on.

Saturn. If you enlarge this photo, you'll see a bright dot to the
left of Saturn, which is its moon, Titan. It rains natural gas
on Titan.
Dew started dripping off Orson Bradbury, so I packed it up. Didn't want the mirror or my eyepieces getting all wet. The clouds came back anyway.

Two Saturdays ago ended up being the clearest night of the year so far. Clear as a bell. But Moon. Bright, bright Moon. Moon washes out objects. Some to the point where they can't be seen at all. Most are degraded -- less spectacular than on a dark night. I happened to stumble across either M19 or M62 in Scorpius, however -- a small gobular cluster I hadn't discovered yet.

Cranky Al let me play with his 2 inch eyepieces on Saturday and we were quite excited to get the 12mm Nagler eyepiece on Orson Bradbury for a great view of Saturn. Orson didn't like the eyepiece, however, and refused to focus. Al and I were quite disappointed. Ah well. Orson does a phenemonal job at some of the clearest views and everyone says so. It's through my telescope I get the best shots of the Moon. I <3 Orson. So maybe I'm biased. And now I know not to waste my money on mega expensive eyepieces for it. I do still want an oxygen filter though.

We viewed the supernova in the Whirlpool galaxy in the 24" on Saturday. It's really bright. Bright as a star in our own galaxy which is just astounding as it's 23 million light years away. It'll only be so bright a few more months then it will fade. But wow. These next two weeks the Moon is out of the way. So, I hope we have clear skies, because I want to see that again.

The para sailors returned. You can see them better if you enlarge the photo. There's one above the peak and another, center but to the right edge.

This photo was taken a week later. The hang gliders join the
para sailors.

Taken a week later with the beautiful clear skies.
Para sailors to the upper right of photo.

Miranda Hardy asked me what kind of camera I use. Believe it or not, it's an inexpensive Sony Cybershot. I play around with the settings and I play around with the filters and eyepieces on the telescope, experimenting to see what gives me the best results. Some experiments on Friday didn't turn out at all. I never post those. Trying things out is basic science, however. I enjoy figuring things out for myself. That's why I refuse to have a goto system on my telescope. I want to read star charts and learn the sky. I want to find the object. I don't want a computer doing it for me. Then folks think I'm all brilliant when I find stuff. lol Only, this is my 4th summer doing this. Most of the major objects I have no trouble finding as I've found them hundreds of times before. A few like to be coy. I call them my nemisis objects.

Last weekend we had full Moon. Aooooo! Friday started clear as a bell. It doesn't get fully dark until after 10:00 p.m. here now. Just started to get a nice, dark sky and the moon rose. Almost full moon. Then what happened? It went behind clouds that started to roll in. Went crappier after that. Saturday it rained, rained, rained.

Moon rise. The moon was large and orange and beautiful.

Almost full moon. Taken through the light blue filter. Using zoom.

Taken through the green filter doubled onto the moon filter.

Jun 22, 2011

Aliens Ate My Modem

Worse than a coffee crisis is an internet crisis. That scream you heard last week, that was me when the internet went out on an innocent Tuesday afternoon. That odd sound afterward, those were my withdrawal symptoms.

There is no interent.


There is nooo internet.

Nooooooo! Aaaaaa! Aaaaaaaa!

We called the cable company and talked them into letting us swap modems. That seemed to do the trick until Thursday. The internet went out again. :-O Noooooo!!! Then some of the TV stations went out. I was glad the cable guy was scheduled to come on Friday morning. Something was wrong.

I knew I loved internet, but hadn't realized how dependent I've become on it. When I've typed 'light' fifty times and want a few synonym choices, I like access to thesaurus.com. I wanted to double check my solar sytem killing scenario again. What did I need? Internet. Wanted to research proposed propulsion again. INTERNET!

It felt as if my hands were tied behind my back and worse. Without any email to check, I was forced to just get through the final details on my novel revision. Lack of internet is good for productivity, to a point. It's inhibiting when I need to get to research. No streaming Netflix. :-( No Twitter. :-( No blogging. :-( No checking the weather or what NASA is up to. :-( No keeping in touch with people. :-( I felt like an isolated island. No internet sucks.

Turns out the entire street was having problems, so the cable company was out at the trunk replacing something on Friday. No problems since. Phew!

Decided on which WIP idea to go with next ... now that I'm done revisioning my first novel ... again. I thought signs pointed one way as to which novella series idea to go with, but my heart and passion goes the other way, to the space opera. I believe in writing where the heart is and the space opera idea composted first. That's what Ursula K. Le Guin calls it when an idea needs to sit and marinate awhile. She gave a workshop here a few years ago. I live on the wrong side of the state to bump into her more often, but the words she spoke back then inspired me. I keep the pen she used to sign The Left Hand of Darkness in a special place on my shelves. It's not allowed to be touched or used. It keeps watch over me as I work.

And I typed this sipping coffee from my new 'I <3 Jayne' mug. :D So, with all crises over, life returns to normal in these parts.

Do you have any author souvenirs? What have you done with them? Ever had an internet crisis? How did you survive?

Jun 20, 2011

There's Nothing Out There

So, the first weekend in June, Friday night, up at Pine Mountain Observatory, was some less than stellar star gazing. The sky was a frustrating tease that night where only the brightest stars came out. Constellations were half formed. Even after the sun and moon fully set, the contrast was awful.

There were these high strands of hazy clouds obscuring most of the sky. Not even the 24 had any luck seeing objects. A dark sky and clear conditions are needed for that contrast so the sparkly objects and stars show up nice in the telescopes.

We gave up and packed everything up. We stood out there staring at the sky for awhile trying to figure it out. It didn't seem fully dark like it should. Some clouds in the east were lit up, a brighter silver than everything else. It was really pretty and I pointed them out to my fellow star guides.

One said, "Wonder what's lighting them up. There's nothing out there."

Hmm. So right. East of Pine Mountain begins the Great Basin and there's nothing out there but antelope and desert. Civilization is a scarce commodity. And the moon had already set. I got home and wrote that down in my idea journal as I have an idea for a future novel set at Pine Mountain [with all the crazy doings around me -- cattle mutilations, UFO sighting and Bigfoot -- I can't resist].

Can't remember if it was last year or the year before that, a visitor brought the jail and gallows to my attention down in Millican. She showed me the photos. I passed it all the time and never noticed it. So, I thanked her as it helped gel together other ideas I'd gotten which then birthed the plot of this future novel. Someday I'll get to this one. It was going to come next, but I think I pushed the steampunk in front of it. And now there's a paranormal fantasy series of novellas pushed in front of that. And a space opera series of novellas now in front of that. Too many ideas. I need to learn to write faster.

The little jail and gallows, a little right of center, in Millican Valley

The 6th or so revision of my first novel is DONE. Hooooo!! Finished it up last week -- attended to all the post-its that got stuck to the side of my monitor along the way, spellchecked and grammar checked, checked my chapter numbering, etc ... Final word count: 96,600. 64 chapters. 397 pages. Query letter is ready. Working on a new synopsis.
So, now I take a break from revisions for at least a month. I felt lost yesterday, unsure what to do next. I'm pretty sure I'll go with one of the novella ideas first. There are some half written short stories lying about here somewhere, too. Then after a rest, my second novel still needs revisions. I started it, but set it aside when I picked up the first novel revisions again.

How about you? Any cool fodder for stories run across your path lately? How's the writing going?

Looking for a new blogfest? Why I Write Blogfest - Wednesday, June 29th. Hosted by Kayleen Hamblin of Kayleen's Creations Corner.

Jun 17, 2011

The Art of Critique

Acquiring critique partners is a valuable method of learning to write better. Not only do I learn from what my crit partners have to say about my work, but I learn just as much, maybe more, from critiquing their work.

Crit partners sometimes take time to nurture into what you need. One, the writer has to learn how to communicate what he / she wants in feedback and, two, the critiquer has to learn how to effectively convey their feedback to the writer.

I think the first rule of critique is respect. The work you're reading, someone poured their time and soul into the piece. Adhere to what the writer asks for. Point out what the writer does well and gets right as well as where they could use improvement. Remember, it's only your opinion. The writer is free to choose whether to take the advice or not.

Honesty is a crucial ingredient, too. It can be tough to hear, but is essential for the writer's growth. It's better to hear it from your crit partners than in a review. Feedback should be given from a good place and attitude -- I want to help you succeed.

Trust is another key ingredient. Critiquing should stay within the group. If you must bellyache to someone, that's what spouses, significant others and pets exist for. No matter how annoyed you may be with a partner at first, when you calm down, you'll probably find something constructive you can use in what was said. I find that is pretty much always the case. Sure, there are people out there that want to rip you to shreds for the pleasure of it. This is the type of crit partner you need to step away from. There should be support and encouragement with the feedback.

Generally attacking a work without specificity is wrong. It just frustrates the writer as he / she tries to figure out what you're talking about. There's so much to keep track of, that sort of comment is throwing more leaves onto the trees in the forest the writer can't see through and does nothing for him / her. For example, generally telling a partner he or she is often vague is not very helpful. You need to point out where and suggest how to fix it. Vague critique is not constructive and may make your partners want to kick your ass. :-O Sending in scribblings you wrote on your lunch bag with a sharpie will also make them want to kick your ass. It comes down to the first rule, be respectful.

I have two critique groups. One I meet with locally face-to-face who write in different genres. And, another online who write in my genre. Taking the feedback online is easier than face-to-face. It's easier to be honest in email. However, hearing everyone else's feedback of all work is also a useful tool. And holding interest of those not interested in your genre is a good test. Plus, face-to-face we've learned to communicate with each other more effectively over time. And we've learned not to hold back. Some meetings I feel bruised afterward, but it's all good. They make me better.

It is all suggestion. As the critiquer, keep that in mind. And, your partner is depending on you to help him / her improve. Only in critique does a writer truly want honesty. If you don't want honesty, you're not ready for critique.

I consider critique one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal in learning to hone my craft. And, bonus, I get to read awesome stories by awesome writers. It takes a village to write a novel.

All my love and thanks to Dennis, Julie, Cleo, Mike, Lynda, Misha and Tony. Gary, miss ya. I'm better and stronger because of all of you. Thanks a million times over.

So what are your feelings on what makes 'successful' critique?

See what other Fantastic Friday Wrtiers have to say: Alex J. Cavanaugh, Elizabeth Mueller, Anastasia V. Pergakis, J.D. Brown, Deirdre Eden Coppel and Jeffrey Beesler.

PS -- as if having a coffee crisis wasn't bad enough, now there's an internet crisis. Bet you've heard me screaming this week. Don't know what the deal is. Replaced the modem and it went out again. Then TV channels went out. Cable guy is coming today. I hope he fixes it or I might have to kick somebody. Yes, I have discovered a worse hell than coffee tragedies ... internet tragedies. Hope you all have a great weekend.

Jun 15, 2011

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Named one of the best novels of the year by Time, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Locus and the American Library Association. Winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, the Compton Crook Award and the Campbell Memorial Award.

Post-apocolyptic, dystopian, future Earth, cyberpunk and probably more, this science fiction read is astoundingly good. OK, great. Really great. Paolo is a rich writer who tells this story set in a future Thailand through the viewpoint of several characters: Anderson Lake, a calorie man trying to unlock Thailand's secret new food sources and trying to discover their seed bank for his corporation; Hock Seng a relocated Chinese man who escaped genocide and dreams of reclaiming his lost standing in the world; Jaidee, a revolutionary who fights for the good of Thailand; Kanya, his second-in-command with motives of her own; and Emiko, the windup girl created as a bioengineered toy.

The nuance and reality of this story are stunning. It's like reading a tapestry. Like life, it's beautiful, twisted and brutal. Yes, it's that good. It deserves all the acclaim it gets. I'm really glad I bumped into this book.

I won't say anything more about it, because if you haven't read it yet, I'd hate to spoil it for you. Paolo is my new science fiction author hero. I hope he keeps writing and is prolific.

I eagerly await Paolo's next book. You can learn more about him and his work at: http://windupstories.com/

Have you read The Windup Girl? What'd you think? If you haven't, have you read Paolo's Ship Breaker? I have that on my list of books to buy.

The next Wistful Read, to be discussed in September, Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. It, too, has gotten a lot of good buzz. Steampunk. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Check out Jon Mac's release: Mythik Imagination, three pulptastic short stories. Love the retro sci-fi art on the cover. Available from Smashwords and Amazon. Jon blogs at Mythik Imagination and has a great feature on Wednesdays, which I love, Weird Wednesdays where he finds bizarre and wonderful things to fuel the imagination. Looking forward to reading Jon's stories. I find the titles very appealing.

Jun 13, 2011

Coffee Travesty of the Third Kind

Writers and coffee go hand-in-hand. Sure, sometimes we feel bold and badass and go for tea. Needless to say, we have our habits. I roll out of bed, grab my cup of jo and go at my WIP.

A few weeks ago, at a late hour, our coffee grinder quit. Pffft. Making coffee is the husband unit's job. He just has more talent at it than I do. I suggested the food processor, the blender, a hammer ... desperate. He shook his head no. Damn! I told him to get his coat and get in the car. He says, "It's eleven at night. Where we going to get a coffee grinder?"

Me: Wal-Mart.

Normally I avoid the place. Something about the lighting unsettles me, but this was an EMERGENCY and they're open 24 hours. Phew! They had a coffee grinder and we got backup ground coffee for the next coffee crisis and were on our way. Turns out it's the best coffee grinder we've had yet. And we've been through at least three in the past three years. So a thumbs up to Wal-Mart for saving me from a potential tragic morning.

Then came crisis number two. Tragically, I dropped my Firefly mug when emptying the dishwasher last week. Everyday, every stinking day, I sipped my two mugs of java from it. My mug. I <3'd my mug. 'You can't take the sky from me.' What a great line. That gasp you heard last week which snapped your head up with a, "What's that," on your lips. Yeah, that was me. The gasp heard around the world.

Sniff. RIP Firefly coffee mug.

I began the hunt for a new one, getting nowhere. I make do with my Van Gogh, Starry Night mug. But it's not the same. Just not the same. The shape and thickness is all wrong. I want 'my' mug back. My special coffee vessel of sci-fi geekdom and beauty.

I sent a mournful email to the friend who gifted me the mug, saying I was unable to snuffle out a new one so far. She told me where she got it from, Cafepress, so forth I went with low expectations. I hadn't been able to find one so far, why would this search be different. But it was! Pages and pages of Firefly themed mugs. Happy dance.

So, now I have two replacements on the way ... in preparation for the next coffee crisis. I can't wait until they arrive.

So, can you guess my all-time favorite character?

Le sigh. I miss Jayne. I miss Firefly. I miss good space opera. Me thinks I'll be breaking out the Firefly dvds this week. And we still have 1/2 of season 5 of Babylon 5 to get through. Then the movies. After that we have Life on Mars and Odyssey 5. Sunday, Falling Skies, starts on TNT. You can bet I'll be watching. Curious to know more about it? You can watch the first five minutes HERE.

Have you experienced any coffee travesties? Did help arrive on time? Chewing on a coffe bean and hoping it all turned out well.

Jun 10, 2011

Continuing Adventures at PMO

Last Friday night up at the observatory I dubbed 'the big tease'. Stars came out, but there were these high, hazy bands of clouds which obscured viewing and gave the sky close to zero contrast. That meant we couldn't see anything in the telescopes despite being able to see the brightest stars with our eyes. Not even the 24 could overcome the challenge. We did get to see Saturn and I got a glimpse at a setting crescent Moon, but everything else was so faint, the public thought we were making stuff up. Imagination is sometimes required in astronomizing. Clicking on any photo will give you a larger view.

Can still see some remnants of the week before's snow.
Looking west from Millican Valley.

Here's a future badass gangsta cow. Look at that swagger.

Alien? I'm suspicious of that look in this gangsta cow's eyes.

Still a bit of snow in places.

Saturn through the 24" telescope

Saturn through my telescope.

Sliver of the Moon

Saturday started off worse. Cloud cover was thick and unrelenting. It was the complete opposite from the Saturday before, however. It was 60 degrees at the summit, which is very hot for early June. I didn't even need my coat or mittens. I never put on my hat either. That's really unheard of up there this time of year. It made for really comfortable conditions though, so I wouldn't complain if the heat stayed around.

Lots of clouds.

The clouds were so terrible, I didn't bother getting a smaller scope out. Sometimes on crappy nights we get lucky with a glimpse of a planet as they're a lot brighter and sometimes shine through. Well, we weren't getting anything on Saturn, so I took a hike up to the summit to watch the sunset.

Looking toward the Cascades at sunset. This photo and the
others taken at sunset are way more awesome if you
click for the larger view.

I call these yeti houses

Snowcapped Mt. Bachelor

More of the Cascades at sunset

Another peak of Pine Mountain

When I came back down, Cranky Al came up to the 24 for a visit. I talked about how some kid a few years ago asked me why I couldn't make the clouds go away. I had to confess at my lag in education. I've never attended Hogwarts. Oh, I'd be very rich if I could control clouds. For a farce, I flicked my fingers at the sky and said, "Go away." Maybe I've been to Hogwarts in my sleep, for suddenly Saturn could be seen in the telescope. About 30 minutes later, the sky was clear.

I went down and got my telescope out for an hour of almost ideal viewing. Got to see the double star in The Big Dipper, M13, Albireo, Dumb bell Nebula, Ring Nebula, M80, M4 and the Whirlpool Galaxy. Yip, yip. Went in to view M13 then M92 in the 24. We were about to go to the Whirlpool Galaxy, as a supernova remnant was recently discovered in it, when the clouds rolled in with a vengence. :-(

I'd love another good night tonight. But it is June in Central Oregon. The weather is a crap shoot and so is the sky. There'll be moon tonight, too. Will my magic work again? Stay tuned to find out. Have you ever done anything where nature conspired to make it look like you possess magic?