Monday, December 5, 2011
We went for a real tree this year. We've had one of those up-in-a-snap-prelit deals that comes in three pieces and smells worse every year you take it down from the attic for the last five years. Since last fall, we've been visiting all of our local self serve farms, with pick your own everything from apples to pumpkins to raspberries with fresh eggs usually available as well. And that has been refreshingly fun - to get our own pumpkin out of the patch where it grew, to run through the orchards eating apples right off the tree, and hear the kids get excited over which ones taste sweet, and which ones are tangy.
We also live in a county that has a tenacious hunger to pave itself over, and turn every corner into a gas station/walgrees/fast food emporium, and turn every open field into very boring subdivision housing. Or worse - a hotel casino, and a whole series of new big box stores to replace already existing stores that now sit empty in the middle of some of the ugliest, mid-century subdivisions the human retina can bear to witness. Right after pumpkin season, they put up a commercial real estate sign on our pumpkin patch. Boo.
I'm all for making it worthwhile to keep things growing on some of the land. It used to feel wrong to cut down a perfectly beautiful living tree every year for a month or so of use, only to throw it away, but I've come around to the thinking that buying real trees from our neighbors helps keep our neighbors in the business of growing things. So this year, we drove miles down a stretch of gravel road, way out into the countryside where there were real hills (we don't get many of those around here) out to a tree farm to cut down our own Griswald Family Christmas Tree. It was in the middle of the forest, with pine trees from two feet to twenty feet tall scattered over acres and acres with not a speck of concrete to be seen.
Now, we've lived in the city, and the very-nearly countryside. Right now we live in a cottage near a lake, in a little village that's made up of a mix of summer homes and year-round residents. We have a very good mix of being in a neighborhood and still having a taste of country life. No sidewalks, no streetlights, really nice neighbors and very quiet nights full of stars... yes. But there are a few things that elude us. Our first year as well owners, we let the pipes freeze. We have a lovely collection of stately old oaks on our property, which comes with a lot of wildlife that likes to climb around in the attic. Some of them are pretty cool though. I saw my first wild flying squirrel leaping off our roof. That was a surprise. We're getting the hang of it. Not enough to remember to bring a saw to the Cut Your Own Tree place.
They had a bunch for us to borrow. Smart farmers.
So we marched through a field full of trees and hipster parents like us, wearing skinny jeans and hand knit hats, looking for the perfect tree. Mr. Cate and CJ found it ten feet from the car. I wanted to walk around a little bit, but as Mr. Cate was freezing in his little hoodie and vans and no gloves (I explained about cutting down a tree. I don't know how he didn't realize that was an outdoor activity) and both of the boys were so convinced that they had found the Most Perfect Tree Ever, and that if we didn't get it right away, we would loose it to some other hipster dad who didn't know how to use a hacksaw either, and then Christmas would be ruined - we got the tree. It was a little blue spruce, the lightest gray blue I've ever seen, with half its branches missing, but that's what Mr. and Jr. wanted, so that's what we got.
Mr. Cate dutifully crawled under the tree with the farmer supplied saw. After all, he wasn't going to look like a wuss in front of the other dads. Not after I drove us there in the stick shift that he doesn't know how to drive. Mr. and Jr. carried the tree back to the car, dad holding the trunk, CJ holding the very tip of the top branch. By the time we tied him to the top of the car, I was calling the tree "Old Blooe". And I told CJ that it was his job to let me know if the tree started falling off the roof on the way home.*
We made it home. Old Blooe is now standing in the living room covered in all of our goofy ornaments, the ones Mr. Cate and I have slowly been collecting over the last 12 years, so pale gray it looks like a fake tree - except for the scent, which is so beautiful.
Wow, 12 years. This is going to be our 13th Christmas together. He's put up with my shenanigans for 13 years. Now that's impressive. I think there will be an extra special Happy 13 present under Old Blooe this year.
* we finally lost the old as dirt station wagon over the summer. It was a great car for things like bringing home christmas trees. Now we have two little compact deals, with trunks just big enough for groceries and cat litter. Ah well.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
(Yes, this is the right music now)
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
However, I have news. Somebody likes my book. Somebody whose opinion I very much respect. And while that couldn't be more vague - perhaps soon I'll be able to be a little more specific - today that's enough.
Writing, or doing anything creative with an intention of pursuing it as a profession, requires such a weird paradox of being confident enough with your ideas to think anyone else would ever want to see them in book form (or painting, film, song, free association poetry, you know, pick your poison) and still being critical enough of your own work to strive for improvement. I think most writers lean toward the critical side. I know I do. Every draft I finish I sit back and think... "eh, I could do better." It's nice when someone says "Sure, but this is pretty good too." Today, I'm giving myself permission to enjoy that.
Oh, and here's a song. Listen and try not to jam along, just a little bit.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
What was I really doing on Tuesday that kept me from my totally arbitrary blog commitment? Celebrating! Last weekend, I finished a draft of my WIP. Weeeee! After weeks of being down in the cave, with only coffee and the light of my laptop screen for companionship, I had a to stop and come up for air and give my new project a few days to simmer and congeal. It only took about twelve hours before I had half a legal pad filled with notes for the next round of revisions. But I always need a little breather after a long drafting session, to see if what I wrote is working... or not.
So on Tuesday, instead of writing or blogging or even touching a computer, I spent the day splurging on nerd stuff. I bought new glasses. And a new tall chair to use at my drawing table. And two new dogwood bushes ( I finally found a dwarf variety with that beautiful yellow bark that looks so spectacular in the winter). And about a hundred daffodil bulbs. That's right, I'm into spring bulbs now. It's the one area of gardening I haven't explored yet. I have a bunch of lilies that all bloom in mid-summer. Now I need to work my way into spring. Eventually, I'd like a yard that is just a jungle of greenery, with little hidden spots for sitting and sketching and drinking tea.
In the afternoon we went apple picking at a little orchard a few miles away. We got there earlier this year, in time for the Jonathan, which are tart and delicious. And McIntosh, which tasted like candy right off the tree. That night we made apple crumble with fruit that had been on the tree only hours before. I highly recommend.
We have a lot of pick-your-own places close by, and after repeated failures at growing food in my own yard, I decided that the most fun part is the harvesting anyway. We've done apples, raspberries, strawberries, this year I'm thinking about finding a cut-your-own christmas tree place, since we haven't had a real tree in years. Last weekend we went to the first day of pumpkin season at a local farm that sells pumpkins by the carload. As many pumpkins as you can fit in your entire car, but we opted to just fill the trunk, so they gave us a discount.
When we got out of the car I handed Cate Jr. a piece of netting, and told him he had to be very quiet and throw the net quick before the pumpkins could run away. I think last year he would have bought it, but this year, the wise 7 yr old said, "That's chickens, mom, not pumpkins."
It was muddy and warm and early in the morning, and Cate Jr. walked us all the way up to the highest point in the 30 acre field so we could find the very biggest pumpkins - and carry them all the way back to the car. There were some seasoned pumpking gatherers there that morning, with gloves and garden shears and wagons with inflatable wheels. I came unprepared (except for cleaning out the trunk) We just had to grab those prickly stems with our sweatshirt cuffs and hoof it back across the field.
We packed 'em in to that trunk, too. When we got them home and filled up half the porch and finally counted them up, there were 37. That's how many pumpkins will fit in the trunk of a late 90s chevy cavalier. So now you know.
On Tuesday night I had a house full of pumpkins and apples and tired, happy kids and bushels of fresh thoughts on my next revision. Which is why I didn't get around to blogging, and why I love Autumn so very much.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Yesterday happened to be my ninth wedding anniversary -well, mine and Mr. Cate's of course.
This may happen from time to time, as blogging collides with the rest of life.
But I'm here today, with an announcement of a seasonal variety - It's Mitten Time!! Yay!
Okay, so maybe the weather is still pleasantly jackety, but the cold is coming, and that means its time to make mittens.
Last year, my dear mom and I started a little mitten outfit on the open territory of Etsy. And our shop did pretty well. This year we're back, with lots of new mittens, which you may view here, if you're so inclined:
Enjoy the last few weeks of crisply pretty autumn! I am already looking forward to snow :D
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
One of the things I love the most about the kidlit digital world is all the positive vibes zipping around here. It's lovely to see all the congratulations for the newly agented, and all the fantastic work being published. And I can't emphasize that "fantastic" part enough! Lucky kids. Not that I didn't have plenty of great books to read as a child, but when I take my son to the library and the bookstore, I can't help but be all goofy about the ridiculously marvelous wonderland of books we've created for little guys like him. Go team!
I don't have any "Big" news of my own, yet. I don't blog about my query process, so it's not as if good things aren't happening, I'm just keeping my cards on the table until I have all the news that's fit to print.
For my inaugural Good News Tuesday, I'm starting out simple.
It's a beautiful, chilly day, my favorite weather of all. I have a fresh pot of coffee, a plate of peanut butter toast, and six hours of writing time until Sonny Sonshine gets home from school.
It's better than Christmas.
Here's wishing you a day of whatever it is you love to do most.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Nothing crazy, just friends and family, a bouncy house, something grilled (Mr. Cate's specialty), and some fun party-type snacks. Also, in accordance with the lil'est Cate's wishes, the party should have a Lego theme. Awesome. Rectangles. I can do that.
Being the spectacular mom that I am, I spent a half hour looking for fun recipes for this party, and I found about 45,000 websites talking about cake pops. Wow, that's cute. And it looks like something I could do*
Basically, you smush up a cake and frosting into a big blob, roll it into little balls, dunk them in a candy coating and decorate. Really, you could do this without even baking, although I made a cake from a box and everything. The cake and frosting part went fine. The big pasty mess even tasted delicious. I used strawberry cake and icing. Yum. The problem came when I tried to do the icing step, so the little guys would look like Lego heads, and not raw meatballs on a stick.
I'm renaming these things "Little Failure Balls".
Main problem - I couldn't find candy melts in yellow. There was some Big Bird themed wedding going on, or some other event that required every store in three counties to have no yellow candy melties. I tried just coloring some melted white chocolate chips with regular old food coloring - Don't Ever Do This. Chocolate is high maintenance, and I'm that girl on the bleachers in the Taylor Swift song. (Sorry if that reference went off the rails. But for the record, I've never seen her jeans and sweats. She seems pretty high fashion to me. But hey, it works for her, cause she's 17 and she should enjoy looking that cute. I would have worn a lot of fancy stuff when I was that age, if I was doing things like singing at the VMAs and such.)
Actually, in regards to the white chocolate, do this, because the reaction from the chocolate was kind of interesting from a chemical perspective. Creamy smoothness became a chunky, globby, half-dried paste in about nine seconds.
So, after making a yellow globby disaster that would be good as a plumbing sealant and little else, I tried this petit fours icing recipe that my mom has used, with Fantastic! results for all kinds of fancy party food. That recipe is pretty simple, too. Half cup of corn syrup, eight billion pound of powered sugar, sifted.
I followed the directions like a girl scout with that one. Carefully blended that mess, added the powdered sugar ever so carefully, making sure no clumps or lumps should fall into the bowl, lest I be shunned from party planning forever... And it made a beautifully smooth, flowing icing, that poured over the cake heads and blocks like silk. ( I made some little cakes, too, to look like scattered lego bricks.)
My petit fours icing was see-through. So then I had little raw meatballs, coated in egg yolk. YUM! Who wouldn't want a big mouthful of that? (on a side note, this might make a great halloween treat if I left the icing plain white- little candy Jars of Brains)
All of this took about five hours.
In the end, we had cake, and it was tasty, and it was cut into the shape of blocks with little marshmallows on top. Done in twenty minutes. And I did manage to come up with my own recipe that all the kids loooooved. Are you ready? Make sure and write this down. You will need the following
1 bowl, large
3-5 bags of M&Ms (enough to fill the bowl)
1 bounce house.
Add M&Ms to children, wait 10 minutes.
Add children to bounce house, allow to simmer for 6-8 hours.
Children remain unaware there were supposed to be adorable little lego head cake pops that went perfectly with the Lego theme. They will however, have fun.
I believe the theme of every children's party could just be "Run Around and Eat Sugar". Because ultimately, that's the mostest fun.
* There are two areas, despite my many talents, in which I simply have no natural gifts. One is music. Despite years of lessons, I am a moderate to terrible cellist, and an utterly crap composer. The other is cooking. I can make food that is edible for human consumption. And that's about all.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
But then today, Cate Junior and I were looking up butterflies, as we have about a dozen butterfly bushes in our yard now, and they are swarming with little friends. And Ta-da! We found him!
Or, her, I believe, because while I don't have a photo, I do remember there being a lot of colors on the "finished" butterfly, and the girls have more blue than the boys.
So here she is, the Black Swallowtail Butterfly .
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
I'm going to use movies as an example, not because I don't see this in books, but just to be nice to the authors. (sorry movies, I know you have writers too, but there are so many more cooks stirring those pots, it seems like less of a personal attack to make an example of you)
For your consideration, Case File One - War of the Worlds (the newer one with Cruisypants) Fantastic opening. Stunning camera work. Compelling visuals and characters I liked right from frame one. The first act of this one is rock solid. But once the Farriers leave the city and get out into the countryside, it all kind of goes to poo. By the time Tim Robbins shows up, things have gone completely crazypants, and when we get to the end, it's just one big WTF up on the screen. Like, everyone involved knew the first 1/3 of the movie was so good, they didn't need to bother making the ending as strong. The peeps were already in the seats, after all.
Case File Two - Winter's Bone
This one was somehow considered a super gutsy entry, maybe because it was helmed by a lady, and that's just not done, unless she's going to make a movie about war and all. (apologies to Mr. Cate. Kathy Bigelow is his favorite director and all, but she can't stop pretending to be a guy. There's a middle ground between Michael Bay and Nora Ephron, after all.)
So we have the very compelling story of Ree, who is courageous and noble and willing to fight her way out of a desperate situation. Again, the visuals and editing and tone of the first 2/3 are perfection. And then at the end *mild spoiler* Ree doesn't really solve her own problem at all. The people around her finally, and inexplicably, after all we've been told, decide to come to her aid and present her with a solution. At least the acting was worth it. That was a seriously spectacular cast.
Case File Three - Everything Danny Boyle's Ever Done.
With the exception of 127 hours, which is getting better.
Otherwise, there are a lot of limp endings there, to stories that are gritty and wicked and honest - right up until that last couple of minutes. But the rest of the films are so entertaining to watch, it seems like he gets a pass on the last ten minutes or so. I really like Boyle's films, in general, which makes it all the more disappointing when the end doesn't shine as bright as the rest. But he might have figured this little chestnut out. I eagerly await his next picture.
Some good examples?
For another Cuisypants example, let's go all the way back to Risky Business. After all the wild and mildly dangerous adventuring, Joel doesn't get what he thinks he wanted all along - but he's developed as a character, and has a greater understanding of himself, and his direction in the world. As simple as it may be, this character had a real story arc, and matured through the storyline.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
One of my favorite films in general, an one that takes a fantasy story and makes it even more compelling by layering the fantastic over the mundane. Joel and Clementine, while viewed mostly in a completely imaginary world, are still real and complex people with depth and authenticity. By the end they too have learned something from their adventure, understand more about themselves, and the film itself comes around full circle to resolve on the melancholy note that love is not of the mind, it is of the heart, you can love someone before you really know who they are (which can lead to heartbreak, but what does the heart care? It acts on impulse, not intellect) and you can't forget feelings the way you can forget memories.
Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, equally.
Again, I love these films. Both are so simple, telling the story of a pair of people who have an undeniable connection to each other, but are too wary to believe what they feel could be real. In the first one, Sunrise, boy and girl meet on a train, spend the night talking, and can't really believe how strongly they feel for each other after so short a time. In the second, Sunset, the same couple meets up again a second time, many years later, and still slightly in awe of the few hours they spent together and how they didn't simply forget about it they way they would have expected.
These are the films that end on that "well, what do you suppose happened??" note that I usually hate, but for these films, it works. The story ends before we know the entire outcome, and that's as it should be. Each time, the curtain closes just before we get to see what decisions the central characters have made, and somehow, that seems right for the story. Sunset and Sunrise are love stories, after all, and the narrative has established that these two characters are genuinely in love. That's all we need to know, as the audience. The rest is up to Jesse and Celine.
And I write this post about endings today because that is what I am struggling with as a writer at the moment. Characters I can do. I can invent people all day. And send them off on adventures. But getting to that clear, satisfying resolution is my major hurtle as a storyteller. I think I'm getting better. I'm paying attention to the endings I like, the ones that really made the story worth the telling. So much writing advice involves strong hooks, great openings, compelling action, and that's very important. But the ending is even more important, I feel. It needs to be the payoff for all that effort, on the part of the MC, the audience, the book or film as a whole. A bad ending will ruin a fantastic premise for me every time.
Start strong, finish stronger. No matter what.
Monday, August 8, 2011
I am not one of those people. It's all new project, new template for me! So in honor of sending my last manuscript out into the query world, and turning attention to a brand new kid, I've redecorated. This design fits the feel of the new book quite nicely. Cute, fresh and fun.And outdoorsy.
I like to write a lot of outdoor scenes, probably because when I was a kid, forests all seemed so magical, and they each had their own personalities. Pine forests were dark and slightly sinister, oak forests were stately and wise. Beech forests were the home of mischievous fairy tale hermits and wizards, and the mossy/ferny forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Smoky Mountains were of course crawling with fairies and goblins. I like my setting to have personalities just as much as my characters. So here we are in the forest, the place my new MC fears above all others. Like, she'd rather be in a dark, moldy basement full of weird noises than out in the forest. So... I'm sending her out there. Mean, mean author.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Time to celebrate with a total distraction for a moment.
Here's some clips of projects me, Mr. and Jr. have been working on for the past six months.
First, Jr. wanted to make a zombie movie, so here it is... :D
Then, Mr. Cate has been working on feature film #3, which is taking far longer, as he had to have scenes shot in every season of the year... so, it's taken about 9 months, instead of 9 days like the last film.
Ashley will have its own score, once again by the awesome Jeff Scott Townsend. This trailer has Vorspiel, because it's becoming like a running gag around here.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Want the credits?
Starring Annie Walaszek, Amanda Soos and Ryan Patrick Shaw.
Written by Ben Lewandowski and Lindsey Becker, Original score by Jeff Scott Townsend.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
What comes first, the plot or the character?
I'm a characters first writer myself. I know who my story is about before I know what it is about. And this again contributes to my slower writing, because I have to hang out with these people for a while before I know what they are really doing out in their respective worlds.
My closest friends are usually people I've known for months or years before I really developed a relationship with them. My characters appear to be the same way. Still surprising me, still revealing layers even after years of telling their stories. I am not a fan of character sketches and plot outlines for that very reason. I don't really know a lot of details about my characters until I've seen them in action.
So, how do you get started on a new project - with the plot or the characters?
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
The writing goals I set for February got trashed by family illness, and work obligations. Now spring is peeking through the clouds around here, and I'm already making plans for the garden. There's going to be a new patio in the yard this year, and a nice little sitting area for evenings around the fire. So when a little extra work comes my way, how can I say no?
I also need my writing time! Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than spending a few hours with my manuscripts. Thankfully, the fantastic Denise Jaden has started a March Madness writing/reading challenge, which is exactly what I need right now. Time to get back into my little worlds of strange science, mysterious adventurers and mythical creatures.
Go here to join in! March Madness :)
My goal is getting through my current revision. Hope to see you there!
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The people gathering in Madison this past week - over 250,000 so far - have been there to support each other, to speak out on each other's behalf, to stand and be counted together. It has been more than a protest. More than a demonstration. This has been a gathering of respect, of kindness, of civility, of appreciation. That is what the people in Madison have demonstrated this week, and it is all we are asking for from our government.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Right up front - I fully support the unions. I come from a strong union family, and I have many
friends and family who work for both public and private unions. I've also been spending the last week educating myself about both sides of the issue, looking into how we can be fiscally responsible without trampling on worker's rights.
What has been the most troubling to me through all of this has been the outright attacks on working people, especially teachers. These are people who put themselves through graduate school, and are working for a substantially lower salary in order to use their education and talents for the public, instead of just for themselves. Same for the the corrections officers, mental health care professionals, county workers, and nurses also included in the removeal of collective bargaining rights in this proposed Budget Repair Bill. Most of them are highly educated, dedicated employees, and they are being called thugs, leeches, freeloaders, bums, and many, many other derogetory terms that I find inappropriate to post here.
The teachers, nurses, social workers and public servants I know personally are none of those things. They don't have any agenda beyond retaining their rights to negotiate with their employers. They have agreed to take cuts in pay and benefits in the coming fiscal years to help us all, and still, they are under threat.
But then there is this :
This is what's really going on in Madison. Things that come to mind as I watch this, and Ben's footage of the demonstrations last weekend-
Peace, Civility, Respect, Encouragement, Rationality, Inspiration. Kind people asking for kindness. Power without greed or selfishness. Dedication to the common good. True solidarity for your fellow man.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Not long after we moved here, when Mr. Cate and I were driving home, he looked up at the big old farmhouse and said very plainly, "Yeesh. What a dump. Someone needs to clean that place up."
I was a little miffed. What was he talking about? It was a charming, storybook house! Well, it had been, once. When I looked a little closer, reality started to sink in.
The house I remembered was beautiful, with flowers in the front yard, rolling white fences, a little pier and canoe out in the pond, and horses grazing in the paddock beside the barn.
It had been a few years (20?) since I'd really looked at the place. It needed paint. The garden needed some serious tending. The bushes our front were wildly overgrown, covering much of the front porch. The white fencing had been removed, the pier was sinking into the pond, and the horses were gone. The road had been widened, too, and the house that once sat on a picturesque hill of rock gardens was now way too close to a two lane highway. To me, it was the same darling property I dreamed about when I was a little kid. I hadn't seen it from anyone else's perspective, and I had never told my husband that I loved that house as a kid, so how was he supposed to know?
Which reminded me of my writing.
I have a habit of being too obtuse with my plots. In trying to get too clever, I sometimes get way too subtle. I put in a lot of hints, but I don't actually explain what's going on. As a reader, I hate that. It's not fun, it's just irritating. Some things should be a puzzle, some clues should be left up to the reader to put together, but not everything. Sometimes, a nice, plain explanation is totally appropriate. Especially when you write steampunk, or sci-fi, or magical realism, or any other genre where nothing can be assumed about the characters or their world. Otherwise, you wind up with the endings where something that previously had no magical properties suddenly - does! Or characters have to bring the action to a grinding halt to sit around explaining what has actually been going on for the last 300 pages.
The good news, is, I think I'm improving.
Sometimes, I actually make sense.