Friday, January 30, 2009

One novella, to good home

I did not win the 3-day Novel Contest, nor was I short-listed. However, my certificate of survival (arrived today) has a sticky note on it, saying:
Hi Barbara - Good to have you back! The judges liked your ideas--hope you keep developing it...

Shall I count that as a personalised rejection?

Here is a somewhat disturbing tree from Lincoln. I think it has humanoid pupae embedded in the trunk, though other theories are welcome.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Law Library of Unintended Consequences

Hey kids! If you live in the US, get those library visits in before Feb 10, when you may be banned from public libraries if you are under 12.
Why? Because books will kill you. Worse even than cigarettes, which only have to carry warning labels. The legal opinion at present is that the American Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will require libraries to either get rid of children's books or bar children from contact with books. For their health.

Here's the quote: "Under the current opinion issued by the General Counsel of the CPSC, the law would apply to books for children under the age of 12; therefore, public, school, academic and museum libraries would be required to either remove all their children’s books or ban all children under 12 from visiting the facilities as of February 10."

And here's the link.
I'd really love to say Oh, this is nonsense, it can't possibly come to that.

ETA: As should not surprise anyone, other provisions of the CPSIA will end up shutting down small local businesses with handmade toys, because of the expense of testing. This article for more information.
I don't know. I'm Canadian. I can't even write to a congressperson, even though this is bound to affect Canada as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

more links, more Lincoln (Ha. Ha.)

I think it was Doyle, at VPX, who talked about economics in worldbuilding. That artefacts exist because somebody made them, and somebody paid for them, and somebody transported them to the place they appear. And that you have to consider these factors. Not explain them on the page, as you know, Bob, but that you could explain them if you had to, and it wouldn't contradict what was written.

One of my gripes, when reading fantasy, particularly fantasy set in a pre-industrial world, is orphan artefacts. In Shannon Hale's book, The Goose Girl, set in a kingdom that I'd say approximates 15th-16th c. Europe, one character refers to another kicking a bucket into a crumpled lump of tin. So, there's sheet-metal technology here? Available to peasants living in the woods, but not to anyone else. Another peasant woman knits endless sweaters with metal knitting needles. Yep. Not wood, or bone. Steel. Wire-drawing is not elsewhere referred to. I must suppose that the peasant women are secretly running foundries and rolling mills in those deep forests, cunning vixens that they are.
I should admit that I enjoyed The Goose Girl (the original's about 3d on my list of favourite fairy tales, mostly for the oracular horse's head and the talismanic blood-spotted napkin), and I'm looking forward to reading Hale's Book of a Thousand Days.
But she also gives me the opportunity to gripe about another issue in worldbuilding: work. Not that life was unremitting toil in the pre-industrial world--read the complaints about how the number of church holidays in medieval Europe meant the peasantry weren't getting enough done for their masters--but that people, including children, worked hard and worked long hours. Hale has her goose-girl let off from herding the geese out to the fields because ... because it's raining. So she stays inside with the other servants, none of whom are doing anything much, because it's raining.
My mother used to say, "You're not made of sugar, you won't melt." I imagine the overseer of castle servants might say something a bit harsher. Certainly the geese won't mind the rain.

This is by way of preface to linking you to two excellent essays about getting things right (if historical) or believable (if fantasy):
Writing Backwards: Modern Models in Historical Fiction, an essay by Anne Scott MacLeod in The Horn Book (a source of excellent essays). This one addresses the pernicious 'character with 20th c. worldview dropped into historical setting', discussed elsewhere (I'll add other links if I find them--I know they exist).
Competency and work, one of the Fantasy Rants by the wonderful Limyaael, on how the people who do the work can be just as / more interesting as the Designated Heroes.

UK 08 Lincoln, continued. Lucia and I stayed at the Orchard Guest House, which I can recommend as being comfortable and clean, with a fine view over the town (Lincolnshire is flat fens. There's one hill, so they built the castle and the cathedral on it, presumably to avoid sinking and to keep the population fit.) and easy walking distance to the Castle and Cathedral, and not too far from the Strait and Steep Hill.
We had a wander around, and I tried to take photos of the ecclesiastical architecture but it was difficult to keep my hands steady. I also took pictures of trees, because England! Trees!

On the drive down I'd noticed a number of trees with tangly clumps of nests in them, and my brain had said, smugly, 'rookeries'.
Shut up, brain
, I replied, what do you know about rooks? Have you even seen one for sure?
"What are those clumpy nests?" I asked at lunch.
"Rookeries," said everyone.
'Ha, told you,' said my brain, even smugger.

We had supper at Brown's Pie Shop, though we weren't able to get a table in the haunted basement, it being booked for some family do. We were able to nip downstairs as we left, and to call gently for the ghost, "Humphrey, Humphrey?" but there was no response. The food was luscious. I had steak & kidney pie, Lucia had cheese pie. Food in UK restaurants has improved immeasurably since our dreadful experiences 20 years ago.

A couple of pictures that warn of what is to come:

A tree that I think is cool. Possibly a plane tree.

A bit of stonework that I think is cool, from the gate by the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

not so much resolution as resolve

Time to make a new Rejection Pledge for a new year. Since I'm concentrating on novel(s) at present, I set my sights fairly low, making a pledge of 12 rejections last year, and achieving 19.

The most recent rejections:

Dear Barbara,

Thank you for submitting "Foretold" to ABYSS & APEX. As you know, we kept it for second round consideration but ultimately decided not to accept it for publication. The competition this month was strong and while we came up with an excellent table of contents for our next issue, we had to say no to many works (like this!) that we wish we could keep.

I hope you'll consider us again, and I wish you the best success in placing this story elsewhere.


Dear Barbara,

Thank you for submitting "Bride of the Vampire" to The Town Drunk. I'm afraid that after careful consideration, we have decided not to accept it for publication.

I remember reviewing this story on OWW some time ago. I was impressed with it then, and I still am. The premise is clever, and we appreciated the social commentary. There's some nice wry humor here as well.

That being said, some of our readers perceived a darker streak in the piece:

"Very clever, but a tad more disturbing than humorous with hints that Nikolai may truly be monster. It's a fine story -- just not light. I think the author should rework it and refocus it into a serious piece with shades of horror, which would make it unsuitable for us."

And: "I liked the idea that Nikolai's motives were not especially pure. I also think it could be reworked into a more horrifying piece, but I do think it could still be funny."

I'm not sure all readers would share these perceptions, but since our magazine is focused on lighthearted fare, these reactions are a concern.

Also, we all felt that the story needed to get off to a stronger start and have a tighter focus overall. The motives of the journalist and her cameraman need to be made clear a bit sooner, in our opinion. Our impression is that the plot takes just a little too much time to "coalesce," leaving the reader feeling ungrounded for a bit too long.

We wish you the best of luck in placing this story elsewhere, and we certainly hope to see more of your work in the future.


Fairly positive rejections, those.

Isn't this a strange profession? Being pleased about rejections, cheering oneself on to increase wordcount, and then cheering oneself on again to cut those words out in revision.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time is, time was

Because of the I-5 closures, we stopped in Vancouver instead of proceeding to Eugene for 12th Night. I spent Friday in the wilderness of Ikea with Chris, finding as-is furniture for his new place, which I have now seen, though I failed to inspect it as mothers are supposed to inspect their child's lodgings.
I have no idea how to be a parent to an adult. Is there an online tutorial? Or is it okay to act as if we're people who know each other?
Home again Saturday morning, and my internal calendar is muddled because of this and because of having Monday off (not a bad thing, but a muddling thing). I felt all through Friday as if it were Saturday, and today feels a bit like Sunday.

Muddled calendar being my segue into the realisation that I'm not going to be able to sit down and write a proper diary of either the UK trip from April, or World Fantasy in October. Instead I shall sprinkle recollections and observations through the next several posts.

UK 08, flying: The in-flight movies were shown not on sweet little back-of-the-seat screens, but on columns of ceiling-mounted mid-seat-range screens. If one happened to be sitting at an angle to the long string of images, the effect was more than a little disconcerting. One expects infinite mirrors to reflect oneself.
I am cheap, and had books, so didn't bother to rent a headset. Instead I slept, or blinked awake to watch the soundless films. Without sound, PS: I Love You becomes a Japanese-inspired horror film about a vengeful ghost possessing his lover's friends and acquaintances. August Rush, unfortunately, was inescapable as the melodrama intended, and somehow I doubt that the dialogue spackled the visible plot holes*. Juno was harder to judge, because I remembered enough of the reviews that I couldn't approach blank-slated. Mostly it made me desperately want to adopt Ellen Page. I may have to rent and watch Hard Candy to balance my impression of her adorability.
Two of the movies used captions to indicate the passage of seasons - is it that hard to figure out from visual cues? The third used captions for locations.
All three movies used 'spooning', the man curled behind the woman, as the indicator of the true match.

UK 08 arriving: Lucia from VPX is awesomely crazy. She met us, jetlagged and deaf, at Gatwick, and drove to Lincoln, stopping on the way to drop Mark off at Peterborough train station. The next day she drove from Lincoln to Diss, to the bed-and-breakfast Gables Farm, with the aid of her trusty GPS Jane. (I envision Jane as looking like one of the Angels from Captain Scarlet). Jane did not approve of us stopping at the Peterborough station, and in retaliation sent us to Lincoln via the A15 instead of the A17.
Here is Lucia, inside one of Lincoln's wonderful Norman stone buildings, St. Mary's Guildhall (built 1160), which we visited by appointment, and were shown around by Ken Franklin of the Lincoln Civic Trust. Under the floor of the Guildhall (originally a royal residence for Henry II) is a section of Roman road, which has been excavated and can be viewed through a glass floor.
There is not enough room for all the history in England, so it has to be stacked.

And here is me, outside another one, cleverly called Norman House, and presently closed. It was built between 1170 and 1190 (builders weren't any faster then than they are now) and you can see how it's been altered and changed about to fit fashion and use. The rectangular windows are Georgian at the earliest.

The first Norman stone house I fell for was Hemingford Grey, in its fictional disguise as Green Knowe, and visiting Hemingford Grey was the highlight of a previous trip to the UK. Not having fictional associations with these makes it not quite so heart-racing, well, not psychologically heart-racing.

Physically ... the Norman House and the Jew's House (also Norman) are on Steep Street, which Lucia and I must have climbed three times that day. Oof. The road really does look like that. Here's Steep Hill from the bottom.

The Jew's House is now a very posh restaurant, which I would have been willing to splurge for a meal at, but it was already fully booked for a special occasion. Sigh.
Instead Lucia and I met Zolah, Rocambole and Ferret of the Furtive Scribblers Club, my other writing tribe, at a lovely Chinese restaurant quite near the Guildhall, and we ate and talked until the restaurant closed and tossed us out into the street to wander through the charity shops.

And that was my first day in England.

* so, rock and classical musicians are just like the Montagues and the Capulets? seriously, it cannot be that easy to legally give up a child; all of those boys should have been snapped up for adoption within minutes; count the Magical Negroes; has this kid been listed on canon_sues?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Christmas baking

This is what I baked for Christmas:
a pan of cake gingerbread (hot water recipe)
a pan of domino cookies (choc. shortbread with white chocolate chips, cut into 1x2 bars)
three rounds of pressed shortbread (the kind that makes 'petticoat tails')
two rounds of oatmeal shortbread (first time)
one round of spicy cornmeal shortbread (also first time)
one batch of cheese shortbread (sliced roll)
'checker cookies' (a roll of butterscotch and a roll of chocolate fridge cookies, cut into quarter-strips and reassembled - my own invention!)
three batches of butter pecan cookies
gingerbread cookies decorated with a snowflake pattern from white (flour & butter) decorating icing, which I've wanted to try for ages
two batches of chocolate shortbread
two batches of rolled shortbread cut in rounds
sugared walnuts, about 4 cups
6 dozen butter tarts
2 dozen sausage rolls
lots of cheese straws to use up the sausage roll pastry
cornstarch shortbread dipped in coloured sugar (the recipe on the cornstarch box)
12 dozen rolled cookies with icing
2 dozen roll cookies painted with egg yolk & food colouring, for people wishing to avoid the sugar hit
a butter cake with caramel icing, decorated with the remaining red & green icing, as a pseudo-birthday cake for me (Mark had already bought me a birthday cake, but it was carrot cake & I wanted something less virtuous) which I'll post a picture of when he uploads his pics next. (Done!)

Insert partridge and pear tree joke here.

Yes, I do like baking. People sometimes boggle at me for doing this, but mostly I find it relaxing, because, like ironing, I choose when and how much to do, and I can see the results of my work. I get a bit fussed over finding space to store the iced cookies while the icing hardens, before I can put them into the big tin, but that's not a terrible problem.
You should come over and have some cookies. There are plenty left.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Irresolute new year

Well, a good thing I didn't make resolutions for last year. I did accomplish some things, and partially accomplish other things (can accomplishment be partial?) but so much of the year, looking back, is the petty quotidian accomplishment of another load of laundry, another batch of dried apples, another sinkful of dishes, another chapter revised, another blog post, another 500 words. Some of those add up to a visible / tangible thing, the wall of many bricks, but others just maintain, run to keep in place.
What would I like to do this year? Hm. Finish the painted cloth that I got half-done in August. Finish the first draft of Cost of Silver. Finish the two unfinished short stories and start kicking them out the door. Sort the books in the bedroom and get them into alphabetical order by author since they're all fiction. Clear out a corner of the attic.

The snow has gone away in our part of Victoria, except for those black-speckled icebergs in parking lots and roadsides, the Zen garden of the urban winter. When the snow fled our back yard, it revealed another bag's worth of apples on the frozen ground, a little bruised and scraped, but not frostbitten to squashiness. I made an emergency apple crumble yesterday, and will make an emergency pie tonight, before they turn to squish.

Chris, after scouting locations and opportunities over the past few months, has made his move to Vancouver, to live in a space very little larger than his room at home, but with a kitchenette, in a refitted 1920s house turned into flats. His move was made in one traverse (minivans are a fine thing) on Thursday, with Mark as driver.
So this seems like an appropriate time to post the picture I took in April in London. Below are Mark and Chris, standing in the street outside the rented flat in Barking:

My handsome guys. Chris has my hair, but I'm not sure I made any other genetic contribution besides the hosting.

I don't feel particularly empty-nestish, and have only made a few forays into his room here to sort out recyclables and dishes. My recollection is that we adjusted rather quickly to his departure in first year university to Prince George, and to his return. He's fairly unobtrusive in the house when he's home, does his own laundry and feeds himself, so I won't be heaving the great sigh of relief at having freedom, or the place to myself, or whatever. Plus, having outgrown the adolescent snarkiness (and grown into a mature snarkiness) he's good company when he emerges, so I expect to miss him more like another person than like the proof of my maternal nature.
I'm feeling rather meditative about this because of the season, and the media insistence on Being With Family Over Christmas, which at times seems somewhat hysterical. What with the Four Christmases movie, and news stories about parents with young children flying or driving cross country to visit two or more sets of parents (and being stranded by bad weather, hey, Christmas at the airport, kids! one to remember!) I've been getting that dislocated 'I am a stranger in this world' feeling.
Why would adults, who have their own homes and often their own families, go through the immense stress and hassle of travelling in a time of uncertain weather and random 'security' measures, in order to be in the same house as people they're related to but may not get along with or even like? Who is making them do this? What terrible thing will happen if they don't do it?

Part of my problem is that the same popculture that insists Christmas is About Family also insists that families hate each other. Brothers and sisters are routinely shown as squabbling and wishing their sibs would vanish, daughters and mothers are trapped in rote exchanges of exasperation, husbands and wives are bored or resentful. Because, I guess, we're all too sophisticated and realistic to believe that people could get along, or even love each other, except at Christmas, when it's enforced, which makes it believable.
I'm probably missing something important that would make this make sense.