Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Brigid Kemmerer's Got Lots Of Irons In The Fire This Month

Brigid Kemmerer and I have been blog buddies for 5 or 6 years now, as I've moved from blog to blog, and as she has become more and more famous.
But this is a big month for Brigid, and I'd like to take a little blog space to promote her.
She's got a series out called Elementals, which deals with a town full of kids who can control the elements.  It centers on one family of not-particularly likable brothers, each of whom can call on one of the four traditional elements (which would be earth, fire, wind, and water).
The first story out was an e-book, a prequel which centers on the oldest brother Michael and his element, earth.
Personally, I found this one just  a touch confusing, so I'd recommend either reading it after Storm, or else being ready to read Storm immediately after finishing Elemental.
Now, Storm is really the first book in the series, and it's been out since April.
This first full-length novel tells the story of Chris, the youngest brother, who controls the air.
Fortunately, both Brigid and her publishers realize what so many publishers don't seem to get: readers lose interest in a series if they have to wait too long in between books.
So, out TODAY is another e-book novella: Fearless.
Now, I haven't read this one yet, but I do know it tells the tale of an important side character, Hunter, who has some unusual abilities of his own.

And, by the end of the month, you can buy Spark, which is Gabriel's story; he's one of the twin middle brothers, and his element is obviously fire.
Of course, since Brigid is all that super awesome, she sent me a copy of Spark a week ago (neener, neener, I have it and you don't!), and I can assure you it's the best of the bundle that I've read.
She is SO nailing in-depth characterization!!  Look, these brothers have ISSUES.  They have had a rough past, and the nasty folks are out to get them, and they are not exactly nice little Harry Potters about it.  They have bad tempers and huge communication problems.  They're stubborn.  You probably won't like any of them.  I don't.
But here's the catch:  how cool is it when an author can make nasty characters that you just HAVE to keep reading about???  Because the plot is just THAT good?  And because you've just GOT to stick with it and figure these people out???
Bronte's Heathcliff is like that.  And Catherine, too.
And Shelley's Viktor Frankenstein is hugely unlikeable, but you just have to stick with him.
Stevenson's Dr. Jeckyll is loathable -- even when he's not Mr. Hyde.  But he captures the imagination.
This is what Brigid Kemmerer does with these brothers; she makes them fascinatingly awful -- so you just are compelled to find out what happens to them.
Plus, her pacing is awesome!  There are just no dull moments anywhere.
So, are you ready to try one?  I know you are.  Click one of my links above and buy a book.  You'll be back to thank me for telling you about them.  :)

Monday, July 30, 2012

How To Get Boys To Read Books With Girls As Protagonists

There is a MG author who hates teachers.  Really.  A few years back, Ms. MG ranted about how teachers are evil for teaching the classics and that they should teach only newer books (because classics are "outdated.")  More recently, she has started ranting that teachers are evil because we make boys think they can only read boys' books and that homeschooled boys read girls' books because they are free from the evil teachers.  Then, another author, this one a YA author, got into the rant as well.
As a teacher AND as an author, I'm pretty POed about this.
Neither Ms. MG nor Ms. YA has ever been a teacher, and neither woman has parented teenagers (yet).
I suspect that neither one of them knows much about pre-teen or young teen boys.
I've been a teacher longer than either one of them has been a writer.
Let me put out a few basic facts about junior high kids, and then we'll play a little game to see if you readers can predict which books teen boys would not want to read and why.  My goal here is to point out that it's not the teachers who are preventing boys from reading books with female protagonists.
Factoid #1 About Junior High Teens: In their own minds, they believe the entire world is watching them all the time.  They are the center of the universe and everyone will know if they are cool or uncool.
Factoid #2: The worst possible thing that can happen to a junior high kid is to be socially excluded.  To have the wrong hair/shoes/complexion/slang/folder/lunch period/hobbies/music/whatever is to be socially excluded.
Factoid #3: To avoid exclusion, which everyone else will know about because -- after all -- everyone is watching, one must appear not only to be incredibly cool but also to be far distant from anything uncool.
Factoid #4: Puberty-ridden teens are fairly often confused by all the hormones surging through them in unpredictable ways.  Most of them have no idea that their friends and classmates feel equally confused. Many of them also are willing to accept that some people are gay/lesbian, but they fear it might happen to them -- which would make them a minority and therefore possibly uncool.
(Please note: to any gay/lesbian readers or friends/parents thereof:  I am not implying that being gay is "uncool" or "bad."  I am merely pointing out that most junior high kids fear being different, which often leads to their fearing being perceived as gay -- even some of the kids who are gay.  I am merely trying to point out that these identity struggles play a part in how a lot of boys choose books/music/etc.)
Homophobia is a common problem, therefore, in junior high, and we teachers work hard to stamp it out -- like we do racism and sexism.

Now that you have these tidbits under your belt, let's see how well you do with predicting which books the average 12-year-old boy would NOT want to be caught dead with. lest he be perceived as uncool.
We all know the saying, "you can't judge a book by its cover."  Yet we all do that very literally all the time.  A great book with a bad cover will not sell many copies, and a bad book with an awesome cover will often sell well at first.  So let's look at some YA book covers.  Pretend you know nothing about the books.  Pretend you are a 12-year-old boy.  Which of the following would you NEVER, ever want to be seen with?

Choice A:

Choice B:

Choice C:

Choice D:

Choice E:

Choice F:

Have you got your choices in mind?  Good.  Hold that thought for a moment.  We'll come back to it.
Now, pretend you haven't seen any covers.  Pretend you are a 12-year-old boy and you are listening to your teacher describe books to the class.  Which of these books would you NEVER, ever want to be caught dead reading, lest you be considered uncool?

Choice A: This is about a warrior princess who leads her armies against a huge empire trying to take over her country.  It has werewolves, snow leopards, and vampires in it.

Choice B:  This is about a girl who must fight to survive in a government-run reality show that pits people against each other in a fight to the death for other people's entertainment.

Choice C:  This is a Cinderella-type story about a girl who is chosen for her beauty and talents to compete in a type of beauty pageant to be the wife of a prince.

Choice D:  This is about a girl who is part of Robin Hood's band.  The band is fighting against the unjust government by a usurper to the king of England.

Choice E:  This is an updated version of Cinderella, but it's science fiction, and the Cinderella character is an android and a mechanic.

Choice F:  This is about a girl who's trained to be a spy/assassin, but when she's sent on her first really big mission to find the traitor, she falls in love with the guy she's supposed to be spying on.

Okay.  Are you ready to tell me which books would be completely avoided by the 12-year-old boys?  And can you tell me why?
Notice that these are all fairly recent books, all YA, and all with female protagonists.  But I, as a long-time teacher, can guarantee that certain books on this list will be treated as leprous by the boys in the class. AND THIS WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TEACHER, BUT EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE BOOK COVERS AND THE STORYLINES.
You see, it is not the teachers who are making certain books so that boys will not want to read them; it is the authors and the artists who design the covers who do that.
The two authors I mentioned before are dead wrong about who's to blame -- and they are not looking at their own work to realize that.  (No, I haven't put either of those two authors here on purpose.)

Well, then, my readers.  Please be brave.  Put your comments as to which book(s) you think the boys would avoid and why in the comments section.
Tomorrow, I'll post the teacher's answers and explain why.

UPDATE:  The post with my answers is now ready.  Just click here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Archaeology Of A Tote Bag

I am a tote bag queen.
Somewhere among the years of folkdancing and travel and hauling things back and forth to school, I failed to acquire a pack mule and got roughly 2 dozen tote bags instead.  Some are huge, capable of holding a full-size pillow (or 4 petticoats for folkdancing), some are small -- only large enough for a book -- but most are medium-sized, and I have 3 from Lands' End that I use as purses.
The oldest of these 3 is in need of a good wash, so today I emptied it.
Oh my.
Besides the three mini-packs of tissues, numerous cough drop wrappers, a small screwdriver, hand sanitizer, and tickets to three separate plays (dating from 2010), I found eleven pens and pencils.  ELEVEN!!!
Obviously, this bag had been my companion to various academic games, and I must have dropped a pencil in every now and then just to be sure I had an extra.  Well, I have quite a few extras now!  Goodness!  They don't even all fit in the pencil holder on my desk.  I'll have to take them to school with me, as I go through a fair number of pencils (I still keep an old-fashioned gradebook, having learned that computer grading programs are likely to screw things up without notice, so my gradebook is the OFFICIAL copy if things go wrong elsewhere) and green pens (for grading) during the year.
(Okay, I KNOW some of you former students smiled when you saw the phrase "green pens," didn't you?)
Certainly, the evidence of this past dig has shown me that the washing for this bag is long overdue.  :)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Things I Don't Understand About Blogging And Twitter

How did someone end up at my blog this week after searching for "books in the library"?
Why do my newest Twitter followers include a site for scotch drinkers (I don't drink), SLC Golf (I'm athletically retarded), and a self-described restauranteur/astrologist?  Do these people actually think I have anything in common with them?  Why would I follow back if we share absolutely NO interests?
And why has an autism activist been following me for months?
Oh, and on Pinterest, I got an invite to join a board on pet protection.  What the heck?  Like I'm going to join a society that encourages people to get more dogs -- yeah, right.  *eye roll*
My favorite what-the-heck Twitter follower, however, has been following me for weeks.  It's this one:

Latest crop circles videos, photos and news!

*shakes head in wonderment*

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Joys Of Misplaced Modifiers #3

From an article about US Olympic soccer player, Hope Solo:

Conceived in jail during a conjugal visit, the Washington native's father, Jeffery John Solo, was in and out of prison throughout her childhood. 

Wait.  So her father was conceived during a prison visit?  Does that mean her grandparents were jailbirds, too?  And THEN he was in jail when Hope was a kid?  HUH???

Thursday, July 26, 2012

And It Shall Be Called "The Chocolate Smuggler's Notebook"

And it shall be steampunk dystopia.  And it shall have airships and gypsies. And it shall have alchemy. And it shall have a love pentacle, for behold, I am sick unto death of love triangles.  And it shall have action and humor.
(I hope.)

And, on the 25th day of the seventh month, it did begin thusly:

In which I introduce my unusual life predicament to my readers.
My mother, being both a Scot and the third plural wife of Elder Otis Elijah Russell of the Cedar City Fourth Ward in the Country of Deseret, decided her offspring should bear her name in life rather than their father’s.  So it was that on the Sunday after my birth, Bishop Lunt gave me a blessing an a name by which I would be known on the records of the Church: Olivia Viola Laird.
That name is carved upon a wedge of sandstone in the city cemetery.
 The Fever of ’61 fell heavily upon my family.  It robbed my mother of her husband and a child.  It robbed my father of his own life, the lives of two of his wives, and the lives of three of his sons.
It robbed me of my identity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Usually, I'm quite good at thinking up book titles.  I have them in my head before I start typing the manuscript for the first time.  I scribble all my ideas along with plot and character jottings in my notebook, and then settle on one before I begin the actual manuscript.
A few people have complained to me that they thought Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire was too long a title.  But it actually used to be longer than that.  You see, the title was supposed to make the reader think of James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  At any rate, the variations on the title which others have offered to me never had the right rhythm, so I stuck with the title as it is.
I don't even recall when I came up with the title Becoming Brigid.  It was just so obvious that that is what the story is about: Brigid figures out who she is -- and who she isn't.
And the title for The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay popped into my head, whole and complete, as soon as I realized it was a tale about a girl struggling to be seen who accidentally makes herself unseen instead.
And, although the sequel to Nerissa is nothing more than an idea in my head, I've already got the title, as it's a line she speaks near the end of the first story.
But I'm stuck with this new ms.  I'm ready to start writing at any moment.   I have character names and histories.  I have several conflicts and a basic plot outline (which will, of course, change several times before I get to the end of draft #1).  But I have no title.  At the moment, all I have is a Pages file with the working title of Something Chocolate And Steampunk.  While that is an amusing title, I'm really going to have to do better than that.  Soon!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Steampunk, Deseret, And Chocolate

I just finished my first plot summary/outline for my next WIP.  It has no title yet -- which is odd for me, as I usually have a title thought up at the very beginning of a tale -- but it does involve the State of Deseret (which in reality only existed for a couple of years before the US government carved it up and took over), Steampunk (just a bit, but enough), alchemy, a mad scientist, a love pentacle (because I'm sick of love triangles), a hint of mysticism, and a chocolate smuggler.
Does that catch anyone's interest?

Definitely Fodder For A Dystopia Or Horror Novel.

From a Yahoo! news link:

Barrels holding 248 fetuses found in Russian forest

Police launched an investigation after officials said the remains, discovered on Sunday, appeared to have come from three hospitals in Yekaterinburg, the capital of Sverdlovsk region.
"It seems the company responsible for disposal of the bio-medical waste did not carry out its duties," the deputy head of the regional government, Vladimir Vlasov, said on state television.
Photographs from the site showed fetuses with tags scrawled with numbers and inscriptions that Russian media said were family names.
"A friend called at night and said he went fishing and wanted to get some wood for his fire. He ran into some water canisters and wanted to take them home, but when he came closer he saw little baby bodies," local resident Sergei Tveritinov told state television.
(Reporting by Ludmila Danilova and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Andrew Heavens)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sneaking A Peek At My Books!

Okay, convalescing is boring.
I can't clean, go for a walk, grocery shop, go to the library, or really much else.  All I can do is spend time writing.  But it's hard to write when your brain needs a change of pace.
So today I put a new page on the blog: Sneak Peeks.
So far, I've fixed up a chase scene from  All in the Half-Vampire Family with actual photos.  Yeah, after I'd written the first draft of the scene way back when, I made sure I photographed the entire thing the next time I was in Scotland (and then I had to change details because I had some wrong ones in there!).
So now, for your viewing pleasure (and, I hope, to tantalize you about the book), you may click here or click the tab at the top of the blog.
Do let me know what you think.  :D

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's Next? I'm Thinking Steampunk....

So, on July 4th I finished the first draft of The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay, my YA novella about a girl who accidentally turns herself invisible.  That ms is now in the "ripening" stage, where I can't touch it for weeks, so I can come back to  it, rip it apart, and improve it.  This is, of course, a process which must be done several times before anyone else can even see the manuscript (so they can rip it apart and tell me what needs work).
So what's next?
Well, I have some ideas for a sequel novella, starring Nerissa, and I think I really will write that eventually, but it's too early yet.  I have to see where the first ms is going before I start the second.
All in the Half-Vampire Family is just about ready for publication.  However, the last version of the cover went dreadfully wrong (okay, it just went really dark), and I need to get with Max sometime and fix it.  I still think I can have that one ready for the public by the time school starts, though.  It's really just about there.
I'm also doing the first proof edits of Becoming Brigid, which is fun.  We have the new cover for that one, but it's off-center and a little too rough, so I'll have to work with Max on that one as well (once I'm a little more healed up from surgeries).  And, of course, it'll need several reads-through to get it up to publishing-ready.  I'm also thinking up a booktrailer and swag for this book.  Fun.
All this means it's time to start another manuscript, though.  Besides a sequel about Nerissa, I'm toying with the idea of doing something along the lines of an alternate history Mormon steampunk dystopia.  (Think about it for a second or two and it'll make sense.  Really.)  I know Patricia Wrede tackled alternate history steampunk in the Old West, but I'd like to play with less Laura Ingalls and more Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Let's face it: the Mormons came West to leave the US and form a nation state they called Deseret.  What if they'd succeeded?  And, add to that the usual steampunk tropes of what if the Victorian ideas about science had been correct?  What if aether really existed?  What if we'd stuck with clockwork and steam instead of going to electricity, transistors, and the microchip?  Also, because I'm sick to death of love triangles in YA books for girls, I'd like to throw in a love pentacle (or pentagram, if you prefer) to this one.  Fun?  Does this spark your interest?  Would you pick it up to read or to show it to your favorite teen to read?
My other idea is to do a steampunk fairy tale.  Tons of authors have re-written fairy tales lately, and Marissa Meyer even cyberpunked Cinderella.  But no one has really steampunked a fairy tale yet.
Also, authors keep doing Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood over and over again.  I want to do something different.  Perhaps a mash-up of Sleeping Beauty and Rip Van Winkle.  Or I was thinking of the Pied Piper.  No one does that.  That would be cool.
Any ideas?  What are you favorite lesser-known fairy tales that I might take and steampunk?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Photo Mysteries: A Writers' Game #26

Over at Written Inc., Carmi has his new photo them up.  This week it's "orange."  Everyone who likes adds a photo to share.  But here on my blog, we also add a title and a single line of a story to match the photo.
Here's last week's game, if you want to check it out.

Let's jump right in.  Here's my "orange" photo:
My title is:  "Audrey III"
My single line is:  "Well, it's a cross between an iris and some DNA from a great white shark; last night it ate the cat."

Your turn!  Add a title and a single line in the comments section.  The more, the merrier.  This is the shortest flash fiction ever, and you don't have to be a writer to play.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Don't Care If It's Been Re-Tweeted 1000 Times; It's Still Hilarious

Salman Rushdie @SalmanRushdie11 Jul
OK, I can't stop. 100 Shades of Solitude. 22 Shades of Catch. 5 Shades of Slaughterhouse. Maybe I should stop. Yes.
Retweeted by Neil Gaiman and 886 others

101 Shades of Uses For a Dead Cat.
The 500 Shades of Bartholomew Cubbins.
"50 Shades To Leave Your Lover"
The 39 Shades.

Not to mention this stuff has totally ruined the beautiful old Monkee's Song "Shades of Gray."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Happy Friday the 13th!

Aaaaannndd.... yeah, still having a few internet issues.  Lucky me.
If your comments aren't being published or I'm not visiting your blogs as often, don't take it personally.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Photo Mysteries: A Writers' Game #25

Carmi at Written Inc. has a themed photo sharing that he does every week.  He chooses a theme and posts a photo to fit, then many of his readers join in, posting their own photos to fit the theme.
On my blog, however, we add a twist: I post a photo to fit the theme Carmi picks, then I add a title and a single line of a story that fits the photo.  It ends up being the shortest flash fiction ever.  Then, you, my readers, join in, putting your titles and single lines in the comments section.
Here's an example if you're new to this.  And remember; you don't have to be a writer to play; you just have to be able to write a blog comment.
Carmi's theme this week is "transportation."
Here's my photo:

My title for the story: "Time Travel"
My single line:  "This doesn't look steampunk," Sarah told Tom as he proudly showed her the time machine.  "It looks like 'junk' to me."

Your turn!  Add your titles and single lines of flash fiction in the comments section.  The more who join in, the better!  :)  You can be funny or serious.  You can choose any genre you want.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not Even Dali Could've Dreamed This Up

So today I drove to a nearby town about 30 miles away to visit my aunt for the afternoon.  As I usually do on long drives where I go out of range for my favorite radio stations, I took my iPod and hooked it up to the car's stereo system.
Upon my arrival at my aunt's house, I was literally greeted at the door with her get-well gift to me: a 53" teddy bear.
I laughed like I hadn't laughed all through this stupid summer of illness.
I'm a sucker for stuffed animals anyway, but this was hilarious.
And after my visit, I had to get the thing home.  But I have a small car.  There was no way in heck this bear would fit in the trunk.
Yeah, I seat-belted into the passenger seat.
You want surreal?  Just imagine driving the highways, listening to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" with a giant bear strapped into the passenger seat next to you.  That'll flip your brain into knots.
The only more amusing moment was when I exited the freeway to go home and passed a group of construction workers.  One big, burly guy happened to make eye contact with me while I was belting out "Somebody To Love" -- with a big bear next to me.
The guy probably will have to take a sedative tonight.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Well, Duh.

I actually received this tweet today:

"Watching harry potter marathon makes me want to reread the books blah wish i had more reading time!"

Apparently, it has not yet occurred to this person that if s/he TURNS OFF the movie marathon s/he'll have MORE TIME to read the books.
It took all my self-control not to tweet back a smart-mouth remark to this person.  But I managed just to post it here instead.  :)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I Get The Weirdest Twitter Followers.....

Seriously, sometimes I just cannot figure out how I get some of these twitter followers.  Twitter followers change every day, but a jazz cafe in Maine has been following me for weeks.  Why?  I have no clue.  I've also got a bunch of animal rights activists.  This is bizarre, as I'm not really an animal person.  Then there's one follower who claims to design custom built choppers, and -- my personal favorite -- @CropCircles_012.   Yeah, crop circles.  How the heck did these people end up following me?
Let me see here: vampires + Celtic goddesses = crop circles???  Uh, no.  Not even close.
Now, I have nothing against custom built choppers or people who are interested in crop circles, but why are they following me on twitter?  It's not like I have anything to say about crop circles!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Edwin Morgan Collection At The Scottish Poetry Library

After Robert Burns, Edwin Morgan is Scotland's most famous poet.  Born in 1920, he began writing poetry in his teens, with the earliest known published poem occurring when he was 19 (at least from what I found).
Morgan's poems are voluminous and immensely varied.  I have an entire shelf filled with just his work, and it ranges from sonnets done in his own version of Petrarchan to sound poems, from concrete poetry to Hungarian translations.  (Morgan was a polyglot and translated from many languages.)  Much of the time he wrote in English, but he frequently used Scots as well.  (He translated all of Cyrano D'Bergerac into Glaswegian Scots, for example, and also translated Lady MacBeth's soliloquy into Auld Scots.)
I've always loved poetry, and I've even dabbled in writing some of it myself.  Before 2002, my favorite poet was Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I still love her work, but now she comes in second to Morgan.
In 2002, through quite a series of events, I ended up taking a course in post-modern literature at the University of Edinburgh's SUISS (summer school) program.  My tutor ("instructor," in American terminology) was a Greek Cypriot gal named Charris, and she just happened to assign me to teach the class on the day we did Edwin Morgan.  I, armed with a copy of Selected Poems, dived in -- and fell in love instantly.
It also so happened that Mr. Morgan was still healthy enough then to travel from Glasgow, and we had the incredible chance -- as a summer school group -- to hear him read his own work.  I will never forget how he acted out "The Loch Ness Monster's Song" for us.  :D  I also got the chance to speak with him for a moment and get his autograph.
And I was hooked.  Hooked on Scotland, hooked on the university, hooked on Morgan.
The year 2003 found me back at the summer school, taking two other courses, and again listening to Prof. Colin Nicholson, the world's foremost scholar on Morgan, present to us.  I bought more of Morgan's books and soaked up every second of Scotland I could.
Through a happy turn of events, in 2004, I was able to take an unpaid leave from my teaching and move to Scotland for a year to earn my MSc in English literature (really Scottish literature, but my diploma says English) from the University of Edinburgh. We had two semesters of classes and then five months in which to write our dissertations ("theses" for Americans).  Really, there was no question for me; I would write about Edwin Morgan under the direction of Prof. Nicholson (aka "Nick").
At Nick's suggestion, round about February of 2005, I visited the Scottish Poetry Library in Crichton's Close, just off the Royal Mile, to find some recordings of Morgan reading his own poems.  While I was there, a man I never saw again afterwards enthusiastically told me that the SPL had just acquired boxes of stuff that had been Morgan's and that I should come back the next day and ask about it from those who knew more.  I did.  I spoke with a young, enthusiastic librarian named Iain (sadly, I can't be certain of his last name now, but I think it was Young), but he told me the stuff was just in boxes and completely unorganized.  They didn't even know what they actually had and no one had the time to sort through it.
I made him a deal right then and there.  I would sort through every box, every book, and catalog the whole thing for them -- for free -- if they would allow me to use the sources for my dissertation.  It was a win/win situation, and Robyn Marsak, SPL director, agreed.
From April to August, I spent 2-3 hours per day in the basement room (then leaky and full of extra stuff), seated at Morgan's own desk  (click to see a sketch of it), with my laptop, typing and cataloging madly.  The SPL's only way to pay me for this was to allow me unlimited photocopies of what I found.
And what finds I made!  It was like an archeological dig!  I found that first published poem from Morgan when he was 19.  I found first drafts of Sonnets From Scotland, typed, with penciled in corrections.  I found Morgan's handwritten comments in the margins of every anthology in which his work appeared, including his irritation when people didn't print "The Computer's First Christmas Card" in its proper column style.  And I took everything to Nick, and with it, he wrote the section on Morgan in Fivefathers.
At one point, Nick told me he was going to go to Glasgow to interview Morgan, who was by then very ill with spinal cancer.  I wrote a letter to Mr. Morgan, explaining what I was doing with his boxes of books and ephemera.  I was thrilled when he wrote me back!  A personal note from Scotland's Makar!  Wow!
In the end, I had 99 A-4 typed, single-spaced pages listing the items in those boxes, and Iain was able to get them into the SPL's system.  Robyn Marsack presented me with a CD of Morgan's poetry before I went home.
But a year or so later, I had an e-mail from Julie Johnstone at SPL.  Would I help again?  Would I write a letter to help them get the funding?
I was in a unique position, for I could view the Edwin Morgan archive from both the point of view of a student AND as a teacher.  And so I wrote, explaining how helpful it had been for me to research those boxes and boxes of stuff and how much I would love to take students to use it, how much my own American students loved Morgan's poems -- and how much I thought Scottish kids would benefit from it.
The letter campaign worked.  They got the funding.  And when I visited Scotland again in 2008, Robyn proudly showed me what had been done with the messy store room, how it was now beautifully shelved, with all Morgan's things properly itemized, and his desk -- where I'd spent many hours -- as the centerpiece of it all.
Helping with that, folks, was my gift back to Scotland.
And if you ever visit Edinburgh, be sure to find Crichton's Close (just across from Dunbar Close and down just a titch from Cannongate Kirk on the opposite side of the street), find the SPL, and ask to see the Morgan Archive.  And tell Robyn Marsak I sent you. :)

P.S. If you've never read any of Morgan's work, New Selected Poems is a good place to begin.

Trying Not To Salivate

About a month ago, I had a surgery to remove a tumor on my right parotid salivary gland.  Fortunately, the surgeon was able to get the tumor out without serious damage to any facial nerves, so I don't have facial paralysis -- just a bit of numbness and a big ol' Frankenstein scar which will fascinate my 7th graders next year.  (I also have a scar where the drainage tube was on my neck, and it resembles a vampire bite, which I find amusing.)
But things didn't go quite as smoothly as the doctor had planned.  The tumor was NOT harmless, as he had thought, and my parotid glands are over-sized, so he had to dig much farther to get the tumor out.  This left me with a big gouge of missing flesh near my right ear.  Ugh.
And then the sliced salivary ducts did not seal themselves off the way he expected them to do.  Instead, they kept sending the saliva to where the tumor used to be, and I ended up with a large saliva-blister thing below my ear.  The doctor put me on a medication to shut down my saliva production, but even that wasn't enough, so, Tuesday, he stuck a needle in the bulge and drew out about a tablespoon of spit.  (Gross.)  He then swathed me in another tight bandage around my head (so I look like a mummy again) and told me to keep pressure on the wound at least 48 hours or longer.
So the trick is not to salivate right now in hopes that those stupid ducts will seal themselves up -- because if they don't, I'll have to have the surgery again to remove the whole gland at high risk to that facial nerve.  (Plus, I'll have a lopsided face if the whole thing is gone.)
Now, not eating is one thing.  We've all fasted for medical and/or religious purposes at one time or another.  But have you ever TRIED not to salivate?  Dang.  It's tough.  Saliva is produced when you chew anything.  It's also produced when you smell or think of food.  It's produced when you suck on anything, and you get extra saliva if you put anything sour into your mouth.
So, I can't eat anything because that's chewing.  I can't suck anything through a straw, have juice (sour), or even have a lozenge to ease my dry throat (dry because there's not much saliva).  All I can manage is to drink Slim Fast in milk three times a day, drinking it fast so that it doesn't stay in my mouth and cause saliva.  I also have to push hard on the bandaged saliva-blister thing every time I feel saliva going into it (yeah, I can feel it.).
Things get worse if I smell my neighbors' barbeques or other cooking, or if I look at Pinterest and find that people have been posting cupcake pics again.  In fact, just writing about food here has forced me to stop and push on the blister several times.
And I have no idea how long it will take to stop -- or if it even will.  Ugh.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day In The 21st Century

I stepped out onto the porch a few minutes ago to watch the fireworks, as I can see most of the displays in the valley pretty well -- except for the trees in the way.
This is an old habit for me, but tonight my eye was drawn to a strange green dot of light atop the neighbor's house.
Strange.  Must be a reflection of something.
I watched fireworks for a few more minutes, and then realized that the green dot was gone and there was now a blue glow on the neighbor's roof.  It took me two full seconds to comprehend what I was seeing.
New neighbor = new traditions.  He was on his roof.  With an iPad.  Filming the fireworks.
I smiled.
He sat upright, and I could see everything on his screen while I watched it take place behind him in real time.
Somewhere, he's posting it on youtube right now, I betcha.

The First Draft Is Finished!!

I wrote nearly 2000 words today, and I have now FINALLY finished the first draft of The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay!!  Whoo-hoo!
It's 31, 242 words or 110 pages long.  I think that makes it a novella, which is what I was aiming for.  Actually, it's set up so that it can stand alone OR be the first in a series of novellas.  And, quite frankly, Nerissa's such a fun character to work with that I may very well tackle a sequel.
Of course, besides a few ideas for what happens to Nerissa next, I also have the beginnings of a completely different novel spinning in my head.  This one involves alternate history and steampunk, two things I've been dying to try.
So, Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire is out there for the world to read.  Its sequel, All in the Half-Vampire Family, is in what I believe to be the final proof stage, with just a bit more tweaking to finish it up.  A completely unrelated stand alone novel, Becoming Brigid, just got a brand new cover (no, you haven't seen it yet -- unless you're Max, in which case, you helped make it), and I am awaiting the arrival of the first proof copy.  And now Nerissa's in the sit and wait stage, wherein I have to let the manuscript ripen like a cheese for a while before I tackle it again to edit and revise.
But right now is for celebrating!  Yeehaw!  I finished it!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hey, Utah! Let's Skip The Fireworks This Fourth, Okay?

Look, folks, we've got 8 wildfires burning still.  Target shooting, BBQ, campfires, and fireworks are ALL a really, really bad idea when the ground is this dry.
PLEASE skip the fireworks this year.  Have a water fight instead.  Or decorate your bikes and go for a ride. Or do face painting.  Or read the Declaration of Independence.  Or feed the homeless.  Or have a picnic.  Just use common sense.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hot Enough To...

So, how hot is it in Utah this week?
Well, thanks to the amazing efforts of our firefighting crews, we are now down to just EIGHT wildfires in the state.  (I'm not being sarcastic here.  The firefighters are amazing.  The idiots who are still shooting fireworks and shooting bullets at targets in these tinderbox conditions ought to be made to fight the fires they start.)
We haven't had a drop of rain in well over a month now, and the temperature has been reaching the mid-nineties for days on end.
It's hot, smoky, and completely miserable.  Sleeping in weather like this is darn-nigh impossible.
But just how hot and dry is it?
Let me give you some perspective, for those of you who don't live in a desert.
Summer for school teachers is the time to do all those unpleasant tasks that build up during the year.  And today I decided to scrub down the bathroom blinds, as they get grosser than any of the blinds in the house because dust sticks to them when they're moist and can't be shaken off later.  I had bath towels destined for the wash, so I put one of them down in the bathtub so I wouldn't scratch the porcelain with the blinds as I scrubbed them.  I then put an inch or so of soapy water in the tub, scrubbed the blinds, drained, put it clean water, rinsed them, shook them out a bit, and took them outside to finish drying.  That left me with a SOAKING wet, thick, heavy bath towel in the tub. I didn't even wring it out, I just scooped it into a bucket and took it outside also, as I wasn't ready to do that load of wash yet.
I spread the soaked towel over some dry grass and left it.
One hour later, yes, ONE hour later, the bath towel was completely dry except for one corner fold which was slightly damp.
That's how hot and dry Salt Lake City is today people, hot enough to cook a soaked towel into a flat board in one hour.