Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Catus Dyspepticus

Between staying up late and errands and a dyspeptic cat,* I’m behind schedule today. Hmm. A writer with no time to write. Must be time for a cat picture!

I love cats, and have since my very first. This is me with Oliver, a.k.a. Cat Number One(-ish, he’s the first I remember with any clarity). He was black as night and could jump from the floor to the top of a swinging door.

* * *

* She lost her lunch… everywhere.

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An interactive, customizable blackout poetry site? Yes, please!

Blackout Poetry Maker

Click the words you want to keep, then “black out.”

Have fun!

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I used to be a terrible procrastinator. Now I’d say I’m about average. Work deadlines? No problem. The birthday card I need to send out? Yeah, that’s definitely going to be late (sorry!). And don’t get me started on my writing for the past year. It was much easier to put it off to doomscroll pandemic and political news. Not better, by any means, but easier.

I had to put that to a stop. But what to do instead? How to stop putting things off and get more done?

The good news is that useful research has been done on how to get past procrastination. Here’s an article with a handy rundown:
‘Why Do I Spend Weeks Avoiding Tasks That Will Take Me 10 Minutes to Do?’

This is an excellent question.

There’s something about the task itself—and the way you feel about it—tripping you up.

As I’ve mentioned, I like the “procrastinate productively” strategy. It can still be hard to get everything done, especially when “everything” includes projects with no external accountability (like writing, if you aren’t a pro). But I find there’s always something little I can do, at the very least. Also? Be kind.

Don’t expect you’re going to get rid of the tendency to procrastinate in the 10 minutes it took to read these tips, and try not to be so hard on yourself. 

For writers who find themselves stuck, I like this book:

On Writer’s Block by Victoria Nelson

“As a rule, young children don’t complain of wanting to fingerpaint but finding themselves mysteriously unable to do so.” 

She’s got a point. So have fun and get things done:)

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I woke this morning with a story start in my head, and it’s using up most of my mental bandwidth at the moment. So instead of something new, here’s something old, from a trip journal I took to Latin America in 2000. I’m laughing at the memory now.

April 26
San Jose

I’m late writing again today because we got up at 6:30 a.m. for a rainforest canopy tour and just got back. It was a lot of fun. I was a little worried that I’d need strength, you know like hand-over-hand on a wire, but then the guides started talking about how they’d had an 80-year-old man on tour a while back who was fine. It was a lot of fun (again!).

We drove north 45 minutes or so into the woods, a bit of protected land that’s part of a larger park containing 6% of Costa Rica’s land. We were the only ones on the tour and had a total of four guides. We parked at the “Canopy Adventures” headquarters and were outfitted with harnesses, caribiners (climbing rings), and gloves. We got back in the car with our gear and drove another kilometer or two up a very rocky and steep road. It wound up into the mountains, through a farm and past pastures. After parking at a little turnabout in the trees we proceeded on foot.

The hike was only 20 minutes or so but through the forest and steep. In some parts we walked along a road paved 60 years ago by farmers who needed to get their milk to market despite heavy winter rains. The rocks they used were hauled from a far-off river bed, then set carefully enough that the road is still useable today. The rest of the walk was over a path paved by tree rings, given added traction with metal mesh embedded into their tops. Along the way our guide pointed out different flowers and plants native to the rainforest. I remember the bromeliads (a relative of the pineapple that grows on trees and air), plants to eat if you get lost in the mountains, and plants used to weave coffee-gathering baskets.

Suddenly we were at the base of Platform 1 and the real start of our adventure. Our first task was to climb a wooden ladder up into a tropical oak tree, then out onto the first platform high up in the tree. Each of us carried our gloves and pulley attached to the climbing harness we’d been wearing since HQ. At this point, we were hooked onto a cable with one caribiner, then told what how to move along the wire and land safely. I felt a little like a side of beef, hanging from the wire by my belt and hoping my tippie-toes were enough to keep me on the platform.

We were to travel from one platform to the next along these wires through the trees. At each platform a guide would stand facing us as we held the cable running between platforms. Pulling the cable down in a modified pull-up, the guide held the pulley on top of the cable while connecting our second caribiner to it, just below the cable. Once this clamp was secure the guide unhooked the first caribiner from the cable and clamped it to the pulley, in the opposite direction as the first. Now there was nothing keeping me on the platform but the guide’s hand in front of the pulley. Upon hearing an answering cry of “¡Listo!” from the team at the receiving platform, that hand too was removed. Feet up, head back, one hand on the caribiners and one on the cable behind to brake, and I was off.

There were nine platforms, all fun, with the longest and steepest drop being the best as far as I was concerned. At each I was unhooked from the pulleys, then secured to the tree, which I climbed up or around or through to reach the next jumping-off point. The trees were huge, and seemed to carry the weight of the wooden platforms with ease.

After one or two jumps I noticed that a light touch on the caribiners attached to the pulley would keep me facing forward as I shot through the overgrowth. I also got quite good at braking and had lots of fun zooming at full speed just to the platform’s edge, then stopping right in front of the startled guide. Very fun. They got me back at Platform 9 though. Rather than climbing down from our final jump we rappelled, although the guides controlled the descent. No problema, I thought, I’ve done this before, and I’d be happy to go first. Rope between my legs, hands gripping the locked caribiners, I sat into the harness and eased slowly past the platform’s edge. Humph, I thought, this isn’t too baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddddddd!!!!!!!!! And almost swallowed my tongue as I was playfully dropped half the distance to the forest floor. The guides thought it was funny as hell, especially when all I could say after that heart-thumping, stomach-inspiring drop was “Jesus Christ!” Total free fall, unexpected, scary, and yes, funny as hell. I was still laughing five minutes later.

* * *

Not me but it gives you the idea; I was too busy to take photos for most of this trip.
Photo by Mam NC on Pexels.com

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Write fiction, or want to? Care about what’s happening with the climate, and how it will change life on Planet Earth? This new contest may be for you!

Introducing Imagine 2200: Our new cli-fi contest

Contest guidelines
• Entry is free!
• Submissions close April 12, 11:59 p.m. U.S. Pacific Standard Time.
• Authors must be 18 years or older at the time of submission.
• No previously published, multiple, or simultaneous submissions accepted.
• Submissions must be 3,000–5,000 words.
• If you need accessibility accommodations, please email us at imaginefiction@grist.org.

As always, keep an eye out for any fine print, particularly in the publishing rights arena, but it looks good from what I can see.

And for those who are interested in the ways in which a changing climate might impact us beyond the obvious (like ticks and wild pigs moving North, so fun*), check out this article on the interface of climate and one classic musical piece:

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, remade for a post-climate change world

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* Not fun at all, but at least it’s given us the humorous-sounding portmanteau wordpigloo.” So there’s that.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

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One Upside to 2020

Sure, 2020 was a miserable dumpster fire of a year, but it wasn’t 110% all bad. (It was bad, yes, but it wasn’t the absolute worst. Thank you, science.)

What’s that? You want me to name one good thing about 2020? More free fiction!

Tor has released their annual “best of” collection, with stories from Charlie Jane Anders, Yoon Ha Lee, Sarah Pinsker, Rachel Swirsky, Fran Wilde and many more. 

The ebook is available now from all the usual suspects: Some of the Best from Tor.com 2020 Is Out Now!

Something to read while we await the vaccine. Enjoy!

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You Were Right

So, you were right yesterday when you read my piece and thought to yourself, “No way is she getting all that done in an hour.”

My response:

1: You were right. I’m saying it again to give you the opportunity to revel in it. Who doesn’t like being right?

2: I roasted the mushrooms and minced the stems, but did not make stock. We watched an episode of Star Trek: Discovery instead (Michelle Yeoh forever!) and then I made a gallon of mushroom soup.

3: The extra time gave me a chance to switch gears. Today I decided to switch from making stock to duxelles, because the mushrooms were so fresh that even the typically-woody shiitake stems were soft and delicious. I’m sautéing that now and will (predictably) freeze them in cubes for later.

4: Even though the whole process took longer than expected, I’m glad I did it because yay, ready-to-eat mushrooms are great, but also because the optimistic time frame helped me get started in the first place. Yesterday was the kind of day where I woke up and wished I had another couple of hours to sleep in. Thinking about several hours of mushroom-related kitchen work might have meant me saying, “Hmm, thanks, but no thanks.” This way, I got started, made good progress, and finished several things I might not have thought I had the energy for yesterday.

It reminds me that getting started is often my biggest hurdle. That’s helpful for both the kitchen and writing.

* * *

So I didn’t get everything done as fast as I’d hoped. I still managed to tackle those three huge boxes of mushrooms before they went bad and also made soup, which we’ll have tonight for dinner with the bread I made this morning. So yay.

And really, that was a lot of mushrooms.

* * *

not sure what happened to that one roll in the back, but whatever, it’s fine

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Between politics and the pandemic, we’re at a low point. Will things get better from here? I hope so, of course, and I hope that writers and other artists will be part of helping people image a better future.

With that in mind, today I want to share a book brought to you by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Take Us to a Better Place

Take Us To A Better Place: Stories is a collection of 10 short stories that grapple with the deeply human issues that influence our health, from immigration, climate change, and gentrification, to cultural identity, family connection and access to health care.”

The goal of the book and associated conversation guide is to encourage ideas and debate on the challenges of our current system, and what it will take to build a better, healthier future. Also, good stories.

I love that they decided to communicate these ideas via fiction.

* * *

It’s free and available as an ebook or audiobook (I downloaded mine from Amazon but alternative download sites and languages are available). It also features some great writers (I discovered it while looking for other works by Martha Wells of Murderbot fame, but the table of contents is impressive all around).


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Public Domain Day!

January 1st marked the day when a number of literary and other works entered the public domain. This means that anyone can use these works for free without permission. Here’s an article with all the exciting details:

‘The Great Gatsby,’ ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ And Other 1925 Works Enter The Public Domain

The books will be available via the Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and Google Books.

The Great Gatsby is getting the most press (expect more film and book adaptations soon, I’d guess), but there are a lot of other works entering the public playground.

If you’ve ever wanted to do a gender-swapped mashup of Mrs. Dalloway and Kafka’s The Trial set to “Back Biting Woman’s Blues,” your time is now!

Here’s a selection of what’s on offer (via Hyperallergic):


• F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
• Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
• Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
• Franz Kafka, The Trial (in German)
• Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
• John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
• Alain Locke, The New Negro (collecting works from writers including W.E.B. du Bois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Eric Walrond)
• Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith
• Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys
• Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves
• W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
• Dorothy Scarborough, On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs
• Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction
• Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai


• Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman
• The Merry Widow
• Stella Dallas
• Buster Keaton’s Go West
• His People
• Lovers in Quarantine
• Pretty Ladies
• The Unholy Three


• Always, by Irving Berlin
• Sweet Georgia Brown, by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard & Kenneth Casey
• Works by Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” including “Army Camp Harmony Blues” (with Hooks Tilford) and “Shave ’Em Dry” (with William Jackson)
• “Looking for a Boy” by George & Ira Gershwin (from the musical Tip-Toes)
• “Manhattan” by Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers
• “Ukulele Lady” by Gus Kahn & Richard Whiting
• “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” by Gus Kahn & Walter Donaldson
• Works by ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton, including “Shreveport Stomps” and “Milenberg Joys” (with Paul Mares, Walter Melrose, & Leon Roppolo)
• Works by W.C. Handy, including “Friendless Blues” (with Mercedes Gilbert), “Bright Star of Hope” (with Lillian A. Thorsten), and “When the Black Man Has a Nation of His Own” (with J.M. Miller)
• Works by Duke Ellington, including “Jig Walk” and “With You” (both with Joseph “Jo” Trent)
• Works by ‘Fats’ Waller, including “Anybody Here Want To Try My Cabbage” (with Andrea “Andy” Razaf), “Ball and Chain Blues” (with Andrea “Andy” Razaf), and “Campmeetin’ Stomp“
• Works by Bessie Smith including “Dixie Flyer Blues“, “Tired of Voting Blues“, and “Telephone Blues“
• Works by Lovie Austin, including “Back Biting Woman’s Blues“, “Southern Woman’s Blues“, and “Tennessee Blues“
• Works by Sidney Bechet, including “Waltz of Love” (with Spencer Williams), “Naggin’ at Me” (with Rousseau Simmons), and “Dreams of To-morrow” (with Rousseau Simmons)
• Works by Fletcher Henderson, including “Screaming the Blues” (with Fay Barnes)
• Works by Sippie Wallace, including “Can Anybody Take Sweet Mama’s Place” (with Clarence Williams)
• Works by Mrs. H.H.A. (Amy) Beach, including “Lord of the Worlds Above“, Op. 109 (words by Isaac Watts, 1674–1748), “The Greenwood“, Op. 110 (words by William Lisle Bowles, 1762–1850), “The Singer“, Op. 117 (words by Muna Lee, 1895–1965), and “Song in the Hills“, Op. 117, No. 3 (words by Muna Lee, 1895–1965)

Put those creative minds to work and have fun!

Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

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Names & Days

The internet is a strange, wild, and sometimes twisted thing, but (today’s obvious understatement) it can certainly be useful. 

Take the matter of finding era-appropriate names for characters. If you’ve ever needed to know whether Madison would be a good name for a baby girl born in the U.S. during the 1890s, this handy resource from the Social Security Administration is here to help!

Top names of the 1890s

Short answer: no. You’d be better off with Edna, Ethel, Bessie or Minnie. But check out some of the other options on the site. If your character was born in Alabama in the year 2000, Madison would be right on target (it was the third most popular name that year!) And if you’re wondering why I sometimes use my initials, check out #3!

* Brought to you by Obscure Information for Writers, Inc. (not a real thing, except oh wait, that’s basically the internet in a nutshell;).

Nineteenth-century woman in white drinking from a china tea cup.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

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